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Yes, let’s bring in the neighbors
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Many, myself included, find the ISG's recommendation to bring the regional neighbors to the table with the aim of enlisting them in the effort to stabilize Iraq (and thus the region) to be a bit of a pipe dream. It's not so much that it isn't a worthy goal, it just doesn't make sense that countries who do border Iraq and have no love for the US would have an incentive to see a seemingly weakened US strengthened by such cooperation.

That said, the inability to solicit some cooperation may actually escalate the problem and spread it regionally. At the base of all of this are religious and ethnic divides so deep and so ingrained that they almost can't help but burst forth at some point. When and if that happens, the present conditions in Iraq could seem like a picnic in comparison:
A group of prominent Saudi clerics have called on Sunni Muslims around the world to mobilise against Shi'ites in Iraq, although a statement they issued fell short of calling for a jihad, or holy war.

The statement appearing on Saudi Islamist Web sites on Monday said Sunni Muslims were being murdered and marginalised by Shi'ites, backed by Iran, and the U.S.-led forces.

Saudi Arabia, a bastion of Sunni Islam, backs the Shi'ite-dominated government of Nuri al-Maliki largely because it fears that sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites could lead to the break-up of its northern neighbour and spill over its borders.

"We direct this message to all concerned about Shi'ites in the world: the murder, torture and displacement of Sunnis ... is an outrage. We don't think you would accept to be treated like this," said the statement, dated Dec. 7.
Obviously forgotten (or at least ignored) in this message is the fact that Shi'ites suffered "murder, torture and displacement" at the hands of Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Sunnis for decades.

But that doesn't matter any more. This isn't the first rumbling from Saudi Arabia that they're contemplating backing Iraqi Sunnis. At the end of November, the Washington Post ran a piece by Nawaf Obaid, an advisor to the Saudi government in which he said:
Just a few months ago it was unthinkable that President Bush would prematurely withdraw a significant number of American troops from Iraq. But it seems possible today, and therefore the Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance — funding, arms and logistical support — that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years.

Another possibility includes the establishment of new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias. Finally, Abdullah may decide to strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today's high prices. The result would be to limit Tehran's ability to continue funneling hundreds of millions each year to Shiite militias in Iraq and elsewhere.

Both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite death squads are to blame for the current bloodshed in Iraq. But while both sides share responsibility, Iraqi Shiites don't run the risk of being exterminated in a civil war, which the Sunnis clearly do. Since approximately 65 percent of Iraq's population is Shiite, the Sunni Arabs, who make up a mere 15 to 20 percent, would have a hard time surviving any full-blown ethnic cleansing campaign.
Iran, as recognized in the Obaid piece, is the other side of the coin in the region. Although not an arabic nation, it is a predominantly Shi'ite nation. And, as we all know, has much influence among the Shi'ites in Iraq, and especially with al-Sadr, who is now prominently working against the al Maliki government there. Iran obviously wants Shia domination in Iraq and has certainly proven its willingness to support it through the militias and with insurgents.

Last but not least we have Syria. A supposed secular Ba'athist regime, Syria is none the less a predominantly Sunni country (74% Sunni muslim per the CIA factbook). However, Syria has also been a very large supporter of Shi'ite Hamas in Lebanon (allied with Iran). Is that simply a marriage of convenience since they opposed Israel (the enemy of my enemy is my friend)?

Should Saudi Arabia make good on its threat to back the Sunnis in Iraq and Iran then overtly support the Shia, would Syria, at least covertly join the SA effort against the Shi'ites and Iran? They're the wildcard in all of this.

If we are unable to push the Iraqi government to its feet and make it take charge of its country (of if they simply won't do it), outside support for each side could rise dramatically to the point that depending on which side seems to be losing, actual military forces from one side or the other could end up rolling into Iraq to back their side.

And in the middle of that conflagration, whither the Kurds? In their particular case, and as their hopes fade concerning admittance into the EU, Turkey (another "secular" but predominantly Sunni muslim country) may find any such explosion in Iraq (with open warfare between the competing sides) a perfect pretext to end it's "Kurdish problem".

Call this the doomsday scenario, if you will. It's thinking out loud. But again, consider the region, consider it's social structure and culture (mostly tribal with deep ethnic and religious splits) and it isn't as far-fetched as it may seem on first blush.

