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13 March 2006 -- What a difference a week can make. Additional information: the low-level ethnic cleansing conducted by Shiites (many trained by the US) before the mosque attack; Al Sistani's directive that Shiite shrines and personalities be guarded by tribal militias; the fact that 87% of all Iraqis want the US to leave; the fact that nearly half of all Iraqis now support attacks on US personnel, all add up to a tipping point toward civil war. Only the Kurds seem to have played it smart. See Addendum.

6 March 2006 -- Iraq is floundering; the Sunni Triangle is generating most of the overt terror, and it is escalating. Al-Zarqawi, leading al Qa'ida in Iraq, is stoking the fires of civil unrest at every opportunity. Iraq's future is gloomy. It doesn't have to be this way. It is just that the psycho-history of the region points in that direction. To be sure, the Administration has applied the lessons from Vietnam. The trouble is, while similar politically at home, Vietnam is a very poor template for Iraq.

For example:
Ambience Cold WarTerror
Basic Issue Governance Survival
Definition Clear Diffuse
Ending Reconciliation Model or Genocide?
Ethnicity Homogeneous Triad
Key to future Congress Shiites, Sunnis and al Qa'ida
Overtone Communism Religion
Type Maoist Communal
War Focus Cold War Diffuse Terrorism

In Vietnam it was a single ethnic group torn between the intrigues of the Cold War. In Iraq, three antagonistic ethnic groups were thrown together after WWI. Each has a long history of conflict with each of the others; old scores still fester; civil war is in the offing unless influential heads on all sides can cool it. That includes Zarqawi. We see little chance even though we are hopeful.

While we have been against war in Iraq from the start, now that we are there, we believe we still have a responsibility to leave Iraq in the best shape we can. We believe there are ways to do that, but they will take patience on the part of the Administration and on the part of Congress as representatives of an increasingly restless US electorate. Ultimately, the American people may have to decide the fate of Iraq. We went into Iraq with false pretenses, and we have been floundering ever since.

22 February 2006 may become a red-letter day in Iraqi history. An important Shi'ite shrine in Samarra was bombed. Iraq seems headed toward civil war with escalating violence stemming from both Sunni and Shiite. This trend must be halted and fast if a general civil war is to be avoided. Can it be, given that Iraqi security forces are still not up the task and US forces are inadequate in number to secure all places all the time?

Nevertheless, from here, if American voters can see steady improvement with peace at the end of the tunnel, they can be patient, as they were throughout the Cold War. Time is running out, however. If things continue to worsen this year and next, the Administration may have to withdraw unilaterally, as hard as that is for the Neocons to imagine -- much less accept. Leaving behind an unstable Iraq is to invite genocide complete with the danger of interventions by neighbors with unknown consequences for the world.

Given that gruesome eventuality, we believe several things must happen fast to achieve a stable Iraq:

  • Focus on getting the Shias, Kurds, and Sunnis into dialogue where mutual trust develops and is enshrined in a constitution that serves as a common anchor and rallying point for all Iraqis. Security sufficient to do that is still lacking. Iraqi security did nothing to stop or resolve the mosque bombings in Bagdad; perhaps they could not.
  • A feeling of safety must develop, and be recognized, actually felt by each ethnic group in the Iraqi populace. Again security seems lacking.
  • Sunni leadership must emerge that is effective and cooperative in dealing with their future. Most critically, this group must be able to do two things, eliminate the violence originating in their sphere and at the same time instill a feeling of safety in all their fellow Sunnis. Here, the legacy of Hussein casts a long shadow and security is again a question.
  • Adroit diplomacy on the part of all concerned must occur. Anything less could degenerate into genocide that could make Hussein look pretty good by comparison.
  • All parties must realize the magnitude of the stakes. Eventualities range somewhere from peaceful co-existance to another police state with losing group or groups having the sword of Damocles hanging over head or heads. Genocide and wider area involvement are possible.

The US role will be most critical since only we have the "guns" to make it work. Guns alone are not sufficient, however. Our guns do not even provide security!

Are we capable of the adroit diplomacy needed to bring three such ancient enemies together as one?
Do we have the wisdom to win hearts and minds?

It appears not, even as our native optimism hopes all parties find the wisdom to form a truly integrated state in Iraq. If integration happens, Iraq could become a future model for international conflict resolution. If not, it will be history with business as usual where a two- or three-sided civil war could fracture the nation along ethinc lines, inviting intervention by its ethnic neighbors with stakes in the game. At this juncture, it is not at all certain that any governance short of another Hussein can bring peace and quiet to the streets of Iraq. But we can still hope for the best. That key, if there is one, lies on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This blog was inspired by Stephen Biddle's article in Mar / Apr '06 issue of "Foreign Affairs."


Ways out of this mess are still evident. They sacrifice the lofty goals Condaleeza Rice stated so eloquently, that Islamic nations would embrace democracy in a blink, if given the chance. That process will now take awhile, a long long while in the face of emboldened terrorists, strengthened jihadis, and huge loss of credibility of democracy.

"Limit our losses" is not in the Neocon lexicon, but that is about all we can do. We can no longer even do that alone, and not at all if other interested nations decide to cut their losses short. Still there are humanistic reasons to try. With international help, a broader conflict could be avoided. A partitioned Iraq may well be the only feasible solution for the short term. Such an eventuality is counter to long-range hopes for peace where ethnic integration must happen. To segregate societies is not the way to go for permanent peace.

Iraq is a foreign-policy fiasco, just like Vietnam.
As it is:
We are chasing tigers,
and there are always more tigers.

The litany of mistakes are well illuminated elsewhere. To synopsize the major ones:
  • False pretenses for invading Iraq.
  • Allowing anarchy to take over the moment Hussein fell.
  • Fostering conditions leading to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
  • Failing to bring security to the populace.
    • Some 40,000 Iraqis died from combat or terror.
    • 110,000 Iraqis died from war-related causes.
  • Promises to restore pre-war quality of life not kept.

At home, the above mistakes are matched by:
  • 2500 war dead and counting,
  • $350 billion direct expense and a trillion plus dollars indirect cost both still counting, and
  • propaganda that hid the cost and historical risks of hiding such a venture from the American people.


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