The Third Baath Coup?
If, as I have argued, the Baathists along with some Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) allies are behind the guerrilla war, what do they want? They want to drive the Americans out of Iraq and make a third Baath coup, putting the Shiite genie back in its bottle and restoring Sunni Arab primacy.
A third Baath coup is no more inherently implausible than the first two. The Baathists probably have access to some 250,000 tons of munitions which are still missing. They know how to use them, and have been the managerial class, and many are Iran-Iraq War and Gulf War veterans with substantial military experience.
As long-time readers know, I have long held a position similar to that enunciated by former weapons inspector Scott Ritter’s assessment that the lion’s share of violence in Iraq is the work of Baathist military intelligence and military gone underground, and that the tendency to blame everything on Zarqawi and a handful of foreigners is a propaganda move that suits both the Baath mukhabarat and the Bush administration. AP correspondent in Baghdad, Borzou Daragahi, makes much the same argument.
Only 6 percent of the fighters captured at Fallujah were foreigners, and Fallujah anyway had long had a high foreign-born population, being a frontier and desert port. By Baath I don’t necessarily mean committed ideological Baathists, but the party was how they were formed politically, along with networks of clientelage based in the Sunni Arab heartland.
The Baath has been systematically killing members of the new political class. This is visible at the provincial level. The governors of Diyala and Baghdad provinces have recently been killed. The killing and kidnapping of members of the provincial governing councils go virtually unremarked in the US press but are legion. A female member of the Salahuddin GC was kidnapped and killed recently. The police chiefs of many cities have been killed or kidnapped, or members of their family have, such that many more have just resigned, often along with dozens of their men. The US is powerless to stop this campaign of assassination.
And this is my problem with the idea of just having the US suddenly withdraw its military from Iraq. What is to stop the neo-Baath from just killing Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ibrahim Jaafari, Iyad Allawi (who is rumored not to sleep in the same bed twice), etc., all the members of the provincial councils and the new parliament, and then making a military coup that brings the party and its Sunni patronage networks back to power?
I think this coup would look more like the failed 1963 effort than like 1968, and has the potential to roil the country and the region for decades. The tanks and helicopter gunships and chemical weapons that the Sunni Arab minority regime used to put down the other groups are gone, and it is not clear that car bombs, Kalashnikovs and sniping could substitute for them. They can probably take the Green Zone and the television stations if the US abruptly withdraws, but could they really put down the South effectively again?
For this reason, I fear I think the US is stuck in Iraq. Sistani clearly fears a Sunni Arab coup, as well, and this is one reason he has not acted forcefully to end the military occupation, which he deeply dislikes.
Is the Neo-Baath Coup scenario one that the US could live with?