Bush’s Iraq Strategy for 2007




A

fter
all the study groups and reports, an electoral repudiation of a
failed war, months of deliberation, and hundreds of thousands dead,
the Bush administration policy debate boils down to this: choosing
between genocide against Sunni Arabs—a strategy known as the
“80 percent solution”—or fomenting a second civil
war, this one a Shia-on-Shia death match. Or perhaps both. 


The new White House strategy begins with the “surge” option.
To try to fend off defeat, the Bush administration has decided to
send up to 30,000 more troops. The criticism of this, from the media
to the military to politicians, is that Bush has not tied any military
escalation to a broader political strategy (see the

New York
Times

December 21 editorial, “Rudderless in Iraq”). 


In the case of the media, they have ignored their own reporting.
The Bush administration has a strategy that has been in the works
for months, even if it is muddled and mad. The secret memo from
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, published by the

New
York Times

in November, reveals that the White House is trying
to isolate Muqtada al-Sadr, a pillar of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s
government. As Hadley explains, the Bush administration wants to
reshuffle Maliki’s coalition so he no longer needs the support
of 30 assembly members loyal to Sadr. Afraid this might cause Iraqi
security forces to fracture and lead “to major Shia disturbances
in southern Iraq,” Hadley recommends that the United States
“provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind,”
the rationale for the surge. 


Hadley wrote this memo on November 8 and the plan is now being put
into play. On the one hand is the political component: Sadr’s
forces shut out in the National Assembly; on the other the U.S.
military would try to wipe out Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. There
is also talk of an economic component, a jobs program to give the
legions of unemployed something to do other than attack Americans,
but it smacks of too little, too late after the reconstruction debacle. 


Joining in the political and military campaigns against the Sadrists
would be a Shia party that has an alliance of convenience with the
Bush administration, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq (SCIRI), and its militia, the Badr Brigade. This is where
the prospect of a second civil war becomes very real. The Bush strategy
is to foment an intra-Shia conflict to try to regain the upper hand.
As both the Badr Brigade and Mahdi Army are enmeshed with various
Iraqi police forces, the security forces would splinter, leading
to Shia-on-Shia warfare throughout southern Iraq. 


Because SCIRI has been scheming to form a Shia “super-region”
in southern Iraq, the combination of political and military infighting
among the Shia could deliver a death blow to the country. It would
split into three warring ethnic regions, sparking a regional conflagration
as neighboring states move in to stake their claims and exert influence. 


Only a few observers have picked up on this possibility and the
terrifying consequences. No shrinking violet, Reuel Marc Gerecht,
an ex-CIA officer and resident fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute, warned in a December 21

New York Times

op-ed:
“Any violent struggle between the Mahdi Army and Supreme Council
could provoke anarchy throughout the entire Arab Shiite zone, including
Iraq’s holy cities and the oil-rich south. As bad as things
seem now, such Shiite strife could impoverish all of Arab Iraq,
dropping the non-Kurdish regions to an Afghan-like subsistence level.
In such a situation, we would likely see the hyper-radicalization
of the Shiites, who have already become more militant owing to the
tenacity and barbarism of the Sunni insurgency. In addition, whatever
fraternal and nationalist bonds remain among moderate Sunni and
Shiite Arabs would probably disappear in a Shiite-versus-Shiite
bloodbath.”



This fighting has already started. U.S. forces have stepped up their
attacks on the Mahdi Army since the summer, while during the same
period major clashes between Badr and Mahdi militias have taken
place in at least three cities in southern Iraq. In a number of
instances, U.S. forces have joined Badr units in battles against
the Sadrists. Formalizing these intertwined conflicts as White House
policy would ensure that the skirmishes become all-out war. 


Before discussing U.S. strategy and its relation to the growing
warfare between the two Shia militias in greater detail, it’s
important to understand first the political dynamics of the surge
option and why it is destined to fail. 



