A Plan B for Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Mor­ton Kon­dracke

With­out pre­judg­ing whether Pres­i­dent Bush’s “surge” pol­icy will work, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and its crit­ics ought to be se­ri­ously think­ing about a Plan B, the “80 per­cent so­lu­tion” — also known as “win­ning dirty.”

Right now, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to build­ing a uni­fied, rec­on­ciled, mul­ti­sec­tar­ian Iraq — “win­ning clean.” Most Democrats say that’s what they want, too. But it may not be pos­si­ble.

The 80 per­cent al­ter­na­tive in­volves ac­cept­ing rule by Shi’ites and Kurds, al­low­ing them to vi­o­lently sup­press Sunni re­sis­tance and mak­ing sure that Shi’ites friendly to the United States emerge vic­to­ri­ous.

No one has pub­licly ad­vo­cated this Plan B, and I know of only one mem­ber of Congress who backs it — and he wants to stay anony­mous. But he ar­gues per­sua­sively that it’s the best al­ter­na­tive avail­able if Mr. Bush’s surge fails.

Win­ning will be dirty be­cause it will al­low the Shi’ite-dom­i­nated Iraqi mil­i­tary and some Shi’ite mili­tias to dec­i­mate the Sunni in­sur­gency. There likely will be eth­nic cleans­ing, atroc­i­ties against civil­ians and mas­sive refugee flows.

On the other hand, as Mr. Bush’s crit­ics point out, bloody civil war is the re­al­ity in Iraq right now. U.S. troops are stand­ing in the mid­dle of it and so far can­not stop ei­ther Shi’ites from killing Sun­nis or Sun­nis from killing Shi’ites.

Win­ning dirty would in­volve tak­ing sides in the civil war — back­ing the Shi’ite­dom­i­nated elected gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki and en­sur­ing that he and his al­lies pre­vail over both the Sunni in­sur­gency and his Shi’ite ad­ver­sary Muq­tada al-Sadr, who’s now Iran’s can­di­date to rule Iraq.

Shi’ites make up 60 per­cent of the Iraqi pop­u­la­tion, so Shi’ite dom­i­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment is in­evitable and a demo­cratic out­come.

The United States also has good re­la­tions with Iraq’s Kur­dish mi­nor­ity, 20 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, and would want to ce­ment it by semiper­ma­nently sta­tion­ing U.S. troops in north­ern Iraq to ward off the pos­si­bil­ity of a Turk­ish in­va­sion.

Ever since the top­pling of Sad- dam Hus­sein, Sun­nis — rep­re­sent­ing 20 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — have been the core of armed re­sis­tance to the United States and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment. The in­sur­gency con­sists mainly of ex-Sad­dam sup­port­ers and Sunni na­tion­al­ists, both ea­ger to re­turn to power, and of ji­hadists anx­ious to sow chaos, hu­mil­i­ate the United States and cre­ate a safe zone for al Qaeda op­er­a­tions through­out the Mid­dle East.

Mr. Bush wants to es­tab­lish Iraq as a model rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy for the Mid­dle East, but that’s proved im­pos­si­ble so far — partly be­cause of the Sunni in­sur­gen­cies, partly be­cause of Shi’ites’ re­luc­tance to com­pro­mise with their for­mer op­pres­sors and partly be­cause al Qaeda suc­ceeded in trig­ger­ing a civil war.

Mr. Bush’s troop surge — along with Gen. David Pe­traeus’ shift of mil­i­tary strat­egy — is de­signed to sup­press the civil war long enough for Iraqi mil­i­tary forces to be able to main­tain even-handed or­der on their own and for Sunni, Kur­dish and Shi’ite politi­cians to agree to share power and re­sources.

The new strat­egy de­serves a chance, but so far civil­ian ca­su­al­ties are not down, progress on po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is glacial, and U.S. ca­su­al­ties have in- creased sig­nif­i­cantly.

As a re­sult, po­lit­i­cal pa­tience in the United States is run­ning down. If Gen. Pe­traeus can­not show dra­matic progress by Septem­ber, Repub­li­cans wor­ried about re-elec­tion are likely to de­mand a U.S. with­drawal, join­ing Democrats who have de­manded it for years.

Pru­dence calls for prepa­ra­tion of a Plan B. The with­drawal pol­icy ad­vo­cated by most Democrats vir­tu­ally guar­an­tees cat­a­strophic eth­nic cleans­ing — but with­out any guar­an­tee that a gov­ern­ment friendly to the United States would emerge.

Al­most cer­tainly, Shi’ites will dom­i­nate Iraq be­cause they out­num­ber Sun­nis three to one. But the United States would get no credit for help­ing the Shi’ites win. In fact, Amer­ica’s cred­i­bil­ity would suf­fer be­cause it aban­doned its mis­sion.

And, there is no guar­an­tee that Sheik al-Sadr — cur­rently re­sid­ing in Iran and rest­ing his mili­tias — would not emerge as the vic­tor in a power strug­gle with Mr. alMa­liki’s Dawa Party and the Supreme Coun­cil for the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion in Iraq, led by Ab­dul Aziz al-Hakim.

Iran for­merly backed the SCIRI and its Badr Brigades but re­cently switched al­le­giances — fool­ishly, my con­gres­sional source con­tends — to Sheik al-Sadr, who’s re­garded by other Shi’ites as young, volatile and un­re­li­able.

Un­der a win-dirty strat­egy, the United States would have to back Mr. al-Ma­liki and the Badr Brigades in their even­tual show­down with Sheik al-Sadr. It also would have to help Jor­dan and Saudi Ara­bia care for a surge in Sunni refugees, pos­si­bly 1 mil­lion to 2 mil­lion join­ing an equal num­ber who al­ready have fled.

Sun­nis will suf­fer un­der a win­ning dirty strat­egy, no ques­tion, but so far they’ve re­fused to ac­cept that they’re a mi­nor­ity. They will have to do so even­tu­ally, one way or an­other. And, even­tu­ally, Iraq will achieve po­lit­i­cal equi­lib­rium. Civil wars do end. The losers lose and have to knuckle un­der.

As my con­gres­sional source says, “Ev­ery civil war is a po­lit­i­cal strug­gle. The cen­ter of this strug­gle is for con­trol of the Shi’ite com­mu­nity. Wher­ever the Shi’ites go is where Iraq will go. So, the quicker we back the win­ning side, the quicker the war ends. [. . .] Win­ning dirty isn’t at­trac­tive, but it sure beats los­ing.”

Mor­ton Kon­dracke is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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