All this to say, I still don't think we have a prayer of getting anything meaningful out of involving the neighbors just because in the view of 2 of the 3 key countries, a weakened US is what they want. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try anyway.

However, given the recent rumblings from Saudi Arabia and the internal politics in Iraq involving al-Sadr, it becomes increasingly evident that our best, and perhaps last, hope in Iraq still lies with the success of the government and armed forces there. That means we are, for better or worse, fully and completely dependent on them for our success.

I don't believe that was what we were originally hoping for, do you?
 
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I think W ought to step up to the mic and except our friends in the middle east pledge of security forces to help stabilize Iraq.
 
Written By: coaster
URL: http://
Last but not least we have Syria. A supposed secular Ba’athist regime, Syria is none the less a predominantly Sunni country (74% Sunni muslim per the CIA factbook). However, Syria has also been a very large supporter of Shi’ite Hamas in Lebanon (allied with Iran). Is that simply a marriage of convenience since they opposed Israel (the enemy of my enemy is my friend)?
It is absolutely a marriage of political convenience. Shia have hated Syrians for almost 1400 years, when the Syrian leader, Mu’awiyah (a Sunni) led a rebellion against the Caliphate of Ali. Although Ali remained in power after negotiating a semi-truce with Mu’awiyah, Kharijite fanatics (that’s the Muslims in modern day Oman) murdered Ali. Mu’awiyah (and to a lesser extent all Syrians) is still blamed for this assasination and the events that led to it by the Shia.

If, and when it comes down to open warfare, the Syrians will back other Sunnis or remain officially neutral if for no other reason than that the Shia will not openly cooperate with them.

A point missed in all of the discussions of Iraq, Iran, and the Shia is that Ali (who is considered just about the next best thing to God on Earth for Shia)moved his capital to Kufa (in Iraq), lived in Iraq, and was murdered at this masjik in Kufa [the golden marker is supposedly the spot that Ali was praying at when he was attacked). In addition, Ali is buried at the Holy Shrine of the Imam Ali in Najaf (Iraq). This is, next to Mecca, the holiest site in the world for Shia. They aren’t just going to roll over and let Sunnis take over. If open civil war erupts in Iraq, expect the Shia (with Iranian support) to secure Najaf and Kufa as quickly as possible. Basra would probably be next, as it is a key strategic point as well as being the site of Ali’s great victory at the Battle of the Camel.
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: www.asecondhandconjecture.com
Dude - think about that 1400 years. That’s the point, if no one ever let’s sh*t go, it can never get better. Everybody can trot out skeletons if we’re going back 1400 years to find them.

 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Heh, and speaking of the neighbors, we’re talking about the neighbor to the east that is currently holding a conference that could be titled "Why the Holocaust didn’t happen" in Tehran, right?

 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
When I wrote about Obaid’s article, I assumed, as you did that he was a mouthpiece for the Saudi government. That may be the case.
However the Saudis, perhaps realizing how damaging his article was to their "moderate" posturing fired him and disavowed his claims that he was speaking for them.
 
Written By: soccer dad
URL: http://soccerdad.baltiblogs.com
However the Saudis, perhaps realizing how damaging his article was to their "moderate" posturing fired him and disavowed his claims that he was speaking for them.
And yet, two weeks later, the same stuff is coming out of SA. His ’firing’ might have been in name only and a way to officially give the SA government room for disavowal. Whether it is at all serious about the disavowal, of course, is another matter. But I think there has been enough rumbling and grumbling coming out of that nation to conclude that they’ll play some part if the Sunnis in Iraq find their back against the wall (figuratively and literally).
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
That means we are, for better or worse, fully and completely dependent on them for our success.
A major reason for having an army is to be able to tell the neighbours to not intefere in your politics. The Iraqi’s do not have an army capable of threatening their neighbours with any consequential damages for interfering in Iraq. Its army has been constructed as an infantry force, designed to engage in counter insurgency only. Until they have offensive capability they will be at the mercy of whomever wishes to involve themselves.

The USA/UK do have forces to make involvement in Iraq a prohibitively costly exercise, but will never use them as such.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
Iraq could be a foretaste of a larger regional sectarian war. We can only avoid it, I believe, by engaging especially Syria. Our policy now virtually pushes them into embracing their alliance with Iran. Yet Assad knows he’s in a Sunni state, and we can perhaps offer a better alternative. The possibility of a regional conflict is something I discuss in my blog today (link below).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Someone help me out, please. Fumbling, misunderestimating, and incompetently fomenting the Great Internecine Muslim War while losing an average of 2 military personnel a day is a bad thing, how?

