A Way Out of the Quagmire in Iraq

It has now dawned on the strategists in Washington that the Stalinist Saddam Hussein has modeled his defense after the Soviet strategy in WWII. The defense of Baghdad is planned as that of Stalingrad. He has his Baa’th party commissars and partisans working with his Republican Guards and the regular army. It is going to be a protracted guerilla war. Saddam has probably also read Mao Zedong, Giap and Che Guevara.

Washington strategists may rejoice that, unlike general Rokosovky in Stalingrad, Saddam in Baghdad has no backing beyond the Tigris. In Stalingrad, Rokosovky, despite his battle cry of “There was no land beyond the Volga,” had behind him the vast resources that Zhukov was putting in motion to surround and destroy the German VI army of von Paulus. In Iraq, if we continue on our present course, we will eventually prevail militarily. But the comparison between Stalingrad and Baghdad does not end there.

Even though Saddam doesn’t have the backing of a Zhukov, his stand in Baghdad will energize the whole Arab nationalism behind him. And it is not the Baa’thist doctrine which will replace Stalin’s Communist ideology but Islam. The battle of Baghdad is a clarion call to the pride of the Islamic masses from Morocco to the Philippines. Islam is much more potent than Communism: Communism was materialistic. Islam is spiritual. Islam does not need to materially satisfy its followers; its soldiers get their reward in heaven.

No doubt, we will be able to chase Saddam out of Baghdad. “Chase,” because the alternative to his grand stand as a martyr or a captive Moslem Arab hero is to vanish through some tunnel into the thin air. Remember, Karadjic and Mladic of Bosnia and Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri of Al Qaeda are all still at large and stirring their admirers. Whichever way we enter Baghdad, whether carpet bombing it or house-to-house battle, we will end up with a bottomless quagmire extending far beyond Iraq. We have to stop the self-delusion of “liberating the Iraqi people” which may be all right as rhetoric for American domestic consumption but is infuriating the Arab and Moslem masses.

Is there a way out of this mess? Yes, but it needs a lot of diplomacy, flexibility, timing and imagination It is time to discard the half-baked primacy doctrine and the idea of nation-building. The fact of the matter is that we do not even know what we will be able to do once we have Iraq on our hands.

The solution is the immediate activation of the Iraq Opposition Leadership Council for the creation of a provisional federal Iraqi government (it won’t be “in exile” any more) which should mobilize the forces of different factions for frontal engagement with Saddam’s forces. The Iraqi opposition leaders should put their men where their ambitions are. The Kurds, Sciri Shiites and other factions have a combined fighting force of some sixty thousand men and many of the factions such as those of Chalabi and the Shiites have potentials for urban uprising against the Baa’th operatives. The U. S. Coalition land forces should regroup and withdraw as the Iraq Council forces fill the vacuum. The Coalition would secure the Iraq Council forces with massive air support and provide them with logistics and advisors – as we did for the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. It will be messy, but much less than the mess we’ll face if we persist in our present tracks.

No doubt there will be frictions within the Iraq Federal Council. Different factions will try to have more autonomy and that will weaken the coherence of Iraq as an integral nation-state. But chances are that, with our resolve, Iraq will present a modicum of federal integrity. It will probably be more coherent than what is presently happening in Afghanistan where warlords like Dostum and Ismail Khan hold sway over their domains and are our de facto interlocutors. Autonomous entities in a future Iraq federation will take the edge off Iraq as a trigger for virulent global Arab and Islamic nationalism.

The obsolescence of the Westphalian concept of nation-state is the basic assumption here. Autonomous entities gnawing at the centralized authority of nation-states and entering into confederal arrangements with each other would hopefully become models to be emulated by others in other regions – and we should encourage them to do so. An autonomous Shiite entity in Southern Iraq, rather than being imposed upon by Baghdad or becoming an Iranian puppet, will be open to our help and easier to negotiate with, notably for oil concessions, just as is the case with Ismail Khan of Herat in Afghanistan. They will have their own quircks, but their corruptions will be more down to earth.

The idea of overlapping confederations of autonomous entities goes beyond being a solution for the Iraqi problem. It is an alternative to primacy theory. It is a concept to be explored for a new world order which would replace the present fiction of “sovereign” nation-states and could apply to vast areas of the world from Nigeria to Indonesia and beyond. It would be a pattern which could be more in tune with global political economy. But that is another story.

More at: A Brief Review of U. S. Foreign Policy
             and  Current United States' Foreing Policy

© Anoush Khoshkish 
March 2003 

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