Iraq the model – but model what?

Tim Dunlop posts on the situation in Iraq, and it doesn’t make happy reading. No doubt RWDB readers will dismiss it as just another piece of lefty defeatism, but others might care to consider the facts on their merit in a more sober, analytical spirit:

1ith militias from both Sunni and Shiite factions out of control and with Sunnis and Shiites who have links into those militias vying for positions within the Iraqi government we are allegedly there protecting and training, how do we decide who to support? Remember, we have for most of the last few years considered the Sunnis to be the main cause of violence, to be the insurgency. But if those American officials mentioned above are right, and the biggest problem is now Shiite militias, doesn’t that represent a major–and unwelcome–shift of the presumptions we have been working with?

To which I’d add one point, and it is a genuine question: what does success look like?

Quite so. It was a conclusion I’d reached 2 years ago, despite initially cautiously supporting the Bush/Blair/Howard invasion. That conclusion led to my proposing the “balkanisation” of Iraq by creation of formally separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite States in the north, centre and south of Iraq.

There was an extensive comment box discussion at the time, with readers making a range of important points about potential difficulties in the way of such a solution e.g. carve-up of control of oil and water resources between the three new states; access to ports; and the attitude of surrounding nations (especially to a formally independent Kurdish nation). They’re all formidable hurdles, but it remains the only solution I can conceive that might well be manageable and does not involve the seeming inevitability of horrendous consequences.

One can continue imagining (as many RWDBs still do, albeit in increasingly desperate tones) that the US will eventually prevail if it “toughs it out” and ignores the “surrender monkeys” in its midst. But even the less obtuse RWDBs know that the next President, whether he/she is Republican or Democrat, will pull out as the American casualty toll continues to rise inexorably with no end in sight. Or you can advocate, as much of the left does, that the US and its allies should simply pull out and leave the inevitable bloody civil war to take its course. The hard left and hard right positions on Iraq ironically lead to the same dreadful place. But there are several obvious problems with both those attitudes. An uncontrolled civil war following a US withdrawal would certainly result in a major deterioration of the already appalling bloodshed. But it would also engender major international instability in what is arguably the world’s most strategically vital region. One could easily imagine the Iranians intervening in such a civil war on the Shiite side and Saudi Arabia and Syria on the Sunni side. Massive dusruption to world oil supplies with consequent global recession is then a foreseeable consequence.

I still think a three state solution, with the US and Britain sticking around to manage the transition, and perhaps to guarantee border security on a continuing basis through ongoing deployment of airpower, would be a goer, despite the hurdles referred to above. Does anyone have any other suggestions apart from the RWDB “she’ll be right, if it weren’t for you gutless lefties” response or the typical left attitude of accepting the inevitability of bloody civil war and global instability and saying “we told you so”?

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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.
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18 years ago

Or you can advocate, as much of the left does, that the US and its allies should simply pull out and leave the inevitable bloody civil war to take its course.

I’m not sure I understand the basis of the assumption that the presence of U.S. troops is having and will continue to have a retardant effect on the slide to civil war.

Have you thought carefully about what the effect of a U.S. withdrawal would be, or have you just gone with your instinctive assumption?

I’m not meaning to suggest that the answer’s clear, or even that I have a particularly strong view on the matter, but it does strike me that (a) there’s a fair amount of evidence that the U.S. military is, in various ways, exacerbating the situation, whereas it’s less clear how they’re actually helping; and (b) if you’re playing armchair general, it’s a pretty fundamental assumption to make without any argument.

18 years ago

Ken: It seems to me that the presence of U.S. troops is probably playing a more fundmental role in provoking the Sunni insurgency than just providing a target – I wonder if it would have been harder to rouse Sunnis to participate in all the other sorts of violence if the presence of U.S. occupiers had not provided a rallying point … but that may be moot now, as the massacres of Sunni civilians by the Shiite militias and death squads provide their own casus belli.

Of course, the other role the U.S. military has been playing has been to arm and train a state security apparatus that is being increasingly revealed to be under the control of Shiite religious parties.

I’m left wondering whether the only choice the U.S. has left is whether to stay and help the Shiites win the civil war (and thereby retain some post-war influence/oil/bases) or leave and let them win it more quickly and with fewer casualties.

I just don’t see how they go about stopping it.

Nicholas Gruen
18 years ago


Your problem is that you are not sufficiently freedom loving. Freedom is messy and may involve mililtias for a few more decades.

Anyway, it was called ‘Operation Freedom’ all along, so no-one can complain that they weren’t warned. One thing you can say is that the whole operation has been above board all along.

A general credit to all involved.

The one criticism I think freedom loving people can legitimately make is that we should have hopped in for our chop of antiques at the museum while we had the chance.

