As I read about the events that are going on in Iraq, I’m happy I’m a humble blogger rather than a politician or even worse, a US military commander. As the violence spirals upward, we’re in the position of fighting the very people we “liberated” a year ago. I enjoy being a Monday morning quarterback as much as the next guy, but if I were in charge I honestly have no idea what the next move would be.
Mark Kimmitt, a US general, has said that we aim to destroy Muqtada al-Sadr’s Army of the Mahdi. First of all, that doesn’t seem feasible to me. It implies killing an awful lot of Shiites, and more importantly, sending US forces into Shiite towns and neighborhoods to do some hardcore fighting amidst plenty of civilians and Shiite holy sites. After a few weeks of that, I don’t see most Shiites wanting to be our friends any more. At the same time, it’s clear to me that anyplace that Muqtada al-Sadr rules is going to be run like any other Islamic backwater in the world, with all the attendant repression that one might expect. al-Sadr’s connection to the Iranians are also worrying. What to do with this guy? Beats me, I have no good ideas.
The other side of the coin is the Sunni triangle, where we’re facing stiff resistance in Fallujah and Ramadi, and where it seems unlikely that we’ll ever have the support of the civilian populace. These people are the big losers in the regime change picture. Having once made up the privileged class, they’re now staring down the barrel of hardcore payback from the Sunnis that they’ve repressed as soon as democracy takes hold and they’re permanently in the minority. Maybe we could convince them that that’s not how it has to be if we could get them to stop shooting at us. Unfortunately, blowing up dozens of civilians in our latest attempts at pacification probably isn’t going to help.
I’m not surprised that no immediate solutions to these problems pop into my head, but I guess I’d hope that our leaders have some ideas of their own. The immediate plan seems to be trumping their violence with our violence, but even if that works, what’s next? If we “pacify” Fallujah, do we have the troops to keep it, along with every other town in Iraq, pacified? The Iraqi policemen and soldiers we’re training don’t seem to be much help, and in some cases, seem to prefer fighting against us, which is unsurprising given the rush job of we’ve been forced into there. What if the right answer is upping the troop count in Iraq to 300,000. What do we do then? Send over 190,000 more US troops? Maintain the current troop levels and pray for the best? Forget the whole thing and bring the troops home? These are decisions somebody has to make, and I’m glad it’s not me.
Update: Phil Carter has an entry today that makes it clear that what’s going on in Fallujah is full scale urban warfare.
Update: A month or so ago, members of the Mahdi Army ethnically cleansed a town populated by Iraqi gypsies. This story provides a good indication of what Iraq will be like if al-Sadr and his friends are allowed to run amok, and also a disturbing indication of how little control we have of what’s going on in Iraq, even in the southern parts that until recently were judged to be relatively calm.