WASHINGTON - August 13 - U.S. combat operations in the holy cities of Najaf and neighboring Kufa further destabilizes Iraq and alienates Iraqi Shiites and the worlds Shiite community, putting U.S. national security at risk. Already claiming the lives of over 300 Sadr supporters and an unknown number of noncombatants, the U.S. offensive undermines the credibility of Iraqs caretaker government.
Increasing instability challenges the already-fragile legitimacy of the interim Iraqi government. When first appointed in June, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi enjoyed an 80% approval rate among ordinary Iraqis. Allawis recent statement sanctioning the use of U.S. Marines in combat operations in Najaf is one that no Iraqi nationalist would ever claim, and lends Allawi to criticism from skeptical Iraqis viewing him as a puppet of the U.S. and American interests.
A safe and secure Iraq is necessary for our national security. Sending U.S. Marines into Najaf, one of the holiest shrine cities for the worlds 170 million Shiites, puts both lives and our national security at risk, declares EPIC director and Gulf War veteran Erik Gustafson.
The symbolic politics of Najaf have major implications for U.S. security. Like Fallujah, accounts of Najaf are already being used to mobilize Iraqi Shiites and nationalists against the interim government and coalition forces. Regardless of what happens to Muqtada al-Sadr, the desecration of holy cities and sites increases the threat that U.S. forces are creating more enemies than are being killed, strengthening the Sadr movement and other violent factions.
In the international campaign against Al-Qaeda, the U.S. should be working to win the support of Shiites and moderate Sunnis. Instead, we are losing that support by attacking Islamic holy sites. And that fall-out could lead some Shiites to plot attacks against U.S. targets. We should be working to create less enemies, not more, says respected historian and EPIC advisor Juan Cole.
U.S. forces may win this latest battle, but further lose the war.
Juan Cole continues, The immediate outcome of U.S combat operations in Najaf is greater instability. In the long-term, the U.S. is pushing the Sadr movement into becoming a long-term, low intensity insurgency in the South. With every Iraqi that we kill, we risk turning another one of Iraqs major clans against us and the interim government.
Rather than expect to kill or capture every supporter of Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as every insurgent, the U.S. should be supporting Iraqs interim government in restoring basic services (electricity, water, etc.), creating jobs, and allowing nonviolent avenues of political expression and participation.
Iraqis and Americans want the same things: security, democracy and economic opportunity, says EPIC board member John Howley. Winning the peace begins with that recognition.
Spokespeople available for comment include:
Juan Cole, PhD, professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan and informed commentator on Iraq at www.juancole.com. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org
Erik Gustafson, EPIC Director and a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. Gustafson visited Iraq in 1998 and 2000 and saw firsthand the impact of Saddam Hussein and UN sanctions.
John Howley, EPIC economist and member of the Board. Howley is the primary author of EPICs recent report on Iraqs Jobs Crisis - http://www.epic-usa.org/Default.aspx?tabid=262