Wanted: A Shiite Strongman as Provisional Ruler

Some of the other ideas President George W. Bush is mulling over for a new Iraq strategy, before making his promised decision after the New War, include the controversial recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission and a Shiite formula dubbed by The New York Times of Dec. 19 the Darwin Principle – meaning that since the Shiites are the majority community in Iraq, the Americans have no option but to elevate them to government at the expense of the Sunni Arab minority.

Then there is the proposal put forward by the former Army Vice chief of staff Ret. General Jack Keane and military expert Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute: The Keane-Kagan Plan, which was first laid out in The Weekly Standard Christmas edition. Its main theme is the reinforcement of US strength in Iraq by 50,000 troops. They will clear out the Baghdad districts of guerrilla and militia forces and stay on for an extended holding operation.

(This format was tried earlier this year in the insurgent-ridden province of Anbar and failed to work.)

However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources report that, although nothing has been formally settled, the US president has also been considering a more radical blueprint that would entail the following steps:

1. The Iraqi parliament will meet and declare a state of emergency for six months or more. The exact period is not yet decided.

2. The announcement will include the suspension of the government headed by Nouri al-Maliki and parliament for a pre-defined period.

3. Parliament will then approve the establishment of a national emergency council to govern the country during the period of emergency.

4. Another option is that parliament will endorse a political or military figure as head of the national emergency council and sole ruler of Iraq.


Suspending the democratic process


In other words, the principle of democratic rule in Iraq would be set aside pro tem. However, the thinking behind this plan is that the suspension of the democratic process in Iraq would be voluntary and for a defined period. In any case, democracy is not working in Baghdad or any other part of Iraq.

The scenario under consideration would in fact hark back to a proposal offered by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts in Issue 280 on Dec. 1 under the title: A Military Coup in Baghdad as Last Resort.

Our sources disclose that the missing keystone of the projected plan is the right man to head Iraq’s provisional regime for the emergency period.

He would need two important qualities:

– He must be a Shiite – else parliament would not carry the motion. The Bush administration’s first choice would be ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi who is a secular Shiite, a former Baathist before he fell out with Saddam Hussein, who also has close Sunni associates; or vice president Abdel Mahdi, another Shiite, who is not affiliated with the major Shiite parties and is a federalist.

– He must be ruthless and tough enough to crack down and destroy the insurgent forces and the Sunni militias – almost a Saddam Hussein.

But the main thrust of this plan, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources in Baghdad and Washington is –

5. To charge the provisional ruler with an iron-fisted crackdown against the Shiite militias and their deaths squads with the help of the American army beefed up by up to 50,000 soldiers. The Iraqi army would then absorb a large number of Baathist officers and men who served under Saddam Hussein.

President Bush would appear to count on support in his immediate vicinity from Vice President Dick Cheney, the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and his staff, the US ambassador to Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad, who originated the plan, Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command, who wants to retire next March, and Gen. John Casey, commander of American forces in Iraq.


Sunni insurgents outgun the Shiite majority militias


Our military and counter-terror experts comment that the plan under consideration is highly complex and demands manpower on a scale way beyond the levels deployed for the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam’s ouster and his army’s defeat.

According to our sources, the combined strength of Sunni Arab insurgent groups and Shiite militias has swelled to an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 fighting men. US intelligence believes the Sunnis run to 70,000 combatants, while the Shiites are thought to command between 35,000 and 40,000 men.

Four years after the US invasion, and even taking into account the numerical superiority of the Shiite Muslim community, Sunni insurgents are capable today of crushing Shiite armed strength in a face-to-face engagement staged from orderly front lines.

Bush was led to his final appraisal by advice from Ambassador Khalilzad and US commanders in Iraq that the Shiites, laboring under a military disadvantage, stand no chance of capturing the big Sunni towns and main areas of Iraq. At most, they could win control of Baghdad.

In the last week or two, following their visit to Baghdad, Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have decided to throw their support behind the emerging plan which the White House is putting together with the commanders in Iraq.

The plan has also won endorsement from important Democratic leaders, including Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as the incoming majority leader John Reid. But any reasonable and feasible strategy to pull Iraq out of its slough of violence would gain majority bipartisan support in Washington.

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