The recent government crackdown upon demonstrators in the town of Hawija, and the ensuing violence has highlighted Iraq’s protest movement. People began taking to the streets in Anbar province after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant for former Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s bodyguards for terrorism. Activism quickly spread to northern Iraq. Rather than being a monolithic group with a central leadership however, these protests have involved a variety of tribes, political parties, and insurgent groups across many different cities and towns. They have also been explicitly Sunni and sectarian compared to previous demonstrations in Iraq from 2011 and 2012, which were national in character. To breakdown these various movements and their agendas is Kirk H. Sowell, a Washington DC-based political risk analyst who is the editor of the biweekly newsletter, Inside Iraqi Politics.
Scene from one of the earliest demonstrations in Ramadi, December 2012 (Reuters)
1. Iraq’s current protest movement has gone through several phases. When they started in December 2012 in cities like Fallujah and Ramadi what were their initial grievances?
The protestors basic demands haven’t changed much, and they mostly revolve around treatment by the security services, including the freeing of innocent detainees, the repeal of deBaathification, and the capital punishment clause in the counterterrorism law, as well as for “balance” in the security services, meaning sectarian balance, which is required by the constitution. There was a formal list of 13 demands published on January 6, 2013 by the Coordination Committee in Ramadi, and that came to represent “the demands” of the demonstrators. And of course there were also groups from the beginning pushing a more radical agenda, of which we can discuss more. But in both the Iraqi and pan-Arab media, when people speak of “protesters’ demands,” this is what they mean.
Sheikh Saadi has become the spiritual leader of the Ramadi protests (Antiwar.com)
2. It seems like several people have tried to assert themselves into the leadership of the Anbar protests. These include Sheikh Abdul Malik al-Saadi, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman, former Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, and Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi. What has been the role of each one of these individuals?
When people refer to Anbar protests, and this is true in pan-Arab commentary as well as in English, they usually mean those running the protest site in Ramadi, which is the capital of Anbar, and all the figures you just mentioned are associated with that. This group, the formal name of the protest organization is the Anbar Coordination Committee, came to have the media dominance it had because it was well-organized, ready to speak to the media, and because it was backed by two pillars of legitimate authority in Sunni Arab Iraq: the clerical establishment and the political parties. And with time they came to link up with protest organizations in all the Sunni provinces, and for this larger group they use the oblique name “the six provinces,” which is appropriate since they claim to speak for “the people,” and not just a faction.
For the clerical establishment, you mention Saadi, and he is a kind of spiritual guide for the protests. He doesn’t have the dominance that the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has among the Shia, but even among people who ignore his injunctions, a problem Sistani has as well, few openly defy him. His brief return to Ramadi from his home in exile in Jordan the week after the protests started was a huge boost for what I’ll call the Ramadi camp. And they’ve also gotten strong support from the dominant clerical figures, Rafia al-Rafai, whom most Iraqi Sunnis recognize as mufti, and Ahmad Abdul Ghafour al-Samarraie, the head of the Sunni Waqf (Endowment) Administration. But Saadi is the key clerical figure.
The other pillar is the anti-Maliki political establishment, and the parties tied to the protests have come under Speaker Osama al-Nujafi’s Mutahidun electoral bloc, which contains most of the Sunni parties that were part of the “Iraqiya” coalition, and which was created for the provincial elections. In addition to Abu Risha and Issawi, whom you mentioned, in Anbar Ahmed al-Alwani of the Islamic Party is also a key figure. Nujafi, in his capacity as speaker of parliament, played a major role in making the Ramadi demands “the demands” by calling a special session on January 6 specifically to discuss the 13 demands of the protestors, meaning those in Ramadi who are his allies.
Indeed it would be hard to overstate how closely tied the Ramadi camp is to the Mutahidun politicians. Numerous protest videos show Abu Risha and Alwani hanging around on the podium during speeches, standing next to protester spokesman Said al-Lafi. Until the warrant for his arrest, Issawi was also frequently there, and in fact there is one video dated after Maliki first tried to arrest him showing Issawi playing ping pong with activists behind the speaking area; you can hear Lafi’s voice in the background. And Lafi himself is reportedly a member of the Islamic Party, in which his father, Mahmoud al-Lafi, is a senior figure.
