Putting Humpty-Dumpty Together Again

Posted on


Brian Beutler asks:

Here’s a question that goes out to basically everybody–from liberals who think that the United States can’t possibly create political reconciliation in Iraq to conservatives who think Maliki (and Iran and Democrats) are standing in the way. Is political reconciliation really enough?

I’m pessimistic. In Ending Civil Wars Stephen Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth Cousens conclude that “Three factors are most commonly associated with a difficult environment” in stabilizing a country in the wake of a political agreement to end a civil war. Those are “Spoilers — leaders or factions hostile to a peace agreement and willing to use violence to undermine it; neighboring states that are hostile to the agreement; and spoils — valuable, easily tradable commodities.”

Internally, I see a high likelihood of spoiling. Even if you had a political accord uniting the two major Kurdish parties, the Sadrist, Dawa, SCIRI, and a sufficient number of Sunnis, the sheer quantity of factions would be a problem. If one Shiite faction felt others were ascending at its expense, it would have an incentive to deploy Shiite maximalism to undercut its rivals’ positions. Similarly if one Kurdish party saw the other gaining the upper hand. Nobody even knows what the deal is with the Sunnis.

Similarly, on the international front while it’s certainly possible that pro-Western Arabs, Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Israel would all loyally support a reconciliation accord it would require a substantial change in the regional diplomatic situation. At the moment, it seems inevitable that somebody would see events evolving in an unfavorable direction and seek to disrupt the accords. Last, Iraq is one of the most spoils-having countries on the planet. 20th century Iraqi history is chock-a-block with coups and attempted coups simply because a successful coup can make you very rich.