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Fixing Iraq (Americans Keep Walking)

by cskendrick Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 02:12:01 PM EST

Based on feedback (complimentary on the research, mixed at best for conclusions) on prior work, I've decided to re-write my proposed fix-it for Iraq with one major change:

Leaving the United States out of it.

For some reason, it's a lot simpler a plan to execute, and a lot less violent. It's just...a lot less American.

I hope this says more about the particulars of the situation than about the United States, but ...well, if I can get over my hang-ups in a day, perhaps there's hope for Humanity yet.

The new! improved! plan below the break.


  1. Autonomy referenda, leading to de facto and likely de jure partition of Iraq, start in 18 months. Violence and positioning within contested provinces ahead of such votes is likely to have begun already. My guess is the referenda will be moot by mid-2008, or simply signing off on the reality on the ground. For all I know, the provincial boundaries will have changed by then.
  2. Central Iraq, Baghdad in particular, will be carved into zones of control by a mixture of ethnic, sectarian, partisan, ministerial, provincial and foreign forces acting in support of one or more Iraqi factions. That and either Coalition or UN peacekeeping missions, scarce better than postage stamps of international presence.
  3. Absent the United States, Iranian influence within the nominally-central Iraqi government via the SCIRI and the Badr organization will increase significantly. Strife with the Mehdi Army (and Muqtada Sadr) will escalate, as likely to the detriment of the Mehdi against superior numbers and foreign support (Iran's) unless Sadr is able to both mobilize and arm a wider basis of support within the Shia community,
  4. A significant increase of attacks to count coup (or equivalent) on the departing Americans likely. This is less to deter the departure than to establish anti-American creds for internal contests within Iraq. The Iranians will as likely restrain the Badr from doing anything that is likely to give the Americans a casus belli vis a vis Iran. This will leave the Mehdi an opening to improve their standing among Shia. Ergo, the Badr, even with Iranian backing, are unlikely to quash or absorb the Mehdi, and that particular strife will continue.
  5. Foreign interests other than Iran will advocate partition; the Iranians will see no upside to doing so, as they get influence across all of Iraq by sponsoring the nominally-unified Iraqi national government, while at the same time supporting the Iraqis' rights to autonomy under Iraqi law (read: intensify the Shiafication of society in provinces under Shia control). The Turks will be similarly for lip service paid to the idea of a unified Iraq, but will treat with a virtual Kurdistan directly.
  6. It is likely but not necessary for the Americans to be present in Kurdish-controlled provinces of Iraq, in order to deter a Turkish invasion of Kurdish areas. At this point, all the Turks want is the easiest guarantee that the Kurds in Iraq will not aspire to control of Kurdish areas in Turkey. Given the disparity in military power, the Kurds are unlikely to press the point.
  7. The Sunni Iraqis will become as one with the Palestinians and the Lebanese, Arabs that richer and less unfortunate Sunni Arabs will decry as victims of Western/Israeli depradations (oh, and Shia terorrism, too) and place pressure on the West (read: The Americans) to do something about but, in this scenario, the Americans shrug and say they tried, and this is what you get. When they stop lobbing RPG's at us and firing Stinger missiles at our aircraft, and ask us to help, we will. Til then...
  8. Oil contracts will be drawn up with the provinces or some derived regional autonomous authority, scarce better than dealing with smugglers and racketeers. Commercial sabotage and infighting among operators of fields and tankers and refineries is likely. Expectation is that oil production out of Iraq will degrade significantly for the foreseeable future, which will set pressure on the international community to in turn accept more expedient solutions to Iraqi instability including the rise of dictatorships that in form and function if not in ideology and personnel resemble the former Ba'athi regime under Saddam Hussein. After all, it does not take a unified Iraq to have a tyrant installed. Control of one oil-rich province with powerful foreign friends will do in a pinch.
  9. Laws will still be hammered out and announced by the nominally-unified government of Iraq. They will be taken exactly as seriously as UN resolutions are by the powerful nation-states of the planet -- at their convenience.
  10. Sectarian strife will continue until the point is reach past which the gain of killing further is less than the cost of doing so for all the factions involved. It is difficult to foresee accommodation other than hostile, separate coexistence as the aftermath of any episode of all-out religious conflict. With foreign forces backing one or more factions, the risk of wider regional war will be great, ditto the incentive of regional players (especially the Iranians) to rein in the damage lest the Americans have a casus to return in force...at least out to the medium term (2-5 years). This may mitigate the extent of bloodshed in the absence of a commonly-despised interloper. Emphasis on may.
  11. Security cooperation between Turks and Kurds as a consequence of planned expansion of trade and transfer of oil and natural gas via pipelines through Turkey into European markets is a real possibility. Oil makes for strange business partners. Always has.
  12. A given is that any excuse the Americans see to knock out a suspected Al-Qaida or sympathetic target in Iraq will precipitate a very high risk of activity. Read: military action. This entitlement is very unlikely to be foresworn by the Bush Administration and only in degree by any likely successor presidency for the long term (5-10 years). The consequence of this activity will be to reduce the chances of any broad-based reconciliation between Americans and the Iraqi people to nil.
  13. Thanks to the long sanctions, the United Nations is already in low regard among Iraqis. Further, the UN is a bit busy at the moment in Lebanon and looking in earnest at getting involved in East Africa (Chad, Sudan, Somalia). Any sort of international mission would probably have to derive under the auspices of the Arab League or the Organization of Islamic States, though one supposes the UN and even the USA could provide material support from backstage. Or not.
  14. Reconstruction funds are going to have to come first out of Islamic institutional pockets, either the various states of the region, national oil companies, or large trading concerns. I do not imagine such projects going anywhere until the dust settles in Iraq.
  15. There is no inevitability to complete anarchy, or economic collapse, or even civil war in Iraq, though some of all three are both present, right now, and in real risk of worsening.
  16. And, no -- none of the solutions require American participation and as described, it is as likely that the few remaining activities that the Americans will not let go of even if removed from Iraq almost entirely (raids on suspected AQ targets or perceived equivalent of same) will just seal the fate of US-Iraqi goodwill (sic).

