Because no option can stabilize Iraq quickly, we should refocus on our greatest achievable objective: preventing al-Qaeda from establishing a haven. This danger arises because Iraq's moderate Sunnis have allied with their extremist Sunni rivals. Why? They're trying to fend off domination and ethnic cleansing by the majority Shiites, who control Iraq's government, army and militias. Indeed, the U.S. strategy of bolstering and training Iraq's Shiite-controlled army drives Sunni moderates into extremist hands. The only way to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq is to switch our primary allegiance to Iraq's moderate Sunnis.
The prospect of this dramatic shift in U.S. strategy raises several questions, including most fundamentally: Can we identify the moderates? Fortunately, two ready pools are available. First are the Sunni tribes the United States has attempted to recruit with little success. Until now, our offers have been too feeble, but serious military aid could do the trick.
The second source of recruits is Saddam's secular Sunni-led party, which was antithetical to al-Qaeda. Admittedly, some former Baathists are attacking U.S. forces and coordinating with Sunni extremists because they view our presence as an obstacle to their return to power, but this could change quickly if we offered to support these former enemies.
The sooner our self-styled experts on the Middle East realize that the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend, the better off we'll be. While the Iraqi Sunni groups may be at odds with al-Qaida, they are also, and moreso, at odds with the American occupation. In this case, the enemy of our enemy is also our enemy.
For an informed opinion about this situation, I reccommend reading Marc Lynch's blog, where he has been discussing the schism in the Sunni insurgency for a few weeks now. He also has a piece in The American Prospect that's really worth reading:
Americans, eager for good news from Iraq and seizing upon rising public Sunni opposition to al-Qaeda, risk missing its real significance. Recent coverage of Anbar province has focused upon the growing willingness of tribal leaders to cooperate with American forces against al-Qaeda. It is true that, from Ramadi to Kirkuk, local Sunni leaders have indeed called for an "awakening," even an "intifada against al-Qaeda," in response to resentment over its behavior. That's not so new -- reports of tribes turning against al-Qaeda have been a staple of reporting from Iraq for years.
Far more importantly, last week the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the most influential of the insurgency factions, issued a scathing public denunciation of the Islamic State of Iraq, calling on Osama bin Laden to intervene with his misguided Iraqi representatives. Al-Qaeda has taken this challenge seriously enough that its emir, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, released a lengthy and somewhat conciliatory audiotape responding to their concerns. His statement suggests that al-Qaeda is far more worried about this challenge by the insurgency than it is about the much-heralded tribal "awakening."
...While Sunni disenchantment with al-Qaeda is all to the good, it has little to do with American strategy and, crucially, even less to do with giving up on the anti-American insurgency.