Thoughts on the Renewed Violence in Iraq
Steve Hynd over at Newshoggers has a very sharp post comparing aspects of the Afghanistan and Iraqi missions. Worth the read.
I’m not quite sure about this:
But whatever the root causes, the Iraqi false peace is falling apart. I expect it to accelerate as we head towards the Iraqi referendum on the SOFA, and for the Very Serious people in the D.C. village to ally with the Petraeus/Odierno military axis to use that violence as an excuse to demand that the U.S. walk back it’s agreements with the Iraqi government.
I definitely imagine the Very Serious People using violence in Iraq as an excuse to call for “re-negotiating” our deal with the Iraqi people.
On the other hand, the referendum may never take place. It’s been postponed and it looks like Maliki is just in stalling mode.
Also, I’m skeptical of the false peace of Iraq falling apart. Steve is a smart guy and he knows that the violence in Iraq is a means to try to achieve political goals. That principle applies whoever is doing the violence–whether it’s Saudis helping to fund the Sunni insurgency, the Iraqi gov’t bought and paid for by the Iranian regime, etc.
Since the US Army is clearly in winding down mode, there will be some vacuum left the wake of its departure. Though it’s worth pointing out that the US has always vastly overestimated its gravitational weight in Iraq. Seems to me from the beginning at most the US has had negative power in Iraq–they may stop for awhile somethings from occurring but have never really positively moved things forward.
Which is exactly why at this point violence is going to come back into the fray because the political fight is back on. It’s hard to imagine though that the violence will return to the apocalyptic horror levels of 2006 for political reasons. Namely the Shia already won the civil war.
The Iraqi Sunnis are forever on the outside. The most they can do and I think certain elements of that population will do, is unleash some low grade destruction/terrorism going forward.
But I don’t think it’s going to unravel the Shia government and bring the country back to full-scale civil war.
The only scenario whereby I could see that happening is the following. The much larger danger going forward for Iraq is not continued Sunni militant bombings–however horrible those most certainly will be/are–but a fight over the Blue Line between the Iraqi Shia government and the Kurdish regional government in the North.
That is a very worrisome possibility.
A Shia-Kurd war would not be the unraveling of the fragile peace. The fragile peace was always a factor of the US backing the Sunni Awakening in order to give space to Maliki to liquidate his Shia rivals and allow various Sunni groups to fight each other over US scraps from the table and take their attention off the Shia gov’t. For a time. Of course they were just gearing back up for a fight with the Shia in that US-sponsored meantime. In the meantime however allowed Maliki to consolidate quite a bit of power, significantly reducing the realistic political aims of taking up arms against his regime, except for the most hardline Sunni militants. That of course and criminal elements who use violence to make money and fund their operations–they aren’t going anyway of course but everybody’s got that problem.
A Shia-Kurd war is the dangerous and perhaps inevitable trajectory of the country consolidating under a strongman–a Shia Saddam. Saddam terrorized the Kurds as we all know. Politically–either Iraq breaks completely apart into (at least 3) various sect-based regions/countries or it returns to its strongman authoritarian past.
My sense is that it’s the latter of those two possibilities but with some serious qualifications this time. One, there will always be a well trained/armed Sunni minority resistance that will cause violence. Two, the Kurds are too strong and have tasted too much freedom to back down against the Shia strongman.
Those qualifications led me to think the country will always stay in a weakened though not totally crumbling state of affairs.
The only nightmare scenario left for Iraq I can imagine (minus Maliki being assassinated) is if the Shia-Kurd war does occur and the Sunni use the Shia distraction of fighting the Kurds to launch a really all out insurgency terror campaign. While there’s meddling from various regional actors in the country to date (Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey) and it’s in their interest to keep Iraq in a weakened stalemate, a real breakdown of Iraq is not in the interests at all. But just because it’s not in their interests doesn’t mean they may not commit stupid actions to accelerate the breakdown of the state.
The tactics of such a campaign would need to unite all the various anti-Maliki groupings (i.e. a return of the Mahdi Army-Sunni insurgency alliance as happened very briefly in 2004?) instead of focusing on blood and guts terrorism aimed to out of date ethnic ideology. In that case, I think over the long term, with US assistance, Maliki’s war machine will crush the Sunni.
If the Shia and Kurds go to war, I think both lose.
Who knows. Iraq could go any number of ways. But since I think the primary fear is of a Kurd-Shia gov’t war, then whatever pull the US has left (with the Kurds it’s a lot) is to be put into ending that tension.
The Shia-Sunni conflict is far more intractable I believe and will last a long time with the Sunni territories reduced increasingly to failed state status–a kind of ghetto existence of glorified young violent death, high unemployment, and constant armed occupation/presence.