Dealing with Civil Conflict in Iraq/ Engaging Iran

Feb 22, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

February 22, 2007
Number 02/07 #11

This Update features two good pieces on the relationship between President Bush’s “surge” and the civil conflict in Iran.

It opens with an important piece by American military historian Max Boot of the Council of Foreign Relations. Boot analyses the current situation in Iraq in terms of the experiences of the former Yugoslavia, and says the lessons of that intervention make it clear that the surge is a move in the right direction. He also details thoroughly, based on some recent research, the dramatic likely regional spillover effects of allowing Iraq to degenerate into truly large scale ethnic conflict. For this important piece, CLICK HERE.

Our next piece comes from the pen of Tashbih Sayyed, a Pakistan-born author, analyst, and journalist, who argues that the idea being argued by some in the US that pulling troops out will engender stability is misguided. He says only a situation of relative stability and security has any hope of providing a “political solution” to the Iraqi crisis, and only US forces have any hope of providing this. For his full argument, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Danielle Pletka and Michael Rubin, American foreign policy and Middle East experts respectively, attempt to deconstruct the logic of “engagement” with Iran on its nuclear program. They point out that the belief that engagement will either give Iran incentives to cease its nuclear program, or strengthen moderates within the regime, is almost certainly wrong. They assert that the  “moderates” are not that moderate, do not control foreign policy, and would be weakened, not strengthened, if Ahmadinejad were rewarded with talks without meeting the conditions that have been set by the UN. For this important correction to a natural instinct for many in the West, CLICK HERE.

Is Iraq turning into Yugoslavia?

The lessons learned from the Balkans in the 1990s call for more troops in Iraq, not a withdrawal.

Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2007

THE IRAQ DEBATE is starting to resemble the Yugoslavia debate of the early 1990s. Once again we are hearing that crazed foreigners are in the grip of ancient ethnic hatreds and that the U.S. has no cause to get involved in their internecine strife. Ironically, some of those now making this “realist” argument resisted its spurious logic 15 years ago. They were right to do so then, and they would be tragically mistaken were they to succumb to the siren song of nonintervention today.

In the former Yugoslavia, as in Iraq, ethnic groups have clashed over the years, but they also have had long periods of peaceful coexistence — and not only under the heavy hand of a Tito or Saddam Hussein. Croats, Bosnians, Slovenians, Kosovars, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbs lived together for centuries under the relatively benign Ottoman and Habsburg empires and later under their own monarchy. So did Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis in Mesopotamia.
In both cases, intermarriage rates were high, and there was no popular clamor for civil war. In more recent times, domestic strife was fomented by megalomaniacs such as Slobodan Milosevic and Abu Musab Zarqawi, who sought to profit from the violence. They were able to gain the upper hand because central authority had collapsed. In a lawless land, ordinary people were forced to seek protection from sectarian militias. As these groups committed atrocities, they fed demands for vengeance, leading to a death spiral.

Viewing the violence from a comfy couch, it is easy to conclude that “these people are animals. We can’t help them.” But imagine what would have happened in Los Angeles if the 1992 riots had gone on for weeks, with no police or military intervention. L.A. could have come to resemble Baghdad or Sarajevo, with Anglo, African American, Latino and Asian gangs rampaging out of control.

To extend the analogy, violence could have spread throughout Southern California. That’s what happened in the Balkans when fighting spread from Slovenia, the first province to secede, to Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. A wider spillover was averted thanks to American-led intervention.

Today, only the U.S. troop presence is preventing Iraq, already in the throes of a low-level civil war, from degenerating into an all-out conflict a la Yugoslavia. The likely effect of such a bloodletting is spelled out in a recent report, “Things Fall Apart,” by Brookings Institution fellows Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack. They examined recent civil wars not only in Yugoslavia but in Afghanistan, Congo, Lebanon, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Somalia and Tajikistan. “We found,” they write, “that ‘spillover’ is common in massive civil wars” and “that while its intensity can vary considerably, at its worst it can have truly catastrophic effects.”

They cite six such effects, beyond the obvious humanitarian nightmare.

First, a massive exodus of refugees, “large groupings of embittered people who serve as a ready recruiting pool for armed groups still waging the civil war.” For example, Palestinian refugees sparked conflicts in Jordan in 1970-71 and in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990.

Second, states in civil war can provide a haven for existing terrorist groups (Al Qaeda in Afghanistan) or create new ones (Hezbollah in Lebanon).

