Iraq: Not "Civil War" but War Against the Militias

The "Defeat at Any Price" Democrats have found a new trope: Iraq is now in a "civil war." But as usual they get their facts wrong. Civil war is what Saddam waged for thirty years on the majority Shiites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, and any Sunnis who didn't cower to the Baath tyranny. In that sense, civil war has been going on in Iraq for almost forty years. Yet we can expect the "civil war" sound—bite to spread through the Old Media like wildfire.

What's really going on is quite new: It is an effort to knock down what could be called Hezb'allah in Iraq: the Iran—sponsored militias, such as the one led by Muqtada Al Sadr, who wants to become the new Saddam. At the same time the Sunni rebellion led by old Saddamites and assorted criminal gangs has not yet been settled. Sunni and Shiite militias are warring, and as usual, the biggest victims are civilians, particularly Shiites. They are regularly attacked by suiciders, with devastating civilian death tolls that are utterly ignored in the Western press.

The miracle of Iraq is that mainstream Shiites led by Ayatollah Sistani have not struck back against Sunni civilians. The forbearance of Sistani and his followers is important as well as admirable. Sistani's brand of Shiite Islam is compatible with peace, democracy and a firm separation between religion and state. We should wish it all the success in the world.

If the Sistani Shia can win in Iraq, they could provide a more peaceful and democratic model for half of Islam. That is a goal worth fighting for. It should perhaps become our foremost war aim.

The elected government of Al Maliki must now fight for its life and authority. This is hardly unusual in the history of nation building. In its early years the United States had to face Shay's Rebellion, a crucial challenge to Washington's authority. It had to fight the British again in the War of 1812, when the White House was burned down. And the American Civil War is still the most painful conflict in our  history, bar none, with the highest casualties and the most destructive after—effects ——— lasting into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Nation building is not for sissies.

There will be no end to the Iraq war as long as Tehran meddles. The key to the entire Middle East is increasingly shaping up to be Ahmadinejad and the Khomeini cult. Without its murderous preachings we could whip al Qaeda and the Salafist wing of terrorism. Defeating Tehran's master terrorists would also solve the Hezb'allah problem in Israel. If we want a lasting peace for the Middle East, the evil genies of the Khomeini cult must be defanged.

The Arab countries are suddenly ranging themselves against the Khomeinists as well. For the first time the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians have publicly dissociated themselves from Tehran—inspired provocations against Israel. At all costs the United States must prevent an alliance between the Sunni and Shia terror groups. This is the time to drive a wedge, and to drive it deep between the two wings of terror.

That can be done, with the support of Arab countries who are now slated to be the first victims of Persian imperialism. The mullahs have been verbally abusing the Arab states for not supporting Hezb'allah. Insults count in the Middle East. Add that to six centuries of religious war between Sunnis and Shias, and the simple fear of Tehran's expansionism, and the Arabs will be on our side if we can be the "strong horse."

This administration has a good understanding of these dynamics. UN sanctions against Iran may begin next year. To make sanctions work we will need the cooperation of the Gulf States and the Saudis. The battle against Saddam lasted not just the three weeks of General Tommy Franks' blitz to Baghdad. Long before that Saddam's regime had been weakened by sanctions, by the air war, by the Kurd rebellion and by the Gulf War. There are similar ways of weakening Tehran, short of a direct attack. Already Iran's economy is in decline.

Iran's rush to nukes makes all this much more difficult. We degraded Saddam for more than a decade before he was finally overthrown. But we may not have a decade to degrade the Khomeini suicide cult.

The crucial choices will be taken here at home, not abroad. If the GOP suffers serious reverses in November against the Defeaticrats, President Bush may not be able to act freely. If a Jimmy Carter clone becomes president in 2008, we are in for decades of Khomeinist dominance, with a concomitant rise of Salafist terror—sponsoring states in countries like Egypt. That conflict will go nuclear in a few years, starting with Iran, but quickly followed by the Arab states. Faced with annihilation, Israel will not show the hesitation of the Olmert government. It will strike preemptively if necessary.

The United States still has the most formidable military in the Middle East. Even the risk—averse Europeans secretly support us, because their oil is on the line. The Russians don't really want a nuclear—armed suicidal regime on their southern border.

The bottom line: The next two election cycles may be among the most fateful ones in the history of the United States. If a Truman becomes the next president, we will be able to act decisively and protect our security. If a Jimmy Carter wins, watch out world.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.

