Monday, June 11, 2007

U.S. Pours Gasoline on the Iraq Fire

You know, there comes a time when events are so bizarre that the facts simply parody themselves.

Rather than get all wound up about the latest decision by the administration and their generals on the ground, attack my keyboard and produce 350 manic words dripping with withering sarcasm and then make you read it... I simply ask you to read the following, from the front page of the Times this morning, and tell me, please -- have I lost my mind, or is it just them?

U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies
BAGHDAD, June 10 — With the four-month-old increase in American troops showing only modest success in curbing insurgent attacks, American commanders are turning to another strategy that they acknowledge is fraught with risk: arming Sunni Arab groups that have promised to fight militants linked with Al Qaeda who have been their allies in the past.

American commanders say they have successfully tested the strategy in Anbar Province west of Baghdad and have held talks with Sunni groups in at least four areas of central and north-central Iraq where the insurgency has been strong. In some cases, the American commanders say, the Sunni groups are suspected of involvement in past attacks on American troops or of having links to such groups. Some of these groups, they say, have been provided, usually through Iraqi military units allied with the Americans, with arms, ammunition, cash, fuel and supplies.

American officers who have engaged in what they call outreach to the Sunni groups say many of them have had past links to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia but grew disillusioned with the Islamic militants’ extremist tactics, particularly suicide bombings that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. In exchange for American backing, these officials say, the Sunni groups have agreed to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American units. Commanders who have undertaken these negotiations say that in some cases, Sunni groups have agreed to alert American troops to the location of roadside bombs and other lethal booby traps.

But critics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war. The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.

A powerful admixture of vitriol and disbelief sprang up in me unbidden after reading just the headline. I won't indulge that here. After four years, maybe you and I have both had enough of such stuff; what more can be said on that score?

But doesn't anyone in Washington remember that we armed what would later become the Taliban, with exactly the same motives in mind?

Explain it to me again: These guys are our allies?

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