10.08.2004
Prospects for the Iraqi Settlement
№3 2004 July/September

RESISTANCE TO THE OCCUPATION

It would be erroneous for us to conclude that the armed
resistance to the occupation regime is a struggle being waged by
Saddam supporters. Contrary to Washington’s expectations, Saddam’s
arrest has not reduced the resistance.

One center of resistance and extremism in Iraq is the so-called
Sunni Triangle, an area populated largely by Iraqi Sunnis. It is a
scene of the most frequent attacks on the U.S. military. The Saddam
regime relied on the Sunnis, yet they are not an explicitly
pro-Saddam force. Their resistance is rather explained by fears
that the occupation regime, if it remains for long in Iraq, will
reduce the Sunnis’ status to a second-rate minority.

There is no Baathist resistance in Iraq that is organized as a
pro-Saddam force. Some of Saddam supporters act on their own
initiative. But on the whole, the Baath party cannot be considered
an organized force opposing the occupation; it is more an
organization capable of rallying various resistance groups. A
similar conclusion can be made with regard to Saddam’s army, the
National Guard, the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam (Saddam’s «Men of
Sacrifice») and police. None of these structures has become the
nerve center of general resistance.

If the resistance to the occupation had been put up under
pro-Saddam slogans, and involved members of the Saddam
administration and groups of the population that the Saddam regime
relied on, the U.S. could have hoped for serious international
support, even from some Arab countries. However, the resistance has
been increasingly involving broad segments of the population who
were not comfortable under the overthrown regime.

Protests by the Shias are particularly sensitive for the U.S.
Shia religious leaders, who have returned from their exile in Iran,
are united in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq,
which for a long time was headed by Mohamad Baqir Al-Hakim. At
first, the Council, which had a strong military force (the
well-trained Badr Corps), did not conceal the fact that it wanted
to establish an Islamic state in Iraq. At the same time, it
maintained neutrality toward the U.S.-led occupation forces. Later,
however, the influence in Iraq gradually passed to groups and
organizations that opposed the coalition troops, most importantly,
the Mahdi Army, which is controlled by Shia imam Muqtada
Al-Sadr.

In early April, the Shias actually launched a national war of
liberation. The Shias, who comprise over 60 percent of the Iraqi
population, were discriminated against under Saddam. Therefore,
when planning the operation in Iraq, the U.S. hoped for Shias’
support in establishing a secular state in the country. As it turns
out, the occupation troops are opposed by both the Sunnis and
Shias. The Shias’ struggle experiences many ups and downs, but if
Iraq retains the present system of power (which a majority of the
population regard as occupationist, even despite the formal
handover of power to a national government) the resistance will
involve an increasing number of Shias. Now they can no longer be
described as U.S. allies or even fellow travelers.

There are several explanations for this trend. First, the Shias
are very suspicious of the Americans. During the first Gulf war
(1991), the Americans declined to support a Shia rebellion, and the
latter was mercilessly quelled by Saddam. Second, when conducting
operations against the radicals, the U.S. occupation troops made
air and land attacks on two Shia religious centers, Najaf and
Karabala, killing many civilians. Third, the Shias oppose U.S.
plans for postwar Iraq. They insisted on direct elections before
the June 30 transfer of power, which would have helped them to win
a decisive majority in the legislature. Fourth, the Shia political
movement is being overtaken by radicals who enjoy increasing
support among the population. Fifth, there are signs of a possible
convergence of the Shia and Sunni resistance movements.

Iraq’s federalization, together with the formation of a Shia
autonomous region within Iraq, would not solve the problem. Such a
model can satisfy the Kurd population, but not the Shias, who
populate not only south Iraq, but also Baghdad and other areas of
the country. Besides, their goal is to seize central power.

The federalization of Iraq would bring the «Iran factor» into
the foreground. Many of the Iraqi Shia leaders were in exile in
Iran’s religious center of Qum and have links with the Iranian
Shias. The formation of a Shia autonomous region in Iraq would also
have a negative impact on the situation in Iran, boosting extremist
religious sentiments there. In turn, such developments would
increase trends toward an Islamic state in Iraq. Shia autonomy is a
more serious threat for the U.S. than a model in which the Shias
would make the core of Iraq’s government: even a predominance of
Shias in the central bodies of the legislative and executive
branches would be weakened by the influence of Sunni and Kurdish
political groups. Kurds, for example, have already secured a
provision in Iraq’s interim Constitution (adopted on March 8, 2004)
which grants them the power to veto any bill.