Specifics that someone will have to deal with, regardless

Ex the Americans, there is scant short or medium-term hope of Iraq remaining a single state in anything but name. Then again, Lebanon had a lot less going for it, went a long stretch as nothing but a state-by-fiat, and managed to pull together. Broken countries are not broken glassware; they can be set together again, sometimes better than before.

Some pieces to be fixed (or set aside) before that recasting of Iraq occurs...

  1. Adequate provision of services for locals, whether in a unified Iraq or an autonomous Kurdistan or a sovereign Republic of Basra. People like their lights on and their toilets flushing. They're weird like that.
  2. Reconciliation or (in extremis) neutralization of the Mehdi Army; the Badr faction's primacy in a de-Americanized Iraq is a given, so long as Iran is a viable nation-state right next door to an Iraq in which Iran remains very interested. The Mehdi are either brought onboard, and the other civil conflict in Iraq mitigated, or the peace even within a partitioned Iraq (one made to work) will always be at risk.
  3. Encouraging some sort of detente between the Iranians and the Americans, if nothing else to get Iraq out from being in the middle of a fight that precedes the fall of Hussein by almost a quarter-century. The less that Teheran and Washington have in the way of excuses to fight their cold war on Iraqi territory, the better for Iraq. (And it's all the better for Iran and the United States, too.)
  4. Reduce, then eliminate, role of paramilitary organizations and irregular operations (read: death squads) in the various autonomous territories. Never mind threatening to rival factions; anyone with an organized armed force outside the official chain of command is a real threat to the stability and order of a province, or autonomous region, or nation-state. Either they disband, or join the new provincial armed
forces, or get out.
  1. Eviction of foreign fighters, save at the express invitation of the established national or regional Iraqi authorities, and then only from the ranks of sovereign armed forces. Irregulars or nonstate combatants (Al-Qaida and/or Hizbollah: bad, bad news). This is good at face value for the Iraqis and reduces excuses of Americans to launch raids or blow things up from time to time.
  2. Retain a process in place for cooperation and coordination of water and electricity grid services across all regions, all provinces -- the basics of a nation-state, with proposals and a working, flexible schedule for further, tangible integration. As there is a 'peace process' in the Holy Land, let there be an ongoing 'reunification process' in Iraq.
  3. Address concerns about oil revenue-sharing and security that are unique to the Sunni population or, in lieu of that, targeted investment by regional and global economic powers to rebuild the industrial base of central Iraq, as both a customer to the oil-rich provinces and a restored nucleus of trade and commerce.
  4. That security in the Sunni areas might come in the form of foreign troops, perhaps Turks, perhaps Egyptians, perhaps Jordanians and Syrians, to balance out the Iranian presence in Shia areas of Iraq. There is no lasting preclusion against Western (even American) forces, but we're working on the premise that this is not going to be available or desirable out to the very long term (10+ years) here.
  5. The oil infrastructure remains degraded; it will have to be refurbished and replaced, and that means obtaining foreign investment. There is, of course, no shortage of regional expertise in the business, so there's no particular need to summon Western or Asian assistance.
  6. Assertion of sovereignty; either as one state or in three or more autonomous regions, laws will have to be promulgated and enforced with violators prosecuted before courts of law. This might inconvenience and annoy some powerful enterprises, say, smugglers and militias. Regardless, it's going to have to be done, else those players will become the effective sovereign powers in their areas of operation.
  7. Part of this is integration of factional militias into the provincial armed forces, or their disbanding -- by force if necessary. The definition of statehood is: there can be only one...army.
  8. A timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces, period, from the nominal territory of the Republic of Iraq, as a major benchmark for the aforementioned 'reunification process'.

Wrap

So, there you have it. It's a much shorter list, if you accept that Iraq doesn't have to be a single integrated state now and forevermore.

I hope this rewrite is better-received than the last one. :)

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If it's good and it's here, it's probably theirs. :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 02:13:23 PM EST
foreign troops, perhaps Turks, perhaps Egyptians, perhaps Jordanians and Syrians,

Problematic on many levels.  

