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[casi] The only hope now is to divide Iraq into three,,172-917340,00.html

The Times (London)
December 3, 2003, Wednesday

The only hope now is to divide Iraq into three

Simon Jenkins

Those who try to do the undoable must also think the unthinkable. American
strategists in Iraq are contemplating what they have always denied, the
search for a "strong man with a moustache" to stop the present rot. If the
result is not democracy, so be it. If the result is the dismemberment of
Iraq, so be it. Iraq has become a mess. There is only one priority, to "get
out with dignity".

This strategy is now being rammed down the throat of the Pentagon proconsul
in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, by George Bush's new "realist" Deputy National
Security Adviser, Bob Blackwill. He answers to Condoleezza Rice, not Donald
Rumsfeld, and is the new boss of Iraq. The Pentagon, Mr Rumsfeld and Paul
Wolfowitz, architects of the old "idealist" strategy, are in retreat. The
Iraqi Governing Council, which Mr Bremer reluctantly created, will be
disbanded. Washington must find someone with whom it can do business,
someone who can deliver order in return for power.

That search is Mr Blackwill's job.

In a nutshell, Washington has bought the old British Middle East strategy,
that you deal with local leaders and leave them to it. The fantasies of Mr
Rumsfeld and of George Bush's recent "world democracy" speech are at an end.
There must be no second Vietnam in Iraq. Necessity has become the mother of
humiliating invention.

We shall never know if Mr Rumsfeld's adventure could have turned out
otherwise. As his weapons of mass destruction vanished in the desert air, so
has his belief in a "new democratic beacon in the Middle East". That
collapsed from the minute he peremptorily tore up the State Department's
Future of Iraq Project shortly before the invasion and ostracised its staff.
His faith in corrupt expatriates was crazy.

His post-invasion demolition of Saddam Hussein's state apparatus removed the
institutions and disciplines on which any government depends.

The May 16 order disbanding the Iraqi Army created 400,000 enemies overnight
and gave the Saddamists what they most needed, a sea of Sunni resentment in
which to swim. The wild shooting habits and hearts-and-minds ineptitude of
the 82nd Airborne and 4th Infantry did the rest. They supplied a stream of
blood-feud assassins. For Iraqis this inept occupation has brought to life
the Arab proverb, "Better 40 years of oppression than one day of anarchy."

What is amazing is the speed with which Washington recognises its mistakes.
The dubiousness of "victory in Iraq" was vividly illustrated last week when
George Bush had to visit the country in secret and dared not leave his
airbase. Saddam loyalists are operating virtually at will, now even in the
south. The White House got the message. Washington sacked its first
governor, Jay Garner, within a month of the invasion. It is now effectively
abandoning its second within six months.

Baghdad has seen three regime changes within a year.

The plan Washington forced on Mr Bremer last month abandoned the Pentagon's
policy of steady progress towards democracy through an elected assembly. The
new plan was more urgent, a "transfer of power" to a provisional government
next spring, with the hope of elections thereafter. This government would be
selected from the three provinces on a local "show of hands". It would run
the New Iraqi Army and police force and enjoy some patronage over oil
revenue and $ 19 billion of aid.

Now this plan appears also to be in disarray. After witnessing the present
governing council, the White House has understandably lost faith in Iraqi
assemblies, however chosen. The CIA assessments are clear. Evidence of
economic recovery means nothing when Iraqis associate American occupation
with fear and lawlessness. They see Saddam loyalists getting away with
murder and looters getting away with their property. Something new is

Iraq has only ever been held together by brute force. Washington is
grudgingly accepting the view that this is unlikely to change. A new leader
is needed to prevent the place becoming a global magnet for what the Arabist
historian, Bernard Lewis, calls "new causes for anger, new dreams of
fulfilment, new tools of attack". This was, after all, the view that
Washington took in the 1980s when it decided to support a certain Saddam

The 60 per cent Shia majority, long oppressed by Saddam and his Sunnis, see
its hour as come. Its primary allegiance is to ayatollahs who, however
moderate, require government to be based on Islamic law. Like all Iraqi
politicians, these men are playing slow at present. They are watching the
chaotic mood swings in the Republican Palace fortress in Baghdad -and biding
their time.

These men include Aziz al-Hakim, chairman of the Sciri group on the
governing council, Muqtadah al-Sadr, heir to the heroic Ayatollah al-Sadr
whose face has replaced Saddam's in a million picture frames, and the Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They are not so close to their one-time Iranian
hosts as to scare their fellow Iraqis. They eschew the word fundamentalist
and have for the moment (mostly) stood down their militias. Mr Blackwill's
game plan must be to find his strong man from this group. He must let the
Shias decide which of them should be boss and hand Iraq over to that person.
Such a regime would at first embrace the minority Sunnis and the oil-rich

However, it is idle to pretend that this embrace would be stable. Mr Bremer
has turned the Sunnis into a mass resistance movement, armed and desperate.
They have no jobs or oil and increasingly see Saddam as their champion
against Shia domination. Their underground Baath party is a lethal saboteur
of any new regime.

Baghdad, once majority Shia but now heavily Sunni, could become another
divided city, a place of nightly horror.

As for the Kurds in the North, they will allow no loss of the sovereignty
they enjoyed under the "no-fly zone". Their current leader, Jalal Talabani,
would support a Shia regime for a while. But any Shia decision, say on oil,
with which the Kurds disagreed would be opposed. Many Kurds have dreamt of
an independence which has never seemed closer than now. Sceptics are already
talking of "Kurdistan" becoming "America's second Israel".

For the Americans to try policing such a confederation is politically
inconceivable. To hold the Sunnis in subjugation to the Shias, to deter the
Turks from oppressing the Kurds, to reassure the Saudis over an
Iranian-backed Baghdad, would all require hundreds of thousands of troops in
perpetual battle mode. It is not on.

The yearning for national unity and dignity may be palpable in Baghdad. It
was hoped that, after Saddam, the Americans might deliver it. The Ottomans
had ruled Iraq as separate provinces. The British fashioned a nation under a
Hashemite king with armed force. Saddam continued this ruthlessly through
the Baath party. He rebuilt Babylon and made Baghdad a shrine to pan-Arab

Such unity is not remotely in sight. Possibly if the Americans had purged
and redeployed the Baath party it might have stood a chance. They did not.
Instead they are turning to the ayatollahs. But they, or their civilian
frontmen, would face intense Sunni resistence. The odds would be on the
Sunnis eventually demanding similar autonomy to that enjoyed by the Kurds,
perhaps with help from their neighbouring co-religionists, the Syrians.
Small wonder Iraq's six adjacent states are in a state of suspended horror.
They see Mr Rumsfeld's "cradle of stability" turning into anything but.

The strong man solution cannot hold. Iraq seems ever more likely to split
three ways. Fragmentation has become the default mode of Western
intervention. It was so in Yugoslavia. It is so in Afghanistan. It will be
so in the coming conflicts in the Caucasus. America and Britain apparently
cannot tolerate the power centres needed to keep disparate nations in order.
We may no longer divide and rule, but we happily divide and debilitate.

If this was the Pentagon's strategy all along, it has been implemented in a
funny way. But since realpolitik has overtaken idealism as Washington's
ruling ethos, at least an orderly break-up of Iraq should be planned, not
denied. In 20 years of meddling, America and Britain have made a mess of
this nation. They owe it the least blood-spattered path they can fashion to
whatever the future has in store.

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