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Sep 14, 2004 5:04 am

Conquer and Not Divide

Via Amardeep Singh, I learned of Fareed Zakaria's column on the US Shia strategy in Iraq. The point is the old Divide and Conquer - the tactic used by the British in Ireland, India, Middle East and Africa: Empower local elites who have dueling claims to power, exploit religious, ethnic or racial tensions and watch as the colony rifts itself apart; Isolate the faction that will serve your agenda, prop the elites with military and monetary support, and enjoy"indirect rule" - or"self-government". Zakaria has this to say about the success of a strategy that pits the Sunni against the Shi'a majority (possibly by having no elections in Fallujah and other hot-spots):
But there are considerable risks to this approach. If the Sunnis end up with no representatives, they will have even less incentive to support the new Iraqi order. Today a significant number of Sunnis feel disenfranchised, and thus they support the guerrillas (estimates vary from 25 percent to 65 percent). If they are cut out of the government, all will feel disenfranchised. And to have 20 percent of the country—people who are well trained and connected—supporting an insurgency makes it extremely difficult to defeat militarily.

American policy looks like the old Divide and Conquer but I am skeptical that there is an actual"policy" there. Or even that it is in the best imperial interest to have such a policy. The flare-up over Fallujah shows that there is no grand strategy coming out of the White House. Besides random proclamations on Freedom and evildoers.
Which is not to say that there aren't other interested parties on the ground in Iraq also pursuing the Divide and Conquer. Left unmentioned by Zakaria, are the Kurds. They are already peevedabout the CPA. They are angling for a lot more power and autonomy than they have been given. They also have the best trained militia/army in the region. There is reasonable intelligence that Israel is pursuing its own regional agenda by developing relations with the Kurds - to the great alarm of Turkey. Next up would be Iran and its interests in Iraq. Last, but not least, is whatever the post-invasion interests al-Qaeda has within the Sunni Triangle.
If any or all of these strategies spiral out of control, the balkanization of Iraq is a real and distinct policy. Now, according to the British Empire model, that would be swell. But, the US Imperial interests necessitate a unified Iraq above all. Anything else would be a disaster. Take whatever excuse you like for US invasion of Iraq, the domino-effect of a"model democracy", or regional military base or as a personal oil-pump for Dick Cheney, the fact remains that Iraq must survive as"Iraq" for any of those to succeed. Otherwise, we are looking at a Kurdistani-sized military base, a Shi'a theocracy and a no-man's-land.

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Ben H. Severance - 9/15/2004

I see no basis for a unified Iraq. Military despotism was the only thing that kept that country together in the wake of colonial rule. Efforts at democraticization are failing and will fail because there is neither trust nor mutual interests between the Iraq's three competing ethnic/religious groups. It is useless for U.S. government to pursue cooperative arrangement (assuming anyone in the neocon ranks sincerely wants that) when no one on the ground wants to share power. If it weren't for the Turks' suspicions of an independent Kurdistan, I would think some sort of partition of Iraq was in order. In any event, given the growing number of interested parties that you mention--Iran, Israel, etc...--I don't see how the U.S. can keep the lid on a civil war. Maybe Daniel Pipes has been right all along, if Iraq is to remain unified, then it must have a strong-man, ideally of the Ataturk persuasion as opposed to a Saddam type.

Anyway, a thoughtful piece.

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