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Special Analysis: Iran's Power Play

| 76 Comments | 5 TrackBacks

Recent events in Iraq have forced me to postpone my response to noted commenter Andrew Lazarus for a week or so, though elements of that response can likely be found in this analysis, as it contains indirect elements of a polemic (the explanations of the consequences of pulling out of Iraq not being among them). In the meantime, this analysis will endeavor to explain what exactly is currently occurring inside Iraq as well as some observations with regard to who is likely behind it and a look at what could happen if we should fail.

There is more to life than your own petty domestic politics ...

One of the most annoying factors that one encounters within blogosphere, shifting only back and forth depending on which side of the ideological spectrum that a blog in question is located on, is that US foreign policy in general and success or failure in Iraq in particular is viewed solely through the lense of which US political party will benefit from it. I'm not particularly certain when this point of view became prevalent and to be quite frank, I really don't care. US success in Iraq is a good thing for the United States as a whole, not just for George Bush. Similarly, a US failure in Iraq will be an unparalleled disaster for us all, not simply for all of the chickenhawk warbloggers like myself who supported the invasion.

Taking this into perspective, I view declaring the situation in Iraq hopeless or civil war in the country inevitable to be little more than a tacit admission of US defeat as well as a justification of al-Qaeda's combat doctrine - the United States, for all its vaunted prowess, can be defeated through protracted guerrilla warfare. As Rohan Gunaratna notes in Inside al-Qaeda, bin Laden has long sought to entrap the US in a protracted guerrilla conflict out of the belief that his minions can defeat us in the same manner they did the Soviet Union. That is precisely why al-Qaeda is pulling resources from Afghanistan or calling in the international brigades of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as fighters from Chechnya. And in case this issue is brought up, the much-maligned refusal of the US to place Afghanistan under direct military occupation but rather to subcontract that duty to the Northern Alliance is the only reason they haven't done it there. Ultimately, this is more about defeating the United States than any particular location, which is why resources previously allocated to the Taliban in Afghanistan are now being diverted to Iraq just as Mullah Omar's thugs were starting to have some semblance of success in briefly retaking a few border districts (think counties) in Zabul province.

In short, the situation is such that should the US lose badly in Iraq, al-Qaeda wins and this cannot be allowed if we hope to prosecute a successful war on terrorism, quite independent of who wins the US elections in November.

Villain #1: Muqtada al-Sadr

The first of two sources of the current unrest is the Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Some of the biographical information on the man is rather sketchy and I've seen him listed as being between 22 and 31 years old, but all accounts agree that he is the son of late Shi'ite ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999. Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was the leader of the Jamaat-e-Sadr Thani.

He first appeared after the invasion of Iraq in connection with an attempt to seize control of the Shi'ite holy city of An Najaf from Grand Ayatollah Sistani, at which time he likely assassinated the pro-US Shi'ite leader Abdul Majid al-Khoei. While the situation was resolved when Sadr backed down, the young firebrand next showed up demanding the establishment of sha'riah and arguing in favor of the Khomeinist principle of velayet-e-faqih or rule by men of religion, which as we all know has worked out just peachy in Iran. This was also one of the first major indications of Sadr's main support base in the Sadr (formerly Saddam) City, a slum Shi'ite quarter of Baghdad whose inhabitants were brutalized by the former regime. These first signs of Sadr flexing his political muscle coincided with the return of the previously underground al-Dawaa political party, which was founded by one of Sadr's predecessors. Al-Dawaa advocated the formation of an Islamic state in Iraq and opposed the US occupation, but opted for a non-violent resistance for the time being.

Sadr's next major appearance came in mid-May when Sadr's supporters disrupted the return of Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim to Iraq. Al-Hakim was one of the leaders of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an Iranian-backed organization designed to counter-balance Saddam Hussein's own support for the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. It is somewhat unclear whether or not Sadr was involved with the Iranians at this point or not, though my own view of the situation is that he was from the very beginning, but was backed by a different faction within the Iranian leadership that favored a much more direct method of confrontation with the US than the kind of gradual control of the Shi'ite regions that SCIRI would have enabled. Amir Taheri listed SCIRI among one of the Iranian front groups controlled by the more accomodationist members of the civilian government, so clashes between the two might be expected as their ultimate backers due the same in Tehran.

The question of who Sadr was working for, however, became much more clear following his meeting in Tehran with members of the Iranian leadership in June. Upon his return, Sadr banned trading with Kuwaitis and formed the Mahdi Army as his own independent military force. One of the more interesting things to note with regard to Sadr is that his initial objective of kicking the US out of An Najaf is something that he and his Mahdi Army have to this day been unable to accomplish, a point to be noted to anyone who wants to over-estimate the threat posed by Sadr and his jackboots.

The first sign that Sadr and his Mahdi Army were starting to move beyond mere anti-American rhetoric came in August, when the Shi'ite residents of Sadr's support base Sadr City demanded an end to the US presence in the Baghdad suburb. Shortly thereafter, Sadr formed an alliance with the anti-Western Sunni cleric Ahmed Kubeisi, whose power base has greatly expanded in the Sunni Triangle since the fall of the Baathist Party. As a result, Sadr was able to expand his influence and his agenda into the old Baathist heartland - not that it stopped him from instigating sectarian cleansing in An Najaf and Karbala. More stand-offs in Sadr City soon followed, including a clash with the Mahdi Army in Baghdad that killed 2 American soldiers. In my view, it was this incident that marked Sadr and his thugs as a threat to the US occupation in Iraq that would have to be dealt with sooner or later.

Sadr's announcement of a creation of his own alternate government complete with a Ministry for Preservation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice combined with his ill-fated attempt to drive Sistani from Karbala. Now Sistani, unlike numerous other Iraqi political figures, has chosen not to maintain his own private army, so he had to rely on his followers using small arms. It was this event, in my opinion, that led Sistani to be so critical of the CPA and so insistent of direct elections in Iraq as well as a crackdown on small arms.

Following several tentative confrontations with both the US and Sistani, Sadr drifted back into obscurity until March 2004, when he declared 9/11 an act of God and announced his support for Hamas and Hezbollah, the latter being one of his most disturbing statements to date given that ICT believes him to be the head of Iraqi branch of the latter organization.

One of the more popular fallacies now being argued is that it was the closure of his newspaper that led Sadr into his current period of radical activities - in fact, his Mahdi Army had already demolished the village of Kawlia a full day earlier. To date, US forces have been engaging Sadr's followers in Baghdad as well as in and around An Najaf, but he still commands a formidable force of anywhere between 1,000-7,000 fighters, with a number of media reports and Healing Iraq claiming that he is being supported in these efforts by Iran and its proxy arm Hezbollah. Ignoring that this is arguably an act of war against the United States, so long as Sadr continues to receive support from his Iranian backers he is likely to remain a threat for the near-term future.

Villain #2: Abu Musab Zarqawi

While a lot of media commentary has focused on the prospect of Iraqi Baathists having staged the recent attacks against US forces in Fallujah and Ar Ramadi, few have discussed the very likely possibility of an al-Qaeda connection to the recent attacks there. There have been claims of an al-Qaeda cell operating in Fallujah since at least July 2003 and an al-Qaeda operative was captured in Ar Ramadi in October 2003 with 11 SAM missiles, suggesting that the organization also has a presence in the area - the US destroyed a terrorist training camp in the general area for foreign jihadis back in June.

In the case of Fallujah, the US has long been aware of an active al-Qaeda cell in the city and killed one of Zarqawi's lieutenants there little more than a month ago. Combine this with intelligence reports that non-Iraqi Arabs were involved in the brutal slaying of 4 US military contractors and an al-Qaeda connection becomes even more likely. Many commentators have suggested that the brutal mutilation of the contractors (for which al-Qaeda has posted a justification on one of their Yahoo! groups) was designed after the killing of 18 US servicemen in Somalia, yet not one commentator has raised the possibility that the killers might be one and the same as or have trained under the very same people responsible for that carnage over a decade ago.

What is even more disturbing is the way in which Moqtada Sadr and Abu Musab Zarqawi appear to be accomodating one another in terms of rhetoric. Sadr's actions and sectarian cleansings play to Sunni fears that the Shi'ite will retaliate against them en masse for decades of oppression under the Baathists, while Zarqawi's latest rant (the claims of a former Indian intelligence chief that Zarqawi was once a member of the SeS and LeJ certainly appear a lot more credible in light of the rhetoric he is employing) plays directly to Shi'ite fears that they will soon be persecuted again by their Sunni bretheren. The events of the Ashura Massacre in particular play into this perception and the result is that both the Shi'ites and the Sunnis are more than radicalized enough to provide a ready supply of cannon fodder for the likes of Sadr and Zarqawi. I am have no direct evidence that the two are actively in cahoots, but this strikes me as far too convenient (particularly with regard to the timing of Zarqawi's latest denunciation of the Shi'ites now that Sadr's feeling the heat from the US) a coincidence to ignore. Reports of an alliance across sectarian lines in support of Sadr would seem to strengthen this position.

One more thing to keep in mind about the remaining Iraqi Baathists - those still loyal to the cause are split in 3 arguing over who gets to be the next Maximum Leader now that Saddam Hussein is behind bars. Most the rank and file as well as the attendant cannon fodder have been absorbed into the jihadi infrastructure in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture because they now recognize, for better or worse, that Zarqawi represents their best hope of regaining their former livelihoods.

The Iranian Game Plan

As Joe noted in Iran's Great Game, Iran seeks to undermine coalition efforts in Iraq, particularly in the Shi'ite areas, because they understand that an Iraq that is either unstable or ruled by Sadr is an Iraq that won't pose an ideological threat to the future of the Iranian regime. I think we can safely expect another move by Sadr against Sistani in the near future, Sistani's firm rejection of velayet-e-faqih poses too great an ideological threat to the underpinnings of the Islamic Republic to be allowed to fester in the long-term.

In addition, Zarqawi, like most of the surviving al-Qaeda leadership, has received refuge inside Iran despite his apparent sectarian views and is dependent on the IRGC for weaponry and support to his Ansar al-Islam cadres. These ties simply cannot be ignored when one takes into consideration Iran's imperialist designs with regard to Iraq and how to combat them. The attackers in Ar Ramadi sought to take advantage of the perceived US inability to retaliate against them while our forces were busy dealing with Fallujah and Sadr and in the event that Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army is decisively dismantled it should not be at all surprising to see the Sunni areas flare up again in some of the more traditional hot spots in the Triangle.

A self-fullfilling prophecy?

Ultimately, claims that this is the beginning of the end for the US occupation in Iraq or the start of the long-anticipated sectarian civil war (the latter being particularly odd in light of apparent cooperation across Shi'ite/Sunni divide) are inaccurate at this phase. Ultimately, the success or failure of the Iranian strategy with regard to the US in Iraq will depend on whether or not the United States and its allies retain the collective national will to defeat the insurgents. The question of whether or not Iraq will become a second Vietnam (i.e. a US defeat) is probably best answered, "No, and it won't be as long as we don't let it."

As most historians will tell you, the Tet Offensive was a resounding failure for the Viet Cong from a military perspective. Nevertheless, it served as the catalyst for the US withdrawl from South Vietnam and its subsequent conquest and oppression by their northern kinsmen. In the case of Iraq, we have already screwed the general population over once - in 1991, when we left the Iraqi people to rot in the midst of their own rebellion against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Now, for better or worse, we have overthrown the tyrant and I don't think it's arrogant to say that we owe them one this time around before we turn around declare our efforts there an abject failure.

