“The Third Baath Coup?”, by Juan Cole, Informed Consent, http://www.juancole.com/2005/01/third-baath-coup-if-as-i-have-argued.html, 13 January 2004.
“Neo-Baathism in Iraq,” by “mark,” Zen Pundit, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/01/neo-baathism-in-iraq-juan-cole-had.html, 13 January 2004.
Zen Pundit is a genius. The first time I went to his site, I scrolled through and chalked him off as a Tom Barnett knock-off. No more. He read the same article I did and came up with a much, much deeper understanding of the situation. Making it doubly embarrasing is that I agree with his assessment. So why didn’t I think of it?
First, Juan Cole’s analysis (with emphasis for what I thought was important)
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.
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?
And now… the genius
A Neo-Baathist Iraq â€“ which really means an Iraqi version of Sierra Leone or Somalia is not in American interests. Or in the interests of any of Iraqâ€™s neighbors except perhaps Syria who would gain influence in the Sunni heartland.
Cole has correctly identified, in my view, some key truths about the situation in Iraq. That most our enemies there are driven by the idea of Sunni-Baathist resurgence. That they recruit along lines of family-clan-tribe clientage networks. That the brain of the insurgency are the surviving elements of Saddamâ€™s SSO, Mukhabarat, MI, Special Republican Guard and Fedayeen who are following the old Soviet unconventional warfare doctrine of Spetsnaz forces ( hardly unexpected since Baathist Iraq had a Soviet model military establishment grafted on to a ME society with a decades long relationship with the USSR and Russia ). Soviet Spetsnaz doctrine called for â€œ Deep Operationsâ€:
Soviet Spetsnz unit personnel however, like the Zarqawri Jihadis, were atomized individuals. The neo-Baathist Iraqi insurgents are not, as Cole pointed out with his reference to clientage networks. You catch and identify one individual chances are extremely high that other adult males linked to the captive by family and marriage ties are also involved. This is the insurgencies Achilles heel. This is also why aggressive Counterinsurgency tactics will put a dent in the insurgency, the culprits are naturally more identifiable unlike with Marxist guerilla movements.
The political bullet to bite is that we have to accept that a fairly significant portion of Iraqi Sunnis are really ” the enemy” now in the same sense that the Germans and Japanese were during WWII and act accordingly. Some of this is our fault for mishandling the occupation but mostly its a vicious group of political gangsters determined to shoot their way back to power and dominance over the Kurds and Shiites. Let’s stop sugarcoating things and face reality – the Sunnis by and large want a new dictatorship that will secure their priviliges once again.
Any prospects for broad-based democracyin Iraq will fail- or even maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity – unless we can isolate the more politically backward Sunni dominated areas from the rest of Iraq and put the insurgency on the defensive.
Sistani and the Kurds need to face that fact as well.