Exit from horror?

Catallaxy’s Heath Gibson has made a comeback to blogging with a heartfelt mea culpa for his support of the US-led Iraq war and occupation. I supported the war as well (albeit with reservations). However, I didn’t retire from blogging when I discovered I’d been wrong. Moreover, until now I have held out hope that the eventual outcome might still be a net positive, despite the absence of WMD and the evident bankruptcy of the justifications for war advanced by Bush, Blair and Howard.

It seemed possible (albeit only with difficulty and sacrifice) to at least leave Iraq in better shape than we entered it: for the Iraqi people, neighbouring countries and the world in general. But this article from the Spectator by Times diplomatic editor Richard Beeston (reproduced by a blogger) has put an end to those hopes. The horror, chaos and intractability of the situation seem overwhelming, with no prospect of an end in sight. Baathist and Al Qaeda terrorists and Shiite militias will maintain a reign of fear, intimidation and extreme violence for as long as the Americans and their allies remain there. They are determined to drive out the white ‘infidel’, and in the short term to prevent any democratic elections from taking place. It’s clear that they will succeed at least in the latter aim. It’s inconceivable that anything even marginally resembling free and fair elections could take place by January or at any other time in the foreseeable future.

In the current climate of fear and violence, there is simply no prospect of ever viably reconstructing Iraqi governance, rule of law or physical infrastructure. What is to be done? Will the Americans eventually be bombed and beheaded into an ignominious withdrawal, with the last few Yankees helicoptered from the roof of the US Embassy like in Vietnam all those years ago? At the moment that seems very likely. But it would leave behind civil war and a failed state, and a high probability that the dictatorial strongman ruler who eventually emerged from the chaos would be even worse than Saddam. At least Saddam was a secular bloodthirsty dictator.

Is there any viable alternative?

Once the Americans acknowledge (as they eventually must) the hopelessness of the present situation and the impossibility of imagining any even remotely satisfactory outcome, thoughts will inevitably turn to devising the least bad exit strategy. I’ve just attempted that exercise myself, albeit from a position of radically incomplete knowledge and understanding of all the influences and constraints.

It seems to me that partitioning of Iraq into 3 distinct new States, the Kurdish north, Sunni centre and Shiite south, is the only option that might possibly work. The Kurdish state would need to be supported by an ongoing US military presence, but the Sunni and Shiite states should largely be capable of maintaining themselves. The Americans would need to stick around long enough to establish generally sensible borders reflecting current settlement patterns, and to provide relocation support and assistance to those with the misfortune to live in a new state whose dominant faith/ethnicity differed from their own.

Fairly obviously, this is a risky strategy. But it seems to me that the risks are manageable, unlike the current situation. The Americans should seek agreement of Shiite, Kurd and Sunni leaders on appropriate borders, but realise that it’s extremely unlikely that complete agreement could ever be achieved. There might well be ongoing border warfare after the US withdrawal, although the US could go a fair way towards effectively supporting all three sides in maintaining their borders by promising to bomb any forces which attempted to invade and annex additional territory. There would also very probably be significant local ethnic cleansing activity as soon as Iraqis got wind of the American plan. US forces would need to be ready to undertake emergency evacuations of beleaguered minority populations.

A plan of this sort would inevitably meet kneejerk objections from UN-fixated internationalists. International law forbids occupying powers from altering the governance of a territory under military occupation, and permanent partitioning is a rather drastic alteration of governance. But that is merely a resort to sterile, impotent legalism to evade moral responsibility: a blind, wilful, morally corrupt acceptance of the inevitability of slaughter, chaos and genocide not dissimilar to the UN’s previous performance on Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo and its present similar behaviour in relation to the Darfur region of Sudan. Anyone making those sorts of objections deserves to be ignored unless they are prepared to suggest potentially viable solutions of their own.

It seems to me that the partitioning option offers at least the possibility of a permanent outcome that’s actually better all round than before the invasion and occupation. The Kurdish region has already developed its own stable and relatively democratic governance structure, and its future is bright (as long as the US is prepared to keep underwriting it and thumb its nose at Turkish hostility).

And the emerging Shiite and Sunni states may well be less murderously repressive than Saddam was, because violent repression was in part an unavoidable aspect of governing such an ethnically and religiously divided nation. Partitioning would massively reduce ethnic and religious divisions within all three partitioned states. A re-emergent Baathist regime in the Sunni heartland, without Saddam and his sons, might ultimately prove to be a relatively civilised, secular social-democratic government. And a Shiite regime in the southern half of the country would no doubt be religiously fundamentalist, but hopefully less extreme and anti-democratic than the Iranian ayatollahs.

Three smaller, less powerful states would also be much less likely ever to have the capacity to threaten neighbouring countries militarily, and would keep a close eye on each other to make sure none of them acquire WMD.

Externally-guided balkanisation seems to have worked fairly well in the Balkans itself. Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia et al seem now to have settled into a reasonably stable pattern of relatively peaceful co-existence, and there’s no reason to believe the same couldn’t occur in a balkanised Iraq. After all, Iraq itself is an artefact of early 20th century European colonialism. Why should the world’s response to intractable horror in that country be constrained by an unchallengeable commitment to the inviolability of irrational, evidently unsustainable territorial boundaries that the Iraqis themselves never chose anyway?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
This entry was posted in Politics - international. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Exit from horror?