More to the point, the implications for Iraq in regard to the larger war on terrorism are enormous. Whether or not one accepts (and I do) Iraqi complicity with regard to al-Qaeda, there can be little doubt that the terrorist network and its satellite groups are there in force now and is seeking to defeat us in a protracted guerrilla war in order to forcibly evict the United States from the country. Should they succeed in this objective, the propaganda as well as strategic implications for the entire Middle East are enormous. In addition, to emboldening Islamic radicals throughout the Gulf (Sunni in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Shi'ite in Bahrain), a Taliban-esque enclave in central Iraq ruled by Zarqawi would easily be in a position to topple the Jordanian government, bringing al-Qaeda and its affiliates directly to the Israeli border. An Iranian-controlled (either de facto or de jure) southern Iraq would provide the Iranian regime with a great deal more economic muscle than it currently possesses (particularly if al-Qaeda's backers in Saudi Arabia due seize direct power over the Kingdom and put an end to its pro-Western veneer) and the loss of Bahrain would deprive the US of its naval bases in region, leaving Qatar isolated.

These are just some of possible scenarios that a US collapse in Iraq, which is why I feel that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle probably said it best on the Senate floor:

"America will not be intimidated by barbaric acts whose only goal is to spread fear and chaos throughout Iraq," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said in a moving floor speech last Thursday after the initial attacks that began the weeklong string of violence.

"Yesterday's events will only serve to strengthen America's resolve and seal America's unity. The brave people who lost their lives did not die in vain. Americans stand together today and always to finish the work we started and bring peace and democracy to the citizens of Iraq," he said.

Indeed.

UPDATE: More links and background from Instapundit.

5 TrackBacks

Tracked: April 9, 2004 4:53 AM
THE STATE OF IRAQ from Pejmanesque
Excerpt: The thing that worries me the most about the insurgency in Iraq is not whether we will prevail against it (we will), but whether the same Chicken Littles who came out in the first couple of weeks of the Afghanistan...
Tracked: April 9, 2004 7:37 AM
it's official, II from andunie.net
Excerpt: A couple of days back I pointed out a particularly inane pronouncement by the Democratic nominee. But it seems that Kerry was only getting warmed up. On Wednesday he gave a pair of interviews, first to NPR's Morning Edition and...
Tracked: April 10, 2004 12:45 AM
Sadr MLP from Live from the Nuke Free Zone
Excerpt: Winds of Change has good articles about Sadr's background and Iraqi militias fighting back against Sadr and winning. Juan Cole also has lots of Sadr information filling up his front page, including a claim that Sadr has declared a ceasefire....
Tracked: April 10, 2004 6:31 PM
Passover Meditations from Israpundit
Excerpt: While Winds of Change.NET is best known for its global coverage and War on Terror analysis, this year has also featured daily Passover coverage and thoughts.
Tracked: April 13, 2004 7:51 AM
items of interest from andunie.net
Excerpt: In ten days I will defend my dissertation proposal. Preparations for that appointment—along with my teaching duties as the semester wraps up—are not sparing much time or energy for the posting of original material. But time waits for no man...

76 Comments

1. Is it necessary for Iran to have any further purpose in Iraq than simply to keep the US busy while it completes its nuclear program? Isn't it enough for them to simply keep the pot boiling?

2. When Giap launched the Tet Offensive he was counting on instigating a popular uprising. Is it possible Sadr has made the same mistake?

3. BTW, kind of an interesting coincidence that we had a Mogadishu-like incident in Fallujah, and now something resembling Tet...

4. Is Sadr really the man behind all this? Could he really bring it all together or is he just the face man for someone else?

5. What's the deal in Ar Ramadi? I'm guessing that: a) the objective was not random, and b) the attackers were experienced pros, not a mob or militia. So what's the scoop?

6. One gets the sense that some of our coalition partners are doing better than others. The Poles seem to be holding their own, but the Spanish and Ukranians are getting walloped. Any insights?

Inquiring minds...

1. Yes. A permanent US presence in Iraq poses a direct threat to Iranian ambitions as a regional hegemon, just as the formation of a Shi'ite theology opposed to velayet-e-faqih in An Najaf and Karbala poses a direct threat to the theological underpinnings of the Islamic Republic.

2. I think that's likely. However, he's more or less got Sistani as his hostage right now so long as his Mahdi Army controls the immediate area of An Najaf (which is also why Sistani is likely not taking Sadr to task for fear of his life). That's a fairly powerful bargaining tool right now, given how revered Sistani is by the vast majority of the Iraqi Shi'ites. It's also an enormous strategic miscalculation of Sadr's part if the US seizes upon it in time.

3. Hmm, I hadn't thought of that. You raise an interesting observation that I'll have to factor into this situation.

4. Imad Mugniyeh (the operations chief of Hezbollah and the guy who blew our marine barracks in Beirut) was reportedly tasked by both the Hezbollah leadership and their masters in VEVAK to establish an Iraqi branch of Hezbollah, of which Sadr is purportedly the head. Mugniyeh has experience fighting both US, French, Italian, and Israeli forces in Lebanon and is likely the actual architect of the most recent unrest on the Shi'ite side in my view.

5. I doubt the objective was random either, though I'm doubting the explanation that it was former Special Republican Guard forces for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the dismal and splintered state of the Iraqi Baathists. However, lest we forget, a large number of al-Qaeda alumni have had the benefits of US-style training designed by Ali Mohammed and if there are indeed veterans of Mogadishu among the Fallujah cell they would likely have benefited from this. Pakistani military training is also a possibility for members of the HuM or LeT international brigades currently fighting in Iraq.

6. I suspect it has more to do with amount of training and equipment than anything else, especially with regard to the Ukrainians.

Nice touch closing with Daschle, Dan

Interesting stuff. Thank you.
A few further questions:

Besides destroying the Mahdi Army, are there other means of pressuring Iran; can anything we can threaten at this point make them pull back?

Re: possible operational cooperation, any indications of which element is dominant, or is just loose coordination on opportunistic basis? Or is there not enough info to determine yet?

Are there indicators of any planned connection between events in Iraq and the recent apparent uptick in counter-terror operations in UK, Europe and elsewhere?

I appreciate the time put into the analysis - it's very helpful to someone like me, who's following the situation "generally", not "specifically".

Given how fiercely partisan Senator Daschle is generally, his comments testify to how darn near treasonous the likes of Fat Ted & KKK Bob have become.

I don't suppose we could drop a couple of JDAMs in the right places in Iran to bring the mullahs to forget about Iraq for a while, can we? Like their nuke facilities?

As to what happened in ar Ramadi, what are the chances it was an attempted distraction while Zaraqawi possibly was trying to get out of Fallujah? If we find him, or evidence that he had recently been in Fallujah in the coming days, I won't be surprised. Given the presence of "non-Iraqi Arabs" involved in the murder and mutilation of the 4 in Fallujah, alQ involvement wouldn't be surprising, as Dan noted. Given that it seems they were hoping to lay ambush to a quick US troop response, maybe Zarqawi stuck around to orchestrate this event. Just speculating, might be very nice prize in the center of Fallujah.

I copy you on the party stuff. At this point the only victory I care about is for our troopers. Petty political squabbles between two parties who are so similar have no bearing on the situation. If things are bad we must address them, if things are good we can acknowledge them. However, I've given up on 'analysis' on both the radio and teevee because whoever is doing the analysis sounds less like someone giving a rational run-down of a situation and more like someone trying to argue a position. Unfortunately the stakes here are a little higher than some highschool debate competition.

Keep up the good work, it is appreciated.

John Farren:

"Besides destroying the Mahdi Army, are there other means of pressuring Iran; can anything we can threaten at this point make them pull back?"

Certainly. Economic penalties are a definite possibility, but those aren't going to work so long as members of the Iranian leadership keep being able to play European powers off against the US. Another option is forming a kind of "united front" diplomatically to get Iran to surrender the al-Qaeda leaders they're harboring. Stepping up support for the Iranian dissident student movements, which is something we should be doing anyway, should also be on the table.

"Re: possible operational cooperation, any indications of which element is dominant, or is just loose coordination on opportunistic basis? Or is there not enough info to determine yet?"

Not enough info, but I would say that the presence of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Iraq would make it a marriage of convenience at best. The LeJ is basically the Pakistani version of the Klan with regard to Shi'ites and while their views are not shared by most of top brass in al-Qaeda (except possibly Zarqawi, who is said to have been a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba at one point), their presence inside Iraq would complicate any real operational coordination. Sadr likewise appears to hold some rather sectarian views.

"Are there indicators of any planned connection between events in Iraq and the recent apparent uptick in counter-terror operations in UK, Europe and elsewhere?"

Yes. The al-Qaeda document Jihad al-Iraq spells out the organization's plan to use terrorist attacks against European nations to force an eventual US pull-out in Iraq. I see the Spanish attacks as one step in this phase, with the apparent UK bomb plot being the second.

"I don't suppose we could drop a couple of JDAMs in the right places in Iran to bring the mullahs to forget about Iraq for a while, can we? Like their nuke facilities?"

That option is still on the table. Whether or not we exercise it will be up to people far more intelligent than me.

Is the US situation in Iraq like Vietnam, or like the Russians in Afghanistan? Not really.

In Vietnam the US faced a the North Vietnamese Army, and a large well trained guerrilla army, with a home base in North Vietnam. And they were backed by the USSR. Eventually, the US won the battle militarily, but lost war to public opinion back home.

In Iraq, there are a few different resistance groups. The Sadr group is directed & funded from Iran, but Iran lacks the strength the USSR had. The Mahdi Army is lightly armed and poorly trained, and poorly commanded. The Sunni triangle resistance includes former Baathists now supported by Syria and Saudi, as well as al Qaeda. There are reports of Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon in the fighting. The Coalition forces will take care of these groups quickly enough, militarily. But the question of dealing with their foreign backers is less straight forward.

Bin Laden says he wants to do to the US what he did to the Russians in Afghanistan. First of all, bin Laden was not the big mujahedeen leader he claims he was. Most of the war he was based in Pakistan where he directed men, money and material to the jihadi fighters in Afghanistan. The Afghans were loosing until the US began to supply better weapons, especial Stinger missiles, to their allies, the Northern Alliance. Bin Laden and the Mujahedeen never received weapons form the US, so their claims of defeating the Russians are bogus. Furthermore, US strategy and tactics in Iraq are vastly different than the Russians in Afghanistan.

So the parallels to Vietnam or Russia are weak at best. In Iraq, the US is up against 2 or more groups of irregular forces, lightly armed, poorly commanded and with very limited popular support. Far from critisizing the use of force aginst the insurgents, the majority of Iraqi's complain the US hasn't been tough enough with the resistance. Now that the resistance is conveniently forming into large groups the US will attack and destroy them very quickly. The real politcal pressure on Bush is to not fail in Iraq, (as opposed to the 'unreal' opposition which want the US to fail), and this underlines the need for a forceful response.

Dan, given Zarqawi's avowed (and apparently heart-felt) sectarian strategy in Iraq (setting Sunni against Shi'a), do you agree it's likely that Zarqawi's operation will reprise some sort of anti-Shi'a atrocity (a la the Hakim hit) in Najaf or other Shi'a center during this holiday season?

It just seems like an obvious move to me. A hit on a moderate Shi'a leader yields multiple benefits, primarily additional Shi'a resentment of the occupation for failing to provide perfect security. It seems like the lack of sophistication, post-totalitarian "room service mentality" (mommy, make my country nice, I'll sit here and watch), and endemic anti-American animus of the Shi'a and most Iraqis are inexhaustibly rich veins for Zarqawi to mine. A Hakim II in Najaf during the holidays seems just the ticket.

Andrew Sullivan:

This war is for the future against the past, for representative government against a vicious theocratic dictatorship from the Leninist vanguards of the Sadrists. The president needs to tell the people this. His failure to communicate what is actually going on, why we're there, what we're doing, and what the stakes are is the prime current fault of the administration. We need a real speech and a thorough explanation of what is going on. We need an honest, candid, clear war-president. Where is he?

YES !

Nice analysis, and I agree.

I think we purposefully provoked the current battles with Sadr. Most people who are aware of the history are mad that we have waited this long, not that we are taking action. Our guys knew that closing the paper and arresting Sadr's aide would incite a response... getting him to attack us is far better than our attacking him first... and it is far better to take him out of the picture before the handover, where his forces could actually cause some harm.

