Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl, analysing Maliki’s SoI crackdown in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, suggest a chilling analogy:
It is obvious where this road might end. The last time tens of thousands of armed Sunni men were humiliated in Iraq — by disbanding the Baath Party and Iraqi army in May 2003 — an insurgency began, costing thousands of U.S. lives and throwing Iraq into chaos. Yet Maliki and his advisors risk provoking Iraq’s Sunni community into another round of violence.
Marc Lynch, for his part, sees a quandary:
What if that battle is joined, but the ‘former Awakenings’ (‘the once and future insurgency?’) choose not to turn those guns against their American ‘friends’ but concentrate exclusively on the Iraqi government. Which side does the U.S. support? The Awakenings movement which it has built and cultivated, or the Iraqi government which it has built and cultivated? Could get messy.
Judging by what Petraeus said last week in a McClatchy interview, the answer seems clear:
“We’re not going to walk away from them, and as I said, Prime Minister Maliki committed to taking care of them. [...] I do think it is somewhat understandable that the government struggles to hire former insurgents for its security forces or for its ministerial positions… But this is how you end these kinds of conflicts. That’s why they call it reconciliation. It’s not done with one’s friends, it’s done with former enemies.”
Paying off your enemy is always a huge gamble, particularly when you’re fighting someone else’s war. Whatever happens, the least likely outcome is probably the one Maliki is banking on: that the Sunni volunteers will quietly accept their fate, throw down their weapons and slink back to irrelevance.