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Iraq after the handover

02/01/2004

After my long-winded explanation of why I think the powers of the Coalition Provisional Authority should be expanded (here), along comes a well-informed reader to throw cold water on this notion. As Eric points out (click here and scroll down), the CPA's mandate expires this summer, when the administration plans to restore sovereignty to Iraq. My proposal isn't moot simply because it's not this administration's style to consider creative solutions -- it's moot because they've already settled on the opposite course of action.

So, absent any dramatic changes of course, what sort of outcome can we expect?

Eric -- an Army prosecutor set to deploy to Iraq shortly -- offers a hopeful view of post-CPA Iraq:

Hopefully, the military can forge close ties to the Iraqi ministries that assume responsibility and work can progress at a faster pace. Then we can all look forward to coming home sooner rather than later.
We might consider this the rosy scenario. As Eric puts it, at his own blog (see the Jan. 31, 2004 entry, here),
Our task is to help create a "secure and stable" Iraq so that when we leave in a year the country is better off than it is now. While that reads well, it's a concept that might be a bit hard to put into practice. [...]part of that mission is to try and change the attitudes of the typical, everyday Iraqis who, right now, are sitting on the fence, neither supporting nor actively opposing, the coalition. They must see that they have a vested interest in the future of Iraq. It's their country, not ours, and the only way things will get better is if they step up and assume responsibility for the future. I apologize if that sounds paternalistic. I don't claim to be, in any way, an expert on conditions in Iraq. These are just my random thoughts on the subject.

The question I struggle with is, "How do we soldiers go about trying to help Iraq reach this goal?" I don't know what the answer is but I hope that over the course of the next year we can achieve some success. My hope is that, when it is time for my unit to redeploy from Iraq, we have reached the point where the local Iraqis don't want us to leave because of the good we are doing.

It is indeed difficult to imagine exactly what the Army ought to be doing to leave Iraq in good shape -- precisely why Iraq shouldn't be left to the Army. Just seeing a soldier pose this question is encouraging in its own way, but the larger picture is gloomier.

The major flaw of Eric's assessment is its tendency to measure Iraqis in terms of pro- or anti-Americanism, and the extent to which they "assume responsibility" for their own country. While these are relevant criteria, they aren't the most important. The most important is, will Iraqis share power peacefully, or will they start killing each other as soon as the Americans aren't able to stop it?

On this score, Ami Isseroff (MidEastWeb's Moderator) offers a bleak counterpoint, here:

I really loathe comparisons to Vietnam, but I am reminded of the arguments about "winning hearts and minds" and the organizational shakeups that took place there, in an effort to do something that was impossible.

The task set by the USA is to impose both national integrity and democracy on Iraq and to leave Iraq to its independence. However, there are powerful forces at work against both goals.

The Kurds insist on autonomy as we know, and some even insist on independence. From their point of view they are right. From the point of view of the US they are wrong, perhaps, but if the USA moves to quash Kurdish aspirations, it will lose its major ally in Iraq.

The Shi'ites of Ayat Allah (Ayatollah) Sistani insist apparently on Iraq united under majority Shi'ite rule.

From their point of view, being the majority, they are also right, no doubt, but such a government would not necessarily be overly tolerant of religious minorities or willing to cooperate with the US and its neighbors.

The Sunnis have their own program. Each major group has its own factions and parties, who advance ideas that may seem very peculiar to the US and certainly inimical to US interests. Al-Jazeera TV broadcast a show in which one panelist claimed that Ariel Sharon visited Iraq, and that Iraq is thoroughly infiltrated by Zionists. It is hard to know how many people believe such ideas, and how many want an Islamic Republic with the same warm friendly attitude to the USA as sister Iran.

All of the above is overlain with lawlessness that was apparently just under the surface during the last years of Saddam, and has emerged to threaten chaos.

The problem is not just the different ideas that these groups have, but rather the apparent readiness of all these groups to blow people up in order to make their points. Sometimes the targets are "logical" - allied military or Iraqi police or provisional authority people. At other times, it is not easy to understand who is killing whom and why. Today 5 Palestinians [in Iraq] were killed by a mortar shell.

This sort of violence is reminiscent of the great anarchy of Lebanon, which proved to be "insoluble" by the USA. The Syrians "solved" it by more or less permanently occupying Lebanon.

The assumption underlying your analyses is that there is a way to foster good government in Iraq, and that with a bit of tinkering, we can find that way. Putting the civilians in charge may reduce some of the friction and some of the problems, but in a few months, under the present plan, those civilians will leave. It is unrealistic to think that the problems will be solved by then.

This grimmer view is much harder to dispute. We could conceive of Iraq as a simmering pot. The planned handover of sovereignty on June 30 will set the internal power struggle to a boil. The very gradual reduction of U.S. troops that's just getting underway now amounts to a slow removal of the lid -- as everyone knows, if you yank a lid off a boiling pot, you might get scalded.

The question, therefore, is just how high the water will jump this summer if not earlier -- that is, how violent the power struggle will become -- and whether the lid -- U.S. and coalition armed forces -- will still be on tightly enough to prevent a bad scene. The answer more or less depends on the choices of Shi'ite power brokers, most of all Ayatollah Sistani. David Rieff, in today's New York Times Magazine (here), sums it up through the words of an anonymous source:

Soon after the fall of Baghdad last spring, a U.S. official put the matter to me starkly: ''If we alienate the Shiites, we've lost the ballgame. The Kurds owe us, and we're the best deal they'll ever see. We can fight the Sunnis. But we can't fight the Shiites, not if they organize against us. There are too many of them.''
Sistani has already shown his ability to turn mass demonstrations on and off like a tap, and to sway American policy, even while refusing to meet with any American emissaries. U.S. forces already face the prospect of leaving Iraq the way the British left Palestine -- in the throes of an internecine struggle, more or less co-opted by one side, but unable to suppress the other. But the outcome is unlikely to be quite so decisive. A more Lebanon-like scenario is not at all difficult to imagine.

To follow: the views of the U.S. Intelligence Community on the consequences of failure.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000172.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 11:01 PM CST [Link]

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