Saturday, September 16, 2006

The US choosing an outcome for Iraq

The situation in Iraq will stabilize one way or another. What will the world be left with? Here are the possiblities:

1 - Anti-US stable unified country
The US probably could accomplish this in less than 1 year. This would be perceived as, depending on negotiations, between sub-optimal and bad for the Kurds. Of the other groups, it would be considered good if not optimal for the Shiites and nearly optimal for the Sunnis. Among outsiders it would be the fulfillment of a strategic fantasy for Iran, maybe the best possible case for Syria, the best possible case for Turkey tolerable at worst for the Saudis and a strategic complete defeat and nightmare for the US and Israel.

Accomplishing this scenario requires negotiations with the Kurds, but with the understanding that the Kurds' alternative is to be left alone to fight Turkey, Iran, Syria, the Sunnis and the Shiites. With that understanding the Kurds would be quite reasonable. The Shiites are honor-bound to ask for what the Kurds get, but that can be reasonable, not necessarily a partition of any kind.

The Iraqi parliament would end up with sovereignty over the entire country and, as is well known, would have Iran as its friendliest neighbor. The Iraqi parliament would not tolerate a US presence even in Kurdistan. Iran would be relatively free to use Iraqi companies to avoid sanctions, and would be able to reach Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by land and would have safe overflight - which would make it easier to give cash and supplies to, for example Hezbollah and Hamas and to connect with groups in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Saudi Arabia would likely come to an accomodation with Iran and begin weaning itself out of the pro-US camp.

The US and Israel cannot tolerate this scenario, though US official policy is essentially to advocate this scenario. If it was possible in the Middle East to further discredit US attempts to associate itself with democracy and any ideals other than support for Israel, the US would be so discrediting its ideals here.

This scenario is impossible - but only because the US has the will and ability to prevent it. If the US was willing to tolerate an anti-US but stable and democratic Iraq (and again, I understand that it is not) then this would be both the easiest and least bloody outcome to reach.

Other than Al-Qaeda, the United States and Israel, there are no parties in the Middle East that would consider this outcome a defeat.

2 - Pro-US stable unified country
The dream scenario for the US. Iran has a veto over this scenario, as do the Shiites and the Sunnis. Syria would also have to cooperate which it will not.

Iraq's voters, by rejecting Chalabi and Allawi have clearly said they oppose this outcome. There is no way at this point to reconcile this outcome with any semblance of democracy. The voters of Iraq do not have a veto over this scenario, but by voting against it, they have removed any moral support it could have.

The concern of those who oppose this scenario is that the US will try to implement it through a coup. Until that concern is addressed, by a US commitment to leave, all armed groups in Iraq will remain armed and all funders and supporters of Iraq's armed groups inside and outside of Iraq will continue to fund and support them.

It is commonly understood that this preferred outcome of the US can only be accomplished by a coup. The insurgency and militias as non-official military forces are the only thing that prevents the US-loyal army from turning against Iraq's voters, a la Algeria. Voluntarily disarming any of the unofficial armed groups while the US still controls the Iraqi army and plans to control it indefinitely cannot happen. If the US holds out the possibility of a prolonged occupation such as that of South Korea where the US ultimately commands both armies, there will be no voluntary disarmament of the non-official military forces.

When Khalizad and the US media speak of the "need" to disarm the militias I am forced to ask: "Are they joking?" Nobody but the US will see that "need" until they have a commitment that the US will leave.

The US strategy for reaching this scenario then is to outlast the Iraqis. The US has to really defeat all of the other militias and then it will be able to sponsor its coup and get its pro-US stable unified Iraq. It can even then order supervised elections without bothersome Iran-supported political parties and with Sistani out of politics. So there can be a pro-US, stable, unified, "democratic" Iraq. There are a lot of forces stacked against this outcome, including will of the majority of Iraqis.

With the amount of troops the US is able to devote to this, it is unlikely that this scenario can take hold.

3 - Divided Iraq - Two parts - US gets Kurdistan
The main obstacle to this scenario is the Shiites. Every moral and practical reason for the Kurds to leave Iraq is just as valid a reason for the Shiites to leave. The position that the size of confederations should be set at a maximum of 4 provinces is no different from a position that only ethnic groups whose name starts with "K" can form confederations. The Shiites are not going to buy it.

This is not a nightmare scenario for Iran by any means. Iran would still have the rich part of the country that has gulf access as its friend. Iran is probably pretty confident that it could reach an agreement with the Sunnis to "jointly" support Hezbollah and Hamas. A Kirkuk-Haifa pipeline would have to pass through Anbar. That is not going to happen whether Sadr, Hakim or Hussein loyalists make the decision.

The landlocked US forces in Kurdistan would be less vulnerable to Iranian reprisals for any strike but the Saudi oil installations would be more vulnerable. Pretty good trade for Iran.

This is a nightmare scenario for Turkey - a situation that in the long term has a high probability of breaking Turkey apart and will at minimum vastly worsen Turkey's Kurdish terrorism problem.

This is not a good scenario for the US, but I wonder if the US thinks it is. This scenario would result in fighting over Kirkuk and Turkey may enter more vehemently than it has so far. Iran and Turkey will certainly jointly act against Kurdish rebels. The US can only hope this cooperation does not begin to extend to other areas. And it better do some good hoping because very few things are as strategically detrimental to Turkey in the long term as a wealthy Kurdistan that supports the Kurds in Turkey.

