CIVIL WAR….The underappreciated Tom Lasseter has a chilling story today about the makeup and motivation of the new Iraqi army. Even the best trained units, he says, are largely looking forward to this year’s elections as a way of cementing Shiite power in preparation for a bloody civil war. You really need to read the whole thing, but here’s a snippet:

The Bush administration’s exit strategy for Iraq rests on two pillars: an inclusive, democratic political process that includes all major ethnic groups and a well-trained Iraqi national army. But a week spent eating, sleeping and going on patrol with a crack unit of the Iraqi army ? the 4,500-member 1st Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Division ? suggests that the strategy is in serious trouble. Instead of rising above the ethnic tension that’s tearing their nation apart, the mostly Shiite troops are preparing for, if not already fighting, a civil war against the minority Sunni population.

….American commanders often refer to the 1st Brigade as a template for the future of Iraq’s military…. Increasingly, however, they look and operate less like an Iraqi national army unit and more like a Shiite militia.

….[Brig. Gen. Jaleel Khalif] Shwail, the 1st brigade’s top officer, regularly reviews important decisions, including troop distribution, with a prominent local Shiite cleric who’s closely aligned with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite religious figure in Iraq.

…. When they roll through the Shiite neighborhood of Kadhemiya in pickup trucks, the Iraqi troops see men saluting them and yelling, “Heroes! Heroes!” Little children salute and smile.

But as soon as they cross into nearby Sunni neighborhoods, the troops lean out of the trucks with AK-47s and shoot above the cars in front of them to clear traffic.

…. Asked if he worried about possible fighting between his men and the Sunnis at Umm al Qura, the brigade’s command sergeant major, Hassan Kadhum, smiled.

“Your country had to have a civil war,” he said. “It will be the same here. Everything in this world has its price. In Iraq the price for peace will be blood.”

Kadhum thought the matter over for a few more moments.

“There will be a day when we take that mosque and make it an army headquarters,” Kadhum said.

Yes, it’s only one story, and yes, empty chest thumping among soldiers is hardly unknown. Still, it’s not good news. There doesn’t seem to be much sign yet that either the Sunnis or the Shiites have any intention of letting elections decide their future.

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