KURDS — RESERVE OF THE OCCUPATION FORCES?

When planning the operation against Iraq, the U.S. counted on
the «Kurdish factor,» hoping to manipulate the Kurds’ hatred toward
the Saddam regime and the differences between Kurds and Arabs in
Iraq. Two issues stand out as top priorities for the Kurds:
delimitation of control over the oil-rich areas of Kirkuk and
Mosul, and the return of Kurds who were evicted in northern Iraq by
the Saddam regime. The solution of these two problems in the Kurds
favor would reinforce their positions, while removing from the
agenda, at least for the near future, the issue of an independent
Kurdish state. The Kurds already have autonomy in Iraq, which they
received under Saddam.

But it would be very difficult, if not unfeasible, to solve the
problem by incorporating Kirkuk and Mosul into the Kurdish
Autonomous Region. It is possible that the Arabs would agree to
joint control over the Kirkuk and Mosul oil fields, but the Kurds
reject this proposal. Kirkuk is the oldest Kurdish town and was
once the historical and religious center of the Kurdish
civilization. But soon after rich oil fields were discovered in the
area in the 1960s, the Iraqi regime began to Arabize those
territories and evict some of the Kurdish settlements. Now the area
is populated by many Arabs, and there are frequent armed clashes
between them and the Kurds.

During the military campaign in the spring of 2003, groups of
Kurdish peshmarga (suicide fighters) actively cooperated with the
coalition forces. But now such cooperation will continue only if
the U.S. takes the Kurds side in their conflict against the Arabs.
However, such a move would seriously complicate Washington’s
relations with the Arabs, as both the Shias and Sunnis hold a
common position on this issue. All of the Iraqi Arabs strongly
protested the U.S. decision to include in Iraq’s interim
constitution (drafted under U.S. control) a provision giving the
Kurds (who make up 10 percent of the Iraqi population) the right of
veto, as this provision has placed Kurds on an equal footing with
the Shias (60 percent of the population) and the Sunnis (30
percent).

The manipulation of the Kurdish factor by the Americans in
postwar Iraq has been complicated also by the situation inside the
Kurdish movement. The Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud
Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal
Talabani, are being challenged by the growing influence of the
Ansar al-Islam movement, which has united radical Islamists from
among the Iraqi Kurds. The movement is supposedly supported from
Afghanistan.

Turkey is yet another factor that is limiting Washington’s room
for maneuver with the Kurds. Initially, Turkey opposed Kurdish
autonomy in a federal Iraqi state. However, if the situation in
Iraq deteriorates, Ankara may agree to autonomy for the Iraqi
Kurds, but only if two conditions are met: Iraqi Kurds will not
demand the formation of an independent state of their own, and the
Kurdish autonomous region will not include Kirkuk and Mosul. Turkey
fears that the inclusion of these two towns will give the Kurds
more temptation to proclaim their autonomous territory an
independent state.

Some analysts believe there is a real threat that Ankara may
invade north Iraq if it finds a proposed model for settling the
Kurdish issue unacceptable. This could happen if Turkey feels a
threat to its own integrity. The Turkish population includes a
large community of ethnic Kurds. The strengthening of Iraqi Kurds
positions may provoke radical Kurds in Turkey into stepping up
their activities. Oil is one more factor that is of much importance
to Turkey.

THE IRAQI BATTLEFIELD AND INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

The U.S. administration has repeatedly said that Iraq’s invasion
by the coalition forces marked a new, important stage in the war
against international terrorism. But the assertion that Saddam had
given shelter to members of al Qaeda or other extremist Islamic
groups was either misinformation or a mistake. Saddam is a strongly
pronounced nationalist who mercilessly suppressed all attempts to
propagate radical Islamism in Iraq. Moreover, a stronger influence
of radical Islamists would inevitably mean an end to his
dictatorial, yet secular regime.

After Saddam’s overthrow, Iraq has become a magnet for
international terrorists who are infiltrating the country and
creating a bridgehead for new attacks. International terrorist
groups, mainly al Qaeda, will seek to maintain extreme instability
in Iraq for as long as possible in order to get a foothold on the
territory. Iraq is more convenient as a terrorist center than
Afghanistan: it is bordered by countries with strong extremist
tendencies.

So, there are different groups among the forces of resistance to
the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Their motives are different, too,
but the preservation of the occupation regime may force these
groups closer together.