In some sense, therefore, our provocation of Sadr can be seen as an effort to preempt and neuter the Iranian influence.

We should accelerate the underground low-voltage revolt in Iran. We need to knock Iran off-balance for the next few months so that they are unable to accelerate their interference in Iraq.

As an exercise, compare Dan Darling's analysis here with three mentioned on Phil Carter's excellent blog INTEL DUMP. Carter's links go to context pieces in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

While it's true that these mainstream analyses tend to the defeatist, more interesting to me are their levels of sophistication compared to what one reads here. E.g. do they describe Iranian interests in the development in Iraq, and possible support of Sadr by Iranian military Intelligence? (no.) Do the analysts show an appreciation of Zarqawi's past, or his role in al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam? (no, save one aside.) (Though companion pieces may be more comprehensive, I haven't read them all.)

Much of the American public seems relatively ignorant of the reasons Why We Fight (deliberate reference), and of the different implications of Kennedy's and Daschle's recent speeches. I suppose we have the Pillars of the Establishment Press to thank for that, among others.

But check the links and see for yourself.

Strategy Page's April 7 Iraq entry says that coalition forces started arresting Sadr's hit men last week, which forced Sadr to act.

Suggested counter-strategy:

1.) Pretend we're getting hit worse than we really are by the Sadr thugs, so everyone thinks they've got us under control

2.) Beat the crisis drum at home, "we need all faithful Americans to come to the colors ASAP!"

3.) Don't anyone worry about all these new troops we're sending to Iraq and Afghanistan to be trained by combat veterans - it's a quagmire and we're taking heavy casualties!

4.) Oh look, we captured documents showing Iran is behind the Sadr and Zarqawi insurgencies.

5.) After two weeks of heavy fighting, US forces are approaching Tehran from the north and west. Sources say many Iranian troops are laying down arms. Separately, Syrian President Assad has offered to work with US intelligence services to capture terrorists operating in Syria.

You guys seem to have a lot of faith that this is Iran's doing. What if it's just a popular uprising?

If so, then the occupation of Iraq and Iran at the same time is just doubling the size of the problem.

As Rohan Gunaratna notes in Inside al-Qaeda, bin Laden has long sought to entrap the US in a protracted guerrilla conflict out of the belief that his minions can defeat us in the same manner they did the Soviet Union.

No comment.

Following several tentative confrontations with both the US and Sistani, Sadr drifted back into obscurity until March 2004

Ah, but wasn't he silently organizing at this point? This whole thing seems elaborately planned, and one wonders to what extent he deliberately goaded the CPA into responding.

So the question is, why didn't we know this was happening? Is it because we pulled back from the Shia areas and decided to let them handle matters?

Didn't Sistani's people know there was trouble afoot? The Shiites on the IGC?

Next question -- what happens when the Sunnis start getting nervous that this thing is getting out of hand and turn on the Shia?

Since Iran is really behind all this, why not strike against the head, Iran, and at the same time take out their nuclear facilities. Get Israel to help and the people of Iran are just longing for the US to come and give the Mullahs a good thumping to get their Revolution up and running? It means expanding the war but striking at the true instigators of all the trouble.

I'm no military expert but as long as Iran is there they will do this--they will never allow Iraq to settle down.

The Mahdi army--is that the same thing as the Mahdi whom Gordon fought in Sudan?

Josh Yelon (5:09pm):

You guys seem to have a lot of faith that this is Iran's doing.

Iran's rulers have compelling reasons and political and ideological justifications for intervening in Iraq. On this blog, Dan Darling has provided links to analyses that point to cases where this has taken place. Inputting "Darling Iran Iraq" into the WoC search engine brings up (too many) hits; that's the best lead I can offer at the moment.

What if it's just a popular uprising?

Define popular. Obviously it's popular with those taking up arms and their supporters; the wider population is somewhere on the spectrum between 'supportive' and 'unwilling to speak out because of fear for their lives.' Note that Sistani, a "moderate" sometimes-friend of Iraqi democracy, has reason right now to fear for his. Polling suggested little general support for Sadr before this weeks events, but things are changing quickly.

Anyway, the popularity of the revolt, or lack thereof, doesn't tell us the extent to which Iranian elements have chosen to become involved with it.

Great analysis. I linked to it and expanded on it on my blog. I think this so called uprising is just a power struggle over the Shiite's holiest place Najaf. This is the homebase of the very influenciual ayatollah Al Sistaniand. He is a rival of the Supreme leader of Iran, ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranians are using Al Sadr to grab power in Najaf. Plain and simple. Iran and Sadr against Al Sistani and the US. We must win.

In answer to some of the questions above:
The term "Mahdi" is roughly equivalent in Shiite Islam to the term Messiah in Christianity and Judaism. Shias believe that the last Imam (either the 12th or the 7th, depending on what sect they belong to) "occulted", or supernaturally disappeared. Known as the Mahdi, he is meant to return to Earth at the end of times to guide Islam to supremacy. Thus, the Mehdi Army translates into something comparable to an extremist right-wing militia in the Midwest calling itself "The Messiah Army".

On a larger note, it's my belief that the war is over and we've lost it. Yes, Sadr commanded only about 10,000 men last week and they have no sort of military training. But it's obvious with the capture of Najaf and the silence of the Badr brigades and Sistani, that Sadr is now the ruler of Iraq. This sounds defeatist (nobody wanted our attempt at transforming Iraq to succeed more than I did), but it comes from a deep knowledge and long experience observing the Middle East.
I don't think Sadr really planned this insurgency, but I do think the street was boiling and this is the explosion. The first intefada started similarly in 1987 and has basically not stopped since then. At the time, Hamas was a tiny bit player. Now Hamas is in charge of Gaza and the only reason why Fatah has even minimal control of the West Bank is that it has coopted most of the rhetoric and strategy of Hamas. The same will happen in Iraq.

This assumption that Sadr is an Iranian hire is also a possible mistake. The Iraqi Shia have a love-hate relationship with Iran. In some ways, Sadr is doing this as a way of thumbing his nose at Iran. If he takes over as ruler of Iraq, I would expect their relationship to be more like the Soviet Union and Red China during the cold war than as allies.

An Iraq under Sadr is a far more dangerous threat to the U.S. than an Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Thus we have to get out of the mindset of thinking that this is only a blip on the radar before June 30th and after a few firefights it will all go away. Instead we have to start thinking about damage control and long-term strategy. Here are some options:
*Now that the Shiites and Sunnis have essentially rejected the concept of a democratic Iraq, we throw our cards 100% in with the Kurds. We appoint Jalal Talabani to be the president of Iraq with far-reaching powers and a one-year time frame to clean up the country. Then we withdraw from the cities and guard the borders, letting Talabani and the Pesh Merga do some very bloody, horrific work. At the end of the one-year time frame, we reduce our troop presence to a couple of divisions for emergency support and then force Talabani to hold elections (either allowing him to rig them or letting the cards fall where they may.) This is attractive in the sense that Talabani would be far gentler for Iraq than Sadr or Hussein, and he would be assured of being our man. It also has the advantage that Talabani can begin an insurgency campaign amongst the Kurds in Syria and Iran, thus paying them back for what they've been doing to us. It's unattractive in that it completely does away with the notion that there will be a democratic Iraq anytime soon. It will also leave a permanent low-grade civil war--but at least it will be pesh merga instead of US marines that will be dying.

A second option is to try to coopt Sadr. The governing council has obviously failed and is pointless. We could try to make a deal with Sadr--we'll withdraw and leave the country to you on condition that there's no Al Qaeda or WMD development. Call it the French way.

Our last option that I can see is probably the worst. We deal firmly with Sadr, destroy the Mehdi army and then face a long term low level insurgency throughout Iraq. Eventually (probably in the first few months of the Kerry presidency) America would tire of the Vietnam-like images and the daily killing of ten or a dozen soldiers and we would pull out and get nothing in return.

The sooner we recognize the significance of what has happened in the last week, the fewer American lives will be lost and the more we can salvage from our enterprise. Instead we have Myers, Kimmit and Bremer giving photo ops and press conferences as if this is a bar brawl. It's not. It's the fight of our lives.

Wonderful analysis as always Dan.

Whether or not al-Sadr is directly or indirectly run from Iran is interesting in the larger picture; but for the moment his own actions are, I think, more interesting.

Why now?

Why not wait for June 30th and confront the provisional government with the same uprising better organized?

One answer may be the fact Al-Sadr came up on CERTCOM's to do list and his people were being picked up. In which case this is a purely reactive tactical matter and one which will be dealt with on the ground.

I think, however, there was a strategic issue confronting Al-Sadr: progress towards a multi-ethnic, secular, provisional government. If such a government were allowed to come into place on the 30th of June, where would that leave Al-Sadr? (Or Iran for that matter.)

The best Al-Sadr could hope for in a state moving towards democracy would be a fair trial. However, the imposition of a theocratic government on Iranian lines would be a forelorn hope if the putative provisional government was able to gain the legitimacy that even six months in office would confer.

I suspect the Baathist/el Qaeda thinking runs on much the same line.

In essence, for groups (and nations) hoping to see a radical, anti-Western, Iraq, April is the make or break month. Either they can deliver a political knockout blow the the United States - and here I am thinking of the Marine barracks in Lebannon - or they can fold their tents.

What has changed radically since Lebannon is that Americans, and many other people in the West, realize that beating terrorism in all its guises is the work of the 21st century.

"Popular"--supported by the people.

"Unpopular"--not supported by the people.

Military occupations are generally not supported by the people.

What is with you people? Have you lost sight of all reality?

First, let me say I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

However, I think that most of the pro-war commentary is continuing give credence to the idea that our problems with Iraq are with a small, top-down group of bad guys. Once, the bad guy was Saddam. Now the bad guy is al-Sadr. Tomorrow, Sistani? Where exactly are the pro-US Iraqis? They don't seem, to put it bluntly, very motivated. The decapitation model for ending the uprising hasn't worked very well for Israel and fails us likewise.

We didn't anticipate this mess; it didn't fit in with the rosy scenarios. Our current leadership, in fact, appears to have been taken by surprise by every setback. Now we need more troops and we're looking at years of occupation. When do I get to call it a quagmire?

Or, we could invade France. That would drive chaos in Iraq off the front page just as Iraq hides the chaos in Afghanistan.

Andrew, last night my husband and I had dinner with an old colleague of his, a retired Army colonel who recently got back from 3 months in Afghanistan, Iraq and related support bases. He was there to evaluate the effectiveness of some new technologies that had been deployed for command & control. In order to accomplish that, he went to a lot of locations in both countries and talked privately with military in a wide variety of roles, including Special Ops people.

He emphatically disagreed with your assessment of Afghanistan. While it's true Iraq is getting far more attention, his take is that the Afghan situation is proceeding well.

As always, FWIW. However, I'll take the off-the-record comments of an experienced pro I know personally over assumptions made from media reports, any day. The man in question, like many Army officers, has absolutely no qualms about calling things as he sees them - we got some negative reports as well.

When this guy, whose job is to find out what is going wrong, tells me things are going well there, I give that credence.

Sam:

This is where you lost me:

I don't think Sadr really planned this insurgency, but I do think the street was boiling and this is the explosion...

The statement is demonstrably not true.

Jay,

Why not wait for June 30th and confront the provisional government with the same uprising better organized?

Two possibilities:

First (and my preference at the moment) is that the CPA intentionally provoked it. We knew that closing his paper, arresting his aide, and otherwise rounding up the supporters of his plans for a theocratic regime would incite some kind of response. The benefits are obvious: provoking Sadr into action means that moves while his power is still weak, and by attacking us we get political cover for the hard part (removing Sadr from the scene). We have a lot more room for action by provoking him to attack us than vice versa.

Second possibility is that he saw that he would not be able to gain power through the legitimate channels, so he tried to gain momentum through armed resistance. The experimental elections that have been going on currently have almost all gone to professionals and moderates, not to islamicists. Meanwhile, the polling data clearly shows that the majority want a democracy and not a theocracy. Since Sadr obviously would not win elections, and any action he took during the handoff would be viewed as spoiler activitiy, he would need to act to prevent the elections...

