Alex's Outlook

Monday, April 19, 2004

It's official: L. Paul Bremer has botched the reconstruction 

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi, coalition and local Fallujah officials agreed that a U.S. siege on the violence-ridden city would end if insurgents hand over their heavy weaponry, a coalition spokesman said Monday.

Well, what I dreaded has come to pass. The Coalition had a chance to liquidate the Fallujan rebels, not to mention make an example out of the Sunni al-Qaeda and Baathist holdovers who had concentrated their forces in Falluja, inviting annihilation at the hands of 2500 Marines.

What could Bremer have possibly lost by subjugating Falluja? Iraqi Sunnis hate us. It would have struck a chord of fear into Sunni and Shia rebels alike. It would have shown that America will not countenance rebellion; that rebels will be crushed, harshly and efficiently.

The international press hates us, too. They won't get a bloodbath in Falluja, but they will find others to suit their anti-American, pro-terrorist slant.

The Shia radicals under al-Sadr now know how weak we are, considering what a good hand we just threw away. (We just passed up an opportunity to smash their organized resistance once and for all, because we are so frightened of more revolts.) Sadr now knows that, not only will he survive, but he can bargain for more American concessions because we are so allergic to fighting. Then he, and any other opportunizing demagogue, can turn his militia into a grassroots, "legitimate" political movement, raise more hell, and get more concessions from the Americans.

So what's next? Well, the Sunnis will keep on fighting. Not only are the Iraqi Sunnis ideologically radical, but they're screwed under the new order (no more subsidies from Uncle Saddam), and considering their powerlessness as a minority in a democracy they have every reason to fight that democracy. Had the US moved decisively against Falluja, the Sunnis would at the very least be severely mauled and much less capable of rebelling.

The Shia under Sistani and al-Sadr will get more concessions. Sadr could wait and then revolt again, or they might just take over democratically. We lose either way.

Regarding the Sistani/Sadr connection, I'm sure Bremer was spooked when Sistani told Americans to stay out of Najaf, where Sadr's joke of an army is holed up, waiting to be liquidated. But Bremer needs to understand that Sistani and Sadr, although they are rivals who hate each other, have the same goal: increasing leverage against the Americans to "Shia-ize" the Iraqi government.

Sistani really didn't have much to lose under the current arrangement. As Iraq's leading Grand Ayatollah, he is the spiritual leader of most Shiites. Since Shiites are about two-thirds of the country's population, Sistani would have more power than just about anybody else under a democratic arrangement. The democratic nature of the country wouldn't be much of an obstacle to him or his ideals; additional leverage over the Americans is not important enough for Sistani to start a revolt (he has a lot of leverage now), but more wouldn't hurt.

Sadr, on the other hand, is much younger than Sistani and the respect he commands is much less widespread. He would have been powerless compared to Sistani. He needed to somehow alter the situation before June 30, when Iraq would officially become a democracy. Hence the revolt.

However--this is important to understand--Sadr's revolt in Najaf has the effect of increasing Shia leverage over the Americans, benefiting not just Sadr, but Sistani as well. Hence Sistani's call for the US army to stay out of Najaf, and the unlikely bedfellows Sadr/Sistani. Sistani is effectively using Sadr to gain leverage over the US at no risk to himself.

The obvious course of action, especially in light of Sistani's conflict of interest, is for Bremer to reject Sistani's demand and liquidate Sadr's forces. If Sadr escapes this unscathed, his support will skyrocket. He will have a virtual army that he could use to gain power through elections, or he could arm them and attempt a larger rebellion later. Considering that Sadr is an Iranian pawn and has been funded by the Iranian government, letting Sadr remain alive is asking for an explosion down the road. All that's certain is that Sadr and his supporters will become emboldened at the Americans' weakness and Sadr's successful stand against Uncle Sam; and considering that Sadr's hostility against America will not abate, he will only become more of a nuisance later. Which is why Bremer needs to make an example of him!!

Sadly, Bremer won't. If he won't kill the Sunni rebels (he wouldn't lose anything except two or three hundred troops at the very worst), he certainly won't go against Sistani's demand to respect the integrity of Najaf. Sadr and the Sunnis will both get away and raise more hell later.

I thought the coalition was doing an excellent job of the reconstruction up until now; the liberal charges that Iraq was falling apart were, at the time, baseless. The Sunni/Shia rebellion was simply the confluence of hostile elements. Had the Americans played their cards right and smashed them both, even at the cost of hostile press, the major enemies of Iraqi democracy would have been decapitated in one stroke. Instead, of course, Bremer was offered the insurgents' heads on a platter, and he wavered. American strength, and Bush's poll numbers, will bleed because of this.


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