Thursday, August 03, 2006

Slouching Toward Honesty about Iraq

The situation in Iraq continues to worsen as Shia and Sunni militants resume their age-old game of mutual slaughter in earnest. Tony Blair has been apprised of the dire state of affairs by his outgoing ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, who noted that an outright civil war appears more likely than the establishment of a stable democracy.

The bleak assessment of the country's future was contained in Mr Patey's final e-cable, or diplomatic telegram, from Baghdad.

The distribution list included the UK's prime minister, foreign secretary, defence secretary and House of Commons leader, as well as senior military commanders in both Iraq and the UK.

Mr Patey wrote: "The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy.

"Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq - a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror - must remain in doubt."

Talking about the Shia militias blamed for many killings, Mr Patey added: "If we are to avoid a descent into civil war and anarchy then preventing the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army) from developing into a state within a state, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority."

The cable says that "the next six months are crucial" - an assessment which is shared by the coalition's military commanders.

Of course, the next six months are always crucial in Iraq, which is why everyone from New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, to President Bush to Donald Rumsfeld, has been saying that line ad nauseum it for the past three years. One wishes they would at least change the time frame, just avoid redundancy. The bottom line is that Iraq was a mess before the US invasion and has only become much, much worse since. If the Iraqis don't want to stop killing each other, all the open voting booths in the world won't help. Iraq isn't going to become a semi-functional democracy anytime soon because the Iraqi people are tempermentally and culturally unable to sustain a functioning democratic republic.

US generals, under tough questioning from Congress, have echoed Patey's concerns:

"Sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it," Gen [John] Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee.


Gen Abizaid told the committee the top priority was to secure the Iraqi capital, where the struggle was at a "decisive" stage. "It is clear that the operational and tactical situation in Baghdad is such that it requires additional security forces, both US and Iraqi," he said.

But Gen Abizaid also said he remained optimistic that the Iraqi government and Iraqi forces, with US support, could prevent the slide into civil war.

Gen Abizaid's warning was backed up by Gen Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said ultimately descending into or avoiding civil war depended on the Iraqis.

"Shia and Sunni are going to have to love their children more than they hate each other," Gen Pace said.

Unfortunately, this sappy sounding argument is lost on miltant Sunni and Shia parents. They either think they they are doing God's will by slaughtering each other, in comparison to which, their children's (and Iraqi society's) interests pale; or, by ethnically cleansing the opposing group from their little corner of the world, they think they are advancing their children's future interests. In any event, as the sectarian violence escalates, coalition troops will find themselves caught in the bloody crossfire, reduced to defending their fortified positions as the blood flows in rivers around them.

Fortunately, one Iraqi official has given the US and its allies an out.

On Wednesday, President Jalal Talabani said Iraqi police and troops would be taking the security lead throughout the whole country by the end of the year.

If the Iraqi army can't secure Baghdad today, how can it possibly pacify the entire country in five months? It can't, but at least it gives the US an excuse to pass the baton and withdraw. Ultimately, Iraq will likely split in three directions, probably after a feverish round of ethnic-cleansing between Sunni and Shia. The US-friendly Kurds will establish their own country in the north (which will give the US a base in the region, somewhat making up for the strain an independent Kurdish state will create between Washington and Ankara); the Sunni's will get the less appealing, less oil rich areas of Western Iraq; and the Shias will get the oil rich south and promptly become an Iranian client state. Winner: Iran.