Iraq is looking more like a civil war. Recent reports mentioned continuous fighting between Shiites and Sunites for several days in Balad - a city 80 km north of Baghdad. This was the first time that there were protracted battles between those two parties. Before there were only hit and run attacks and bombings.
The fighting continued despite the government sending troops. The problem was that the government troops tended to side with the Shiites. In the end the Americans had to intervene to end the fighting - that had lasted three days by then.
Recently on B92 the American diplomat William Montgomery explained how the American policy towards Bosnia in the 1990-1995 period was shaped by a belief in a central state like in the US (he fails to explain why the US opposed centralizing Yugoslavia). Interestingly this same policy bias can be seen in Iraq.
My advice for Iraq would be:
- reorganise the provinces on an ethnic basis. Do it in such a way that you end up with just as much Shiites in Sunnite controled provinces as opposite.
- Give provinces a strong role in maintaining their own security.
The advantages of this policy would be:
- there is no gain in ethnic violence for any side. Retributions in areas controled by the "others" will cancel out any effect of local violence.
- if Iraq might fall apart you are prepared and have a fair solution.
For this policy to take affect the State Department will probably have to fire their Balkan experts first. People who imposed the recent "police reform" in Bosnia are ultimately uncapable of implementing such a policy.
Iraq recently has adapted a law that foresees a form of decentralisation. It will only take effect in 2008, so it will long before its effect can be evaluated. But it seems to favor the wealthier provinces with income from oil, while it doesn't pay much attention to security. This looks like the situation in Yugoslavia where the US was very understanding towards the economically based seperatism of Croatia and Slovenia while it had a negative view of the security based seperatism of the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs of Croatia.
The difference seems to be how the leaders dress. Leaders of economic separatists tend to dress very well: they try to reflect the diplomatic respectability of a state. Leaders of security based separatists tend to dress badly: they try to show their struggling followers that they don't misuse the funds that they get from them (remember Churchill). Unfortunately this doesn't sell well with the elitist international diplomats. An interesting illustration was Kosovo. After the UCK somehow got flush in cash in 1998 and got represented by well dressed people like Thaci the diplomats got interested. And even then the diplomats continued to ignore the much more representative but shabby Rugova. To go back to Iraq, the young generation of Kurdish leaders favor "Western-style business suits--expensive labels, at that-".
Unfortunately this diplomatic priority conflicts with the priorities of a country. A country should give priority to providing its citizens with safety. And it should be very carefull with giving in to the greed of its richer provinces. The disastrous outcome in Yugoslavia was no coincidence.
In psychology you have the term "cognitive dissonance". It basically says that when you are doing something against your beliefs your beliefs will change. I believe that is what has happened with many Western "Balkan experts". They had to explain and support a policy that was driven by certain forces who wanted to get rid of Milosevic at any price - because he was a "communist" who resisted IMF "reforms". To explain that to themselved these experts had to tell themselves that Milosevic was really a bad man in terms that they understood (ethnic cleansing; Great Serbia, etc.) and that his opponents were basically good.
This "cognitive dissonance" has not just obscured their vision on the Balkan. It has also obscured the general vision of minority questions and how to solve them. And that is what makes it so difficult for the State Department to have a clear view of the Iraqi problem. A Hindu would call it "bad karma".
Of course Iraq has more problems (militia, Al Qaeda, etc), but the country first needs a sound structure that gives all sides trust that their interests are safe. Without that trust the other problems will stay unsolvable - except through sheer exhaustion. But the US will give up long before exhaustion sets in.
Instead we see now what always has been the curse of the diplomatic world: the trust in individuals. Montgomery with his trust in Izetbegovic and Gligorov is an example for Yugoslavia. I believe that he would have done better to have some good thinking about the best way forwards for Yugoslavia instead of placing all his trust in a few men who were distrusted by many in Yugoslavia.
In Iraq the International Crisis Group recently showed how ridiculous this diplomatic favorite picking can become when they wrote a report describing Muqtada Al-Sadr as a man who might play an important role in the future of Iraq.
Al-Sadr reminds me of Hitler in the 1920s:
- Both are nobodies who through violence got a repuation for "getting things done". In Hitlers case this was against the communists - in Al-Sadrs case against the Sunnites and Baathists. As we all know violence stayed an important part of Hitlers rule until the very end and I have serious doubts whether Al-Sadr will be different. If we give Al-Sadr the chance he will establish a dictatorship that looks a lot like that of Saddam.
- Both operate militias (in Hitlers case the SS and SA), that they only partly control. Newspapers regularly suggest that this is a weakness and that they are about to loose power. The opposite is true: it allows them to enlist fighters who are too independent to operate in rigid organisation. Another advantage of this structure is that it allows them to deny responsibility even for actions that everyone believes they ordered. This makes that the judiciary cannot get hold of them and gives them an aura of invincibility.