Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki told President Bush today that he expects Iraqi forces to be ready to take over security duties by mid 2007. The unspoken corollary is that he’ll want US forces out of the way soon after that, I’m thinking. The Maliki government appears to be dependent on the various Shiite factions for support, and the Sadr bunch are making his life terribly difficult right now. With the US out of the way, they can get down to the serious business of settling old scores with the ex-Batthist Sunnis. Where the US troops will go is an open question. Perhaps to the Kurdish authority, or perhaps somewhere else. We’re not welcome in Saudi Arabia anymore, and I doubt we have any plans to leave the region fully, since we want access, if not direct control, over as much of the oil in the region as possible.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is sending unoffical signals that it would have no choice but to get involved in an Iraqi civil war in the event of a US pullout. The attacks on Iraq’s minority Sunni population is seen by many in Saudi Arabia as a form of ethnic cleansing, and the Saudi government is under increasing pressure to do something about it. This is complicated by Saudi Arabia’s own sizeable Shiite minority (which just happens to inhabit Saudi Arabia’s main oil province near the Persian Gulf), which favors neither the Sunni Saudi majority (who persecute them as heretics), nor the Persian Shiites of Iran, being ethnic Arabs.
The worst possible case is a US pullout which starts a full-blown civil war in Iraq that pulls in forces from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and maybe Turkey. When those nations all decide to mix it up, I think Kuwait would have trouble staying out of the way, and who knows what could happen with Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinians? That could result in a loss of some or all oil exports from several major OPEC producers, and history has shown that the world simply cannot economically absorb the loss of even five percent of world daily oil production.
So, what are we to do? There are no easy answers, and it means that 2007 will prove to be interesting, considering that the scheduled handover of security duties will coincide with the start of the 2007 hurricane season. Perhaps the Baker commission will come up with a workable plan, and perhaps the Bush Administration will actually heed their advice. Or, perhaps I’ll be biking to work next August.