Sunday, August 14, 2005

Iraq In Three Parts

The news is out that the constitution of Iraq is on the verge of being presented to the public for referendum, but there are several issues that have not been resolved to the satisfaction of many.

The question o0f Federalism. The issue of Islam in the constitution. The guarantee of women's rights. The distribution of oil revenues. Of course, there is the issue of repatriation of Kurds and Shia's that were displaced in Saddam's attempt to "Arabize" Iraq. Mosul and Kirkuk are just two cities that come to mind. Likely, there are many more areas of concern.

Every time someone announces that there is a deal struck on any of these subjects, a member of the committee or some other leader of an interested organization steps forward and says that there is not deal and they plan to hold firm to their original demands.

Much of this is political maneuvering; a way to leverage the situation as much as they can. The rules of negotiation say that you can always negotiate down, but you can never negotiate up. For "novices", these entities have those rules down pat and tend to use them fully and freely.

The Kurds have made no secret of their demands for a federal state. Whether they invisioned a three state country is questionable. During Saddam's reign, neither the Kurds nor the Shia really saw much in the way of revenue or improvements to infrastructure. After the '91 uprising of the Shia, things certainly didn't get better.. Saddam controlled the oil and had Ba'athist running all over the area. People were still being picked up and interred in mass graves, they just weren't being gunned down by air gunships as they were in '91 before the no fly zones came into effect.

At the same time, the Iranians were making road ways into Najaf, Basra and every small town in between, having hosted exiled Shia clerics, families persecuted for no reason other than being Shia and other Shia notables who had fallen afoul of the regime. It was tit for tat since Saddam was hosting a Sunni Islamist terrorist group who were more than willing to stay in Iraq and cross over to harrass the Iranians.

But, it's been the Iranian supported groups that have out survived Saddam and they are very active in the political life of Iraq. The only question is whether they feel they are Iraqis with loyalty and cause for Iraq or if they are strictly Shia who find their religion based in Qom (instead of Najaf with Sistani) and their politics in Tehran. There is much more than religious attachment here, though. Like all good stories about godfathers, there is always time to pay the piper and the Shia owe Iran much. Not just for exiled lives and religion, but for millions of dollars spent supporting these groups, both in Iran and in their political aspirations in the new Iraq.

Throw in the prospect of making big money from blackmarket oil deals, pilgrimages to holy shrines and all other goods coming into the ports of Iraq and you have the equivelant of Al Capone's Chicago, smack in the middle of the desert. Just like Capone, these members wouldn't want to see Basra and the south become a legal, law abiding part of Iraq anymore than Al would have enjoyed the repeal of prohibition.

While the Shia religious parties pretend to be pious during the day, checking women's skirt lengths, smashing alcohol and music stores and murdering women for alleged misconduct, underneath it all, the blackmarket continues to bring in goods which the Shia parties are all too willing to take their cut. And don't imagine that all of the murders of policemen and other city notables are all about political musical chairs. This is about money as it always has been. The Shia Islamist groups have infiltrated the police up to their eyeballs. SCIRI isn't happy about Muqty's presence, not because of their attachment to Iran, but because he truly is a fundamentalist crackpot that is making waves with ordered killings and actions against "un-Muslim" citizens and "Ba'athists" while clearly pointing out that the SCIRI are corrupt and thieving. Attention no good mafia ever wants brought to the attention of the authorities. La Cosa Nostra, "our thing", it means secrecy and silence in Iraq, too.

Now the Shia are demanding a three state solution. Ostensibly to get their share of the oil in southern Iraq and to set up their version of an Islamic state. An Islamic state that would be beholding to Iran and run by thieves and blackmarketeers posing as theocrats and religiosos.

They are counting on a weak central government for more reasons that concern about the Sunni coming to power or controlling the country once again. With the make up of the current government, that is not a possibility.

In this interview with open source, Nassir paints a picture of Shia's that just don't want to bother with trying to control the Sunni who are causing so many problems these days. He says that they want an area they can implement Islamic government as they see fit which includes Iranian style government, straight from the lips of the clerics to the governor's ear. Nassir says that this is shaping up to be a contest between Iranian style Shia government and Sistani's version where the clerics advise their flock, not the government.

But it seems that is barely a cover for the reality of Southern Iraq.

Of course SCIRI wants a separate state. How else are they going to fill the coffers of their supporters and keep the black clad mafia running? A strong central government might find it imperative to look into the corruption and missing oil. They might actually want to arrest and prosecute the thieves and criminals.

The Kurdish issue is another matter altogether.

There are Kurdish in Iran; Kurds in Turkey, Kurds in Syria, Kurds in Uzbekistan, and every other stan bordering Iraq. They've also made no secret of wanting to have a unified Kurdistan for all Kurds and this dream isn't limited to the Northern part of Iraq where they currently enjoy autonomy. Kurdish uprising in neighboring states is continuous, if only minimally reported in the press. While many see this as democracy movments in action, they are really Kurdish nationalism in action. The real question is, now that Talibani and Barzani have used Kurdish nationalism to bind their region together and rally support, can they control it before the tiger they have by the tail turns and bites them.

