In many of its colonies the British would often favor a single group as a quick means of gaining stability. Almost always the results were ruinous—a trail of civil war and bloodshed. If Allawi and the United States make the same mistake, there will be 140,000 American troops in the middle of it all.
In Newsweek Fareed Zakaria warns against adopting a “Shia strategy” as a quick fix for Iraq’s ills. Zakaria is clear about the appeal of such a divide-and-conquer strategy. He points out that the insurgency
is essentially a Sunni movement, fueled by the anger of Iraq’s once dominant community, who now fear the future. It is not supported by the Shias or the Kurds. (The Shia radical al-Sadr has been careful not to align himself too closely with the insurgency, for fear of losing support among the Shia.)
… Hence the temptations of a “Shia strategy.” Such an approach would see the Sunni areas in Iraq as hopeless, until an Iraqi Army could go in and establish control. It would ensure that the Shia community, as well as the Kurds, remained supportive of Allawi’s government and of the upcoming elections. It would attempt to hold elections everywhere—but if they could not be held in the Sunni areas, elections would go forward anyway. That would isolate the Sunni problem and leave it to be dealt with when force is available.
But the risks are even greater:
Today a significant number of Sunnis feel disenfranchised, and thus they support the guerrillas (estimates vary from 25 percent to 65 percent). If they are cut out of the government, all will feel disenfranchised. And to have 20 percent of the country—people who are well trained and connected—supporting an insurgency makes it extremely difficult to defeat militarily.
(via Amardeep Singh)