Iraq: The Next Chapter

Frances Fukuyama has an excellent essay in today’s WSJ on what lies ahead in Iraq.

[T]here are at least four very large problems that have to be solved before we get to a democratic Iraq. The first is so obvious that it does not need to be stressed here: security. A great deal of the good nation-building work of improving the electricity supply, roads, schools, and hospitals, as well as the billions of dollars the U.S. has dedicated to these tasks, are now stuck in the pipeline because many of the thousands of aid workers and contractors there find it too dangerous to leave their fortified compounds. At the same time, there is good reason to think that much of the recent violence will subside. Muqtada al-Sadr, the violent Shiite cleric whose Mahdi militia caused so much trouble throughout southern Iraq, miscalculated in staging a grab for power earlier this month. He is in the process of being isolated by his fellow Shiite clerics, and will likely be disarmed though a combination of negotiations and force.

Much less easily solved is the second major problem, that of Iraq’s other militias. If the classic definition of a state is its monopoly of legitimate violence, then the new Iraq is not going to qualify for statehood anytime soon. We have seen in the past two weeks the deficiencies of the new Iraqi army, civil defense corps, and police, all of which have had units that have remained passive, refused to obey orders, or even switched to the other side. If you are a Kurd or Shiite today, it would take a great leap of faith to trust the security of your family to these new institutions.


The third major problem has to do with long-term Kurdish-Shiite relations. The Transitional Administrative Law that was signed in early March contains a provision that any article of the new constitution can be vetoed by a two-thirds vote in any three of Iraq’s 18 governorates, effectively giving the Kurds veto power over the entire constitution. The Kurds want this because they remain deeply suspicious that the Shiite groups, including those associated with Ayatollah Sistani (who up to this point has been a force for moderation), will seek to impose Sharia law once the constitutional process is under way. Mr. Sistani, for his part, has been equally vehement that this provision be removed. If the Kurds and Shiites cannot figure out how to share power, it is hard to see where the political basis for the new Iraq lies.

The final problem has to do with how to integrate the Sunnis who are at the center of the current troubles in cities like Fallujah and Ramadi. Contrary to some media reports, it is not clear that a Sunni “silent majority” could not one day find representation in political parties willing to contest power via the ballot box rather than the gun. But after the demise of the Baath Party, they are the least politically developed of all of Iraq’s major groups. Prior to the Marines’ Fallujah offensive, various democracy-promotion groups such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute had been making some headway in organizing democratic Sunni political parties. How the Fallujah standoff will be resolved, and what will remain of any residual Sunni goodwill toward the new Iraq in its aftermath, are open questions now.

If we make progress in solving these four problems, and if we get through the two elections outlined by President Bush, we should not kid ourselves about what will emerge at the end of the process. The new Iraqi state will be more legitimate than any other state in the Arab world, but it will also likely be very weak and dependent on outside assistance. It may be an Islamic Republic, in which religion plays a more significant role than the U.S. would like; its armed forces may be a hodgepodge of militias that will crack apart under stress; it will likely face a continuing violent insurgency fed by outside terrorists; its writ is unlikely to extend to important parts of Iraq.

Thus if part of the vision being offered to the American people is the prospect that we will be able to disengage militarily from Iraq in less than two years, the administration should think again. It will be extremely difficult to stick to the timetable outlined by the president, and even if the U.S. do it will have big lingering commitments. The American public should not be blindsided about the total costs of the reconstruction, as it was about the costs of the war itself. For all of the reasons offered by President Bush, it is absolutely critical that America stay the course and ensure that Iraq becomes a stable, democratic country.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    Boy, that was an information free article.

    Stay the course? If there is any course we’re on, it’s a course straight into the jaws of hell. It’s one thing to want to “stay the course” and finish the job right. But it’s quite another to blindly follow the mad plan of a bunch of jokers who have so far got everything about this tragically wrong.

    A complete year wasted. Worse than wasted, it was spent undermining the very thing we need to accomplish.

    Chalabi, lack of WMDs, not enough troops to win the peace, denying the whole insurgency, corruption in the whole reconstruction effort. The list is endless.

    Yea, this is the course I sure want to follow.