Limited Options 



T

he
Bush administration settled on the surge option not to prevent defeat
on the military battlefield of Iraq—the war has long been lost—but
defeat on the political battlefield at home. Bush kicked the Iraq
Study Group to the curb, but its report did have one effect: it
made the status quo politically untenable. The White House can no
longer “stay the course.” It must appear to be doing something
different. Therefore, as the


Los
Angeles Times

explains, “America must either increase the
force—gambling that the military can impose a measure of security
on Iraq—or else begin to withdraw its forces.” 


The White House wants Americans to believe that it can still achieve
victory in Iraq. At the same time, it is fixated on remaking the
Middle East through war, so withdrawal is not an option. Of course,
escalation is also a losing strategy, which is why the Pentagon
opposed it fiercely. In turn, the Bush administration needed to
defeat resistance in the Pentagon and Iraqi government as a precursor
to the surge. 


Knowing who holds all the big guns in Baghdad, Prime Minister Maliki
rolled over the quickest, telling the new Defense Secretary Robert
Gates “he would let U.S. generals decide whether there is a
need for a ‘surge’ in U.S. troops.” So much for the
sovereign government of Iraq. 


While Bush has said that the generals in Iraq “will make the
decisions as to how many troops we have there,” he is still
“The Decider” and he’s decided to escalate the war.
Showing that the ISG report and losing control of Congress hasn’t
changed anything, Bush, Rice, Cheney, and their band of neo-cons
alone will decide the fate of Iraq, the broader U.S. project, and
the future of the Middle East. 


Those generals who wouldn’t sign on to a military escalation
have been ditched. General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander
for the Middle East and a vocal opponent of the surge option, is
being eased into retirement. So is General George Casey, Jr., the
top commander in Baghdad. He slapped down administration plans the
week before Christmas by noting, “Additional troops have to
be for a purpose,” then reversed course and backed the escalation,
“eliminating one of the last remaining hurdles to proposals
being considered by President Bush for a troop increase” (

LA
Times

, December 23, 2006). But it was too little to save his
post. He’s being pushed out of Iraq in February or March, as
opposed to next summer as planned, because Bush “sees a chance
to bring in a new commander as he announces a new strategy”
(

NYT

, January 2, 2007). 


The media are also playing their part, mostly ignoring the broader
strategies and focusing on the modalities of the surge: how many
more troops to deploy, what is their specific mission, how long
can a surge be sustained. The extra troops could try to “blunt
the Sunni-led insurgency” or “confront radical Shiite
cleric Muqtada Sadr, perhaps by moving forces into Sadr City”
or step up training of Iraqi security forces to take over the fight.
Or all three, as Senator John McCain wants. 


One
reason military commanders have opposed adding troops is because
the military is at the breaking point. Some want to cut the combat
force in Iraq by one-third, according to retired Army Gen. Barry
McCaffrey, who told the

Army Times

in November, “The
Army, particularly the National Guard, is on the verge of breaking
because the effort is vastly under-resourced and cannot be sustained
for long.” Privately, military officials have derided the surge
option. Commanders weren’t even considering such a move in
November. The

Washington Post

explained “that a boost
of 20,000 infantry troops—five or six brigades—would do
little to change the nature of the insurgency or the sectarian strife.” 


The extra troops would all be combat troops. Even though there are
140,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, only 50,000 are combat troops,
amounting to 15 brigades. There is a tacit acknowledgement that
the Pentagon thinks 50,000 more combat troops are required. But
that possibility “is virtually off the table…mainly for
logistics reasons.” Finding itself short of troops, the Bush
administration is considering “deploying 20,000 additional
American troops or more, at least temporarily…as a leading
option” (





NYT

, December 20, 2006). The
fact that the numbers being discussed are far less than the military’s
estimated need indicates why the surge is a political strategy,
not a military one. 


Even 50,000 more troops would be too few, however. The historical
rule of thumb is a ratio of 50 civilians to 1 soldier in occupations,
which General Eric Shinkesi, other officers, and many military analysts
argued for prior to the war. Of course these numbers assumed a benign
occupation as in post-war Japan or Kosovo. In the case of a counterinsurgency,
leaving aside the civil war, then “the United States and its
allies in Iraq would need at least 500,000 and perhaps more than
1 million troops, military experts say.” 