Either way it is in our favor: we get to remove him from the gene pool with very little political blowback.

The worst thing for us right now would be to heed the calls for peace. That would simply allow Sadr to fallback into his previous position, lick his wounds and try again later. We need to arrest or kill him right now, and my preference is on the latter.

This has to be Kut.

I had to post this somewhere:
We need more folks like this.

And be sure to read her bio too.

Dan,

Do you believe that the continued existence of a significant Sunni Arab minority in Iraq (>5% of the population) is necessary to our victory in the war on terror?

How long do you believe more than 5% of Iraq's population will consist of Sunni Arabs after American ground forces leave the country?

Do you believe Sadr would be more than jack-**** in Iraq absent the support he's had from Iran in the past year (financial in particular)?

Do you believe Sadr's Iranian friends will let him live long enough to be captured by American forces?

More questions for Dan,

What have Iran's mullah rulers got to lose here? They know they're next.

Might that, and June 30, be the reasons for the timing of Sadr's uprising?

Eager to hear Dan's thoughts, but as for the timing, best explanation I've seen is next week's pilgrimage to Najaf. Tens of thousand of Iranians will show up, offering a perfect opportunity to resupply and reinforce Sadr's men.

Sam Jaffe:
Interesting proposals; but are they politically acceptable?

Perhaps it could be a worst-case fallback. Perhaps if thinks are worse by the end of May; ie all-out Shia revolt, Sistani dead, marginalised, or thrown in with Sadr.
Meantime, there is a chance to crush the Mahdi Army, and deal the Baathist/jihadi element a major blow at Fallujah and elsewhere.

Also there's a big problem: Turkey. How far would/could we go to keep them out?

(BTW, Mahdi Army sounds funny here. 'Mardy' is English Midlands slang for moody, in a tantrum, easily upset, or inclined to moan.)

Andrew Lazarus:
Actually, I feared this would happen, sometime this year, though I hoped it might not. And despite the fears, I still think it the least-worst course.
The region was a quagmire anyway; at least we have some chance of draining it, rather than none.
Pro-US Iraqi's? They'll try to keep their heads down.
Even if everything turns out as best as could be hoped, I wouldn't expect gratitude. It'll most likely never be there; and it's not what we need, in the end.

As for "we could invade France."
No way. The Germans would sue for breach of copyright.

Diana:
"Have you lost sight of all reality?"
Given the way reality has been last few years, it's a definite temptation.

In fact, it being 9pm here, and a holday tommorow, I think I shall now go to the pub and explore that option further with the aid of beer.

Best wishes to all for Easter or Passover.

well, as an Iranian Student (who spent some times in mullah's prison), I think that u r not right. well I agree with u to some extend, but nowhere I read a comment or explanation that maybe iraqis have problem with US occupation, or maybe the US wasn't successful to build a safe Iraq. have u ever thoght about that?

Syria is supporting sunnis and Iran is supporting Shiites and Al-Qaeda supports pathist, and there is no iraqis in iraq!, this is simply wrong.

having grown up in Iran, I think that Mullahs can barely control Tehran in next 10 years, they are struggling with students, reformists, nationalists, and even some portion of religious people.

please stop blaming other nations for your failures, US hadn't any clear plan for Iraq after invasion.

Jamshid,
I'm sure we can agree that the US' plans have not been perfect and that the Iraqis can think for themselves. Can't we also agree that Syria, Iran, Al gaeda, and the B'athists also have interests in Iraq? Why wouldn't they interfere if they could?

I glad that you are no longer in prision. Do you have a story to share? Are you in Iran now? What is you opnion of recent event's there, protests, demonstrations, etc.?

Dan,

I have covered what is coming regards Iran before. The only difference between Tom and I is that I think we will conquer Iran in the spring/summer of 2005 and not the late fall:

http://windsofchange.net/archives/003760.php

July 13, 2003
Iran: It Will Come to Blows
Trent Telenko

It is clear now from what David Warren is reporting, and what Steven Den Beste is blogging, that it will take a ground invasion to deal to death the Iranian Mullahocracy, its terrorist infrastructure and its WMD programs. Air attacks will not be enough and will be seen as a sign of American weakness afterwards if they are attempted.

Like the victims of any other modern tyranny that has the will to live, the Iranian people cannot free themselves. We have no time to wait for further events on the ground in Iran to play out given Iran's nuclear, chemical and bioweapons programs.

It is time to activate all of the heavy divisions of the National Guard.

The killer 'graphs from the Warren column:

But from what I can make out, the regime not only did not fall, but was not close to falling. For the first time in months, there was in fact a show of force to protect government buildings, by the regular police and army. It was a risk to call them out in large numbers, but they were following the regime's orders, for the most part. The Iranian military was also employed beating the skies over Tehran with helicopters, as a way to intimidate the people.

Details are still not clear, but I believe the most effective step the regime took was a bold and broad midnight sweep, on the eve of the Wednesday anniversary, that netted many of the student leaders. At least five dozen of the more prominent are known to be in custody now. The combination of the boldness, with the waiting for the most effective moment to strike, suggests to me that the regime is neither as stupid nor indecisive as the more optimistic opposition sources have suggested.

And by getting through Wednesday with less outward trouble than Tuesday, the regime was further able to deflate and demoralize its opponents. The Shah put up a less impressive fight in 1979; in the end he wasn't willing to massacre his own people in order to stay in power. Whereas, the recent ministrations of the ayatollahs' goons is communicating to the country that, this time, they can expect no decency whatever.

While my heart is with the people of Iran, my disappointment is not confined to them. The regional implications are as grim. This was also a week in which the ayatollahs again stonewalled the IAEA -- which wants to make more extensive and urgent inspections, to check multiplying unofficial reports of Iranian nuclear weapons development.

It is now clearer that the ayatollahs are, with the help of Russian, Pakistani, and North Korean technologists, very close to having nuclear weapons. This is the trump card they have been seeking, to prevent external intervention in Iran, and provide a plausible, mortal threat to regional U.S. and Israeli forces. If the regime collapsed, the threat could be removed peacefully. If it won't collapse, the Bush administration will have no choice but to go in and destroy the nuclear facilities directly. When, is a question for the intelligence agencies, more than for public opinion; for the decision will not really be a choice.

The comment thread there will prove enlightening.

This is what I said to Joe Katzman then:

Joe,

The problem isn't the WMD, it is the regime behind them. Irrational regimes become more irrational under pressure. And there is a great deal of pressure in Iran right now even if we do nothing.

If we are going to strike the Iranian Mullahocracy, then the blow must be mortal and that blow must be in the next three years, before the Iranians develope a nuclear tipped IRBM.

The only way to change the regime is on the ground with troops.

The only other alternative to kill the regime is with the genocidal use of nukes. I want to avoid doing that in the war on Terrorism until all the other options have been tried first.

Those who try and avoid a conventional ground war to overthrow the Mullah's make a nuclear war with them inevitable. That is the logic of nuclear preemption when you are dealing with an irrational regime.

Posted by: Trent Telenko on July 13, 2003 06:32 PM

I think that democracy can only be made from inside, by the people of one country, not foreign troops. we had two revolutions in our history of 20th century, and we are making progress, it may be appeared that Iran went backward after recent parlimentary election, but this is not true, the real progress is happening in the minds of people, we had problem with our religion, with our thoughts and they are being solved.
US is following its interest in the region of ME, for example, they strongly support arab countries of the persian golf and Sauidies although they don't have a degree of freedom that exists in Iran. They support Azerbayjaan with that suspicious presidential election and they managed a coup against PM Mosaddegh in Iran (which was a democratic goverment). the US said that we support the student uprising in Iran, but when they apply for student visa (to studey in US) they will reject them. these are the reasons that some Iranians think that US is not honest, we can manage to put down the Mullahs in Iran. they won't be in power in next 10-15 years unless the US interfere in Iran. the people of iran are thinking that theocracy is not working, its not a solution and its like a disaster. Mullahs can not survive without any support from the people and they supportes are diminishing. but if the US interfere in Iran, the Mullahs would survive better.

I don't think that the real concern for US administration is Sadr or Ba'thist, I think that the real and serious worrisome for Bremer is that if there would be a free election in Iraq, a religious government would be elected. that might happened because the Iraqies haven't been freed in their minds, US troops can destroy tanks, bridges and armies and they can enter a land, but they cannot enter to the minds of iraqis. I think that Iraqis will definitely have problem with religion unless they solved it by their owns.

besides, the US troops can go to the regions without any popular resistance, they knew that Iraqis hate their governemt and there would be no resistance, but this is not the case in Iran, I guess about 8-10% of Iranians are still supporting the Mullahs nowadays (and they are decreasing in number), so the US troops wont be able to go to Iran in near future unless with heavy casualties and heavy bombing and destroying the country, in that case the 10% would increase to 50% and another disaster will happened.

as an Iranian, I asked the americans that please do not try to help us by military or sanctions. we will fix it ourselves. thank u

This talk about Iran is interesting, but a lot of people think we're going to invade Iran before we have a successful resolution in Iraq. I don't see that it makes tactical sense.

Assume that the Iranians are aiding the Iraqi insurgency. However, not 100% of the insurgency is coming from Iran - at least some part of its energy is homegrown in Iraq. If you undercut the Iranian support, the insurgency will be reduced, but not eliminated.

So I'll give you a set of choices:

Assumption A. If we eliminate the Iranian support, the insurgency in Iraq will diminish by 25%.
Assumption B. If we eliminate the Iranian support, the insurgency in Iraq will diminish by 50%.
Assumption C. If we eliminate the Iranian support, the insurgency in Iraq will diminish by 75%.

Lets add three more possible assumptions:

Assumption E. The hatred engendered by attacking Iran will fuel the Iraqi insurgency by 5%.
Assumption F. The hatred engendered by attacking Iran will fuel the Iraqi insurgency by 10%.
Assumption G. The hatred engendered by attacking Iran will fuel the Iraqi insurgency by 50%.

And yet another set of choices:

Assumption I. After we occupy Iran, the insurgency in Iran will be half as strong as the insurgency in Iraq (50%)
Assumption J. After we occupy Iran, the insurgency in Iran will be as strong as the insurgency in Iraq (100%)
Assumption K. After we occupy Iran, the insurgency in Iran will be twice as strong as the insurgency in Iraq (200%)

And some more:

Assumption X: Controlling twice as much territory adds nothing to the difficulty.
Assumption Y: Controlling twice as much territory
adds 50% to the difficulty.
Assumption Z: Controlling twice as much territory adds 100% to the difficulty.

If you choose the best possible options and add up the percentages (-75, +5, +50, +0), then after attacking Iraq, the difficulty goes down by 20%.

If you choose the worst possible options and add up the percentages (-25, +50, +200, +100), then the difficulty goes up by 325%.

I know that the numbers here aren't "mathematically sound", but still, you get my point: under any reasonable set of assumptions, attacking Iran just leaves us with more chaos on our hands. If we can't handle Iraq without Iran, we certainly can't handle Iraq and Iran at the same time.

Jamshid,

Iran's leaders killed Americans in the past, including American civilians, are killing American troops in Iraq now, and will soon have nuclear weapons to kill greater numbers of Americans. We will invade Iran to stop this.

If our invasion kills a lot of Iranians, tough for them. We are already killing Basji as they enter Iraq. We would have exterminated the Japanese in 1945, using poison gas sprayed from aircraft, if they hadn't surrendered after being nuked.

Be thankful neither will be necessary when we conquer Iran next year.

Tom H-

Well, here's one vote hoping it doesn't come to that, and that the structural changes underway inside the country make it unnecessary.

A.L.

A.L.,

There is a time limit here. We're going in next year.