First, Iraq's neighborhing countries should not be considered possible sources of stabilization troops.  There are simply too many territorial issues at stake.  They would neither be welcome nor effective, and would be presumed to be serving their own agendas, which in fact they might well be doing.

Egypt... well, I'm trying hard not to laugh at that idea.  Sure, Egypt's got a massive, relatively well-trained military that's currently doing nothing other than cooling its heels and arresting a lot of Bedouins in Sinai.  But we really have no idea how well-trained or competent the Egyptian military is, given that it hasn't actually fought anybody since 1973... and even though the Egyptians think they won that one, that's not generally the consensus elsewhere.

(Also, they're mainly trained by the Americans these days, meaning they'd be using American tactics, and we know how well those have worked out in Iraq.  And I know this idea may shock some people, but they'd also likely be a little less humane than the Americans.)

The Egyptian army is also largely a conscripted force, and I'm not sure Mubarak has the political capital to order an army of draftees to become essentially an occupying force in an increasingly violent Iraq, especially given that the occupation of Iraq is hugely unpopular on the Egyptian street.

Mubarak is already being called a stooge of the Americans by the opposition, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and this would be seen as endangering Egyptian lives while doing America's bidding... never mind that it would involve doing all of this for Iraqis, who are, um, let's just say not well-liked in Egypt.  Sure, he's a dictator who can theoretically do anything he wants, but he's also not stupid, and he realizes there are limits.  And despite the amount of money he takes from the Americans every year, he doesn't actually like them very much himself.

Finally, the notion that Arab troops would be more successful or more welcome than American or European troops just because they're Arab is naive.  Iraqis don't like Egyptians any more than Egyptians like them.  Honestly, a lot of Iraqis don't like anybody very much.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 03:49:22 PM EST
on the list...foreign troops of any sort going into Iraq, not when the ultimate goal is to rid the country of all foreign fighting forces.

Anything on the list you like?

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 04:09:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The disarming and disbanding of armed groups and militias is a fine idea, and if it were done, it would either negate the need for many of the other items or make them much easier to accomplish.

The problem is, how are you going to do it?  Lebanon's Taif accord, singed in 1989, theoretically required the disarming of all militias, and that still hasn't been accomplished after 17 years.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 04:20:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, while I think the idea of a federal Iraq could work, I think every effort should be made to preserve the overall Iraqi state.  The actual fragmenting of Iraq into three (or more) separte nations would only work for the Shia in the South.  And it would be an unmitigated disaster in Baghdad.

Look, even the Kurds realize that an independent Kurdistan, no matter how much they'd like it, would be unviable -- at least if it consists only of the Kurdish regions carved out of Iraq.  (Their real dream would be a Kurdistan including large swathes of Turkey, Iran and Syria.  I've seen their maps.)  And it's that realization that keeps them from actually asking for independence, even if it is what they want.  The leaders know that an independent Kurdistan would last about six and a half seconds before the Turks, Syrians and Iranians would consider it a dire threat to their own national security and territorial integrity.  And everything that might entail....

As for the cantonization of Baghdad... ag, that idea is just so depressing to me, and there are so few Iraqis who really want that.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 04:31:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yesterday, I presented here what it would take to hold Iraq together -- a prolonged American presence, doing even more heavy-handed things to a country that was sick and tired of it.

Suffice to say that set of proposals went over very poorly.

So, today I went the other way. I said: Fine. Get the Americans out of the picture, and just do the utmost to make partitioning and cantonment of Iraq a temporary solution...or generate the fiction of that being the case (sort of like what Israel and Palestine are after thirty years).

Stability might not be probable or possible. Metastability, and armed and uneasy day-to-day truce might be the best it gets for the time being.

I just don't know.

All I know is yesterday no one wanted the Americans involved in Iraq one more second. Perhaps no one should be involved, and the country should be forcibly isolated...which would yet again mean a very powerful military from across the way would feel entitled to participate.

The boogeyman in this, what should keep the Iraqis talking with other Iraqis, is "The Americans are just looking for an excuse to come back."

Hey, whatever works.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 04:45:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the sad truth is that things are so messed up that there is no good solution, of any sort, whether the Americans are there or not.  It's all just degrees of bad.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 04:53:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The boogeyman in this, what should keep the Iraqis talking with other Iraqis, is "The Americans are just looking for an excuse to come back."

Hey, whatever works."

Precisely...  plus fear of even-worse civil war. Replace "America" with "Israel"/"Syria" according to tastes = Lebanese-style "unity-amongst-us-cutthroat-enemies-is-only-means-of-avoiding-more-civil-war-and-thus-keeping-those- hungry-vicious-foreigners-out" healthy xenophobia as stabilization inducement.  

Could work, absolutely classic Macchiavelli-type sentiments+logic and also can't see anything else whatsoever on the horizon that could do the stop-the-carnage job - so here's hoping.

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami

by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 06:38:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fixing Iraq (Americans keep digging)

;-)

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 07:18:09 PM EST
More likely sequence: Americans pull out, civil war, emergence of strongman who brutally subdues everybody he doesn't like, stability.
by asdf on Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 11:40:09 PM EST
You got the order of the first two steps backwards.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 29th, 2006 at 08:34:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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