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Iraq is a mess. That's the strong consensus among Americans today -- notwithstanding that we disagree vehemently about the merits of our post-9/11 intervention there, the merits of our attempt at disengagement, the value (if any) won at a cost of trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of human casualties, and what we should do now that the whole region is blowing up.

Some provocative thoughts below the fleur-de-Kos.

The title image of wild cats in a gunny sack is one from my young years growing up on an Illinois farm where we had a sizable population of feral cats. They were tolerated as long as their taste for mice in the corn crib didn't extend to the chickens in the hen house. Wild cats are not the cuddly, faux-fierce mascots of modern-day sports teams. They are mean nasty terrorist killers on four legs. They simply don't play nice with others, including their own kind. (It always struck me as remarkable that they could get together long enough to procreate. But I digress.)

A "gunny sack" is a loosely woven burlap bag used for potatoes, chicken feed, or other commodities. If you've always lived in town you've probably only seen them in the context of "sack races" or a "three-legged race" or maybe coffee sacks that have been made into artsy beach bags. At any rate, wild cats in a gunny sack conjures an image of fierce, vicious fighting in close quarters that only ends when the combatants were either dead or victorious. In the country, "like wild cats in a gunny sack" is a strong metaphor for people who just can't get along.

Iraq is like a gunny sack of wild cats. Under the circumstances, if we wanted to decrease the fighting among the wild cats and promote peace, what would one do? One approach would be to try to convince the cats to get along, to create a kind of cat-Mayberry where everyone pretty much minds his own business or at least tolerates the other. That's what the United States has been doing in Iraq: we suppressed the major violence for a while, although the hate has never really stopped (bombings in Baghdad are about as common as rush hour traffic jams on I-405), and tried to create the conditions where a pluralistic, democratic society can take root and flourish.

Is it really necessary in 2014 to say that this is a poorly informed course of action and likely to be ineffective. Wild cats will be wild cats-- and they'll fight anyone who tries to intervene in their fighting.

But there is something we can and should do! Get rid of the gunny sack. Let's begin by acknowledging how those wild cats got in there in the first place.

After World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Britain was given a "mandate" over Iraq (Did you ever notice Iraq's simple borders that were apparently drawn with a straight edge?) without respect to geographic features, ethnic and religious identities. That's the gunny sack. (The border between the US and Canada is perhaps the only place that a straight line border has not caused a major conflict. But again, I digress.)

In 1920, Iraq became a semi-independent kingdom,and Iraq became fully independent ten years later. The Brits set up Sunni rulers who were seen as more reliable British allies. The other major groups, the Shi'a and Kurds, were pretty much SOL. Over the next several decades, Sunni domination in Iraq led to periodic unrest by other groups that were brutally suppressed.

Fast forward to Saddam. Like Josef Tito in Yugoslavia, he knew what one had to control the wild cats inside the gunny sack -- Be brutal as hell!

That's when we arrived via Bush's war. Saddam and Sunni rule were soon toast. Nouri al-Maliki (Shi'a) took over. Unfortunately, al-Maliki is no George Washington trying to unite his new country. He's just a different wild cat who has power. And so today, the fight is on. The gunny sack remains.

Iraq is not a nation state that has a unified identity, and it cannot survive as one with a strong central government that is dominated by just one faction. Iraq's present form of government is fundamentally unworkable. Some analysts have argued that it could survive as a loose federation of semi-autonomous provinces. But why stop there? The US needs just stay out, even if it means a brutal war in Iraq (and unfortunately, it does). At best we can encourage the introduction of and help pay for a peacekeeping force.

Yugoslavia really needed to break apart when it did. And today the world is better off for it. The various factions still don't like one another, but they're not trapped together inside gunny sack borders that serve no practical purpose other than to allow one faction to lord it over the others.

The inevitable disintegration of Iraq will likely result in autonomous Sunni and Shiite states. The Kurds will pose a continuing problem for the west because part of what should be an independent Kurdistan currently "belongs" to Turkey (a member of NATO), and Syria.