Iran to Build Reactor That Can Produce Plutonium

Associated Press
Thursday, April 8, 2004; Page A18

VIENNA, April 7 -- Iran will start building a nuclear reactor in June that can produce weapons-grade plutonium, diplomats said Wednesday. Although the Tehran government insists the heavy-water facility is for research, the decision heightens concern about its nuclear ambitions.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59723-2004Apr7.html

A.L.,

I agree, but the window of opportunity for the Iranian Revolution 2.0: Second Time's The Charm is not terribly wide, either. All reputable accounts I've seen have Iran on the cusp of nuclear weapons, and with the stated goal of obliterating Israel at the first possible opportunity, I'd have to say that Iran emphatically epitomizes an "imminent threat."

The Bush Administration has been working very hard on "serializing" the War on Terror. I think Iran is going to be the most difficult step (in terms of timing) of that strategy.

Jamshid: You have several very valid points and I agree that, in time, the people of Iran will throw off their chains to join the free nations of the world. I am always left excited and invigorated after reading Iranian pro-democracy blogs. There is, however, a race afoot. A race between the people of Iran to take their own country and the current rulers of Iran to see their nuclear program to fruition. I have no doubt that one reason the Iranian government is pushing so hard to join the nuclear club is to insulate themselves from outside military interference in internal actions. In other words, if the Iranian military were, today, to crack down heavier on pro-democracy advocates, they run the risk of inviting intervention that would pose a greater threat to their continued existence than the internal threat. However, with the protection of nuclear weapons, the mullahs may feel empowered to ignore outside opinions and take whatever action they feel necessary to suppress any internal threat to their power. While there is very strong support and identification with the students of Iran among many Americans, I can not see, at this time, that translating into a dedication of US forces. Likewise, the potential danger a nuclear-emboldened Iranian government poses to its own people is not a rallying cry for intervention. Make no mistake, however, that there are other more serious strategic and national security interests in play for the U.S. should Iran come closer to its nuclear goals, and I would be very surprised (and disappointed) should we not take decissive action to prevent that from happening. In the current environment, however, I would expect that action to more be along the lines of complete destruction of facilities by air strike than land invasion over a wide front. I sincerely hope that should the time for U.S. action come, it will be in a manner that is advantageous to the freedom loving people of Iran and serve to draw them together against the mullahs in their time of distress rather than serving as a rallying point for the current regime.

Tom H: I'm with AL in that I too hope it never comes to that point (and, as I stated above, would be angry if we let it possibly get to that point by inaction). I will go even further to say that while it may have been acceptable in the 1870's when discussing the "Indian problem", talk of "extermination" has no place in today's serious political discussions. There is a marked difference, in intent even if not so much in effect, in campaigns designed to break national will (such as the use of nuclear bombs you mentioned) and campaigns to exterminate (such as the Sand Creek Massacre). While the propriety of the former may be debated and different conclusions reached by reasonable men, the latter is wholely beyond justification by any rational thought.

A. L.:

I, too, hope that it does not come to an invasion of Iran. Will the "structural changes" you refer to mean an Iran that abandons plans to be a nuclear power? And will they come soon enough?

Jamshid:

The history of the twentieth century is filled with unpopular regimes that lasted for 30, 40, or 70 years. "Power comes out of the barrel of a gun". And the mullahs have plenty of money to hire home-grown thugs to carry those guns or to hire foreign thugs.

It will take more than dissatisfaction to unseat the mullahs.

And 10-15 years is way too long.

As Michael Ledeen says--faster, please.

There are at least two other nuclear powers that have vital interests in preventing a nuclear-armed mullahocracy in Iran: Russia and Israel. And, contrary to popular belief, we don't control either one of them.

Right, we're going to invade Iran (much larger and more populous than Iraq, and their armed forces not degraded by pre-existing sanctions), while still occupying Iraq. Against the will of all of our coalition of the bullied, most of whom are on reasonably good terms with Iran (and will leave Iraq in consequence). With our thin-stretched volunteer army, and approved by our Congress, whose Republican members are starting to doubt the President's war-running skills.

Or is it with our conscript army, obeying Commander-in-Chief Generalissimo Flightsuit Costume?

Sorry, guys, but I think time already ran out. In reality. In your Avalon Hill board game version, I can't tell.

submandave,

You can read my article, When A Democracy Chose Genocide, at the URL provided below. The Japanese surrendered because they knew we really would kill them all.

http://danieldrezner.com/mt/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=736

As a practical matter, extermination is always an option in the Middle East. IMO Arabs will do it to each other first, probably starting with Syria's Sunnis doing it to Syria's Alawites. The various tribal-based flavors of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia will do it to each other when the Saud regime goes. And Iraq's Shiite Arabs and Sunni Kurds will do it to Iraq's Sunni Arabs when American forces leave.

It would be interesting if Syria's Alawites (a Shiite sect) run to Iraq to escape Shiite terror and genocide at the same time Iraq's Sunnis run to Syria to escape Shiite terror and genocide.

Once we're nuked it will get much worse. IMO the destruction of the Arabs would take the form of several escalating pulses, with refugees in nine digits, rather than one horrific spasm. They don't understand that we're trying to save them from this.

IceCold:

"Dan, given Zarqawi's avowed (and apparently heart-felt) sectarian strategy in Iraq (setting Sunni against Shi'a), do you agree it's likely that Zarqawi's operation will reprise some sort of anti-Shi'a atrocity (a la the Hakim hit) in Najaf or other Shi'a center during this holiday season?"

If he can, he will certainly try. Given that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is now basically Sadr's prisoner in An Najaf, he will likely make a very attractive target for any Lashkar-e-Jhangvi imports Zarqawi's called in from Pakistan.

"It just seems like an obvious move to me. A hit on a moderate Shi'a leader yields multiple benefits, primarily additional Shi'a resentment of the occupation for failing to provide perfect security. It seems like the lack of sophistication, post-totalitarian 'room service mentality' (mommy, make my country nice, I'll sit here and watch), and endemic anti-American animus of the Shi'a and most Iraqis are inexhaustibly rich veins for Zarqawi to mine. A Hakim II in Najaf during the holidays seems just the ticket."

Most Shi'ites are not anti-American, nor due they support Sadr or his objectives. This perception is by and large a media creation of Sadr, who wants himself to appear (both in the Arab world as well as in the West) as being a much larger figure than he actually is until it becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy, similar to the attempt to relegate Iraq to the status of Vietnam.

Zarqawi has already tried mass casualty attacks against the Shi'ites on two occasions in Karbala and in An Najaf, neither of which have served to spark a sectarian war in Iraq. Another thing he may well attempt to do is to blow up the Imam Ali Mosque in An Najaf, one of the holiest locations in all of Shi'ite Islam.

Ursus:

"Most people who are aware of the history are mad that we have waited this long, not that we are taking action. Our guys knew that closing the paper and arresting Sadr's aide would incite a response... getting him to attack us is far better than our attacking him first... and it is far better to take him out of the picture before the handover, where his forces could actually cause some harm.

In some sense, therefore, our provocation of Sadr can be seen as an effort to preempt and neuter the Iranian influence."

The newspaper closure did not radicalize Sadr against the United States - he and his thugs had already wiped out a town prior to this point. I agree, however, that is far better to deal with Sadr and his Iranian backers now than after June 30.

AMac:

You are too kind.

Pete Stanley:

"Strategy Page's April 7 Iraq entry says that coalition forces started arresting Sadr's hit men last week, which forced Sadr to act."

Was this before or after they leveled Kawlia?

Josh Yelon:

"You guys seem to have a lot of faith that this is Iran's doing. What if it's just a popular uprising?"

If it were a popular uprising, Sadr would currently control a lot more of southern Iraq and have a lot more than ~10,000 or so fighters under arms. Basra, Umm Qasr, An Nasiriyah, Samawa, and Ad Diwaniyah are all quiet - that wouldn't be the case were there a real Shi'ite uprising in the works. The fact that the only places where the Mahdi Army appears to have real legs is in and around An Najaf and Sadr City should indicate just how localized a phenomenon this is.

"If so, then the occupation of Iraq and Iran at the same time is just doubling the size of the problem."

I don't believe I ever called for an invasion of Iran. I simply noted that if they were involved in all of this, including reports that elements of their intelligence, military, and proxy arms (Hezbollah) are operating against our forces and killing our troops, that would seem to be a fairly clear de jure act of war. Whether or not it's a de facto one or not will best be decided in Washington.

Praktike:

"Ah, but wasn't he silently organizing at this point? This whole thing seems elaborately planned, and one wonders to what extent he deliberately goaded the CPA into responding."

Yes, he was organizing, but at the time his Mahdi Army was one of the smaller and less equipped Iraqi militias - where it remained until several of the larger Iraqi militias agreed to disband, an event I believe I noted in a previous Winds of War. I also tend to have my doubts about Sadr's planning abilities from his two previous attempts to take An Najaf, which is why I tend to see Mugniyeh's hand in a lot of how this whole thing was orchestrated.

"So the question is, why didn't we know this was happening? Is it because we pulled back from the Shia areas and decided to let them handle matters?"

Sadr's whole organization is at best only several thousand people and up until this point our main concern has been the much larger and better equipped Badr Brigades. In addition, my understanding is that large chunks of southern Iraq are under non-US control, so we wouldn't have been on-scene in many cases to notice any of the more obvious signs until it was too late.

"Didn't Sistani's people know there was trouble afoot? The Shiites on the IGC?"

Sistani has been talking about violence and thugs (read: the Mahdi Army) in southern Iraq for some time now. That's one of the reasons why he was so adamant on the issue of direct elections and returning the south to Iraqi control - he saw Sadr's threat growing and was furious by the coalition's apparent (from his view) lack of effort to rein him in after the October fighting in Karbala.

"Next question -- what happens when the Sunnis start getting nervous that this thing is getting out of hand and turn on the Shia?"

Most Iraqis appear to be adopting a "wait and see" attitude at this point. If the US stomps Sadr (metaphorically or literally), their respect for the coalition and paranoia about the Shi'ites is likely to decrease. The longer the Sadr threat endures, however, the more the Sunnis will be likely to fear the prospect of retaliation from them for their long years of repression against their southern bretheren.

Iblis:

"The Mahdi army--is that the same thing as the Mahdi whom Gordon fought in Sudan?"

The name of the group, Jaish Mahdi, is the same. The Mahdi is a messianic eschatological figure in Islam in general and within Shi'ite circles in specific as the Guided One who will fight the oppressors, reunite the Muslim ummah, bring peace to the world, and rule over the faithful in Mecca. The Mahdi that the British fought in Sudan was one of the many over the course of history who have claimed the title as their own.

Sam Jeffe:

"On a larger note, it's my belief that the war is over and we've lost it. Yes, Sadr commanded only about 10,000 men last week and they have no sort of military training. But it's obvious with the capture of Najaf and the silence of the Badr brigades and Sistani, that Sadr is now the ruler of Iraq."

Sistani is silent because he is currently Sadr's prisoner in An Najaf - prior to that he called on the younger Shi'ite cleric to cease violence. As for the Badr Brigades, the reason that they are silent is because they have recently been disbanded, though some may well have been absorbed into the Mahdi Army. That was the reason why the holy sites in An Najaf were more or less undefended when Sadr's followers arrived.

"This sounds defeatist (nobody wanted our attempt at transforming Iraq to succeed more than I did), but it comes from a deep knowledge and long experience observing the Middle East.
I don't think Sadr really planned this insurgency, but I do think the street was boiling and this is the explosion. The first intefada started similarly in 1987 and has basically not stopped since then."

The idea that there was no pre-planning that went into this latest violence strikes me as running against most if not all of the available evidence to date. As for the Intifada, you seem to be forgetting the Oslo peace process which, while almost certainly disingenuous from Arafat's perspective, represented a real lull in the violence in the Palestinian Territories up until the beginning of the current al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000.

"At the time, Hamas was a tiny bit player. Now Hamas is in charge of Gaza and the only reason why Fatah has even minimal control of the West Bank is that it has coopted most of the rhetoric and strategy of Hamas. The same will happen in Iraq."

