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 That assumption is no longer valid.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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jeb Bush's campaign will emphasise both his conservative record as a former governor of Florida and his commitment to building a more inclusive Republican Party  

American democracy is up for sale, and it’s a warning to us all

Shirley Williams
Pupils arrive at school with their parents at the start of a new school year  

School-run parents: be careful – very careful – what you wish for

Grace Dent
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border