Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bet

As many of you know there is a new Iraqi Government that will hopefully bring about some stability to this war-torn country. It is the sincere hope of everyone, left wing- right wing, liberal- conservative, that this will forge a positive new chapter in this regions history. We must keep in mind, though, that there are risk and issues that continue to potentially hamper an Iraqi renewal. We must continue to keep our eye on the ball. Can the insurgency be stopped? Do the Sunni politicians have the power to stop the insurgents? Can the unity government end corruption? This mornings intelligence email from Stratfor gives a good run-down of the risks ahead and their strategy for ending the violence. Reprinted here in entirety.

(Everyday I receive free email reports from an organization called Stratfor (short for Strategic Forecasting). They are a risk assessment firm focused on assisting corporations and investors in assessing foreign policy risk for their business. Go ahead and sign up for their free email alerts. They give background about some very important news not usually covered in the mainstream media.)
Geopolitical Diary: Core Issues in Iraq

The new Iraqi government has been formed, apart from the ministers of defense and interior. The U.S. hope is that these officials will be named within the next week, but we suspect there is a fundamental issue at stake here. Saleh Mutlaq, the leader of the Hewar National Iraqi Front -- a small Sunni faction in the Iraqi parliament -- walked out of the discussions. His faction has only 11 out of 275 seats, so he isn't critical to the parliamentary process. However, Mutlaq refused to agree in writing that he would accept the program of the new government. As a result, he was denied a place in the government, and he walked.

This episode drives home the crucial point now. Mutlaq is close to the Iraqi nationalists in Anbar province, who are central to the insurgency there. His coalition's presence in parliament is minimal, but its support among the insurgents appears to be substantial. Thus, one question is whether the parliamentary faction among the Sunnis can forge a government, including the Defense and Interior Ministries. Another question, in many ways more important, is whether the Sunni insurgents will, to some extent, abandon the insurgency in favor of a political process. Mutlaq's move is not decisive, but it raises the fundamental question.

We are now down to core issues in Iraq. There is a government, and the Sunnis are participating. The basic assumption all along has been that the only way to bring the insurgency under control is to bring the Sunnis into the government. But now there are two questions. First, is it true that the Sunni political leaders can control the insurgents? Second, if this is true, will the Sunnis do so?

The Sunnis possibly are so divided that those speaking for them in parliament cannot speak for the insurgents, or for those who are providing them with cover. It must always be remembered that an insurgency on the scale that has been seen in Iraq can exist only if it has support from the populace, who provide sanctuary and cover, supplies and recruits. It is an assumption behind the U.S. strategy that if Sunni leadership is drawn into the political process, they will also be able to withdraw that support -- reducing if not eliminating the insurgency. Given that the jihadists also need this kind of support, they also would be affected. On the other hand, if the Sunni community is so deeply divided that the political leadership no longer can influence the community, then the entire project of creating a government serves little purpose.

It is also a question of whether the Sunnis want to reduce the insurgency. The Sunnis are caught in a vise between Kurds and Shia. Apart from the insurgency, the Sunnis, in their view, would have been crushed, with Americans taking the lead. The insurgency gave them a bargaining chip with the Americans and, to some extent, with the Shia. If they reduce the insurgency, their bargaining position potentially could be seen as decreasing. The violence gave them weight -- do they think they can maintain their weight without the violence?

The fundamental issue is this: Will the formation of the government induce the Sunnis to rein in the insurgency? If they can't or they won't, then the entire project fails. The only solution will be partition or civil war. The United States is making a bet that this agreement on a government can bring the situation under control. It is a plausible argument, and we have been making it for some time. We are, however, well past the point of argument. It now will either happen or not.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad says six months are needed to see what will happen. It will take six months or more to begin seeing an end to the insurgency, but the fact is that we will know if the Sunnis have changed their behavior in any meaningful way within weeks. Certainly, the hard core will now launch an offensive designed to destabilize the new government and the Sunni leadership that made the political deal. But if that leadership has the influence and the inclination, then we should quickly be seeing indications to that effect. Intelligence will flow to the Americans about the location of insurgents, and we will be hearing of U.S. sweeps in Anbar and other provinces. We will also hear of internal conflicts within the Sunni community. There will be a painful crunch among the Sunnis, sooner rather than later.

If this doesn't happen, the post of defense and interior minister still remain open. How those posts will be filled will depend, in some measure, on whether the Sunni leadership is engaged in suppressing the insurgency. The pattern will be an upsurge of violence from insurgents, followed by internal struggles within the Sunni community, followed by a decline (but not a disappearance) in insurgent attacks. We would say that the next six weeks, rather than months, will show us where things are.
PS. If someone at Stratfor would prefer that I not post this information please let me know. I will immediately pull it.

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