What? Gas is going to go up? To maybe $3 or $4 a gallon?

Been there and done that.
 
Written By: Arcs
URL: http://
Someone help me out, please. Fumbling, misunderestimating, and incompetently fomenting the Great Internecine Muslim War while losing an average of 2 military personnel a day is a bad thing, how?

What? Gas is going to go up? To maybe $3 or $4 a gallon?

Been there and done that.
There are a lot of innocent people dying. It would be anti-human to sluff off the brutal suffering taking place in Iraq, and which could spread beyond.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Dude - think about that 1400 years. That’s the point, if no one ever let’s sh*t go, it can never get better. Everybody can trot out skeletons if we’re going back 1400 years to find them.
That’s the thing, though, looker, no one ever does let things go. Look, Americans, for all the good we’ve done in the world, have only existed as "Americans" for about two hundred years and change. Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc. have existed for darn near 4,000 years in one form or another. Islam has been around for more than 1,400 years. We Americans do not have a sense of history. We do not understand notions that involve more than a few decades or so. That is a great pity, because most of the world does (the Chinese think in terms of decades [pre-Communism, they thought in terms of centuries], the Arabs think in terms of centuries, the Catholic Church thinks in terms of millenia, as do the Jews).

If you ever hope to understand the mess that is the modern Middle East, you have to know about and acknowledge conflicts and bloodfeuds that go back to the very beginning. I think that is one of the great errors of American diplomacy. We never actually know ANYTHING about the people that we’re dealing with. We try to fit everyone and everything into nice, neat black and white categories and we keep making the same mistake of putting square pegs in round holes. Until we learn about the history and acknowledge it, we’re never going to get anywhere. The actual players on the ground in the Middle East sure do, why don’t we?
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: www.asecondhandconjecture.com
All this to say, I still don’t think we have a prayer of getting anything meaningful out of involving the neighbors just because in the view of 2 of the 3 key countries, a weakened US is what they want. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try anyway.
Even before the ISG report came out the idea that the US should negotiate with Iran and Syria was becoming fashionable in the predictable places.

If I recall correctly, McQ pointed out during Sunday’s podcast that we are no longer in a position of strength vis a vis these countries. In fact, we are no longer even in a position of parity; we would be negotiating from weakness.

In the podcast, Jon Henke countered with an argument similar to the one that McQ is taking up in today’s post: we have nothing to lose by trying.

I cannot imagine Tehran or Damascus genuinely agreeing to any compromises or concessions. Unfortunately, I can imagine certain elements of the American foreign policy establishment trading away vital American security interests for empty assurances and false promises (see: Jimmy Carter; Agreed Framework).

Maybe I am being too cynical, but that is the reservation that I have. In fact, I can even picture the ISG gang going to Tehran and trading away Manhattan for some Persian rugs and calling it a victory for bi-partisanship.

 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://

I cannot imagine Tehran or Damascus genuinely agreeing to any compromises or concessions. Unfortunately, I can imagine certain elements of the American foreign policy establishment trading away vital American security interests for empty assurances and false promises (see: Jimmy Carter; Agreed Framework).
We have to decouple Syria from Iran. Syria is a Sunni majority state ruled by a generally secular Baathist party. While Assad and his insiders are Alawites (a form of Shi’ism) they know that if Lebanon goes to civil war again, or if fighting breaks out beyond Iraq, the regime is in difficult position. I suspect that Assad remains so close to Iran is that in 2003 he was afraid of the US "going on to Damascus" and felt he had no choice but to strengthen the alliance with Iran. He probably hoped Hezbollah would pressure Israel to deal on the Golan Heights.

We should first talk to Syria about Lebanon and Iraq, and offer them a way to break with Iran. Syria is still in a position of weakness, even though Iran isn’t. If we can make progress in decoupling them, Iran’s position will weaken.

But negotiation does not mean capitulation, and despite our relative weakness due to Iraq, that weakness is primarily in terms of our ability to make ultimatums and demands. No one thinks we can enforce those, we should drop that kind of stuff from our diplomacy, it’s impotent. But we do have a lot to offer on a variety of fronts, and especially the Syrians may be willing to bend to get some benefits.

