Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Iraq Potential Unity Diminished But Not Destroyed

Strategy Page is raising an alarm about the Iraqi political system careening off its democratic rails.  I am not so alarmed.  Violence is normal in the Arab world and the use of terror attacks, extralegal threats, and intimidation should not surprise Western observers.  Iraq will never clone a Western political process no matter how much advice the United States provides.  Iraqi self-governance will retain facets of brutality that are ingrained in Arab political culture.  

In December 2009, I estimated Iraq's chances for "success" as a unitary state at 60%. I stand by that estimate. Suicide bombings have not yet returned to the epidemic levels at the height of the war. Iraq's generational dynamics are such that a full Sunni-Shiite civil war is unlikely because many survivors of the last Sunni-Shiite conflict, the Iran-Iraq War, are still alive and remember the horror. Only the intervention of Sunni Arab neighbors would upset the balance and they don't trust each other enough to work together (GCC Shield Force notwithstanding).  That Shield Force was able to stabilize Bahrain, a small country, with a short-duration deployment.  It is too small to pose an existential threat to the Iraqi military establishment.  Arab military coalitions are ineffective because Arabs don't trust each other.  Only those Arab forces that acted in concert with a Western sponsor (as in the first Persian Gulf War under US leadership) can operate at even a minimal level of effectiveness.  This means that other Sunni Arab states have little hope of influencing Iraqi politics with a threat of land invasion.  Iraqi Shiites have little appetite for mass expulsions or worse directed against its Sunni minority because they value integration with the world economy after decades of deprivation under UN sanctions.  They will continue to find ways to make life uncomfortable for Sunnis but they value their new investment links with the outside world too much to risk anything more harsh.  

We shouldn't use Anglo-Western standards of normalcy to judge Arab internal stability. There will be more bombings. That does not mean Iraqi self-governance will fail.