Iraq Could Split, Says Former CIA Head

Mike Morell thinks a democratic, unified Iraq is unlikely to emerge from current chaos.

National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
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Kaveh Waddell
June 18, 2014, 10:14 a.m.

The cur­rent con­flict in Ir­aq may have already in­flic­ted ir­re­vers­ible dam­age on the coun­try, lead­ing either to par­ti­tion or to an Ir­an-backed dic­tat­or­ship.

That’s ac­cord­ing to Mike Mo­rell, the former act­ing dir­ect­or of the Cent­ral In­tel­li­gence Agency, in an in-depth in­ter­view with Charlie Rose on Tues­day. A mil­it­ant group called the Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia has made sub­stan­tial ad­vances in Ir­aq in the past sev­er­al weeks, and is with­in strik­ing dis­tance of Bagh­dad.

Mo­rell said this con­flict rep­res­ents “the most ser­i­ous set of cir­cum­stances in the Middle East” since the Ar­ab-Is­raeli war in 1973.

The former deputy dir­ect­or en­vi­sioned three pos­sible scen­ari­os for Ir­aq’s im­me­di­ate fu­ture. The first pos­sib­il­ity is par­ti­tion. This would be the blood­i­est scen­ario and would stir up sec­tari­an vi­ol­ence, ac­cord­ing to Mo­rell, and will likely come true in the ab­sence of any out­side in­ter­ven­tion. In this scen­ario, Mo­rell said, “there will be an aw­ful lot of blood. There will be hu­man­it­ari­an crises.”

This would also mean that the mil­it­ants could use the ter­rit­ory they’ve taken over “as a safe haven from which to at­tack West­ern Europe and from which to at­tack the home­land.” And the con­flict could also “spill over in­to the rest of the re­gion.”

In an­oth­er scen­ario, Ir­aq could re­main in­tact, but sig­ni­fic­ant Ir­a­ni­an in­ter­ven­tion would turn  it in­to a “Shi’a dic­tat­or­ship” and a de facto pup­pet state. This would leave the coun­try in just as bad a situ­ation as it was be­fore the Amer­ic­an in­va­sion in 2003. “In es­sence, what hap­pens is, you have an Ir­aq as you did un­der Sad­dam [Hus­sein], but the lead­er is a Shi’a,” he said.

There is third pos­sib­il­ity, however. The ideal out­come would be if Ir­aq comes to­geth­er in a new demo­cracy un­der a new gov­ern­ing co­ali­tion. This would re­quire the in­volve­ment of the U.S., Ir­an, and mod­er­ate Sunni states, and the ouster of Ir­aqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki.

Mo­rell was not op­tim­ist­ic about the chances of reach­ing a demo­crat­ic solu­tion. He ranked the three scen­ari­os above in des­cend­ing or­der of like­li­hood: a par­ti­tioned Ir­aq, an Ir­a­ni­an pup­pet state, then a uni­fied demo­cracy. Spe­cific­ally, he said that the ideal, demo­crat­ic out­come is un­likely be­cause of the twin chal­lenges of get­ting Ma­liki to step down and of find­ing someone to suc­ceed him who will be sup­por­ted by both Ir­aqi Sun­nis and Shi’a Ir­an.

As IS­IS ad­vances on Bagh­dad, Ir­aq’s fate re­mains un­clear. Any of these three scen­ari­os is pos­sible, but the only one that is re­motely at­tract­ive to the U.S. — and the one that is most prom­ising for Ir­aqi cit­izens — is the least likely.

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