What do you think will happen when we stop the payoffs?
It depends on what the other facts on the ground are. Without some political movement the benefits might be temporary. This is important for breathing room but long term success might require:
- Passage of a fair oil revenue sharing law
- Muqtada al-Sadr's holding power and maintaining a cease fire (he is losing power due to it, which might compel him to resume calls for an attack).
- Solidification of the armed forces of Iraq, and the police forces of Iraq (as much for the employment stability as the security they should be able to provide).
- More fairness from the government toward Sunnis (this would also result in more help from neighbors like Saudi Arabia).
Or should we just keep paying them off indefinitely?
We broke it and have the moral obligation to fix it. The second worst decision made about Iraq by the Bush administration's core (against the State department's objections) was to disband the Iraqi military and police units.
The challenge since then has been to create new such entities that aren't corrupt, incompetent, or the ones actually doing the murdering.
This strategy has worked well because some people have gotten sick of the violence and instability in their local community and decided to do something about it. Arming them and supporting them has been one of the biggest things (other than Muqtada al-Sadr's cease fire) that has reduced violence and without a reduction in violence almost no progress on any front is possible.
Never a good idea....
This is a bit more nuanced than Danegeld. The notion that these people would be fighting against US objectives is not entirely true. It's certainly not directly akin to Denegeld (which would be more like paying the foreign insurgents to a cease fire than paying Iraqis to turn on them).
In some cases, this is like citizens who created a neighborhood watch program but were decidedly out-armed. The decision was made to arm them and enable them to continue. This is beneficial in terms of the security that only this kind of outfit can provide (lack of local knowledge severely limits the U.S. forces' ability to combat the urban militias effectively) as well as the employment and economic stability that Iraq needs as much as it needs physical security.
This is not tribute to an enemy. It's impromptu local police employment paid to people whose motivation to drive out the foreign insurgents that have destabilized their communities has resulted in much more success than the official police forces being built.
This kind of thing can help buy time for more permanent solutions. It's not a long-term solution but it's also no Danegeld.