Trend: A political compromise between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States has potential for calming the Iraq situation.
In John Mauldin's InvestorsInsight: Thoughts From The Frontline, George Friedman of Stratfor addresses the recent three party discussions between the Americans, Iraqis, and Iranians. He says that both Iran and the US realize that neither party can achieve their objective and that no single party can control or stabilize Iraq without the explicit cooperation of all parties. Further, the risk that everything spins out of control is forcing negotiations among enemies. Excerpts below.
There are three major powers with intense interest in the future of Iraq: the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The United States, having toppled Saddam Hussein, has completely mismanaged the war. Nevertheless, a unilateral withdrawal would create an unacceptable situation in which Iran, possibly competing with Turkey in the North, would become the dominant military power in the region and would be in a position to impose itself at least on southern Iraq -- and potentially all of it. Certainly there would be resistance, but Iran has a large military (even if it is poorly equipped), giving it a decided advantage in controlling a country such as Iraq.
In addition, Iran is not nearly as casualty-averse as the United States. Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that cost it about a million casualties. The longtime Iranian fear has been that the United States will somehow create a pro-American regime in Baghdad, rearm the Iraqis and thus pose for Iran round two of what was its national nightmare. It is no accident that the day before these meetings, U.S. sources speculated about the possible return of the Iraqi air force to the Iraqis. Washington was playing on Tehran's worst nightmare.
Saudi Arabia's worst nightmare would be watching Iran become the dominant power in Iraq or southern Iraq. It cannot defend itself against Iran, nor does it want to be defended by U.S. troops on Saudi soil. The Saudis want Iraq as a buffer zone between Iran and their oil fields. They opposed the original invasion, fearing just this outcome, but now that the invasion has taken place, they don't want Iran as the ultimate victor. The Saudis, therefore, are playing a complex game, both supporting Sunni co-religionists and criticizing the American presence as an occupation -- yet urgently wanting U.S. troops to remain.
The United States wants to withdraw, though it doesn't see a way out because an outright unilateral withdrawal would set the stage for Iranian domination. At the same time, the United States must have an endgame -- something the next U.S. president will have to deal with.
The Iranians no longer believe the United States is capable of creating a stable, anti-Iranian, pro-American government in Baghdad. Instead, they are terrified the United States will spoil their plans to consolidate influence within Iraq. So, while they are doing everything they can to destabilize the regime, they are negotiating with Washington. The report that three-quarters of U.S. casualties in recent weeks were caused by "rogue" Shiite militia sounds plausible. The United States has reached a level of understanding with some nonjihadist Sunni insurgent groups, many of them Baathist. The Iranians do not want to see this spread -- at least not unless the United States first deals with Tehran. The jihadists, calling themselves al Qaeda in Iraq, do not want this either, and so they have carried out a wave of assassinations of those Sunnis who have aligned with the United States, and they have killed four key aides to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a key Shiite figure.
If this sounds complicated, it is. The United States is fighting Sunnis and Shia, making peace with some Sunnis and encouraging some Shia to split off -- all the time waging an offensive against most everyone. The Iranians support many, but not all, of the Shiite groups in Iraq. In fact, many of the Iraqi Shia have grown quite wary of the Iranians. And for their part, the Saudis are condemning the Americans while hoping they stay -- and supporting Sunnis who might or might not be fighting the Americans.
The situation not only is totally out of hand, but the chance that anyone will come out of it with what they really want is slim. The United States probably will not get a pro-American government and the Iranians probably will not get to impose their will on all or part of Iraq. The Saudis, meanwhile, are feeling themselves being sucked into the Sunni quagmire.