The Implication of Shiite Divisions
Scott Wilson of the Washington Post says that “A Divided South Moves to the Fore in Iraq.”
The main point of the article is that the situation in Najaf is different from that in Fallujah because the Shiites are themselves divided, whereas in Fallujah the Sunnis were relatively united. Thus, the US could establish a Fallujah Brigade of ex-Baathist soldiers and that was acceptable to most Sunnis. In contrast, in Najaf, he says, the Shiites are so at odds with one another that a similar solution would not work.
Mr. Wilson’s point is not untrue, but the analysis gives the wrong impression. The reason the disunity of the Shiites is important is not that it would prevent the formation of a “Najaf Brigade” that included elements of all the Shiite paramilitaries. It would not prevent this move, which would be the desirable one. (If Wilson is correct, Gen. Dempsey lost the bureaucratic battle he was waging in the army to have it adopted).
The reason the disunity matters is that it allows the US to be more successful in its siege of Najaf than it was in Fallujah. If the city of Najaf put up the kind of fight that Fallujah had put up across the board (with ex-Baathists and Sunni fundamentalists united), the US would have to back off and seek a compromise. Because Grand Ayatollah Sistani and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim are actively colluding with the Americans to destroy Sadr and his militia, the US can hope to succeed by force, without having to do the hard work of making a political deal with the Sadrists.
Muqtada himself is largely responsible for his lack of significant Shiite allies, since he has deliberately alienated them all by bullying and threatening them. But Sistani and al-Hakim are unwise to allow themselves to be used this way by Bush, since their political standing with the Shiite public will certainly suffer greatly as a result. Nor is it wise for the US to blunt Sistani’s moral authority in this manner. He had been the one man who could keep the Shiite south largely calm with a single fatwa. It is not clear that he will have that same clout after this episode, especially with the more nationalistic of the Iraqi Shiites, and as a result the south may well be much less stable going forward.