Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Interpreting the war on the Shiites 

It has been obvious for months that the rejectionist insurgency in Iraq was waging war against the Shiite Muslim majority. However, the various factions of the insurgency had somewhat different objectives in this. Ba'athist holdouts are using terrorism against Shiite civilians to coerce a political result, the restoration of some measure of Sunni power in Iraq's new government. Al Qaeda's affiliates, on the other hand, are trying to drive the United States from Iraq, which if accomplished would be a huge victory for al Qaeda. It had hoped to accomplish this last year by creating conditions that would defeat George Bush's re-election, but having failed in that it diverted from the hard targets in the American military to the soft targets in the civilian population. Al Qaeda's new hope was that a full-blown sectarian war would deprive the United States of any opportunity for success, and that would motivate it to withdraw without having achieved its objectives. To that end, Sunni terrorists have been slaughtering civilians with no obvious connection to the government, and last week al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, declared "all-out war" on Iraq's Shia Muslims.

While these different objectives -- the restoration of Sunni privilege and the humiliation of the United States -- have been well-aligned for most of the last two years, they are beginning to diverge. The Sunnis are trying to cut a deal that will get them some of the power that they have lost, including particularly over oil and the bureaucracy. Al Qaeda knows that if the Sunnis broadly join the political system its fighters will not continue to be safe in Iraq (since, obviously, the Shia and Kurds will only cede power to a minority if they get peace in return).

This strategic divergence means that the Sunni insurgency is at risk of a division that will be fatal to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has responded in two ways. First, it has started to kill Sunnis -- even extremely anti-American Sunnis -- who are accomodating themselves to the emerging political system. Second, it is trying to divide the Shia in the hope of weakening the indigenous opposition to the insurgency, which would buy time. Hence al-Zarqawi's amendment to his declaration of war against all Shiites: al Qaeda will not, it turns out, "attack Shiite groups, including that of maverick cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which have opposed US and Iraqi military operations in northern Iraq." Zarqawi is trying to re-align the insurgency's twin objectives by recharacterizing his proposal for sectarian war as a war against pro-American Shiites. Specifically, he is signalling Moqtada al-Sadr, the "radical Shiite" who led his army in revolt against the government and the Coalition last year.

Stratfor is probably correct when it says that this gesture by Zarqawi is almost certainly futile($), because al-Sadr "cannot afford to be seen as having any connection with the man whose group has murdered hundreds of Shia." Indeed, al Sadr is so unwilling to be associated with Zarqawi that he got out in front of al Qaeda and demanded that Sunni clerics denounce Zarqawi a day before Zarqawi amended his declaration of war to exempt al Sadr's followers:
Hazem Al A'raji, representative of Muqtada Al Sadr in Al Kazimiyah region (north of Baghdad) has criticized Sunni scholars as 'they have not issued a religious opinion (Fatwa) considering Al Zarqawi as an infidel and that they were satisfied with just condemnation, which does not cope with the size of the disaster, as Shiaas are murdered everywhere.'

What might we glean from this? First, that al Sadr cannot afford any perception that he would gain from al Qaeda's war against those Shia who participate in or cooperate with the government. Al Qaeda's mass casualty attacks have so alienated such a large proportion of Iraq's population that it cannot scrape up a public ally even among another Islamist who previously took up arms against the United States. Second, al Qaeda will therefore fail to divide the Shiites. Third, whatever the lessons of this war, it is not another Vietnam.

UPDATE: Here is specific evidence of the division within the insurgency over Zarqawi's sectarian strategy.
A statement that Al Zaman has received a copy of and was distributed in Al Ramadi, Al Musel and Baghdad mosques, signed by Gaish Mohamed, Al Qa'qa Regiments, Islamic Army, Iraqi Mujahideen Army and Al Naser Salah Eddin, said, "The objective of resistance in their military attacks is solely the occupation and its assistants. The call for murdering all Shiaas is a fire that would burn Iraqis; Sunnis and Shiaas." The statement noted, "Resistance consists of Iraqi military and popular organizations that are not connected with any formations outside them. The main objective is liberating Iraq from the occupants and establishing national free regime in it." The statement stressed, "Resistance does not target any Iraqis, regardless of their sectarian or racial loyalties, unless connected with the occupant."

Both the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Sunni rejectionists have stepped back from al Qaeda's sectarian war. In the absence of some startling turn of events, there will be no sectarian war Iraq. If the Sunnis cut a deal in whole or substantial part for their share of the oil and influence, Iraq will get very hot for al Qaeda.


By Blogger Dan Kauffman, at Tue Sep 20, 03:02:00 AM:

"Al Qaeda's new hope was that a full-blown sectarian war would deprive the United States of any opportunity for success,"
I think their goal is more far reaching,
A Sectarian War in IRAQ would leave the Arabic Sunnis outnumbered and out gunned and wiped out.

If however that sparked a generla Sectarian War in the REGION the Shi'ais would be in the position of the Sunnis in Iraq, if one looks at some of the manefestos that seems to be what Zarqawi desires,

The Iraqi Sunnis are an acceptable sacrifice for a general uprising and since all things transpire according to the Will of Allah and nothing is done that is not His Will. The slaughtered Sunnis will go to Paradise as Shaheed Martyrs the Shi'ais will go in the other direction as Apostates,  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Sep 20, 05:50:00 AM:

Actually, Dan, I totally agree, although I doubt that is what they are telling their Ba'athist compadres. I was focusing on divisions that you can derive purely from their own statements (assuming that the statements themselves are authentic), but you are clearly correct.  

By Anonymous Tom in VA, at Tue Sep 20, 12:59:00 PM:

Looking at you analysis on the potential and probable schism between the Sunnis and Al Qaeda, I can't help but wonder if added to this mix there will be some sort of deal proposed by Saddam to save his ass when he gets handed the death penalty.

I can imagine the old rascal playing one last card where he offers to bring the Sunnis/Ba'athists over to the Iraqi govt. side if his life is spared and he gets a cushy exile somewhere. I think it would be very tempting to the Iraqis and the Coalition to accept it if he could pull it off. It would really hose the Al Qaeda types over there. There lives wouldn't be worth spit if Saddam turned the Sunni/Ba'athists. Can you see that happening?


Tom in VA  

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