U.S.-Shiite Tensions in Iraq

| Tue Mar. 28, 2006 2:25 PM EST

A year ago, military analyst John Robb predicted that the U.S. in Iraq would begin arming and backing "loyalist paramilitaries" to fight the Sunni insurgency, and that that the tactic could backfire badly. As it turned out, they did and it has, now that Shiite militias linked to the Interior Ministry are massacring Sunnis by the dozen each day, and, as military sources told the New York Times yesterday, pose a greater security problem than al-Qaeda and the rest of the Sunni insurgency do.

Now anyone who remembered what happened in El Salvador in the 1980s—when U.S.-condoned "death squads" prolonged, rather than ended, the conflict—could have told everyone that this would happen. In fact, some people tried. But no one listened. And now that the U.S. military has evidently begun carrying out raids against Shiite mosques—and seriously pissing off the Iraqi government—the real problems are just beginning. Robb has a post today noting just how bad things could, conceivably, get:

Here's a likely scenario for how this will play out: deeper entrenchment within US bases (to limit casualties) and pledges of neutrality (Rumsfeld) will prove hollow. Ongoing ethnic slaughter will force US intervention to curtail the militias. Inevitably, this will increase tensions with the militias and quickly spin out of control. Military and police units sent to confront the militias will melt down (again), due to conflicting loyalties.

Several large battles with militias will drive up US casualties sharply. Supply lines to US bases from Kuwait will be cut. Protesters will march on US bases to demand a withdrawal. Oil production via the south will be cut (again), bringing Iraqi oil exports to a halt. Meanwhile, the government will continue its ineffectual debate within the green zone, as irrelevant to the reality on the ground in the country as ever. Unable to function in the mounting chaos and facing a collapse in public support for the war, the US military will be forced to withdraw in haste.

It will be ugly.To say the least.