January 22, 2005
Latest Iraq Prognostications from George Friedman
George Friedman, the founder of Strategic Forecasting (or Stratfor), has issued his latest thoughts on the future of Iraq, "After the Election." he believes that the election vote will be certified, and that the Shi'ite groups will win, after which time, a sovereign Iraqi state, with an elected Shia leader will be the result. He believes the Shia will take advantage of this opportunity to completely crush the terrorist insurgency. Says Friedman:
The Shia understand they cannot simply remain in a defensive mode. They have been passive in the run-up to the election, but after the election their credibility as the government of Irraq will depend on how they deal with the guerrillas. They must either suppress the guerrillas or negotiate a deal with them. Since a deal is hard to imagine at this time, they will have to act to suppress them. If they don't, the government will either be destroyed by the insurgents, or Iraq will split into two or three countries, an evolution unacceptable to the Shia or to Iran.All of this raises several interesting questions.
Therefore, the Shia will fight. The Shiite leadership has made it clear it wants the United States to remain in Iraq for the time being. This does not mean it wants a long-term American presence. It means it wants US forces to carry the main battle against the Sunnis on its behalf. In the same way that al-Sistani wanted the Americans to deal with Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr during the An Najaf affair, he wants the Americans to carry the main burden now.
The United States is prepared to carry a burden, but it is not prepared to single-handedly deal with the Sunnis any longer. The Shi hav substantial armed militias. It is these forces -- not the failed Iraqi army the US has tried to invent -- that will be the mainstay of the regime. The Shia don't want this force ground up because it is the guarantor of their security. The United States is not going to protect the regime without these forces engaged.
At this point, something interesting happens. The Shia have a greater vested interest in the viability of this government than even the Americans. The Americans can leave. The Shia aren't going anywhere. For the first time, the United States has a potential ally with capabilities and motivation. Most important, it is an ally that is not blind on the ground. Its intelligence capability is not perfct among the Sunnis, but it is better than what the Americans have.
First of all, what are the capabilities of the Shi'ite militias? The most well-known of the Shi'ite militias, the Badr Brigade, was founded by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the head of which is Abdul-Aziz Al Hakim, the top candidate of the Unified Iraqi Alliance, one of the groups running in the upcoming election. Hakim has offered to commit his Badr Brigade to security tasks for the elections, and his organization has in the past "declared war on Al-Qaeda," whom it sees as being behind the assassination of its founder, Hakim's brother Mohammed. [See a previous post about this, here.] But now it appears the the Badr Brigade has been retooled into a policing organiztion, as this PBS interview with Al-Hakim reveals:
[Interviewer:]You have your own army, the Badr Brigades. How large a force are they, and what role will they play in the future of Iraq?The retooling of the Brigade is mentioned by the Council of Foreign Relations:
AH: The Badr Brigade is no more an army, because it has turned [from] an army into an organization. Before, the major task of this brigade was to eliminate or to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. But now that the government, the ex-regime, is no more in place, the Badr Brigade has been turned into an organization that is entrusted with keeping law and order and--
AH: Yes. As regards [to] the actual number of the Badr Brigade, I don't know that, because there are members and there are supporters. There was a grand parade for the army or the brigade...where 100,000 fighters paraded. That number does not represent all the number . . .
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College . . . [says,] The Badr Brigade [a militia tied to a Shiite political group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq] is now the Badr Reconstruction Corps, and they have licensed their weapons.What of the Mahdi army, disbanded in August, at the order of Muqtada al-Sadr? Does it retain any capability at all?
Perhaps the true clout that a newly-elected Shi'ite government could bring to coaltion efforts against the terrorist insurgency is better reflected as a call to arms than as trained and ready military forces. Perhaps the newly elected leadership will be able to convince Iraqi citizens to join the upstart national security forces in more numbers than has been the case thus far. Or, if the idea of armed forces rooted in the concept of Iraqi nationality does not appeal to Iraqis, or does not seem to work, perhaps a more entrepreneurial security force might be obtained: both the US Coalition Provisional Authority and Iyad Allawi's interim government outlawed militias which were not affliliated with political parties, and which were not in the process of being rolled into national military organizations. The new Iraqi government could encourage private citizens to raise their own forces and then integrate them into the new security apparatus -- similar to the raising of armies as it happened in the US in the American Revolution. So long as these forces are integrated into a national force, could this be a possibility . . . Al Hakim may be a Shi'ite, and believe in the primacy of Islam, but he has been characterized as a nationalist above all else by former CIA officer Marc Reuel Gerecht. [and commented upon by Belmont Club, though Steven Vincent takes a more ambiguous view as to Al-Hakim's rejection of theocracy, and to the motives of the Badr Brigade.]
Whatever the role of hereto under-employed militias, in what ways will they interact with US troops? There is much chatter in the mainstream press that the halls of power have all but decided that it is time for the US to leave Iraq. But at the same time, stories have surfaced about integrating US troops more with Iraqi forces in advisor-like roles . . . Troops as advisors, expanded Iraqi security forces, and a sovereign Iraqi government that wants the US gone as soon as possible all point to a drawdown of US forces . . .
Friedman's essay does not consider another point about the effect of a sitting elected Iraqi government on the security situation in Iraq. Most of the speculation about whether the US will take military action in Syria has focused on whether the US views Syria as a threat. But these questions should actually ask whether a new Iraqi government views Syria as a threat. If the Iraqis have good intelligence of Syria's involvement, harboring, or support of the terrorist insurgency, it is entirely possible that the Iraqis will tell the US that Iraq will do something about Syria with or without the Americans . . .
Could it be that the Shi'ites, who are the most feared for their supposed theocratic predilections, will in the end hold Iraq together by defeating the terrorists, integrating the Kurds, and subordinating their religious beliefs to the idea of Iraqi nationalism instead? returning to the interview with Al Hakiim:
Interviewer: One of the fears that Ambassador Bremer and this U.S. administration have is the establishment of an Islamic government in Iraq. What is the nature of the Islamic government you are calling for?
AH: I think this is a question to be asked to Ambassador Bremer.
As regards [to] the government that we want, we don't want an Islamic government. We want a constitutional government that preserves the rights of everybody and a government that believes in the public rights; a government that works for the interest of the Iraqi people, and believes that the people are the source to derive all the important decisions that concern the future of the Iraqi people.
Interviewer: You have, though, called for a government that holds Islam supreme, where Islam would be the guiding force behind the government, without real separation of church and state. Am I incorrect?
AH: The conference in London was attended by all the sects of the Iraqi people including the Shiites and the Kurds, and the Sunnis, and the secular people. They all agree that the major religion of the state should be Islam. But to respect Islam is one thing, and to establish an Islamic government is something else.
Posted by Chester at January 22, 2005 11:47 AM
TrackBack URL for this entry: