The only power that could qualitatively worsen Iraq’s sectarian civil war is the United States. Washington continues to arm and train the Shiites, although so far it has resisted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s pleas to provide Iraq’s Shiite-led army and police with heavy weapons, armor, and an air force. Only if that policy changed, and the United States began to create a true Shiite army in Iraq, would the Sunni Arab states likely feel compelled to build up Iraq’s Sunni paramilitary militias into something resembling a traditional army.
Thus, even if we assume that Iraq’s parties cannot achieve some sort of reconciliation as the United States withdraws, an American pullout is hardly guaranteed to unleash unbridled chaos. On the contrary, each year since 2003 that American troops have remained in Iraq, the violence has escalated steadily.