Also with Iran: if we don’t seem as threatening, then the hardliners might have a more difficult time holding power. They’ll lose the anti-Americanism that helps gain them support when many are chaffing at their direction. So negotiations could yield a lot of good — but they have to be done skillfully and with patience. Can this administration do that?
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Omar,
I understand they may do this, but can’t agree with it. On various sides of my own lineage I’d have the Irish murthering the English/Norman/Flemish who were trying to conquer the French/Irish who all hate the Vikings, Romans, Gauls, Teutons, etc etc. How do you measure how far back ’you’ go to decide who you forgive and who you hate, and why you should let that take up any time in your day to day existence, when in fact the people you’re focused on disliking have actually done nothing to you directly, or your country directly, for, say, the last 50 years, possibly your entire life time (though, I grant, post WWII Middle East is a bit closer in the timeline and filled with fighting).

I understand there’s plenty of history in the Middle East (and in the world at large), an excessive amount in fact. Who to dislike for overruning Syria, the Medes? The Hittites? The Egyptians? The Persians? The Alexandrian Greeks? The successor princes? The Romans? The Arabs? The crusaders? The turks? The British? Where do you decide your hatred needs to extend back to? Ah, okay, we’ll skip the guys who are now unrecognizable in modern day (though their genes probably live on, and probably in you) and hate the ones who still claim the racial, national names or religion of past oppressors.

History is a wonderful thing, knowing where you come from, wonderful thing, trying to get revenge for losing a herd of goats in 800 B.C., not such a great idea.
At this point their history lines are tangled, and given the way oral tradition operates, and a fair amount of written history as well, fictional accounts of injustices and triumphs span over the centuries.

They can go on fighting over that I suppose, but, short of satisfying slaughter of the descendents of the ’house that oppressed my house’ how do you ever redress the things of the past to anyone’s satisfaction? How do you get retribution or restitution for the loss of the goat herd 2806 years ago?

Yes, I’ve trivialized it, but not everyone’s loss was ’great’, not all injustice was significant. Yet even if you understand it, you can’t hope to ’fix’ it, because there is no fixing, there’s no diplomatic method that’s reasonable for, say, modern Lebanese Christians to make up to modern Palestinian Arabs who’s family ancestors died in the sack of Muslim Jerusalem during the 1st Crusade!
At some point you just have to MOVE ON and stop seeking justice, vengence, restitution and retribution for the sins or victories of your great great great great grandfathers.

What’s more, most of the religions the occupants adhere to probably preach forgivness....don’t see it much though, and yet they’ll kill each other for their religions, which they themselves don’t obey while they’re practicing this very same killing. Which God is it that says go ahead and kill as many people as possible? Kali? Mars? Odin? Huitzilopochtli? Wrong region of the world for those gods, isn’t it?

So, what’s to understand, that they’re going to demand satisfaction for past wrongs that can’t or won’t be given, from people who probably (in your 1400 year old case certainly) had nothing to do with it? Am I supposed to accept this as a reasonable and rational position to start diplomatic bargaining from?
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
In the podcast, Jon Henke countered with an argument similar to the one that McQ is taking up in today’s post: we have nothing to lose by trying.
If you’ll recall, Aldo, Jon also said talking doesn’t necessarily mean conceding anything. Talks are just that. There may be absolutely nothing there and I’m sure that will become apparent fairly quickly (and I’m still of the opinion that’s the case). But it costs us nothing to find out.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
All this to say, I still don’t think we have a prayer of getting anything meaningful out of involving the neighbors just because in the view of 2 of the 3 key countries, a weakened US is what they want. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try anyway.

However, given the recent rumblings from Saudi Arabia and the internal politics in Iraq involving al-Sadr, it becomes increasingly evident that our best, and perhaps last, hope in Iraq still lies with the success of the government and armed forces there. That means we are, for better or worse, fully and completely dependent on them for our success.
McQ, are you handing out advice again about what we should do in Iraq?

Will you please stop. You have been so wrong on Iraq so many times that it seems whatever you predict or recommend, the opposite necessarily turns out to be true. As I have said before, the only persons with any authority to comment on Iraq are those persons who recognized before the invasion that invading and occupying Iraq was stupid and would be counter-prodcutive. You cannot be counted among that group.

You believed the invasion was a good idea. You were wrong. It’s that simple. Whether and when you admit that fact is a different question.

