Freezing A Fractured Iraq

Yesterday, CAP’s Brian Katulis appeared on CSPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss recent developments in Iraq with John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security. Here, Katulis suggests an explanation for why declining violence has not led to political progress among Iraq’s leaders:


KATULIS: The notion of the surge, that if we decrease violence and make people feel more secure, would lead to political transition and progress on that front, I think we should question it. Because if you look at key fundamentals, if you look at what the surge has actually done, it may have in fact frozen into place a very fractured and fragmented country.

A key feature of the surge, for instance, was providing support to the Sons of Iraq — an independent security force, largely Sunni, but with some Shiites involved. I worry that the story of Iraq since 2003 has been a story of a country that has fractured and fragmented, and what happened during the surge, in a sense, [was that] rather than creating greater incentives for the different Iraqi factions to come together on the key issues that still remain unresolved — Kirkuk, Article 140, the oil law, the budget, a whole host of issues — rather than achieving progress, we may have actually impeded it by freezing into place a very divided society.

Recent reports of the Iraqi government’s military offensive against leaders of the Sunni Awakenings underlines Katulis’s point about the downside of the surge strategy. By empowering these Sunni militias, many of whom were former insurgents and allies of Al Qaeda, the U.S. created alternative, competing bases of power to the Shia-dominated Iraqi central government. Whether this strategy would translate into stable Iraqi state hinged on the question of whether the government of Nouri al-Maliki would be willing to accommodate these militias, either by incorporating them into the Iraqi security services, or providing them other jobs. The offensive against the Awakenings indicates that the the answer to that question is “No”:

In restive Diyala Province, United States and Iraqi military officials say there were orders to arrest hundreds of members of what is known as the Awakening movement as part of large security operations by the Iraqi military.[…]

“The state cannot accept the Awakening,” said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. “Their days are numbered.”

In a February report, Katulis, Peter Juul, and Ian Moss warned of these dangers:

What has been extolled as a central “success” of the surge has also exacerbated existing political divisions and fomented new political cleavages in an already fractured and fragile Iraqi body politic. Newly empowered sahwa leaders are challenging each other, traditional Sunni Arab political parties, and the Iraqi government. […]

What’s worse, current U.S. policy in Iraq does not take into account how the sahwa movements have further fractured and fragmented Iraqi politics, making it more difficult to achieve progress in striking the power-sharing deals necessary to stabilize their country.

Other analysts have also sounded the alarms on the ways in which the surge strategy agitates against Iraqi political reconciliation. Here’s Andrew Bacevich in January:

Rather than fostering political reconciliation, accommodating Sunni tribal leaders ratifies the ethnic cleansing that resulted from the civil war touched off by the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a Shiite shrine. That conflict has shredded the fragile connective tissue linking the various elements of Iraqi society; the deals being cut with insurgent factions serve only to ratify that dismal outcome.

Steven Simon, in the May/June Foreign Affairs:

The surge may have brought transitory successes… but it has done so by stoking the three forces that have traditionally threatened the stability of Middle Eastern states: tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism. States that have failed to control these forces have ultimately become ungovernable, and this is the fate for which the surge is preparing Iraq. A strategy intended to reduce casualties in the short term will ineluctably weaken the prospects for Iraq’s cohesion over the long run.

Meanwhile, at a recent CNAS panel on the future of Iraq (pdf), surge proponent Jack Keane dismissed the idea that 90,000 angry guys with guns threatened the stability of Iraq:

We’re wringing our hands about what are we going to do with these 90,000 guys? It’s not a big deal, all right? We can worry about it if we want to, and I guess we’re going to, but it’s not that big a deal, because these people are realistic. They know what’s going on. And they’ll take the handout as long as we want to give it to them, and right now, we’re giving it to them. But they’re not going to go back and organize themselves into insurgent movements again and try to take over this regime and drive the United States out, which was their objective.

Shawn Brimley asks an appropriate question: “What happened the last time we humiliated tens of thousands of armed Sunni men in Iraq?”

Needless to say, Max Boot sees all of this as a reason for the U.S. to stay in Iraq.