Furthermore, this group coordinates for the six provinces who come under the Saadi-Ramadi umbrella, and they actually hold the meetings in Alwani’s home. Alwani told an interviewer for al-Sumaria TV recently that they decide on each Friday sermon’s theme, and the approach to the government in these meetings, and you can confirm this by checking what they actually say at the sites aligned with Ramadi. The clerics even publish a summary of the Friday theme on their website, and imams truly follow that.
Of the names you mentioned, Ali Hatem Sulaiman is the one that doesn’t fit. He’s not part of Mutahidun, but apparently has grown close to Lafi just by spending a lot of time hanging around the protest site, and giving outrageous speeches. A former Maliki ally, Ali Hatem has turned 180 degrees, and has given several speeches or interviews advocating or threatening violence against federal security personnel. The electoral commission recently struck his party from the electoral rolls for incitement, and reasonably so.
In saying this I will note there are other organizing groups in Ramadi, and of course Fallujah is now a completely different place in terms of protests. But we can come to that. When media like al-Jazeera refer to the “Anbar protestors,” they usually mean this group.
3. Unlike the other demonstrations that took place in 2011 and 2012, this year’s have become distinctly Sunni in character. What kind of symbols and rhetoric are they using that highlights their sectarianism?
The first thing you notice in watching these protests is the near-ubiquitous presence of old regime flags, the Baathist flag and the current flag have the same colors, but the old flag had three stars for the basic tenants of the Baath Party and “God is Greatest” purportedly written in Saddam’s hand. The new flag has no stars and the lettering is written in a different script. There are exceptions to this, but this is the rule. And in Fallujah there has been an increasing presence of al-Qaeda flags, both the regular one and the one used by the Islamic State of Iraq, which is al-Qaeda in Iraq’s political umbrella.
Protesters in Fallujah flying Al Qaeda in Iraq and the old Baathist era Iraq flag (Maktoob)
The second problem is the language, but here it differs from site to site. The protests which are the biggest problem are not the Ramadi camp and their “six provinces” group, but those in the more militant wing of the movement, where you often hear speakers use phrases that imply the imposition of Sunni rule, like “overthrow the regime,” or “void the constitution,” or references to “jihad” and “mujahidin.” Many speeches also employ terms offensive to Shia, like “Safavid” or “majus,” the former being a Persian Empire that used to rule Iraq, and the latter being a pejorative term for Shia Muslims.
There is a distinction between protests, which is often overlooked, which I want to emphasize, the distinction between mosques and open air protest sites. The language and tone used in mosques is much more measured than that at protest sites. The reason for this is that the Sunni Waqf controls the mosques and appoints the imams, and Samarraie, the waqf head, can remove preachers if they get too far off the reservation. And indeed Samarraie has expressly warned preachers about using divisive or sectarian language, but he has no control over most of the non-mosque sites, where the group that controls the site decides who gives the sermon.
You can even see this distinction in Ramadi, which is an open air site, but where the Friday sermons, exceptionally, are strictly controlled. The Friday sermons are pretty clean, strongly-worded for sure, but free of anti-Shia rants, and references to “jihad”, and the like. But then in night and weekday speeches at the same site, that discipline is lost, and I’ve watched speeches by Lafi, the protestor spokesman, that are quite inflammatory and that you would never hear on Friday afternoon. And I’m sure these guys think this is unofficial, so it doesn’t matter, but these speeches are all on Youtube, and some make the news on Shia TV channels. And I think that what Shia think is not that these sermons don’t count, but that they represent what the “moderates” really believe.
The protests’ third problem of presentation has to do with how the demands themselves are framed, in that even the relatively more moderate Ramadi camp frames them in a way, which is very Sunni-specific, and often too sweeping. For example, no elected prime minister will agree to a complete repeal of deBaathification. And when figures from the more moderate camp talk in interviews about how they believe Sunnis are the demographic majority, both Lafi and Nujafi have done this, then combine that with the Baathist flags and demands for proportional representation in the security services, it doesn’t come off well. And that’s the moderate camp. In the militant camp people say things like “free all the prisoners” or else we declare jihad, when everyone knows that many of those in Iraq’s prisons really are terrorists.