Much of Hamas's expansion comes from the fact that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority is an incompetent kleptocracy, leaving Hamas as the only source for many Palestinians' social services. The situation in Iraq is not analogous and I would recommend re-reading what I said about simply dismissing the situation in Iraq as a doomed one.

"This assumption that Sadr is an Iranian hire is also a possible mistake. The Iraqi Shia have a love-hate relationship with Iran. In some ways, Sadr is doing this as a way of thumbing his nose at Iran. If he takes over as ruler of Iraq, I would expect their relationship to be more like the Soviet Union and Red China during the cold war than as allies."

Sadr first formed the Mahdi Army after returning from Iran and has received assistance from VEVAK, Hezbollah, and the IRGC. Without that support, he would never have been able to carry out this current wave of violence. More to the point, what makes you think that Iran plans on Sadr ruling the whole of Iraq? A far more likely scenario would have Sadr ruling an Iranian puppet state in the south, with Zarqawi or stand-in ruling a Wahhabi theocracy in the Sunni Triangle and the Kurdish areas balkanizing back into their own semi-autonomous enclaves.

"An Iraq under Sadr is a far more dangerous threat to the U.S. than an Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Thus we have to get out of the mindset of thinking that this is only a blip on the radar before June 30th and after a few firefights it will all go away. Instead we have to start thinking about damage control and long-term strategy."

I don't think that anyone is regarding this as just a blip on the radar by any means. However, as it now stands we can either deal with Sadr now or deal with him after June 30. I choose to deal with him now.

"Now that the Shiites and Sunnis have essentially rejected the concept of a democratic Iraq, we throw our cards 100% in with the Kurds. We appoint Jalal Talabani to be the president of Iraq with far-reaching powers and a one-year time frame to clean up the country. Then we withdraw from the cities and guard the borders, letting Talabani and the Pesh Merga do some very bloody, horrific work. At the end of the one-year time frame, we reduce our troop presence to a couple of divisions for emergency support and then force Talabani to hold elections (either allowing him to rig them or letting the cards fall where they may.) This is attractive in the sense that Talabani would be far gentler for Iraq than Sadr or Hussein, and he would be assured of being our man. It also has the advantage that Talabani can begin an insurgency campaign amongst the Kurds in Syria and Iran, thus paying them back for what they've been doing to us. It's unattractive in that it completely does away with the notion that there will be a democratic Iraq anytime soon. It will also leave a permanent low-grade civil war--but at least it will be pesh merga instead of US marines that will be dying."

I'm trying to count all the ways that this is an extremely bad plan. Even assuming that Talabani would accept the position of Maximum Leader (and basically tear up the new Iraqi constitution in the process), what exactly makes you think that Barzani would stand for it? Great way to start up a new round of Kurdish in-fighting.

I also fail to see exactly how the vast number of Shi'ites have rejected the idea of a democratic Iraq given that the vast majority of them have not done anything remotely resembling joining Sadr's insurrection. I also think that making plans to ditch the whole country altogether is more than just a tad premature at this point.

"A second option is to try to coopt Sadr. The governing council has obviously failed and is pointless. We could try to make a deal with Sadr--we'll withdraw and leave the country to you on condition that there's no Al Qaeda or WMD development. Call it the French way."

We've already declared the man an outlaw and a renegade - backing down at this point would be akin to dumping blood in a shark tank with regard to the insurgents and their foreign backers. I also fail to see why Sadr should be given Iraq on a silver platter now that his thugs have killed US GIs and sincerely hope that you understand the kind of message you would be sending to any other nation or terrorist group hostile to the US.

"Our last option that I can see is probably the worst. We deal firmly with Sadr, destroy the Mehdi army and then face a long term low level insurgency throughout Iraq. Eventually (probably in the first few months of the Kerry presidency) America would tire of the Vietnam-like images and the daily killing of ten or a dozen soldiers and we would pull out and get nothing in return."

Kerry has stated that he will not withdraw US forces from Iraq. The implication here from your statement is that he's lying, which is something that you'll have to take up with his defenders here. I'm not one of them.

"The sooner we recognize the significance of what has happened in the last week, the fewer American lives will be lost and the more we can salvage from our enterprise. Instead we have Myers, Kimmit and Bremer giving photo ops and press conferences as if this is a bar brawl. It's not. It's the fight of our lives."

There is recognizing the significance of the threat posed by Sadr and there is overreacting in the extreme. In my view, the plan you outline would be an example of the latter of the two.

Jay Currie:

"Why now?

Why not wait for June 30th and confront the provisional government with the same uprising better organized?"

Because I think that Sadr or his Iranian backers have likely come to recognize the June 30 transfer of power for what it is - little more than a bit of diplomatic window-dressing. US troops are still going to be there and little will have changed as far as the difficulties inherent in establishing a Khomeinist state inside of Iraq. I think that Sadr or his backers weighed the actions decided to act now, with the Ashura Massacre still fresh in everyone's mind.

"In essence, for groups (and nations) hoping to see a radical, anti-Western, Iraq, April is the make or break month. Either they can deliver a political knockout blow the the United States - and here I am thinking of the Marine barracks in Lebannon - or they can fold their tents."

Precisely, which is where I see Mugniyeh or one of his lieutenant's hands in all of this.

Diana:

"Military occupations are generally not supported by the people."

Indeed. Nor are rather brazen attempts by a segment of 1/3 of the population to impose itself on the other 2/3 at the behest of a foreign power, incidentally ...

Andrew Lazarus:

"First, let me say I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq."

I know that and I sincerely hope that my statement at the top made that clear - that the arguments against a pull-out of Iraq were not intended as elements of my arguments against your position that may have slipped into the analysis.

"However, I think that most of the pro-war commentary is continuing give credence to the idea that our problems with Iraq are with a small, top-down group of bad guys. Once, the bad guy was Saddam. Now the bad guy is al-Sadr."

Numerically speaking, they are small, a point not to be lost for those who think that the Bastille is ready to be stormed at any minute by angry mobs. And I would tend to regard Sadr as a proxy for Iran, making Khamenei and Co the bad guys rather than just our would-be Khomeini.

"Tomorrow, Sistani? Where exactly are the pro-US Iraqis? They don't seem, to put it bluntly, very motivated. The decapitation model for ending the uprising hasn't worked very well for Israel and fails us likewise."

Sistani was already roundly denounced in any number of circles for calling for direct elections - I believe some have already accused him of being Khomeini reborn. As far as decapitation goes, it depends on the structure of organization - Saddam's capture has pretty much broken the Baathists and the Shining Path crumbled in pretty much the same manner. The trick is figuring out the structure of the organization - neither al-Qaeda or Hamas are personality-based organizations (though both were at one point), which is why decapitation fails to deter them.

"We didn't anticipate this mess; it didn't fit in with the rosy scenarios. Our current leadership, in fact, appears to have been taken by surprise by every setback. Now we need more troops and we're looking at years of occupation. When do I get to call it a quagmire?"

When you give up on the idea of winning there. One does not triumph in a quagmire, one retreats from it. I'm not so ready to give Iraq or Afghanistan up for lost, the former of which you basically acknowledged if we don't fullfill certain prerequisites in the second section of your argument.

Tom Holsinger

"Do you believe that the continued existence of a significant Sunni Arab minority in Iraq (>5% of the population) is necessary to our victory in the war on terror?"

I'm not advocating the annihilation of the Sunni enclaves, if that's what you're asking.

"How long do you believe more than 5% of Iraq's population will consist of Sunni Arabs after American ground forces leave the country?"

I'm uncertain of what exactly you're asking here. Could you please clarify?

"Do you believe Sadr would be more than jack-**** in Iraq absent the support he's had from Iran in the past year (financial in particular)?"

No. He might have been able to demagogue his way a little, but he wouldn't have anywhere near the power base he does today.

"Do you believe Sadr's Iranian friends will let him live long enough to be captured by American forces?"

Beats me. There's only one way to find out ...

"What have Iran's mullah rulers got to lose here? They know they're next."

They are banking on the possibility that the US won't move against them for a host of logistical and political reasons until they have a nuclear deterrent in play, at which point they figure that they can threaten us with impunity. They may be right, but they're still playing with fire and at some point down the line they will get burned if they continue the way they're headed now, either now or later.

"Eager to hear Dan's thoughts, but as for the timing, best explanation I've seen is next week's pilgrimage to Najaf. Tens of thousand of Iranians will show up, offering a perfect opportunity to resupply and reinforce Sadr's men."

Precisely. And the large civilian presence will ensure that the US won't be able to move against them until after that resupply occurs. OTOH, the chances of any IRGC who are sent over being anywhere on par with our own troops is a naive prospect at best IMO.

Jamshid:

"well I agree with u to some extend, but nowhere I read a comment or explanation that maybe iraqis have problem with US occupation, or maybe the US wasn't successful to build a safe Iraq. have u ever thoght about that?"

Yes. However, given the small size of Sadr's forces and apparent lack of unrest throughout the majority of the southern cities would appear to weigh strongly against such possibilities. I don't deny that some Iraqis have likely embraced Sadr for the inability of the coalition to provide them with security to date. However, accepting that as a premise how can we stand by and allow a demagogue whose followers have shown a willingness to demolish an entire village due to its seedy reputation rule over them? Would that not simply be abandoning them to even worse security than we already have?

"please stop blaming other nations for your failures, US hadn't any clear plan for Iraq after invasion."

Maybe not. Should we simply pack up our bags and abandon it on that account? Flagellating ourselves over the fact that the US war planners appear to have made the assumption that some remnant of the Iraqi government would survive the war to surrender to us, which I view as the key mistake in the post-war planning from which all others stem, isn't going to do a thing to stop Sadr or Zarqawi.

"as an Iranian, I asked the americans that please do not try to help us by military or sanctions. we will fix it ourselves. thank u"

And I am quite willing to oblige you in this regard - right up until the moment an Iranian nuke goes off in a Western city or the al-Qaeda leaders based in Iran orchestrate an attack on par with or surpassing that of 9/11. At that point, the matter will be out of our hands.

Josh Yelon:

"This talk about Iran is interesting, but a lot of people think we're going to invade Iran before we have a successful resolution in Iraq. I don't see that it makes tactical sense."

It doesn't make logistical sense either (depending on what one means by "resolution"), but when did either factor into many an online discussion ...

"Assume that the Iranians are aiding the Iraqi insurgency. However, not 100% of the insurgency is coming from Iran - at least some part of its energy is homegrown in Iraq. If you undercut the Iranian support, the insurgency will be reduced, but not eliminated."

The homegrown elements are primarily Baathist and, as I noted above, are more or less a spent force on their own regard. As for Sadr, he would not have anywhere resembling the power base he does today if not for all of the assistance he's been receiving from Tehran.

"I know that the numbers here aren't "mathematically sound", but still, you get my point: under any reasonable set of assumptions, attacking Iran just leaves us with more chaos on our hands. If we can't handle Iraq without Iran, we certainly can't handle Iraq and Iran at the same time."

I concur. Stabilizing Iraq, training a new Iraqi military and police force that can take over the security responsibilities in a competent manner are key prerequisites for any future military action against Iran. Which, let me just say, I would prefer to avoid unless absolutely necessary for a whole host of reasons.

The comments on Iran and nukes miss an interesting point. The US and USSR had a very hard time making nukes without killing too many of our own people. India's nuke plants have polluted their waters. I assume that Pak's have too.

A ground invasion of Iran is an awful contemplation. A surgical strike creates anger and leaves desire and ability behind. Chernobyl's are are far different animal and can only be blamed on incompetence. Perhaps Chernobyl's can be encouraged? After all it was the beginning of the end for the USSR. A second one, caused by bungling, would sure take the shine off of homegrown WMD!

Robin, I suppose it's possibl that the search for Al Qaeda and Taliban groups in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border is going well.