  1. Stan says:

    Compere and and contrast Iraq’s present predicament with the recent history of Northern Ireland. Did the outbreak of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland derail democratic processes? Discuss.

  2. David Tiley says:

    I think one of the glories of the blogosphere is the capacity to think in public, change your mind and move on. There is nothing quite like reading someone you disagree with, but have learnt to trust because you can feel your own position changing.

    And we develop that trust because a) we sense the experience behind a position and b) we see it as dynamic. Yo.

    The trouble with partition is the question of oil. Without it, the various states are nothing but an agricultural economy with a growing population. So the divisions have to allow everyone access both to oil and a means of getting it to market. It may also be that control of the rivers would be important too.

    There may be something instructive about the withdrawal from Vietnam. The Americans made deals about support and reparations but did not adhere to them (if I remember rightly) so Vietnam did it hard and remained in control of hardliners as a result.

    If we all leave Iraq by saying a) we will withdraw militarily and b) we will provide infrastructure support of a purely non-military form – hospitals, roads, electricity – that engages the Iraqis where possible, then there is a strong incentive for the future government(s) to be engaged with the west.

    To me the whole tragedy is the collapse of a secular Iraq – that Saddam for all his evil, was building an educated middle class and growing the non-theocratic strands of the culture. The question for the future is: how do we support that, given our role in Iraq is so devalued?

    Because in a sense the Bush fedayeen were right on the absolutely broadest level. The planet needs the growth of secular Islam so the one billion Muslims can find ways forward. As we needed to develop a non-theocratic way of building states in the west, and fortunately found it.

    And we do need access to the oil.

  3. Jozef says:

    Proud to Exit from Horror?

    There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow line and dead armadillos …

    I first read it here many springs ago, Ken, and now the Common Nightmare of Horror is plagiarising …

    Proud to be a Dead Armadillo

    [Sound like the news of armadillos death have been premature – (mature smile)

  4. “The Americans should seek agreement of Shiite, Kurd and Sunni leaders on appropriate borders, but realise that it’s extremely unlikely that complete agreement could ever be achieved. There might well be ongoing border warfare after the US withdrawal, although the US could go a fair way towards effectively supporting all three sides in maintaining their borders by promising to bomb any forces which attempted to invade and annex additional territory.

    I think we should just get out and leave them to it. Who the hell do we think we are ‘dictating’ to a very educated populus where their territorial boundaries should be? This sounds way to imperalistic for my liking. We may need their oil, and sure if we’re really nice maybe one day they’ll flog us some. Who’s oil is it?

    Invading Iraq was wrong, is wrong and will always be wrong. The whole operation was based on lies and deceit, with unmitigated greed as the only compelling factor. Its an ongoing, mess and all occupying forces should simply leave. Iraq will never negotiate with the Americans, sane Iraqis will forever consider the US to be their greatest enemy – as they should and sadly we are part and parcel of the good ole US. The best the US can do is compensate Iraq for the damage they’ve done and support the UN who should be sent in as peace keepers. Imposing curfews and outlawing weapons would be a good start to achieving peace. How can you impose democracy at gunpoint? It is a nonsense.

  5. Geoff -Honnor says:

    “The best the US can do is compensate Iraq for the damage they’ve done and support the UN who should be sent in as peace keepers. Imposing curfews and outlawing weapons would be a good start to achieving peace. How can you impose democracy at gunpoint? It is a nonsense.’

    What makes you think that the Iraqis would be interested in more foreign troops? Or, that the Arab bloc would be interested in supporting a UN imposed solution? How successful has the UN been in Sudan? How would you impose a curfew? Who would ‘outlaw weapons’ and how would it be enforced?

  6. Link says:

    Grim Realities (via Surfdom)

    OK point taken, so just pull-out, (and leave a big cheque) Where’s the great harm there then?

  7. Link says:

    and. What makes me ‘think’ that they’d be interested in peacekeepers, is a simple desire for peace. Curfews would not be difficult too difficult to impose. The iraqis I’m sure could get together a police force that they approved of and respected, as opposed to the US controlled forces who are loathed and regularly blown up. The Sudan is not Iraq. One disaster at a time eh?

  8. EvilPundit says:

    You’ve been imbibing too much left wing Kool-Aid, Ken. The situation in Iraq is not nearly as bad as the defeatists would like to pretend.

    Only a few provinces are seriously affected by fighting — the majority of the country is already stable. It takes years to set up a democratic society, but it can be and has been done, as Japan and Germany bear witness.

    In this age of instant gratification, too many people are inclined to throw in the towel just because things are not perfect within a few months.

    At the moment, the Left is campaigning hard on the false idea that Iraq is a disaster, purely for political reasons. They are of course supported by their media wing. If you fall for their propaganda, then you will despair of a solution.

