Chalk it up to the law of unintended consequences. I would say to chalk it up to the law of "intended" consequences, except for the fact that there were many in our government, including Bush himself who didn't know the difference between Shiites and Sunnis.
Over the past few months, the United States is finally realizing that Iraq is in the midst of a bloody civil war. One that was predicted by many for years now. And more recently, the talk is being ratcheted up about the
scant, um, "overstated", um, "pretty good" evidence of Iran's "meddling" in Iraq.
What is being missed here, is that we shouldn't even be talking about a "civil war" in Iraq - but rather a regional holy war between Sunnis and Shiites. And oh-by-the-way, while this battle was previously largely confined to Lebanon and some other areas, and whose face was mainly terrorist groups such as Hizbullah or Hamas, Iraq is rapidly becoming "ground zero" for this holy war for dominance in the region.
Not to say that this outcome wasn't something that could have been predicted, given the volatile state of the region in general, as well as the numerous wars and conflicts that have been fought over the past, oh, countless number of years. Up until now, however, the US troops were not in the midst of this holy war. And up until the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, the US had little hand (other than its role as background aggressor) in these battles.
However, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has done way more damage than "creating a haven for terrorists". The bigger horrific long term impact is that Iraq, with its largely Shiite population but formerly Sunni government is now viewed as "up for grabs" in a battle to shift the regional power to Shiite-dominated.
In doing research over the past few weeks for my book, I have been gathering a lot of information on Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. And in piecing together the mess that has been made in or by each of these countries over the past few years, I came across an excellent article from last December's UK Guardian, titled Iran v Saudis in battle of Beirut. While it relates to the struggle in Lebanon, developments over the past two months not only supplement this article, but also put the entire region into context.
And let me tell you, it isn't pretty.
Before I get into the context as it relates to Iraq, I'll at least lay out who is on whose side.
Most Muslims are Sunni. While Iraq was overwhelmingly Shiite, Saddam's regime was a Sunni regime. Therefore, while the country itself was majority Shiite, the Sunni government (and Saddam's heavy hand) kept the Shiites from exerting its authority in the country. The combination of the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority rulers made the potential for an exploding powder keg if the Sunnis were driven from power. Another way to say this is that anyone with even a cursory amount of knowledge knew that a civil war in Iraq was not only possible but likely if Saddam's regime were to be toppled.
On the "Sunni side" are countries that are our "friends" in the WarOnTerrah™. Countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt as well as countries like Jordan and much of the Palestinian Muslims are Sunni, or largely identify themselves with the Sunnis. While there may be Shiite elements or struggles for power in these countries (like the one in Pakistan), by and large, they are and have been Sunni.
Additionally, our enemies such as the Taliban (who the US and Pakistan had a large hand in helping form), Hamas and Osama himself are Sunni.
On the "Shiite team" are our sworn enemies such as the card-carrying "Axis of Evil" member Iran, Syria as well as Lebanon. Terrorist group Hezbollah is also a Shiite organization.
So what is going on now? Well, if you remember, we helped Saddam's Sunni regime against Iran in the Iran/Iraq war. We have always been aligned with Saudi Arabia and, when it suits our cause, Pakistan. Iran and Syria have generally been "evil" in the eyes of the United States. So, it would seem that historically, we would be more sympathetic to the countries that are Sunni over those who are Shiite.
The problem here? Well, in Iraq, the "insurgency" has historically been Sunni. And from 2004 - 2005, there were roughly 60,000 attacks against US and coalition forces in Iraq. Since this was the period before a full blown civil war was occurring, it is safe to say that these attacks were largely by the Sunni "insurgency".
Makes sense so far. However, when you look at the events of the past two months, we are in a situation where we are supporting countries who are backing (1) Sunni insurgents against American troops (Saudi Arabia), (2) countries that are looking the other way while the Taliban are launching attacks against US troops in Afghanistan (Pakistan) and (3) are not doing enough to capture bin Laden, who is assumed to be hiding in the country (Pakistan).
We know that there have been a number of instances over the past three weeks where US helicopters have been shot down in Iraq. The week after the UK Guardian article was released, there were wealthy Saudis funding the Sunni insurgents. What was the funding being used for?
Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.
We also know that Vice President Cheney was "summoned" to Saudi Arabia around the same time. According to a top Saudi official, the meeting wasn't too pleasant:
sked about the meeting, a senior Saudi official -- who spoke on condition he not be named -- ruled out using terminology such as "warning" or "threatening." He said, "I believe the Saudi position was clear, that things might deteriorate or drift in Iraq, and then the kingdom will find itself forced to interfere."
The official also added: "This is not only expected from Saudi Arabia, but also Jordan and a lot of other Arab countries can't stand still and see things going that direction."
Over recent months, there has also been much finger pointing between Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan regarding the Taliban. Even John Negroponte pointed the finger at Pakistan last month, alleging that it a refuge for top terror leaders and is not doing enough to stop al Qaeda and the Taliban from launching attacks on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
At the same time, we are refusing to talk to countries like Iran and Syria, whose influence will only grow if Iraq falls to the Shiite majority and its leaders such as al Sadr. Not only that, but we are threatening action against Iran for tenuous links to IED parts that were used to in attacks on US troops in Iraq.
The article cited above from the UK Guardian notes the following with respect to the fighting in Labanon over the past year:
A Hizbullah political success would plainly complement the group's self-proclaimed military successes of August. And like Israel, the US and Britain see the potential "loss" of Lebanon as a direct gain not only for Syria and its favourite militia, but more worryingly, for Iran. This places the battle for Beirut squarely in the wider context of a regional power struggle with an increasingly confident Tehran.
While Lebanon may have seemed like the place where this regional struggle was taking place by proxy, the past two months have seen some significant developments in Iraq. Not just in the civil war - not just with the "supposed" evidence about Iran. But about the battle for regional domination among countries that back Sunnis and countries that back Shiites.
This battle is now actively being waged in Iraq. And not only did the United States ignite this with the invasion and occupation, but now appears to be taking sides.
And it is worth mentioning that we are taking sides with countries that have been funding the Sunni insurgency, as well as countries that are backing the Taliban, al Qaeda and those who attacked us back in 2001.