A lot has been made of the success in Anbar, even though the so-called “surge” had absolutely nothing to do with Anbar, and the tactics used in Anbar are vastly different from those used in Baghdad. And while metrics such as Sunni-Shiite violence being down in Baghdad and other areas are good, the fact that this decrease is related to sectarian cleansing is nothing to really be proud of.
A number of people have been touting the success in Anbar and even talked about this model as something to emulate in other areas of Iraq. Taking the fact that one of our “allies” was recently killed after a visit by Bush, and that the US is almost as unpopular in Anbar as al-Qaeda out of the mix, there is something that is being ignored which has larger ramifications.
That is the fact that the “Anbar model” relies mainly on getting local leaders to tamp down on the violence, reducing the violence little by little and therefore (as the thought process goes) lead to the ability for political reconciliation which, of course, would lead to us being able to withdraw our troops from these areas (yeah, right…). The only little problem here is that this is creating tension and a power struggle not only between Sunnis and Shiites, but within factions of Sunnis and Shiites. So what we are getting to here with the “Anbar model” is more than one civil war – we have multiple - dozens, if not more – different Shiite factions vying for power in each region and the further splintering of Shiites and Sunnis against their own.
Now, if you want to say that creating or promoting smaller civil wars from a larger civil war is impressive and a model to emulate, I have no response to that. But the truth here is that it really doesn’t do much other than put the US (and really our troops) in the middle of figuring out if they should back once Shiite group or another (and risk the violence and further lack of trust that goes along with that) or one Sunni insurgent group over another – even if both of these groups were recently attacking our troops.
Sadly, this isn’t going to turn out so well if any realistic mid to long term view is considered. As noted in the WSJ article linked above, even some of the military commanders on the ground have big concerns with this:
"People think that all of the violence in Iraq is Sunni on Shia or Shia on Sunni, but it's not," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands the army's Third Infantry Division, in an interview in Iraq last month. "It's guys from the same communities fighting each other for power, money and influence."
Gen. Lynch likens the strife to the fights among organized-crime families. "I tell my guys, the best way they can prepare before they come out here is to watch 'The Sopranos,'" he said, referring to the popular U.S. television mob drama.
Another issue with this is that even if the US is able to back some factions that would be more “friendly” to our efforts, this is dangerous in that it we may not be siding with the more influential factions, not to mention that we would (1) piss off those factions that we are not backing, which will likely lead to more attacks on our troops and (2) have no business choosing sides in a civil war, let alone mini-“civil wars within a civil war” in the first place.
One example here is al Sadr and his militia. Clearly he has had much influence over a large portion of Shiites, and he is (or was, depending on the day) a significant enough player in the Iraqi Parliament. Yet, he has been designated as public enemy number one and there is no way that we would back him, even if by doing so would provide an easier path towards a decrease in violence and political reconciliation. The upshot of not supporting al Sadr is that other Shiite factions are cooperating to a degree with our troops, but it is a fine line that neither they nor we should be walking:
Many U.S. commanders remain divided over whether to intervene directly in the infighting between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps, given the possibility that such a move could inflame large portions of Iraq's Shiite majority.
In an interview last month, Lt. Col. Peter Andrysiak, then-deputy commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, said the U.S. "can and should" support the Badr Corps in its fight with the Mahdi Army. He argued that Mr. Hakim's militia is broadly supportive of the Iraqi government while Mr. Sadr's forces aren't.
"Badr is reconcilable, and we can win them over. JAM is not," he said, using the military's acronym for the Arabic name of Mr. Sadr's forces, the Jaish al-Mahdi.
Other senior officers disagreed. "It's a dangerous thought process, once you start down that path," Gen. Lynch said.
The other issue here is that the “Anbar success” was based on the fact that the local Sunni leaders don’t want al Qaeda around nearly as much as the US doesn’t want al Qaeda around. So when local Sunni leaders and factions helped the US troops against al Qaeda in Anbar, there was a singular common goal – to rid Anbar of al Qaeda. We shouldn’t forget that a number of these Sunni insurgent groups (or “former insurgent groups” if there is such a thing) are the same ones who are part of the insurgency that is responsible for close to 80% of the attacks and deaths of our troops.
Of course, we also can’t forget that the Shiites are more aligned with the philosophy of Iran – the country that Bush and Cheney are itching to bomb because they are “actively engaging and attacking our troops”. This little nugget that is being repeated ad nauseum doesn’t consider the two little details that (1) if Russia invaded Mexico and the violence looked like it was going to spill over into Texas that the US would most certainly not close its eyes and hope this all goes away and (2) there hasn’t been any real proof of any assertions made by Cheney and Bush.
I don’t want to minimize the success that occurred in Anbar with respect to al Qaeda. But it is foolish to think that this wasn’t more of the exception than the rule and certainly it is foolish to think that a model that further splinters the Iraqi population into Shiite against Shiite and Sunni against Sunni is anything that will achieve a mid or long term success.
In fact, it seems like this is just a recipe for more disaster and will only make any kind of regional political reconciliation or autonomy more difficult, not to mention the near impossibility of there being anything of substance on a national level.