Malcolm Rifkind: A bloody mess. Our bloody mess

A leading Iraq war sceptic now says US and British forces should remain until peace prevails

Share
Related Topics

Recently, a message in Arabic was scrolled across the screen on Iraqi TV. It said: "The Ministry of Defence requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."

This request goes to the heart of the void in American and British strategy. That strategy has assumed that the United States and Britain can gradually hand over responsibility to the new Iraqi Army and police, then get our boys home. That assumption is no longer valid. The Iraqi Army and police may be as much part of the problem as part of the solution. Even the Iraqi Ministry of Defence appears to be uncertain who their army and police are working for.

What this means is that the Coalition's present exit strategy is not only wrong but very dangerous. Yet again the White House and Downing Street are failing to understand the Iraqi reality. While the debate about the justification for the war has raged, there has been, until now, a reasonable consensus on strategy. The objective was to create stability and a more democratic society in Iraq. That has required the defeat of the insurgents, which would be achieved at first by the coalition forces, but, in due course, by the new Iraqi Army, police and security forces. They would enable US and British troops to withdraw, a process intended to begin this year.

The strategy was based on the assumption that the insurgents were simply a mixture of unreconstructed Saddamites, Islamic jihadists, foreign terrorists, and nationalists, who were driven by hostility to the US and the West and who were opposed to the new Iraqi government as mere puppets of Washington.

There are conflicts, such as those in Nepal or Afghanistan, where the struggle is between a ruling regime and insurgents claiming to represent the interests of an oppressed public. Vietnam was another. In such circumstances, there is a battle for hearts and minds. Both the government and the rebels seek the support of the people who might, over a period, support either the government or the insurgents. In such a situation a strong national army and effective police can offer the prospect of peace and stability to a war-weary people. The army, as in Turkey or Pakistan, is seen as a symbol of national unity which can help cure the body politic. But Iraq is, daily, becoming more a civil war. Civil wars between communities, each vying for power, are different from insurgencies based on ideology or class. As Stephen Biddle has pointed out in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, communal civil wars are "about group survival, not about... one side's ability to deliver better governance".

Iraq's agony is now similar to that of the Rwandan Tutsis and the Kosovo Albanians. Communities are descending into sectarian warfare to determine who will exercise effective power in the new Iraq. Eighty-five per cent of all insurgent attacks in Iraq are in the four (out of 18) provinces that make up the Sunni heartland. This is not because of nostalgia for Saddam Hussein but because the balance of power has radically altered. From 1920 until three years ago, the Sunnis ruled Iraq. They made up the majority of the officer corps of the forces. They provided the political leadership of the Baath Party.

Since the invasion, they have lost that power. Democracy offers them no route back because they constitute only 20 per cent of the population. That might not matter if Iraqis were voting on ideological or policy grounds but they are not. Overwhelmingly, Shias, Sunnis and Kurds have voted for their own sectarian parties and for their own sectarian leaders. The Sunnis will be like the Bosnian Serbs, a permanent minority where once they ruled.

Against this background the American and British strategy of handing over power to the new Iraqi Army and police risks adding considerable fuel to the fire. The army and the police are not seen as national non-sectarian forces by the Sunnis. The evidence indicates the Army and the police are manned and led by mainly Shias and Kurds. Even worse, they are heavily infiltrated by Shia militia, especially the police, and have been held responsible for many of the worst atrocities against the Sunni population.

What should be Coalition strategy? The only prospect for peace in Iraq is through genuine power-sharing between Shias and Sunnis that will make the latter feel they will not be permanently excluded from power. That will need far more than a few appointments for Sunni leaders as announced by the new Iraqi Prime Minister. It will require genuine provincial autonomy in a federal Iraq; Sunni access to the oil revenues, and a permanent coalition in Baghdad.

Neither the Shia leadership nor the Kurds are willing, at present, to contemplate that degree of power-sharing. The Americans must use the only serious leverage they have to insist on such reform. The leverage is the presence of 140,000 US troops. The handover to the Iraqi Army and police should be stopped until political concessions have been made and until there is hard evidence that power-sharing will apply not just within the government but within the security forces. Mr Bush and Mr Blair will have to accept that our troops will have to stay for several more years if Iraq is not going to collapse into sectarian strife and communal civil war.

Iraq, like Kosovo and Bosnia, is not just about good guys and bad guys. It is about communities struggling for power and survival. American and British politicians destroyed the previous status quo and created a power vacuum. Until that vacuum has been filled in a stable, just way we have no right to abandon the Iraqis to the mess we helped create. If we get our exit strategy wrong we will not only end up with Iraq as a disintegrating failed state: we will also have an impotent Iraq next to a nuclear-armed Iran. That would be quite a triumph for George Bush and Tony Blair.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind was Foreign Secretary from 1995-97

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London