Third, civil wars often radicalize neighboring populations. For instance, the Rwanda genocide in the mid-1990s sparked a civil war in Congo, which has led to an estimated 4 million deaths.

Fourth, “secession breeds secessionism,” as in Yugoslavia.

Fifth, there are huge economic losses.

Finally, Byman and Pollack write, “the problems created by these other forms of spillover often provoke neighboring states to intervene — to stop terrorism as Israel tried repeatedly in Lebanon, to halt the flow of refugees as the Europeans tried in Yugoslavia, or to end (or respond to) the radicalization of their own population as Syria did in Lebanon…. The result is that many civil wars become regional wars.”

As Byman and Pollack note, “Iraq has all the earmarks of creating quite severe spillover problems.” This is, after all, a state with something worth fighting for (oil), and one where all the major combatants (various Sunni, Shiite and Kurd groups) are amply represented in neighboring countries. Iraq’s potential as a breeding ground for terrorism is even greater than Lebanon’s or Afghanistan’s.

Maybe it’s too late to avoid the catastrophe that Byman and Pollack warn of. But Yugoslavia showed how much good a decisive intervention could do. The case for action — for sending more troops rather than withdrawing the ones already there — is even stronger in Iraq because we have caused its current turmoil and cannot escape its consequences.


The Insurgency

By Tashbih Sayyed

Pakistan Today | February 21, 2007

Saddam Hussein, as the events that followed his fall suggest, had planned his response to the U.S. invasion very skillfully. Knowing that no military power on earth can face the U.S. might for long, he had come up with the strategy of breaking the American will to liberate Iraqis by engaging them in a long and seemingly un-exhausting insurgency.

“In the fall of 2002, several months before the United States and its allies invaded Iraq; Saddam Hussein dispatched more than 1,000 security and intelligence officers to two military facilities near Baghdad where they underwent two months of guerrilla training, according to a secret U.S. military intelligence report.

Anticipating his defeat, intelligence reports show, the Iraqi dictator began laying the foundation for an insurgency as Washington worked to convince the United Nations and allies around the world that Saddam had to go.”

Saddam Hussein had planned the insurgency in Iraq to kill two birds with one stone: first, a long and bloody insurgency, he was convinced, would break the American will to set things right in the Middle East and would force them to leave without accomplishing their mission; second, he hoped that if he ever was captured, the never ending insurgency would compel U.S. forces to spare his life in order to use his influence to calm down the resistance.

He, according to his chief lawyer, believed the United States would have to seek his help to quell the bloody insurgency in Iraq and open the way for U.S. forces to withdraw. He quoted Saddam as saying: “These puppets in the Iraqi government that the Americans brought to power are helpless. They can’t protect themselves or the Iraqi people. The Americans will certainly come to me, to Saddam Hussein’s legitimate leadership and to the Iraqi Baath Party, to rescue them from their huge quandary.”

He was wrong on one account: the U.S. didn’t need him to defeat the insurgency. And so he was hanged. But on the second account – breaking the American will – he may still be proven right as the Democrat leadership is doing everything in their power to convince Americans that the U.S. victory in Iraq is not possible; in a weekly Democrat radio address on Saturday (January 6, 2007), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made clear the Congressional majority saw the solution as getting the troops out rather than sending more of them into Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was confident that if the insurgency succeeded in bogging down the U.S. forces long enough and killing a significant number of American soldiers, it would create doubt in the minds of Americans whether the U.S. could ever win this war. His advisers were sure that such a perception would compel the Americans to force their administration to withdraw the troops. And Saddam Hussein was proven right when a commission, formed to assess the Iraq war and recommend a new course, ruled out the prospect of victory for America.

It is obvious that Democrats do not consider that a victory in Iraq is vital for long term U.S. national security interests. But their insistence that the solution to the Iraq conflict is political rather than military underlines their lack of understanding of the ground realities as they exist in Iraq. They fail to recognize that an artificial country like Iraq, whose component ethnic and sectarian populations have no desire to stay together, cannot be expected to transform into a unified and seamless nationhood on its own.

History is witness to the fact that Iraq has always needed an iron hand to prevent it from imploding. It doesn’t need a lot of wisdom to see that if left to their own designs, the three major ethnic groups, Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis will embark upon a campaign of ethnic cleansing against each other.

It is also a fact that if the country is to be saved from partitioning into three lawless regions that eventually will become a hub for anti-American activities, the U.S. has to win this war. According to John McCain, “failure to make the necessary political and financial commitment to build the new Iraq could endanger American leadership in the world, empower our enemies and condemn Iraqis to renewed tyranny.”

