Global Policy Forum

A South Korean Withdrawal


By Sawsan Assaf*
January 26, 2006

The possibility and timing of any US withdrawal from Iraq is contingent on the US achieving its strategic aims for the country. The aim of the war on Iraq waged by the US-led coalition forces was clear before it even broke out. Most importantly, the war was fought in the service of US and British military superiority in the region, and initially this was achieved faster than even most military or strategic analysts predicted.

In addition to overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his regime and meeting the objectives of the Iraqi opposition, the war was aimed at entrenching US and allied countries' economic and geo-strategic control of the Middle East while building up a deterrent power in the heart of the region. These strategic aims were coupled with the claim that allied forces were in the process of reconstructing Iraq politically, socially and economically into a prototype for democracy and freedom in this vital part of the world.

As such, a comparison with Japan after World War II was often mooted, where an almost completely destroyed state was rebuilt and remolded by the US. But the American ability to turn its military victory into a political victory has been stunted by the armed resistance against the occupation, an occupation that in its practices and arrogance belittled the values and traditions of Iraqi society and thus encouraged support for the resistance from all quarters.

Thus was created the multifaceted resistance we see today; the religious Sunni Iraqi bloc, religious Sunni foreign bloc (al-Qaeda), religious Shi'ite bloc (Sidr movement), religious Salafi Kurdish bloc (Ansar al-Salam), the political bloc affiliated with the former regime, the political bloc affiliated with the Syrian-backed Baath party (al-Qawmiyoun), not to mention the mercenary forces (we will fight in exchange for benefits at any given place and time).

Thus too, the conditions for a US withdrawal changed. Rather than pursue the grandiose Japan model, South Korea is now seen as the model to follow. In line with overall strategy, any "withdrawal" would in any case be illusory, because the US would operate and retain large military bases in the country. Before any such "withdrawal", however, the US must first try to calm the situation on the ground to avoid being seen as having been embroiled in a Vietnam-like situation, where the US has effectively lost control.

The way to do so is not straightforward. If Washington wants to implement a South Korea model in Iraq, it must first make the country militarily and politically dependent on the US. According to the political realities of Iraq, such a model would necessitate, 1) an unprotected Iraqi federation--i.e., support for the effective division of Iraq and a dissipation of national unity between Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, Turkmans, etc., coupled with a military force with capabilities insufficient for protecting Iraqi security as we see today--and, 2) the creation of an illusory enemy that has the ability and intent to deny any Iraqi identity if the United States is not deterring it. Iran and its extensions in Iraq serve this role well.

In the short term, Washington must convince the world that the departure of American troops from Iraq would lead to a civil war on the one hand and a return of dictatorship on the other. This necessitates a focus on the slogan that "we must remain at the will and need of the people." Meanwhile, the US will work to achieve economic prosperity in some parts of Iraq to lay the foundations of a federation, as it is already doing in the southern part of the country in Basra, al-Amara, etc.

The policy of shaking up internal factors as well as external factors is directed at frustrating any form of national unity from emerging; that is, to move people away from seeking the liberation of Iraq as long as putting the Iraqi house in order is still a long way off. This will mean a continuation of the prevailing social conditions (violence, Abu Musab Zarqawi, military militias, etc), economic deterioration, struggle over seats and the division of booty to divert any attention away from creating unified determination and a united Iraqi state.

Thus, in the short term, the US must create the opposite conditions to lay the foundations for a South Korean model that in the long-term will enable it to "withdraw" by endorsing the principles of dictatorship that Washington will bring back, only this time in "new clothes."

About the Author: Sawsan Assaf is a lecturer at the Center for International Studies at the University of Baghdad.

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