Scenario: The US withdraws from Iraq, or draws down its military presence sufficiently to let events take their course.
Now supposing the Shia militias in Iraq stage a long-prepared power-play, attempting to capture Baghdad and menacing the Sunni provinces.
Does the “Shia Alliance” (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah) send in their forces to help, or do they provide support from the background (as they are likely doing now?), or perhaps wait until foreign Sunni armies intervene.
Who might join a Sunni military alliance against Iran? Would the Saudis fight? Egypt and Jordan?
Finally what role might Israel and Turkey take in such a conflict? Would Israel attempt to stay as far out of it as possible, or might they provide covert or open support to the Sunnis? Would the Turks take the opportunity to tangle with the Kurds in northern Iraq?
I would expect Syria to stay out of it, at any rate. The president and ruling elite are Alawi Shi’a but the majority of the population are Sunni – getting involved in a Sunni-Shi’ite conflict would be just too hot to handle. As for Iran, I hope Ahmadinejad is too smart to actually send Iranian troops into Iraq overtly, that would be like begging the U.S. forces to come back in. Covert aid remains an option.
I would expect all of their governments to be profoundly allergic to getting into a Sunni-Shi’ite conflict. The Saudis are Sunnis, all right, but their Wahhabi royal family has to deal with opposition from **ultra-**Wahabbi dissidents who consider the royals too corrupt and Westernized. Why stir the pot? Egypt’s government likewise has its own ultra-Islamist dissidents (as well as democratic dissidents). And Jordan has too many troubles of its own.
I doubt Israel would find any Muslim faction anywhere willing to accept its aid. As for Turkey – don’t they still want to join the EU? Why remind the world they have their own Kurdish problem?
If, on the other hand, the U.S. invades Iran – that could lead to a general regional conflict. In fact, wargame scenarios suggest there would be no way to avoid it.
Iran and Iraq fought a decade- long war that killed over a million people in the 1980’s. Vast numbers of civilians were killed as Sunnis and Shiites fought each other. And nobody in the western world cared.
I find it interesting that so many Americans now get so terribly emotionally upset over the concept that Sunnis and Shiites might fight each other again.
The other countries in the region will defend their own borders, but not take an active part.
It didn’t affect us then, and it won’t affect us now. . But we will get to see lots of color pictures on TV.
There are a number of reasons why the two wars are not comparable. As Anne Neville pointed out, the United States is largely responsible for this conflict and will therefore be held accountable in the court of global opinion. If you do not think that is a significant setback for the US, I would invite you to examine the period after the US’ loss in Vietnam.
Also, the Iraq-Iran war resulted in a stalemate. This war already features a failed Iraqi state. If one of the two nations had collapsed during the fighting, I don’t think you could make the argument that it would have no affect on the world.
Of course 9/11 demonstrated definitively that destabilized and radicalized populaces with a grudge against the United States can have a great impact without much in the way of technology or funding. An entire region engulfed in sectarian conflict and in withboth sides radicalized and blaming the Unites States is obviously not in our interests.
Needless to say, the region also contains vast amounts of oil which is literally fuel for the global economy. A major disruption of the flow of crude woud most certainly have an impact on not just the US economy, but also the economies of China, India, Europe and ultimately the rest of the world.
An additiona point: the Iran-Iraq war was fought at a time when the Soviet Union and the US wielded great influence in their respective spheres of influence. Now the US has a greatly diminished standing in the world and the Soviet Union has collapsed, allowing for the spread of dangerous material and technology from its weapons programs. Which leads me to my final point.
Iran is now pursuing nuclear weapons and has clearly established that it expects to be considered a regional power. The balance of power has been disrupted in the Middle East because of the collapse of the Iraqi state and Iran is showing every inclination to fill much of the void in the power structure and sees the pursuit of nuclear weapons as the way to do so.
This article in the NYT (written in Feb, after the mosque bombing in Samara) offers a good summary, with some comments from several M.E. experts:
I don’t want to quote much more than that, but I do encourage anyone interested to read the entire article, not just a few snippets. I don’t think anyone is saying a regional confilct is certain, just that the risk is high:
I think it’s natural for people to feel worse about a bad thing happening if they feel they (or a group that they belong to) were somehow responsible for it happening.
If a person dies in a car accident, it’s tragic, but I’m not going to pay much attention unless I knew them or their family or friends. If a person dies in a car accident that I caused, I’m going to feel guilty about causing their death, even if I didn’t know the person before the accident. See the difference, chappachula?
A very important point this one. During the first Gulf war Kissinger was being interviewed and made the point that we did not want to get rid of Saddam. That we needed a strongman there to keep a powerful enough Iraq as a counterweight to Iran. We just needed his power reduced some. I hate that he was right.
Political boundaries in the Arab world are much more fragile than ethnic and sectarian identities.
No we just explicitly armed Saddam, gave him credits, cheered him on, gave him satellite intel and denied he’d gassed anyone. One nation among us secretly armed Iran also, provided naval escort for Iraq oil but not Iranian and swatted a civilian Iran airliner from the skies.
Any war that’s fought in the Mideast will ultimately be about oil, because oil is the only real source of money and power that the place has. The Kurds are sitting on by far the majority of oil in Iraq. If the Americans were to just leave, the Iraqi Shias would probably wipe out or otherwise disesmpower the Iraqi Sunnis, then if there’s no one stopping them, go after the Kurds to get their oil. I don’t know of much animus between the Kurds and the Shias, but the Shias would definitely want to be the ones to get all that lovely oil revenue for themselves.
The Iranians would probably support the Iraqi Shias with the idea of having a puppet state, or at least a friendly state. Long range, I bet the Iranians are looking at a new Caliphate centered in Iraq, which would be a nuclear power and control all of the Middle East, especially the part with oil fields. They are probably the major power to contend with right now.
I say, let chaos rule! let the Iranians try to dominate Iraq-they will have no more success than we have had. Iran is chock full of ethnic minorities as well (Arabs in the south, Afghans in the east, Kurds in the west), and isn’t anxious to stoke those fires as well. Or Syria-Syria has a pretty tenuous grip on hamas-and the (Alawite) Assad regime in Damascus won’t last 30 seconds if Hamas becomes the power in Lebanon.
Face it: the ME always has and always will be unstable. the only thing that will make it stable is;
-reactionary, backward looking theocracies (like Saudi Arabia)
The ME needs about 300 years of Western-style renaissance and enlightenment!
But the war would still have happened if we hadn’t done that. It might have been shorter, or gone differently, but it still would have happened. This time around, that’s not the case. I think that gives us more responsibility for it this time than last time.