Given that this is the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war, there has been a lot written in review of the events. We all know the debacle that is Iraq. I'm going to focus on what the future holds. I think this is particularly important since 43% of Americans still think we can "win". I am an American, a Shia Muslim, and someone who opposed this war from the beginning. This is longer than my normal posts, but I thought the topic was important and I hope you get something out of it.
First, a little history. Iraq is not a "real" country. It is one of the many fruits of British colonialism, along with Israel & Palestine, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Pakistan and India (where my family is from), to name a few. About a century ago, as the British Empire waned, their last resort to extend their rule was to sow discord among the natives. In Iraq, that meant fusing Sunnis, Shias and Kurds together under an autocratic ruler of the Sunni persuasion.
Everyone by now has heard of the three groups vying for power in Iraq: the Sunni, Shia, and the Kurds. The Sunni and Shia are the main religious sects of Islam, dating back to the death of Prophet Muhammed. The Kurds are an ethnic group spread across northern Iraq, southern Turkey, and western Iran. They are a people without a nation.
So what will the outcome be? To understand what lays ahead for Iraq, one has to understand the conflicting interests in the Middle East that will continue this bloodshed for some time to come.
There are basically four power players in Iraq: the US, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. First, let's discuss Iran. Iran's primary goals are to achieve a strong Arab, Shia ally in Iraq, and become the dominant player in the Middle East. They already have a powerful influence over Syria and the Hezbullah-controlled parts of Lebanon. Iraq though, with its vast oil wealth and majority Shia population, would provide Iran with a lasting natural ally.
Saudi Arabia is the other main player in the Iraq saga. Their goal is to keep Iraq from becoming dominated politically by Shia Iran. Wahabbism, the official sect of Saudi Arabia, is vehemently opposed to Shias. Shias are viewed as heretics, even lower on the totem pole than non-believers. The bulk of the foreign Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq come from either Jordan or Saudi Arabia, and their mission is to do anything to keep the Shias out of power. Stemming Iran's regional influence is priority number one.
The Turks really don't have much of an interest in Iraq besides keeping the Kurds from declaring independence. Turkey is determined to keep this from happening so that the Kurds in southern Turkey don't get any funny ideas.
Beyond keeping oil out of the hands of the Chinese, America has no reason to be in Iraq whatsoever. This by the way is the crux of why we can not win, for we have no real definition of success. We have many ways to fail, and no ways to win.
So where does this leave us? Well, the Shia and Sunni both have deep pocketed backers, and can go on fighting indefinitely. The Kurds are the odd man out. People keep saying that Iraq will get divided into three countries, but the reality is that it will likely break into two. The southern country will be named Kufa, which is the real historical Shia nation.
Central Iraq has no oil, and therefore no oil wealth, so expect to see Arab Sunnis start to push strongly into Kurdish northern Iraq where there are vast oil reserves. In doing so, the Sunnis will find allies in both the Turks and Saudis. It is unlikely that we will go to bat for the Kurds. The resulting state will continue to be known as Iraq.
The only question left in my mind is when this will happen. The presence of American troops is slowing the process, but at some point, we will have to leave. To paraphrase Machiavelli, they live there, we're just visiting. Barring a great miracle of national reconciliation, Iraq will descend into a civil war similar to the one experienced by Lebanon, but on a much greater scale.