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Scenario for the Future!
Can we still develop a plausible strategy for peace in Iraq?

27 October   |   2006   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Whenever I find myself in the USA, I try to read the New York Times not only because I find that it oft-times offers compelling analyses of world events but also because it has its finger on the American pulse.

On 24 th October, the NYT published an editorial Trying to Contain the Iraq Disaster in which it offered its grim assessment that any hope for a "stable, wealthy democracy" in Iraq is no longer possible. The editorial also segued with a series of five steps that might help contain this gargantuan disaster and offer all Iraqi citizens - and the USA - an opportunity to salvage the mess that has resulted from such an ill-thought war.

  • Start at Home : a switch in strategy in Iraq is necessary. This can in part be achieved by firing Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld whose negligent decision to use Iraq as a proving ground for his pet military theories, rather than listen to his generals, has gone woefully - damagingly - wrong. This can further be achieved by making it clear that the USA "will not keep permanent bases in Iraq".
  • Reconciliation Talks : the national process for reconciliation should resume forthwith, and "continue until some agreement is reached on protecting minority rights, dividing up Iraq's oil revenues, the role of religion in the state, providing an amnesty for insurgents willing to put down their weapons, and demobilising and disarming the militias". The US should also "begin its own negotiations with the Iraqi leadership about a timetable for withdrawing American troops - making clear that America's willingness to stay longer will depend on the Iraqis' willingness to make real compromises".
  • Stable Baghdad : this would require "the transfer of thousands of American troops to the capital from elsewhere in the country" to help demonstrate that security and rebuilding are together possible today.
  • Convene the Neighbours : given the mismanagement of the war, and its impact on Iraq's neighbours whose regimes feel increasingly threatened by such sectarian violence, the oil-rich states bordering Iraq should be requested to provide "major financing to underwrite jobs programmes and reconstruction". Moreover, the US Administration should draw Syria and Iran into its peace-brokering efforts, and forfeit its heretofore belief that talking to another country is by itself a major concession.
  • Acknowledge Reality : the US Administration should come clean and acknowledge that "the choices in the immediate future are scant and ugly. But there are still a few options to pursue, and the alternatives are so horrible that it is worth trying once again - so long as everyone understands that there is little time left and the odds are very long."

In addition to those five steps, the NYT editorial also averred that the Bosnian model of dividing the country into three ethnically controlled regions would not function - even if Iraqi Kurdistan would wish to go that way. This analysis is quite accurate, I believe, due to the internal dynamics of those communities let alone the global geo-political and geo-strategic interests that overstep Iraq. And whilst I do accept that achieving reconciliation would almost certainly require a transfer of some power and resources to provincial and local governments, Iraqis should still avoid being lured into fragmenting scenarios if they truly seek stability and prosperity.

Yet today, three years into this war, I am no longer confident that even such a multi-phased scenario would pacify Iraq. Indeed, a majority of pundits not only agree that the justification for the invasion of Iraq was spurious, but that the situation has now become quite irremediable too. Yet, despite evidence to the contrary, I had consistently maintained the hope that real democracy could still triumph in the region - despite all the mayhem and turmoil. But even this forlorn hope is now fast becoming a sad victim of the misguided policies of the US Administration across the Middle East. Why? Well, simply because those policies are pummelling the very genuine and homebred democratic forces in the Arab World that were the repository of hope for many peoples. Those indigenous democratic pulses - from Egypt to Palestine - are being stymied remorselessly.  

So what if the NYT solution fails also? As Elias Khoury warned his readers in the Al-Quds daily on 24 th October, such a failure would not only translate into a defeat for the US, but equally cuttingly into another defeat of Arab popular aspirations for real democracy. And that would be the saddest victim of this abject war.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2006   |   27 October


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