Doctors use the word “crisis” to describe the point at which a patient either starts to recover or dies. President George W. Bush’s Iraqi patient now seems to have reached that point. Most commentators appear to think that Bush’s latest prescription – a surge of 20,000 additional troops to suppress the militias in Baghdad – will, at best, merely postpone the inevitable death of his dream of a democratic Iraq. Yet as “Battle of Baghdad” begins, factors beyond Bush’s control and not of his making (at least not intentionally) may just save Iraq from its doom.
One key factor is that, for the first time since the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, Arab Sunni leaders are backing a US military plan for that country. These Sunni leaders live in abject fear of the geopolitical earthquake that any disintegration of political authority in Baghdad would bring, believing that all-out civil war would invariably follow – a war that would not respect international borders.
Of course, America has been encouraging Sunni leaders in this belief. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent tour of Middle East capitals helped spread the word to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states that any US failure and sudden withdrawal would be certain to destabilize them. Given the fragile grip that these leaders have over their societies, America’s warnings have been taken to heart.
But the truly curious factor that might bring success to Bush is that those who have opposed or resented America’s presence in Iraq, such as the Iranian-backed Shi’a parties now also appear to want Bush’s new strategy to succeed. They are for it because they believe it will defang Moqtada al-Sadr, the rogue Shi’a cleric whose power has mushroomed over the past three years – to the point that he now dominates much of Baghdad and holds the allegiance of countless angry young Shi’a men.