‘Accepting the realities in Iraq’

Is it going to break apart? UK foreign policy think tank Chatham House seems to think so. It argues in a new report, ‘Accepting the realities in Iraq’, that Iraq will collapse and fragment unless the US adopts a new approach.

The report argues that the Iraqi government is now largely powerless and irrelevant in many parts of the country and that there is not one war, if there ever was just one war, but many local civil wars.

“There is not ‘a’ civil war in Iraq, but many civil wars and insurgencies involving a number of communities and organisations struggling for power.”

The UK Foreign Office has hit back saying security conditions, although “grim” in places, varied across Iraq.

Maj Gen William Caldwell, spokesman for the multinational force in Iraq, told the BBC the US troops surge in Baghdad was showing progress.

“We are seeing positive indicators that within Baghdad levels of violence are coming down. That’s what we want it to do, so that it will set the conditions to allow for the economic and political process to take place.”

With Iran stirring trouble in the south and the Mardi Army stepping up its campaign in the Kurdish North, over the disputed areas of of Sinjar, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Mandali, a break up could plunge Iraq into new levels of violence and chaos, the US “surge” while it has had some impact has not been a miracle cure, so what’s to be done?

The US and Iraqi government would seem to have few options.

The report concludes: “Contrary to the initial hopes of policy planners in Washington DC and London, it seems likely that the reality of the regionalization of Iraqi political life – which is in effect a manifestation of identity based politics – will have to be accepted as a defining feature of Iraq’s political structure.

“It will need to be worked with rather than opposed. In pursuing such a strategy, military force in the form of surges cannot deliver the critical political accommodation. Only by engaging with leaders and organizations that possess some degree of credibility and legitimacy among local populations can there be any chance that a political solution built upon negotiations between communities can provide a basis for a strategy resulting in the stabilization of Iraq.

“This recognition and ‘bringing in’ of such leaders can be undertaken by foreign interlocutors but would have a much greater chance of succeeding if prominent Iraqi leaders were seen to be involved. Many of them already are, but in a ‘behind-the-scenes’ way. The process of engagement now needs to be public and transparent.

“The three aspects of this approach are simple enough: find Sunni Arab representatives to participate in government; recognize Muqtada al-Sadr as a legitimate political partner; be more responsive to Kurdish concerns. These approaches should colour any actions taken either by the US or by the Iraqi government as policies are formulated and specific actions planned. Meetings such as at Sharm al-Sheikh in early May 2007 proved that the solution to Iraq is to be found inside Iraq itself. While it is obvious that neighbouring powers have interests in and take actions inside Iraq, their support for any particular approach can only assist the stabilizing of Iraq if Iraqis themselves come to some form of accommodation with each other.

“In effect, Iraqi solutions will need to be found to Iraqi problems. These solutions will then need to be supported by regional powers and the US. Devising US or regional solutions according to the players’ own interests, and imposing them upon Iraq, has been tried and has only served to destabilize the situation further.”