- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On the fifth anniversary of launching the Iraq war, President Bush touted the troop surge as having opened the door to a major strategic victory in the war on terror. However, recent developments suggest the surge’s goal in fostering Shia-Sunni political reconciliation has not only been elusive but raises even more troublesome doubts about the Iraqi government’s long view towards power sharing with the Sunnis and its strategic objectives.

On March 14 Gen. David Petraeus, chief architect of the surge strategy, confessed that “no one” in the U.S. and Iraqi governments “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.” David Kilcullen, an Australian officer and counterinsurgency expert who has advised Gen. Petraeus, observed that the Shias and Sunnis are currently not in balance, due in part to the sectarian biases of certain players and institutions of the new Iraqi state, which promotes a belief by Sunnis that they will be the permanent victims of the new Iraq.

The Sunnis’ victimization fears were further exacerbated with the unprecedented visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraq March 2. Aside from U.S. concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and it being a major supporter of terrorism in the Middle East, the Iranian government has been a major supplier of training and weapons to radical, Shi’ite militias that have killed thousands of Sunni civilians — not to mention many hundreds (thousands?) of American troops as well.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit could also regenerate the principal reason why Sunnis initially took up arms against American troops and the Iraqi government: Since Saddam Hussein’s dethronement, they have viewed the U.S. imposed democracy experiment as an exercise in empowering Shia and, by extension, Iranian domination of their country. Given the love-fest that occurred among Iraq’s Shi’ite leaders and Mr. Ahmadinejad during his visit, their worst fears may be realized, thus jeopardizing our Sunni pacification strategy.

Even more troublesome, the Iraqis used the occasion to issue a joint statement with Iran condemning Israel’s incursion into Gaza to halt Hamas’ attacks on Israeli citizens with made-in-Iran rockets. Thus we have the sublimely absurd outcome of U.S. blood and treasure expended to fight terrorism by creating an Iraqi government that — guess what? — now aligns itself with the chief financier of terrorists fighting Israel and undermining the Annapolis peace process. Go figure.

Another little-noticed but significant event in the reconciliation-subversion process occurred March 3, the day after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s arrival in Baghdad, when two former high-ranking Shi’ite government officials accused of killing scores of Sunnis were released after a three-judge panel agreed with a prosecutor that the charges be dismissed. These officials, among them a former deputy health minister and a brigadier general, are allied with Iranian-backed Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the anti-American Mahdi Army militia.

Mr. Bush’s boast that the surge has wrought a strategic victory may prove to be a gross overstatement when considering the long-term consequences of our effort to democratize Iraq. Increasingly, it appears Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government has a sectarian agenda that cannot abide a genuine power-sharing with Sunnis and is intent on developing an economic, political and, perhaps, even a strategic partnership with their coreligionists in Iran.

But no one should be surprised by this outcome. Since Shias constitute 65 percent of Iraq’s population, it doesn’t take a political genius to figure out they would be the overwhelming, dominant majority in a democratically elected government. Nor should anyone find it incredible that given their shared doctrine, Iraq’s and Iran’s leaders would find a natural affinity in competing with Sunnis for sectarian domination and influence in the Middle East.

Along with their neocon cheerleaders, it appears Messrs. Bush and McCain may have, at best, prematurely oversold the surge’s benefits or, at worst, are being manipulated by an Iraqi regime whose ultimate interests do not correlate with ours, and perhaps never will.

Unless these disturbing trends in Iraq are reversed, and soon, Mr. Bush’s grand strategy to drain the terrorist swamp in the Middle East by promoting democratic expansionism in the region may become the ultimate example of the law of unintended consequences. After nearly 4,000 Americans dead, 30,000 wounded and more than $600 billion spent (and counting), we may end up with Iraq not being a foe but an ally of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.

GARY L. JARMIN

Republican strategist and president of a government affairs consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.

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