Iraq Civil War Could Spread, If it Happens
The Associated Press is beginning a series of long articles exploring the repurcussions of an Iraqi civil war that has yet to take place and seems less likely today than yesterday.
Any all-out civil war in Iraq could shake the political foundations of places beyond that stricken land, sending streams of refugees across Iraqi borders, tempting neighbors to intervene, and renewing the half-buried old conflict of Sunni and Shiite in the Muslim world, Middle East analysts say. “If it’s a war between Sunni and Shiite, this war might be extended from Lebanon to Afghanistan,” says Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on Islamic militancy.
In a series of Associated Press interviews, other regional specialists didn’t foresee such falling dominoes Ã¢€” open war between Islam’s two branches spreading elsewhere from Iraq. But they believe regional tensions have already sharpened because of the rise of Iraqi Shiites to power under U.S. military occupation. This “really changes the power structure in the Middle East, not only in Iraq, but in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia,” said longtime U.S. Mideast scholar William R. Polk, referring to two other Arab lands with fragile religious divides.
Iraq’s new constitution, approved in an Oct. 15 referendum whose results were certified Tuesday, is largely opposed by the Sunni Muslim minority, since it could lead to a virtual breakup of the country into oil-rich Shiite and Kurdish regions in the south and north, and a resource-poor Sunni center.
Well, no. Rather clearly, the constitution provides centralization of control of energy resources:
Article 108: “Oil and gas are the ownership of all the people of Iraq in all the regions and governorates.”
Article 109: “The federal government with the producing governorates and regional governments shall undertake the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields provided that it distributes oil and gas revenues in a fair manner in proportion to the population distribution in all parts of the country with a set allotment for a set time for the damaged regions that were unjustly deprived by the former regime and the regions that were damaged later on, and in a way that assures balanced development in different areas of the country, and this will be regulated by law.”
Source: Excerpts From the Iraqi Constitution (WaPo, Oct. 11)
It’s not inconceivable that non-Kurdish Sunnis, bitter at being relegated to a say in public policy commensurate with their proportion of the population, could escalate the insurgency to the level of “all-out civil war.” One would think, though, they would have done so ahead of the ratification of the constitution. Indeed, they didn’t even vote down the constitution when they had the power to do so by managable supermajorities (2/3) in three provinces.
A key neighbor has voiced urgent concern. “All the dynamics are pulling the country apart,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said of Iraq. Speaking with Washington reporters on Sept. 22, the Saudi also warned that Iraq’s disintegration would “bring other countries in the region into the conflict.”
Turkey and Iran top that list. The Turks might be tempted to intervene in Iraq’s north to keep its autonomous Kurds from supporting Turkey’s own Kurdish separatists. Shiite Iran might act Ã¢€” with arms, intelligence, even “volunteers” Ã¢€” to ensure victory by a friendly Iraqi Shiite leadership in any civil war, analysts say. “The Turks would be the most worried and have the most capacity” Ã¢€” a strong military Ã¢€” “to do something about it,” said Polk.
Persian Iran, sharing a long border and a history of warfare with Arab Iraq, has multiple interests in its neighbor’s future, noted W. Andrew Terrill, Mideast specialist at the U.S. Army War College. The Iranians clearly don’t want a return to a hostile Sunni-led Iraq like that of ousted President Saddam Hussein. But Terrill said Tehran also must worry about a Shiite-run government that is too reliant on Washington “that is willing to accept permanent U.S. military bases that may be used to threaten and intimidate the Iranian regime.”
Two mostly Sunni neighbors, Syria and Jordan, are largely unable and unlikely to try to influence a civil war next door, analysts say. But both would bear a heavy burden if Iraqi Sunnis were driven to seek refuge across the border, fleeing Balkan-style “ethnic cleansing” Ã¢€” a prospect haunting regional officials.
If these countries were sufficiently concerned about these eventualities to risk going to risk war with the United States–the obvious consequence of such intervention–wouldn’t they have done so earlier? Turkey, while certainly concerned about the Kurdish issue, nearly supported the Coalition war effort. Remember, the executive actually authorized the staging of a prong of the attack from their territory before derailed by the legislature– and even parliamentary support would have been forthcoming had the U.S. ponied up more extortion money.
It is also unclear why Iran would be willing to go to war with the United States in order to prevent the United States from being slightly better positioned to go to war against Iran. Given the U.S. global reach, including other bases and a naval carrier fleet in the region, the basing of far fewer military troops in Iraq than are there now would hardly seem the tipping point.