[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

The Dismemberment of Iraq?
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] Last week Ayatollah Sistani emerged from a London hospital bed to return dramatically to Iraq where he brokered the Najaf settlement. The standoff was over between Al Sadr on the one hand and American and Iraqi troops on the other, with the Imam Ali Shrine being held hostage. This prompted one commentator to conclude that it was the beginning of the end for the insurgents.

I am usually an optimistic person, even about Iraq for which I had several bursts of hope. For example, when Saddam Hussein was toppled from power, and when Iyad Allawi, a pragmatist with considerable strength, became head of the interim government. However, I am fearful that the type of settlement Sistani brokered, leaving Sadr's men free to escape the American noose and slip away with their weapons to fight in another place on another day, may mark the beginning of the end of Iraq as an independent nation.

To be clear, I don't think the American military could have rejected the Najaf accord. Once Allawi signaled his acceptance, we were boxed in as we have so often been in Iraq. And the deal had certain positive aspects for the United States. Fighting to the last insurgent in Najaf would have meant considerable American and Iraqi civilian casualties as well as likely destruction to the Mosque. All of those would have led to even more vilification of the United States in an Arab world that has managed quickly to forget how horrible Saddam Hussein was and how much he was despised.

If our objective is a single democratic secular nation in the territory that was Iraq, then we have suffered a setback.

Let's back up a couple of months. The United States military was prepared to attack and destroy Sunni insurgents aided by foreign terrorists in Falluja. As in Najaf, we were tightening the noose. And as in Najaf, we were denied our victory by a last minute deal arranged by the Iraqis.

That so-called agreement was a sham. Iraqi troops were supposed to become the law in Falluja and the Sunni triangle. In fact, once the Americans pulled back from the city, the Iraqi troops disintegrated. The Sunnis and their foreign allies now control the area, which includes the city of Ramdi and much of Anbar province. American troops are confined to heavily fortified outposts outside of the cities.

We made an enormous effort to build a ruling structure around former Baath leaders and officers in Saddam's army. For the most part, those people have either gone over to the insurgents or gone home -- fearful of the insurgents' retribution because of beheadings being widely distributed on videotapes.

This meant that before the settlement in Najaf, Sunni territory in Western Iraq was being controlled by nongovernmental forces that were tightening their grip. Allawi is trying to negotiate with these Sunni insurgents, but so far with little success. Meantime, in the north, the Kurds already have tight control over their own territory.

At least in the south, primarily inhabited by Shiites, it appeared as if Allawi, himself a Shiite with some Baath connections, would be able to assert control. The Najaf settlement proves the fallacy of this assumption.

Sistani, not Allawi, has the real power in the south. Moreover, Sadr's Shiite insurgents may continue to fight against U.S. troops in Baghdad and elsewhere in the south.

Negotiations are underway between Allawi, aided by the Americans, with Sadr to persuade the firebrand to break off his military effort and direct his attention to the political process. Even if this happens, Sadr's political agenda is almost certain to be a fundamentalist Shiite program that will be divisive for the country.

The history of the Middle East and its lessons are all too clear. When insurgents in Syria dared to challenge Assad's rule, he leveled the city of Hama and killed ten thousand of his own citizens. In a similar fashion, Saddam Hussein quelled Kurdish uprisings by killing thousands with chemical weapons.

The good news is we don't behave that way. We arrest soldiers for prison abuse, which is inconsistent with our principles.

The bad news is that three groups of insurgents -- Sunni, Kurds and now Shiites -- all have footholds in their areas of Iraq.

Allawi is strong. But his army is not, and he refuses to unleash ours. The territory controlled by the insurgents may grow. Elections next January are already a delusion. If Allawi doesn't dare send troops into certain areas, how will he send voting booths and election monitors? Even through rose-colored glasses, it's difficult to see a secular democratic state of Iraq on the horizon.