The United States recently tinkered with a United Nations resolution on Iraq enough to get the Security Council to pass it unanimously. In Congress the controversy over President Bush’s request for $87 billion for occupation and reconstruction of Iraq (and other missions) centers on whether part of the reconstruction money should be a loan or a grant. But events on the ground could make such controversies immaterial.
Last week a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol enforcing a curfew clashed with gunmen guarding the headquarters of a Shiite cleric in the central Iraqi city of Karbala. In the ensuing firefight three Americans and at least 10 Iraqis were killed; seven Americans were wounded. That brought to 101 the total of Americans killed since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations May 1.
As tragic as those deaths are, especially for the families, this clash could have a larger significance.
James Dobbins was President Bush’s first special envoy to Afghanistan and now directs the RAND Corp.’s Center for International Security and Defense Policy. He said that for the most part Iraq’s Shiite Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of the population, had been cooperative with the American occupation.
The Shiites, being the majority, figured that once Iraq had a roughly democratic government they would be dominant and they could bide their time until then. If the Shiites, who have effective de facto governments and armed militias in the areas where they are predominant, start resisting American occupation actively, Dobbins suggested, it could presage serious trouble to come.
To be sure, Mahmoud al-Hassani, at whose headquarters the clash occurred, is considered a minor ayatollah. If this clash means Shiites are becoming more generally restive, however, it could make well-meaning resolutions irrelevant.