Iraq leader can­cels Bush meet­ing af­ter ‘ig­no­rant’ memo

Shi’ites, Sun­nis seen pre­par­ing for an all-out war

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Sharon Behn

Ri­val Shi’ite and Sunni groups are mass­ing their mili­tias in ex­pec­ta­tionof­ma­jor­con­fronta­tions,Iraqis say, even as Pres­i­dent Bush pre­pared to meet with the na­tion’s em­bat­tled prime min­is­ter, Nouri alMa­liki, last week.

Mr. Bush’s meet­ing in Jor­dan, which was later can­celed, was part of a wider at­tempt to in­volve Iraq’s neigh­bors in ef­forts to end Iraq’s vi­cious sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence be­fore it spills over into a larger re­gional con­flict.

But Iraqis on both sides of their na­tion’s sec­tar­ian di­vide re­port wor­ri­some signs that the con­flict will soon evolve into pitched bat­tles be­tween large armed groups.

One sec­u­lar Shi’ite speak­ing on the tele­phone from Bagh­dad said Shi’ite mili­tias were mass­ing in prepa­ra­tion for a large of­fen­sive against Sun­nis in the cap­i­tal.

“They had a big mil­i­tary­like cer­e­mony to­day for the Mahdi mili­tia, to show their force. They are mak­ingth­em­selves­ready­for­some­thing big — protests, fight­ing, killing,” said the Shi’ite.

A sec­u­lar Sunni in close con­tact with­onein­sur­gent­fac­tion,saidrebel Sun­nis were also try­ing to form al­liance­sa­mong­mili­ti­as­fora­big­push in the city against the Shi’ites, in­clud­ing more raids on gov­ern­ment build­ings.

“I am wait­ing for the Sun­nis to launch a ‘Tet Of­fen­sive.’ That is the one plug they have not pulled yet, and I could see that hap­pen­ing,” said se­nior Rand de­fense an­a­lyst Ed O’Con­nell.

The Tet Of­fen­sive was a se­ries of at­tacks by the North Viet­namese and their Viet Cong al­lies that many con­sider a turn­ing point in the war, lead­ing even­tu­ally to the U.S. with­drawal.

Anye­mer­gence­of­pitched­bat­tles be­tween massed groups of Sun­nis and Shi’ites would largely settle a long-run­ning ar­gu­ment in Wash­ing­ton over whether the con­flict in Iraq should be de­scribed as a civil war — a de­scrip­tion the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has so far re­jected.

How­ever the depth of con­cern over the ris­ing lev­els of vi­o­lence was ev­i­dent in the flurry of diplo­macy lead­ing to Mr. Bush’s planned meet­ing with Mr. al-Ma­liki in Am­man.

Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney met with­KingAb­dul­lahinSaudiAra­bia on Nov.25, and Iraqi Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­a­ban­i­heldtalk­sonNov.27and28 with Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad and re­li­gious leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei.

Both Ira­nian lead­ers pledged to help Iraq, but sharp­ened the politi- cal di­vi­sions with the United States by ac­cus­ing Wash­ing­ton of desta­bi­liz­ing the re­gion by sup­port­ing Sunni “out­laws.”

King Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan, mean­while, has said that “some­thing dra­matic” must come out of the meet­ing be­cause Iraq is “be­gin­ning to spi­ral out of con­trol.”

While the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has been re­luc­tant to re­cruit clearly hos­til­eregimesinTehranandDa­m­as­cus into the Iraq ef­fort, many an­a­lysts have con­cluded that there is no other choice.

“Theon­lypeo­ple­whoare­go­ingto be able to put this back into the box are not the Amer­i­can politi­cians or Amer­i­can mil­i­tary — it is the Ira­ni­ans,theSyr­i­ans,theJor­da­ni­ansand the Saudis,” said Mr. O’Con­nell.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Dance of death: An Iraqi dances atop a burned am­bu­lance in Buhriz, a for­mer Sad­dam Hus­sein strong­hold north of Bagh­dad.

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