Iraq: A Three-State Solution

Posted on Sun 08/16/2015 by


fsm 20120212 sellinBy Lawrence Sellin Ph.D. ~

In my November 2, 2006 United Press International article “Understanding Iraq” I wrote:

“The United States needs to develop a strategy based on the worst-case scenario. If fragmentation of Iraq is inevitable, then the best course of action may be to step back, focus on development of areas of stability, and leverage the religious and tribal differences to destabilize the opposition.”

20141103_trucksiraqtransportIt is often overlooked that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi population have ties to one of over 100 tribes, which provide religious and cultural identity and, in a power vacuum, an alternative government. In fact, Saddam Hussein, during the course of his rule, was required to make continual adjustments in his power base, balancing the often competing interests of state tribalism, selected military and paramilitary organizations and Baath party ideology.

Again from my 2006 article:

“Reestablishing central control in the absence of an active insurgency would be difficult enough. As Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. noted in his 2005 Foreign Affairs article, ‘creating a coalition out of these groups would require systematically mapping tribal structures, loyalties, and blood feuds within and among tribal groups; identifying unresolved feuds; detecting the political inclinations of dominant tribes and their sources of power and legitimacy; and determining their ties to tribes in other countries, particularly in Iran, Syria, and Turkey.’

This effort is further complicated by the presence of transnational terrorism and the counterproductive actions of Syria and Iran. Given a noticeable lack of a suitable strategy, the current situation may present insurmountable obstacles or unacceptable costs to achieving the goal of a united Iraq, at least how it was envisioned three years ago.”

In 2015 we are now “Back to the Future” in Iraq.

The failure of the Obama Administration to mount any successful indigenous opposition to ISIS stems from a fundamental misreading of the operational environment and tactics largely based on obsolete notions and wishful thinking. It is not training they need to fight as much as incentive.

More fundamentally, however, from a strategic standpoint, Obama has made the situation worse, both in Iraq and regionally.

First, he double-downed on George W. Bush’s 2003 power-vacuum-creating invasion of Iraq by withdrawing prematurely in December 2011, just as a measure of stability was being restored.

Second, Obama abdicated the US role in the region by designating Iran as the regionally power and subcontracting support for Syrian opposition groups to Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who then, not surprisingly, pursued their own interests, leading to the growth of ISIS and its expansion into Iraq.

There are no longer any easy courses of action, nor ones that may not upset allies or benefit enemies in some way.

The division of Iraq into Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish regions may now be inevitable.

The US strategic goal should be to eliminate Islamic radicalism as a significant threat and thwart Iranian regionally hegemony.

In a divided Iraq, there is little doubt that the Shi’a region would be aligned with Iran, but that scenario could be countered by the Sunni regions and fostering Arab nationalism.

It is clear that the Kurds provide the only indigenous military force that has consistently and successfully fought against ISIS.

The US should immediately increase support for the Kurds, militarily and economically, with the genuine prospect of an independent Kurdish state. Providing assurance to Turkey regarding its own Kurdish region is desirable, but Turkish objections should not dictate US policy in the region.

Admittedly, we are now entering uncharted territory with a risk of unexpected consequences, but such an approach better reflects the reality of the Middle East and, ultimately, might advance American strategic interests, defeat radical Islam in the region, provide greater stability, and help contain Iran.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of “Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution “.

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