Thus adding 20,000 troops would be a drop in Baghdad’s bucket,
the locus of any surge. The troops would complement the current
force of 15,000 U.S. soldiers in Baghdad. Going by the historical
yardstick, if the United States really wanted to secure the capital,
a city of 6.5 million, it would probably require 200,000 to 300,000
troops—more than all U.S. and foreign troops already in Iraq. 


Even going by the four-year-old Iraq War standards, the plan is
severely inadequate. At the beginning of the occupation, in mid-May
2003, the U.S. had 25,000 troops in Baghdad, and Donald Rumsfeld
had just dispatched an additional “15,000 troops from the 1st
Armored Division and hundreds of military police” to Baghdad
because of the poor security situation (

Washington Post

,
May 16 and 18, 2003). 


Thus, if 20,000 troops are added in 2007 to a Baghdad rife with
a sophisticated insurgency and teeming with sectarian death squads,
the troop level will still be less than the U.S. military deployment
in the capital before the insurgency even began. Never mind about
Al Anbar where a secret Marine report concluded last summer that
the “United States has lost in Anbar.” The situation is
so grim that the Marines need an extra division—more than 15,000
troops—in spite of 30,000 U.S. soldiers, marines, and sailors
already there (the ratio of Iraqis to U.S. troops in Anbar is already
under 50 to 1). 


As for why the White House is “latching on to the surge idea,”
the Joint Chiefs think it’s “because of limited alternatives.”
They argue it will be counter-productive because “a modest
surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets
for Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign
fighters to flock to Iraq.” As for Shia militias, they “may
simply melt back into society during a U.S. surge and wait until
the troops are withdrawn—then reemerge.” 


The Pentagon is right to worry that an escalation will backfire.
Since U.S. troops were deployed in August to the front lines in
Baghdad, casualties have risen sharply to the highest level of the
whole war. They’ve also failed to protect civilians, with massive
ethnic cleansing reshaping Baghdad. Five or even ten more combat
brigades won’t change the situation. 


So why pursue a doomed strategy? Because withdrawal is the only
other option. While withdrawal is the only way to keep Iraq intact—stripped
of U.S. protection the Shia parties would have to reach a political
solution with Sunni insurgents—the Bush administration would
have to abandon its project to remake the Middle East. It would
no longer have a large central base to pursue interventions against
Iran or Syria. Kuwait, which has turned over the northern part of
its country to the U.S. Army, would be of no use in this regard. 



Surge Plans 



T

hus,
the next stage is escalation, which has been a constant of U.S.
policy in Iraq. But it leaves the question, what will these extra
troops do? Many plans have been put forth:


  • Concentrate on fighting the Sunni-led insurgency. As mentioned,
    Anbar alone could swallow up all the extra troops with no evidence
    that they would have an effect. More than 40 percent of U.S. combat
    deaths take place in Anbar (see www. icasualties.org/oif), and
    more troops may just mean more targets. Even if pressured in Anbar,
    resistance groups could easily shift operations to Baghdad and
    at least four other provinces where insurgents have a strong base
    and wait out the surge. 

  • Deploy the troops in Baghdad neighborhoods to stop the ethnic
    cleansing. “American troops would take up new positions in
    23 mixed Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods to better protect the
    population.” One problem, as Kosovo shows, is that troops
    would have to remain for a generation or longer to allow for sectarian
    divides to be bridged. A bigger problem is that by the time troops
    are deployed, the communal cleansing may be completed. At least
    ten mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad have already been turned exclusively
    Shia at gunpoint. 

