Today, the John Burns and Alissa Rubin of the New York Times announced that the U.S. Military is arming factions of Sunni groups to fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Anbar province.  The article itself reeks of the strategic information plant, and should be read in a highly critical frame of mind.  According to one source: Many of these factions were previously associated with al-Qaeda but have “grown disillusioned”, based upon the large number of civilian casualties from suicide bombing.  I’m sure that’s what U.S. political and military leaders want to hear of this disillusionment–but it seems a little early in the changes of sentiment to be doling out weapons. 

And–in The Washington Post today, (p. A-11), Joshua Partlow and John Ward Anderson report that the Sunni-U.S. coalition in al-Anbar “the Anbar Salvation Council” is falling apart.   Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, a leader of the Dulaim Confederation, has said it will be dissolved; another leader, Abu Risha, denies the fragility of the confederation of Sunni groups.  The undercurrent of this article suggests that these confederacies are “for profit”, i.e., for money and arms.  

Long time, no voice–now no hard feelings?
Throughout the long list of miscalculations in Iraq, the Sunni have been marginalized.  Just a two quick examples: 1. De-Ba’athification removed many Sunni officials from power and contributed to the insurgency of Sunni factions, ably assisted by al-Qaeda.  2. On November 6, 2006, Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death at his tribunal; on December 30, 2006, he was hanged.  Since Mr. Hussein’s execution was marred by partisan mockery of the convicted (and, more importantly, to the seriousness of legal proceedings).   Sunni protests of Hussein executionThe subsequent protests from all factions underscored already heightened Sunni-Shi’a tensions, and helped escalate Sunni violence.  After four years of Sunni marginalization, the al-Anbar Sunni factions are making overtures? 

Divide and conquer–for whom?
Clearly, the U.S. military hopes to sway al-Anbar insurgents to work against al-Qaeda, in a method best described as “divide and conquer”.  What we are not noting, however, is that these forces are also dividing Iraq as a national entity.  We’re already to this point in Afghanistan, where rival warlords have more regional power than the central government.  By arming regional, unaffiliated leaders, we risk divisions of our own aims. 

Saudi Arabia’s idea–now our own
This seemed like a bad idea when previous to “The Surge”, Saudi Arabia’s government stated its intention of arming Iraq’s Sunni insurgents upon the withdrawal of U.S. troops.  Its reasoning was to avoid a Shi’a hegemony in the area–with Iran as its regional center.   And ultimately, this could be the main reason for arming Sunni insurgents: to counter Iran’s growing hegemony in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  This reason, however, does not make this new policy any more prudent–in fact, less: it just fuels and prolongs regional destabilization in the wider Middle East.

This new development is the most important indicator so far that the Surge has not worked.  It also means we have learned nothing from our experiences in Afghanistan.  Someone’s brain has been zapped by the consequences of the surge: and I’m afraid this new development just does not compute.