POSSIBLE SCENARIOS OF DEVELOPMENT

The most probable way for the situation in Iraq to develop is a
division within Iraqi society. This may split into the
collaborationists who are cooperating with the coalition forces and
the government, and the anti-occupation forces. This division may
become aggravated by other conflicts. The destruction of Saddam’s
regime has upset the balance between major ethnic and religious
communities on which Iraq’s unity and stability rested. The Shias,
Sunnis and Kurds now seek to fill the power vacuum.

Despite the ongoing convergence of different groups of
resistance, there remains the threat of an ethnic and religious
division in the country. This would pose a serious danger after the
occupation forcesХ pullout, and may even result in a civil war.

An analysis of the possible ways for achieving stabilization in
post-Saddam Iraq suggests the following conclusions.
First, it is unlikely that stability could be achieved if Iraq
became an Islamic state. If general elections are held, a majority
in the legislature will go to the Shias who may create a political
system similar to that in Iran. However, Iran’s record shows that
such a political system can ensure relative stability for only a
short period of time. Besides, there are strong sentiments in Iraq
against Islamic models for the state and society, thus imposing
such models on the country by force would divide it. At the same
time, the general tendency in the Arab world does not bolster state
Islamism.

Second, there is little hope for achieving stabilization unless
there is a sharp increase in the number of Iraqis ready to
cooperate with the occupation authorities. This variant is
possible, but only when an effective nationwide political force
appears, which would cooperate with the U.S. Hypothetically, former
members of the Baath party could be the core of such a force. Under
the previous regime, a majority of the two-million-member party
joined it for career rather than ideological considerations.
Therefore, the party united the more active and effective segments
of Iraqi society. The Americans made a mistake by outlawing the
Baath party and not trying to attract its members whom they could
use as political support.

From the outset, Iraq’s interim Governing Council failed to win
popular support. Now, the new Iraqi government, which was formed
under U.S. control and has replaced the Council, is facing the same
problem. As a result, it will take much time and money to create
real prerequisites for stabilizing the situation in the
country.

Third, the growth of resistance to the occupation troops is
largely due to the lack of progress in rebuilding the destroyed
infrastructure, soaring unemployment, and the inability of the
occupation authorities to take effective security measures. Unless
the authorities solve the unemployment problem and raise salaries,
they will not be able to cope with the Iraqi population’s animosity
and resistance to the coalition forces.

Meanwhile, the country’s social and economic problems are very
difficult to solve. Iraq’s revival as a major oil exporter is also
unlikely to bring about an early stabilization. In order to
increase oil output and export, control over the entire fuel and
energy sector must be given to those who are interested in Iraq’s
restoration and who are aware of its present political tasks. The
bulk of Iraq’s oil reserves, however, are in Kirkuk, northern Iraq,
and in the Shia-populated south. The recovery and development of
the Iraqi oil industry requires much time and investment.

The situation has become even more difficult after Iraq ceased
to receive humanitarian aid under the Oil-for-Food program
following the lifting of sanctions against this country. Besides,
Iraq can hardly expect large-scale foreign aid that is required for
its revival.

Iraq’s economic strategy, worked out by the Governing Council
for the period until 2005, was intended to ensure economic growth
through market-economy measures. These were intended to lift price
controls, privatization, and reductions in subsidies for
state-owned businesses. However, the strategy’s authors hoped for
revenues from oil exports and foreign aid, while the funds coming
from both sources may prove much less than planned. The lack of
stability and security may reduce economic activity still further.
It may require five years before Iraq fully meets its requirements
for basic goods and services.

SEEKING MORE ALLIES

The failure of Washington’s policy for a unilateral settlement
of the Iraqi crisis has caused it to seek a more active role for
the United Nations in the stabilization process. Initially,
President George W. Bush ruled out UN involvement, but now
Washington views it as a means to silence international criticism
of its military actions in Iraq as unlawful, and to win political
and financial support from many UN member states. Cooperating with
the UN is broadening the Bush administration’s room for maneuver,
which is especially vital now on the eve of presidential elections
in the U.S., and amid growing anti-war sentiments among American
citizens.

At the same time, the U.S. administration is unlikely to fully
replace the occupation troops with a UN peacekeeping force. The
replacement may be partial if hostilities increase and if an
increasing number of casualties is inflicted on the coalition
troops.

Replacing the coalition troops with a NATO force, or involving
many more countries in the U.S.-led coalition, is also
unlikely.
Moreover, the latest developments in Iraq (mass Shia protests, the
aggravation of the situation in the Sunni Triangle and the
hostage-taking of foreign nationals in Iraq) have caused U.S.
allies in the anti-Saddam coalition to refrain from giving
unconditional support to the U.S. administration. Some of the
allies have reduced or even terminated their military presence in
Iraq. At the same time, some of NATO’s new member states, wishing
to demonstrate their loyalty to Washington and seeking closer
relations with it, may decide to send their troops to Iraq.

