Just what does victory mean?
We seem to think in terms of a stable government and a secure country, largely devoid of IED bombs and assassinations, as being the final ending place in Iraq. Somewhere along the path we step down and slowly withdraw from confrontations with the Islamofascists, and the tribal militias that currently plague the nation. The Shias, Sunnis and Kurds have been at each other’s throats for centuries however, and it appears that our deposing of Saddam has done little more than to change the dynamics of these ancient conflicts, and to paper them over temporarily with a national unity government, together with a somewhat shaky army and police force. Real loyalties are still found within the tribal leadership of each sect, and their private militias are not being disarmed and disbanded.
In fact, it is hard to see that the general population has been disarmed to any real extent, because large caches of arms are still being discovered all over Iraq. Hence the ever present threat of civil war, which some say is no longer a threat, but a fact. Our idea is apparently to back up this government, continue to train its army and police force, and bet on the eventual peaceful solidification of the nation by the national unity leaders in Iraq, and the forces they have available to stop insurgencies.
There could be some shifts in the governmental arrangements coming that would give significant autonomy to the Shias and Sunnis just as the Kurds have had for some time. The national government would be the manager of the armed forces, the national police, and the oil reserves and contracts, with the proceeds to be shared between the three sects.
It is obvious that the sharing rule itself would be hotly contested, with the Shias claiming a share proportional to their population, and the Sunnis and Kurds demanding at least an equal share. Add the spice of continuing, habitual corruption in the government and the business sector, and we have the makings of a very long and arduous conflict that would continue to spark thoughts of insurrection by the sects, if not outright war.
We do act as a stabilizing force now, and so long as the army and police forces grow in reliability and loyalty to the idea of national unity, there is some hope of reaching the end goal. The catch is, however, that we may well be trapped into providing that stabilizing force for a far longer time than we want, and we would take more casualties as a result. To be credible, this residual American force would have to be substantial, on the order of two to three divisions of troops, or perhaps 50,000 men for years and years. That would be our cost to follow through. Our cost for not following through to a victorious end would be even more deadly in both lives and treasure lost on all sides, as the Shias and Sunnis would battle it out to a bloody end after we leave. Either sect being the winner would be a disaster for us: after slaughtering most of the Sunni, the Shias would align with Iran to create an oil kingdom against us; while the Sunnis would slaughter most of the Shias, and probably align with Russia for yet another oil kingdom against us. The retreat this implies for the US would be a huge victory for the Islamofascists, and a strong impetus for them to do it again and again around the world, as, in their eyes, we have not been able to stop them.
It would appear, then, that keeping the lid on Iraq, supporting their national government, helping to neutralize the militias, and having some say in enforcing their oil contracts with us would be much to our benefit, and to the benefit of thousands and thousands of Iraqi who would most likely die if we withdrew. It is also of great benefit to the US to have some permanent bases in Iraq from which to project our power in the Middle East for some time to come. Iran is a trouble spot of the first magnitude, thus our bases in Iraq would be invaluable should war break out against Iran in the next few years.