There is not, however, a shred of evidence that the construction of some sort of successful Afghan state is going well. We have a warlord in open revolt; others who pay no attention to the Karzai government. The elections will be postponed. The NGOs and their money are leaving.
In early 2003, for example, according to the Chicago Tribune, there were twenty-six humanitarian agencies at work in Kandahar, the main Afghan city in the south. By early this year, there were fewer than five.

Covert success in the struggle against the terrorists, can do. But the idea of covert, unnoticed success in the reconstruction of the country is an oxymoron.

The NGOs are leaving in no small part because the Taliban, operating in small groups, are killing their members. Get rid of that problem and it seems entirely reasonable to assume that they will return.

Dan,

"Do you believe that the continued existence of a significant Sunni Arab minority in Iraq (>5% of the population) is necessary to our victory in the war on terror?"

"I'm not advocating the annihilation of the Sunni enclaves, if that's what you're asking."

Nope, I asked whether you think we need a successful tripartite ethnic Iraq to win the war on terror, or whether we can win after ethnic cleansing of Iraq's Sunni Arabs by the Kurds and Shiite Arabs once we leave Iraq.

"How long do you believe more than 5% of Iraq's population will consist of Sunni Arabs after American ground forces leave the country?"

"I'm uncertain of what exactly you're asking here. Could you please clarify?"

Do you believe the Shiites and Kurds will ethnically cleanse Iraq of most of its Sunni Arabs once we leave (or even before) and, if so, when do you think they'll start?

IMO the Sunni fate will be that of the Serbs in Croatia.

BTW, "de jure" means "in law", while "de facto" means "in fact". You reversed them.

Tom Holsinger,

Have you looked at the Iraqi interim constitution? As I understand it, part of the executive structure gives the Kurds a fairly decent motivation to block attempts by the Shiites to eliminate the Sunnis. Currently, the Shiites make up about 60% of the Iraqi population. Several aspects of the intricate parliamentary/presidential system require a two-thirds majority vote--and these aspects are both recurring and structural--so a political combination of Kurds and Sunnis can block Shiite support for a proposition inimical to either party. Remove the Sunnis from the picture, and I guarantee that the Shiite proportional representation goes over 67%, which would reduce Kurdish influence to zero, for all practical purposes.

I'm sure that the political leaders of the major Kurdish groups are well aware of these structural aspects. They may not like the Sunni Arabs any more than the Shiites, but I think political pragmatism may win the day.

If your scenario does occur, however, and the Sunnis are reduced to <5% of the Iraqi population, then I'd consider Kurdish secession to be inevitable. First, they would be unable to muster the numbers for political significance on a national scale, and second, I wouldn't want to be a distinct ethnic minority in a country that had just obliterated a religious minority.

Your thoughts?

wow, Dan. You are truly the hardest-working man in blog business.

you know, this whole thing would almost be worth it if we nailed mugniyeh.

Posted by: Tom Holsinger:
Once we're nuked it will get much worse. IMO the destruction of the Arabs would take the form of several escalating pulses, with refugees in nine digits, rather than one horrific spasm. They don't understand that we're trying to save them from this.

This is what gets me about all the folks, foreign and domestic, who oppose the US efforts to turn Iraq into a decent country. This is the soft option folks. We even willing to take casualties to try to make the soft option work. One Trident submarine could solve the problem of Islamo-fascism over the course of 3 hours with NO American casualties and no American even breaking a threat.

If the enemy, foreign and domestic, succeed and US efforts in Iraq fail. The next step is not for the US to wrap up "George Bush's" war, come home and live happily ever after. The next step is the hard option, which will cost the lives of millions of Muslims, Arab, Iranian and possibly, Pakistani. Americans will feel real bad about doing this, but in the Islamo-fascist 'us vs them world', Americans will choose us. In 50 years, the pinkos will be floating paper boats with candles on them down the Tigris and Euphrates in memory of the nuking of Baghdad, but it'll be long over by that time.

Hmmm, did the Japanese hate us more or less after nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Thanks Dan!

A voice of reason is sooooo refreshing.

Tom, Jabba -

What do think of this post I did a while ago?

A.L.

Tom Holsinger:

"Nope, I asked whether you think we need a successful tripartite ethnic Iraq to win the war on terror, or whether we can win after ethnic cleansing of Iraq's Sunni Arabs by the Kurds and Shiite Arabs once we leave Iraq."

Okay, I misunderstood your comments and thank you for clarifying them. The key problem in the Sunni Triangle right now is the lack of a viable post-Baathist future for the general population, which I think is one of the factors behind their recent embrace of al-Qaeda. To date, all of the other major Iraqi ethno-religious groups have had viable national spokesmen in the wake of Saddam Hussein to look out for their own interests, whether Kurdish (the PUK and KDP), Turkmen (ITF), Shi'ite (Sistani and SCIRI), or Christian (their clergy with its international ties to the Oriental Orthodox or the RCC). The Sunni more or less appear to have sold themselves on the notion that the Baathist insurgency would succeed and are now turning to al-Qaeda in the wake of its abject failure. And as hopelessly imperialist as this might sound, bringing in a Hashemite or two to give them a sane alternative to Saddam Hussein as far as a national leader goes doesn't sound to me like that much of a bad idea.

"Do you believe the Shiites and Kurds will ethnically cleanse Iraq of most of its Sunni Arabs once we leave (or even before) and, if so, when do you think they'll start?"

No, I don't. The Sunni Triangle, with the possible exception of multi-ethnic cities like Baghdad or Mosul, is inhabited by some rather fearsome locals, as we've discovered through a far more benevolent occupation than either the Kurds or the Shi'ites would conduct while in the process of ethnic cleansing. The result of an attempt to do so would be the balkanization of Iraq more than anything else. More to the point, neither the Kurds or the Shi'ites have demonstrated that they have the necessary manpower or logistics to carry out anything or that kind of a scale.

"IMO the Sunni fate will be that of the Serbs in Croatia."

Possible, but in the case of the Serbian Croats they had a friendly neighboring country with which to flee to in reasonably short order with little if any geographic challenge. With the exception of Jordan (and even then I would be hesitant as to whether or not King Abdullah would take them in), I'm not sure where exactly you think the Sunnis will ethnically cleansed to - Turkey, Syria, and Iran won't have anything to do with them and there are sizeable deserts and distances separating them from Saudi Arabia or Jordan.

"BTW, 'de jure' means 'in law,' while 'de facto' means 'in fact.' You reversed them."

Indeed. Given the volume of comments that I was replying to, I trust you'll forgive my error in this respect.

Dan,

Don't think in such a static fashion. History is a process, not a succession of events.

Sure the Shiites and Kurds don't have the firepower to do in the Sunnis. Yet. They don't, and haven't had, control of state power. What happens when they do?

AFAIK, then President Tudjman of Croatia decided his country couldn't safely tolerate a Serb minority of more than 5-10%, and got rid of the excess. That is the analogy I had in mind.

As for the Sunnis, they'll go to Syria, and to hell. Just as Syria's Alawites will run to Iraq when their time comes, which IMO will be in no more than five years.

That the Syrians don't permit entry of Iraq's Sunni Arabs is only true for now. Sort of - given their receptiveness to bribes. Syria is run by an Alawite gangster confederacy. That will change.

Dan, the Strategy Page entry was for Apr. 7, and said "a week ago", which would put it in the neighborhood of April 1. Stategy Page appears to use some sort of bot to scan interesting sites for news, and that's what they put on their site. Often they'll scan blogs, too.

However it looks like Sadr razed Diwaniya before the date you mentioned. If you carefully read the first paragraph of the FT article, you'll note that it's recounting the destruction of the village "three weeks ago."

Perhaps this spurred the CPA/coalition/Iraqi judiciary into action? Did the coalition knowingly provoke Sadr? Or did Sadr choose his moment? Wretchard at the Belmont Club sees Sadr's actions as countersiege.

To answer the question "why now" we should ask cui bono (who benefits). I don't think either side really benefits right now. It's entirely possible, probable even, that Sadr and coalition forces blundered into open conflict, neither side fully ready.

Jabba the Nut and Tom Holsinger point out some nasty nuclear scenarios here. It's important to consider these worst case visions - they sharpen the mind. I would reccommend Wretchard's The Three Conjectures and his follow-ons here and here Among Wretchard's points is this - even if the United States does not use nuclear weapons to 'expiate our historical guilt', there are other nuclear nations out there who are not so squimish.

I disagree with Tom Holsinger's assessment that Iraq's Sunnis will be ethnically cleansed. I think the United States will maintain a presence in Iraq for some time to come, and the US Army will, in time, become the Sunnis' protector. Iraq is worth keeping a base in for geographical reasons alone (Indeed, Sratfor thinks that's why we took Iraq to begin with. I don't entirely agree, but they have a good point.) As Jabba the Nut pointed out, we're doing Iraq the soft way. We're trying to build a decent civil society in Iraq, for reasons laid out by Wretchard in the links above, and by Steven den Beste Another reason US troops will stay - and care about the Sunnis.

As far as Iran goes - I agree that we're on a clock, and we may not have the luxury of waiting. Some here say next year, but Bush might hurry along the mobiliztion for late this year, covering the possiblity that he won't win in November. I'm not sure that Kerry, given the choice, will invade. Bush can always start the war after the election but before the inagural.

Those who point out that it doesn't make logistical sense to move against Iran until Iraq is calm have a point. But I'm reminded of a Sherman quote, something like "If he will go to the Ohio I'll give him rations. My business is down South."

As far as occupying Iran... well, there aren't many good options here. Jabba the Nut says that we're doing Iraq "soft". But maybe it's double soft.

The object will be to take down a threat government. We'll shift the extremists from the levers of power. Jamshid says that 10% will fight. Probably so. However, they won't be running nuclear weapons plants. They won't be using diplomatic bags to deliver ricin mist or Zarqawi's latest potion to all points of the compass.

Iran might be a mess for years. However, Iran still maintains a well-educated population, including women. Their middle class has been eliminated economically, but the prospect of a working civil society in Iran is not as distant as it is in Iraq, or other Arab lands.

There was a RAND briefing given to some administration officals a long time ago - late '01 or maybe early '02. It was leaked to the presd and, predictably, widely misunderstood. It said something like this - Iraq is the tactical pivot, Arabia is the strategic pivot, Egypt is the prize.

Some commentators, expressed shock and outrage that we might fight in or against Arabia and Egypt. But I have always believed that, while some combat would be involved, the RAND briefing referred more to the war of society and ideas.

Imagine Egypt, the most populace and most important Arab country, turning into a pluralistic republic. Starry-eyed, perhaps. But consider Wretchard's alternative - and there we'd only need one nuke in the right place. (See comment number 11.)

"If Islam desires the secret of the stars it must embrace the kuffar as its brother -- or die."

- Wretchard the Cat

"Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory."

- Winds of Change dot Net

Hmm. Links aren't showing up very well. Just do the old highlight and drag.

slightly off topic:

Tom Holsinger - your use of the term "gangster confederacy" sparked a memory. You wrote in a comment box here last summer that you expected N. Korea's complete collapse in 6-18 months. Is that still your position?

And what exactly is end-run industrial production? Thanks.

Duh. Link and drag only works if you've already been to the link. So here goes -

5th paragraph: "The Three Conjectures"; "here"; here

6th: "Stratfor"; "Steven den Beste"

13th: "society"; "ideas"

14th: "comment number 11"

Sorry bout that folks. Must've put the ** in the wrong place.

Duh. Link and drag only works if you've already been to the link. So here goes -

5th paragraph: "The Three Conjectures"; "here"; here

6th: "Stratfor"; "Steven den Beste"

13th: "shock and outrage"; "society"; "ideas"

14th: "comment number 11"

Sorry bout that folks. Must've put the ** in the wrong place.

Andrew, wrt Afghanistan, it is telling you turn to the number of NGOs as a measure of stability and progress.

Warlords are being reined in, bit by bit. Karzai's government has established a legal precedent with the loya jurga's work and with the help of the US and NATO is slowly widening control outward from Kandahar. It was always going to be a slow process - in a very real sense, we are establishing a central government where there has never been one before.

