The Blogging of the President: The End of Iraq:

The End of Iraq: Bagdad as UAZ
by Stirling Newberry

Unacceptable Loss of Material

Iraq in the present reminds me of how Yugoslavia was talked about in the 1980's. At that time it was considered unthinkable to allow Yugoslavia to break up. One might think that the people speaking this way were head in sand types that could not see the ethnic tensions in the region. But, in fact, the reverse is the case: many of them understood that a break up of Yugoslavia, unlike say, a break up of Czechoslovakia, would lead to war, what we would now call ethnic cleansing, and chaos. They were right, three wars were fought in the wake of Yugoslavia's fall: the Serb Croatian war over the Kriajina, The Bosnian Civil War, and the Kosovo Conflict, there was ethnic cleansing. The economic consequences were every bit as bad as could be expected: Bosnia has managed to crawl back from the stone age to the early 19th century, but no farther.

What does this have to do with the present? Let me start with this entry from Juan Cole:

I should also say that I think it is crucial to separate out the politics of the Iraq war from the question of the safety of US troops. Each and every one of these brave men and women is serving our country under incredibly difficult conditions and deserves our undying thanks and support, whatever we think of the political mission. They removed a Saddamist regime that was frankly genocidal, and that overthrow was in itself a noble act. But the remaining tasks in Iraq (most of them in some way political even when military) are not something it is fair to ask them to stay on for, or to which their training and mindset suits them. I personally think it is time to bring them home.

You can count me among the people who would have supported an invasion of Iraq under a wide UN mandate with an indictment for war crimes after an article 62 hearing. But I knew, from early 2002, that that was not the Iraq invasion that was going to happen. Once let loose the dogs of war and all of that.

Juan Cole, not that long ago, was pushing the idea that some other stabilizing force needed to be brought to bear on Iraq. He may well believe that to be the better course of action still. However, the political realities are that we have two choices, and only two choices, on the table: complete withdrawal, or attempting to keep some US bases in Iraq. With this being the menu - "which do you want chicken or stake?" - people have to place their support accordingly.

However, absent a stabilizing force, even one as overloaded as the USUK occupation force, this means that internal political trends will be given free reign to play out. As with Yugoslavia, some of the best informed people I read or speak to are absolutely adamant about there being a necessity of a unified Iraq. They point to the dangers of divison, the external pressures, the territorial ambitions of outside powers, the political influence of larger pan-movements, the intermixing of populations which will lead to ethnic or religious cleansing, the economic consequences will be as terrible - it is likely that Baghdad would share Sarajevo or Beirut's fate as an urban apocalyptic zone.

In short the same kinds of very well informed people making very accurate predictions about the results of a balkanized Iraq, are what make me believe that it is a likely outcome, and that the international security community - that is NATO, The UN Security Council and the G-8 - should be planning for the possibility that it will happen. The same forces of inter- and intra- sectarian violence that make a disintegrated Iraq unthinkable, are the forces that make it likely. If they can't live together in separate states, they won't very well be able to live together in one big failed state.

That Saddam filled the same role as Tito should not surprise anyone. They presided over very similar states: creations of external political need rather than any internal drive towards political unity. States riven with internal violence and religious strife, states without a unified economic existence, states buffeted by cross winds of ethnic unificationism, and at the same time by political and economic ideologies which took no notice of ethnic divisions. That they would come to many of the same solutions is not strange either - strong men in Africa, Europe and Asia have followed the same road: a party state with a cult of personality on top, a core of support drawn from one ethnic group acting as the enforcers of that state, and carefully playing ethnic hatreds against each other. The meltdown of the Lakes Region and the Congo represents the extreme worst case of the fall of such regimes, where the enforcers simply begin massacring everyone else, until the reach the boundaries of other enforces, at which point de facto partition sets in. Yugoslavia represents the next step up from the bottom of the pit - in that de jure partition has allowed the groups to pursue their destinies alone, even if that means their own particular brand of misery.

I will then agree with the experts that a balkanized Iraq - while preferable to a Iraq as a battle ground between Syria, Iraq, Wahabi backed terror sub-states and perhaps others - is still among the worst possible outcomes.

The Overworked Piece

Yesterday's putsch in Baghdad was all but effortless. It was the act of an adult moving the candy out of reach of a child. The Supreme Council for Revolution in Iraq - a group formed to fight Saddam externally in the Iran-Iraq War - remvoed the mayoralty of baghdad from an appointee. Originally appointed by "Pro-consul Bremer", he was reappointed by the national government.

This conflict is not between Sunni and Shia - or even between pro-US "eagles" and anti-US lions, but between the Da'wa Party (The Call, as in call to worship), and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. These two organizations have very similar roots: both were islamic anti-secular parties. Dawa was formed in the late 1950's to combat communist groups, and in the 1980's attempted to assassinate Saddam and carried out an internal campaign of bombings and resistence - while the SCIRI was formed in Iran with the help of the Tehran government, and fought Saddam externally. Both trace their political legitimacy to the religious leadership of Shia Islam, both are backed by Iran, and both participated in the same voting list in the 2005 elections.

The primary difference is that the SCIRI has its base of support among poor Shia, both in the swamp lands and in Baghdad, while the Da'wa party is based in the holy city of Al-Nasirya, and has its power base controlling Islamic holy sites. As an historical note, this is why Al-Sadr - whose father was instrumental in Da'wa's history - tried to set up his officies in Baghdad and in the holy city of Al-Najaf - to unify these two bases of power - people, and the money to fund them.

The falling out had been over the budget of Baghdad. The former mayor had wanted a large budget, and the national government did not want to provide it. Dawa wanted to remove the mayor and replace him with someone from their own party, but could not engineer it, even though he had resigned. The national government wanted to give the city government only a few million dollars for a city the size of Chicago.

The city council decided to precipitate matters, called on the Badr organization - the military arm of the SCIRI - to engineer a replacement.

These events scrawl in large letters "The End" on a very large wall to American influence in Iraq.

To be playing chess is to more than know the rules, it is to know the winning patterns. Chess players, who are playing, are struggling to create, or deny to the other player, these winning patterns, because when a winning pattern materializes, it produces a decisive moment. One such pattern is the "overworked piece". An overworked piece is one that is defending against two threats at once. The attacking player proves that a defender is overworked by simply acting on one of the threats, knowing the defender must stay locked in place to defend against the other threat.

The US military is the queen on Iraq's chess board - easily the most powerful piece, with reach to every corner of Iraq, something no other piece can match. However, it is locked down holding down the road system, at the center of which sits Baghdad. Without this road network it cannot operate for long. We lose approximately 40 dead and 100 severely wounded every month just doing this. There isn't enough force even to accomplish this mission. What little surplus can be gathered from time to has to be thrown at Sunni rebel bases to prevent the Sunni rebellion from mounting even larger attacks on the road network and on the Green Zone at the center.

The intrasectarian conflict between Da'wa and SCIRI shows that the other nominal objective of the US forces - to shape the post-Saddam Iraq - makes it "an overworked piece". There is no force available for the US to pressure the domestic political factions. Having decided last year to give the Kruds de facto autonomy and the religions Shia factions political hegemony, as the cost for putting down Al-Sadr's rebellion and getting a base to attack the neo-Baathist rebellion, the US forces became overworked.

And yesterday, a pawn simply snatched Baghdad's civil administration as proof of this.

The Blogging of the President


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