I don't claim particular expertise regarding any of this (and I expect more than a few commenters to agree). What I know should be common knowledge among members of Congress, the media, and the Administration.  Like many of you, I am extremely depressed about to level of discourse coming from DC about Iraq where people do not seem to know much of anything. "Iraq" needs to die -- and be reborn as at least three independent entities. The Shiites will align with those in Iran; the Sunnis with others in Syria; and the Kurds will do their own thing.

Perhaps the region will eventually embrace pluralism and democracy, but it might take centuries for that to happen if it ever does. In the meantime, it will be messy. Perhaps we have a role to play in minimizing the bloodshed associated with the political dislocation, but we should not pledge ourselves to the chimera that is a "united Iraq". Naive Americans will argue for a long time about "Who lost Iraq?" when it was foolish western powers (The League of Nations) who drew the Middle Eastern boundaries that set us up for a century of failure and frustration. It's time to the let the wild cats out of the gunny sack and each find its own way.

 

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bfitzinAR, G2geek, kevinpdx

    As-salamu alaykum.

    Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

    by RudiB on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 01:17:19 PM PDT

  •  I feel that your intentions are good and that (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    entlord, OregonWetDog, RudiB, Lepanto

    you are trying to understand what is happening in Iraq but...

    I will limit myself to two points.

    Iraq's present form of government is fundamentally unworkable.
    Do you know that this form of government and the constitution it is based on are creations of the US?
    we suppressed the major violence for a while
    This 'major violence' as you put it is mostly a result of the US's actions.

    The world is bad enough as it is, you have no right to make it any worse.
    Lamb chop, we can quibble what to call it, but I think we can both agree it's creepy.

    by InAntalya on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 01:48:07 PM PDT

    •  Yes, but/and ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      InAntalya

      But 1. The US Constitution affords significant protection to those who in the minority. And the US Constitution works for us because of cultural and political norms like separation of church and state, an independent judiciary, and freedom of the press that are not present everywhere in the world. I would say we should aspire to these norms for others, but I don't think we can easily transplant western-style democracy to other parts of the world.

      And 2. It especially doesn't work by ripping a society apart as we have done in Iraq. The violence that I wrote of is that of there Baathists, which they used to keep a lid on ethnic unrest. Saadam was a brutal dictator and one might say that he deserved what he got. My sense is that the Shi'a tilted government of al-Maliki just tips the balance in there other direction. Now the Baathists, reformed and merged with other Sunnis have become ISIS. The sectarian rift continues to exist, and the point of my diary is that it will exist for a long time no matter how much we westerners want to quell it.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 03:13:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We could make a list of countries that should (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    InAntalya, G2geek, RudiB

    not be countries perhaps but would be more "workable" as separate countries.  However, how small do we break down these new countries?  Does each ethnic group get territory or is it every tribe or every clan or maybe every family?  After all, the breakup of Yugoslavia was very very messy with various outrageous human rights violations, massacres, foreign intervention followed by occupation by "peacekeepers" and we end up with small countries that lack the resources to sustain themselves as a nation and without the wherewithal to defend itself against internal or external enemies.  Also, while the Balkans may have been quiet for a while, you have to remember the original conflict which brought the US into the fray had its roots in conflicts 600-800 years ago.  Those old grudges are not forgotten.

    So how would you divide Iraq?  Gertrude Bell is not available and you have to remember that Saddam relocated Sunnis to traditionally Shia' areas so at least 2 Shia' shrines are now in Sunni majority territory.  How do you resolve this?

    Then we have the Kurds.  Do they get Kirkuk or not?  They want it so who gets this oil rich city?  Other question is that Western pundits claim Kurds "deserve"  a country.  The list of peoples who are displaced or dispossessed is a long one; does each one of those get its own country?

    Then we have the problem of making sure any new countries are viable.  Is Kurdistan viable without Kirkuk?  Also the Kurds traditionally claim Turkish and Iranian territory.  Do they have a right to this territory or do they have to have it to have a viable country?

    I think you are listening to the Western press too much.  Turkey and Iran are not going to allow Iraq to descend into chaos nor is Russia.  Syria is already bombing ISIS positions in coordination with Shia' militia while Badr Corp veterans are already on the ground in Baghdad organizing militias.  I note al Sadr has also called for militias to protect shrines while Sistani has denounced ISIS.