  9. Niall says:

    There is no easy answer to the Iraq problem. The damage has been done now. Do we, the so-called coalition, back away when the Iraqi’s need independent at support the most? Does the global community stand by the sidelines and watch as the incompetance of the US-led coalition multiplies under the puppet government of Allawi? The really difficult questions remain hanging in the breeze as innocents die hand over fist. Personally, I’m torn between condoning all out war against the fundamentalists and getting the hell out and allowing civil war to settle on the Iraqi culture with the end result being the ultimate and universally accepted status quo.

    Plainly, the US-led invasion was the worst of all possible roads to take, and for undoubtedly the worst of all possible reasons. The West needs the oil because it’s cheap, but cheap in monetary terms only. Perhaps it’s time to start paying more for the resource and putting more into alternatives. There are oil reserves untapped because the cost of doing so is prohibitive in todays terms, but just when do we decide to amend todays terms? Is war over oil condonable because we want to keep the economic cost down?

    All the while, Iraqi’s die in a tug-of-war over ideologies which mean nothing in the final wash-up. Fundamentalists from the Christian Right in the US push that government while Islamic fundamentalists push that same Christian Right in militaristic guise in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. When will it cease? When the futility is realised.

  10. Link says:

    The only reason some outlying provinces appear to be in a state of relative peace is because there are no US forces there. US forces are by all accounts, ‘thin on the ground’ (and getting thinner) for an ‘occupying force’, which is another reason why they will have no choice other than to admit defeat and go home.

  11. Geoff -Honnor says:

    “What makes me ‘think’ that they’d be interested in peacekeepers, is a simple desire for peace. Curfews would not be difficult too difficult to impose.”The iraqis I’m sure could get together a police force that they approved of and respected, as opposed to the US controlled forces who are loathed and regularly blown up”

    So without the Americans, these Kurds, Sunni, Shia, former prime beneficiaries of Baathist fascism, returned exiles, the interests of Syria and Iran, all of these would just magically coalesce into an “unimposed” peaceful democratic solution – complete with weapons being beaten in ploughshares and voluntary curfews all round. Sounds like a winner to me Link.

    Many of the police guys currently being blown up are suffering that fate at the hands of former Baathists who have a vested interest in not seeing peace emerge. And major malcontent Mohammed al Zarqawi, who has recently been depicted hacking people’s heads on TV, is actually not an Iraqi at all. He’s a Jordanian.

    I think that invasion was ill-advised but withdrawal at this point would be worse.

  12. True RWDB says:

    “At least Saddam was a secular bloodthirsty dictator.”

    Oh well, that’s OK then. Nothing like having the right motivation for inhuman behaviour. I’d really hate to be beheaded by a religious fanatic or have my detumescent prick laughed at by an uncouth female soldier (note the equivalence here). Much better to be one of the hundreds of thousands in mass graves. Feels so cosy with so much nice company.

  13. EvilPundit says:

    The Left want defeat in Iraq, so regardless of what the situation is, they will always paint it as a disaster.

    Before the 1991 Gulf War, the Left said it would be a disaster, a quagmire, a grave for Americans and Australians.

    Before the invasion of Afghanistan, the Left said it would be a disaster, a quagmire, a grave for Americans and Australians.

    Before the invasion of Iraq, the Left said it would be a disaster, a quagmire, a grave for Americans and Australians.

    Now they’re peddling the same old, same old, defeatist nonsense. And it’s just as accurate as ever.

  14. David Tiley says:

    And when the Americans finally do retreat from Iraq, you will try and blame us.

    Anything rather than admit that this is a vile, howling shambles which your side provoked, and prosecuted, and is busy blowing so badly the US will implode into isolationism.

    Read this. Pay particular attention to the photographs by clicking on the buttons.

    And this before this.

    Of course once you believe that all meedja like AP and Reuters are controlled by mindwarping lib’rals, you are free to believe whatever fantasy you choose. We in Australia have a phrase for this – “cloud cuckoo land.”

  15. saint says:


    Sure I’d like to see all foreigners pull out but the sad reality is that at this stage of the game, a blood bath is the most likely outcome.
    I am glad you are at least thinking about alternatives.

    I am not sure that splitting Iraq is the go. Some(most?) Iraqis and also neighbouring states -are keen to maintain Iraq’s integrity as a state; even the Americans used to credit Saddam in the 70s for forging Iraqi statehood if nothing else. It did promote a modicum of stability in the area at that time(no I am not a Hussein supporter, just stating the facts). The Turks may also not be happy with an independent Kurdish state on their border as it may incite local Kurds to agitate for a greater Kurdistan, and it may not work out well for minorities (eg Assyrians). In fact, last year slightly more radical suggestions were made – including intergrating Sunnis and Palestinians into a larger Jordanian state.

    Plus David is right. A Kurdish state would get most of the oil fields I think, but would nevertheless need access to Um Qasr or Turkey for exports. Other states would need sources of revenue too. Add to that access to other resources, not least of which is water. The sorts of problems we don’t face because we don’t share our land borders with anyone. It’s OK to say, yes I want to stick with my tribe, but the question will them be: how shall we then live?
    Even some of the smaller Russian states agitating for independence are in more recent times, recognising the value of being hooked into the larger Russian economy (yes even some of the Chechnyans).

