Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why You Need To Give A Shi'ite

Two stories, seemingly only tangentially related, share something in common:
GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas Islamist gunmen pressed on with their Gaza offensive on Wednesday, killing eight fighters loyal to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas in a Palestinian supremacy struggle escalating steadily into civil war.

"What is happening in Gaza is madness," Abbas, the Fatah leader, told reporters in the occupied West Bank after meeting a foreign diplomat.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Suspected al Qaeda militants blew up two minarets of a revered Shi'ite mosque in the Iraqi city of Samarra on Wednesday, targeting a shrine bombed last year in an attack that unleashed a wave of sectarian killing.

Fearing renewed bloodshed, Iraq's government imposed an indefinite curfew in Baghdad as Shi'ite and Sunni political and religious leaders called on their followers to remain calm.

A grim mood descended on the capital as people hurried home before the start of the curfew. Police said gunmen set fire to a Sunni mosque in Baghdad's southwestern Bayaa district.
The internal struggle in Gaza (Palestinian) and the internal conflict in Iraq are both pitting Sunni versus Shia. Hamas is Sunni. Abbas, and by extension, Fatah (which despite being led by terrorists in its own right, is considered moderate) is also Sunni, but is more tolerant of Shi'a, having been educated mostly in Syria and Egypt with large Shi'a and Sufi populations.

And of course, the Iraqi attacks yesterday hearken back to a year ago, when another mosque in Samarra, the Al Askari mosque, was devastated by Sunni attackers, setting off the sectarian violence of the past year.

We here in America have long been focused on the internal conflict between Sunni and Shi'a in Iraq (the Kurds have been fortunately content to sit and wait it all out), but the trouble in Gaza, as well as last year's siege by Israel of Lebanon, speak of a broadening of this internal religious struggle into a full-blown regional war.

Good for the US? Maybe, but probably not. Remember, we still have Israel to protect for its strategic value as a toehold in the Middle East (especially now that Iraq is disintegrating before our eyes), Saudi Arabia would undoubtedly be called upon to reinforce the Sunni side, being very strict Sunni Wahabists. Iran would then be forced to shore up the Shi'a forces, putting Iran in conflict with Saudi Arabia, effectively cutting off Middle Eastern oil to the west by closing down the Persian Gulf.

Hm. Not good. We would at the very least be called into to keep the combatants apart, and more likely, take on Iran directly as proxy for the Sauds.

Really not good.

A year ago, I might have suggested that cooler heads will prevail, but with the cracked and broken US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the failure of the Army to meet already pretty liberal recruiting goals even before Gates implements his increase in the size of the army, we're pretty fresh out of manpower to fight Iran, and Iran knows this. We might still be able to stem the tide diplomatically.

If we actually had an administration that had a diplomat available.