Now, I placed in bold your notion of what constitutes our best and last hope. It evidences such a misinformed, naive and ultimately wrongheaded view of what is now possible in Iraq that I can only laugh. The notion that there is some "government" that we can pin our hope would be comical if it weren’t do deadly.

Let me clue you in: there is no functioning government. The armed forces are made up of members who are loyal to sect and tribe first, and to the nation state thirteenth. The militias/insurgents control the army and the police. They are killers, not peacekeepers.

Here is my prediction: Six months from now you will be saying the same thing. Hundreds more Americans will be dead. And things will not be any better, and will in fact be worse. That’s my prediction. And I will wager $10. Care to make a bet?



 
Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
There are a lot of innocent people dying. It would be anti-human to sluff off the brutal suffering taking place in Iraq, and which could spread beyond.
Except we already sluff off in Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Tibet, Zimbabwe and Burma without seeming to be anti-human.
Someone help me out, please. Fumbling, misunderestimating, and incompetently fomenting the Great Internecine Muslim War while losing an average of 2 military personnel a day is a bad thing, how?
What is occuring now is merely a small internecine Islamic struggle, if it does escalate to the Great Internecine Muslim War then it is probable the casualty rate will climb as more belligerent forces become involved or the effect on the oil market would be greater as the conflict spreads to Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran & Saudi to push gas up to $10 - $15 at the pump or both.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
Except we already sluff off in Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Tibet, Zimbabwe and Burma without seeming to be anti-human.
A classic example is Rwanda. I think everyone should read Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire’s book Shake Hands With the Devil. Dallaire’s effort to do whatever possible to stop the genocide in Rwanda was met by the great powers — the US, France, UK, etc. — with neglect and denial. And these people only had machetes, Dallaire was convinced only a few thousand armed forces could stop the bloodshed.

Instead, Dallaire ended up with PTSD, became suicidal, and blamed himself for failure of the mission (he headed UNAMIR). It was the world’s failure, he was actually the one doing everything possible, driven by his values (he is a Roman Catholic) and humanism. It is the most powerful book I’ve read in a long time.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
" Dallaire was convinced only a few thousand armed forces could stop the bloodshed."

Sort of like Rumsfeld and Iraq. But then again, he was only dealing with Africans.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
" Dallaire was convinced only a few thousand armed forces could stop the bloodshed."

Sort of like Rumsfeld and Iraq. But then again, he was only dealing with Africans.


You should read Dallaire’s book, you might that, to your amazement, Africans are just as human as we are, and their lives just as valuable.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Yeah, and I’m sure timactual was ’being sincere’ in his statement rather than facetious.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
It is absolutely a marriage of political convenience. Shia have hated Syrians for almost 1400 years, when the Syrian leader, Mu’awiyah (a Sunni) led a rebellion against the Caliphate of Ali. Although Ali remained in power after negotiating a semi-truce with Mu’awiyah, Kharijite fanatics (that’s the Muslims in modern day Oman) murdered Ali. Mu’awiyah (and to a lesser extent all Syrians) is still blamed for this assasination and the events that led to it by the Shia.
Not to mention their feelings about Muawiyah’s son Yazid.

But with Assad an Alawite, it at least adds an odd dynamic to this all. I think that the generally secular but Alawite leadership knows its walking on eggshells with its connection to Iran (and Hezbollah), but doesn’t see another choice. The US could probably make him an offer that would give him an option that isn’t as dangerous to his rule in a Sunni dominant state. We need to decouple Syria from Iran, I think that can be done.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Ah, Looker, another reader of good taste and judgement.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Perhaps I should have said Gordon, instead of Rumsfeld.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
In all of this, I hear very little about the Kurds (who are, incidentally, Sunni) except as some sort of afterthought. Anyone who’s been in the region will tell you that "Kurdistan" is the success that the US claimed to be seeking: a non-fundamentalist (in fact, about as secular as Turkey), representative government, friendly to the US and open to western values.

If Iraq descends into the chaos that many seem to be predicting, I would hope that the US would use its logistic and air assets to help them stay how they are. That is, not be destroyed by overflow of the Sunni-Shia battles in the south, tempted by the chaos to settle some scores themselves (that’s one reason the US has been very careful about providing heavy weapon assets to the Kurds), or invaded by opportunistic neighbors, like Turkey and Iran.

We owe these people, let’s not turn them into another Hmong.
 
Written By: bud
URL: http://

 
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