"What could he do if he were ignored? Sistani could call massive anti-US and anti-Israel demonstrations. Given Iraq's profound political instability, this development could be extremely dangerous. US troops in Baghdad and elsewhere are planning offensives against Shiite paramilitary groups, so tensions are likely to rise in the Shiite areas anyway. But big demonstrations could easily boil over into actual attacks on US and British troops. Both depend heavily on fuel that is transported through the Shiite south. Were the Shiites actively to turn on the US for its wholehearted support of continued Israeli air raids, the US military could be cut off from fuel and supplies. The British only have around 8,000 troops in Iraq, and they would be in profound danger if Iraq's Shiites became militantly anti-occupation.
Since the Israeli treatment of Arabs is an issue on which Sunnis and Shiites agree, there is also a possibility that Sistani could finally get some respect from the Sunni community if he led such a compaign. That development would be more dangerous to the continued US military presence in Iraq than any other I can think of.
The US is already not winning against a Sunni Arab insurgency, backed by around 5 million Iraqis. If 16 million Shiites turned on the US because of its wholehearted support for Israel's actions in Lebanon, the US military mission in Iraq could quickly become completely and urgently untenable. In this case, the British troops in particular would be lucky to escape the country with their lives.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Informed Comment: Juan Cole speaks out on the prospects for Iraq going south in a hurry, because of U.S. backing for Israel's Lebanon adventure. He tells of Grand Ayatollah Sistani demanding the U.S. impose a ceasefire, or at the least, end the Israeli bombing campaign.