Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is Iraq a Lost Cause?

Baghdad is falling apart, we have no credible plan to bring it under control (where are we getting these troops from exactly?) and some in the Iraqi government think the division of Iraq into ethnic enclaves has already begun:

"Iraq as a political project is finished," a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: "The parties have moved to plan B." He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. "There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into [Shia] east and [Sunni] west," he said.

Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, told The Independent in an interview, before joining Mr Maliki to fly to London and then Washington, that in theory the government should be able to solve the crisis because Shia, Kurd and Sunni were elected members of it.

But he painted a picture of a deeply divided administration in which senior Sunni members praised anti-government insurgents as "the heroic resistance".

If we had many visitors to this blog that were in favor of withdrawal ASAP, I would probably have been roasted many times over for continuing to advocate that we stay in Iraq. But it's coming to the point where our troops can't even secure peace in Baghdad and if that continues, there's really no point in staying anymore; we'd just be slowing down a war that apparently must be fought for Iraq to work itself out.

Peter Galbraith says in today's NY Times that if we're unwilling to do what it takes to keep Iraq together, then it's
time to come home:

For the United States to contain the civil war, we would have to deploy more troops and accept a casualty rate many times the current level as our forces changed their mission from a support role to intensive police duties. The American people would not support such an expanded mission, and the Bush administration has no desire to undertake it.

The administration, then, must match its goals in Iraq to the resources it is prepared to deploy. Since it cannot unify Iraq or stop the civil war, it should work with the regions that have emerged. Where no purpose is served by a continuing military presence — in the Shiite south and in Baghdad — America and its allies should withdraw.

...Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists.

And so our grand plan of creating a "beachhead" of democracy in the Middle East (or really, securing influence and oil) comes down to this; a rapid-reaction force to hunt for terrorists in a country that didn't have any terrorists that threatened us before we invaded. What can I say? Sometimes you jack things up so bad that the best you can do is say "sorry", hang your head, and walk away.


mikevotes said...

A partition may be one solution, but if that is the road we're going down, we may have some very dark days ahead as we push through the phases of ethnic cleansing followed by open warfare to contest the new factional boundaries.

The oil center Kirkuk, for example has substantial Sunni and Kurd populations and both sides have a claim on the city. If there is a fracture into partitions, will either side just let those oil reserves go?


Bukko_in_Australia said...

If you look at the Big Historical Picture (caps added for extra pomposity) doesn't this venture seem like the Crusades? Not just Iraq, but Israel too.

Iraq: Invader meets resistance in the countryside, pulls soldiers back to the fortified castle. U.S. shifts troops back to Baghdad, especially the Green Zone, which is a modern-day equivalent of a castle. The "shifting troops" actually means giving up control of the countryside to the insurgents. Like mounted knights in armour (practising my Aussie spelling) riding against sword-weilding peasants on foot, U.S. troops in tanks and helos can go out for punitive missions to raze towns such as Falluja and Ramadi, but they cannot hold them. Same thing happened in the Crusades, when Europeans at first controlled swaths of ground from Constantinople to Babylon to Sinai, but were slowly rolled back.

The Crusaders controlled the ultimate prize, Jerusalem, for decades. But they were eventually weakened by their own internal factors and the growing strength and sophistication of the locals, especially Saladin. This all played out over hundreds of years. But eventually, Westerners were driven out of the Middle East, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives in grotesque, swords hacking off chunks of peoples' bodies sorts of ways. We may live long enough to see this happening to Israel, although they have the ultimate trump card of being able to blow up the entire region with nuclear weapons.

Obviously, there are differences in the specifics to Frankish Crusaders vs. Israelis and Americans. But broad currents of history and human behaviour tend to repeat themselves. I see the same sweep playing out again, which is a damn shame because the human race should be able to prevent it. Medieval rubes with no education might be faulted for acting in ignorance, but we have no excuse. And the Westerners could have hung onto the Holy Land in the 1100s if they hadn't been so pig-headed. Same for now, but I don't see modern nations acting any more wisely.

Speaking of wise, you men should pick up "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Crusades." I read it back in 2003. Not as stupid as the title sounds. Humourous, like all those Idiot's Guides are, and broken into little sections so it's perfect for reading in the loo. I love being able to educate myself when I'm just sitting around with my hands free

Xanthippas said...


I agree completely with your assessment. If partition is the answer, then no matter how peacefully they try to go about it there's bound to be incredible bloodshood and ethnic cleansing, especially as all sides attempt to lay claim to divided resources. Certainly the Sunnis will fight being relegated to the relatively resource poor center of the country.


I definitely get behind people who like to think about the "big picture." I would say that unfortunately, many Arabs probably see it in the same terms. Those who are suffering from a lowered status in the world, or outright oppression, tend to remember all oppression they've experienced throughout their history, and we'd be fools not to think that many Iraqis refer to the crusades and our occupation of Iraq in the same breath. I will say this for the Crusaders...they will have managed to hang onto their territory longer than we have.