You Go to War With the Militia You Have

Dafna Linzer and Thomas Ricks get a leak of a classified Marine Corps memo on Anbar Province. It notes that "The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there." The problem, meanwhile, isn't one that "surging" troops will solve. Rather, "The report describes Iraq's Sunni minority as 'embroiled in a daily fight for survival,' fearful of 'pogroms' by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital." And, of course, this makes perfect sense. If I were a Sunni Arab Iraqi, and an al-Qaeda dude stopped by my house I would greet him warmly, offer a cup of coffee and my thanks, agree to help him out in any way he asked, etc. The fact that I might be, by conviction, an atheist and a believer in social democracy wouldn't change this at all. Why wouldn't I support al-Qaeda? Because they're the bad guys? Don't be naive -- they're the guys with guns trying to kill the other guys with guns who are trying to kill me. And if pretending to be a devout Sunni Muslim is the price I need to pay for protection, then why not.

Much the same could be said of Shiite Arabs' attitudes toward Muqtada al-Sadr. Shadi Hamid's complaints about "the utter incompetence of Nouri al-Maliki government and its continued willingness to turn a blind eye to the increasingly brutal, roving death squads of its Sadrist coalition partners" might as well come from Mars. Why wouldn't you support Sadr? He has a fairly effective armed force at his disposal that's willing to protect Shiites who show their loyalty. Wouldn't you want to work with such a force? Maliki would be insane to side with Iraq's American occupiers, its Sunni population, and foreign al-Qaeda types in fighting the Mahdi Army, the Shiites' own self-protection service.

Iraqis of either stripe are right now caught between a guy with a gun trying to kill them and another guy with another gun trying to kill that first guy. Choosing sides isn't going to be difficult.