- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

President Bush’s national security adviser spelled out precisely why Iraq is now on course for a geopolitical train wreck. In an op-ed published coast-to-coast last weekend, Stephen Hadley makes unmistakably clear Iraq’s new constitution is federal, providing for regional governments not allowed to intrude on the federal government’s powers.

Out the window is any notion of Iraq as a unitary state, which it has been since its birth in 1920, through five previous constitutional iterations. Now, if the Baghdad federal government objects to “intrusions” on its prerogatives, it will simply be told to mind its own beeswax. Federal constructs invariably fail in the Middle East.

National elections for a new parliament and federal government are scheduled for Dec. 15. Horse-trading over Cabinet posts, which took two to three months for previous provisional authorities, will continue well into the new year. Then new ministers will begin staffing up their departments over several more weeks.

Meanwhile, Shi’ite Iraq and Kurdish Iraq, each with their own oil resources, already run their own affairs. The new constitution then becomes a license for both to set up their governments and widen their independence vis-a-vis Baghdad. And if Baghdad doesn’t like it, it will be told to lump it. Shi’ite Iraq has its own army with two well-trained and equipped militias, funded by Iran, and the Kurds their fierce Peshmerga fighters.

The constitutional referendum left 34 important issues in abeyance. Fifty of the constitution’s 130 clauses are incomplete. They are to be determined later when laws are passed to implement the federal architecture. Baghdad’s power to tax is up in the air, state religion is still uncertain, human rights, at least for women, are unclear, the role of the police is unspecified, and the militias are to be disbanded, but the document doesn’t say by whom. In a full-fledged civil war, which some knowledgeable observers say is already under way subrosa, federal zones are tailor-made for ethnic cleansing.

There is much media speculation about Arab countries playing a role in countering Iranian influence in Iraq. The United States is encouraging an Arab League-sponsored conference of national reconciliation in the next few weeks. The Bush administration sought to marginalize Iraq’s Arab neighbors in the months following the 2003 defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Now, both Washington and the Arab League share concern about Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, especially among Iraqi Shi’ites who make up 60 percent of the population.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari blames Arab reluctance to get involved for Iran’s unimpeded progress. The U.S. was betting on success of the Iraq democratic experiment to defuse Iranian meddling. But Tehran’s shadow keeps growing longer.

Abu Musab Zarqawi’s jihadis are the only ones that have taken on Iran indirectly by declaring war on the Shi’ites. Neither Washington nor Arab capitals relish the idea of finding themselves aligned with al Qaeda’s geopolitical objectives. Hence, the attraction of getting Iraq’s Arab neighbors to take a more active role to prop up Baghdad. But long-time observers of the Iraqi scene seem to agree only a strongman can keep Iraq together. And that general is yet to emerge from the new Iraqi army. Such a figure would ensure Iraq’s three component parts stick together during a long transition.

As several countries have demonstrated over the last 50 years, there is no such thing as instant democratic capitalism. Since World War II, Spain, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Chile went through long periods of authoritarian rule before they were ready for democratic government.

As the Economist noted this week, it is hard to avoid “the conclusion that the campaign to make Iraq a better place has been one of the worst planned and executed in American history.”

The uncertainty of Iraq’s future, and its destabilizing impact on the Middle East, has already caused several regional players to think of a nuclear future for themselves. A British intelligence report says both Egypt and Syria have sought to obtain dual-use capabilities from Western countries to advance their nascent, drawing-board nuclear programs. The same intelligence sources say nuclear Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have frequently discussed a nuclear future for the Wahhabi kingdom; both nations have denied this at high levels.

The United States has now failed to persuade Russia and China to allow the U.N. Security Council to take up a resolution to impose sanctions on Iran for not opening all its nuclear installations to IAEA inspection. For the last 18 years, Iran, with help from Pakistan’s Dr. “Strangelove,” A.Q. Khan, transnational nuclear black marketer and father of his country’s nuclear arsenal, has worked on a secret nuclear weapons program.

With the prospect of a Palestinian state fading again in the chaos that followed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the Middle East is living up to its reputation as the world’s most dangerous neighborhood.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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