Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Non-Surprise of the End of the Year

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity.  WSJ
This is hardly surprising.  Iraqi nationalism requires any politician to say that the Americans must go, even if privately they would prefer that the US soldiers stick around.  Because the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated by the Bush Administration sets an end-date, the Iraqis would have to make a positive decision to keep the Americans around.  This is not going to happen.  If the SOFA had an option that the US could deploy (think in terms of a sports contract--does the team or the player have the option to continue the contract?), then perhaps the Iraqis would be able to go along with it.

But, of course, there is the US side of things as well.   Obama cannot backtrack on his commitment to get down to zero.  This is one of his key campaign promises and his base really, really wants out of Iraq.  He can claim credit at the end of 2011 (just before the new election year) for following through on his word and that of the Bush administration.  Thus, even if Maliki had been more willing to keep American soldiers around, it takes two to perform this particular dance, and Obama would not be dancing. 

The bigger question is whether Iraq will unravel when the Americans leave.  I am not so sure.  Iraqi nationalism does seem to be putting some breaks on the influence of Iran, but the real question is not so much whether the Sadrists join the government but how the government treats the Sunnis.  The Awakening folks already feel betrayed and at risk.  So, it is hard to be wildly optimistic.  Perhaps the Americans just got a decent interval between their exit and Iraqi collapse.  Or the Iraqis will muddle through.  I don't think the experts know, and I am certainly no expert on this.  What I do know is that the key is going to be the behavior of the security forces--do they use force disproportionately against the Sunnis?  The Kurds?

1 comment:

Bill Ayres said...

In the early days of the long part of the war - after we had destroyed part of Saddam's military and fired the rest of them, but before the Awakening and the Surge - the Kurds were, next to the Americans, the largest, best-organized, best-equipped, and most battle-tested fighting force in Iraq. Yes, Kurdish infighting has long been a serious problem (KDP, PUK), but that seems (from a distance) to have been kept in check.

Unless the US has managed to seriously alter the balance of power on the ground, it may well be that at the dawn of 2012, the Kurds are still the biggest, baddest thing in Iraq, regardless of which uniform patches they're wearing that day (Kurdish loyalty to the Kurdish nation appears to trump loyalty to the Iraqi nation). If that's the case, then there will either be a serious fight over Kirkuk, or the Shiite government will leave the Kurds alone (ceding Kirkuk to them, in part if not in whole) and concentrate on the Sunnis. Or maybe they'll find a way to get along with the Sunnis, and let the Kurds drift away.

I guess it's my years of studying separatism, but I can't count out the Kurdish separatist cause as a major force in Iraq's future, not least because of how militarily and strategically powerful the Kurds are. I don't know that we'll see a Sudan-style referendum on independence right away, but I think the trend is going to be in that direction.