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Future of post-war Iraq is anyone’s guess

For the last century Iraq has been an international problem, and for the last dozen years it’s been a particular problem for the United States.
President George W. Bush had a number of possible methods for dealing with it. He chose the most costly and dangerous means of confronting the situation and, thus far, has succeeded brilliantly. U.S. and British forces have done their jobs quickly and with great effect. Saddam Hussein is no longer in power and fighting has almost ended.
Now seemingly anyone with senior military experience, academic degrees or just nerve is on TV offering opinions on how the next few years in Iraq are going to play out. But the fact is, no one, from the most thoughtful scholar to the average man in the street in Baghdad, has any business making predictions.
There are simply too many variables in play. Making a lasting peace in Iraq is such a formidable undertaking that it is possible for us to fail despite our best and most effective efforts.
God knows, I wish our soldiers, politicians and diplomats success and fervently hope America’s often fickle national focus remains on Iraq until the job is done. How long that will be I have no idea.
What follows is a listing of some of the factors complicating the situation, along with a few things that may aid us in our work.
First, Iraq is a traumatized nation which knows only the politics of the strong crushing the weak. Masses of people who suffered under Saddam Hussein’s rule would like vengeance, and there are plenty of weapons around to be used for this or any other violent purpose.
There are ancient and significant religious and ethnic differences ‘ Sunni and Shia Muslims as well as Christians, for example. As I write this, a prominent Shia cleric has just been killed in Najaf. There are Kurds as well as Assyrians, Chaldeans and others in the north, and throughout the country there are various tribal and clan groups. A very high percentage of these groups will have to be persuaded to participate wholeheartedly in a government that is not going to give them the power and privilege which each feels it is due.
There are also Muslim fanatics and Al Queda supporters who will do anything to defeat the United States. The size of this group is open to speculation, but they are always dangerous. There are Iraqi nationalists who may not have liked Saddam but who will demand an immediate end to American occupation. There may be Saddam loyalists who wish to add confusion to the process.
All this plays out against the backdrop of the average man on the street in the Arab world who distrusts and fears the U.S.
Arranged around the borders of Iraq are neighbors who wish to influence the situation to their own benefit. Syria wants a week Iraq but even more fears anything that might cause change within its own repressed borders. Turkey, a U.S. ally, also wants a weak Iraq and fears armed demands for an independent Kurdistan, which would probably include parts of Turkey.
In other arenas, our traditional ally, France, along with others, wants the United Nations to displace America in calling the shots in postwar Iraq. In this case, they might not have such a bad idea: We get to be credited with rescuing Iraq from Saddam, and the U.N. is responsible for the more difficult task of making the peace work. But I am also not so na’ve as to believe that French interests and ours suddenly have come together.
Then there are Iraqi politicians, both inside the country and in exile, who are jockeying solely for personal power and position.
America’s concerns may shift back to the continuing war on terror or to the very belligerent North Korean government leaving Iraq behind to flounder. The list goes on.
Many of the things I have mentioned may be handled successfully, but we can’t count on anything going in. All we can do is try to work with honesty and decency combined with intelligence and a delicate touch for however long it takes.

We do have some positives going for us. We are not a colonial power and do not have colonial instincts. There is an ancient culture in Iraq which provides a basis for unity. Iraq has very large oil fields, and those revenues, we hope, will now flow toward helping the nation instead of going for marble palaces and secret police payrolls. Finally, when Americans put their full will behind something, we can accomplish amazing things.
But the devil is in the details, and we are about to enter a world that is nothing but details. I hope in years ahead we can point to our peace-making in Iraq with the same justifiable pride we have for our peace-making in Japan and Germany after World War II.

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