US authorities in Iraq had been trying to pressure the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, to crack down on Shiite militias who have been held responsible for a wave of kidnapping, torture and murder of Sunni Arabs. The United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad had been urging the Iraqi government to rid the Interior Ministry of militia influence and to be more politically accommodating to Sunni Arabs.
In the aftermath of the bombing of a major Shiite shrine last month, Shiite leaders began to lash out at the ambassador for his insistence on working with the Sunnis and defended their use of militias for self-defense.
After a joint American-Iraqi raid on a Shiite compound on Sunday killed at least 16 people the tensions escalated as Shiite leaders angrily denounced the raid and suspended negotiations over a new government. The governor of Baghdad announced a halt in cooperation with the American authorities, and Shiite militiamen brandished their weapons in the streets of eastern Baghdad and declared their readiness to retaliate against American troops.
According to the New York Times: "Some Shiite leaders warned that the raid had been widely interpreted among their constituents as a strong-arm tactic to cow them into making political concessions, including forcing the largest Shiite bloc to drop Mr. Jaafari as its nominee for prime minister in the new government."
"President Jalal Talabani said he would lead a joint Iraqi-American committee to investigate the Sunday evening raid, as American and Iraqi authorities continued to offer wildly conflicting accounts of it. Shiites said the victims were civilians gathered in a mosque, while the Americans said they were insurgents holed up in a guerrilla headquarters."
Republicans in Congress want a US withdrawal from Iraq to be well underway by the November elections. President Bush wants to be seen as a resolute warrior who would never willingly give up the fight. If the situation in Iraq continues to spiral out of control toward full scale civil war and the Shiites controlling the government refuse to continue working with the US this would allow Bush to be seen to be forced, against his wishes, to withdraw the US troops.
This would allow the Republicans to snatch a public relations victory from defeat by claiming they never willingly gave up the fight and continuing to portray the Democrats as weak on defense and soft on terrorism. If Democrats do not forcefully and continually remind voters that President Bush and the Republicans in Congress are responsible for the needless and pointless deaths of over 2000 American soldiers and uncounted thousands of Iraqis then I predict that the Republicans will manage to persuade the voters that the people who opposed our invasion were the ones responsible for our lack of success.