Free Iraq’s first anniversary – a global view

Posted in Iraq , United States | 16-Apr-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Minarets and warriors
A lot of statements and comments have been made on the anniversary of free Iraq.
Preferring “bad news” most media paint a distorted picture.
Unfortunately, the present escalation of violence overshadows a more in-depth analysis.
We should measure the present situation against the expectations before the war in order to really get a feeling whether the glass is half full or half empty.

Let’s go back 12-15 months and remind ourselves some of the prognosis then:
  • It will be a long war like in Vietnam or the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan
  • There will be a lot of casualties among soldiers on both sides and the civilian population
  • Baghdad will be like Stalingrad
  • Many of the neighbouring regimes will be toppled
  • There will be thousands of suicide attacks worldwide
  • The price of oil and natural gas will sky rock
  • USA and UK will fight alone in Iraq
  • NATO will fall apart
  • Afghanistan will be a permanent nightmare
  • The whole Arab world will stand up against USA
  • Nation building in Iraq will be next to impossible
  • UN will lose their weight and influence
A year after, the interim balance looks quite different. And as a reminder: One year is very short time for “nation building” Iraq is a picture of ambiguity.
Let’s start with a look beyond Iraq.
The arc of instability from Marrakech to Bangladesh

I believe in the system of connected vessels.
There is no proof for my theory in the international arena, but it makes sense.
  • North Korea has changed its mind and followed the invitation to six-states-talks
  • Libya has given up its nuclear programme
  • Iran has opened dialogue with the United States and some European states concerning its nuclear programme. Iran’s role in Iraq seems to be ambivalent.
  • In Sudan, a years-long civil war seems to have come to an end
  • Afghanistan is better off than a year ago
  • Pakistan is co-operating more than expected with the USA
  • The Cashmere conflict between Pakistan and India has been cooled down
  • China and Russia did not exploit America’s involvement – i.e. in Central Asia
  • The “coalition of the willing” comprises more than 40 countries – with different quality and quantity
  • The war was short and with much fewer losses than expected
  • Turkey refrained from using the chance against the Kurds
  • The so-called “Arab world” is divided as ever
  • In the elections in Indonesia, Malaysia and Algeria, the Islamic parties played a minor role
    Ayatollah Al Sistani: The Iraqi decision maker
  • There are terrible terrorist attacks worldwide – now in Europe, too
  • The conflict between Israel and Palestine has not been defused – in contrast, it has sharpened
  • Syria sends mixed signals. There are some signs that it does not want to be seen as part of the “axis of evil”
  • There was no regime change in Saudi Arabia, neither in Kuwait nor in the Emirates
  • The image of the USA and the countries forming the “coalition of the willing” has deteriorated
  • The global oil price has increased – but not to 50 USD a barrel, as predicted
  • NATO has re-emerged as factor of security and stability
  • The explosive “Sunni triangle” is not the whole Iraq. The process of “nation building” takes more time with more casualties and setbacks than expected. The northern region, where Kurds are in majority, is much better off than the centre of the country or its South
  • 56 percent of the Iraqi people feel that they are better off than ever and have a positive view of the future
  • It is far from certain that the transfer of sovereignty can and will take place on June 30. This date is of secondary importance, even in light of presidential elections in USA. In a worst case scenario, the handover of power has to be postponed. Nobody can allow Iraq to fall into chaos.
  • If the handover takes place and if there is a UN mandate to support the sovereign Iraqi government, the situation will change for the better. A UN mandate will increase the legitimacy of the then acting peace-keeping forces. And will give UN a chance to get back in the game.
  • NATO will play a major role in Iraq – including France and Germany. NATO forces will allow American forces to take a lower profile.
  • Russia will not stay in the cold. The NATO-Russia_Council might find a way to even integrate Russian forces
  • China will play a bigger role – as well as Japan
Yet the situation is not irreversible yet. If Ayatollah Al Sistani, the top Shiite cleric, joins forces with al Sadr then a guerrilla war against the “coalition of the willing” would become very likely and the coalition will rapidly lose its cohesion and some members.
But there are positive signals that this coalition between Al Sistani and Al Sadr seems today to be less likely than 5-10 days ago.

June 30 is a important deadline for all players - for al Sadr, too. He knows that he will not be able to fight against a sovereign Iraqi government without losing credit and supporters. Fights and attacks will occur after the handover, but at a much lower scale.

So is the glass half full or half empty? In my view, it is half full. A stabilised Iraq will send strong positive signals to the numerous hot spots in the world. This is not the time for finger pointing but for a pro-active broader coalition of the willing to bring more stability and security to the Greater Middle East and the “Arc of instability” between Marrakech and Bangladesh.