The stabilization of Iraq cannot be accomplished thru strength of force; at least, not in such a way that we can just up and leave when “the job is done”. Realistically, the job will never be done if we try to do it by force:

That’s why so many Sunnis have accepted Petraeus’s bargain — they join our fight against al-Qaeda, and we give them weaponry and military support. With that, they can rid themselves of the al-Qaeda cancer now. And later, when the Americans inevitably leave, they’ll be better positioned to defend themselves against the 80 percent Shiite-Kurd majority they are beginning to realize they may have unwisely taken on.

By using the minority Sunnis to fight the Shiite* al-Qaeda, we are fomenting a “high intensity” civil war. Sunnis will be “better positioned to defend themselves” – thru strength of arms. By being ready to fight; by being better equipped and trained than they already are, resulting in higher death tolls.

We have so badly bungled the transition from Hussein-run Iraq to a nascent middle-eastern democracy that I doubt the experiment can be salvaged. Had we managed to provide real security immediately after the fall of Saddam – if we had the troop levels in place then to do so – most of the bloodshed in the years since might well have been avoided, and a politically unified Iraq may well have been viable.

Now the ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq are as deep as they’ve ever been. There is a lot a bad blood. If we up and leave, we likely spark an increase in violence in the country. If we stay, the “low grade” killing continues. If we do manage to suppress the violence, it will be by way of an iron fist. Take the fist away, and the conflict will bubble back to the top.

I think partitioning is the only viable solution anymore, unfortunately. A so-called “soft partition” would result in three autonomous states – Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite – that exist in a confederation. US troops could provide security during the transition period where many people would choose to relocate to their sect’s region (much of this segregation is already occurring as a result of the fighting underway). This is likely our best chance to end up with a (relatively) peaceful, functional Iraq, and to get our troops home. Our other alternatives mean a bloody, possibly regional, conflict; or an indefinite, significant military presence.

We should have been talking about this 3 years ago, but the deficit of leadership at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave means we aren’t even meaningfully talking about it now.

* Calling al-Qaeda Shiite somehow slipped thru the self-editing process unnoticed. They are Sunni. Left the original text visible and added this correction in order to respect the fact that I published this entry with an error.

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  • The problem with this approach is that the Sunnis get left without the oil rich areas…

    Oh, yeah, and Turkey has a cow and goes off the reservation, possibly invading an independent Kurdistan.

    But I agree that we have to have some real American leadership to create solutions between all the parties in Iraq. There’s no negotiating happening, just a lot of finger wagging from Washington.

    See Juan Cole on this topic.

  • Al Qaeda is Sunni. That’s why it’s significant that Sunnis are fighting them.

  • This is why blogs need editors. I’m not sure how I messed that up! Fixed.

  • OK, so my “brain-fart” this morning might make things a little confusing, so I’ll clarify here: we’re trading one problem for another, not actually solving the problem, by getting Sunnis involved in militarily ousting al-Qaeda. Glad they want to do it, but it doesn’t solve the problems just over the horizon.

    ohdave, I hear what you are saying, and Turkey going nuts has been a concern of mine since before the invasion. I think Iraq needs a weak federal government to coordinate at a national level (and share revenues from resources like oil), and strong state governments to rule Kurdistan, the Sunni state, and the Shiite state.

    It’s risky, but the best option available IMO. Yugoslavia didn’t have to fall apart, and certainly not nearly as violently as it did. I think it can work in Iraq, but I’m not sure America has the “political capital” to get it done. We need the involvement of other world powers to lend legitimacy to the process of building a nation in that quagmire.

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