4 - Divided Iraq - Three parts - Somehow done peacefully
If the Kurds get their own slice of Iraq, with oil, then the Shiites are not going to share with the Sunnis. Iran doesn't care either way. Sadr, in Baghdad with the Sunnis and without his own oil does not want a division. Hakim, far from the Sunnis with his own oil would be richer without the Sunnis and the Sunnis can have Sadr too for all Hakim cares.

If there is going to be a split, and Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, has anything to say, the Shiites will get the exact same deal the Kurds get.

The problem is that Kirkuk and Baghdad have to be divided. I imagine it is possible to sit down and negotiate this. The Sunnis and Sadr oppose it on principle and would have to be compensated. But they still will not disarm voluntarily unless they have assurances that the US is leaving. If the US continues to refuse to provide those assurances dividing those cities in the midst of armed militias is much more difficult if not impossible.

Iran, still would be perfectly happy with this. Both the Sunni and Shiite sections are reliable anti-US countries. Iran would be still able to ship by ground to Syria, still able to stop any pipelines to Israel.

The Kurds would have as neighbors, Iran, Sunni Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Any US commitment to the Kurds could get very expensive to fulfill, and everybody would know it, including the Kurds and the US.

The Arab world would be livid at the dismemberment of an Arab country. They would blame the US and say it was done for the strategic benefit of Israel. Let's not be too quick to cry anti-semitism. Israeli thinkers have publically called for the breakup of Arab states to reduce the threat they pose to Israel. Serious thinkers in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would ask "are we next?" The US would hope that those countries do not go to China, Russia and Iran asking for assurances against any possible US plans against them.

5 - Civil War - Iraq may end up intact or may not
The good news for the US is that it gets to stay until the war is over if it wants. The bad news is that in the meantime US soldiers will be dying and eventually it will be all over, and everyone involved will still be at least as anti-US as they are now.

As long as the US is there, there are no ground shipments from Iran to Syria and it is a little more difficult than it will be after the US leaves for Iran to reach Iraq's other neighbors. The US can put itself in charge of enforcing any UN sanctions against Iran, if they actually happen.

The best news for the US is that in this scenario Iraq is a disintegrating anti-US state, instead of a developing anti-US state. There is a solid argument that this is the best possible scenario for the US that the US can actually accomplish. Khalizad is far too smart not to know that the US is guaranteeing this scenario by refusing to tell the Iraqis that the US will be completely unable to interfere in Iraq's military by a committed time.

This is not a terrible scenario for Iran. As long as the US troops are there, Iran can threaten to kill more if Iran are attacked. Influencing Iraq's neighbors is a slower process for Iran, but Iran has plenty of time. Meanwhile the chaos in Iraq is a public relations gift to Iran that keeps on giving.

Turkey can live with this as long as it believes in the end there will not be an independent Kurdistan.

This scenario gives Syria leverage with the US and validates its anti-Western orientation.

The US allies, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are all disappointed that the US didn't choose one of the less bloody options. Eventually that disappointment will contribute to one of the allies renouncing the alliance, but that is far in the future. In the meantime, this just exacerbates the gap between these countries and their populations.

This is the worst scenario by far for the people of Iraq.

Conclusion:
The US is on some level deliberately forcing all of the Iraq-related actors to choose between a civil war or a situation where the US is able to enforce pro-US policies in Iraq by an Algeria-style coup if necessary.

Given the choice between civil war now or submit to the US in order to postpone a possible later civil war - in this situation where the decision has to be made by the armed militias themselves - I expect many of the actors to choose civil war now.

The Iraqis are not going any where. It is impossible to outlast them. Eventually the US will leave and maybe ten years from now, the Iraqis will get the anti-US, pro-Iran government they elected in 2005.

1 comment:

Laurila said...

The idea that Iraq (outside of a maybe indepent Kurdistan) could become "pro-US" doesn't seem very realist. Beside being rather late, after far too much chock and awe and far too little security and rebuilding, it would even before that have cost both patience, much money and foreign policy adjustments, none of which seem likely to be expected from the U.S.; Although the money that had had to be given away to a pro-US Iraq in waiting would be only a small faction of what the invasion and occupation has ammounted to, and not be principially different from the post-WWII support to West-Germany.

But is really Iran and/or Syria a threat comparable with the Soviet Union, that could give the U.S. Congress incentive to open the purse?

No, if we are to remain realist, what can be achieved given the expected American stinginess is a US-supported regime, i.e. a repressive more or less fascist dictator that rules by fear, intimidation and terror, and in the end becomes an international paria and gets deposed by an ever more discontent people.

Hence, I really wonder if the goal to insert a pro-US government in Iraq isn't to shoot oneself in the foot.

Personally, I would opt for retracting U.S. forces to Kurdistan, and thread very carefully not to make the Kurds too disappointed.

It could be seen, or at least advocated, as a way to ensure Turkey's territorial integrity and security.

And it would mean that the U.S. retain the option to re-entry into the rest of Iraq, for instance to act against too flagrant ethnic cleansing.