    The problem with the MSM is it refuses to admit there are regions where the US has limited to no influence and this is becoming one of them.  Turkey and Iran are on the ground and demographically and geographically better situated to deal with the situation as compared to the US who has to move resources half a world to reinforce and resupply.  Afghanistan should have taught us that there is a bridge too far in today's world (Heck, VN should have taught us that)    

    •  Thanks for a thoughtful comment (0+ / 0-)

      I think my main response is that "we" don't get to answer the questions posed. The "Iraqis" are the ones who have to figure it out. And a difficult divorce is preferable to a miserable marriage in perpetuity.

      No doubt other major players have their reasons for wanting to contain the situation (the gunny sack must be preserved), rather than recognize the inevitability of the divorce. But bombing one side or the other is not a solution.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 03:22:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The historical context that give me the greatest (0+ / 0-)

      pause is the Thirty Years War, arguably the most destructive war in European history. The warring parties have resolved their differences (97% or so). At least they tired of mutual devastation, famine and disease, lawlessness, and bankruptcy. So eventually, they stopped killing one another perhaps more from exhaustion than from a budding spirit of fraternity.

      The fault lines that caused the war still exist to some extent, but nowadays they get played out via the World Cup.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 03:47:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  recc'd for thinking outside the gunny sack. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RudiB

    I was discussing this with a close friend & coworker last night and we both ended up at a similar conclusion via different routes.  

    On one hand, it would be a great thing if diverse peoples could live together and get along.  On the other hand, where tribalism combines with brutalism as the core ideology in a region, forcing people to live together usually results in human rights atrocities.  

    While it's tempting to blame the condition of Iraq on the UK, the underlying reality is the tribalism + brutalism factor.  The failure to be able to get along peacefully with others, is an atavism in today's world, that should be penalized by being cut off from international trade and a long list of dual-use technologies that can be used to commit human rights abuses.  

    The question remains as to how to go about devolving a country into a collection of separate countries that are each tribal nations with a propensity to wage war on each other.  

    One way to do it is via the UN.  A more likely outcome is "letting" (making-by-inaction) it "happen" through protracted warfare with the attendant human rights atrocities.  

    ISIS is a common denominator in both Iraq and Syria, that split from Al Qaeda because they found AQ to be "too moderate" and AQ found ISIS to be "too extreme."  

    The devolution of Iraq from an almost-modern country (where despite the brutalities of the Saddam Hussein regime, women had rights and were not property), into a failed state, will be a boon for groups such as ISIS and AQ, that will in turn use it as one more launch platform for terrorist acts against other countries (that would be the US and UK, among others).  

    That makes it a national security issue for us.

    Drone warfare of attrition against ISIS, may be the only viable option for the US, to minimize civilian casualties while preventing ISIS from becoming a regional power.

    We got the future back. Uh-oh.

    by G2geek on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 02:46:18 PM PDT

    •  Biden recommended partition in 2004 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek

      So I don't think we're completely out of bounds in thinking about it now.

      The USA (acting with others) should constrain the violence and be a supporter of traditional divorce. I'm not suggesting that we should just ignore what's going on. Right now, a cease fire might be the best outcome we can get.

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 03:34:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The problem with partition is drawing borders. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RudiB


    The partition of India brought about communal violence that killed millions and the countries created have nukes pointed at each other.  The 1948 partition of Palestine did not bring peace.  

    Europe's partitions after WWII were more stable thanks to the mutual defence agreements within NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  Now, Germany will not claim terra irredenta in the Czech Republic or Poland less the wrath of NATO descend.  Poland will not claim its terra irredenta in Lithuania for the same reason.  Belarus is under Russian "protection" and Poland learned the hard way what happens without a friendly Ukraine to the east.

    "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

    by Yamaneko2 on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 04:20:39 PM PDT

    •  I'm rather struck by the fact (0+ / 0-)

      that everyone here seems to be better informed and more thoughtful than our members of congress!

      Did you ver notice how har it is totype accurately on an iPad?

      by RudiB on Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 06:59:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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