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An Intelligence Perspective on Iraq Pt. 2

As I wrote in Monday’s post, most citizens, politicians and diplomats in America think that Iraq is destined for victory. It isn’t; Iraq is far from a sure thing and today I am going to lay out five very real possibilities for Iraq’s future using my “S2 perspective". (Check out Monday’s post to understand this one. We originally wrote it as a single article and this post makes almost no sense by itself.)

Iraq’s five worst case scenarios:

1. A Strongman Rises (Most likely) - First, the Iraqi election was delayed two months. Then it took their government eight months to kind of/not really form. Now the Iraqi national census has been delayed for who knows how long. The Iraqi military is arguably the most competent organization in the country. If a military general decided he should rule Iraq, many would support him. This wouldn’t be unusual for Iraqis: Saddam did it and he ruled for almost 24 years.

Thing to watch for: articles where Iraqis talk about how they want a better Saddam back, like this New York Times piece or this 60 Minutes piece by Lesley Stahl.

2. A Renewed Sunni Insurgency (Longest Term Threat to Iraq) - As Shia politicians consolidate power in Baghdad, and Moqtada al-Sadr gains unprecedented political and military power, the Sunnis could easily feel disenfranchised. Polling regularly shows that Sunnis do not trust the Iraqi Security Forces, and if the government of Iraq finally shuts down the Sons of Iraq (Sahwa) movement, the Sunnis could return to the (formerly Al Qaeda) Islamic State of Iraq movement. Sunni insurgents learned the same lessons the US Army did about winning over the population. If the Sunni population decides the Iraqi Government is not the answer, they may very well take up arms again.

Thing to watch for: the disenfranchisement of Sunni politicians and news that the Islamic State of Iraq is making inroads in Sunni communities.

3. A Shia Theocracy (Best for Iran) - Instead of a violent takeover, the Shias of Iraq could just decide to continue consolidating power in the security forces, the key ministries and the government, and slowly box out the Sunnis and Kurds. Over time, they could convert the current government to a Shia government and, for all intents and purposes, become an Iranian puppet. This could happen in conjunction with several other options.

Thing to watch for: the Iraqi relationship with Saudi Arabia. Check out this article to understand how worried Saudi Arabia is about the Iranian influence.

4. The Balkanisation of Iraq (Worse Outcome for the Stability of the Region) - Kurdistan, Basrah-stan, Sunni-stan, and Shia-Stan. In this possible future, if violence flares up again, the Kurds will likely move from autonomy to separation, taking a huge number of very talented generals with them. Their Peshmerga brigades will provide defense and their oil reserves will provide money. This will encourage further separation, and cause hotly contested wars over the oil rich lands of Kirkuk and Mosul. No matter who wins, the violence will last for years.

Thing to watch for: continued violence and the involvement of Iraq’s neighbors. If Iraq’s neighbors continue to wage proxy wars in Iraq, the possibility of a split raises exponentially.

5. A Second Civil War (Most Violent Outcome) - If the last twenty years have taught us anything about civil wars, it is that once they start they are hard to stop. Iraq’s violence also influences its neighbors and beyond, from Turkey to Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and even the US. None of Iraq’s neighbors want to see one group gain a foothold--Sunni, Shia or Kurdish. So everyone will throw money and weapons at Iraq to keep its side in the fight. The losers will be the Iraqi people.

Thing to watch for: the migration of people (Sunnis) out of Iraq, and the migration of fighters into Iraq.

Any of the above scenarios could happen, maybe none of them will, maybe it will be a mix. If the Iraqi politicians don’t construct meaningful change and reconciliation, expect a repeat of 2006-2008: sectarian violence, possible genocides, millions of refugees and a descent into chaos.

five comments

Other people, feel free to post your guesses and criticisms below.

I’ve always thought a strong man would rise. I think it is more likely, now, because the chaos and violence that has enveloped iraq has created a ton of violent youth, used to seeing killing and death. it’s like a nation filled with Al Capones. Or Saddam.


Drive on with your assessment, but I’ll ask that you consider would any of this be any different with more men and more time?

Probably not.


Do not forget the influence of Iran in Iraq’s internal affairs. Sectarian violence is most likely if “peace” does not prevail. Also worth noting is that Iraq has what I’d call British imposed artificial borders and with so many ethnic groups living there a slow implosion fueled by corruption and outside influence seems most likely.

It is also an illusion that the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq.

My guess would be a combination of 5 (civil war) or 2 (Sunni insurgency) with 1 (rise of a strongman). Ultimately if the situation devolves to the point where one of these scenarios is realized, the whole situation can easily transform into any of the others.

I’ve long wondered what, if any, lessons for the future of a democratic Iraq can be drawn from the history of other democracies established out of violent authoritarian regimes with powerful ethnic divisions. If any of you have any understanding of the subject, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

@Mike F- Yeah I don’t want to imply a solution. The situation in Iraq will either be resolved or not based on the people in Iraq, primarily with influence from other groups.

It is sad, even if we can’t or shouldn’t do anything, that America is ignoring Iraq after what our actions caused.