Rapid US victory
The present security measures defeat a Baathist/pro-Saddam force that cannot gather broad active support among Shiites in areas like the Sunni triangle. The nation-building effort gathers steady momentum, winning the support or at least tolerance of the vast Shiite majority (60 per cent, or more, of the population), and the Kurds reach a reasonable modus vivendi with the Arabs and Turkmans in the north. Oil production and exports are restored on terms clearly beneficial to the Iraqis, and utilities, water, education and security are established in Shiite, Kurdish and friendly Sunni areas and gradually in the present hostile and no-go areas. The constitution is created on federalist and pluralistic terms the key factions can accept, the economy is gradually restored and the US and its allies turn sovereignty back to the Iraqis.
Lingering Baathist conflict
The US largely defeats the present pro-Baathist/pro-Saddam cadres, but key elements remain. They are joined by Sunni Islamists – some from outside Iraq – and Sunnis who see power shifting to the Shiites and Kurds. Many Sunni areas remain hostile and virtual no-go areas. Sporadic violence and sabotage continue at low levels. This violence is subdued enough to appear to be a quasi-victory for the US, but creates a timebomb in terms of internal instability that divides and destabilises the country when US and allied forces leave. The problem is solved by a return to strongman rule or is simply not solved at all – leaving a long heritage of ethnic and religious division.
Sunni Islamic conflict/Sunni resentment and separatism
The broad level of Sunni hostility to the US becomes much sharper, much more quickly, because of a few politically sensitive clashes and US mistakes in dealing with the situation. Baghdad, with over 4 million people, becomes largely hostile to the US in Sunni areas. Nation-building and security efforts either fail in the Sunni triangle, or simply lock down a hostile population. The high-profile, known Baathist/pro-Saddam leaders are replaced by scattered cells of experienced fighters who are far more nationalist, Sunni sectarian and Islamist. Outside movements like Al-Qaeda acquire steadily growing influence. Every adaptation in US tactics breeds a counter-adaptation in Sunni tactics, and violence is constant and adequate to seriously impede or block much of the nation-building effort.
Regardless of the military situation, the Iraqis cannot agree on a workable and stable form of federalism, protection of ethnic and sectarian rights and division of oil revenues. The image of a political system may disguise the lack of stability or lead to open factional ethnic and sectarian violence. The US and allied occupation limits the scale of conflict only as long as it is present. No true rule of law is established and key uncertainties remain about the role of the Sunni and Shiite clergy, secularism versus Islam and secular law versus Sharia.
Just as many aspects of nation-building can fail almost regardless of the outcome of the present fighting with the pro-Baathist, pro-Saddam faction, so can the Iraqi economy. The US has not yet set clear goals for forgiveness of more than $200,000 million in Iraqi debt and reparations or for renegotiating Saddam’s contingency contracts for oil development, and certainly has no clear plan to achieve such goals. Iraq’s population growth will take it from 25 million to at least 36 million by 2020, and quite possibly to 39 million. No projected level of oil export earnings can bring a population this large wealth even by the standards of 1980. The lack of modern financial institutions, a crippled and chronically mismanaged agricultural sector, service industries two decades out of date and inefficient state industries oriented towards military production fail to diversify properly, create the necessary scale of new jobs or distribute income. The scale of US and other foreign aid, and financial relief, is too limited, too short and too badly implemented to succeed and give Iraq economic stability.
Shiite separatism and conflict
The vacuum of experienced political leadership in the Shiite majority, the clergy’s desire for some form of Islamic rule and the search for power by young radical Shiite Islamists create a movement or movements that will not accept federalism on terms that Sunnis and Kurds find acceptable. The failures in the US/UK nation-building and security efforts in the south gradually turn tolerance into hostility. This is compounded by economic problems and failures in the nation-building effort, particularly by tensions between the secular outside Shiite opposition leaders and the religious Shiites. The result is gradual violence and attacks on the occupying forces. Some form of informal alliance occurs between Sunni and Shiite hostile factions. Syria and Iran offer some form of support.
tension in the north
The thin veneer of democratic pluralism among the Kurds that papers over the divisions between Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani gradually erodes and smuggling and oil-for-food revenues cease to give both factions the money they want and need to maintain power. Internal feuding and grasping for money and power interact with growing tensions between Kurd, Turkman and Arab. The north gradually becomes unstable with Arabs and Turkmans becoming actively hostile to the US as the ally of the Kurds. Informal alliances develop between hostile Arab factions in the north and hostile factions in the centre.
Forced US/UK handoff
The scale of conflict in the ‘war after the war’ and the clear failure of nation-building reach the point where it becomes clear that the US and its allies simply cannot win the peace. A cosmetic effort is made to internationalise the departure of the occupying forces. The Iraqis, the region and the world perceive the US and allied departure as a defeat. The US loses the war by losing the peace.
Post-US departure collapse
For any combination of the aforementioned reasons, Iraq either becomes unstable or reverts to strongman rule after the departure of the US and its allies. The end result is not an example of anything other than a failed war and failed nation-building. The end result is new Kurdish separatism and either Shiite domination with a strong religious character or a reassertion of Sunni control under a new Saddam Hussein.