So add all those factors together, and it becomes easy to see why Shia support for the Sunni protests has gone from qualified and limited in January to almost nothing now. All the Shia parties that backed concessions to the Sunnis lost seats in last month’s provincial elections, while the pro-Iranian parties gained.
4. What kind of concessions were the organizers able to get out of Baghdad, and were they happy with any of them?
The irony is that the organizers really haven’t gotten any concessions out of Baghdad, although they can take indirect credit for the concessions. Maliki’s initial response was to dismiss the protests as irrelevant, and threaten to suppress them with force, but the Shia religious authorities in Najaf rebuked him, and insisted that he meet protestor demands that were “consistent with the law and the constitution,” that’s the phrase that is used.
So Maliki appointed a ministerial committee to look into prison abuses, and the last I’ve seen they’ve released slightly over 3,000 prisoners. Virtually all of them are people who either have been held for years without trial or have finished their terms, and were being held illegally. So they should have been released anyway.
More substantively, in March Maliki reached a potentially wide-reaching deal with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni Arab from Anbar, which had three elements. One was a reform to deBaathification, so that former Baathists who held the bottom seven of the party’s ten ranks from firqa or division on down could get jobs in non-security sectors. A second was for the repeal of two laws related to seizures of property of former Baathists, which had hit the Sunni economic elite especially hard. And a third was for the repeal of the infamous “secret informer” law, which allows courts to rely on information from unnamed sources.
The protest movement reacted by sabotaging the process. In March, the Ramadi camp began talking about the possibility of forming a negotiating committee to be headed by Saadi’s son Ahmad. They had previously just made demands and expected them to be met, but they gave Maliki no credit, and continued to attack him. Furthermore, the militant wing only increased its efforts to push the movement toward militancy, and they succeeded, as even before the lethal raid in Hawija on April 23, Ramadi had already turned more hostile. And because of the parliament boycotts, none of these legal reforms have been put into place.
It is important to underline, though, why this is, and it relates to a core element of the protest movement’s make-up. Mutlaq leads the Arab Iraqiya bloc, which is the main competitor to Nujafi’s Mutahidun. Passing these reforms would have been a major coup for Mutlaq, and so the Ramadi camp has a conflict of interest.
5. Ramadi and Fallujah eventually went in different directions. How have the two cities addressed talks with the government, and dealt with the insurgency?
Because Ramadi’s dominant protest organization is centrally controlled, the Fallujah protest camp has gradually come to resemble nothing so much as an island of fanatical Ramadi rejects, al-Qaeda, the Baathist Free Iraq Intifada, and the Sunni Popular Movement in Iraq, which appears to be a front for Islamist insurgent groups like the Islamic Army. In fact, the two biggest changes in Fallujah since January are the proliferation of al-Qaeda flags, which weren’t there initially, and a dramatic decline in the number of protestors present; presumably the two are related. And calls for a declaration of jihad are an everyday occurrence in Fallujah.
Ramadi, as we’ve discussed, has evolved, but kept to a line that in principle accepts the political process, and isn’t looking to overthrow the constitutional order. They’ve experienced a decline in attendance, but only a moderate one. And they have become more militant since late March when Saadi tried and failed to forge a unified front for negotiations, causing Ramadi to harden its stance. This was shown most dramatically on April 12 when there were young men marching in military formation, and the preacher giving the Friday sermon put on a burial shroud, to say he was ready for martyrdom, then later changed in to camouflage clothes, as if ready for war.
6. Demonstrations in Mosul and Hawija were led by a group called the Free Iraq Intifada. What have been their demands, and how are they connected to militants?
The Free Iraq Intifada (FII) is the political arm of a Baathist organization led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the former deputy to Saddam Hussein. The organization, the Army of the Men of the Naqshibandi, known by its Arabic initials, JRTN for Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al- Naqshibandi, has grafted an Islamist covering over its Baathist, pan-Arab nationalist core, and has been militarily active from the height of the insurgency 2004-2007 up through the present time. Initially, FII maintained the pretense that it was an independent organization, although telltale signs of JRTN-FII ties were there all along. Then on April 24, the day after the Hawija raid, they announced their “merger.” But I’ve gone back and done a thorough study of the evidence, and I’ve concluded that FII was never an independent organization, just a front. And the FII’s leader is Abu Abd al-Naemi, who is from Salahaddin, I presume Tikrit, since the JRTN’s core leadership is from there.
