VICTORY THROUGH ATTRITION….I’ve mentioned in passing once or twice before that one possible way for Iraq’s civil war to end is simply through attrition. If we just wait it out long enough, eventually someone will win and the fighting will stop — regardless of what the United States Army does or doesn’t do. Today, Newsweek puts that possibility into stark relief with a story about the massive and ongoing ethnic cleansing taking place in Baghdad right now:

The surge of U.S. troops — meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital — has hardly stemmed the problem. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July was slightly higher than in February, when the surge began. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone. Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, says that the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually “has increased the IDPs to some extent.”

When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias’ cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they’ve essentially won.

….Citywide, Sunnis complain that in the early phases of the surge, as Shiite militias refrained from attacks on U.S. troops, the Americans focused their firepower on Sunni insurgents. The implicit trade-off — pushed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and others — was that the Shiites would scale back their sectarian attacks once they felt safer. Instead militias like the Mahdi Army have become emboldened. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top ground commander in Iraq, recently noted that 73 percent of American fatalities and injuries in Baghdad in July were caused by Shiite fighters. That same month, for the first time since 2003, Shiite militants carried out as many attacks on Coalition forces as Sunni insurgents did nationwide.

….Of course, with Sunnis cleaned out of many Baghdad neighborhoods, Shiites may turn on each other. The fighting in Karbala was only an extension of battles that have been raging in the south for months now. (In the past two weeks, two provincial governors from a rival faction were assassinated, possibly by Sadr loyalists.) Could this be the start of a civil war within Iraq’s civil war?

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to get back to blogging about “the underlying political, confessional, ethnic, and tribal issues that are driving the violence in Iraq,” and that’s what this story is all about. Read the whole thing. Really.