Scenarios for future of Iraq
Handover could open the door to democracy, dictatorship, or chaos.
It's the good, the bad, and the ugly: Three scenarios for Iraq a year from now as its people take back the reins of their own affairs.Skip to next paragraph
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Scenario 1: The country is relatively stable, becoming more prosperous, and set on a forward path ahead of where Afghanistan is today. Oil is flowing. Insurgent attacks are down. The minority Sunnis and Kurds are quiescent and working within the new power structure. US troops are mostly unseen and bored on their bases.
Scenario 2: Iraq isn't disintegrating, but has devolved into a more authoritarian regime than the US would like. Relations with Washington and US troops are tense. Heavy-handedness and human rights abuses abound as leaders revert to habits of the old regime. But essential services improve.
Scenario 3: Iraq by the summer of 2005 is staggering under uncontrolled Islamic extremism. It's in the early stages of a breakup, with parts of the country falling under the influence of Turkey, Iran, and other neighbors. Postponed elections occur, but fail to deliver political unity. Civil war looms.
This is the range of outlooks that experts predict over the next year. Most say the historic challenges that Iraq represents, plus mistakes of the past year, may put the first out of reach, while signs of Iraqi determination to see things improve may now render the third more remote.
That leaves something in the middle - although even some earlier optimists believe a deterioration toward the third is possible. "One can foresee a bunch of good scenarios, even more bad ones, but the largest number are middling," says Jon Alterman, a former member of the State Department policy planning staff now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here. Perhaps the most decisive factor will be how engaged Iraqis feel in their country's reform after what is sure to be another year of change and uncertainty.
But even more engagement may not be enough for success. "For the first time, I think failure is a possibility," says Michael O'Hanlon, an analyst at the Brookings Institution. "There are degrees of failure, but if the next year is a slow slide to fragmentation ... and civil conflict, it will be hard to call it anything else."
With power now officially transferred from the occupying coalition to an interim government, Iraq's prospects shift to a new set of questions - now more dependent on what Iraqis themselves do than on the US: how quickly the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi can establish legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis; how quickly the services and economic growth that feed public satisfaction - which the US had trouble supplying - can be improved; whether a sense of stability can be restored. But the deciding factors will be political rather than military, experts say.
"One of the key disappointments of the last year is that Iraqis haven't appeared to feel ownership of what is happening in their country," adds Mr. Alterman. "That has to change" even for the "middling" scenarios to be attained.