Last year, some Iraq analysts were skeptical about the White House's emphasis that Iran was a key enemy of U.S. troops in Iraq. That's because the vast majority of U.S. casualties were occurring in areas controlled by the Sunni insurgency, not those controlled by the Shiite militias closely linked to Iran.
According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a non-profit group that tracks U.S. deaths, 60 percent of U.S. deaths last year occurred in Sunni controlled areas. The insurgents in those provinces were getting funding and weapons from Sunni backers in the Sunni Arab nations of Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan -- not Iran.
At the time, only about 4 percent of U.S. casualties occurred in Shiite controlled areas, while about a quarter had taken place in Baghdad, where both Sunni and Shiite fighters operate.
This data entirely contradicted the White House assertion that "Iran is a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces."
But things appear to have changed -- or at least the reality on the ground may finally be catching up to the rhetoric of our government.
So, the greatest threat isn't al-Qaeda after all.
This raises an important question; who are our friends, and who are our enemies?
The Shiite government in Iraq is ostensibly our ally. But despite the sacrifices of our military personnel, by last fall the Iraqi government had met only 3 of the 18 "benchmarks" they had agreed to over a year earlier. What's more, they're uncomfortably close to the Iranians. And it can't be overlooked that the U.S. has battled al Sadr's Shiite militia on numerous occasions. Not such a good friend.
But the Sunni militias have been the primary enemy of the U.S. military since the initial outbreak of the insurgency. Those fighters were previously members of Saddam's army who were handed pink slips by Paul Bremmer a few years ago. They were angry, insulted, had too much time on their hands, and to little money to enjoy it. Ultimately, they were responsible for 60% of US deaths in Iraq last year. Once again, not such good friends.
Sure, they've battled the al-Qaeda militias, but the U.S. had to put them on the payroll to get them to do so. It can never be forgotten that they were Saddam's henchmen and that we deposed and captured him, then handed him over to be tried and hung. It's probably safe to say they don't like us very much. We upset their apple cart and gave rise to the Shiite government.
So it seems safe to say that both the Sunnis and Shites are our enemies. But if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, does that make both of them our friends?
Perhaps, as long as they're fighting one another.Â
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