The next war in Iraq has already begun.
On the brink of victory in Iraq, coalition forces are poised to finish off Baghdad, reduce other enclaves and accept the formal surrender of the current Iraqi regime. The first two tasks will take place in short order. The third is problematic at best. Who will surrender, and will it count in the minds of hardline Ba'ath Party members? Will the regime of Saddam Hussein be properly represented?
The issue of surrender marked the beginning of the next war in Iraq. No one in Saddam's inner circle will surrender. For the Ba'ath Party, the security services and the remnants of the Fedayeen Saddam, the war continues. They may not be able to field the armed forces they used to fight the current war, but they will use everything at their disposal to attack and undermine the transitional government and the new Iraqi regime.
What is bothersome now is that they are racing out of Baghdad and other cities, headed for cross-border sanctuaries or hiding places within Iraq. Until today, our loose encirclement of Baghdad and other major cities allowed key leadership figures in the regime to escape. It's not the fault of our military forces who are doing all the fighting on the ground. They are performing magnificently. If there had been more divisions on the ground when the attacks commenced, the campaign would have been more rapid. Baghdad would have been encircled much earlier. We could have captured or killed many more of the regime officials and their enforcers whose fear tactics have totally controlled the Iraqi population for two decades.
We will still round up some of the leadership, but those who got away comprise one segment of several who are responsible for the next war in Iraq. They will use every means at their disposal to undermine and discredit the new regime. Picture rogue Iraqi officers hiding somewhere in Iraq with weapons of mass destruction in their possession.
Not everyone who remains in Iraq will be happy with the "liberation." Ba'ath party members and a number of Sunni officials will lose power, influence, status and money. They will intrigue against the new government and will promote all sorts of violent activity to change the political climate from one of instability and uncertain leadership to one of anarchy. The new regime will have its hands full establishing a new form of government and trying to maintain the fragile infrastructure. It will need outside help to defend against terrorist attacks from a variety of perpetrators which are sure to threaten its existence.
Consider also a thoroughly repressed people who are suddenly rid of their controllers. Within the population are factions who are free to pursue goals and objectives which could never before have even been discussed. There are groups in Iraq whose ideologies are much closer to those of al Qaeda than to anything expected to come out of the new government. They will not accept compromise, and they will use violence to be heard and to achieve their political objectives. They don't have a name now, but we'll know them well in the future. They believe the coalition liberation forces are infidel intruders, and any government formed as a result of the liberation is nothing more than a puppet of the infidels.
Then there are the old animosities: Sunni versus Kurds, Sunni versus Shia, Kurds versus Turks. Factional conflicts could erupt far away from the legislative buildings in which disagreements are to be resolved peacefully. What military or police force will be in place to maintain order and control? Normally, such a mission requires peacekeepers. Who will provide them? How long will they have to remain? Is this another Sinai in the making?
As already made evident in several recent attacks against Coalition forces, terrorist acts have started the next war in Iraq. As long as we remain, we'll be engaged directly in the battle, and our forces will remain primary targets. There is also a strong chance that peacekeepers will be needed to control factions threatening stability. The peacekeepers will be resented by many Iraqis who will be offended by such intrusions.
We have two choices: bring our forces home as quickly as possible and trust the new Iraqi regime to resolve the next war; or stay the course and become ensnared in the internal affairs of a nation long after we've worn out our welcome. Neither option is very appealing. Repugnant as it may be for us, perhaps we should look to the United Nations to help find the solution. If nothing else, such a move should help us prevent a transition from certain military victory to long-term political embarrassment. The next war in Iraq will not be over anytime soon.