Grim at Blackfive has a concise analysis of what problems need to be resolved before Iraq can achieve some measure of stability.
Iraq has essentially three problems to "solve" to become a stable country. These are the Sunni problem, the Shia problem, and the Kurdish problem. By "problem" I mean not that the people are a problem, but that each of the main subsets of the population has a particular challenge that has to be resolved before it can integrate into a successful state.
Let's focus on the Shia problem.
The Shia problem is armed factionalism. The current violence of this last month and going forward represents the start of the solution to that problem. People alarmed by the violence have missed the story. The GoI and the JAM are both disaggregating their bad elements. ...
Disaggregation of irreconcilable elements is a key element to our COIN strategy; here we see it happening naturally. The political process appears to be strengthened, and the Sunni blocks are now participating in helping to settle the Shiite question in a manner acceptable to themselves -- as are the Kurds. That sounds like a genuine national coalition forming, one that will accept Sadr as a political figure.
Sadr's own rhetoric, meanwhile, has in this cycle been markedly different from his rhetoric in 2004. It appears that he wants to move into a political role, rather than trying to overthrow and replace the central government.
Now whatever one may think of Moqtada al-Sadr's participation in politics, the essential question is whether his participation will take place within the framework of an Iraqi Shi'te subpolity or within an Iranian dominated framework. The difference is essential. Sistani's declaration that the "law is the only authority" goes to this very point: whose law and whose authority. In this case Sistani seems to suggest that the Shi'ites can settle their "problem", but settle it within the framework of Iraq.
An article in the New York Times describes the struggle between the United States and Iran to define the framework.
Iran is engaging in a proxy war with the United States in Iraq, adopting tactics similar to those it has used to back fighters in Lebanon, the United States ambassador to Iraq said Friday. ...
He said that the paramilitary branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was continuing to direct attacks by Shiite militias against American and Iraqi targets, although he offered no direct evidence.
Asked if the United States and Iran were engaged in a proxy war in Iraq, Mr. Crocker said, “I don’t think a proxy war is being waged from an American point of view.” But, he added, “When you look at what the Iranians are doing and how they’re doing it, it could well be that.”
In other words, Iran is making a bid to solve the Shi'ite problem on its terms for its purposes. Grim notes that the task of creating a political framework in which the three constituent communities can co-exist in a country as complex as Iraq is a formidable undertaking. How easy it is to forget that Saddam's solution to the problem of stability and unity was to wage a more or less continuous campaign of internal warfare against the Kurds, the Shi'ites and dissenting Sunnis; gassing the Kurds, draining the Marshes. And when all else failed waging war on Iran on a scale that would have rivaled the Battle of the Somme. Besides invading Kuwait. All in the "good old days" that so many commentators, unaccountably afflicted with amnesia, hanker for already. Grim notes its replacement, the step-by-step emplacement of a laws, local councils, community governnance.
The GoI is internally tremendously complex, as The Long War Journal has covered extensively, but it seems to be improving in its capacity. The provincial powers law, finally passed, should allow for the pushing down of powers to the less-internally-complicated provinces, which should improve local governance and services.
The challenges facing the Government of Iraq -- solving the Three Problems -- are daunting enough. But what is currently beyond their power to shape is the international context within which they must face these issues. From Lebanon through Saudi Arabia, down onto southern Iraq, Iran is dispatching its agents, deploying its proxies. The task of facing them falls to the United States, if Washington can persuaded to acknowledge the problem.
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