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Endgame

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In choosing the format for this article, I decided to do something different. I chose to feature another article. I am not going to question the contents of this article. The very opposite is true. I strongly endorse the article and consider it a must read for everyone.

In my various articles for OEN it is rather commonplace for me to quote prominent writers. It is a writing technique that lends credence to the points of view upon which I am expounding, but never before have I featured any one article. That alone should give testimony to the valuable nature of this article. With some difficulty I am going to refrain from the use of italicizing sentences within a quote to add emphasis. There is a very good reason for this. I would end up italicizing the entire quote and the effect would be lost. Put a different way, the reader should pay very close attention to each and every sentence of the article. Analysis and background material will be provided for the reader.
The article is entitled Iraq Endgame, and it was written by George Friedman, CEO of Stratfor, an intelligence website.
Friedman's very first sentence caught my attention. "Though the Iraq war is certainly not over, it has reached a crossroads." There are many who think the war in Iraq is over. Our soldiers have left the urban areas of Iraq, are secure in their bases, and enjoying hot food from mess halls. In other words, it is all over but the countdown to our withdrawal. And yet, on August 19th, a series of blasts in Baghdad killed 77 people and wounded 420 on one of Iraq's bloodiest days this year, renewing doubt over Iraqi forces' ability to maintain security after U.S. troops pulled out of urban areas. Baghdad's security spokesman made a rare admission of culpability after the attacks, in which at least six blasts struck near government ministries and other targets at the heart of Iraq's Shiite-led administration. The attacks throughout Iraq since Americans left the cities are unprecedented in comparison to the year prior to the withdrawal. There is every possibility that once again American troops will be needed in the cites since Iraqi security forces seem incapable of stemming the violence. I only wish it were that simple. The illusion that Iraq is over is being created by the mainstream news (MSN). To the MSN, Iraq has become a ghost war.

Friedman removes the simplicity, ambiguity, and the illusion of endgame in Iraq, and reveals the Machiavellian nature of Arab/Kurd/Turkish/Persian politics in the Middle East. Put a different way, it's real complicated, so pay attention.

The Kurdish Question
"Fighting continues in the Kirkuk region, where the Arabs and Kurds have a major issue to battle over: oil. The Kirkuk region is one of two major oil-producing regions in Iraq (the other is in the Shiite-dominated south). Whoever controls Kirkuk is in a position to extract a substantial amount of wealth from the surrounding region's oil development. There are historical ethnic issues in play here, but the real issue is money. To Arabs, particularly Sunni Arabs, retention of control over Kirkuk opens the door for an expansion of Sunni Arab power into Iraqi Kurdistan. By contrast, Kurdish control of Kirkuk shuts down the Sunni threat to Iraqi Kurdish autonomy and cuts Sunni access to oil revenues from any route other than the Shiite-controlled central government. If the Sunnis get shut out of Kirkuk, they are on the road to marginalization by their bitter enemies -- the Kurds and the Shia. Thus, from the Sunni point of view, the battle for Kirkuk is the battle for the Sunni place at the Iraqi table. Turkey further complicates the situation in Iraq. Currently embedded in constitutional and political thinking in Iraq is the idea that the Kurds would not be independent, but could enjoy a high degree of autonomy. Couple autonomy with the financial benefits of heavy oil development and the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq becomes a powerful entity. Add to that the peshmerga, the Kurdish independent military forces that have had U.S. patronage since the 1990s, and an autonomous Kurdistan becomes a substantial regional force. And this is not something Turkey wants to see."

