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Quick US Exit From Iraq: Seven Scenarios

Austin Bay Blog, August 12, 2007 - Austin Bay wrote,

Here are seven “scenarios” sketching “potential outcomes” of a quick withdrawal from Iraq. They are not mutually exclusive. They could well “blend.” In fact, an amalgam of the first six could occur.

These are speculative dramas. The US and the Iraqi governments have their own scenarios. I am certain that Iran, Al Qaeda, Syria and Turkey have also analyzed potential outcomes and made plans accordingly.


(1) THREE NEW COUNTRIES: Kurdistan in the north becomes an independent country – and immediately begins to wrestle with Turkey over the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) which is waging a secessionist struggle in southeastern Turkey. Kurdistan has oil. Southern Iraq—a predominantly Shia – area, becomes a Shia state—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 a chance 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, it could grind on for years.

(3) TURKEY EXPANDS :Turkey reclaims control of territory all the way to Kirkuk, creating a new Southern Turkey: 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 which 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. It would lose all chance of joining the European Union. Ties with the West would deteriorate –and as a resultTurkey might become less secular and more Islamic in both identity and in political orientation. The Iranians would be glad to see their “Kurdish issue” disappear, but would be wary of a militant Turkey.

(4) SHIA DICTATORSHIP: Shia Arabs conduct an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Sunni. They create a condominium state with the Kurds. Iranian influence increases . Iraq’s Sunnis either die (a genocide) or flee to other Sunni controlled states – or move to the US.

(5) CHAOS: The region becomes a cauldron. Iraq shatters into ethnic enclaves, a few “new Mesopotamian city states” managing to control oil fields. Iran and Turkey exert “regional influence” over eastern Iraq and northern Iraq, respectively, but concerned about confrontation between themselves or provoking sanctions from Europe and the US, neither send their military forces in large numbers beyond current borders . Terror attacks and intermittent fighting afflict neighborhoods throughout Iraq. Local warlords rule by fear and make money either smuggling oil, drugs, or arms. This tribal hell is a perfect disaster—the kind of disaster that allows Al Qaeda to build training facilities and base camps for operations throughout the Middle East and Europe.

(6) “GANG UP”: Shia Arabs in Iraq are numerous, well armed and increasingly well organized – at least enough to expel all of the Sunni Arabs. The Shia and Kurds, who are now over 80 percent of the population, decide to eliminate their main enemy, and the source of most of the terrorism—the Sunni community. Neighboring Sunni Arab nations are kept out with the threat that Iran will intervene. Arguably, this scenario is already happening, though in slow motion.

(7) SURPRISE—THE IRAQI CENTER HOLDS: The democratic government proves to be resilient and popular. The assumption behind this scenario is that Iraq’s new democratic government is just responsive enough and its security forces are just strong enough to withstand attacks by extremists and give Iran pause. After several months of brutal warfare, the Iraqi Army destroys insurgent groups.

Out of seven possible “rapid withdrawal” scenarios only one –number seven– clearly benefits the majority of Iraqis. And the US. And the civilized world.

Bay writes a national security column for Creators Syndicate. His commentaries run on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. He has appeared as a guest analyst on CNN, C-SPAN, and ABC News Nightline. He is now retired from the US Army Reserve, but was recalled to active duty and served in Iraq in 2004. For this tour of duty in Iraq, he was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

Bay has a B.A. from Rice University and a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College. He currently teaches for The University of Texas' Plan II Undergraduate Honors Program.

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