It hardly qualifies as breaking news anymore when a think tank comes out with a report saying that Iraq is in trouble. But rarely has a study been as scathing as that released on Thursday by the widely respected British foreign policy organization Chatham House. Iraq, the report says bluntly, is on the verge of "collapse and fragmentation."
The report argues that it is time to take a sober look at the realities in the country four years after the US-led invasion and to model future policy on a true understanding of the challenges presented. And according to the study, those challenges are many: the existence of multiple civil wars in the country between many different actors; a fracturing of the country into regional power bases; control of oil; a ripping apart of the social fabric; and the lack of authority in the hands of the Iraqi government among other, equally vexing problems.
"It is time for a full appraisal of the realities in Iraq," author Gareth Stansfield writes. "On current evidence, these realities are very disturbing and it can no longer be assumed that Iraq will ultimately survive as a united entity . Iraq's attempted transition from dictatorship to democracy has been harrowing and multi-faceted violence appears likely to continue and intensify. It can be argued that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation."
Chatham House's assessment of Iraq comes on the same day that the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, offered up his own, much more optimistic viewpoint. While he admitted that the country was consumed by violence, he said that he was encouraged that Iraq seems to be moving away from the widespread sectarian violence of a year ago.
"If I had to evaluate today, and looking purely at the security situation, as devastating as the al-Qaida-led chain of suicide vehicle attacks is, that does not in my mind suggest the failing of the state or of society," Crocker told reporters in Baghdad. US military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told the BBC that he also thought that the US troop surge in Baghdad was making progress toward bringing violence levels down in the Iraqi capital.
The report from Chatham House, however, bluntly states that "the surge is not curbing the high level of violence." It also warns that the security situation cannot be drastically improved in the short term and that it should instead "be considered within a timeframe of many years."
A primary reason for the intractability of the security situation, the report argues, is the myriad different conflicts that are being played out on the streets of Baghdad each day. Among the numerous "civil wars" the report identifies are:
- the struggle for state control between the Sunnis and the Shiites
- the struggle for control over the design of the state pitting Kurds against Sunnis and against Shiite supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr
- the conflict between Kurds and non-Kurds in Kirkuk
- the Sunni versus US conflict in central and northern Iraq
- the Shiite versus US/UK conflict in central and southern Iraq
- the Sunni versus Sunni conflict in some Iraqi provinces
- the conflict between al-Qaida and home-grown Iraqi radical groups
- a Shiite versus Shiite conflict in Najaf and Basra
- and "rampant criminality across the entire country."
The report also recommends that the US intensify diplomacy with neighboring states -- on the same day that Iran announced that the Iranians and Americans have agreed to a meeting on the Iraqi security situation on May 28. During a visit to Pakistan, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that the talks would focus exclusively on Iraq.