U.S. victory in Iraq is absolutely critical in securing our national interests. John McCain has put it aptly, “Iraq’s transformation into a progressive Arab state could set the region that produced Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, and al Qaeda on a new course in which democratic expression and economic prosperity, rather than a radicalizing mix of humiliation, poverty and repression, define a modernity in the Muslim world that does not express itself in ways that threaten its people or other nations. Conversely, a forced U.S. retreat from Iraq would be the most serious American defeat since Vietnam.”

Democrats will have to understand that even for a political solution to the conflict, they will require the backing and cover of an effective military force, as only an effective military force can help in the evolution of a safe and secure social environment without which no political solution is possible.

One of the more important reasons for the insurgency in Iraq to succeed in persisting and gaining new ground is the U.S. failure to secure a social environment in which the ordinary Iraqi would have felt safer. The Saddam supporters made sure that the Iraqis would never get a chance to know what it is like to be liberated. Post Saddam Iraq became a living hell for every Iraqi to the extent that he longed to be back under Saddam. And Saddam supporters succeeded in their plan only because the U.S. never had enough troops to secure the neighborhoods that they cleared of insurgents. The insurgents always resurfaced there as soon as the U.S. troops left.

The ordinary Iraqis soon realized that they could not depend on the U.S. for their security. So they had no choice but either to join the insurgents or to support them. The U.S. policy of not giving enough importance to the security aspect of the Iraqis also contributed in the spread of small groups of armed militias who were forced to take charge of defending their lives and property themselves, which pushed the Iraqi society deeper into the whirlpool of sectarian violence. Militias became the only source of security for the masses, especially for the poor population.

Today, if we look at the components of insurgency in Iraq, we will find a great number of such Iraqis who had celebrated the toppling of the dictator and were happy to be liberated supporting the insurgency right along with Al-Qaeda, Wahhabis, Baathists and Arab nationalists. We are morally bound to liberate these good Iraqis from the tyranny of chaos otherwise no people in the future will ever look up to the U.S. for anything good.

It is in our national interest to correct the Iraqi perception that the U.S. invasion only replaced one kind of tyranny by another – a permanent state of chaos. And only by sending more troops we can correct this perception.


Table Talk


Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2007

Iran faces a deadline today to suspend its enrichment of uranium or, according to the terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution unanimously adopted last December, face further sanctions. While it is only proper that the world wait for the deadline to pass before responding, Tehran’s answer is already clear. Gholam Reza Aghzadeh, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, has said that “Iran will not comply with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737.”

How will the West respond? Earlier this month Sir Richard Dalton, until recently Britain’s ambassador in Tehran, called for direct talks between U.S. and Iranian officials and suggested the West modify demands that the Islamic Republic suspend uranium enrichment. Unfortunately, his eagerness for dialogue is being echoed and amplified elsewhere, especially in the wake of the Bush administration’s deal to pay North Korea for similar disarmament. Needless to say, former luminaries such as ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Jimmy Carter think sitting down with the mullahs is a very good idea, Security Council resolutions notwithstanding.

Why not talk? The logic of engagement sounds good. But experience shows that engagement means something different in Iran than in the West.

In May 1992, for example, then German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel launched a “critical dialogue” with Tehran. Berlin sought to use trade and incentives to encourage the Islamic Republic to alter its behavior. And, indeed, it did. But not in the way Mr. Kinkel expected.

On Sept. 17, 1992, Iranian hit men assassinated three Iranian dissidents and their translator in a Berlin restaurant. The subsequent German investigation determined that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Foreign Minister Ali Velayati ordered the murders. What about the dialogue? “We don’t give a damn about your ending the critical dialogue,” said Supreme Leader Khamenei upon hearing the German court ruling. “We never sought such a dialogue.”

Neither Iran’s terrorism nor intelligence indications of an accelerating nuclear weapons program dampened European enthusiasm for engagement, however, especially after the election of President Muhammad Khatami and his subsequent call for a “dialogue of civilizations.” “There is more to be said for trying to engage and to draw these societies into the international community than to cut them off,” EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten explained in February 2002. And engage they did.

