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America mulls way out of Iraq quagmire

Washington, Dec. 2: Nearly three years after the US army triumphantly rode into Baghdad toppling statues of Saddam Hussein and disbanding one of the biggest standing armies in the world, the Bush administration is about to abandon its ambitious goal of remaking Iraq in the image of a model, unified democracy.

The net result of furious diplomatic activity across three continents in recent weeks may be that the Americans will reposition the bulk of their forces in Iraq in relatively peaceful Kurdistan, where Uncle Sam is not just welcomed, but sought after as a beacon of hope for eventual independence for Kurds.

The US will also entrench its military might in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on a long-term basis, according to extensive background conversations with sources here, who are struggling to find a way out of the quagmire in which US forces are caught up in Iraq.

India, which unequivocally told the Bush administration during the invasion of Iraq that it would stay out of the enterprise, is once again having to take a hard look at the impending changes in West Asia.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he fears three civil wars in his region: in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine and that its impact will resonate among Muslims world-wide.

The Saudis have taken the unusual step of warning that it will intervene forcefully in Iraq to prevent any ethnic cleansing of Sunnis by Shia militias. Typically, the House of Saud got one of its prominent citizens to write this warning in a newspaper article and then deny that it was Saudi policy.

But the author of the article, Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to the government in Riyadh, also warned that the Saudi strategy would be to pump out so much oil and bring down world oil prices so that Iran is unable to fund Shia groups in Iraq any more.

A civil war in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine and any Saudi intervention on behalf of Iraqi Sunnis is bound to find an echo in mosques and madarsas in India — both Sunni and Shia — and will have long-term implications.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is widely regarded as the real president of the US, flew to Riyadh a few days ago for urgent talks with key men in the Saudi royal family. There are suggestions here that Cheney proposed the creation of a new alliance in West Asia: the six Gulf Co-operation Council states, pro-Washington Arab governments such as Egypt and Jordan, the US and its Nato allies, with Israel lending support from the outside without actually becoming a part of the alliance.

According to these suggestions, this would be a pan-Sunni alliance aimed at Iran, which is at its strongest at any time since the Islamic revolution 27 years ago, with powerful proxies in Lebanon and Iraq.

Last week, elections in Shia-majority Bahrain, brought fresh gains for Tehran, which considers the Gulf island as part of Iran.

On Wednesday, a 10-member bi-partisan panel is to submit a 100-page report to US President George W. Bush on how to extricate America from Iraq.

In two weeks, an internal administration review reflecting the views of the US state department, the National Security Council and several other key agencies on Iraq will be put up to Bush.

Leaders of the Shia and Sunni communities in Iraq are travelling separately to Washington in the coming days to meet Bush. Kurdish leaders from Iraq have already met him at the White House.

But the view is gaining ground that if the Americans gradually retreat to oil-rich Kurdistan and secure Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the strategic motive of going into Iraq, namely to get hold of its oil, would have been at least partly achieved, albeit at the cost of Bush’s much-trumpeted objective of creating a flourishing string of West Asian democracies.

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