Summary: There have been many signs that Iran is ready to negotiate with the US a “master settlement” of Iraq. Would this officially mark Iraq’s loss of sovereignty, as it became a ward of other states? Once a regional power, Iraq has become like Lebanon. Broken into three pieces — in which Iran and the US wield extra-legal power, manipulating Iraq’s factions for their own ends. Muqtada al-Sadr increasingly appears to be Iraq’s last major nationalist leader. The stage is set for the next President to start his term with a major success, signing a treaty that ends the Iraq War.
See how far Iraq has fallen! Twenty years ago Iraq’s leaders aspired to regional dominance. Now it is broken into three fragments. As I said a year ago (March 2007) this means the Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, and (November 2007) an end to our war in Iraq. Now we begin the the end-game.
Many experts, such as Stratfor, have long predicted that the Iraq War will end with a master settlement between Iran and the US (with some involvement by the major Iraq factions). A master settlement would codify their powers in Iraq, a “carve up” of Middle East territory somewhat like that following WWI and WWII. Iran has high cards in this “great game”:
- Strong influence with both major Shiite factors, headed by al-Maliki’s alliance and al-Sadr.
- Well-entrenched networks of operatives in Iran, along with excellent intelligence from the extensive
- Ancient cross-border family and commercial connections.
- A strong position in the region, as shown by recent events in Lebanon.
Bush remains fixated on defeating Iran, but a deal might prove irresistible to President Obama or President McCain — starting their term with a major accomplishment. America will get many of our goals in Iraq, such as “enduring bases” and an Iraq government hostile to al Qaeda. It will end the ruinous cost of the war, borrowed from foreign governments. The debilitating strain on our land forces will end, and they will be freed up to recover — an address other threats. And the new government, freed from the need to run a war, can address its domestic and foreign policy goals.
McCain especially would be able to laugh at his critics, as these words prove to be correct:
We’ve got to get Americans off the front line, have the Iraqis as part of the strategy, take over more and more of the responsibilities. And then I don’t think Americans are concerned if we’re there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years. What they care about is a sacrifice of our most precious treasure, and that’s American blood. So what I’m saying is look, if Americans are there in a support role, but they’re not taking casualties, that’s fine.
A broken Iraq cannot control its destiny, as greater powers shape it to suit their needs. So the major Iraq factions will not dominate the settlement process. After four years of war, no Iraq faction can reasonably anticipate full victory, not even the Kurds. Everybody has something to offer. Everybody needs something. The winners can consolidate their gains. The losers can prevent further losses.
What might be the elements of this master settlement?
- Agents of both powers would continue to enjoy immunity from Iraq law.
- Sharing of control over Iraq’s foreign policy.
- A role in the sharing of Iraq’s oil wealth: a role in writing its laws and participation in contracts to develop, sell, and transport its oil.
- A large role in “protecting” Iraq against internal and external enemies. That is, control over the training and use of Iraq’s military — including recruitment, promotion, and assignment of its officers.
- A large role as arbitrators among Iraq’s ethnic and religious factions — necessary to prevent them from allying to expel foreigners.
- “Enduring bases” in Iraq for US forces, in exchange for equally valuable concessions to Iran.
- Limited independence for Kurdistan, in exchange for its government no longer supporting Kurdish rebellions in Iran and Turkey.
Not quite the UN Charter in action. Probably not what Iraq’s people voted for.
A settlement might be near, as seen in this article: “Iran shifts attention to brokering peace in Iraq“, Christian Science Monitor (14 May 2008) — “Details from a secret meeting between top Iranian and Iraqi officials signal Iran’s aim to ‘stop arming’ militias.” It describes what might be the key to recent events in Iraq: US and Iran use their Iraq proxies to crack down on the one remaining center of Iraq nationalism.
Two weeks ago, an Iraqi delegation sent to Iran by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned with promises that Iran would support Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-led government and lean on Sadr to reach a truce.
Iran “committed to acting more positively, and we are now awaiting evidence of that commitment,” says Haidar Abbadi, a member of parliament from Maliki’s Dawa Party. The Sadr City cease-fire is a “good sign” that shows the Iranians “putting pressure on the militants there.”
… “We all must work together – Iraq, Iran, and the United States – to stabilize the situation,” the Iraqi president said Soleimani told him. He declared Iran’s unequivocal support for the Maliki government, for its efforts to dismantle all militias, and Iran’s support for the unity of Iraq.
Sadr was now the biggest threat to peace in Iraq, Soleimani said, echoing past Pentagon assessments. “We now recognize [that] Sadrists have gotten outside anyone’s control” which is a “dangerous development for Iraq, for Iran and for all Shia,” he indicated, according to the description. Iran could not control Sadr even in Iran, where the cleric is currently taking advanced religious training, and his return to Iraq would “be a big danger.”
Iran’s “only demand,” Soleimani is said to have told Talabani, was that the anti-Iranian group Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK or MKO), some 3,400 of whose militants still reside under US guard at Camp Ashraf, be forced to leave Iraq. US and Iraqi officials, too, have long been looking for ways to disband the camp.
Soleimani also, according to the official, said that Iran would “not stand in the way of [Iraqi] efforts to negotiate an agreement with the US,” which he termed a “good thing for Iraq,” referring to a deal on the long-term status of American troops in Iraq.
How will al-Sadr react to these negotiations? Cut himeself in for a piece of Iraq? Allow himself to be isolated and destroyed? Become a satrop to another player? Much depends on his goals and skills. Also, these groups are not unitiary entities. The Mahdi Army is not al-Sadr. Polls show strong if latent nationalist sentiments in Iraq, ready for exploitation by someone. More on this in the next chapter.
Implications of this
The next chapter will discuss what this scenario would mean for Iraq, and what what this scenario would tell us about modern warfare. How accurate were the forecasts of 4GW analysts? How reliable were reports of the War Bloggers? What was the role of COIN? What are the lessons learned for America?
Also, how correct were 4GW analysts? War bloggers? What was the role of COIN? What are the lessons learned for America?
Note: This is a forecast — a guess. It is a brief sketch, painted in bold colors for clarity. Sometimes speculation like this helps us better understand our situation and options.
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