Friday, October 20, 2006

Sifting Through Amara

Everything about the the Mahdi Army partial takeover of Amara yesterday was disastrous. Most importantly, it was the first open assault on an Iraqi city by anti-American forces since the American re-taking of Falluhah in November, 2004. Keeping large-scale insurgent forces from taking over large cities (Amara has 340,000 residents) has been one of the few claims to success that the American military can make over the last two years. Along with the continuing large-scale violence in Baghdad, the take-over of Amara is an indication that the situation in Iraq is regressing and that the American military is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the many little civil wars that are going on.

Perhaps more important, the Mahdi army's activity in Amara looks like a strong indication of the balance of power between the militias and the Iraqi army and police. The militias are stronger. This presents the Maliki government with a dilemna. If Maliki goes along with the American idea of dismantling Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and SCIRI's Badr Brigades, he would be destroying the most effective sources of power in the Shiite community and making all Shiites more vulnerable to Sunni insurgents and terrorists. If Maliki does not go along, the Shiite community itself might splinter into a Hobbesian war of all against all and lose the support of the American military.

It's hard to tell which option is worse. However, there can't be much doubt that both scenarios represent a further weakening of the American position in Iraq.

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