Charles Krauthammer

     Yes, some of the Iraqi police/National Guard units fighting with our troops are largely Kurdish. But they, like the Shiites, fight in an avowedly nonsectarian Iraqi force. Why? Because we want to maintain this idea of a unified, nonethnic Iraq. At some point, however, we must decide whether that is possible or not, and how many American lives should be sacrificed in its name.

     Six months ago I wrote in this space that while ``our goal has been to build a united, pluralistic, democratic Iraq in which the factions negotiate their differences the way we do in the West'' that ``may be, in the short run, a bridge too far. ... We should lower our ambitions and see Iraqi factionalization as a useful tool.''

     For example, we (and the British) are spearheading a new counteroffensive against Sunni guerrillas south of Baghdad. Where are the Shiites? I understand Shiite wariness about fighting with us. It is not, as conventional wisdom has it, because of some deep-seated Iraqi nationalism. In 1991, the Shiites were begging the United States to intervene during their uprising against Saddam. They were dying, literally, for the American army to help them. Unfortunately, and the misfortune continues to haunt us to this day, they were betrayed. Having encouraged them to rebel, we did not lift a finger as Saddam slaughtered them by the thousands.

     Given that history, they are today understandably wary about American steadfastness and intentions. If they do go out on a limb and pick up the fight against the insurgent Sunnis, will we leave them hanging again?

     Our taking on the Sunnis is a way of demonstrating good faith. As is our intention to hold the election no matter what. Everyone knows the outcome will be a historic transfer of power to the Shiites (and, to some extent, the Kurds). We must make it clear that we will be there to support that new government. But we also have to make it clear that we are not there to lead the fight indefinitely. It is their civil war.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

Be the first to read Krauthammer's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.