November 30, 2004

Worse than Civil War?

So "cut and run" seems to be the latest solution to Iraq's woes. Perhaps the idea that the U.S. was the only thing keeping Iraq from slipping into chaos has become too conventional. Now we've got the new idea that the U.S. is fomenting instability. (Well, it's not new, it's been around on the left for some time.) Or the idea that Iraq is already in a civil war, so what difference does it make?

I mentioned this a few days ago, but it still strikes me as misleading to say Iraq is "already in a civil war." The Sunni insurgency, at present, is still only an insurgency -- causing a lot of death and mayhem, yes, but not fundamentally a global threat. Were the U.S. to withdraw, however, those same Sunni forces would likely regroup and set their sights on trying to take over the country, Taliban-style. (Barring, of course, a deus ex machina political compromise.) Could they succeed? Maybe. Right now the "insurgency" is already two to three times bigger than the entire Iraqi military (Army + Intervention Force + Special Forces). True, the Kurdish peshmurga could trounce the Sunni insurgents in a conventional war, but why would they bother? Why not just defend Kirkuk and Mosul, kill a few Arabs on the outskirts, and be done with it?

So that leaves a failed, Sunni-dominated state in the south, inevitably receiving funding from charities on the Arabian peninsula, oppressing the religious heretics, and waxing exceedingly angry at the United States. All that's missing are tall Buddhist statues to knock over. If a Taliban-style takeover were utterly implausible, that would be one thing, but it doesn't seem so implausible that it's worth ignoring. There are worse things than civil war. But then that still leaves the question of whether we really want to stay for a "decade or more", as one Iraqi Interior Minister estimated... and I don't know the answer any more than anyone else.
-- Brad Plumer 4:24 PM || ||