Monday, June 11, 2007 

My enemy's enemy is my enemy.

The Jihad and Reformation Front's logo.

It's a well-known quote, or cliche, depending on which you prefer, that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. The United States, which has never done irony or history well, seems to have ignored the proverb. Why else would it be embarking on such a palpably suicidal tactic as once again arming the enemy of the enemy?

The driving force behind the thinking of arming groups such as the Anbar Salvation Council has to be both a mixture of desperation and stone-cold realpolitik. The "coalition" cannot possibly defeat the insurgency militarily, without using the kind of overwhelming force that will drive even more ordinary Iraqis into the arms of the resistance groups, but neither can it live with the consequences of the possibility of the "Islamic State of Iraq" gradually enforcing its brutal rule over the areas it has declared as part of their new theocracy. The in-between measure they've decided upon is supplying those who have finally grown weary of the despicable tactics employed by the radical Salafis, themselves rising up and fighting back against the groups which until recently enjoyed an uneasy truce with the tribal Sunni clans.

Recent memory ought to show the high risks involved in a such a strategy. The training and funding of the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets has had consequences which very few could have possibly imagined at the time. The arming of both sides during the Iran/Iraq war only encouraged Saddam Hussein and further embittered Iran. Israel's covert decision to help the fledgling Hamas as a bulwark against the secular, nationalist Fatah must be one of the most regretted decisions ever made by an Israeli government.

One of the simple, sad realities of life in Iraq is that the security situation, and with it, living conditions, have deteriorated to such an extent that even supplying arms over sectarian lines when the seller knows full well what they'll be used for is something that's become acceptable. The fear has to be that supplying arms to groups as potentially fracturous as the Anbar Salvation Council appears to be is that they'll simply be sold on for a profit, or even supplied straight back to the insurgent groups.

The rising of some tribal Sunnis might well turn out to be a lesser factor compared to the apparent turning of other insurgent groups against the "Islamic State". Just last week it appeared that the 20th Revolution Brigades and the Islamic Army in Iraq, both far more nationalistic and Sunni in their outlooks and ideology than Salafi, were fighting running battles in the streets of Amiriyah against al-Qaida in Iraq, having been provoked by attacks on their own members by the State. The Islamic Army has now like al-Qaida formed its own umbrella group, the Jihad and Reformation Front, which includes the Mujahideen Army and at least two of the former highest members of the Sharia council of Ansar al-Sunnah, and with the 20th Revolution Brigades apparently fighting side by side with the IAI, it's a possibility that they too could eventually join. How this new alliance and its opposition to the Islamic State should be judged is for now hard to tell: any grouping which opposes the indiscriminate violence which al-Qaida and its allies are unleashing throughout the country ought to be supported, but it may well yet turn out that this is simply Iraq going the way of Algeria, the armed groupings turning on each other rather than fighting the "enemy".

Providing arms and support to such groups may for now look like the least worst option, but the chances for it coming back and biting the suppliers' in the ass are great. It may well be though that the luxury of making such choices has long gone.

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