September 12, 2007

Strange New Respect Department

Could 2010 look for Iraq like 1975 looked in Vietnam? Yes. I just do not see evidence that either the new Iraqi political class or the Iraqi security forces are likely to have the maturity to avoid a conflagration when the US military withdraws.

There are three major wars going on in Iraq: 1) for control of oil-rich Basra, among Shiite militias and tribes; 2) for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunni Arabs and Shiites; and 3) for control of oil-rich Kirkuk in the north, between Kurds on the one side and Arabs and Turkmen on the other.

Gen. Petraeus believes that the Sunni-Shiite struggle for Baghdad is the central struggle, and that if it cannot be calmed down, nothing can be accomplished. His main energies have been put into reducing violence in Baghdad itself, in which he has succeeded to a limited extent (i.e. getting violence back down to summer, 2006, levels instead of astronomical January 2007 levels).

-- Juan Cole
Juan Cole is a University of Michigan professor who has been a consistent critic of the Iraq War. He was on the short list for a post at Yale, but those who felt him too outspoken helped put the kibosh on the offer. (He's better off in Ann Arbor than New Haven, anyway).

Having started out as a skeptical supporter of the war and more to the point, hostile to the left-wing critics of the war (a hostility I still possess), I was rather dismissive of Cole. However, he has one great advantage. He actually knows something about Shi'ism, Iraq aned Iran. He's written books like this one.

I also think his analysis of the three wars in Iraq is plausible, although I'd add the battle in Anbar between the Sunni tribes and the jihadi fanatics, one source of what passes for modest success in Iraq these days.

Looked at from the perspective of three civil wars, there ain't much we can accomplish with 160,000 troops and an impatient Congress, skeptical media, and unmotivated populace. The guys who thought this up weren't very smart; the people who followed along, as I did were suckers; and whoever manages to get elected president in November 2008 is going to inherit one hell of a problem.

Meanwhile, Cole's all coming up roses.

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