Despite assertions by the George W. Bush Administration
that the escalation strategy in Iraq known as the "surge" has
been a rousing success, many of the problems of pre-surge Iraq still exist and,
along with new issues, are exacerbating a tenuous political situation there.
With the five-year anniversary of the US-led invasion looming, two Washington
think-tanks released reports today on the subject of increasing multilateral
sectarian tensions in Iraq.
"The conventional wisdom among most conservatives and Washington policy
elites is that the surge has 'worked'," starts the Center for American
Progress report, titled "Awakening to the New Danger in Iraq." "This
conventional wisdom ignores the fact that the fundamental objectives of the
surge to create a more sustainable security framework for Iraq and advance
Iraq's political transition have not been met," according to the
The surge period has, in fact, quelled violence across Iraq to some degree,
but critics argue that the drop in violent attacks has less to do with the increased
number of US troops and more to do with the newfound cooperation of Sunni
groups who used to align themselves with the violent insurgency.
"Rather than facilitating reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis,"
said Brian Katulis, lead author of the Center for American Progress report,
"the main concern we raise in the paper is that these efforts are undermining
the overall effort of getting to a political reconciliation among Iraq's leaders."
"I think that there's a very real risk that one aspect of the surge
supporting these Sunni militias could amount to a US policy of supporting
different sides in an Iraqi civil war," Katulis said.
The so-called "Sunni Awakening" (or Sahwa), saw Sunni militias
both rural tribal groups and more urban neighborhood militias cease their
attacks on Americans and the central Iraqi government in favor of working to
diminish the influence of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Numbering over 73,000 soldiers, these militias about ninety percent of whose
ranks are paid 300 dollars a month by US forces have little central structure
save a loosely federated group of tribes called the Anbar Awakening in the troubled
Iraqi province of the same name.
Having lessened some of the violence, the groups are now clamoring for the
further political involvement that their new US allies promised them. But at
least in Anbar, they expect these political gains to come at the expense of
the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which participated in the last round of elections
The Awakening groups had expected that provincial elections would be held in
the spring. When the central government announced elections for the fall, the
Anbar Awakening groups angrily said that the current officials had thirty days
to give up their seats or the groups would take up arms against them.
But even with the political empowerment of the Awakening groups, some critics
of the "surge" strategy fear that the tensions being exposed between
the Sunni groups are likely to work against the goal of political reconciliation.
"It's really a long-shot strategy," said Ilan Goldenberg, policy
director of the National Security Network. "And there's a real danger
associated with it. It's a low probability of at least trying to bring
some of these guys in. But I think the much higher probability is that when
you introduce a competitive electoral process into this type of situation, things
tend to go worse not better."
The National Security Network also released a report today titled "Sunni
Infighting Threatens Iraqi Stability" which criticized the overall
"surge" strategy with regard to the Awakening. The report cites recent
violence and the possibility of further impending turmoil.
"America's 'Awakening Strategy' in Western and Central
Iraq," said the National Security Network report, "rests atop a complex
and unresolved set of conflicts. A policy that focuses on temporarily reducing
violence while not addressing the underlying political crisis is risky and unstable."
One of the goals of political empowerment for the Awakening movement is to
gain control of Iraqi central government resources flowing into various provinces,
in addition to the vast amounts of US material support they are already receiving.
The groups claim that the Shia-led national government has been too slow to
incorporate the militia members and leadership into Iraqi police jobs often
blaming Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki by name.
The groups claim that the Shia dominated Iraqi security forces are abusive
in their territories in a way that they are not in rural and urban Shia territories,
and hope to replace them and police their own turf. The power-struggle has already
yielded several minor but deadly spats.
"[The US] efforts in a sense have helped make the process of achieving
a sustainable political agreement among Iraq's political factions much more
difficult by heightening tensions between Iraqi security forces and these independent
militias," said Katulis.
"Sahwa leaders calculate that the prospect of Iraq sliding further into
chaos if they dissolve or turn back to insurgency will force Maliki to accept
them," said the National Security Network report.
This approach of threatening violence or at least ceasing to help abate
it has done little to endear the Awakening movements to either the Sunni
parties they hope to replace, or Shia parties controlling the government in
All of this concluded both reports continues to show that despite the
Bush Administration's trumpeting of the successes of the "surge"
strategy, the strategy could actually be causing the very tensions it hopes
to subdue to boil beneath the surface. In a worst-case scenario, these sectarian
differences could explode into a civil war.
(Inter Press Service)