The problem with three states is the problem of what each of those states would be willing to do, with whom and at the detriment of what. Unlike the concept of federalism in the US where the states have many powers but cannot negotiate deals with other countries, since that is left to the central government, cannot print their own money, central government too, can collect taxes for it's own use but the citizens pay a federal tax, and where said states would have their own militia, not at the behest of the central government, but under control of each individual state, the federal government of Iraq would not only be weak, it might as well be non-existant. Which is, of course, the desire of many in the different regions.

The Shia should be concerned that the Kurdish state of Iraq will draw the entirety of Iraq into war. If Turkey sees fit to make war, they won't limit their goals to the north, but will be all to willing to seek the furthest incursion into Iraq in order to get the most influence. The Shia will be paying for it, regardless of what they might wish or the idea that Iran might be a big enough deterrent.

The Kurds should hate the idea, too, considering that the Shia and the Sunni are all too likely to go at each other, particularly when the Sunni get cut off from any oil revenue or at least believe they are, by the Shia controlled south. The Kurds will have two neighboring states at war with one another while their own borders are weak and their military consists of a beefed up Peshmerga which, with all their vaunted prowess, could not stand up to a concerted bombing campaign by Turkish Air Force.

The Sunni are losers all the way around since they will have little resources and most likely end up with Muslim extremists from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan camping in their neighborhood, generally making life a pain. However, if the Sunni feel slighted, it could mean civil war and it wouldn't be just the Shia with an upper hand squashing the Sunni because you can bet that Jordan, Syria and Saudia Arabia will not stand by and watch it while the Iranian supported Shia go to town on their co-religionists and co-politicos.

These are, of course, dire warnings, but the possibility exists none the less.

The only reason these three entities feel comfortable making these outrageous claims and pushing their luck between themselves and between the outside interested parties is because they feel protected by the US presence there. Contrary to Iranian bloviating and saber rattling, any moves on their part to directly interfere with military or arms support would bring a barage of gunfire power on them that they could not hope to survive. Even if they survived as a country, their infrastructure would be destroyed and all of their contracts with foreign countries for oil and energy would be out the window as they tried to recover.

For the US, that would be tricky too since Russia, China and every European country on the continent would be highly angry as their money and energy pot went kaput.

Turkey is still looking for our support for their entry into the EU and that keeps them in check against making significant encroachment against the Kurds who still harbor the PPK.

While this might seem to have placed the US between a hardspot and a rock, particularly with the desire to create and sustain a democracy in an attempt to change the area and stave off major inroads by an energy starving China and a money starving Russia, not to mention Islamo-fascism that would take hold and control vast oil revenues, the reality is, the US could prop up a weak central government, call it democracy and leave all parties to themselves to duke it out. In which case, all guarantees are off for all parties involved.

The Iraqi population might imagine life is hard under occupation, but life would be much harder under a full blown civil war, not this petty tit for tat action we see now.

In which case, the three major entities need each other and they need us.

Southern Iraq might have oil and a port, but a large amount of goods come overland through the other areas of the country. The agricultural center is Sunni held territory and the prosperous capitalist, non-oil revenue comes largely from Kurdistan. The little port on the water couldn't hope to supply all the needs of the south, particularly if some country felt agrieved of their activities or activities against their ideological brethern.

The North needs the southern port as well for import and export of goods and they need the power of an Iraqi military and state to keep Turkey from addressing it's grievances.

The Sunni triangle, with only agriculture and trading routes, would starve in short order.

That's the reality. That's the power.

A three state Iraq with a weak central government is not just a danger for our foreign policy, but it is a danger to the sovreignty of every nation surrounding Iraq, every nation that gets resources from there and every Iraqi citizen that hopes for a calm and profitable future.

In a July briefing, Senator Biden posed a question to General Casey on whether he thought that the US should pose an ultimatem to the Iraqis: agree on a constitution or we will withdraw and leave them to their own devices. There are many issues with this since it would leave the insurgency a viable place to create and maintain terrorist bases.

On the other hand, the insurgents might find themselves in a tight space where the forces they are fighting are not so nice and "lenient" anymore. The US policy for democracy would be slightly damaged, but not finished since the movements are already underway in many countries. Credibility might be a concern, but when you have the economic and military power, that credibility is quickly shored up.

In the end, three states are bad for Iraq, Iraqis, every country surrounding Iraq and the US, but it is Iraq and the surrounding countries that would pay the price the most.

It would probably behoove the three Iraqi parties to remember that. It would certainly behoove the US to remind them.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Nice summary.

I'm getting more optimistic on Iraq, though. I see a lot of the disagreement over the constitution as simply grandstanding. These guys have to look tough before their own people.

Besides, it's not as if our own founding fathers sat down and amicably drafted a constitution the first time out. We got the first one wrong. And when we got to the second, they argued, bickered, threatened to walk out, and several times just about came to blows. And yet we expect the Iraqis to behave like angels. why?

I'm also pretty sure that there's not going to be a civil war. For example, I was reading Bill Roggio the other day, and he was talking about how the Sunnis were coming to the aid of the Shi'is against the terrorists. Just an example, but you can find the same type of stuff at StrategyPage.