Maliki Cracks Down on the Sons of Iraq
Writing for the L.A. Times, Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl have a disturbing report about the ongoing crackdown of Iraq’s Sunni population by the Maliki government.
Much of Iraq’s dramatic security progress can be traced to a series of decisions made by Sunni tribal leaders in late 2006 to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq and cooperate with American forces in Anbar province. These leaders, outraged by Al Qaeda’s brutality against their people, approached the U.S. military with an offer it couldn’t refuse: Enter into an alliance with the tribes, and they would turn their weapons against Al Qaeda rather than American troops.
Throughout 2007, U.S. commanders capitalized on this Sunni movement, the so-called Awakening, to create an expanding network of alliances with Sunni tribes and former insurgents that helped turn the tide and drive Al Qaeda in Iraq to near extinction. There are now about 100,000 armed Sons of Iraq, each paid $300 a month by U.S. forces to provide security in local neighborhoods throughout the country. In recognition of the key role the Awakening played in security improvements, President Bush met with several Sunni tribal leaders during his trip to Anbar last September, and Petraeus, who cites the program as a critical factor explaining the decline in violence, has promised to “not walk away from them.”
But Iraq’s predominantly Shiite central government seems intent on doing precisely that. Maliki and his advisors never really accepted the Sunni Awakening, and they remain convinced that the movement is simply a way for Sunni insurgents to buy time to restart a campaign of violence or to infiltrate the state’s security apparatus. In 2007, with Iraq’s government weak and its military not yet ready to take the lead in operations, the Maliki government acquiesced to the U.S.-led initiative and grudgingly agreed to integrate 20% of the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi security forces. Now, a newly confident Maliki government is edging away from this commitment.
Read the whole thing. This is clearly an act of hubris on the part of Maliki, who is taking advantage of the U.S. presence because he knows that, when push comes to shove, we’re going to back the elected leader of Iraq over the militias who were killing our soldiers two years ago. Without our presence, I have a feeling he’d be much more inclined to work with the Sunnis–the consequences of not doing so for him would pretty much be all-out civil war. Unfortunately, while our military forces do exist in Iraq, we’re likely to get in the middle of that war, because I doubt the Sunnis will go quietly. As the article notes:
We talked to a number of tribal and Sons of Iraq leaders during our trip. When asked what would happen if the Maliki government did not keep its word and integrate or otherwise accommodate their members, one leader was blunt: “There will be trouble.”
It is obvious where this road might end. The last time tens of thousands of armed Sunni men were humiliated in Iraq — by disbanding the Baath Party and Iraqi army in May 2003 — an insurgency began, costing thousands of U.S. lives and throwing Iraq into chaos. Yet Maliki and his advisors risk provoking Iraq’s Sunni community into another round of violence.
I suppose we could try to talk Maliki down, but it’s clear from his actions of the past year that Maliki’s only interest is Maliki getting more power. Here’s hoping that this somehow ends well.
(link via Kevin Drum)