With that in mind, the FII’s demands and rhetoric are easier to understand. In most regards their demands overlap with those of the Ramadi camp, but are framed more radically. They use phrases like “free all the prisoners” and “abolish the constitution.” They call the government “Safavid,” so often you’d think Iraq had a prime minister named “al-Safavi.” And most importantly, they reject negotiation as a matter of principle, and want to overthrow the regime, not just bring down the Maliki government.
The JRTN was behind one of the most infamous incidents in the protest movement’s now five-month history. On March 26, they stormed the Ramadi protest site, and tried to turn the movement toward war through intimidation, right in the middle of the day’s speeches. Lafi rebuffed them, and they decamped to Fallujah.
7. What have the protest groups in Salahaddin’s Tikrit and Samarra, and Diyala’s Baquba been like?
Tikrit is a relative hotbed, and up until late March a single protest site there was shared between the JRTN, the pro-insurgency Muslim Scholars Association (MSA), and the Islamic Party (IP), which as noted above is one of the components of Nujayfi’s Mutahidun. Then in late March, the same week the JRTN and the Islamic Party had a confrontation in Ramadi, they split in Tikrit, so the IP and the MSA moved to another site. There have also been a series of security operations in Tikrit prior to the Hawija clashes, and again these are related to the fact that the protest site is a JRTN stronghold.
Samarra has created much less stir. To be candid I’ve not followed Samarra as close as some of the other centers, but the main protest site there, Al-Haq Square, is controlled by the clerical establishment and the imam, Shaykh Muhammad Taha Hamdun, is the nationwide spokesman for the Ramadi camp’s “six provinces” group. There is no group that dominates Samarra, though, and others are present.
In Baquba, and Diyala more broadly, the story is similar. The main mosque in Baquba is controlled by the clerical establishment, and so is part of Saadi’s Ramadi camp. The imam, Sheikh Ahmad Said, comes off to me as very “old school,” and didn’t call for the armed option until Saadi did, and then only as a “Defense Army,” following a statement Saadi issued after Hawija. But the JRTN has an active presence in Diyala as well. Their main center in the province appears to be at Jalula, in the Arab portion naturally. They are very anti-Kurdish, being Baathist, and so have bases there, and nearby in the area of Salahaddin to the northeast in Sulaiman Bek, Tuz Kharmato.
If you wanted to draw a national color-coded map of the Sunni protest movement it would be quite messy, but essentially the Ramadi-Six Provinces group aligned with Saadi and the Mutahidun have dominant, but not exclusive positions in the main religious areas of Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala, and all three major protest areas Baghdad, al-Adhamiya, al-Ghazaliya and al-Amiriya. The JRTN are the strongest group in Mosul, Tikrit, Hawija, Kirkuk, and with notable strength all along the Arab-Kurd ethnic borderline. Measuring real public support is difficult. The JRTN has an unfair advantage over truly peaceful groups since it is armed and ruthless, and it ruled Iraq for 35 years, after all. I presume that the Ramadi camp’s control in Baghdad is aided greatly by the government’s clampdown on their chief rivals, all of whom are fronts for armed insurgent groups.
Other pro-insurgency groups like the Islamic Army and the MSA I’d place between Saadi and the JRTN ideologically, and they have a wide presence but don’t appear to be dominant anywhere. There are also activist groups like the Iraqi Revolution Media Support Committee and the Iraqi Spring Coordination Committee, which are widely active and influential, but don’t appear to even aspire to dominate all of Sunni Iraq.
8. After the Hawija incident many tribes, clerics, and organizers began talking about armed struggle. What specific cities and groups have taken this turn towards militancy, and which ones are calling for moderation?
I’d put them into three categories. The first category includes those opposed to any armed option. And this group includes many tribal leaders everywhere, including Hawija and Anbar. I thought it was notable after the Hawija incident that the Jibur tribe reiterated its support for the Iraqi Army, and especially its relationship with the 12th Division, which recruits in the area. Some mosque imams have also categorically rejected any option of armed action against the state. No protest groups of any significance have.
