ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Iraqi Demise – Less Than "Decent Interval" 13.09.10

Iraqi Demise – Less Than "Decent Interval"


13 September 2010

By Yisarel Ne'eman

Iraq is moving towards collapse, and much faster than most are willing to admit. While Israel and the Palestinians jockey for position in the aftermath of the highly publicized September 2 summit in Washington, Baghdad is well on its way to another bloody round of civil war in the never ending struggle between Shiites and Sunnis despite recent American attempts to build some national unity formula. This time violence may be worse than anything we have seen in recent years. There are 50,000 American troops Iraq in an "advisory capacity" while the Iraqi national security forces are expected to keep law and order while holding the country together. Such "expectations" are grossly exaggerated. What unified Iraq over the decades was a brutal Stalinist central authority, in particular that led by Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath cohorts. American attempts at secular nation building since 2003 will unfortunately prove a failure. Religious sectarian loyalties along Sunni – Shiite lines can be expected to tear Iraq to shreds, but once the dust settles they will form two separate states with a northern Kurdish appendage unless a unifying secular Iraqi identity will prove dominant, this appearing unlikely. Echoing Henry Kissenger's Vietnam policy of 37 years ago, but in a more skeptical manner, this time the interim period can be referred to as a less than "decent interval". It too can be expected to take a few years at best.

Terror attacks are increasing and the upward spiral will continue, whether by Sunni al-Qaeda types targeting Shiites as happened at the end of last month or in the form of Khomeinist Shiite retaliations against Sunnis. Most can be expected to take place in the Baghdad region where the populations are mixed and an ethno-religious cleansing by one side or the other will yield huge dividends as the winner takes all. One can bet on the Iranian backed Shiites to capture the capital and its environs, showing little mercy for the formerly pro-Saddam minority Sunnis. Some two decades ago Saddam's Sunni supporters showed no mercy when slaughtering the Kurdish minority in the northern mountains or the Shiites living in the swamp regions of southeast Iraq.

This time it will be different – for the worse, if that be imaginable as Iraq heads for dissection. Tehran waited patiently for the American pullout and fulfillment of the Obama promise to end all American combat missions by the end of August 2010. Now it is Ahmedinejad's turn to move towards building a Shiite front in alliance with eastern Iraq. One should not expect an outright annexation, as such a move would trigger much international backlash. But a third of Iraqi territory and over half of its population will become some form of Iranian satellite, and not necessarily a reluctant one. True, many will see themselves as Arab and not Persian, but under a Shiite identity and an Iranian security umbrella even the less religiously inclined will accept such an arrangement. It will provide the best deal in town, certainly better than attempting to rebuild an anarchical malfunctioning war torn Iraq of dubious identity. And this is the good news.

The western and central desert regions are overwhelmingly Sunni and at one time were a Ba'athist stronghold. Theoretically, secularism in the name of "Iraq" could rise again but Muslim Brotherhood religious extremism is challenging the old ways. In Gaza the Brotherhood (Hamas) provides a safe haven for terrorists and can only be kept at bay through continual Israeli counter terror actions and the threat of retaliation. A Muslim Brotherhood and/or al-Qaeda dominated Sunni regime in western Iraq will prove an even worse nightmare than the above mentioned Iranian puppet state in the east. Who in the West would be able to threaten retaliation and carry out a significant deterrence policy? Sunni Iraq may very well break down into tribal anarchy and become the international breeding ground for al-Qaeda, if it has not already. The Iran – Iraq War of 1980-1988 will have its sequel thirty years later as an internal Mesopotamian conflict.

The two sides can be expected to battle each other, most likely to a standstill, as they did last time unless the Iranians will take an outright victory. Such a scenario would incur a joint Arab – Western response undermining immediate, pragmatic Iranian objectives of Shiite unification and control of most of Iraq's oil producing capacities. Ahmedinejad is no one's fool and will know just how far to push his advantage without endangering his gains.

The Kurdish issue is two-fold, the first involving Sunni claims to oil resources in the Mosul and possibly Kirkuk region. The second possibility of conflagration is rooted in the long standing demand for an independent Kurdish state, an eventuality staunchly opposed by the Turks who face their own Kurdish succession movement in the southeastern part of that country. Ankara continually threatens invasion should Iraqi Kurds declare independence. In the big picture, the future of Iraqi Kurdistan is a minor issue, at least for the immediate future.

Until 2003 Iraq was considered a serious threat to Israel, whether immediate or in potential. With the conclusion of the American combat mission, the potential is now resumed, only this time the threat is merged into a double radical eastern front. The Sunni Iraqi rump state will be heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and may very well support al-Qaeda in one form or another. Further to the east a pro-Iranian Shiite state will make its debut. Concluding an uneasy truce both powers will intensify the threat to Israel from the east. Most destabilizing will be the Sunni state and its influence on its not so stable western neighbor, Jordan, already suffering from heavy Hamas influence. In Israeli strategic thinking the Hashemite Kingdom is a buffer state keeping Iraqi forces 250 kilometers away from the Jordan River and Israel's border with Amman. Should Jordan fall to radical Sunni forces the Jewish State would face an existential threat from the east.

Other complications would inundate the Arab Gulf States where Shiite and Sunni extremism would guarantee conflict and instability in those societies adversely effecting oil supplies and pricing. The Iranians would like nothing better. With oil supplies and Western economic interests endangered the US and EU will have to decide whether to prop up Gulf regimes, and in particular the Saudi Arabian monarchy.

Hastening to keep his campaign promise and bowing to public pressure, President Obama is not just forcing the Iraqis to prematurely fend for themselves, but may inadvertently be endangering the Western world's oil supplies while strengthening the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and the Iranian export of the Khomeini Revolution throughout the Gulf and Middle East.

In Israel's immediate neighborhood both Hezbollah and Hamas will gain. Although the final outcome cannot be predicted, one should expect an increase in both Sunni and Shiite extremist influence throughout the region. These two will clash, but there is no reason to believe they will not eventually join forces to do battle with their ultimate enemy: the West.