The following was originally posted on the Military.com forums, 06 January 2007:
My own prognostications for the future in Iraq:
1. Surge helps contain violence only temporarily but ultimately does not dramatically reduce problems. Rampant sectarian rivalry, corruption and an inability to secure the country causes a loss of trust in central government. See: Corruption: the 'second insurgency' costing $4bn a year
2. Declarations of autonomy by various factions (led first by an 8-region Shi'ite bloc, followed by Kurds in an "if they go, we go too" stance) leads Iraq away from federalism. Power starts to disburse to regional governors and militia leaders. The US becomes increasingly irrelevant in the country except as a source of money and power to back certain blocs. See: Shiite push for autonomy endangers Iraq's fragile coalition, also Iraq passes regional autonomy law
3. "Sectarian Cleansing" continues unabated, leading factional areas to enter into recriminations if not outright quasi-wars with each other over control of territory. US efforts to get them to "knock it off" fail, and the US makes tough choices as to what areas we wish to keep secure, and which areas we simply write off as not-of-interest, or pragmatically unprotectable. The US has best success in Kurdish north. South aligns with Iran, but US remains embedded because of oil infrastructure. Arab Sunnis feel increasingly isolated in center and make push for closer ties with Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. Syria and Iran grow distant as they are forced to back their own sectarian allies in the ongoing feud. Baghdad is left to the Iraqis, and suffers terribly.
4. Regardless of US policy and public stance, Iraq de facto cantonizes into sectarian regions that do not get along with each other. US domestic opinion will force pulling majority of remaining troops home, as the country heads towards a Yugoslavia-like descent into partitioning, or to position them solely in areas where US interests are greatest priority (a la the Boxer Rebellion). Unless a charismatic/powerful Tito-like nationalist figure emerges to create a vision of a unified nation (which might also be accompanied with violence and repression), the country will divide. Federal government will exist, but will be increasingly ineffectual on a nation-wide basis. Cooption of central government by a faction that still benefits by its maintenance will force the others to withdraw and declare further motions for autonomy.
5. The country finally devolves into three (or more) independent states after a bloody civil war, which is where it was going anyway, but only after animosity gets to fever pitch and millions are displaced from their present homes in a divison similar to the India-Pakistan-Bangladesh division, or again, like former Yugoslavia. The US will be blamed for ignoring reality and trying to hold the nation together after everyone else saw the writing on the wall of where the course of events were leading to naturally.
6. Problems spread to region as the "Kurdish question" is called in Turkey and Iran. US hems and haws, again trying to ignore Kurdish independence the same way we went ostrich and ignored the problem of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, refusing to back Croatia and Bosnia. Much hand-wringing is done to placate the Turks in NATO. Eventually we'll have to address the problem, once it explodes in a way that cannot be ignored, at a disadvantageous position for the US to deal with due to lack of initiative. The US is forced to adopt double-standards, supporting Kurdish independence in Iran, but not in Turkey. The US ultimately backs the Kurds, but they keep a chip on their shoulder, seeing how we foot-dragged the entire time regarding supporting their cause.
7. Basra becomes a player. Wooed by both Iran and the west, Basra makes a name for itself in the Gulf. They are opposed by the other Sunni Gulf states. Still, their control of oil makes them a darling that plays off suitors left and right. They might make an unusual strategic ally in China or India.
This is the present momentum in Iraq, combined with a few guesses on my part as to how the US and others will play into the course of events.
Presently, we are cushioning the fall by the presence of our troops there, but this is where it is headed towards of its own volition. This is domestic Iraqi politics. While the US can influence it, we cannot ultimately thwart or alter these sentiments.
Unless the Iraqis can find a uniting, galvanizing leader to rally behind -- all parties -- I believe that the momentum of present events leads towards the dissolution of the country just as surely as Yugoslavia was destined to fall apart once Tito took his leave.
Iraq will not turn into Somalia post Siad Barre. But it definitely will not keep its present shape or government structure even through the rest of the decade.
That's my own thinking. Give us your own view.