  • Step up training of Iraqi troops. This strategy has wide appeal,
    not because it will work, but because many Americans crave an
    honorable retreat. They believe that somehow sectarian, corrupt,
    ill-trained, poorly equipped Iraqi forces can defeat the insurgency
    and halt the civil war where the most powerful military ever has
    failed. Even if the Pentagon triples the advisors to 15,000, as
    the ISG recommends, it won’t matter. Some trainers say “that
    all the U.S. military is doing is training and arming Iraqis to
    fight a looming civil war,” such as in Diyala Province north
    of Baghdad. Others worry “that the training of the current
    Iraqi army—at U.S.-operated camps—is spreading skills
    that are turned against U.S. forces.” The spread of sniper
    tactics among insurgents accounts for much of the increase in
    U.S. casualties. Even if trained, most Iraqi troops desert. By
    one account “75% of Iraqi soldiers don’t show up for
    duty.” The root problem is that capable security forces depend
    upon a functional state and Iraq’s has no writ beyond the
    Green Zone. 

  • Crush the Mahdi Army. This is the likeliest option. While the
    Bush administration will probably try all the above, one of its
    policy constants is its desire to eliminate Sadr and his militia.
    Last spring, the White House blocked Ibrahim al-Jaafari from serving
    a second time as prime minister. Bush “doesn’t want,
    doesn’t support, doesn’t accept” him as prime minister
    because he felt “Mr. Jaafari will do little to rein in Mr.
    Sadr” (

    NYT

    , March  29 and 30, 2006). Maliki was
    then pushed into the role because he was “independent”
    of the various factions, that is, seen as willing to do U.S. bidding.
    The move backfired because Maliki still needed Sadr’s parliamentary
    bloc to rule. 



This brings us back to the White House’s strategy review. It
could be the “80 percent solution” or it could be stoking
a Shia-on-Shia conflict. (The 80 percent solution refers to the
percentage of Iraqis who are either Shia Arabs or Kurds.) According
to the

Washington Post

, which detailed the White House debate,
the policy would entail the United States abandoning “reconciliation
efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites
and Kurds.” Bringing an end to reconciliation efforts would
mean “U.S. troops would be fighting the symptoms of Sunni insurgency
without any prospect of getting at the causes behind it—notably
the marginalization of the once-powerful minority.” 



In other words, the United States would back the sectarian war against
Sunni Arabs, a prescription for mass murder approaching genocide.
In three major Iraq cities—Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Mosul—the
war involves the use of Kurdish and Shia-based security forces against
Sunni Arabs in general. The same is true for scores of smaller cities
and towns in areas where the resistance is active. With U.S. troops
bent on defeating a broad-based Sunni resistance, combined with
massive ethnic cleansing by Kurdish and Shia forces and widespread
death squad activity, the Sunni Arabs as an ethno-religious community
in Iraq would be wiped out. 



The only thing giving the White House pause is fear that other Sunni-majority
states, particularly Jordan and Saudi Arabia, would weigh in on
the side of their Iraqi brethren. 



The other strategy is to complement a stepped-up military campaign
against Sadr’s forces with an attempt to isolate him politically.
This would likely spark an inter-Shia civil war and the break-up
of Iraq. This option is already in the works with the White House
trying to break apart the ruling Shia coalition and form a new government
(so much for elections). The key Iraqi players are not politicians
but Shia clerics: Sadr, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and Abdul Aziz
al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq (SCIRI).

 




Enemy
Number One 





S

CIRI
has emerged as a key U.S. ally in Iraq, which is ironic as it was
set up by Iran in 1982 during the Iran-Iraq war. SCIRI was a member
of the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi Opposition Coordinating Committee formed
prior to the March 2003 invasion. It served on the U.S.-selected
Iraq Governing Council and has supported the occupation for the
most part (and relies on it for protection). 



In a nutshell, the Bush administration is trying to cobble together
its satraps in Iraq—the Kurds, SCIRI, and a Sunni party (the
Iraqi Islamic Party)—to create a majority that will back the
U.S. in crushing Sadr. 



