What would happen to Iraq if America withdrew almost immediately?
In other words, what would happen if Representative Murtha’s proposal was implemented?
The conventional wisdom, is that the violence would worsen as Iraq moves toward civil war. The Iraqi government would be unable to govern and Iraq might become a failed state. That’s essentially the worst case scenario according to President Bush — Iraq ends up replacing Afghanistan as the safe haven host state for international terror.
Is that realistic?
Well, consider the academic research on state failure. The Political Instability Task Force worked on the question of state failure for five years — in response to “a request from senior US policymakers” during the late ’90s:
State failure is a new label that encompasses a range of severe political conflicts and regime crises exemplified by macro-societal events such as those that occurred in Somalia, Bosnia, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) in the 1990s. This web site lists comparative information on cases of total and partial state failure that began between 1955 and 2001 in independent countries with populations greater than 500,000. The types of events included are revolutionary wars, ethnic wars, adverse regime changes, and genocides and politicides.
The list of state failure events (i.e., the State Failure “problem set”) has been compiled from multiple sources by researchers at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), University of Maryland, and is regularly updated and revised with input from area and subject-matter specialists.
That’s pretty comprehensive, eh? By the way, Dan Drezner today has a short summary post about the latest Human Security Report on genocides, politicides, conflicts and wars.
The state failure research, as noted in the Phase III findings report:
sought to identify the underlying or structural conditions associated with the occurrence of state failure within the next two years. These conditions were first identified for a global model encompassing all countries and all types of state failures.
OK, so researchers undertook a comprehensive multi-year study seeking to explain the causes of state failure.
when applied to historical data, correctly classified stable countries and countries headed for state failure with 70- to 80-percent accuracy.
Here’s the key set of findings from the global model:
The strongest influence on the risk of state failure was regime type. All other things being equal, we found the odds of failure to be seven times as high for partial democracies as they were for full democracies and autocracies.
In addition, each of the following risk factors roughly doubled the odds of state failure:
• Low levels of material well-being, measured by infant mortality rates.
• Low trade openness, measured by imports plus exports as a percent of GDP.
• The presence of major civil conflicts in two or more bordering states.
This analysis also found that total population and population density had a moderate relationship to state failure. Countries with larger populations and higher population density had 30-percent and 40-percent greater odds of state failure, respectively.
No direct relationship to state failure was found for environmental factors, ethnic or religious discrimination, price inflation, government debt, or military spending. Nevertheless, such factors might have indirect effects on state failure, if they influence a country’s material well-being or its engagement in international trade.
So, now, what about Iraq?
If the US leaves, Iraq will at best be a “partial democracy.” That’s a very bad sign as many forces vie to return Iraq to autocracy. Of course, Iraq is only a partial democracy today and may not be able to emerge as a full democracy for a long, long time even with the US troop presence.
The CIA also estimates (in 2004) that Iraq had about $20 billion in trade (about half imports and half exports) in a $54.4 billion economy. I looked around the State Failure website for awhile and cannot determine whether 40% is a good or bad figure. Just eyeballing the data, it does not look to be good. Considering that Iraq was under international embargo for more than 12 years, I suspect this is a low rate among all nations.
Iraq is in a rough neighborhood, but I’m not sure if two of its bordering states suffer “major civil conflicts.” Iraq’s neighbors are Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. None of them appears to be experiencing major episodes of political violence (in 2004), but Saudi Arabia and Turkey (as well as Iraq) appear on some lists of the “world’s least secure countries.”
In addition to the variables just named, note that the researchers also developed a Muslim world model. Essentially, they found that all the above relationships in the global model mattered, plus these:
Three new factors emerged as important in this model. First, countries with Islamic sects faced odds of failure three times as high as those lacking such sectarian activity. Second, the religious diversity of the population as a whole mattered. Countries with either unusually diverse or unusually homogeneous populations had odds of failure nearly three times as high as those with moderate religious diversity. This relationship may exist because the exclusivist claims of Islamic religion are pursued more vigorously if one group is highly dominant, or if none are, whereas societies that include several major religious groups may tend to habituate compromise or cooperation. Finally, membership in regional organizations was also found to have a stabilizing effect; countries with relatively few international memberships were almost twice as likely to experience state failure as those with many memberships.
Taken together, these findings suggest a broader conclusion regarding the role of religion in state failure in the Muslim world: although religion clearly is very salient to politics in many Muslim countries, the key drivers of state failure in the Muslim world are, in most respects, the same as those in the rest of the world.
This doesn’t look good for Iraq, eh?
Iraq has two major sects, divided by ethnicity: Sunni Kurd (about 20%), Sunni Arab (about 15%) and Shi’a (60-65%). About 3% are Christian, Jew and some other faiths. I don’t know if that counts as moderate diversity.
Iraq is a member of many international and regional organizations, though none seem able to address Iraq’s ongoing conflict.
Based on this evidence, it does seem as if Iraq is at significant risk of state failure.
Of course, the key question is whether the US troop presence increases or reduces this risk. Unfortunately, none of the information I’ve gather in this post can answer that question definitively.
Filed as: Iraq state failure