    I know that a federation of states was the favoured option by the Coalition when we went into this war so I also don’t know that they would necessarily support anything but without a lot of persuasion.

    Just some quick and garbled thoughts.

  16. Link says:

    So without the Americans, these Kurds, Sunni, Shia, former prime beneficiaries of Baathist fascism, returned exiles, the interests of Syria and Iran, all of these would just magically coalesce into an “unimposed” peaceful democratic solution – complete with weapons being beaten in ploughshares and voluntary curfews all round. Sounds like a winner to me Link.

    There’s no harm in hoping that common sense could prevail. Who the hell is the enemy once we’ve gone, and why the hell should we care anyway, considering the blood bath we’ve already caused? We only have a ‘vested’ interest in Iraq because of its resource in oil. And I said nothing about ‘democracy’, which I understand few, if any Iraqis, actually desire.

  17. mark says:

    What’s next, EP? Everything’s just peachy — why, they even built a park! — but the Evil Librul Meeja Conspiracy in America has covered it all up. And lefties rubbing their hands together with glee; “at last, more corpses for the Communist machine! Soon we shall have turned everyone against that gorgeous benefactor, George Bush, and then there will be no stopping us! Bwahahaha!”

    Take a step back, EP, before you go off the rails completely.

  18. parallel says:


    It seems to me that you are refining far too much on the original article.

    Sure, the kidnap/beheadings are distressing, and devastating for the families involved – but they don’t affect the balance of forces. So what if the DVD’s sell in the thousands? If even 1% of Iraqis enjoy that sort of thing, you are looking at a quarter of a million people. This is no indication that there is a broad swell of popular opinion against the invasion.

    The car bombings and attack on civilians are worse, of course, but all they really signify is that the occupation and Iraqi forces are not yet able to protect the population. Given time, that can be corrected. These things can be fought and beaten, and it wll be far better for all if it CAN be beaten.

    How can the “resistance” – actually terrorist – forces win? Simply by convincing well-meaning but gullible chaps like you at home to go away. They do this by holding their own population, and any foreigners they can get their hands on, to ransom. Otherwise they have no chance.

    Your ruminations of what a “successful” exit strategy might be are, I am afraid, part of the problem. You have completely lost sight of who we are fighting here and what their actual goals are. I mean, if terror tactics work on the US, they would work on any government left behind. So a retreat would not save the population anyway.

    What would happen is that you would end up with two of three states run by islamist terrorists – think Afghanistan with oil, and emboldened with a far bigger victory than 9/11. And they will likely have nukes in the not to distant future.

  19. Ken Parish says:


    It’s pretty clear that a high proportion of the bombings (though mostly not suicide ones) and military-style attacks in the Sunni regions are being perpetrated by elements of the former Republican Guard and other Baathist remnants, who melted into the general population as part of a deliberate guerilla war strategy no doubt orchestrated in advance by Saddam. Once power is overtly handed over to them again over their own homeland region, those attacks will stop, and their previous record from Saddam’s day clearly shows they’re more than capable of dealing with civil order issues. They would dispatch the Al Qaeda lunatics effectively and quickly, I think.

    As for the Kurdish region, my proposal doesn’t involve US withdrawal from there at all; in fact US forces would probably be increased to provide a sufficient level of assurance against external attack and internal security.

    The southern half of Iraq under Shiite control is more of a worry. They would certainly be able to exclude the Sunnis, but would they be able to establish effective control and defeat the Al Qaeda/Islamist lunatics? I’m not sure, but I reckon there’s a far better chance than now, where mostly only powerless former emigres are co-operating actively with the US/UK occupation forces, while most credible mainstream Shiites pursue a Sistani-led passive non-cooperation strategy and a significant minority follow Moqtada Al Sadr into open revolt. Once the Shiites were fully responsible for their own region without a (destabilising) US/UK presence, the situation would at least be much clearer, and mainstream Shiites would know that it was THEIR responsibility to secure and maintain law and order in their own country. Whether they’ll be able to do so successfully, given that they lack the governance experience of the Baathist Sunnis, is less certain. But I reckon there’s a much better chance of it than while the place is being “run” by a US occupation force and a handful of emigre Iraqis that everyone else barely tolerates at best.

    Finally, note that I’m not suggesting that US/UK forces pull out at once from either the Sunni or Shiite regions. I’m suggesting that it would take place over 12 months or so, so that secure, sensible borders could be established and people assisted to relocate where necessary. And I’m also suggesting that a very substantial US military force remain in the Kurdish region more or less indefinitely, along with major air force elements to deter armed large-scale attacks across the border by Sunnis on Shiites or vice versa. What I’m suggesting is anything but a craven “cut and run” strategy.


    I think the objections of David and Saint have more substance. I’m not completely sure how easy it would be to draw viable borders so that all 3 new states had control of adequate water and oil resources and reliable ways of shipping the oil out. As far as I can see from this map, access to water shouldn’t be a problem in any of the 3 regions. And both the Shiites and Kurds would clearly have control of enough oil, and the Shiites would have port access as well at Um Qasr (the only sea access in the entire nation). But the Sunnis possibly wouldn’t have control of major oil fields depending on where the border is established (which means they’d forever be spoiling to invade to north or south to try to grab them), and the Kurds would be reliant on shipping oil out via adjoining countries Iran, Syria and Turkey (or the new Sunni and Shiite states to their south). You wouldn’t count on any of them to co-operate with the Kurds.