The "Defeat at Any Price" Democrats have found a new trope: Iraq is now in a "civil war." But as usual they get their facts wrong. Civil war is what Saddam waged for thirty years on the majority Shiites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, and any Sunnis who didn't cower to the Baath tyranny. In that sense, civil war has been going on in Iraq for almost forty years. Yet we can expect the "civil war" sound—bite to spread through the Old Media like wildfire.

What's really going on is quite new: It is an effort to knock down what could be called Hezb'allah in Iraq: the Iran—sponsored militias, such as the one led by Muqtada Al Sadr, who wants to become the new Saddam. At the same time the Sunni rebellion led by old Saddamites and assorted criminal gangs has not yet been settled. Sunni and Shiite militias are warring, and as usual, the biggest victims are civilians, particularly Shiites. They are regularly attacked by suiciders, with devastating civilian death tolls that are utterly ignored in the Western press.

The miracle of Iraq is that mainstream Shiites led by Ayatollah Sistani have not struck back against Sunni civilians. The forbearance of Sistani and his followers is important as well as admirable. Sistani's brand of Shiite Islam is compatible with peace, democracy and a firm separation between religion and state. We should wish it all the success in the world.

If the Sistani Shia can win in Iraq, they could provide a more peaceful and democratic model for half of Islam. That is a goal worth fighting for. It should perhaps become our foremost war aim.

The elected government of Al Maliki must now fight for its life and authority. This is hardly unusual in the history of nation building. In its early years the United States had to face Shay's Rebellion, a crucial challenge to Washington's authority. It had to fight the British again in the War of 1812, when the White House was burned down. And the American Civil War is still the most painful conflict in our  history, bar none, with the highest casualties and the most destructive after—effects ——— lasting into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Nation building is not for sissies.

There will be no end to the Iraq war as long as Tehran meddles. The key to the entire Middle East is increasingly shaping up to be Ahmadinejad and the Khomeini cult. Without its murderous preachings we could whip al Qaeda and the Salafist wing of terrorism. Defeating Tehran's master terrorists would also solve the Hezb'allah problem in Israel. If we want a lasting peace for the Middle East, the evil genies of the Khomeini cult must be defanged.

The Arab countries are suddenly ranging themselves against the Khomeinists as well. For the first time the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians have publicly dissociated themselves from Tehran—inspired provocations against Israel. At all costs the United States must prevent an alliance between the Sunni and Shia terror groups. This is the time to drive a wedge, and to drive it deep between the two wings of terror.

That can be done, with the support of Arab countries who are now slated to be the first victims of Persian imperialism. The mullahs have been verbally abusing the Arab states for not supporting Hezb'allah. Insults count in the Middle East. Add that to six centuries of religious war between Sunnis and Shias, and the simple fear of Tehran's expansionism, and the Arabs will be on our side if we can be the "strong horse."

This administration has a good understanding of these dynamics. UN sanctions against Iran may begin next year. To make sanctions work we will need the cooperation of the Gulf States and the Saudis. The battle against Saddam lasted not just the three weeks of General Tommy Franks' blitz to Baghdad. Long before that Saddam's regime had been weakened by sanctions, by the air war, by the Kurd rebellion and by the Gulf War. There are similar ways of weakening Tehran, short of a direct attack. Already Iran's economy is in decline.

Iran's rush to nukes makes all this much more difficult. We degraded Saddam for more than a decade before he was finally overthrown. But we may not have a decade to degrade the Khomeini suicide cult.

The crucial choices will be taken here at home, not abroad. If the GOP suffers serious reverses in November against the Defeaticrats, President Bush may not be able to act freely. If a Jimmy Carter clone becomes president in 2008, we are in for decades of Khomeinist dominance, with a concomitant rise of Salafist terror—sponsoring states in countries like Egypt. That conflict will go nuclear in a few years, starting with Iran, but quickly followed by the Arab states. Faced with annihilation, Israel will not show the hesitation of the Olmert government. It will strike preemptively if necessary.

The United States still has the most formidable military in the Middle East. Even the risk—averse Europeans secretly support us, because their oil is on the line. The Russians don't really want a nuclear—armed suicidal regime on their southern border.

The bottom line: The next two election cycles may be among the most fateful ones in the history of the United States. If a Truman becomes the next president, we will be able to act decisively and protect our security. If a Jimmy Carter wins, watch out world.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.