The politics of the region are complex. Heres a Stratfor special and it sheds
an interesting perspective on the current US, Iran, and Iraq dynamics.
After the Election www.stratfor.com
By George Friedman
It is now a week from the Iraqi elections. Apart from knowing the precise levels of violence the insurgency will be able to reach before the election, most of the rest of it is clear. The election will be held. In much of the Sunni region, the turnout will be extremely low -- low enough that the election might be suspended there. The Shia will win. The United States could choose to suspend the elections -- and there should be no mistake about who is making the decisions on this -- but the point for that has passed. If the elections were going to be postponed, one would think that Washington would have made that decision weeks ago.
The next decision that will have to be made is whether to certify the election. There is not much choice there either. Washington knows the vote in the Sunni region will be disrupted. To hold the election and then fail to certify it because of the guerrilla war makes no sense. The guerrilla war has been there for a long time now. If you are going to hold the election anyway, not certifying it would be an exercise in futility.
If the vote is certified, a government will be formed. The Shia will dominate that government. They would have dominated any government for simple demographic reasons. With the Sunni vote suppressed, they will dominate the government overwhelmingly. The United States has proposed in the past some artificial formula to guarantee Sunni representation in the government, a substitute for an election, but the Shia have rejected it. Moreover, if the United States allowed the Sunnis to take a full seat at the table in spite of their inability to suppress the insurrection, there would be zero incentive in the future for Sunni elders to take a chance. Undoubtedly, some sort of contrived Sunni presence will be inserted, but this will be a Shiite government.
Thus, at some point in February, a Shiite prime minister, governing through a predominantly Shiite Cabinet, will become the government of Iraq. The Shia have been waiting for this moment for decades. Although divided, the formation of a government that reflects -- or over-reflects -- Shiite power will be a moment of enormous triumph. The evolution of this government is unclear. It could evolve into an Iranian-style theocracy, although the Iraqi religious leaders seem to take a different view of this than the Iranians. It might be ruled by Islamic principles without the overtly theocratic elements. It could even be, for a time, formally pluralist or secular. Whatever it will be, it will be Shia, and it will be under the heavy control of the religious leaders.
The first problem the new government will face will be the Sunni uprising. Sunni guerrillas recently killed two of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's aides. They have been conducting a fairly one-sided assault against the Shia for months. The reasoning behind the attacks appears to have been to intimidate the Shiite leadership prior to its taking power. What they have done instead is infuriate the Shia. The Shia have suffered from suppression by the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein -- Sunni by birth if not by religious principle. They have been the dispossessed. It is now their time.
The Shia understand they cannot simply remain in a defensive mode. They have been passive in the run-up to the election, but after the election their credibility as the government of Iraq will depend on how they deal with the guerrillas. They must either suppress the guerrillas or negotiate a deal with them. Since a deal is hard to imagine at this time, they will have to act to suppress them. If they don't, the government will either be destroyed by the insurgents or Iraq will split into two or three countries, an evolution unacceptable to the Shia or to Iran.
Therefore, the Shia will fight. The Shiite leadership has made it clear it wants the United States to remain in Iraq for the time being. This does not mean it wants a long-term American presence. It means it wants U.S. forces to carry the main battle against the Sunnis on its behalf. In the same way that al-Sistani wanted the Americans to deal with Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr during the An Najaf affair, he wants the Americans to carry the main burden now.
The United States is prepared to carry a burden, but it is not prepared to single-handedly deal with the Sunnis any longer. The Shia have substantial armed militias. It is these forces -- not the failed Iraqi army the United States has tried to invent -- that will be the mainstay of the regime. The Shia don't want this force ground up because it is the guarantor of their security. The United States is not going to protect the regime without these forces engaged.
At this point, something interesting happens. The Shia have a greater vested interest in the viability of this government than even the Americans. The Americans can leave. The Shia aren't going anywhere. For the first time, the United States has a potential ally with capabilities and motivation. Most important, it is an ally that is not blind on the ground. Its intelligence capability is not perfect among the Sunnis, but it is better than what the Americans have.
It is an opportunity for the Americans. It is hard to get excited any longer about opportunities. We have seen so many open up and either prove chimerical or be fumbled by the United States that we temper our enthusiasm in all things. Nevertheless, the Shia will be the government for the first time; they have been waiting for this; they owe the Sunnis a beating and they might, with the United States, have the means to deliver it.
In all of this, the role of Iran is the most complex. The Iranians supported the Shiite community throughout the post-Desert Storm period. During the first phase of the American occupation, the two Shiite communities were close. Since the events of April 2004, the long-term wariness between the two communities has returned. Iran might not be as enthusiastic as it once was to see a Shiite government in Iraq. Alternatively, Iran could use its ongoing influence to manipulate and control that government.
It is no accident, in our view, that Washington is beating the war drums against Iran in the weeks before the Iraqi election. It is not only about nuclear weapons or not even about them. It is warning the Iranians not to intrude into Iraqi affairs. The Iranians might listen, but it's unlikely. Iraq is a fundamental national interest of Iran, and the Iranians will be playing.
Thus, the election brings a new government with new interests and new crises. If the government is seated, and we can't see why it wouldn't be, the next thing to watch is what steps it takes with its militias against the insurgents. Certainly, the guerrillas will be hitting them hard, so passivity is not an option. The Iranians will be manipulating the government and the Americans will be squeezing it. But it is at this point that something might finally, if temporarily, break in favor of the United States. Certainly that is the bet Washington is making.