The second category would be those who follow Saadi’s line of forming a “Defense Army,” but not calling for jihad or going on the offensive. It includes many if not most clerics, the “six provinces” naturally, and some groups outside the Ramadi camp, including the Islamic Army. The latter group has vocally broken with the Baathist JRTN, with which it has been otherwise allied, over this issue.
The third category includes those who want to declare jihad, destroy the state, and replace it with an entirely new regime. This just includes JRTN and al-Qaeda.
Acting Defense Minister Dulaimi at a memorial for five soldiers killed near Ramadi (AFP)
9. Also in the wake of Huwija, 5 soldiers were killed in a checkpoint near Ramadi. How did the government respond, and how were the protesters involved?
As in the Hawija raid, the facts here are quite unclear, but the incident has set the province on edge. On April 27, five soldiers were killed early in the day at the Pride and Dignity protest site in Ramadi – this is the emblematic protest site, which has been the center of events. At least three of the soldiers were Anbar natives, and the attack caused outrage throughout the province, and the tribes which had been providing support to the protest site announced they were withdrawing until the killers were found and justice was done. And Saadi issued a statement clarifying that he’d not called for jihad, just a defense army, and prohibited attacks on Iraqi soldiers or police of any sectarian origin.
The complication is that the government concluded that the Ramadi protest organization leadership was itself implicated in the killings, and the three key individuals for whom they have issued arrest warrants are Lafi, the Ramadi spokesman, Muhammad Khamis Abu Risha, who is Ahmed Abu Risha’s nephew, and Qusay al-Janabi, a popular preacher who is the one I referred to previously as putting on a shroud during his Friday sermon. Now this has gotten dangerous, and last Tuesday the army tried to execute the arrest warrants at Alwani’s house, as mentioned above, remember they coordinate the Ramadi camp protest strategy at the personal residence of the Islamic Party leader. Alwani’s guards fired shots in the air, and to avoid bloodshed, the soldiers retreated.
That same day, federal security also arrested Jisawi Ramah, a military commander in the Islamic Army insurgent group in Fallujah. And afterward I listened to an interview by a leader in the Popular Sunni Movement, which is an insurgent political front group, in which he refers to the five soldiers killed as “intelligence agents.” The way he phrased it implied approval of the killings.
This is a problem, because the government and its criminal justice system lacks credibility, although it is worth nothing that Anbar army units are not really a foreign force. General Mardhi al-Mahalawi, who is the Anbar Operations Commander, is a respected Anbari who played an important role during the civil war period, and when Maliki appointed him to this position in February, Mahlawi was welcomed. And like army divisions elsewhere, the army in Anbar recruits locally, so despite Shia domination at the national level, local army personnel are not without credibility.
Armed protesters at the Ramadi Camp raise the question of whether the demonstrations will remain peaceful or turn towards violence (AFP)
10. In your opinion, what do you think is the future of the protest movement? Will they remain largely peaceful or do you think Hawija has turned many of the groups towards violence?
The short answer is that pessimistic scenarios outweigh the optimistic ones, although both outcomes are possible. So I’ll make a couple of points about the protest movement going forward, and then give you the most likely implications.
Ahmed Abu Risha, speaking for Ramadi protestors, has just a few days ago announced that they have agreed to have Saadi negotiate on their behalf with the government. In the same statement he said that all arrest warrants for protest leaders since December had to be voided. Given that Abu Risha’s nephew is among them, one would think it was a conflict of interest to have him make the announcement. More important is to understand how the protests’ failures have resulted from structural flaws, and not merely bad tactical decision-making, that also impact what they are likely to do going forward.
Begin with understanding the protest movement not as a general mass of ordinary Sunni Iraqis who have spontaneously chosen to take to the streets, as it is often portrayed, but as an outgrowth of a core division within the organized part of the Sunni community going back to 2003. One the one hand, there are those like the clerical establishment, the Islamic Party and tribal leaders like Abu Risha who have chosen to work within the political process. This group is almost perfectly represented in what I have called the “Ramadi camp” that follows Saadi and Nujafi’s Mutahidun. And just within the past two weeks we’ve seen this group waver back and forth between qualified use of the political process, and qualified support for armed action. On the other hand, there was the armed insurgency, which lost the civil war during the 2004-2007 period, and has reincarnated itself under various front names in the radical wing of the protest movement.