Friedman then adds, "This places the United States in a difficult position. Washington has supported the Kurds in Iraq ever since Operation Desert Storm. Through the last decade of the Saddam regime, U.S. special operations forces helped create a de facto autonomous region in Kurdistan. Washington and the Kurds have a long and bumpy history, now complicated by substantial private U.S. investment in Iraqi Kurdistan for the development of oil resources. Iraqi Kurdish and U.S. interests are strongly intertwined, and Washington would rather not see Iraqi Kurdistan swallowed up by arrangements in Baghdad that undermine current U.S. interests and past U.S. promises. On the other hand, the U.S. relationship with Turkey is one of Washington's most important. Whether the question at hand is Iran, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan, Russia or Iraq, the Turks have a role. Given the status of U.S. power in the region, alienating Turkey is not an option. And the United States must remember that for Turkey, Kurdish power in Iraq and Turkey's desired role in developing Iraqi oil are issues of fundamental national importance."
He then states, "All Turkey needs to do is make sure that the United States doesn't intervene decisively against the Iraqi Sunnis in the battle over Kirkuk in honor of Washington's commitment to the Kurds."

Friedman apparently concurs. "In any case, the United States doesn't want to intervene against Iraq's Sunnis again. In protecting Sunni Arab interests, the Americans have already been sidestepping any measures to organize a census and follow through with a constitutional mandate to hold a referendum in Kirkuk. For the United States, a strong Sunni community is the necessary counterweight to the Iraqi Shiites since, over the long haul, it is not clear how a Shiite-dominated government will relate to Iran."


To ardent followers of the war in Iraq with its inauspicious beginning in March 2003, an invasion based upon outright lies and false pretensions, the statement, "In any case, the United States doesn't want to intervene against Iraq's Sunnis again," taken at face value, appears to mean outrage and inspires confusion.

For decades the Saddam regime provided a check on the ambitions of Iran. Indeed, during the Iran/Iraq War, 1980 to 1988, the U.S. supported Saddam's Iraq. The animosity between the U.S. and Iran goes back to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which lasted for 444 days from Nov. 4, 1979, to Jan. 20, 1981, and America has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since. The Saddam regime was Sunni Arab, but basically a secular entity. Iranians are, for the most part, Persians, not Arabs, and Iran is a Shiite theocratic state. The bitterness between Sunnis and Shiites in the region goes back almost to the beginnings of Islam.

Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq changed the dynamic. With the fall of Saddam the Sunni Arab check on Shiite Iran ceased to exist. However, what does exist in Baghdad as a result of our intervention in Iraq is a Shiite government sympathetic to our sworn enemy, Iran.

Although there have been brief interludes with the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militia units, the enemy the U.S. has fought - and continues to fight - in Iraq, has been Sunni insurgents left over from the Saddam era. The Sunnis were soon joined by Al-Qa'ida, the perpetrators of 9/11. Friedman refers to Al-Qa'ida in Iraq as foreign jihadists. Readers may recall the ferocious fighting between these combatants in Fallujah, Ramadi, as well as the entire Anbar Province west of Baghdad, along with numerous engagements in Baghdad and the Triangle of Death south of the Iraqi capital. After 6 1/2 years of fighting, the toll for the American armed forces is over 4,300 dead and 35,000 wounded.

It should be noted that the violent attacks recently in Baghdad and northern Iraq, meaning the Kurdish autonomous provinces, have been instigated by the Sunni insurgents and their ally, Al-Qa'ida. It should be further noted, Al-Qa'ida, or "foreign jihadists" if one prefers, do not want American troops to leave Iraq. Positioned there by the genius of our political and military leaders, American troops are easy targets.

Despite all this, Friedman's statement rings true. However, the reader may well question, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" The U.S. is in a tough spot. We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't. This is true in a lot of respects when it comes to Iraq.The issues get all the more complicated as Friedman deals with ...

The Shiite Question
In the statements below Friedman affirms our outrage and confusion and adds more. It is the nature of Iraq these days.
Friedman writes, "The Shiite-dominated government led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is no puppet of Iran, but at the same time, it is not Iran's enemy. As matters develop in Iraq, Iran remains the ultimate guarantor of Shiite interests. And Iranian support might not flow directly to the current Iraqi government, but to al-Maliki's opponents within the Shiite community who have closer ties to Tehran. It is not clear whether Iranian militant networks in Iraq have been broken, or are simply lying low. But it is clear that Iran still has levers in place with which it could destabilize the Shiite community or rivals of the Iraqi Shia if it so desired.

