Thursday, June 24, 2004

Zarqawi's Oath

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's oath to fight "until Islamic rule is back on earth" -- besides being historically wrong, as it never was -- and his vow to kill the Shi'ite President of the interim Iraqi government, can be more accurately understood as a desire to fight for leadership of the Sunni triangle. The control of Iraq has slipped forever beyond his grasp. Iraqi blogger Hammorabi's breakdown of the the foreign fighters killed in one US strike on Fallujah underscores the point:

Nationality Number
Saudi 5
Somalia 2
Emirates 1
Yemen 1
Morocco 1
Algeria 1
Syria 1
Libya 1
Kurdistan 1
China 1
Mauritania 1

From the looks of it, Zarqawi has brought in the Al Qaeda first team to derail the June 30 turnover to Shi'ite Iyad Allawi. But although he has quality, for his fighters are far better than Moqtada Al-Sadr's rabble, he has forgotten that the April upsurge of violence, which some had breathlessly hoped would signal the downfall of the US in Iraq, was only made possible by Teheran's decision to unleash simultaneous unrest in the south, in the hopes that a desperate America would pay any price for relief. But after the US calmly beat back both attacks, grinding Sadr down to a powder, it was no longer faced with a two-front war. There is now no way that the Shi'ites will allow the Sunni-backed Zarqawi to call the shots. The Sunni Saddam had lorded it over them once before; and neither the Kurds nor the Shi'ites will so easily let that happen again. A more attainable goal will be to prevent the emergence of any independent Sunni figure in the new government. Zaraqawi's methods are nothing if brutal. His elite forces have killed 66 Iraqis and 3 Americans in the Sunni triangle in the last 24 hours, a reminder that any Sunni who breaks with him should prepare to die.

One can only sympathize with those who want an independent Iraq. With the Syrians attempting to pull the strings of the Sunni politicians and the Iranians intending to manipulate Shi'ite figures like marionettes and the Kurds wanting out of the nation altogether, the new Iraqi government is in danger of being answerable more to foreign capitals more than to voters of the Land Between the Rivers -- whenever they get to vote. The United Nations which so gravely expects America to withdraw from the scene has no similar expectations of Saudi Arabia, Syria or Iran. Indeed, Kofi Annan dispatched Sunni Lakhdar Brahimi to serve as his own plenipoteniary to ensure that the UN's own bureaucratic interests are protected.

This leaves the US in a curious position of strength. Although both the Sunnis, the Shi'ites and the other interests like France, possibly fronted by the UN may form occasional tactical coalitions against America, their interests fundamentally conflict. Like bank robbers squabbling over the loot, they may decide to jointly resist the police but will knife each other at the earliest opportunity once the coast is clear. Only America can play the lone hand. Some observers believe that both Washington and Teheran are clearing the decks for final showdown over Iraq once the two weaker players are ousted from the game. Clearly the Shi'ite-Iranian theater is the decisive area of operations. The Sunni Triangle, however disgustingly Zarqawi's elite fighters behave, is the secondary front.

As an aside, one might remark on the extremity of the Jihadi effort in Iraq. They are sending their best team, the team that harried the IDF out of Lebanon to no good effect.  US forces have quietly become very efficient, with chemical test kits to screen suspects for explosive residue, aircraft which electronically detonate IEDs, a steady drumbeat of raids on explosives factories and other operational advances. The enemy is still able to kill Americans, but not in any decisive numbers. But how will America use its capability to achieve a strategic result?

The answer to that question will not be revealed until after the November Presidential election if George Bush is re-elected: whether America will go West to Syria and Lebanon or move its sights squarely on Teheran. The Al Qaeda operational bases in Afghanistan have moved, it said, to the Bekaa in Lebanon. So there is reason to clean that out. But Teheran threatens to become a nuclear power in the very near future and is, despite Sunni pretensions to the contrary, still the central star in the Jihadi firmament. For the present, it is actually in the Coalition's interest and probably no one else's to build up a truly independent Iraq. Iraq would become another player to the game to balance off Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. A strong Iraq, especially an independent Shi'ite Iraq would be a deadly threat to the Mullahs. A region so evenly divided could be tipped in any way by America and would complicate coalition building against it.

The week leading up to the formal transfer of power to the Iraqi interim government will be punctuated by heavy yet pointless violence. The event is as unstoppable as the Overlord invasion, Zarqawi or no. The enemy had better prepare his fallback position and prepare for the next phase of the campaign.