    However, it might be possible to resolve Sunni State control of oil resources by drawing the Sunni/Kurd border just north of Kirkuk, which would give the Sunnis control of a reasonable proportion of the northern oilfields and lots of refineries, according to this map. That would, however, almost certainly mean the relocation northwards of lots of Kurds, because Kirkuk has a very large Kurdish population. The Sunnis shouldn’t have too much difficulty shipping oil out via adjoining countries, and they might even eventually be able to do a deal with the Shiite south to ship it out via Um Qasr using existing north-south pipelines.

    Thus, it seems the only major and not obviously soluble aspect of David/Saint’s objection is how the Kurds could reliably ship their oil out of their country and sell it. However, with ongoing US military and aid backing, that shouldn’t be terminal either. The more I think about it, the more I reckon this COULD be a workable solution.

  20. Rex says:

    Ken, JQ came to a similar conclusion to you back in April.

    My thoughts on the matter are as they were back then. There is no-way to impose a division on these people that they don’t want.

    The tribal politics and culture of the region are incompatible with our view of how things should be run. Paul McGeogh’s Quarterly Essay Mission Impossible makes this quite clear.

    The only solution I feel, is to back off, let the civil war begin with all its bloody consequences, and then make a deal with, or crush, the eventual winner.

  21. Ken Parish says:


    JQ’s idea was a two state solution not three, and back in April he was assuming that it would still be feasible to hold general elections. It’s now clear that that won’t be possible in any menaingful sense. Whether a three state solution could be engineered in the absence of elections is dubious, I admit. But since the alternative is, as you admit, to simply withdraw and accept the inevitability of a bloody civil war, there’s nothing much to lose and everything to gain in giving my idea a go.

  22. nardo says:

    “I think that invasion was ill-advised but withdrawal at this point would be worse.”

    having penetrated without consent, what difference if you withdraw or keep screwing?? either way the damage has been done

    I thought this was an idea worth considering for the Coalition… engage in ‘face-saving’ operations… “To Win the Peace, We Must ‘Lose’ the War – Find a Credible Iraqi Leader, and Hand Him Victory”

    but I guess that’d be impossible for a leader in a democracy who’d want to keep his or her Whitehouse suite

    couple of other thoughts marked up here

  23. Ben says:

    De facto Kurdish self-government is something the Turks can kinda live with; an actual Kurdish state, no freakin’ way. This is the fundamental flaw in pretty much every cut-and-run partition plan I’ve seen so far.

  24. Ken Parish says:


    The “Find a Credible Iraqi Leader, and Hand Him Victory” is just a cloak for civil war and/or bloody repressive dictatorship by the anointed Iraqi leader. The Sunnis won’t accept an anointed Shiite leader and the Shiites won’t accept a Sunni one. Any attempt to anoint either will lead to bloody civil war and equally bloody repressive rule by the winner. Hence my attempt at envisioning a three state solution, where Sunnis and Shiites could choose their own leadership separately. Very probably that process wouldn’t be democratic in either case, although you never know.

    But the article you linked succinctly made a point I was intending to cover:
    The true aim of war is to accomplish the political, economic or security goals for which it was fought.
    A functioning three state solution would accomplish all US war aims, except the manifestly unachievable (in the foreseeable future) neocon dream of engineering a liberal democratic state that would serve as a model/catalyst for the triumph of truth, justice and the American way in the Middle East.

  25. Rex says:

    Ken, Its a nice idea, but I just don’t see it working. The Americans no matter where they are in the country will be targets.

    You like to compare it to the Balkans, and there are similarities granted, but there are a couple of big differences: the tribal culture; the fact that the umpire (the US) has been on the ground for a while, and the Iraqis have now got their measure (in the Balkans it was the threat of ground invasion that brought the war to an abrupt end); and the fact that Yugoslavs were tired of war – The Iraqis it seems are just getting warmed up.

    So I don’t share your optimism. Its going down the gurgler, and the sooner it reaches the bottom, the sooner everyone will realise that the only way is up.

  26. nardo says:

    ken, I wasn’t thinking that specific … more ..ah.. holistic – give away small victories (wear the cost) for greater gains

    the Sistani play (returning him to Najaf to give Al-Sadr his marching orders) might have fallen into that category…

    and yes, the goals-outcomes bottom line… important to keep in mind (and handy for your bullshit bingo card)… I reckon the US want their bases and a firm grip on OPEC’s throat — they got it and bugger the rest…

    also I haven’t read any Iraqi bloggers who support the partition of the country… (yeah I know, hardly a referendum)… but maybe I don’t read widely enough