The

LA Times

detailed the overall plan: “strong support
has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to ‘double
down’ in the country with a…major combat offensive against
Muqtada Sadr…a possible renewed offensive in the Sunni stronghold
of Al Anbar province, a large Iraqi jobs program and a proposal
for a long-term increase in the size of the (U.S.) military.”
Such a strategy “would be a gamble,” however, as first
“U.S. Embassy officials would have to help usher into power
a new coalition in Baghdad that was willing to confront the militias.” 



This was why Bush held high-profile meetings in Washington with
two Iraqi politicians in early December. The

Washington Post

reported that Bush met with Hakim on December 4 to hedge his Administration’s
“gamble on the weak Maliki government. Bush also met with Iraq’s
Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the Iraqi Islamic
Party.” 



The strategy moved forward in mid-December when “A group of
politicians made up of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds said…that
it was seeking to form an alliance that could shift Iraq’s
balance of power.” Locked out were representatives of Sadr,
“a sign that the group may want to politically isolate the
powerful Shiite preacher.” 



The plan outlined in the secret Hadley memo can be seen taking shape
in all these actions. 



As for the military end, Bob Killebrew, a defense strategist, said
that launching a second war would be a joint U.S.-Iraqi campaign:
“Our conventional forces, not advisors, will have to team with
the Iraqi army and neutralize the Mahdi army and the other militias.” 



Not all militias would be targeted, however. The military campaign
would pit SCIRI’s Badr Brigade against Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
In the

Washington Post

, reporter Sudarshan Raghavan wrote,
“in the view of the Bush administration, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim
is a moderate and Moqtada al-Sadr is an extremist” even though
“they both lead militias that are widely alleged to run death
squads.” “Moderate,” of course, is a term of approval
reserved for collaborators, such as SCIRI or the Iraqi Islamic Party,
while the Sadrists are “extremists” because they have
used street protests, armed uprisings, and national politicking
to try to oust the occupiers. In fact Sadr’s allies have managed
to get 131 Assembly members, almost half the body, to sign on to
a petition “demanding a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.” 



It’s no coincidence then that the Mahdi Army, which is active
in Baghdad and in Shia areas to the south, is now enemy number one.
Conveniently,  U.S. estimates of its strength have grown dramatically.
Whereas the Mahdi Army’s strength was put at less than 10,000
in 2005, new reports put the number of fighters at 60,000 (AP, December
8, 2006). 



Badr operates death squads under the banner of special police commandos.
Beginning in 2004, U.S. forces organized, trained, and equipped
the police commandos, drawing from former Hussein-era security forces
to create a neo-Baathist militia and death squad that would hunt
Sunni insurgents. Under the Iraq government that took power in April
2005, Bayan Jabr, a former high-ranking commander in the Badr Brigade,
took control of the commandos as head of the Interior Ministry.
Jabr ousted Sunni personnel in the commandos, putting in place up
to 3,000 Badr militiamen and they quickly began a reign of terror
against Sunnis in general. (For details see Tom Lasseter and the
late Yasser Salihee of Knight Ridder, Solomon Moore of the

LA
Times

, and Ken Silverstein’s “The Minister of Civil
War” in August 2006

Harper’s Magazine

.) 



Since the outbreak of the all-out civil war last February, Badr
has faded into the background. One AP report claims, “Unlike
Iraq’s other major Shiite militia, the rival Mahdi Army of
anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Badr Brigade is known
to be better organized, more disciplined and secretive. These qualities
have largely spared Badr the unwanted media attention the Mahdi
Army attracts, as well as the attention of U.S. officials who often
cite the Mahdi Army when they talk about the need to disband militias
in Iraq” (AP, December 2, 2006). 



This is not entirely true, however. Prominent U.S. officials have
helped cover up Badr’s role in torture and execution. For instance,
Steven Casteel, who as a veteran of America’s dirty wars in
Latin America brought his propaganda techniques to bear in Iraq,
blamed the murders on “insurgents posing as police,” claiming,
“The small numbers that we’ve investigated we’ve
found to be either rumor or innuendo” (Knight-Ridder, June
28, 2005). Then in February 2006, after months of detailed reports
of Badr-run death squads and secret torture chambers, the U.S. general
in charge of all police training dismissed these allegations out
of hand. As the BBC put it, Major General Joseph Peterson “said
he was convinced Iraqui Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a member of
SCIRI, had no knowledge of or involvement in the death squads. ‘Who
are these guys? That’s what the minister is trying to find
out,’ he said” (BBC, February 16, 2006). 





