WASHINGTON – Let’s think of Iraq 10 years from now. Based on current developments, it is not clear that there will be a single country. Whatever the future of ISIL or IS, the Sunni-Shia divide has become so much worse that I cannot see how the two communities can be part of the same country.
Iraq falling apart
Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did his very best to create a Shia dominated government in which the Iraqi Sunnis played almost no role. No wonder that so many Sunnis welcomed ISIL as liberators when they first invaded Iraq from Syria. Now many Sunnis may regret their early enthusiasm for the radical Islamist force.
But any bad feeling against the ISIL ruthless rulers will not automatically entail rekindled friendship with the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. Which is to say that Sunni-Shia relations may have deteriorated to a point of no return. Even assuming that ISIL will soon disappear, (unlikely development), genuine peace and harmony between the two dominant communities that today make up most of Iraq is probably impossible.
Further north, for all practical purposes, Iraqi Kurdistan behaves like an independent country, with its own functioning government, its flag and its Pesh merga military forces.
As for the Iraqi Shia majority, they will have to realize that unless their disposition towards the Sunni minority changes radically, and I mean radically, it will be impossible to hold the country together. Since they probably will not change, with or without ISIL, hard to think that 10 years from now there will be a united Iraq.
US lost influence
And let’s make it clear that the United States does not have the means, the will, or the prestige necessary to influence Iraqi politics. At the moment Washington is nominally engaged in a fight against ISIL that is not going well. But even assuming that ISIL will run of out of gas and that it will eventually implode, (this is at best a hope), America will not be able to put Iraq back together.
So, there will be a mostly Sunni North Western rump, Kurdistan in the North, and the East and South dominated by the Shia. Most unfortunately, given America’s dramatic loss of influence in Iraq and in the Region, the Shia component of the former Iraq will become a vassal of Iran.
A sad end to the 2003 invasion
This is a very sad epilogue for an Iraq adventure that started in March 2003 with the assumption that it was smart to replace Saddam Hussein with a secular, non sectarian, pro-Western Iraqi leadership.
In retrospect, the degree of hubristic self-confidence of the foreign and security people in the George W. Bush administration looks almost bizarre. Yes, believe it or not, they really thought that in no time and almost at zero cost you could have regime change in Baghdad and quick and painless democratic transition; while this historic transformation would yield the incredible gift of planting the seeds of secular democracy in the Middle East. In no time, we were told, the people in the neighboring countries would see how good democracy is. They would kick out their autocratic rulers and embrace free institutions, markets, and all the other benefits of liberty. I am not making this up. All this was said.
Hubris and naiveté
If high school kids would have come up with this game plan for democracy in the Middle East, their teacher would have told them that it was a nice idea but very unrealistic.
But America bought this insanely naive Bush plan. For a while at least, as a nation, we thought that this was doable. Get rid of Saddam and his coterie of Baathists and, with just a little guidance from Uncle Sam, there would be a healthy germination of a modern democracy, fertilized by a large oil revenue that could finally be used to promote development and enterprise instead of being squandered in military aggressions.
Obama made his own mistakes
Well, it did not turn out that way. Sure, we can point out that President Obama did not help much after he took office in January of 2009. He wanted us to believe that all in all it was a good thing that all American forces left Iraq, for good, in December 2011. The country was after all at peace. There was an elected government, nominally on friendly terms with the US. This was his own version of “Mission Accomplished”.
And this shows the alarming poverty of America’s intelligence and analytical skills. Equally bad under both Presidents. The notion that an incompetent Shia majority government, bent on revenge against the former Sunni rulers would be able to preserve security and political harmony in Iraq was insane. And yet this is what Obama told America.
And then, when ISIL came along, the Administration at first dismissed this dramatic setback as a minor nuisance. Later on, after ISIL had made big advances into Iraq, capturing Mosul, Obama announced a major strategy aimed at creating a broad coalition, with America leading the air war. This was so poorly planned and badly executed that now the whole concept looks like a bad joke.
Sunni and Shia will stay divided
Right now, de facto partitioned Iraq is so messed up that no future US President will be able to fix it. It may be possible to contain ISIL. (I am no longer sure about our will to seriously engage its forces and defeat them). But even if this happened, the elimination of the ISIL threat will not be enough to patch Iraq back together.
The strains created by the unintended consequences of the US March 2003 invasion are just too painful.
So, here is what we got. A broken up country with its most valuable part (the part that has most of the oil) becoming an ally of our archenemy Iran, a leading sponsor of terror, according to our definitions. A sad ending of a key campaign in what we used to call the “War on Terror.”