The Unraveling and Unfolding of Iraq
The Kurds want their own state. This is causing the Turks to the North great concern, especially since it appears that Israel—not long ago becoming quite the friend of Turkey—now sees productive political and military groundwork to be laid in a nascent Kurdistan.
The Shi'ites want perhaps not one, but two quasi-states for themselves, constructing as that scenario would the platform from which could eventually be constructed a political/religious span all the way from Iran to Syria.
And obviously, the Sunnis want their own turf, but they're none too thrilled because the only sand remaining for them has little oil under it, which means they would prefer to keep a tighter federation together to enhance their claim on some of the revenues from "Iraqi" oil, which is really Shi'ite Iraqi oil and Kurdish Iraqi oil. That having been said, the Sunnis are in no mood to acquiesce to the currently emerging constitution. In a bizarre coalition, militant Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr has joined some Sunni leaders in saying that Shias and Sunnis alike will reject the constitution at its referendum in October, setting the stage for a major setback to hopes of political stability imposed by a statutory framework outside of religious law, rule of strongmen, and force of foreign arms.
Here's the upshot: if the coalition abandons Iraq, then the Shi'ites and the Kurds can get what they want, and the Sunnis will end up losing some of the primary sources for their on-going machinery of mayhem. Although the insurgency is internally complex and not monolithic by any means, a major cluster of provisionalism and murder arises from men who are Sunni Muslim by religion and Baathist by political affiliation. They still have plenty of weapons to keep causing trouble for years to come, but the primary pumps of weapons coming from Jordan, Syria, Iran, and other points all around the compass would dry up. Specifically, Syria and Iranneither or which are "state sponsors" of the insurgency in Iraq, but both of which have borders like sieveswould move swiftly to bind strong alliance to the Shi'ites. In a recent visit to Iraq, the Vice President of Iran said, "We consider Iraq as our brother." A statement referencing kinship carries all kinds of subtext in the Middle East, and the reference to ties likened to blood means the contemplation of lasting, binding effect to a degree and depth perhaps not fully understood among American planners with their own ideas of what alliances are to come of Iraq's new nationhood. The point was not missed by the Sunnis, however: as the Los Angeles Times reports, "Sunnis fear that the federalism... is a trick to give Iran de facto control over the south."
But nationhood in the sense of an enduring Iraq like the one propped up by the West for so many decades might not be in the cards. If the nation-state that was once Iraq comes apart, there may be much wringing of hands not just in Washington, but also in Europe. This Euro-American gnashing of teeth notwithstanding, a disassembled Iraq would be more stable, and the payoff to the West would be less likelihood of and reason for repeated and protracted military forays into a land that has been the graveyard for many a soldier of Caucasian empires over the centuries. But the old idea of threshold size and composition for a viable state still lives in the minds of Western geo-strategists, even though that model has no empirical underpinnings when it comes to the Middle East: quite stable nations of all sizes and populations exist literally right next to one another, many of them Western creations, but many of them based upon older borders merely certified by colonialists. The nation known to current generations as Iraq was laid over a tapestry of disparate tribes, religious affiliations, and even resource distributions; and to keep it together, the West had to go from propping up one brutish puppet to another, ruling the land as each did with an iron fist.
Allowing Iraq to devolve would benefit many in that land: a major bloc in the return of a Shi'ite Caliphate would lay out from Iran to Syria; the Kurds would get a nation that could serve as the northern shard of a sorry excuse for a buffer on the Caliphate spreading to the North; and the Sunnis would be most unhappy, having rejected a nation-building constitution only to be left with the scraps of the broken state: they'd have to settle for getting what weaponry they could from resources like al-Qa'ida, the hard-core terrorist matrix that took advantage of the anarchy of the Coalition occupation to turn parts of Iraq into training grounds for their regional missions of murder. The good news, though, is that the terrorists, themselves, would be boxed in to an extent far greater than they are now, given the way they're currently shuttling fighters from Iraq into Jordan and the Gaza Strip like there's not even a border. The map at left depicts the demographic structure of Iraq right now and, at least to some extent, hints at the way Iraq could be disassembled in a controlled shatter. The part where moderate Middle Eastern concerns come into play is in how the Sunnis, occupying the western deserts (the dark yellow area of the map) would be contained, given that they would much prefer not to have this scenario at all, and given that they would not have great incentive to assist in stabilizing the region. A close look at the map points to a perhaps grim but nontheless possible way the borders among the new Shi'ite (light purple), Sunni, and Kurdish (blue) states would go together.
