Friday, November 17, 2006

Iraq: The Dirty Shiite Option

This Friday evening post only to introduce the troubling collection of perspectives on supporting the Shi'ites in Iraq in this Dan Drezner post: "The quickest and dirtiest path out of Iraq". In that context, please do check out James Fearon's apt House testimony, which Drezner links to. Here's the exec summary:
• By any reasonable definition, Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, the scale and extent of which is limited somewhat by the US military presence.
• Civil wars typically last a long time, with the average duration of post-1945 civil wars being over a decade.
• When they end, they usually end with decisive military victories (at least 75%).
• Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best.
• When they have occurred, stable power-sharing agreements have usually required years of fighting to reach, and combatants who were not internally factionalized.

• The current US strategy in Iraq aims to help put in a place a national government that shares power and oil revenues among parties closely linked to the combatants in the civil war. The hope is that our presence will allow the power-sharing agreement to solidify and us to exit, leaving a stable, democratic government and a peaceful country.

• The historical record on civil war suggests that this strategy is highly unlikely to succeed, whether the US stays in Iraq for six more months or six more years (or more). Foreign troops and advisors can enforce power-sharing and limit violence while they are present, but it appears to be extremely difficult to change local beliefs that the national government can survive on its own while the foreigners are there in force. In a context of many factions and locally strong militias, mutual fears and temptations are likely to spiral into political disintegration and escalation of militia and insurgent-based conflict if and when we leave.

• Thus, ramping up or “staying the course” amount to delay tactics, not plausible recipes for success as the administration has defined it.
• Given that staying the course or ramping up are not likely to yield peace and a government that can stand on its own, I argue for gradual redeployment and repositioning of our forces in preference to an extremely costly permanent occupation that ties our hands and damages our strategic position in both the region and the world.
• Redeployment and repositioning need to be gradual primarily so that Sunni and Shiite civilians have more time to sort themselves out by neighborhood in the major cities, making for less killing in the medium run. Depending on how the conflict evolves, redeployment might take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years.
• The difficult questions for US policy concern the pace and manner of redeployment: how to manage it so as to maximize the leverage it will give us with various groups in Iraq; and how to manage it so as to minimize the odds of terrorists with regional and global objectives gaining a secure base in the Sunni areas.

According to Fearon's research, only 25% of civil wars have ended without a decisive military victory, of which 17 points are the result of a powersharing agreement. The very tricky question is whether both the playing out of a full-scale civil war and non-powersharing result are endstates the coalition can live with? Or can a turn of the table result in a faster solution -- but one that results in a constitutional setup not too far from the present?

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