Between 2000 and 2005, EU trade with Iran almost tripled. Officials from both sides of the Atlantic fawned on the “reformist” Mr. Khatami. But the rapprochement — including an embarrassing “apology” for past American sins against Iran from Ms. Albright — did not stop Mr. Khatami from flying to Moscow in March 2001 to sign a $7 billion arms and nuclear technology deal. Indeed, under Mr. Khatami, Tehran spent more on arms than it had under Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Iran’s exploitation of engagement to advance its agenda is the rule rather than the exception. In December 2001, in the midst of what many cite as the heyday of Iran-U.S. cooperation in Afghanistan, Iranian forces dispatched 50 tons of weaponry to Palestinian militiamen to derail a U.S.- and European-brokered ceasefire between Israeli and Palestinian forces. On June 8, 2002, three days after a Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bus bomber killed 17 Israelis, the Islamic Republic announced a 70% increase in that group’s funding.

Western efforts to game the Iranian system, in short, misunderstand the nature of politics in the Islamic Republic. Politicians rise and fall, but the supreme leader’s authority remains supreme. Rhetoric notwithstanding, the president is more figurehead than commander. Factional differences add color to the Iranian scene, and there are nuances in economic and social policies. But politicians do not alter the regime’s ideological underpinnings.

Upon his accession to supreme leader, analysts labeled Mr. Khamenei a weak compromise candidate. They underestimated him, and all who have attempted to encroach upon his power have found themselves marginalized. Iranians once speculated upon Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi’s meteoric rise. A stint in prison ended that.

In 2005, Mr. Khamenei rigged elections to teach frontrunner Mr. Rafsanjani a lesson. The result was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And as Mr. Ahmadinejad himself has proven obstreperous, Mr. Khamenei has built alternative institutions to undercut him.

Still, the Iranian government is not monolithic, and many academics argue that outreach to more pragmatic factions might encourage them at the hardliners’ expense. This is American mirror imaging at its worst: Mr. Ahmadinejad may be a bad guy, but that doesn’t make Mr. Rafsanjani a pragmatist or Mr. Khatami a reformer. On key issues relating to nuclear enrichment and terror sponsorship, their differences are rhetorical, not substantive. Thus the “pragmatic” Mr. Rafsanjani on Feb. 1, 2007, dismissing U.N. demands to throttle back nuclear enrichment: “We will break the [international] consensus through wisdom and bravery and foil U.S. conspiracies against Iran.”

Despite the Iranian government’s unified commitment to forge ahead with the nuclear program, some Western observers persist in their belief that the Islamic Republic is searching for a graceful way back from the brink. They point to mounting economic hardship inside Iran and a backlash against President Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery. Couldn’t engagement empower his critics?

This makes no sense. Dialogue and the attendant relaxation of U.N. sanctions will strengthen and validate the Ahmadinejad regime.

Far from being susceptible to Western machinations, the Iranians have proven adept at manipulating us. Consider that, since the beginning of the current tensions, the West has retreated from demands that Iran cease conversion of yellowcake to uranium gas and end enrichment entirely to the current demand for nothing more than a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment activities. And all this while Iran funneled weapons to Hezbollah, shipped explosives into Iraq and defied Security Council resolutions.

Proposals for renewed engagement may be well-intentioned, but they are naïve and dangerous, and indeed will undercut any possibility of a diplomatic solution. Let’s review the current situation.

On Sept. 24, 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency determined that Iran was in violation of its nuclear non-proliferation safeguards agreement. Still, the IAEA deferred referral to the U.N. Security Council to give diplomacy a chance. After consulting with her European partners, on May 31, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered Tehran two ways forward: Either Iran could defy its international commitments and “incur only great costs,” or it could suspend enrichment and enjoy “real benefit and longer-term security.” The Iranian regime chose to forego the benefit. On Dec. 23, 2006, the U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions.

The 60-day deadline to comply with U.N. demands is up, so what next? Those eager to sit down with Tehran say that dialogue does not mean abandoning sanctions. This is hardly serious. Washington has already offered and delivered inducements to the regime — a clear path to World Trade Organization accession and spare aircraft parts — in exchange for behavior modification. In response, Tehran has offered no confidence-building measures. All that remains are direct talks, and even there, Washington has dropped the price from ending Iran’s nuclear program to a temporary suspension of enrichment.

The Security Council has spoken. To change course now would signal the impotence of international institutions and multilateral diplomacy. History shows that when the supreme leader believes Western resolve is faltering, Iran will be more defiant and dangerous. Now is not the time to talk. If Washington and Europe truly believe in the primacy of multilateralism and diplomacy, now is the time to ratchet up the pressure.

Ms. Pletka and Mr. Rubin are, respectively, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


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