In regard to the Ramadi camp, their basic conception of the situation in the country is a major problem, in that they have from the beginning completely misread the true balance of power. Flowing from the erroneous belief that they are the demographic majority, Sunni Arabs are actually about 25 percent of the population, and Shia are about 55 percent, they have acted as if they could just make demands, and have them met. In fact, their movement has never been a political threat to Maliki, who once he got over his initial negative impulses, began making concessions because he correctly knew he could do so from a position of political, military, and demographic strength.
Furthermore, the intertwining of the moderate wing of the protest movement with politicians who have personal electoral interests has distorted the entire process. However much blame Maliki bears for creating the grievances that gave rise to the protests, Saadi and the clerics should have embraced his turn toward compromise in March. And whatever negative might be said of Maliki as a national leader, he is a moderate on issues related to deBaathification and inclusion of Sunnis. One of the lessons of the last month’s elections, which protest leaders appear to have completely missed, is that if Maliki is removed next year he will most likely be replaced by a more hardline Shia Islamist.
To right the ship, Saadi and the clerics need to moderate their expectations, and force a change in course. Or perhaps the recent surge in violence will convince Nujafi and the politicians to realize a change in strategy is in their interests. It is worth noting that the protests are not as large as they used to be, and in the recent election Sunni voters mostly opted toward the center. This kind of turn to realism by Sunnis saved Iraq in 2007, so a positive outcome is possible.
Then in regard to the other wing of the movement, there is an important clarification to make regarding the protests being “peaceful.” Although the radical groups don’t bring weapons to the protests, from the very beginning their goal has been to push the country back to war, and this is especially true of JRTN, which was behind the Hawija events. Other parts of the militant wing, such as the Islamic Army, have more modest goals, and appear to just want to use force or the threat thereof to redraw the balance of power, and create Sunni regions. But these groups have never been just a small number of “troublemakers,” as they are sometimes called. The insurgent front groups have actually controlled an outright majority of the protest sites, albeit not a majority of the protestors, since Ramadi camp protests are larger on average.
Looking further in the future, the danger of partition is more real now than it has been in any time since 2006. And this is where the difference between mainstream supporters of Sunni regions like Nujafi, the Islamic Army, and the JRTN tends to collapse. The JRTN is wrong in thinking it can take Baghdad, but Nujafi and the Islamic Army are wrong in thinking that Maliki, or anyone who replaces him, is just going to hand over budget money to an autonomous Sunni region with its own independent security force, like the Kurds have now. This is on the minds of Shia leaders, as Maliki himself and his surrogates have publicly warned that outright partition was a possibility. Adnan al-Siraj, a Maliki ally, explicitly stated this in a March 14 edition of al-Jazeera’s Behind the News, saying Shia could go their own way and Sunni Arabs would suffer the most.
This is the scenario I think Siraj had in mind. The Shia government, with its base in the south, would take Baghdad, which is close to 75-80 percent Shia now, plus most of Diyala and parts of southern Salahaddin. Sunnis have for years accused the Maliki government of consciously encouraging Shia migration to the Shia shrine area in Samarra. I can’t prove this, but what I believe is that back in 2006 the Shia leadership held a meeting, and made a contingency plan in case the state fell apart, and there is no way they were going to allow a Shia shrine to fall into the hands of a Sunni state. So they began to encourage Shia migration to that area. Also related to this is the fact that the Shia government did nothing to stop the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in the 2006-2007 period. Only in 2008, when the Shia had won the Battle of Baghdad decisively, did Maliki move against the Sadrist militia.
Both Sunni leaders and international actors need to take Siraj’s comments very seriously. A partition would be a total catastrophe, not only for Iraq’s Sunnis, but for the region, as Sunni Iraq would then merge with the fiery cauldron that is Syria. Maliki needs to press ahead with legal reforms and concessions to the Sunnis, and put off his showdown with the Baathists to later. There will need to be a security solution to the JRTN, as they are truly irredeemable, but Hawija was the wrong place and wrong time to force a showdown. And then as long as Maliki does this, Sunni leaders need to support those moves. That is, I think, the only path that keeps Iraq from falling apart.