"Therefore, the United States has a vested interest in building up the Iraqi Sunni community before it leaves. And from an economic point of view, that means giving the Sunnis access to oil revenue as well as a guarantee of control over that revenue after the United States leaves."

He continues, "With the tempo of attacks picking up as U.S. forces draw down, Iraq's Sunni community is evidently not satisfied with the current security and political arrangements in Iraq. Attacks are on the upswing in the northern areas -- where remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq continue to operate in Mosul -- as well as in central Iraq in and around Baghdad. The foreign jihadists in Iraq hope such attacks will trigger a massive response from the Shiite community, thus plunging Iraq back into civil war. But the foreign jihadists would not be able to operate without some level of support from the local Sunni community. This broader community wants to make sure that the Shia and Americans don't forget what the Sunnis are capable of should their political, economic and security interests fall by the wayside as the Americans withdraw."

He then states, "Neither the Iraqi Sunnis nor the Kurds really want the Americans to leave. Neither trust that the intentions or guarantees of the Shiite-dominated government. Iraq lacks a tradition of respect for government institutions and agreements; a piece of paper is just that. Instead, the Sunnis and Kurds see the United States as the only force that can guarantee their interests. Ironically, the United States is now seen as the only real honest broker in Iraq. But the United States is an honest broker with severe conflicts of interest. The American strategy in this matter has been primarily tactical. Wanting to leave, it has promised everyone everything. That is not a bad strategy in the short run, but at a certain point, everyone adds up the promises and realizes that they can't all be kept, either because they are contradictory or because there is no force to guarantee them. Boiled down, this leaves the United States with two strategic options.

"First, the United States can leave a residual force of about 20,000 troops in Iraq to guarantee Sunni and Kurdish interests, to protect Turkish interests, etc. The price of pursuing this option is that it leaves Iran facing a nightmare scenario: e.g., the potential re-emergence of a powerful Iraq and the recurrence down the road of the age-old conflict between Persia and Mesopotamia -- with the added possibility of a division of American troops supporting their foes. This would pose an existential threat to Iran, forcing Tehran to use covert means to destabilize Iraq that would take advantage of a minimal, widely dispersed U.S. force vulnerable to local violence.

"Second, the United States could withdraw and allow Iraq to become a cockpit for competition among neighboring countries: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria -- and ultimately major regional powers like Russia. While chaos in Iraq is not inherently inconsistent with U.S. interests, it is highly unpredictable, meaning the United States could be pulled back into Iraq at the least opportune time and place."

Friedman then concludes, "With Iran out of the picture, the residual U.S. force could be smaller and would be more secure. Eliminate the Iran problem completely, and the picture for all players becomes safer and more secure. But eliminating Iran from the equation is not an option -- Iran most assuredly gets a vote in this endgame."
For those interested in the issues raised in this article, readers should feel compelled to read Friedman's entire article, and it is provided here: http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090817_iraq_endgame

There are two reasons for this strong suggestion. One, it is totally unfair to Friedman to judge his article based upon my selection of quotes and my musings. I may have inadvertently misled the reader of the writer's intent. Two, the reader should learn more about a very complicated issue. I wish to congratulate George Friedman on a very astute analysis, and I have learned more from him in this one article than in months and months of posturing by Washington officials, pundits,and the pathetic, uninspiring MSN.

For those who think the endgame is approaching soon for the Iraq Crisis, think again.

 

I am the author of two novels, "The Bode Testament" and "Impeachment." I am also a columnist who keeps a wary eye on other columnists and the failures of the MSM (mainstream media). I was born in Minnesota, and, to this day, I love the Vikings (more...)
 

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