  27. snuh says:

    ken, thought i should bring peter galbraith’s ny review articles to your attention. i think he’s been the most interesting and cogent advocate of [a species of] balkanisation for some time. here he is back in may; and returning to the theme earlier this month. both pieces are worth reading in full, but if you’re pressed for time, this is from may, talking about some potential problems:In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state. From my experience in the Balkans, I feel strongly that it is impossible to preserve the unity of a democratic state where people in a geographically defined region almost unanimously do not want to be part of that state. I have never met an Iraqi Kurd who preferred membership in Iraq if independence were a realistic possibility.But the problem of Iraq is that a breakup of the country is not a realistic possibility for the present. Turkey, Iran, and Syria, all of which have substantial Kurdish populations, fear the precedent that would be set if Iraqi Kurdistan became independent. Both Sunni and Shiite Arabs oppose the separation of Kurdistan. The Sunni Arabs do not have the resources to support an independent state of their own. (Iraq’s largest oil fields are in the Shiite south or in the disputed territory of Kirkuk.)Further, as was true in the Balkans, the unresolved territorial issues in Iraq would likely mean violent conflict. Kirkuk is perhaps the most explosive place. The Kurds claim it as part of historic Kurdistan. They demand that the process of Arabization of the region–

  28. Stewart Kelly says:

    Splitting up Iraq into three states would cause problems with the neighbours. Neither Iran or Turkey will be happy to have a Kurdish state on their doorstep fearing it will encourage Kurds in their own states to push for breakaway regions to join the new Kurdish state. Having said that I’d like to see the Kurdish people have their own state or some form of autonomy. They’ve waited bloody long enough.

  29. Martin Pike says:

    The really annoying thing is some of us took anti war positions in part predicting that this would happen, that the act of regime change to democracy would prove extraordinarily difficult and bloody.

    And that many who insulted us at the time have not admitted that THEY F*CKED UP. Well, let me just say, you warmongers F*CKED UP, you are WALKING ADVERTS FOR THE NEED TO MAKE HISTORY STUDIES MANDATORY, and WE WERE RIGHT and TOLD YOU SO.

    That being said, I’d like to see the US succeed now, and I agree that capitulating to such terror as the beheadings would be awful, but as I opposed the war in part on the basis that the question “what next” would be unanswerable, I’m leaving that to the seppos.

    History will come to see this as a colossal stupid cock up of the highest degree. I’ll bet a 20 year old single malt on it.

    I’m currently researching stuff on North Korea, how they’ve so successfully played the world and the US in particular while the US was focussed on Iraq. What a f*ck up, what bloody sheer stupidity.

  30. San says:

    “The really annoying thing is some of us took anti war positions in part predicting that this would happen, that the act of regime change to democracy would prove extraordinarily difficult and bloody.”

    In fact, the process of regime change to democracy hasn’t yet come close to being even a fraction as difficult and bloody as most of the anti-war people predicted.
    Remember those predictions? I don’t know what you said exactly but generally they were something along the lines of millons dead, millions more refugees, civil war by now, tens of thousands of coalition soldiers dead.
    The same thing was said about Afghanistan. Just as the same “see we told you it was going to be a disaster” comments became deafening when Afghanistan didn’t turn into a democratic utopia the minute the Taliban fell. In Afghanistan we are now starting to see the benefits of those in power having ignored that braying. I’m not saying that the Iraq’s situation is the same as Afghanistan, its clearly worse, but an early pullout before the Iraqi’s even have a chance at democratic election seems just as cruel and stupid as hindsight appears to be telling us that it would have been in Afghanistan.

  31. saint says:

    Thanks for your reply Ken. I’m still not convinced. While one can find some solution to oil reserves (I forgot those in the south LOL!) the Sunni will still miss out if someone doesn’t force Kirkuk out of someone’s hands. The newly formed neighbouring states would still be at the mercy of each other not to damn rivers etc to severely effect water. Oil revenues alone are not enough to sustain Iraq even if they were at full capacity and Iraq remained as one state….there is a need for economic development (my understanding is that unemployment is still 40-60%) and on it goes.

    And who will run these states? The Kurds at least have managed to build up a political and civic infrastructure during the years of the no-fly zone (not without negotiating some peace amongst themselves as they too are not necessarily united). Sunnis have have had years of political even if heavy handed thug-type experience, but again the Shia…? Sistani is their great hope but he is an old man. I don’t who experts like Juan Cole think is around to fill the vacuum when he goes.

    Then there is a more important factor: the social cost, not least any moves to resettle people. We saw how popular that was when Saddam moved the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs as two examples. OK the Kurds see themselves as ethnically, culturally. geographically etc distinct and were happy to move back north after Saddam’s fall. But the Sunnis and the Shia *have* managed to live side by side peacefully and you can even find both in family clans and tribes. So if they suddenly find themselves in a state in which life is not bearable, I doubt that they would be inclined to leave ancestral lands handed down for generations, risk splitting family ties to move into some concrete block somewhere else. Hec I wouldn’t want to be resettled from my 60s shoebox.

    We have not yet touched on minorities. Christians (from various ethnic groups) for example have been fleeing in droves since Saddam’s fall.

    And the most important: what do the Iraqis themselves want?

    I agree with Martin that it was precisely this sort of situation that those of us who opposed or were ambivalent about the war feared (and plenty of experts warned the Coalition of the same possibilities, and I knew we cocked up when the Coalition arrived in Baghdad, the population went a looting and the Coalition let them at it while borders were left leaking. If there was authority that needed stamping to provide a basis from which to build it was at that point in this war, not now when every two-bit wannabe terrorist is running amok).

