Juan Cole: US-Iran Alliance Against Sunni Guerrillas?

Roundup: Historians' Take

The headlines will probably concentrate on the shouting match between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian diplomat Hassan Kazemi Qomi at their meeting in Baghdad. Crocker accused the Iranians of giving training and weapons to Shiite militias, some of which ended up being used against US troops in Iraq. The Iranian diplomat denied the charges. But in my view the money graf in this Telegraph report is this one:

' [t]he two countries did agree to form a security committee, with Iraq, to focus on containing Sunni insurgents. The committee would concentrate on the threat from groups such as al-Qa'eda in Iraq, officials said, but not those[Shiite] militia groups the US accuses Iran of funding and training. '

If the US is allying with Iran against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda, this is a very major development and much more important than some carping over Shiite militias. (My guess is that 98% of American troops killed in Iraq have been killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas). If the report is true and has legs, it will send Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal ballistic. The Sunni Arab states do not like "al-Qaeda" in Iraq, but they are much more afraid of Iran than of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are fighting against US military occupation.

A document leaked to the New York Times reveals that US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus have a two-year plan for security in Iraq, aiming for a pacification of Baghdad by summer of 2008.

My own suspicion is that summer, 2009 is about when most of the troops will be brought out of Iraq. I can't imagine the anti-war forces getting 2/3s of both the House and the Senate and being able to over-ride Bush's vetoes, and he seems determined to keep the US presence in Iraq for the rest of his presidency. There may be a drawdown (to 100,000?) in summer-fall of 2008, both because it will be needed in order not to break the army and because the plan will either have worked or not worked by then. (It would also generate headlines that would not hurt the Republicans, and I think some Iraq policy is made on that partisan basis). It seems likely that anti-war candidates of both parties will capture both houses of congress in '08, and only a dramatic and unexpected development could throw the White House to a pro-war Republican such as Giuliani. So, the leaders on the ground there may as well plan that far out. But so far the surge has not stopped guerrilla attacks from rising to unprecedented levels, has not stopped guerrillas from striking elsewhere when they are blocked in Baghdad, and has not in fact provided space for political progress or reconciliation. So whether things will actually be better in summer of '08 is murky to say the least. Certainly, I hope this horrible daily violence can end, for the sake of the Iraqis themselves. Ironically, if there were an end to violence, it might impel the Iraqi public and politicians, having begun to feel more secure, to ask the US forces to leave. I think fear of the Sunni Arab guerrillas is the only thing that has forestalled Grand Ayatollah Sistani from issuing a fatwa or ruling that the foreign forces must leave Iraq.

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