Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

The New Iraqi Dream
Hope for a Less Destructive Trajectory

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, August 22, 2006 --  

The American government needs to abandon its dream of a democratic Iraq in favor of managing the country's unstoppable civil war.

With the long-anticipated civil war off to a bloody start in Baghdad and the Arab provinces of Iraq, the American president's resolve to stay the course is only serving to delay the inevitable. The American government continues to hold out for its pie-in-the-sky dream of establishing a unified and stable democracy, despite all evidence that such a goal is unachievable for a very, very long time. President Bush's pig-headed resolved to stay the course is rooted in his denial of a very uncomfortable reality. Were the American government to admit the failure of its original mission in Iraq, it would be able to come up with a new strategy to steer the civil war toward a less destructive trajectory.

With only 29 months left in the Bush presidency, it is entirely possible that American forces will continue to stay the course in Iraq through 2009, continuing to pay ever-more-hollow lip service to the goal of a stable democratic regime. This will leave meaningful changes to Bush's successor, who will undoubtedly run on a platform of extricating America from the Iraqi disaster. Perhaps, like Richard Nixon, he or she will have a "secret plan" to end the war.

But it is unlikely that bring-the-troops-home peaceniks will have their way. Bush's successor will be left with the prospect of managing the civil war with American troops on the ground -- perhaps with troops relegated to isolated bases from which they can launch quick strike operations.

Americans should not feel guilty for the bloodiness of the civil war. Even without the American intervention, it eventually would have happened after the fall Saddam's Baathist regime. Iraq as a nation is nonsense remnant of the Ottoman Empire, whose borders pay no respect to the territories three main communities.

The Kurdish provinces in the north are destined to become a stable and Western-oriented independent state. The timing of Kurdistan's declaration of independence depends largely on how soon the rest of Iraq descends into total chaos. This will most likely happen within days of the fall of the multi-ethnic government in Baghdad in favor of a regime composed entirely of the now-dominant Shiite Arab plurality.

The declared independence of Kurdistan will inspire an immediate reaction from Arab militias and Arab units of the Iraqi Army -- especially given the Kurds' control of disputed oil-rich territory around Kirkuk. But the war for Kurdistan's independence will be brief and limited. The powerful Kurdish militias will be able to hold their ground, especially with tacit U.S. backing, until the Sunni and Shiite Arabs turn the full force of their fury on each other.

With Iraqi Arabs too busy killing each other to worry for long about Kurdistan, and neighboring Turkey prevented from invading by U.S. forces, Kurdistan will become the world's next independent state.

The much longer civil war between Shiite and Sunni Arabs will last for years -- and clearly end with the dominant Shiites in full control of Baghdad, as well as the southern and eastern parts of the country. In the end, perhaps a decade from now, Sunnis in the north and west will likely remain part of a rump Iraq as a disenfranchised minority.

To the extent that America is involved, there is certainly plenty constructive it could do to manage this civil war. It can work to minimize theocratic Iran's meddling in Iraq's affairs. It can help steer the coming Shiite government toward nominally pro-American policies. It can help keep international Islamic jihadists from establishing training camps on Iraqi territory. It can help ensure that the northern sliver of the country -- Iraqi Kurdistan -- becomes the one area of the country that fulfills the Bush Administration's dream of a stable western-oriented democracy.

But this constructive work cannot begin so long as the American government is distracted with trying to hold back an unavoidable civil war, in order to seek an unachievable dream. The Iraqi civil war has arrived -- American obstinance only delays its ultimate resolution.