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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Warning: Iraq may be on the brink of renewed civil war – and Democrats need to demand that McCain tell the nation whether he will order American troops into combat to try to control it.

Beginning October 1, U.S. military units have been ordered to begin turning over the distribution of funds for the 100,000 Sunni members of the pro- U.S. Awakening Movements to the predominantly Shia Iraqi army.
There is widespread – very widespread – skepticism that the Iraqi army will actually continue to make the payments.
In fact, in recent weeks there has been growing evidence that the Iraqi army, under Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s orders, now intends to try and militarily crush the pro-US Awakening groups.

(1) A wave of arrests and raids against major sheiks across Iraq has driven hundreds of Sunni Awakening Movement members and many key tribal leaders underground. Threats of a return to insurgency have become widespread.
(2) Top Iraqi government spokesmen have begun to demand that all Sunni militias be disarmed and disbanded.
(3) Leading military figures have increasingly begun to describe the Sunni militias as “cancers” and “terrorists” that must be systematically destroyed. (The documentation for these statements is presented below).

Under these circumstances, America must now face the very real possibility that renewed ethnic and religious civil war may break out in Iraq sometime in the next few months. As a result, it is urgent that Democrats demand that McCain tell the nation now what policy he will pursue if elected.
The critical question is this — if renewed civil war breaks out in Iraq, will McCain order US troops back into combat to try to control it – and even deploy more troops if necessary — or will he order them to stand down and allow events to take their course?
For the next 60 days Democrats should insist that this is far and away the most important question about Iraq in the 2008 campaign and that all the arguments about who was right or wrong about the original invasion, the surge or any other past decisions are now entirely secondary.
McCain will make every effort to avoid answering this question directly. The election may very well depend on whether the Democrats can force him to do so.

Military Background
In the past two months it has become increasingly clear that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has begun a three-pronged attack on the Sunni militias. Leading military strategist Stephen Biddle says bluntly that the Maliki government “wants to crush the Sons of Iraq.”

1. Maliki has arrested hundreds of Sunni leaders and militants and driven many others into hiding.
2. He has demanded that the funds paid to the Sunni Awakening Councils be channeled through the Shia dominated Iraqi army. This transfer is beginning on Oct 1st
3. Top Iraqi military leaders are beginning to suggest that after November they will move to disarm and disband all Sunni militias, arresting anyone who resists.

Here are several field reports that provide the details.
The New York Times – August 22, 2008
Iraq Takes Aim at U.S.-Tied Sunni Groups’ Leaders
BAGHDAD — The Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is driving out many leaders of Sunni citizen patrols, the groups of former insurgents who joined the American payroll and have been a major pillar in the decline in violence around the nation.
In restive Diyala Province, United States and Iraqi military officials say there were orders to arrest hundreds of members of what is known as the Awakening movement as part of large security operations by the Iraqi military. At least five senior members have been arrested there in recent weeks, leaders of the groups say.
West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe.
While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely. “The state cannot accept the Awakening,” said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. “Their days are numbered.”….“These people are like cancer, and we must remove them,” said Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti, commander of the Iraqi Army’s 5,000-strong Muthanna Brigade, which patrols west of Baghdad, said of the Awakening leaders on his list for arrest.
The New York Times – September 2, 2008
U.S. Military Will Transfer Control of Sunni Citizen Patrols to Iraqi Government
BAGHDAD — Come Oct. 1, the Iraqi government will take over responsibility for paying and directing the Sunni-dominated citizen patrols known as Awakening Councils that operate in and around Baghdad, American and Iraqi officials said Monday.
The transfer will involve 54,000 Awakening members who are now paid by the American military to guard neighborhoods or, in some cases, simply to refrain from attacking American and Iraqi forces.
Once the transfer takes place, the Iraqi government will have “full administrative control” of the Awakening cadres, said an American military official who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject.
It was not clear whether the Iraqi government, which is dominated by Shiites, had given the Americans or the Awakening forces assurances about how long, or even whether, it would keep the patrols intact.
McClachy Newspapers – Aug 20
Key US Iraq Strategy in Danger of Collapse
BAGHDAD — A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who’d joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country’s security forces.
American officials have credited the militias, known as the Sons of Iraq or Awakening councils, with undercutting support for the group al Qaida in Iraq and bringing peace to large swaths of the country…But the Iraqi government, which is led by Shiite Muslims, has brought only a relative handful of the more than 100,000 militia members into the security forces. Now officials are making it clear that they don’t intend to include most of the rest.
“We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently,” said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad…He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn’t been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they’d be arrested.
Some militia members say that such a move would force them into open warfare with the government again.
“If they disband us now, I will tell you that history will show we will go back to zero,” said Mullah Shahab al Aafi, a former emir, or leader, of insurgents in Diyala province who’s the acting commander of 24,000 Sons of Iraq there, 11,000 of whom are on the U.S. payroll.
“I will not give up my weapons. I will never give them up, and I will carry my weapon again. If it is useless to talk to the government, I will be forced to carry my weapons and my pistol.”
The conflict over the militias underscores how little has changed in Iraq in the past year despite the drop in violence…
…Colin Kahl, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a centrist policy institute in Washington, who recently visited Iraq, said the dispute over the militias could set the stage for a return of widespread bloodshed ….The last time we humiliated thousands of these guys was back in 2003, and we got the insurgency,” .

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