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View Full Version : Remember Beirut? Welcome to Baghdad



SWJED
03-04-2006, 06:01 PM
4 March Los Angles Times commentary - Remember Beirut? Welcome to Baghdad (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-shatz4mar04,0,5159339.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions) by Adam Shatz.


Today, with Iraq on the brink of civil war between Shiites and Sunnis and the Americans looking increasingly helpless, their mission having shifted from "democratization" to peacekeeping another analogy has been circulating in policy circles: the Lebanese civil war. Like any analogy, it's not perfect, but it's the best we have so far.

Like Lebanon, Iraq is an extraordinarily diverse country, a mosaic of religious and ethnic groups cobbled together by an imperial power almost a century ago. As in Lebanon during the civil war (which ran from 1975 to 1991), Iraq's communities, which once coexisted peacefully (although not on equal terms) have assumed an increasingly sectarian character, leaving the country without a center.

The void created by the collapse of the Iraqi dictatorship has been filled, as in Lebanon, by sectarian militias and/or guerrilla armies, which, in offering protection to frightened Iraqis, have turned religious differences to political advantage. As in Lebanon, these armies enjoy a measure of sponsorship from foreign parties (Americans, Iranians, jihadists-without-borders, et al) that sense, correctly, that the future of the region is at stake....

Every war is, of course, unique, and the Lebanon analogy only goes so far...

Still, the parallels with Lebanon are close enough to be instructive...

Western intervention gave Lebanon's Shiites a cause by which they could demonstrate their Arab nationalist credentials...

Now, the American war has empowered Iraq's Shiite religious parties in much the same way. In Iraq today, we may be witnessing the third stage of a regional Shiite resurgence that began in Iran in 1979 and spread to Lebanon in the 1980s. Although the United States may have invaded Iraq in part to contain the ambitions of Iran, it has in fact emboldened the Islamic republic by defeating its cruelest adversary and ensuring that the "new" Iraq will be a Shiite regime, if not a client state of Tehran. As in Lebanon, the West has played the role of midwife to revolutionary Shiism.

The Shiites are not a monolith, and Iraq's Shiite parties are not directed from Tehran. Unlike Hezbollah, Iraq's Shiites (with the notable exception of Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi militia) have tacitly cooperated with the American forces, but not because they have any love for the Americans....

If the U.S. has avoided violent confrontation thus far with Iraq's Shiites and if, until the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred shrine in Samarra, the Shiites avoided responding to the abundant and appalling provocations of Sunni guerrillas it is because of the restraint urged by Sistani.

But the Shiite retaliations for the outrage in Samarra, which left hundreds of Sunnis dead, revealed that restraint is losing ground on the Shiite street, and Sistani's warning that "the believers" may be forced to defend themselves suggests that his own patience is wearing thin.

If the war between Sunni jihadists and Shiite militias escalates and Sistani, an honorable man who is also a calculating politician, throws his weight behind a militia, or creates his own full-scale civil war is almost certain to explode. Should this come to pass, the Lebanonization of Iraq will be realized, and the Americans who lighted the fuse will be unable to extinguish it.