Quagmire

From Holden:

Robert Dreyfuss spells it out in Rolling Stone.

Two years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is perched on the brink of civil war. Months after the election, the new Iraqi government remains hunkered down inside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, surviving only because it is defended by thousands of U.S. troops. Iraqi officials hold meetings and press conferences in Alamo-like settings, often punctuated by the sounds of nearby explosions. Outside the Green Zone, party offices and government buildings are surrounded by tank traps, blast walls made from concrete slabs eighteen feet high, and private militias wielding machine guns and AK-47s. Even minor government officials travel from fort to fort in heavily armed convoys of Humvees.

“I talk to senior military people and combat commanders who tell me that the situation is much more precarious than admitted,” says Col. Patrick Lang, former Middle East chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency. “Even inside the Green Zone you are not safe, because of indirect fire. And if you were to venture outside at night, they’d probably find your headless body the next morning.”

[snip]

“In the Arab world, Iraq is seen as a zone of chaos in a pre-civil-war situation, held together only by the U.S. occupation,” says Chas Freeman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Bush’s father.

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If it comes to civil war, the disintegration of Iraq will be extremely bloody. “The breakup of Iraq would be nearly as bad as the breakup of India in 1947,” says David Mack, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state with wide experience in the Arab world. “The Kurds can’t count on us to come in and save their bacon. Do they think we are going to mount an air bridge on their behalf?” Israel might support the Kurds, but Iran would intervene heavily in support of the Shiites with men, arms and money, while Arab countries would back their fellow Sunnis. “You’d see Jordan, Saudi Arabia, even Egypt intervening with everything they’ve got — tanks, heavy weapons, lots of money, even troops,” says White, the former State Department official.

“If they see the Sunnis getting beaten up by the Shiites, there will be extensive Arab support,” agrees a U.S. Army officer. “There will be no holds barred.”

In fact, it may already be too late to prevent Iraq from exploding. Iraq’s new government is stuck in a fatal Catch-22: To have any credibility among Iraqis it must break with the U.S. and oppose the occupation, but it couldn’t last a week without the protection of American troops. The Bush administration is also stuck. Its failure to stabilize Iraq, and the continuing casualties there, have led to a steady slide in the president’s popularity: Polls show that a majority of Americans no longer think that the war in Iraq was worth fighting in the first place. Yet withdrawing from Iraq would only lead to more chaos, and the rest of the world has exhibited little interest in cleaning up America’s mess. Of the two dozen or so countries that sent troops to Iraq, fewer and fewer remain: Spain, Portugal, Hungary and New Zealand have already quit, and the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Italy have announced they are getting out. Even if the United Nations agreed to step in, there is little or no chance that the administration will internationalize control over Iraq. In the face of a full-scale civil war in Iraq, says a source close to the U.S. military, Bush intends to go it alone.

“Our policy is to make Iraq a colony,” he says. “We won’t let go.”

Also of interest: The Lessons of Abu Ghraib.