Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Preview of the Iraq to Come

In today’s Washington Post we can see the future, and it doesn’t work. The southern city of Basra, where there has been no sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites, once considered a “success story” of the post-Saddam era, is now becoming a different place as British troops prepare to leave.

“Three major Shiite political groups,” the Post reports, “are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by ‘the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors,’ a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.”

There is no ideological winner or loser. The U.S., Britain and Iran, the ISG concludes, are “equally confused” about what’s happening in the city with two-thirds of Iraq’s oil resources.

Our politicians have been arguing over whether Iraq is emblematic of the Middle East and to what extent our staying or going is a test case of our will and accepting responsibility for what has followed the overthrow of Saddam.

Last month, Colin Powell said that troops “can only put a heavier lid on this boiling pot of sectarian stew.” As in Basra, today’s report suggests, there are also boiling non-sectarian stews all over Iraq and that keeping the lids on is not the critical question.

Until the heat is turned down by the emergence of another Saddam or, more likely, a number of regional Saddams, our going or staying is not the answer. The withdrawing British are not leaving behind a “success story” in Basra, but would their staying have made any difference or only postponed the inevitable outcome?

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