Today Laura Rozen reports that one such option be considered is to take sides.
Unleash the Shiites?
The U.S. may be forced to choose sides in Iraq's civil strife.
AS SECTARIAN violence rises in Iraq and the White House comes under increasing pressure to revamp its strategy there, a debate is emerging inside the Bush administration: Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot in with the Shiites?The US may be forced to make that choice soon.
A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda cells. But elements of the administration, including some members of the intelligence community, believe that such a tilt could lead to stability more quickly than the current policy of trying to police the ongoing sectarian conflict evenhandedly, with little success and at great cost.
Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias — or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.
To do so would be a reversal of Washington's strategy over the last two years of trying to coax the Sunnis into the political process, an effort led by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. It also would discount some U.S. military commanders' concerns that the Al Mahdi army, a Shiite militia loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, poses as great a threat to American interests as that presented by the Sunni insurgency centered in western Iraq's Al Anbar province.
So what's the logic behind the idea of "unleashing the Shiites"? It's the path of least resistance, according to its supporters, and it could help accelerate one side actually winning Iraq's sectarian conflict, thereby shortening the conflict, while reducing some of the critical security concerns driving Shiites to mobilize their own militias in the first place.
Iraq government orders arrest of top Sunni cleric
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Shi'ite-led government ordered the arrest of the country's most prominent Sunni cleric on Thursday on suspicion of "supporting terrorism," a move that could raise sectarian tensions further amid mounting violence.This can only result in increased sectarian violence and may force the hand of the United States.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Harith al-Dari, the head of the Muslim Clerics Association, a vocal defender of the once dominant Sunni minority's interests, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shi'ite, told Iraqiya state television.
Shi'ite leaders have been up in arms about Dari this month, accusing him of advocating violence in televised comments that they said appeared to justify al Qaeda attacks in Iraq.
"We are applying the existing anti-terrorism law," Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul Kareem Khalaf said.
"We are going to pursue him wherever he is."
Dari is in the Jordanian capital, Amman, his aides said.
As the Rozen article points out there are many dangers to taking sides.
But such a strategy brings with it significant dangers. Washington might pick the wrong leaders on the side it chooses to back. Should it, for instance, continue to back Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri Maliki, or tilt in favor of his Shiite rival, Abdelaziz Hakim, and his party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq? Either choice could lead to more intra-Shiite infighting and violence.As we see it's not even as simple as choosing the Shia over the Sunni they will have to decide which Shiites to support which will result in inter Shia violence.
Or the strategy could drive Iraq's Sunni tribes to align themselves more closely with Al Qaeda. And it seems certain to further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and erstwhile U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan — while strengthening Iran's hand in Iraq.
Among the risks of an unleash-the-Shiites strategy is that if it were adopted, the White House would be unlikely to publicly acknowledge that such a choice had been made. Like so much else that has contributed to the U.S. difficulties in Iraq, it would be a decision taken in the dark, outside the realm of public debate.
As Kevin Drum points out the least horrible option may still be just to leave, yes "cut and run".
There's not much question that Shiite forces are eventually going to wipe out the Sunni insurgency, but it's probably slightly better for them to do it on their own instead of doing it with our active help, something that would alienate every Sunni in the Middle East. And don't think that we might be able to keep this a secret. Even if our support for this strategy were never publicly acknowledged, there's not much question that everyone in the region would understand perfectly well what was going on.Thanks a lot Dubya!
Such is the moral calculus we're left with in Iraq. It's not a battle between good and bad, it's a battle between bad and worse.