In June 2003, President Bush urged Arab countries to join the
coalition forces. However, the Arab regimes fear that such a move
would destabilize the situation in their countries, already swept
by anti-American sentiments fueled by the U.S. position on the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The U.S. may try to involve moderate
Arab regimes in Iraq’s postwar settlement, but this involvement
would be reduced only to investment and supplies. Also, the U.S.
administration may seek Arab support in forming Iraq’s government
structures.

LIMITS FOR CHANGE IN THE U.S. POLICY

The increased resistance in Iraq has already caused the U.S. to
toughen its policy. If this move proves effective, the U.S. will
hardly make further concessions to the international community. If
not, Bush will have to seek more compromises.

The situation in Iraq is a major factor in the U.S. election
campaign, although economic issues have always been a priority for
U.S. society; the present economic growth and the decline in
unemployment rates are expected to win many votes for Bush. Yet,
even the economic achievements do not guarantee his re-election to
a second term.

It is unlikely that Bush will withdraw his troops from Iraq
before the presidential elections. The U.S. president stated that
the aggravation of the situation in Iraq and the growing casualties
will not make the U.S. pull out from Iraq. Apparently this
statement reflects the real position of the White House. A U.S.
pullout would be viewed as a defeat of Bush’s policy and would
reduce voters’ support. Therefore, the appeals from some U.S.
public figures to immediately leave Iraq will hardly be heeded in
the next few months. According to public opinion polls conducted by
authoritative organizations, even the scandalous failure of
Washington’s attempts to prove that Iraq possessed weapons of mass
destruction brought about an insignificant (2-4 percent) and
short-lived decline in Bush’s popularity rating.

In a bid to win more votes, the Bush administration is expected
not to change its position on Iraq but to employ some surprise
moves. These may include a decrease in gasoline prices, which
almost doubled recently, or the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s
arrest shortly before the elections.

RUSSIA’S ROLE IN THE IRAQI SETTLEMENT

It goes without saying that Russia is interested in an early
stabilization in Iraq, together with the handover of all power in
Iraq to the Iraqis. However, these goals cannot be achieved by
simply withdrawing the U.S. troops from Iraq without handing over
the governing functions to a UN mission.
It would be in Russia’s interests if Washington returns to the
position of multilateral actions in crisis situations and gives up
its unilateralist policy, graphically manifested vis-a-vis Iraq.
However, considering the political situation in the U.S., the above
changes can be achieved not through a U.S. defeat in Iraq, but
through an evolutionary move in which the Bush administration
begins to work with the UN. This turn has already begun, and Russia
must support it and make it irreversible through its active and, at
the same time, well-planned participation in the Iraqi
settlement.

Above all, Russia should take avail of its good bilateral
relations with various parties to the conflict, especially the
friendly relations between the Russian and U.S. presidents.

Russia’s relations with European countries may also play a major
role in the Iraqi settlement. During the latest Iraqi crisis,
Europe divided into opponents and supporters of the U.S. operation
in Iraq. Attempts to play on these differences would be
counter-productive. Russia should seek to influence the European
Union member states, most importantly, Germany and France, to
remain opposed to any unilateral approaches and the use of force
against any state. It must strive for the support of collective
actions through UN mechanisms for stabilizing the situation in
Iraq. Such actions should not be anti-American; indeed, they should
be worked out jointly with the U.S.

Another factor that may play a major role is Russia’s
traditionally good relations with the Arab countries, especially
since their positions on the Iraqi crisis coincide with that of
Russia. Involving Arab states in the peace settlement in Iraq would
have a positive impact on the larger part of the Iraqi
population.
Political forces in the Iraqi society, to which power could be
turned over, must be identified through multilateral efforts. This
may be done by an international conference on Iraq.

Such a consensus must be sought under the UN aegis, which would
solve the problem of legitimacy and authority necessary for the
efforts to rebuild Iraq.
Russia’s potential is not reduced to negotiations and conferences.
Russia can participate in Iraq’s restoration, specifically through
business contacts  especially in industries where Soviet and
Russian specialists have worked.

Russia’s military involvement in the efforts to settle the
crisis in Iraq would be possible, but only if Russia has a UN
Security Council mandate and if the UN takes over as the primary
actor in the Iraqi settlement. But even then the deployment of
Russian troops in Iraq would remain an open question.