In this light, the fighting between Badr and Mahdi is not just about
clashes between opposing militias, but also about a U.S. strategy
to back one side in the sectarian war. Starting in the summer of
2005, entire cities in southern Iraq have been wracked by days-long
street battles between the two militias. Since August of 2006, similar
battles in five cities have seen the two militias clash in fights
that drew in their allied security forces. In the city of Diwaniyah,
in Qadisiyah province, battles took place three separate times in
a six-week period starting in late August. All three involved U.S.
forces backing Badr-controlled security forces—including police
commandos in at least two instances—against Mahdi fighters. 



Analyst and historian Juan Cole described the first battles as “militia-on-militia
violence” in which up to 81 people died. Cole explained that
Badr “has infiltrated the police and security” in Qadisiyah
province, “where the ruling party is the Supreme Council for
Islamic Revolution in Iraq.” Meanwhile, “the Sadr movement
has spread like wildfire in the south and is offering a challenge
to the local political structures.” 



According to AFP, U.S. forces intervened in the fighting, dropping
a 500-pound bomb on an “enemy position.” On his website,
Cole wrote, “My own guess is that it took local Badr Corps
(infiltrated into Diwaniyah police and security forces), Badr Corps
Special Police Commandos, Iraqi army soldiers, and a U.S. 500 pound
bomb to produce an outcome where ragtag militiamen were fought to
a standstill.” In a separate article on Salon, Cole added that
by bombing a Mahdi Army position, the United States “was essentially
also backing the local SCIRI government.” 



Then in September in the same city, “a joint Iraqi and American
patrol raided one of Mr. Sadr’s offices, leading to a three-hour
exchange of gunfire between militia forces and Iraqi police commandos.”
On October 8, “American and Iraqi troops fought a fierce battle
on Sunday with [Mahdi] militants in the southern city of Diwaniya.” 



Less than two weeks later, fierce battles erupted in the Amara,
a city of 250,000 near the border with Iran. Almost 200 people were
wounded or killed in gunfights between Mahdi and Badr. Some 2,300
Iraqi troops who were rushed to the city “were being helped
by police commandos.” At the same time, clashes between the
two militias took place in two other southern towns. Then in Samawa,
in late December, more open warfare occurred between Mahdi forces
and local police aligned with SCIRI. (For more on U.S.-backed militias
see  

Z Magazine

, December 2006 “Militias and Civil
War.”) 



The proliferation of these militia-on-militia battles is ominous
because it shows how the loyalties of the Iraqi security units lie
with political and ethnic sects, not the Iraqi state. By throwing
its force behind Badr against the Mahdi Army, the United States
is showing that it isn’t hesitant about stoking the sectarian
warfare for its own ends. 



The final aspect, a U.S. military campaign against the Mahdi Army,
is also underway. Since the apparent abduction of a U.S. Army soldier
in late October, U.S. forces and Iraqi units have conducted 57 operations,
mostly in Shia neighborhoods controlled by the Mahdi Army. While
the Pentagon claims to be looking for the missing soldier, “Nasir
Saidi, a Sadr legislator, accused U.S. and Iraqi troops of using
the search for the missing U.S. soldier as a pretext to strike his
movement” (

LA Times

, December 8, 2006). 




The
raids are said to have the blessing of Prime Minister Maliki. Tensions
between him and the Sadr loyalists have sharpened after Maliki met
with Bush in Jordan on November 30. The bloc of Sadr loyalists in
the Assembly along with five cabinet ministers withdrew from the
government (

Washington Post

, November 30, 2006). The U.S.
raids against the Mahdi Army likely played a role in the boycott.
Speaking of the operations, “one high-ranking U.S. military
commander” said, “We have carte blanche at this point”
from the Iraqi government. 



