What happens if the United States and coalition forces withdraw rapidly from Iraq? The U.S. and the Iraqi governments have their own scenarios. Iran, al-Qaida, Syria and Turkey have also analyzed potential outcomes.
Business and government make plans. Every plan anticipates a future outcome. Since the future can't be predicted, the best plans acknowledge uncertainty. Acknowledging uncertainty means accepting risk -- the risk of being wrong. The art of leadership is being "less wrong."
Here are seven "scenarios" sketching "potential outcomes" of a quick withdrawal from Iraq. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive. You will find bits and pieces in all seven:
1) Three New Countries: Kurdistan in the north becomes an independent country -- and immediately starts to wrestle with Turkey over the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is waging a secessionist struggle in southeastern Turkey. Kurdistan has oil. Southern Iraq -- a predominantly Shia area -- becomes a Shia state, also with oil. Parts of Anbar province become a Sunni state (Iraqi Sunnistan) -- which has few oil fields.
But what becomes of Baghdad? Does it divide like a desert Berlin into Shia and Sunni sectors? Baghdad remains a source of continuing conflict.
2) Regional Shia-Sunni War: Iran sees an opportunity to recover not only the Shaat al Arab region -- the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates -- but a chance to extend its border into the economically productive areas of southern Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait immediately react to Iran's drive into southern Iraq. Iraq has served as a "buffer" between Sunni Arabs and Shia Iranians, and the buffer is dissolving. Jordan and Egypt prepare for action. The War Over Mesopotamia could last for weeks, or it could grind on for years.
3) Turkey Expands: Turkey takes control of northern Iraq to the city of Kirkuk. The Ottoman Empire once controlled Mesopotamia. Turkey has a lingering claim to areas of northern Iraq. For almost two decades, Turkey has fought with the Kurdistan Workers Party -- a Kurdish secessionist group in Turkey that has bases in northern Iraq. Turkey could conclude the way to end the war with the PKK would be to absorb Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey would pay a huge political price, however. It would lose all chance of joining the European Union. As ties with the West deteriorate, Turkey might become less secular and more Islamic in both identity and in political orientation.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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