The Shia Option

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Fouad Ajami declares a Shia state in Iraq a near-inevitability and urges the US to come to terms with it. The whole essay is worth a read, as all Ajami essays are. He sees the new power-structure and detects resignation among the Sunnis to their impending defeat. Nothing in the essay suggests that the civil war will end any time soon; much of it argues that we should maintain support for Maliki and/or Chalabi, while the war grinds on. The debate we've been having may end up in a somewhat banal place: how swiftly or slowly to begin the withdrawal. That kind of prudential judgment will have to be left to the major players. I expect no subtlety or deftness from Bush-Cheney, but the next president might have some opportunities. Money quote:

One can never reconcile the beneficiaries of illegitimate, abnormal power to the end of their dominion. But this current re-alignment in Iraq carries with it a gift for the possible redemption of modern Islam among the Arabs. Hitherto Sunni Islam had taken its hegemony for granted and extremist strands within it have shown a refusal to accept "the other." Conversely, Shia history has been distorted by weakness and exclusion and by a concomitant abdication of responsibility.

A Shia-led state in Baghdad - with a strong Kurdish presence in it and a big niche for the Sunnis - can go a long way toward changing the region's terrible habits and expectations of authority and command. The Sunnis would still be hegemonic in the Arab councils of power beyond Iraq, but their monopoly would yield to the pluralism and complexity of that region.

"Watch your adjectives" is the admonition given American officers by Gen. Petraeus. In Baghdad, Americans and Iraqis alike know that this big endeavor has entered its final, decisive phase. Iraq has surprised and disappointed us before, but as they and we watch our adjectives there can be discerned the shape of a new country, a rough balance of forces commensurate with the demography of the place and with the outcome of a war that its erstwhile Sunni rulers had launched and lost. We made this history and should now make our peace with it.

(Photo: Iraqi Shiites and supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr shout slogans during an anti-US rally, in the holy city of Najaf, 09 April 2007. Thousands of Shiites carrying Iraqi flags converged in the holy city of Najaf for an anti-US rally called by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as the war-torn country marked the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. By Ahmad Al-Rubaye.)