Interestingly, the

LA Times

reports that the Iraqis assisting
in the Baghdad raids are said to be from a U.S.-controlled force
known as the “Dirty Iraqi Division.” They are Iraqi special
forces, which might be either an overwhelmingly Shia force known
as the Iraqi Counterterrorism force, under the control of U.S. Special
Forces, or another unit formerly called the 36th Commando Battalion,
another U.S.-controlled unit, mainly comprised of fighters from
Kurdish militias. 




Double
Down 





W

ithout
getting into the tangled nature of Iraqi politics, the White House
plan to reshape the coalition government is meeting resistance from
Maliki—who fears being ousted—and Ayatollah Sistani, who
is opposed to breaking up the Shia coalition (






NYT

,
December 12, 2006). A little opposition has never stopped the Bush
administration, however. Whatever happens on the political front,
it appears committed to employing the surge of U.S. troops and sectarian
Iraqi units in a systematic crackdown on the Mahdi Army. 




“Such a confrontation,” Reuel Marc Gerecht argues in the

Times

, “beyond wrecking Iraq politically, would probably
allow the worst elements in the Supreme Council—those who envision
a religious dictatorship along the lines of Iran—to become
more powerful within the party.” 



With dual civil wars raging in Iraq, SCIRI might seek to form an
independent “Shia-stan” in the south, which contains most
of Iraq’s working oil fields. A break-up of Iraq would probably
result in a broader war as neighboring states moved in to stake
their claims. A regional Mideast war would quickly gather momentum,
like the Congo war, Africa’s “World War,” where states
fear that if they don’t enter the conflict they will lose out
to rivals. The Bush administration is aware that its strategy might
lead to Iraq’s dissolution and is even preparing for it. A
“confidential briefing on possible ‘end states’ in
Iraq was prepared by officials under the command of Lt. Gen. Peter
W. Chiarielli…. It suggested the dark vision of a divided nation
that haunts the administration” (





NYT

,
January 2, 2007). 



There is also possibility of a civil war followed by genocide, which
Gerecht foresees. “A genocidal Shiite-versus-Sunni conflict
in Iraq—a real possibility—would be much more likely after
an intra-Shiite war that destroys the traditional social and religious
hierarchy that has remained vastly stronger among the Shiites than
among Sunni Arabs since the American invasion.” 



The pieces are all falling into place. The ruling Iraqi coalition
is increasingly fragile, and the Bush administration is trying to
deliver the final blow. Pro-occupation Iraqi parties are maneuvering
to put a new government in place. The main target would be the Sadrists,
who would be isolated politically. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is stepping
up attacks against the Mahdi Army while the U.S.-backed Badr Brigade
is also engaged in battles against Mahdi militiamen. 



While it seems crazy that the Bush administration would seek such
a course, the wheels are already in motion. It should be remembered
that the White House has escalated the war at every critical juncture:
from the mass arrests and torture that fueled the initial insurgency
in 2003 to the twin assaults on Falluja and Mahdi forces in 2004
to the use of death squads starting in 2005 to the surge coming
down the pike. 



With no options remaining other than escalation or withdrawal, the
Bush administration is not going to back down and admit defeat even
if it’s the only prudent course. For four years it’s gambled
with the lives of Iraqis and American soldiers in pursuit of a failed
policy. It’s even using gambling terminology to refer to the
new strategy. One defense official said the escalation was a “double
down” (

LA


Times

, December 13, 2006). 



In a last desperate bid to regain the upper hand, it’s upping
the stakes, which means there is more to lose. It’s gambling
that it can win a two-front war against both the Sunni and Shia
resistance before Iraq implodes in a Middle Eastern World War. Given
the White House’s track record, the odds for success don’t
look good.







A.K.
Gupta is an editor of the



Indypendent

newspaper
in New York. He is currently writing a book on the history of the
Iraq War to be published by Haymarket Press in 2008.