Monday, July 31, 2006

Playing the hole card

There is an aspect to the Israeli actions in Lebanon that has seemed to cruise under the radar in much of the network coverage. Over at Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum passes along mid-east expert Juan Cole's assessment of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's weighing in on the combat.

Cole's basic point is that the U.S. and British forces in Iraq depend on the acceptance of the Shiite community in the South. Sistani's threat of "dire consequences" would smartly be interpreted as a decline in Shiite cooperation (or at least non-aggression). Given the current difficulties with a relatively passive community, the potential dangers of a hostile Shiite community could end any hope of U.S.-led progress. The ability (much talked about on the blogs, but rarely in the news) to shut down the U.S.'s supply route through the South would completely change the game.

That said, Iraqis on all sides have sometimes seen a continued U.S. presence as in their interest. Driving out U.S. forces, or at least hindering their ability to act by forcing them to hunker down in their easily re-supplied megabases, may not be seen as a step in the right direction, and may even invite more direct action from the U.S. forces.

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