There have been plenty of scenarios of where Iraq will be five years from now. The fantasists, the Bush/Cheney camp and their deluded followers, predict it will be a vibrant, healthy, very pro-Washington nation - sort of like pre-Kuwait invasion Iraq sans Saddam. The pessimists believe it will be little more than a state of anarchy, a hotbed of sectarian violence and a breeding ground for global Islamist terrorism. Others, perhaps the realists, believe Iraq won't be.
No more Iraq? What then?
Just how does Iraq end? The first thing to understand is that the seeds of Iraq's dissolution were planted in the wake of Desert Storm. Now, despite claims to the contrary, the new Iraq is burdened with a constitution that has been booby-trapped to permit but one outcome. It is a result that's been waiting to happen since Bush I pushed Saddam out of Iraq. Read on and I think you won't have much trouble understanding what's to come.
The most likely answer is three states. Kurdistan in the north. A Sunni Arab state in the middle and a Shia Arab state in the south. North and south get fabulous oil wealth. The Sunni middle gets the shaft.
An outsider who is probably as knowledgeable as anyone is Peter Galbraith, son of Canadian-born economist John Kenneth, and a foreign policy wonk who has been intimately involved with the northern Kurdish state for years. Peter G. sees the writing on the wall. He ought to, some of it is in his very own hand. At the end of the day, he says it will be constitutional democracy that eliminates any prospect of a unified Iraq:
Iraq's government has not met one of the benchmarks and, with the exception of the revenue-sharing law, most are unlikely to happen. But even if they were all enacted, it would not help. Provincial elections will make Iraq less governable, while the process of constitutional revision could break the country apart.
Iraq's mainstream Shi'ite leaders resist holding new provincial elections because they know what such elections are likely to bring. Because the Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 elections, they do not control the northern governorate, or province, of Nineveh, in which there is a Sunni majority, and they are not represented in governorates with mixed populations, such as Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. New elections would, it is argued, give Sunnis a greater voice in the places where they live, and the Shi'ites say they do not have a problem with this, although just how they would treat the militant Sunnis who would be elected is far from clear. The Kurds reluctantly accept new elections in the Sunni governorates even though it means they would lose control of Nineveh and have a much-reduced presence in Diyala.
The US benchmark of holding provincial elections would also require new elections in southern Iraq and Baghdad. If they were held, Hakim's Shi'ite party, the SIIC, which now controls seven of the nine southern governorates, would certainly lose ground to Muqtada al-Sadr. His main base is in Baghdad, and new elections would almost certainly leave his followers in control of Baghdad governorate, with one-quarter of Iraq's population. Iraq's decentralized constitution gives the governorates enormous powers and significant shares of the national budget, if they choose to exercise these powers.
New local elections are not required until 2009, and it is hard to see how early elections strengthening Muqtada, who is hostile to the United States and appears to have close ties to Iran, serve US interests. But this is precisely what the Bush administration is pushing for and Congress seems to want.
Constitutional revision is the most significant benchmark, and it could break Iraq apart. Iraq's constitution, approved by 79% of voters in an October 2005 referendum, is the product of a Kurdish-Shi'ite deal: the Kurds supported the establishment of a Shi'ite-led government in exchange for Shi'ite support for a confederal arrangement in which Kurdistan and other regions, such as the one the SIIC hopes to set up in the south, are virtually independent.
Since there is no common ground among the Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis on any significant constitutional changes in favor of the Sunnis, such changes must come at the expense of the Kurds or Shi'ites. Since voters in these communities have a veto on any constitutional amendments, they are certain to fail in a referendum. A revised constitution has no chance of being enacted, but its failure will exacerbate tensions among Iraq's three groups.
When the constitution finally emerged in its present form, then-US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad brokered a deal with several Sunni leaders whereby, in exchange for Sunni support for ratification, there would be a fast-track process to revise the constitution in the months following ratification to meet Sunni concerns. Like the Bush administration, the Sunnis want a more centralized state. While the US insists that constitutional revision is a moral obligation, the Sunnis actually never lived up to their end of the bargain. Almost unanimously, they voted against ratification of the current constitution.
With input from the UN (belatedly brought back into the process last year), the Iraqi Parliament's mainly Arab Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) is considering amendments that would strip Kurdistan of many of its powers, including its right to cancel federal laws, to decide on taxes applicable in its own territory, and to control its own oil and water. The Sunni Arabs would also like Iraq declared an Arab state, a measure the non-Arab Kurds consider racist and exclusionary.
Thanks to Khalilzad's expedited procedures, constitutional revision may be the final wedge between Kurdistan and Arab Iraq. If approved by the CRC, the constitutional amendments will be subject to a vote in Parliament as a single package and then to a nationwide referendum. Kurdistan's voters are certain to reject the proposed package (or any package affecting Kurdistan's powers), and this could push tense Sunni-Kurdish relations into open conflict. Kurdish non-governmental organizations, who ran a 2005 independence referendum, are poised to make a "No" campaign on constitutional revision a "No to Iraq" vote. In its July 12 report to Congress, the White House graded the CRC's work as "satisfactory", an evaluation that was either grossly dishonest or, more likely, out of touch with Iraqi reality.
For the most part, Iraq's leaders are not personally stubborn or uncooperative. They find it impossible to reach agreement on the benchmarks because their constituents don't agree on any common vision for Iraq. The Shi'ites voted twice in 2005 for parties that seek to define Iraq as a Shi'ite state. By their boycotts and votes, the Sunni Arabs have almost unanimously rejected the Shi'ite vision of Iraq's future, including the new constitution. The Kurds envisage an Iraq that does not include them. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, 99% of them voted for Kurdish nationalist parties, and in the January 2005 referendum, 98% voted for an independent Kurdistan.
America's war in Iraq is lost. Of course, neither President Bush nor the war's intellectual architects are prepared to admit this. Nonetheless, the specter of defeat shapes their thinking in telling ways.
The case for the war is no longer defined by the benefits of winning - a stable Iraq, democracy on the march in the Middle East, the collapse of the evil Iranian and Syrian regimes - but by the consequences of defeat. As Bush put it, "The consequences of failure in Iraq would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America."
Tellingly, the Iraq war's intellectual boosters, while insisting that the "surge" is working, are moving to assign blame for defeat. And they have already picked their target: the American people.
...there will be no Saigon moment in Iraq. Iraq's Shi'ite-led government is in no danger of losing the civil war to al-Qaeda, or a more inclusive Sunni front. Iraq's Shi'ites are three times as numerous as Iraq's Sunni Arabs; they dominate Iraq's military and police and have a powerful ally in neighboring Iran. The Arab states that might support the Sunnis are small, are far away (vast deserts separate the inhabited parts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia from the main Iraqi population centers), and can only provide money, something the insurgency has in great amounts already.
Iraq after a US defeat will look very much like Iraq today - a land divided along ethnic lines into Arab and Kurdish states with a civil war being fought within its Arab part. Defeat is defined by America's failure to accomplish its objective of a self-sustaining, democratic and unified Iraq. And that failure has already taken place, along with the increase of Iranian power in the region.
My earlier posts go into some detail about Peter Galbraith and his involvement in Iraq, particularly Kurdistan. Galbraith, in fact, has been instrumental in steering the political reality that virtually dooms Iraq - the Kurdish constitution. The background is in the posts listed below.
Previous posts on this subject:
The Other Civil War - October 28
Are The Kurds Ready to Bolt - October 7
Definitely Not Oprah's Book Club - 3rd Ed., September 17