Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Idealism vs realism in Iraq

Aug.16, 2006

Idealism vs realism
in the Iraq quagmire

US President George Bush is reported to have ruled out a three-way division of Iraq saying it would only worsen sectarian violence and was not an option for solving the country's problems.
Wittingly or unwittingly, the presidential statement has not only highlighted the realities on the ground in Iraq but also underlined the truth that the world is is getting resigned to the idea that the country would soon lose its territorial integrity (having lost, in April 2003, its sovereignty, which is universally defined as "the exclusive right to exercise supreme political — legislative, judicial, and/or executive —  authority over a geographic region, group of people, or oneself").
On the other hand, it is true that the US, by virtue of its military presence in Iraq, might be able to divide Iraq into three or more parts, but it is not the question here. The question is: How long could the US hold Iraq together?
Warnings about the prospect of Iraq splitting along ethnic and sectarian lines are not new. In fact, Arab leaders, including the leaders of the Gulf states, repeatedly cautioned the US against invading Iraq because they knew of the possible consequences, which included a disintegration of Iraq and violent spillovers from Iraq into the region.
Their fears are coming true, whatever the Bush administration feels about the future of Iraq.
There cannot be any overestimating or misinterpreting the signals coming from Iraq. "Ethnic cleansing" — forced or voluntary due to fear — is continuing at a fast pace, with tens of thousands evacuating "unsafe" areas and moving to ethnic enclaves. Those who opt to stay back risk being killed. The US military and local security forces are unable to help them regardless of their ethnic affiliatiion.
US military commanders started with warnings of sectarian strife gaining intensity and now they have started using the term "low-intensity civil war." Well, if the average number of non-combatants being hauled away from anywhere — from their homes and places of work, and even from the street — and slaughtered is 60 a day, then the conflict is no longer of low intesity by any standard.
No one in the region — with the exception of Israel, the prime beneficiary of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq — wants to witness Iraq being split, whether by force or by an uncontrollable series of events. However, from the looks of things in Iraq today, a disintegration of the country is looming ahead.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be anything anyone could do to avert that fate for Iraq when the forces in control of the country themselves are unable to check the slide.
Whatever the argument, it could not be denied that the US presence in Iraq is the major source of instability.
However, Washington is not ready to accept this year and that is reflected in the US president's arguments.
There are several schools of thought.
One school argues that an American military departure from Iraq would leave a serious security vacuum, and Iraqis would openly go for each other's throat. Furthermore, external elements driven by sectarianism would start meddling in Iraq and this would lead uncontrollable chaos.
Yet another stream of thought says that the three main sects of Iraq — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — were never happy being bound together into one entity by the colonial powers in the first quarter of last century, and if they want to part ways now, why not let them do it in an orderly fashion (if that is ever possible).
Another argues that the situation could not get any worse and hence the US should simply stop arguing that "terrorists" would gain control of Iraq if the US military quits, and should leave the Iraqis to determine their fate themselves. There would be some more bloodshed, but the people would be more amenable to seek ways of co-existence rather than fighting among themselves. The UN and the Arab League should step in with all transparency and help the Iraqis sort out things and stabilise the country.
Of course, the US insists that it would not even set a timeline for leaving Iraq until it is satisfied that Iraqi security forces are capable of shouldering their responsibilities. Indeed, that is the ideal situation, but idealism is far from realism in Iraq, and the equation is further complicated by suspicion — and conviction on the part of many — that the US has no intention of ever ending its military presence in Iraq. Bush has made clear that "as long as (I'm) president, we're in Iraq." Such semi-ambiguities might be linked to political expediency within the US, but that would not help the contain the crisis in Iraq.
The best option that Bush has, as some American experts suggest, is to work with regional leaders on a formula that would cause the least ripples (although, in Iraq's context, the least would mean much more than many would bargain for), and implement it in tranparency while retaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.