I do not subscribe to the view that more resources in Afghanistan would have significantly speeded this effort. The country had virtually no infrastructure, codified legal code, or civil society in 2001 - a little over 2 years later, the bases for these are slowly being established.

In the meanwhile, the attempts of the Taliban to regain power have not been and won't be successful. In fact, when they gather in an area, they achieve sufficient mass to make it possible and worth attacking them.

So long as we don't leave prematurely, Afghanistan will slowly grow into a stable and functioning country. Given the conditions from which they are beginning, I measure progress and stability in incremental steps.

As for the NGOs, since they couldn't do a credible job in the Balkans, where they had a lot more to work with, they are scarcely a good measure of progress in a place like Afghanistan.

I've read some comments here that say Sadr didn't plan this 'uprising' but I beg to differ.

First off, Ali or Zayed from one of the Iraq blogs said that Sadr made a trip to Iran recently and though he's always been something of a 'joke' in Iraq up till now, anyway, he met with the Great Man himself, the Ayotollah Khomaini, who then gave him an audience and financing. The person who told this (I believe it might have been Zayed) was totally mystified that such a nonentity would be given the royal treatment in Iran.

But Sadr's aunt is Mrs. Khatami, the President of Iran's wife. When you know that it makes more sense that he is Iran's man in Iraq. The money was to finance his Mehdi army and he wasn't kidding when he said he'd be the 'arm of Hezbollah and Hamas'. The US troops have been finding dead Syrians and today Zayed said on his blog that one of his neighbours and he were chatting and his neighbour told him he was in the Mehdi army and Sadr paid him in US dollars. Zayed asked where Sadr got the US dollars and the neighbour just smiled secretively. Zayed then said to him "Iran?" and his neighbour just nodded.

Zayed of Healing Iraq and Omar, Ali and Mohammed of Iraq the Model are the 'moderate democracy-loving Iraqis' but if you read Zayed these days he's scared. He says you have to watch who you talk to and what you say about Sadr because his henchmen are everywhere (i.e. his neighbour) and you don't want to get on the sh*t list.

So have we lost it and if we haven't and we quell the uprising will it stay quelled? Even if you catch and kill Sadr, will Iran, Al-Qaeda and Syria send someone else because they cannot afford to have democracy. Wouldn't it be better to go straight to Iran and drop the bombs on them now while there's still time before they have the BIG ONE (if they haven't already) which they will surely use?

Another aspect of this Iran proxy war (for I believe we're actually up against Iran--Al-Qaeda works for Iran and Syria plays along), is that someone today noted that they will fight in bloody increments; i.e. this 'April surprise'; then there's bee a 'June surprise', followed after a lull by an 'August surprise' and then an 'October surprise'. A sort of guerilla war of attrition till you think you can't win and are in a quagmire. But if you don't give in and keep kicking, eventually you can win and outlast them. This theory was in a column by Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post entitled "Column One: Hezbollah's Iraqi campaign". It's worth looking up for her insight into how the Arab fights in increments, always coming back to try to weaken the enemy.

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&ci

or simply go to today's JPost, scroll down to Caroline Glick's Column One.

Lastly, David Warren has an excellent column "Pear Shaped" which gives some hope and defines what the US is up against now.

http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/Comment/Apr04/index211.shtml

Sorry for the long post--had a lot on my mind.

Pete,

Iran's mullahs have attacked us in Iraq. We are at war with Iran whether we want to be or not. Iranian forces are shooting at our troops. Iranian agents are kidnapping our civilians. We are killing Iranian forces as they cross the border between Iran and Iraq.

Questions about us invading Iran at this point are as silly as questions about whether we really want to "attack" the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.

You don't win a war with defense only. The only way to stop Iran's nutball regime from continually attacking us in Iraq is to invade Iran.

Re North Korea: I expect it to collapse next winter. See my "Reunification of Korea by the ROK" at the Prediction Market on Strategy Page. Also check out my "American Invasion of Iran Officially Commences" and "Next Use of Nuclear Weapons In Anger".

The first two are related. I expected us to invade Iran after North Korea collapsed. Now I think we'll go in regardless of what happens in North Korea.

Here's the URL:

http://www.strategypage.com/prediction_market/default.asp?sort=ed

End-run industrial production means that stocks of raw materials and critical are being consumed faster than they are being replaced. This principally means steel, coal and railway equipment for North Korea's "Stalinist railroad" economy. North Korea's coal mines have, or are, filling up with water for lack of electricity to operate the pumps. No coal means no steel. No steel means no replacement rails, etc. The transportation system is ceasing to operate. Food is not being distributed to outlying areas. At some point that will happen to the core too. My bet is that this will be next winter.

And there is the complete collapse of discipline in the Nork army. Dunnigan didn't believe me about that until I sent him stories about China sending 100-150k troops to Manchuria to keep Nork enlisted men from crossing the border to rob Chinese banks. When enlisted conscripts routinely carry their weapons off-base for criminal purposes, it's over. And here they're doing it to rob civilians just to get enough food to stay alive.

Ralph Peters agrees we are now at war with Iran.

http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/18444.htm

"IRAN and Syria are at war with the United States. In Iraq. Now.

Washington refuses to admit it. The Bush administration claims that the struggle in Iraq is about the future of the entire Middle East, but won't concede publicly that other countries in the region are extensively involved. And the outcome they seek is exactly the opposite of what we hope to achieve.

The bloody combat throughout Iraq this past week didn't only involve Iraqi Ba'athist insurgents and al Qaeda. The Iranians vigorously prepared and supported killer-cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's "Mahdi" militia. Iranians are active agents in the widespread terrorism in southern Iraq. And, according to intelligence shared exclusively with The Post, approximately 30 al Qaeda executives have been allowed to operate from Teheran, feeding agents into Iraq with the collusion of the Iranian government..."

Well, well, so the news today is that NORTH KOREA is now indicating that it is on the "brink of nuclear war" with the United States, with IRAN saying a few eeks before before it will resist any invasion of its country, read USA, with any means possible, read NUKES its own or someone else's! I still say that if it involves FORCING or INDUCING hyperpower America to accept internal DOMESTIC SOCIALISM as well as external INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST CONTROL, ie COMMUNISM, the power-insane Failed Left has no qualms about deliberately inducing a WORSENING GEOPOLITICAL SITUATION NO MATTER WHOSE IN THE WHITE HOUSE. Remember, as per the LeftNet many Lefties desire America to be under Socialism and Socialism-based/controlled UN OWG by 2015 NLT 2020, ala "Kill the Head and The Body Dies [free world/West]. I reiterate that both the USAF and USN reportedly are in agreement that China's best opportunity to wage [successful?] war against the US-West is sometime this decade (2004-2010), before US dominance makes it all but impossible for China to EVER hope to par or defeat the US and its Western allies, even with a modernized [Fascist] Socialist economy or modern nuclear arsenals! I am anticipating any LIMITED WAR, CONVENTIONAL ONLY or at worst LIMITED NUCLEAR ,with North Korea to NOT occur until the Korean cold months - NK as well as IRAN, etal. need any warfighting advantage they can get, and that means utilizing/maximizing MOTHER NATURE in order to restrict TECH-SUPERIOR US-WESTERN MILFORS, plus ACTIVE OFFENSE-DEFENSE, ie RAPID FIRST-STRIKE followed up by RAPID [NUCLEARIZED] DEFENSE. If the Commies/Left intend to strike America, it may explain why Russia and China are in a hurry to emplce new orbiting SATWAR assets, eg GLONASS, etc., at the same time radical Islam is threatening to "BURN" AMERICAN FORESTS, ie reverse "Agent Orange" on America.NORAM itself. On TALKRADIO today it was said that Radical Islam now considers SPAIN TO BE HISTORICAL MUSLIM TERRITORY LIKE ISRAEL, read Cold War-similar CHOKING OF THE STRAITS OF GIBRALTAR to cut off US-NATO warfleets while making the Mediterr secure for the Soviet Navy! Spain and Gibraltar on one end of the world, the Philippines-Indonesia and Starits of Malacca on the other - COINCIDENCE, like faith-based Radical Islamists supporting Spanish Secular SOcialists ala the MADRID BOMBINGS!?

Tom,

Thanks for your reply on North Korea. On Iran, I, too believe that we're currently at war with them, and I wouldn't be in the least surprised if there's large numbers of Pasadaran and Hezbollah in Iraq. My statements were only regarding the necessity of the US invasion of Iran.

In fact, we've been at war with Iran for some time now. Parts of the Iranian government (i.e. the parts that matter) offered refuge to large numbers of al Qaeda starting in early 2002. Furthermore, I don't think that Iran's possible role in the events of September 11 have been thoroughly investigated. Certainly the witness of the Mzoudi trial should have raised red flags in the press - it hasn't.

The comparisons with Tet and such are poor analogies. In Iraq, the US does not face a million man army supplied by the Soviet Union. It faces a gang of thugs, more like the LA Crips writ large.

If the US cannot provide the Iraqi people with security from a gang of thugs, then it has no moral claim to rule. It is not clear that we do have this competence. We don't in Los Angeles.

The perfect counter stroke to what is happening in Iraq is to get the Iranians fully engaged there and then with their security apparatus weakened counter attack in Iran.

Given the situation in Iran it ought to be possible to destroy the regime of the mullahs rather quickly if Americans move on Iran.

Andrew L.,

Please explain where Bush got his conscript Army.

You know your criticism might have more effect if they had a basis in reality.

Andrew L.,

What you fail to take into account is that all the fires we are fighting now are part of a coordinated plan.

If that is the case Afghanistan is a distraction to the work going on in Iraq.

That means we must not be distracted by the Afghan problems until we have settled Iraq back down.

Keep in mind Germany 1918. They had the power to resist for another year at least but the leadership lost their nerve under heavy attack in August. By September although the military situation was stabil the political situation was any thing but. It is what post war Germans like Hitler meant by "the stab in the back".

We must not stab ourselves in the back if we wish to avoid a nuclear war with Iran. The stakes are too high. If you wish to avoid that outcome (I'm assuming you are a liberal humanitarian which may in fact not be the case) then we HAVE to win this one and stabilize Iraq.

The alteernative is not just the thousands dead we are seeing now but tens of millions.

The current case is that of starting the war in 1937 to avoid Hiroshima 1945.

It is sad that so many leftists afraid of what is happening now don't see the black storm clouds gathering in our future.

I'd like constructive criticism on how to avoid a nuclear war with the fascists of the ME instead of carping about the current tactical set backs being a portent of failure.

BTW have you read "Strategy" by Hart?

My point, M., is that our volunteer army is too small to add on an attack of Iran. It appears to be to small to occupy Iraq. (Unless you are one of the WoC commenters who thinks that the apparent reverses in Iraq are a brilliant feint to induce overconfidence in the reprobate Iraqis, Al Qaeda, and the mullahs.)

I'm sure you know that we still have the statutory authority to resume conscription. I'm sure you know that the Bush Administration has re-filled draft boards.

Face it, either we are going to grow the volunteer Army, or we are going to return to a conscript Army, or we are going to fail. For the imperial fantasies of the commenters above, the latter course of action is more likely. We'll be able to tell, if the twins' boyfriends join the Texas National Guard.

I'd like very much for the question of Iran's involvement in stirring up trouble in Iraq to be addressed either by CPA or the White House.

But this is probably an idle wish. All of the wildly optimistic assumptions on which the Bush White House based its planning having failed to pan out it is now flying by the seat of its pants on Iraq. And CPA seems to be no better -- in fact, one of the underreported stories about Iraq involves just who, exactly, besides Bremer and Dan Senor is planning strategy there (maybe the place we ought to have journalists embedded is in Bremer's office). It's exasperating, really; you can think of smart ideas about what to do there till the cows come home, but even if those smart ideas are the right ideas it isn't likely that anyone in the White House or Bremer's palace is skillful enough to implement them.

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