Chatham House: Independent thinking on international affairs

Reports and Papers

Accepting Realities in Iraq

Briefing Paper
Gareth Stansfield, May 2007

  • Iraq has fractured into regional power bases. Political, security and economic power has devolved to local sectarian, ethnic or tribal political groupings. The Iraqi government is only one of several 'state-like' actors. The regionalization of Iraqi political life needs to be recognized as a defining feature of Iraq's political structure.
  • There is not 'a' civil war in Iraq, but many civil wars and insurgencies involving a number of communities and organizations struggling for power. The surge is not curbing the high level of violence, and improvements in security cannot happen in a matter of months.
  • The conflicts have become internalized between Iraqis as the polarization of sectarian and ethnic identities reaches ever deeper into Iraqi society and causes the breakdown of social cohesion.
  • Critical destabilizing issues will come to the fore in 2007-8. Federalism, the control of oil and control of disputed territories need to be resolved.
  • Each of Iraq's three major neighbouring states, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, has different reasons for seeing the instability there continue, and each uses different methods to influence developments.
  • These current harsh realities need to be accepted if new strategies are to have any chance of preventing the failure and collapse of Iraq. A political solution will require engagement with organizations possessing popular legitimacy and needs to be an Iraqi accommodation, rather than a regional or US-imposed approach.
Details
Moore Wilson Digital Agency London