Monday, 11 June 2007

How to Escalate Civil Wars 101

Here's an interesting article from the International Herald Tribune: 'U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies'. Essentially it relates how the U.S. military, delighted by infighting between Sunni nationalist militias and Sunni Jihadist militias has decided to arm the nationalists and turn a blind eye to their activities according to the dictum 'the enemy of my enemy, who is also my enemy and the enemy of my allies (who are also allies of another of my enemies) is my friend'. Guardian photojournalist Sean Smith witnessed the phenomenon which he recorded here amongst a series of other disturbing photos from Iraq.

After quoting glowing reports of success from American military commanders, the IHT article goes on to note:
But critics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans' arming both sides in a future civil war. The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq's army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.

The question is: who will the militias use these weapons against? Will it be the Americans? Or Shiites? Several months ago I had linked to this article which chronicled how many Sunni militias are leaving off attacking the Americans in order to attack Shiites. Last month, we learnt that Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Shiite Mahdi army was looking to forge ties with Sunni militias to try and build a pan-Iraqi movement to oppose U.S. occupation.

One suspects that once the weapons and money are in the hands of various local militia leaders, there will be no control over how they are used and who they are used against. In the fluctuating political landscape of a chaotic post-invasion Iraq, today's ally can be tomorrow's enemy and vice versa. And of course one would be naive to assume that armed gangs only use violence for political ends. Armed robbery, kidnappings, turf wars and vendettas are always going to be the primary use of weapons in a land where there so so much physical and economic insecurity. The Americans' claim that creating more armed gangs would help "to stabilize Iraq, and to speed American troops on their way home." Obviously, the second goal is the main one, the first, merely lip-service. After all, what does the Iraqi government have to say about this?
An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. "The government's aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Maliki. "And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?"

But who cares what the Iraqi government wants? They should just shut up and enjoy the freedom they have been given.


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