I've been thinking about this over the weekend. Here are my conclusions:
1) Centcom this week announced the completion of a network of border forts across the Western frontier of Iraq. I commented on their structure at Grim's Hall: they are brand-new forts designed to repel infantry attacks. They have turrets that allow them to defend every point with overlapping fields of fire. They are designed to hold garrisons of 20-40 each, and they will be manned by Iraqi forces.
At first, I waived the question of why what is intended as a police station -- the Iraqi border police are trained, in part, by our own Border Patrol -- would be constructed as fortresses. The smugglers in western Iraq are tribal, and dangerous; you wouldn't want your armories overrun. Just a reasonable, if slightly excessive, precaution, I thought.
Still, it bothered me. The second piece of the puzzle was provided by the Commissar.
While senior U.S. commanders have indicated that troops will be required to stay longer in Anbar than elsewhere in Iraq, they have already begun cutting back forces in some smaller, less strategic towns along the Euphrates. In Hit, Graves’s Army battalion replaced a much bigger Marine contingent; U.S. troops have been ordered recently to leave other regions in western Anbar to reinforce Baghdad.
It appears that we are not going to be the force that quells al Anbar this time.
The Central government's Iraqi Army is becoming more and more powerful. It's taken on divison-level transfers of authority; recently, it promised to take on security for the whole country by year's end. The government is led by people who had the guts to treat with the United States in covert operations against Saddam during the 1990s. Tom Holsinger, at Winds of Change, states that the Sunni population has already decreased substantially in Iraq.
So, here is my prediction for Iraq: We will participate in subduing Baghdad, and destroying al-Sadr. We fought the same fight in the holy city of Najaf, and across eastern Iraq, and won it. We can do it again in his strongholds of Baghdad. We will pass a secure capital to Iraq as our parting gift.
But we won't do another Fallujah-style campaign in al Anbar. When it is time to move again against al Anbar province, Iraq's central government will do it themselves. They now have the capability to close the western frontier with the forts, and hold those forts against even serious infantry attacks. This will be a hammer-and-anvil movement, of the sort we regularly employed in Vietnam, but for keeps. Sunni tribes will be evicted and allowed to withdraw -- forever -- to Jordan or Syria, or destroyed, as the Central government prefers.
There will be no partition of Iraq. The Sunnis will comply, or leave, or be destroyed. We have given them the tools, and I see no reason to believe the government of Iraq would refrain from using those tools. I wouldn't, humane though I hope to be. It would save lives in the long run.
The wider war:
Iran made two statements this week that suggest a wider war. The first was its claim that Israel had to be destroyed as a final settlement; the second, its admission that it was providing and would continue to provide arms to Hezbollah. Iran is now openly committed, having confessed to acts of war against a party already engaged in war, Israel.
The US-France peace plan that is coming into play may restrain Israel for a time. Unless Iran reins in its intentions, however, it cannot restrain Israel forever. Israel cannot permit Hezbollah to be rearmed openly, without even plausible deniability to cover Iran's activities.
An Israeli-Iranian war is almost inevitable in the future. Because it will be fought across Iraq's airspace, and because Iran's strongest supporters in Iraq are al Sadr's men, the destruction of al Sadr and his militias is that much more an imperative for the US and the Central Government of Iraq. There is no avoiding it -- even if Iraq and the US don't wish to support Israel, as they well may not, they need to eliminate a serious threat to future stability within Iraq.
I suspect that we will one day speak of the war in Iraq the way we speak of the Spanish Civil War -- that is, rarely by comparison to the greater war that followed it. Peace is not in the cards. Things are going to get worse. Our enemies are glad to employ terrorists, who will try to bring the war to our homes. The wise man will prepare his sword, and the arm that may wield it.