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Dangers of increased Shia dissatisfaction, internal strife

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UPDATE: Half the post was cut off earlier. We hate blogger.

Many Iraq pundits incorrectly view the Sunni insurgency as the greatest threat to both a stable government and Coalition forces. In truth, the most dangerous scenario in Iraq would be a collapse of the tenuous alliance between major Shia groups. Those bonds are currently being stretched to the breaking point, and ground zero appears to be Basra, a southern province with huge oil revenue potential. Basra was essentially handed over by the British to armed gangs, and three main Shia groups (SCIRI, Fadilah, and Sadrists) are struggling to control the local government and, therefore, the oil wealth.

These issues expose the difficulty of the withdrawal options: default control to local militias, as the British apparently did, and it invites anarchy that would not necessarily have otherwise occurred. Wait too long to leave, however, and troops are likely to get in the middle of Shia vs. Shia conflict. Anti-Coalition attacks by Sunni (20% of the population) is bad; increased anti-Coalition attacks by Shia (60%), if some Shia groups begin to see the U.S. as favoring one subgroup or another, would be a total debacle. Obviously Iraq is already quite the disaster, but Shia-U.S. violence would bring it to an entirely new level.

This is a primary reason why the stay-the-course "strategy" is so foolish and dangerous. In order to redeploy our troops, there has to be a plan. Refusing to consider withdrawal seems to have eliminated the planning for it. To get out with even minimal order, the U.S. should be proactively helping to establish power-sharing arrangements not just at the national level, but even more importantly, at the provincial level. If things go bad down the road within sectarian groups, then, at least we won't be in the middle of it. And before you start sharpening the knives -- this isn't an argument against withdrawal, but rather to say that when we do start to cede control, setting the stage for troop removal (as we have seen with the superbases), there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. Needless to say, I'm not optimistic.

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