Accepting Realities in Iraq

Even President Bush should be able to read this twelve page ‘Briefing Paper’ (pdf) on Iraq by Dr. Gareth Stansfield, Chatham House and University of Exeter.

Some of the highlights are:

  • The social fabric of Iraq has been torn apart.
  • There is not ‘one’ civil war, nor ‘one’ insurgency. but several civil wars and insurgencies between different communities and organizations; there is also a range of actors seeking to undermine, overthrow or take control of the Iraqi government.
  • Iraqi nationalisms exist, but one distinct ‘Iraqi’ nationalism does not.  Iraq has fractured into regions dominated by sectarian, ethnic, or tribal political groupings that have gained further strength from their control of informal local economies.
  • Al-Qaeda has a very real presence in Iraq that has spread to the major cities of the centre and north of the country, including Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul.  Although Al-Qaeda’s position is challenged by local actors, it is a mistake to exaggerate the ability of tribal groups and other insurgents to stop the momentum building behind its operations in Iraq.
  • Regional powers have a greater capacity than either the US or the UK to influence events in Iraq. This arises from a historical legacy of social interaction and religious association that exists irrespective of modern international state boundaries.
  • The Iraq government is not able to exert authority evenly or effectively over the country.  Across huge swathes of territory, it is largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life.  At best, it is merely on of several ‘state-like-actors’ that now exist in Iraq.
  • Security in Iraq cannot be ‘normalized’ in a matter of months but instead should be considered within a time frame of many years.  If the Multinational Force is withdrawn, Iraq’s nascent security services would not be able to cope with the current levels of insecurity.

This analysis of the situation in Iraq demonstrates just how totally wrong the Bush administration has been about how things would go in Iraq after the fall of Saddam’s regime.  It shows how the social control mechanisms in  Iraq have basically been reset back to a default of regional tribalism due to our intervention.

Obviously, the first step in the road to a solution is to identify the players and what each of these players want as an outcome.  If we continue along the path of simple minded platitudes such as, ‘They hate us for our freedoms,’ or ‘If we don’t fight them over there, they’ll follow us home’ we’re not going to even begin to solve the issues, and will most certainly make things worse.

The unruly children of the Bush administration have unleashed a huge can of worms in the region and now we need some adult leaders to clean up the mess.

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