17 October, 2006

The Future of Iraq

The Times reports the Iraq Study Group has concluded that the attempt to turn Iraq into a democracy should be abandoned in favour of a less ambitious approach. Two alternatives are said to be on the table. One, called "Redeploy and Contain" involves "a phased withdrawal of US troops to bases outside Iraq where they could be deployed against terrorist organisations anywhere in the region." Another, entitled "Stability First", (which should perhaps be better labelled as "petrol on the fire") suggests attempting to stabilise Baghdad whilst bringing in Iran and and Syria to help end the fighting. Bringing in terrorist states to combat terrorism in Iraq, much of which they are behind? I doubt I will be the only one not able to take reports of that option seriously.

Crumbling Spires is in no doubt that President Bush was right to try to turn Iraq into a functioning democracy. Equally, Prime Minister Tony Blair was right to commit British troops to the operation. Success would be of great value to the foreign policy interests of both countries. However, there must come a time when the desirability of any mission's aims must be weighed against the cost in terms of military casualties. We may well be approaching the point at which the Coalition will have to accept that it is impossible to impose western concepts of democracy on an unwilling Iraq without our troops paying an unacceptable price.

The Iraqis themselves are so rent with factional ethnic and religious conflicts that they seem, almost by default,to be moving towards some sort of federal solution, as though the only way to hold the country together is to keep the factions apart. The Daily Telegraph reports that last week the Iraqi parliament passed a federalism law which could allow the main religious factions -Sunni and Shia- to create their own semi-autonomous regions, roughly analogous to that of the ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq. There is an obvious danger that such an arrangement would lead to Sunni and Shia refraining from killing each other for long enough to jointly take on the Kurds, a move which Turkey and Iran might well enthusiastically join. None the less, for all the dangers, the federal solution might at least offer some stability, even if it might not amount to western concepts of a functioning democracy. It might even offer a sufficient degree of stability to enable the Coalition to more easily fulfil what is surely its primary role in Iraq: reducing the terrorist threat to the west.


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