The sparse population of the western Iraqi desert manifestly shows the weakness of the Sunni position. All the Shi'ites would need is a defensible corridor, possibly arcing up along the ethnically mixed region (the red area of the map) that separates the Kurdish area of the North from the Sunni region in the center. The Kurds and the Turkmen might or might not be opposed to this; certainly, anything that would give them a buffer from the Sunni Arabs could be sold as a security measure, and the Shi'ites as well as the Kurds would be quite diligent in keeping them from setting foot in the corridor.
The real showstopper would be Baghdad, itself. The place is a mess, and whoever gets it would have the worst of mixed blessings: a very modern city, wrecked in large parts though it is; ethnically diverse; politically, religiously, and culturally divided along all kinds of lines. The Shi'ites would be hard-pressed to yield it to the Sunnis, and the Sunnis would have a hard time thinking of anything as desirable in exchange. As such, Baghdad becomes in this scenario the 21st Century Jerusalem.
No one would argue that the break-up would come without blood. In fact, it might even require a full-scale civil war to establish what would otherwise be the inevitable cleaving of Iraq into smaller, far more stable constituent nation-states.
Right now, there is not a "civil war" in the sense of the American version nearly a century-and-a-half ago: the War Between the States involved a breakaway republic and a long-standing, legitimate federal authority. In Iraq, the federal authority is neither long-standing nor legitimate; neither is it in any way capable of projecting armed conflict onto a battlefield against its opponents to reel them back into a nation ruled by law underpinned by a powerful and broadly recogized federal constitution. Furthermore, there is no break-away republic in Iraq: nothing exists but factional interests and a putative "federal" power dominated by one of those factional interests.
In fact, the term "civil war" in Iraq is better cast as "regional war": the Sunni Arabs are deploying forces in a guerilla conflict; the Kurds have their own loose confederation of provisional paramilitary groups, some of which operate in conjunction with the American-backed, "federal" government; and the Shi'ites are internally factionalized, with some aligning to their majority position in the federal government, with others like Moqtada al-Sadr mustering their own provisional troops as in the case of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
There is, then, no civil war unless one wants to hold that there is a legitimate and viable entity called "Iraq," which arguably there is not; and there never has been because the republic was artificially constructed by Western interests, and its rulers imposed binding control through unspeakable force against the people under that illegitimate rule. To fall back to the position that the United Nations and the constituent nations of the world recognized the nation of Iraq is entirely specious: the same recognition of an entirely different Iraq of four years ago belies a tendency on the part of nations the world over to accept into their ranks nominal entities, regardless of the origins and legitimacy thereof, so long as they are certified by one or more members of the league of large and powerful countries.
That the U.S. finally decided to rid itself of the last dictatorial proxy when he no longer accepted his role as a bully puppet of the West, and specifically of the United States, means the United States now must face the long-term devolution of Iraq to a more sustainable, viable configuration of republics, none of which are going to be much to mainstream American liking, given that those new republics will pursue their own interests without regard to what the Americans want or need.
This means that, one way or the other, with or without years of lost American lives, Iraq will unfold into something other than what the United States, Great Britain, and certain other European and Asian nations desire. And the longer the Coalition stays, the more that unfolding will look like an unraveling, and the more the violence of nation-building will have the appearance of the madness of civil war.
But one thing is certain: all of this would happen without the Americans there. More tragically, something like this will probably happen to a greater or lesser extent with the Americans there.
If this be the case, then the United States is serving now as the unneeded sideshow, important though it might believe it is as it fills up Arlington National Cemetery with its citizens' contribution to the Save Iraq from Itself Foundation. In the end, though, its irrelevance will come shining through as events outpace ill-conceived neo-conservative strategies. The time frame in which this irrelevance dawns upon Washington will determine how many more of those soldiers' graves will be filled.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
This article is based upon "One of Many: Iraq Unraveling, Iraq Unfolding," written by the author and published at The UnCapitalist Journal.