A scenario for Iraq

I've been doing some scenario planning on Iraq and southern Iraq lately. Scenarios are tools for thinking about the future - possibilities that highlight key variables, rather than a vision of what one thinks the future will actually look like. Here's one:


Iraq 2010

A domestic demand in the United States for troop withdrawal leads to the formation of tactical alliances between American units and local tribes and militias, such as the ones in Anbar recently. Since most neighborhoods are by now ethnically or in some cases tribally homogeneous, tribes have an interest in lowering violence levels, and a tenuous stability ensues. The local power and legitimacy of tribal leaders is thus given international legitimacy by the official Iraqi government and Coalition troops. The reduction of violence allows the United States to significantly draw down combat personnel and focus on training the official Iraqi army.

In Baghdad, progress on a "national reconciliation" plan goes nowhere, but there is a significant constitutional revision, changing parliamentary representation from national party lists to geographic districts that largely line up with ethnic, sectarian and tribal fault lines. Representatives now are more accountable to their individual constituents and less accountable to a national party structure. The way to electoral victory is through the endorsement of the local sheikhs, who usually have security arrangements and tactical alliances with the Coalition.

This political development means that Baghdad now gains real relevance as a center of politics. Since the United States has focused its effort on training and true joint operations rather than combat operations and counterinsurgency, most of Iraq's army now is able to operate independently, with a central command structure and a sense of professional pride and identity tying it to the central authorities in Baghdad. Baghdad is also a center of corruption and patronage. Through the distribution of reconstruction funds and with the threat of the new Iraqi army, Baghdad is able to operate with a loose control over a patchwork of fiefdoms.


In terms of Iraq, I dare say it's optimistic!


Fabius Maximus said...

Anything is possible. Note however, that the regional centers of power that are now maturing emerged by fighting the central government.

The assumption that they would then cede power -- esp. military power -- back to the center seems a stretch. It's possible (e.g., Switzerland).

That the Sunni Arabs will do so seems unlikely to me. That the Kurds will do so seems extraordinarily unlikely to me.

If the regional governments retain military power, then the central government is by definition weak. Perhaps just a joint agency with which to conduct relations with the rest of the world, and negotiate internal agreements. Such as those concerning trade, transportation, utilities, sharing of oil revenue, etc.

Adrian said...

Thanks for your input! Something I probably should have noted in the post was that because our end project is oriented towards southern Iraq, we agreed that the Kurdistan issue wasn't totally relevant. I generally think that its situation will stay as it is now, independent in all but name, but unwilling to take the final provocative step. However I think it's plausible that Sunni Arabs could be lured back into Baghdad's orbit by bypassing regional centers of power and appealing directly to local leaders through these parliamentary districts.

Although I know that when we were coming up with this scenario, for sake of simplicity I was primarily thinking of Iraq in three levels - the "state" whose borders are drawn on maps, the various political factions oriented around personalities (al-Hakim, Sadr, etc.), and sheikhs. We did conceive of Baghdad as a center for cutting deals rather than dictating orders. It's interesting to think of that role as that of a joint agency. Since I work for the US Government, I have no idea what joint agencies are like.