Last week I mentioned a piece in the New York Times that warns ominously of potential trouble between the U.S.-backed Sunni tribes of the Anbar Awakening/Sons-of-Iraq and the predominately Shi’ite government, run by Nuri Al-Maliki. Well, Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl of the Center for New American Security, back from a recent trip to Iraq, have more on the issue. There’s a lot more in the article, but this gets at the underlying issue.
…Over the last several weeks, Iraqi army units and special operations forces (which report directly to Maliki) have arrested Sons of Iraq leaders, dismantled checkpoints and otherwise harassed local security volunteers in Diyala province and greater Baghdad. There are reportedly plans to detain hundreds of Sons of Iraq members in the coming weeks. “These people are like cancer, and we must remove them,” an Iraqi army general in Abu Ghraib, a Baghdad suburb, told a reporter last week. Another Iraqi commander in Baghdad confided, “We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently,” before telling that reporter of plans to instigate a major crackdown as early as November.
We talked to a number of tribal and Sons of Iraq leaders during our trip. When asked what would happen if the Maliki government did not keep its word and integrate or otherwise accommodate their members, one leader was blunt: “There will be trouble.”
The question now is: what can–or should–we do about this? Whose side are we on if Maliki launches the crackdown? Brimley and Kahl think we can influence Maliki’s behavior by threatening to withold U.S. military support–but that may be exactly what the overconfident Maliki wants. Then again, what choice do we have? I doubt that even John McCain will argue that the role of the U.S. military will be to defend the Sons of Iraq in the coming battle. My guess is that the end result in Iraq is an authoritarian Maliki- or military-led Shi’ite government, less toxic than Saddam Hussein’s, which will stand closer to Iran than to Saudi Arabia in the regional Sunni-Shi’ite contest. The war in Iraq will not have been “lost,” but can this be reasonably described as “victory?” I think not. It can be best described as a terrible, shameful waste of lives and resources.