A new study by a German think tank weighs in on the future of Iraq.
Der Irak zwischen Föderalismus und Staatszerfall: Interessen und Handlungsoptionen irakischer und regionaler Akteure (31 page PDF-- German only).
"Already today, the main priority is to prevent Iraq from breaking apart completely." That is the sober conclusion of a new study released Wednesday in Berlin on the situation in Iraq. Called "Iraq Between Federalism and Collapse," the study argues that there is little hope of a centralized power in Iraq and that the country's future depends on walking the fine line between decentralizing power and civil war.
The report, written by terror and Middle East expert Guido Steinberg under the auspices of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, says that a far-reaching decentralization is the country's only hope. And if it fails, the result could be devastating, including the possibility of full-scale civil war complete with foreign intervention.
"The basic assumption of this study," Steinberg writes, "is that a federalist solution will be the only possibility to maintain Iraq as a single country. The most important role of German and European policies should therefore be that of supporting steps toward a peaceful federalist solution." ...
The sectarian wrangling means, the study says, that the best solution -- that of a federalism free of ethnic and religious divisions -- has largely been rendered impossible. But even a federalism resting on the ethnic divisions that have been established seems challenging given the opposition from within the Shiite and Sunni factions to such a solution.
And that's not to mention the opposition of other countries in the region. "The discussion within Iraq is influenced to a large degree by the interests of neighboring countries," the report states. "Due to their potential to become involved, the Iraq federalists have to take their positions into account. And Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria all reject the ethnic-religious federalism model out of hand." Military intervention from Iraq's neighbors to protect their interests, particularly from Turkey in the north, is a very real possibility, the report warns. ...
All of which makes the immediate future in Iraq look bleak, Steinberg writes. The alternative to a successful federalism solution, he indicates, is chaos, more violence and a Shiite dictatorship. "Iraq is a failed state," the report concludes, "and will remain unstable for the foreseeable future."
For those who require a more optimistic assessment of the situation, you need look no further. In an article about the increased use of house-borne IEDs against American troops in Iraq, a PAO suggests we interpret the development as another sign of progress:
Officials attribute the increasingly sophisticated attacks to desperation on the insurgents' part after troops became too successful at finding roadside bombs and other explosives.
"It's a clear sign that they could not get to us by other means, and that's a good sign," said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a spokesman for the American operation in northern Iraq, describing the pattern of house bombs in that area. "Obviously we're countering the improvised explosive devices, and force on force, they know that they can't fight us."
But ambushes and rigged houses can cause many more casualties than smaller improvised explosive devices, which rarely kill more than one or two people at a time. Increasingly, Donnelly said, insurgents are creating a "daisy chain" of house bombs, in which an initial explosion can trigger blasts up and down a block.
Additionally, house bombs can be some of the most difficult explosives to detect because of the myriad ways they can be activated, Donnelly and others said. Some insurgents use powerful bombs or other munitions; others rely on homemade explosives. The blast can be set off by a trip wire, a pressure plate or a remote device. ...
Donnelly said that as U.S. troops become more skilled in identifying house bombs, al-Qaeda in Iraq will probably develop even more advanced techniques for attacking soldiers. But the American military's counterinsurgency abilities, assisted by increased cooperation from Iraqi citizens, would prevail, he said.
"There is no question that there is still a serious threat," Donnelly said. "But the gains we have made are tremendous. In the end, we will win, and they will be marginalized and pushed out."