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Failure in Iraq Could Lead to Middle East Meltdown

The Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former House Foreign Affairs Chairman Lee Hamilton (D.-Ind.), portrayed in stark terms the potential consequences if the U.S. fails to establish stability in Iraq. Here is an excerpt:

If the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe for Iraq, the United States, the region, and the world.

Continuing violence could lead toward greater chaos, and inflict greater suffering upon the Iraqi people. A collapse of Iraq’s government and economy would further cripple a country already unable to meet its people’s needs. Iraq’s security forces could split along sectarian lines. A humanitarian catastrophe could follow as more refugees are forced to relocate across the country and the region. Ethnic cleansing could escalate. The Iraqi people could be subjected to another strongman who flexes the political and military muscle required to impose order amid anarchy. Freedoms could be lost.

Other countries in the region fear significant violence crossing their borders. Chaos in Iraq could lead those countries to intervene to protect their own interests, thereby perhaps sparking a broader regional war. Turkey could send troops into northern Iraq to prevent Kurdistan from declaring independence. Iran could send in troops to restore stability in Southern Iraq and perhaps gain control of oil fields. The regional influence of Iran could rise at a time when that country is on a path to producing nuclear weapons.

Ambassadors from neighboring countries told us that they fear the distinct possibility of Sunni-Shia clashes across the Islamic world. Many expressed a fear of Shia insurrections—perhaps fomented by Iran—in Sunni-ruled states. Such a broader sectarian conflict could open a Pandora’s box of problems—including the radicalization of populations, mass movements of populations, and regime changes—that might take decades to play out. If the instability in Iraq spreads to the other Gulf States, a drop in oil production and exports could lead to a sharp increase in the price of oil and thus could harm the global economy.

Terrorism could grow.

—The Iraq Study Group Report, pages 37-38

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