While so much of public debate has focused on whether the United States is winning the war against the predominantly Sunni insurgency, only a few commentators have noticed that another war in Iraq is in the early stages: the war between the United States and the an emerging Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.
Whether this conflict will soon lead to direct military clashes in 2006 is an open issue, but is not out of the question. Here a few signs of this war within a war:
(1) The Shiite-and-Kurd-dominated government organized after the January 2005 elections to write a constitution, not only conducted discussions with Iran about economic cooperation, it also discussed Iran's training of Iraqi military forces. While this received some media coverage, only a few have seen this as a omen about what is to come and have visualized the implications for American interests and for political stability in the Middle East. For obvious reasons, the Bush administration did not publicize this development.
(2) While the results of the December 15th Iraqi election are not final, it appears that the Shiite political parties who want some version of a theocratic state and closer relations with Iran will have a dominant role in the new government. It is unlikely that this new government will make enough compromises with Sunni interests over the constitution and over the composition of important ministries-- especially the police and military--to allow a stable government to emerge. This will develop in spite of what will be the Bush administrationâ€™s vigorous arm-twisting to force such compromises.
(3) The Bush administration publicized the existence of Iraqi torture of Sunnis carried out by Shiite-dominated security forces. This clearly was intended to force the current Shiite-dominated government to avoid alienating Sunnis even farther.
(4) The administration has just announced that the number of American military personnel assigned to Iraqi police commando units will be significantly increased to curb abuses that these units have inflicted on Sunnis. This action speaks for itself
The Bush administration is now caught on the horns of a dilemma. After the invasion, it expected to install a government dominated by someone who would be subservient to what it perceives as American interest. But the irony is that the democratic process the administration boasts about is creating a government will not kowtow to the administration's desires in the long run-although for the short term it needs the American military to fight its civil war against the Sunnis.
The odds are that any new Iraqi government will use American military power to keep Sunni influence at bay. Then once it has consolidated its power, it will push for an American withdrawal leaving a Shiite-dominated state allied with Iran and a disenfranchised but weakened Sunni community. While the Bush administration has not publicly acknowledged this dilemma, it is clearly pushing the Shiites to offer enough compromises to quell major elements of the Sunni resistance.
But how hard can the administration push before the Shiites push back? Whether push will come to shove with the Iraqi government using the Shiite-dominated military force President Bush is creating to resist American pressure is the sixty-four dollar question.
The irony here is that the immediate "victory" that President George W. Bush so mightily craves really means a strategic defeat and increased instability in the Middle East. And for this, so many people have died!