Iraq: What happens next?

Iraq is in the throes of the heaviest fighting since President Bush declared an end to the war, with dozens of US troops killed in the past week. Diplomatic editor Anne Penketh considers four scenarios
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The Independent Online

OCCUPATION What does it mean? The US gives up all pretence of handing over to an Iraqi transitional government, ignoring the 30 June handover date as it opts for military force in an attempt to quell separate Shia and Sunni uprisings. But the US - and possibly Nato - run the risk of remaining in Iraq indefinitely, hardening the resistance.

Occupation

What does it mean? The US gives up all pretence of handing over to an Iraqi transitional government, ignoring the 30 June handover date as it opts for military force in an attempt to quell separate Shia and Sunni uprisings. But the US - and possibly Nato - run the risk of remaining in Iraq indefinitely, hardening the resistance.

Impact on Iraq:
Best case Centres of unrest are pacified, and security is improved, but popular resistance grows and guerrilla attacks remain frequent. Worst case Iraqi radicals of the Shia majority hijack the political leadership as popular opinion swings against the foreign occupiers. Harassed troops are kept in barracks.

Impact on Bush:
Best case Political fallout is limited as Bush keeps image as a strong wartime President.

Worst case Mounting casualties pile up political pressure for pull-out as November elections loom. Accusations of Vietnam syndrome and quagmire are hurled at Bush by the Democrats.

Impact on Blair: Best case Blair is shown to be a man of his word, having pledged to stay the course in Iraq. Relations with America remain close.

Worst case British troops could bear brunt of popular resistance in Basra. Britain risks international criticism over lack of reinforcements and possible isolation.

How likely? 5/10

Cut and run

What does it mean? Sends disastrous signal to the rest of the coalition, which could collapse as other countries follow US troops out. Iraqi resistance given green light to create mayhem in geostrategically important heart of the Gulf. Risk of country's break-up with instability spreading

Impact on Iraq: Best case Iraqis wouldfeel responsible for their future, but with no trained security forces and no experience of democracy, the country could split along ethnic lines.

Worst case Armageddon. Civil war leading to conflict with Iran; possible military dictatorship or Islamic rule.

Impact on Bush:
Best case There is no positive outcome. Bush could only hope for the least political fallout from it.

Worst case Bush would lose all credibility and the election, having promised to stay the course. He would suffer the ultimate humiliation of hearing the French say 'I told you so'.

Impact on Blair:
Best case Blair might win respite amid relief that British troops were coming home. Critics would claim the war and occupation had been in vain.

Worst case Blair's weakened authority would be further diminished and could provide a platform for a takeover bid by Gordon Brown.

How likely? 2/10

UN takes over

What does it mean? The Americans could hide behind a UN figleaf to try to win legitimacy for the occupation, while attempting to stick to the 30 June handover to transitional Iraqi authorities. But negotiations on the UN mandate, and on moves towards democratic elections, will take time.

Impact on Iraq: Best case The situation is finally clarified for Iraqis hoping for a clear road-map to democracy. Radicals are marginalised as the international community rallies.

Worst case Iraqis balk at the return of the UN. The UN balks at the prospect of staff returning to be sitting ducks.

Impact on Bush:
Best case A quick outcome would mean that Bush could stick to his timetable for a power handover, helping him turn to domestic issues.

Worst case Negotiations drag on as US election draws nearer, increasing political risks. Republicans turn on Bush for going to the UN.

Impact on Blair:
Best case Blair claims credit for again persuading the Americans to approach the UN and is able to spread the blame for military fiasco.

Worst case Distrust of Blair among Britain's international partners produces weeks of arduous negotiations at the UN without a clear outcome.

How likely? 7/10

A fudge

What does it mean? Escalating conflict means crisis management comes beforeplanning. Handover postponed as conflict deepens while talks with the UN bog down. Troop reinforcements discussed but not dispatched. Insurgents and terrorists are emboldened, sensing the occupiers are on the run.

Impact on Iraq:
Best case There is no positive outcome - coalition forces sucked into quagmire.

Worst case Iraqis become nostalgic for Saddam. The Iraq Governing Council grows increasingly impatient with US tactics while Iraqi police resent being pushed into the front line against other Iraqis.

Impact on Bush: Best case Bush puts on positive spin by highlighting broadened approach to dealing with spreading conflict. He hopes for results from tough crackdown.

Worst case US loses control of key Iraqi cities. Public opinion questions military role, posing electoral risk for Bush.

Impact on Blair:
Best case Situation in Basra where UK forces are based is tense but calm, enabling Blair to highlight superiority of low-profile British tactics over gung-ho US operations.

Worst case Demands for Blair's resignation grow. Iraq is back at the top of the agenda as the No 1 headache for PM.

How likely? 9/10

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