- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

With the Baker-Hamilton report now out and others still to come, at the end of the day certain potential outcomes in Iraq would be totally unacceptable to the United States. First and foremost would be a central government in Baghdad dominated and under the control of Tehran.

Iran’s objectives are very clear. By ensuring its control through the radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, funded and equipped via Iran, a de-facto Hezbollah type organization has been established in Iraq. The Mahdi Army, like Hezbollah, is both a militia, and a political organization. And Sheik al-Sadr, who controls 30 seats in the parliament, is the reason Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn’t any political clout whatsoever.

Indeed, Mr. al-Maliki is wholly beholden to Sheik al-Sadr and the Mahdi organization. And yet the Mahdi Army, proven beyond any doubt to be one of the prime perpetrators of sectarian violence, even provides Mr. al-Maliki’s security.

It has long been understood that further continued sectarian violence cannot be tolerated if the central government is to be able to determine its own destiny. But as long as Mr. al-Maliki depends on Sheik al-Sadr and by extension on Iran for his support there will be no resolution or diminishing of sectarian violence. The question then, is how to unshackle Prime Minister al-Maliki from Sheik al-Sadr and thereby disrupt Tehran’s remote control.

The only plausible answer is for the U.S. to increase its military combat capability in Iraq by immediately deploying three to five brigades for a specified time. These brigades would be tasked with the following specific objectives:

(1) Eliminate Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr and the controlling elements of the Mahdi Army.

(2) Close the borders with Iran and Syria using U.S. firepower and air power.

The loss of Mr. al-Maliki’s support base should force the prime minister to move to the center and make the accommodations we have been pressing him for, if he wants to survive. If it turns out he is unwilling or incapable of making the necessary hard decisions, a leadership change in the central government would clearly be in order.

That change would be welcomed, incidentally, by many of Iraq’s neighbors, including the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, and the Gulf emirates. Each looks upon their own Shia minorities as potential threats and all view Iran as an adversary seeking to create a Shia crescent running from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Their approval for these decisive actions by the U.S. may be tacit but will nonetheless be very much appreciated.

Further, by removing Sheik al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army and closing the borders, the U.S. will deal a serious blow to Iran’s objectives and help stem the rise of the Shia crescent. Once this chain has been broken, a regional security conference can be called to help ensure regional stability and resilience. Led by the U.S. and with our objectives clearly in hand, such a conference should be strongly supported by our allies.

James Lyons, U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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