February 19, 2007

Initial thoughts on the Baghdad security operation

Baghdad - February 18, 2007Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki claims that the nascent Baghdad security operation is already showing signs of success. That was shattered on Sunday when two bombs exploded in a crowded market in the Al-Baghdad Al-Jadid (New Baghdad) section of the capital. This is a Shi’a area of town on the east side of the Tigris River.

What is behind this bombing?

This attack is clearly an attempt by Sunni extremists, most likely affiliated in some way with either Al-Qa’idah in Mesopotamia (the late Az-Zarqawi group) or the umbrella organization the Mujahidin Shura Council, to incite the Shi’a into continuation of the civil war in the country. Over the last week or so, Shi’a militias, including the jaysh al-mahdi militia of Muqtada Al-Sadr, have withdrawn from the fight, preferring to sit out the security crackdown. Most of the Al-Sadr leadership, including Muqtada himself, has sought refuge in Iran or the southern governorates.

In the absence of sectarian violence, the Shi’a-dominated government of Nuri Al-Maliki grows stronger – an outcome that is not favorable to the Sunnis in general and the insurgents in particular. They need sectarian violence to continue their efforts to undermine the government. I suspect we will see continued attacks on Shi’a areas as well as Sunni insurgent attacks on U.S. forces involved in the security operation.

If the Shi'a are smart, they will resist these attempts to goad them into renewed sectarian violence. If they can do that, American and Iraqi forces will concentrate on the Sunni insurgents - both Iraqi and Al-Qa'idah affiliates. The Shi'a will emerge as the winners.