The end game in Iraq
Carlton M. Caves
2005 September 30

While the attention of most Americans has been focused on the destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the situation in Iraq has gone from bad to worse, with increasing violence both from the Sunni-led insurgency and from radical Shiite elements in the south. The country is headed for an October 15 referendum on the new constitution, an election that threatens to hasten the current slide into violence and civil war.

The Shia and the Kurds dominate the central government, and they controlled the writing of the new constitution. They decided in favor of autonomous regions for themselves, within a federal structure, with each region allowed to enjoy the benefits of its own oil revenues and with the Shia clearly aiming to set up their region under Islamic law. This de jure division of the country endorses the de facto division that already exists on the ground. The Shia and the Kurds, without objection from us or our British allies, have been consolidating control of their respective regions, using the power of their home-grown militias and placing elements of these militias within the police and security institutions. These measures threaten the interests of the previously dominant Sunnis. After several weeks of pressure from us to make changes in the constitution to address Sunni concerns, the Shia and the Kurds said to heck with it and decided to go ahead with their original draft of the new constitution.

One cannot avoid the impression that the country is coming apart along ethnic and religious lines. Adoption of the new constitution will hasten this unravelling by confirming the de facto division of the country, thus further aggravating Sunni discontent, and perhaps plunging the country into full-scale civil war.

Under these circumstances, what options do we have?

There are no good choices. It's not clear whether there was any way to succeed in Iraq---or even what success would be---but it is clear that Bush and his gang, by their lack of planning and general incompetence, have maneuvered us into a corner from which there is no graceful retreat. The Bush gang's policy was always that a show of force in the Middle East was necessary after 9/11 to impress the countries of the region with our power. This amounted to a gigantic throw of the dice, with uncertain consequences. Over the next year, we will begin to see how the dice are going to land.

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