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I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Attack on Shiite "Golden" mosque in Iraq:
   Impending Civil War, or Harbinger for Peace?

In a February 28 newsletter, George Friedman, founder of Stratfor.com, argues the recent jihadist attack on the Shiite "Golden" Mosque in As Samarra is actually good news,

The Fault Lines in Iraq

After the failures of U.S. intelligence and operations in Iraq in spring 2003, the United States adopted a long-term strategy of using the natural split between the country's Shiite and Sunni populations to first stabilize its own position, and then improve it. During the first phase, Washington tilted heavily toward the Shia, doing everything possible to assure that there would be no Shiite rising to accompany that of the Sunnis. Since the Shia had no love for the Sunni minority, given their experiences under Saddam Hussein's anti-Shiite regime, this was not overly difficult. In addition, the Shia were able to take advantage of the U.S.-Sunni war to shape and dominate post-Hussein politics. The Shia and Americans suited each other.

In the second phase of this policy, the United States reached out to the Sunnis, trying to draw them into a Shiite-Kurdish government. Washington had two goals: One was a Sunni counterweight to the Shia. Whatever it had promised the Shia, Washington did not simply want to hand Iraq over to them, out of fear that the country would become an Iranian satellite state. The second goal was to exploit fault lines within the Sunni community itself, in order to manipulate the balance of power in favor of the United States.

By the time this phase of the policy was being implemented - at the end of the first battle of Al Fallujah, in 2004 - the U.S.-Sunni war had developed a new dimension, consisting of jihadists. These were Sunnis, but differed from the Iraqi Sunnis in a number of critical ways. First, many were foreigners who lacked roots in Iraq. Second, the Sunni community in Iraq was multidimensional; Sunnis had been the backbone of support for Hussein's regime, which had been far more secular than Islamist. The jihadists, of course, were radical Islamists. Thus, there was the potential for yet another rift; the stronger the jihadists grew, the greater the risk to the traditional leadership of Iraq's Sunnis. The jihadists might increase their influence within the community, marginalizing the old leadership.

The U.S. success in manipulating this split reached a high point in December 2005, with Iraq's national elections. The jihadists opposed Sunni participation in the election, but the Sunni leadership participated anyway. The jihadists threatened the leadership but could not strike; as foreigners, they depended on local Sunni communities to sustain and protect them. If they alienated the Sunni leadership without destroying them, the jihadists would in turn be destroyed.

Thus, after the disaster in December, the jihadists embarked on a different course. Rather than focusing on American forces or Shiite collaborators, the goal was to trigger a civil war between the Shia and Sunnis. The brilliantly timed attack on the Golden Mosque, much like the 9/11 attacks, was intended to ignite a war. There would be an event that the Shia could not ignore and to which they would respond with maximum violence, preferably against the Sunnis as a whole. In an all-out civil war, the Sunni leadership would not be able to dispense with the jihadists, or so the jihadists hoped. Their own position would be cemented and the Americans would be trapped in a country torn by civil war.

The Sunni leadership, of course, understands the situation. If the Sunnis protect the jihadists who carried out the attack - and we are convinced they were jihadists - they will be in a civil war they cannot win. Given their numbers compared to the Shiite majority, the Sunnis - if they were to break with the Shia - eventually would have to come back to the table and make some sort of a deal. The jihadists are betting that the terms the Shia would impose would be so harsh that the Sunnis would prefer civil war. The United States has an interest in limiting what terms the Shia can impose, and the Iraqi Shia themselves understand that if there is civil war, they will need Iran's help. Getting caught between the United States and Iran is not in their interest.

There is, interestingly, the possibility of what passes for peace in Iraq embedded in all of this. The jihadists, marginalized and desperate due to American maneuvers, have tossed up a "Hail Mary" in the hope of disrupting the works. It is certainly possible that the maneuver will work. But a more reasonable assumption is that the bombing of the Golden Mosque achieves merely a shift in the time frame the Sunnis thought they had for negotiations. What might have taken months now could take much less. Certainly, the Sunnis have been forced to a decision point.

This report may be distributed or republished with attribution to Strategic Forecasting, Inc. at www.stratfor.com.

Well said.


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