February 13, 2005

Who Fights In Iraq

Jim Hoagland makes a good point in his Post column today: We have no fucking clue just who the Iraqi insurgents really are, and until we do, designing an exit strategy is going to be awfully difficult.

It seems the CIA thinks that the insurgency is mostly made up of Sunni nationalists who hate the United States and would mostly lay down their arms if we left. The military, it seems, puts a greater emphasis on the "well-organized, well-financed sabotage campaign by Baathists [and foreign fighters]." They of course won't put down their arms if we leave, and could do a lot more damage in the absence of an American military presence—civil war, coups, etc. Obviously the insurgency's a composition of the two, but the proportions are crucial, and this is more than an academic dispute.

One X factor, though, is the question of whether or not many of the tribal Sunnis in Anbar, Diyalah, etc. are merely anti-American nationalists, or actual rejectionists who will fight against any centralized Iraqi state, whether the Americans stay or go. I understand that one Iraqi scholar, Rashid al-Khuyun, has recently put forward this view, and if correct would augur for a withdrawal later rather than sooner. The other X factor is that we've been hearing a lot of promising noises from the Association of Muslim Scholars about cooperating with the new government. But no one seems to know how influential AMS really is, or how monolithic the "religious Sunni" demographic will turn out to be. True, AMS is an umbrella group encompassing some 3,000 mosques, but these guys hardly have firm Sistani-like sway over the community, and if a large number of Salafist mosques flatly reject any Shiite-led government, then a handful of conciliatory Sunni leaders won't change their mind. Schisms happen all the time!
-- Brad Plumer 2:30 PM || ||