    Nevertheless here we are. We can’t undo what’s done but only try to find a way forward. But at this stage of the game I don’t think a two or three state option is a goer. Perhaps a more lateral grass roots unconventional approach is required.


    P.S. There are still UN troops in places like Kosovo guarding single lonely Serbian grandmothers in villages….who are hopelessly outnumbered by veangeful neighbours. IMHO, we will have to be prepared to support Iraq like this for many many years to come. Do we have the will, the man power and the money?

    P.P.S. Apologies for the ramble

  32. David Tiley says:

    “millons dead, millions more refugees, civil war by now, tens of thousands of coalition soldiers dead.”

    No, that is not what we predicted. To assert this, you had better cite some references or you run the risk of accusing us of exaggeration which actually exists in your own head.

    I am a typical lefty. Let’s talk about me. I thought the Republican Guard would fight harder, mostly to establish valuable prestige before melting away. In fact, I had no way of knowing that the Americans had bought the generals, or that Saddam would deploy the army so badly. Yes it folded.

    I also predicted that the US would effectively tie the place up in contracts and establish American companies running vital bits of infrastructure. I thought they would have a plan; I knew the infrastructure was vulnerable to attack but I didnt realise how extensive the sabotabage would be.

    Juan Cole has followed the decay pretty extensively, and illustrates how little of Iraq the US controls and how defensive they have to be. And that the street fighting we feared has come to pass and is getting worse.

    I would say our scorecard was pretty right, sadly. On Afghanistan, the place is infested with warlords, the west can’t protect the NGOs which have vanished, Taliban is back in many areas, the place runs on an opium economy, girls aren’t going to school, there are no services, the taxes aren’t being collected etc etc etc. The shit is not on the front page, but surely the right doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that means it doesn’t exist? You just have to dig a little.

    I think, San, that if you wanted to go and work in either place, your family might disabuse you of the notion that you would be safe PDQ. As would the red cross, medecin san frontiers, Oxfam and the UN – all of whom have been forced to retreat, particularly from Afghanistan.

    If you think we are a mob of pinkos, you might like to ask an insurance company for an analysis.

  33. parallel says:


    You still haven’t cottoned on to what I was actually saying. Why should one report send you into a total panic? This was always going to be a long conflict (the ‘cakewalk’ idea was a straw man put up by the anti-war side) and local reverses and even major disasters are to be expected. So? Wars are not won by those who lack courage and resolution. The correct response is to FIX IT, not to immediately suggest RUN AWAY.

    On the report itself, the reporter naturally feels endangered by the jihadi’s tactic of kidnapping and murdering reporters. It is understandable that this translates into a gloom-and-doom report. That does not mean that it is accurate or a fair rendition of the situation.

    On your partition plan: you have no reason to conclude that a post-retreat Iraq, no matter how constituted, would not become another terrorist state, and there is every reason to think that it would. If you keep handing terrorists victory, you just keep generating more terrorists. Here’s one flaw out of many – if the Sunni state is taken over by the Baathists, and they decide to take over the Kurdish territory (not being Arab and all) and want the US out, why wouldn’t they launch a terrorist campaign against the US? After all, the last one worked…

    Further, your suggestion entails most likely hundreds of thousands of casualties plus an ongoing confict across two new borders. Many of those casualties would be those who put their trust the in US and her allies – and think of the problems betraying them would cause in the future! I see no evidence that that would cause less misery than just doing the job properly in the first place and actually WINNING. In the current context, that means supporting an Iraqi government in getting rid of the Baathist holdouts and foreign jihadis, and not tying their hands as at present.


    Perhaps you could enlighten me by what historical standard what is currently happening in Iraq is “extraordinarily bloody and difficult”? Perhaps “extraordinariliy over-reported and analysed” would be more accurate.

    And, exactly, what historical lessons were missed? It seems to me that some major problems were and are the inability to cope with the hostile use of new communications technologies – the Arab media, etc. These should have been anticipated, but I don’t know from what historical campaign you would draw the lesson.

    And it isn’t enough to say that you anticipated problems, you actually have to put up a credible alternative program. And yours would have been, what, exactly…?


  34. Rex says:

    Wars are not won by those who lack courage and resolution. The correct response is to FIX IT, not to immediately suggest RUN AWAY.

    Parallel (slaps forehead), of course, why didn’t I think of that? FIX IT. Who’d of thought the solution would be that simple. You’re a genius son!

