An active-duty Foreign Service Officer who served in Al Anbar province asserts that in spite of the surge's success, Iraq's "current political structure is fatally flawed and cannot be made to work, although it can possibly be fixed." He assesses some solutions that have been proposed and finds them seriously deficient because they ignore Iraq's "political center of gravity," which is how Iraqis "relate politically to one another. He calls for federalism based on the country's 18 governates, along with a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the cities. This course correction, he believes, could facilitate national unity and stability while extricating U.S. forces in a way that does not evince weakness. This essay was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is reprinted here by permission.
The best way for a big power to fight an insurgency is to avoid fighting it in the first instance by helping solve the political issue that created the conflict, thus drying up support for the insurgents. The second best way is to engage proxies who know the terrain, the culture, and the internal politics driving the insurgents, and who will not feed the nationalistic narrative that fuels insurgencies. The worst way is to fight an insurgency directly, and it should only be done by a big power as a last resort, in those cases where there is a vital national interest involved that can only be attained by engaging directly on the ground.
U.S. strategy in Iraq has focused primarily on fighting the insurgency directly, rather than through political accommodation or proxies. As a temporary solution this may be essential, but over time is unlikely to yield success. Any long-term strategy must focus on the underpinnings of the conflict and seek political solutions, bolstered by force and economic reconstruction.
Iraq in its current configuration, in which citizens' core political identification is ethnically based and politics is a scramble for confessional power at the national level, will never be stable. The only Iraq worth fighting for is a country organized around a federation model for its 18 governorates, (1) which breaks down confessional groups at the local level, leading to provincial political identification that facilitates national unity. If this model is rejected by Iraqis, then the move to a soft partition should be encouraged and facilitated.
Four Flawed Proposals Four major proposals for a way forward in Iraq have been proposed over the past months, all of which ignore Iraq's political center of gravity. A. Partition Joseph Biden, Peter Galbraith, and Leslie Gelb propose the division of Iraq into three ethnic states. This is unquestionably where the country is headed, and unless concerted force and effort are applied over an extended period of time it is where Iraq will end up. It will not be a complete catastrophe for the United States. As long as the three new states control their territory, can be coerced to follow international norms of behavior, and regional spillover is minimized, it is a manageable outcome. The United States would be able to disengage over time, hopefully with the approval of the three new states and not fighting a rear guard withdrawal.
It is not a given that these three states would fall under the sway of outside powers, or that any would provide a haven for Al Qaeda. The post conflict relationship between southern Iraq and Iran is not clearly established, and the invitation to outside terrorist groups in western Iraq was very...