18 years ago

Iraq has no airforce with combat ability. Even internal forces still rely on the U.S. for air backup (which is critical) and will continue to do so. Give Iraq and airforce? Might as well hand your enemy a gun and tell him to shoot you. Let’s not mention that the U.S. will NOT pull out because enduring (air) bases were one of its prime motives for going to war.

Every U.S. president since Carter has made repeated statements that it will do everything to protect U.S. oil interests. This doesn’t mean it plans to steal oil but it will do anything to ensure access to oil. And the Saudis – reliable as they have been and still are with oil supply – weren’t prepared to continue hosting U.S. forces. Let’s not mention propping up the House of Saud and the infamous religious schools. So Iraq was going to be it. Having about 1/4 of the world’s oil reserves probably helped and the fact that the Azber reserves weren’t as big as thought 10 years ago when the BTC pipeline was started probably cemented it in the past year or so.

Have a look at how much defense resources are increasingly assigned to protecting energy infrastructure these days; look at the headache that is the Caspian, listen to every major speech Condi made in her first year … anyone who thinks oil/energy wasn’t a factor behind the U.S.’ decision at least, to go to war is kidding themselves.

[I sometimes wonder if, with Iraq oil production just not hitting the mark given all the sabotage and things going so badly elsewhere (Russia turning off the gas to another country…!?), it finally prompted Bush to suddenly start talking about the U.S. maybe thinking about alternative energy sources more seriously (duh!) . Actually, I give him too much credit. I don’t think Bush is a bad guy, he’s just not the sharpest knife in the drawer. And his greatest strength (recognizing his intellectual limits) is his greatest weakness (relying on dick-brained advisors who can’t admit their own balls up and Bush not having the brains to discern when they are talking out of their arse)

To pull out will not just leave Iraq facing civil war; it will also leave Iraq to be a sitting duck for the Iranians, Syrians etc. and as you say potentially disrupt the world economy, and also fail to achieve one of the U.S. major objectives – air bases; oil security.

To Balkanise would also lead to chaos unless the U.S. Coalition forces support it as you say. But that would also require increased resources to secure increased numbers of borders, ensure peaceful transition, realign infracstructure etc which would be even more of a strain than it already is – not to mention social and economic costs on Iraqis like splitting families, impact on workforce mobility for a workforce still 60-80% unemployed etc. etc.

Last time I looked, U.S. troop committments were stretched and the U.S. looked pretty broke.

Iraq is like Islam. You can can check out any time you like but you can’t ever leave.

Other solutions?

a. U.S. Federal Reserve prints money and buys NATO forces.

No? How about

b. Send missionaries.

Given that is unlikely to be government policy, then the sad reality is this: Bit the apple? Now swallow the poison.

18 years ago

I think that the three state solution would simply lead to a protracted civil war. None of the three is going to be happy with the particular resources that come under its allotment. Vast tracts of Iraq aren’t oil rich, so who would be designated that land?

18 years ago

Ken makes a good case, though, as he notes, every option at this stage is fraught – to the point of being unworkable. And therein lies the tragedy of how this campaign has been conducted from the start. Regardless, the biggest objection to the 3-state solution–not withstanding J’s relevant points–would be that Iraqis don’t want it, do they? Is there much internal support for such an approach?

Glenn Condell
Glenn Condell
18 years ago

Somewhere out there, Oded Yinon will be smiling quietly to himself.

derrida derider
derrida derider
18 years ago

For me, the first thing to do when you recognise you’re in a hole is to stop digging.

The second thing is to remove from power those who created the hole.

From the start this war was founded on a combination of wilful ignorance and outright lies. I’m ready to forgive most ordinary supporters of the war (yes, its hard to resist scare campaigns, lies told with a straight face and the “my country right or wrong” effect – just please try harder in the future). But the war’s architects deserve contempt and worse – it’s the *wilfulness* of that ignorance, even more than the outright lies, that is unforgivable.

People who start a completely unprovoked and illegal war belong in the dock in the Hague, not in Prime Ministerships and Presidencies. And, moral questions aside, history should leave no-one surprised that such wars tend to dreadful outcomes.

18 years ago

It’s fairly clear that most of the Kurds would be more than supportive of a three state solution. It’s essentially what they’ve always wanted. However it equally clearly doesn’t coincide with the aspirations of the majority of either the Shiites or Sunnis (let’s ignore other smaller groups like Turkmen etc for present purposes).

Let’s not ignore minor groups like the Turkmen. They live in and around Kirkuk. They are unlikely to be happy with a three-state solution that leaves them trapped inside Kurdistan. Let us not also ignore minor groups like the governments of Syria, Turkey and Iran, all of whom have large Kurdish minorities who would draw encouragement from the three state solution.

Let us consider ignoring minor groups like Western intellectuals who think they can handle Iraq’s problems better than Iraqis can.