  35. Martin Pike says:

    Well the lessons in question being- war should be avoided at almost all costs, invading and occupying a country is not all that likely to lead to the populace embracing you, people hate you if you kill them via so-called collateral damage and sign up to the opposition, democracy is hard to impose at the end of a gun… i dunno, where to begin? Here’s some lessons that made me cautious about our prospects of success in Iraq:
    You don’t necessarily get thanked if you try to “help” people- Afghanistan, Somalia, Vietnam.
    General dictatorships may be better than the ideological/religious devil alternate- Afghanistan, Khmer rouge (US assistance vs Vietnam).
    If you want to occupy somewhere go balls out to win hearts and minds, and understand that there is no collateral damage, only dead natives and hateful revenge seekers – Vietnam, so damn obviously. BY contrast, the UK in Sarawak during konfrontasi.
    Technology hasn’t made wars clean, only cleaner, and many civilian deaths will inevitably occur if you host an all-out invasion- watch the Afghan version of “The Wedding Singer”, starring Daisy Cutter.
    It is very hard to act in the islamic world, even if your motives are partly or fully altruistic, and get credit for the good, esp. if you are the hated US- Kuwait, the emancipation of the Albanians, Somalia.
    Palestine still matters, and countries that support Israel overtly will ALWAYS be hated in the islamic world, and will not get garlands of flowers in the streets- sayeth every voice in the islamic world and many outside it, if only anyone listens.

    Some of these are conveniently skimmed over by elements on the left. I really think there was a crucial lesson on attitudes in the islamic world presented by the Kosovo intervention- if going in and rescuing a stranded muslim population from genocide barely raises a flicker of respect in the islamic world, how much kudos do you expect to come from invading a country, deposing a despot, and along the way inevitably killing thousands?

  36. parallel says:


    In some company, I AM a genius.


    Most of your “lessons” are wrong or misapplied. Take the first: “war is to be avoided at almost all costs”. Yes, Rhineland 1936 was a triumph, as was Rwanda 1994. Desert Storm 1991 and Afghanistan 2001 were disasters and should never have happened. Not. The fact is that war is a very bad thing but not the worst thing; the invasion of Iraq still seems to me to be the right thing; and now it has happened it is extremely important to make it a success.

    Some of your points are valid and should have been taken into account in deciding HOW to fight the war – such as, don’t let enemy propaganda go unanswered, don’t be shy about putting out your own (preferably true), etc.

    It seems to me that most critics of the war have no historical knowledge going back before Vietnam – and they often get that one wrong in important respects.

    I still see no evidence that Iraq could be predicted to be, or is, “extraordinarily bloody and difficult”. Mismanaged in important respects, yes. To fix this, may I draw a few more “lessons from history”:

    Do not trust the anti-war Left, because they are On The Other Side.

    War is not Politically Correct, and if you play that way You Will Lose.

    Support Your Friends and not Your Enemies.

    Some enemies can be converted; others have to be defeated first; some have to be crushed Totally – Try Hard to Distinguish Between Them.

    If any Enemy says he will Destroy You, take him at His Word. Do not wait until He Has the Means to Do So.

    Defeats and Disasters Happen. Try to avoid them, repair the damege when they do, but keep your Eye on the Goal.


  37. Martin Pike says:

    Parallel, we obviously enjoy some similar sentiments just stretched to different sides of the spectrum.

    I think the Kuwait war was pretty ill-justified, and in a world of sovereign infringments it is quite clear why we chose to go into that one. While the Kuwaiti gentry, with their history of raping their asian maids and generally carrying on like trash, partied in Egypt or Europe.

    Rwanda I agree, Rhineland I agree. I said last resort, but not never. Rwanda is a great example, because there we weren’t prepared to go in militarily to stop what has been described (obvioulsy contentiously) as the most efficient slaughter of humans in history, approx 700,000 in 4 weeks i recall, in CONTRAST with our willingness to attack Iraq on spurious grounds.

    WW2 may be a lesson in the problems with appeasment, but a detailed study of WW1 and the between wars period is a lesson in (1) the idiocy of making war for its own sake, and (2) the root causes of aggressive totalitarianism.

    You’ll be well aware, no doubt, that the rise of Hitler had a hell of a lot to do with the repeated humiliation of the Germans by the vindictive French, who were useless in WW1 and in fact played a big part in its inception by making a clear threat that they would attack the Germans if the Germans attacked the Russians (who were mobilizing to hit the Austrians who Germany was mobilizing to support etc etc hence the Schleiffen plan).

  38. Ken Parish says:


    If you are correct that the scale of bloodshed and chaos is being seriously exaggerated by leftie journalists who always opposed the war, then I would agree with you that the US, UK and Australia should see the job through to a successful conclusion in Iraq. Moreover, I can’t know for certain what the truth really is, because I haven’t been to Iraq myself and have no intention of doing so in the near future. But there is a very large number of journalists reporting mega-chaos across the entire central part of Iraq (less so in north and south), and by no means all of them are lefties. And according to all of them there’s little or no sign of the chaos abating or either the Americans or Iraqi security forces being able to stop it in the foreseeable future. In fact things are getting worse.

    In those circumstances I find it impossible to see how meaningful democratic elections could take place. And if they don’t, the credibility and acceptance of the occupiers among ordinary Iraqis will sink to even lower levels.

    I also accept (sadly) that neither the Bush administration nor an incoming Kerry one is likely to “think outside the square” in the immediate future. It will probably take another year or so of chaos and bloodshed before they begin thinking the unthinkable, and start planning a workable exit strategy.

  39. Martin Pike says:

    Right wing journo reporting chaos and bloodshed in Iraq- see this week’s Spectator…

  40. Pingback: Club Troppo » Iraq the model - but model what?

Comments are closed.