By this time I think it is pretty clear that our leaders, of both parties, are quite happy to believe that they can fix Iraq. (As honorable mention, they seem to think they can fix the Arab / Israeli and Islam / Israeli problems as well).
It is my considered belief that this is an impossible dream.
The reasons are pretty simple. Shia hate Sunni and Sunni think Shiites are dogs. They have for a thousand years and they are not going to change.
The simple fact is that the fundamentally violent and aggressive culture of the area does not allow for thinking along the lines of “live and let live”. It is all about “my way or die”. They are steeped in that point of view from the Koran ( I’ve read it, it’s in there. A lot. Convert the infidel to islam or kill them. Over and over again.) That mind set develops a point of view, and that point of view gets extended to any “Good Muslim” who is not of the same particular sect. For centuries the Sunni killed off the major leaders of the Shiites. Those “holy shrines” that are often being attacked and sometimes destroyed across Iraq are often the tombs of those very Imams.
So to “keep the peace” you have only 2 options that have been shown to work.
1) A “strong man” dictator who crams it down their throat (as his ambition wants full control of the whole area).
2) Separation into separate countries.
(There has also been a 3rd form, which was “domination by an outside colonial power”, but that IMHO is just a variation on #1 where the “strong man” is a foreign empire.)
The situation we are in today is that the USA took out the “strong man” in Iraq (and, one could argue, assisted in Libya and Egypt) and we were trying to do so in Syria. Then we left Iraq and said, basically, “We’re not the new ‘strong man’ so have a nice day…” and refused to be the Imperial New Bastard In Charge. That, then, reverts inevitably to a 1 vs 2 fuss.
The Impossible Dream is just that TPTB thought somehow magically the Shia and Sunni would all just love to play well together and “all just get along” despite a millennium of murder and bad blood. That the desire for a restoration of The State would be stronger than tribal alliances (that have persisted essentially forever) and stronger than the schizm of sects of a thousand years… When it isn’t, and can’t be.
So What Now?
Which puts us back at 1 vs 2. What now?
My simple suggestion would be to ‘recognize the reality’ and move on.
1) Recognize Kurdistan. Give or sell them all the arms they need to defend their turf. Provide air support just to the point where they have recaptured their historical lands. Tell everyone “hands off Kurdistan”. Bomb the hell out of the first guy who ignores the hands off. (That would include telling Turkey to “Go To Hell” when they complain; then ask if they would like to ‘contribute’ a chunk of Kurds and land to Kurdistan…)
2) Inform the Sunni Tribes in ‘that part of Iraq that is outside of the Shia Baghdad slice’ that they are no longer part of Iraq. Inform the world that Iraq was a lousy British bastard idea at the end of W.W.I and it really needs to be wrapped up now. As Jordan is 95% Sunni and they are butted right up against Sunni Iraq with little hope of that Sunni part surviving as a “State” without Baghdad and / or something other than stinking sand with oil under it; they are now part of Jordan. (We might want to inform the King of Jordan about this prior to the announcement…) Provide to Jordan all the help it needs in restoring peace in their new Eastern Provinces. Tell everyone “hands off Jordan”. Bomb the hell out of the first guy who ignores the hands off.
3) The “Rump State” of Iraq is now predominantly Shia. Thank them kindly for their cooperation with the transition, point them to Iran for further aid and assistance.
4) Inform the Syrians that they really ought to consider the same thing, as only about 20% are Shia (that includes only about 15% to 18% of the total population that make up the Alawites who are running the place) Propose to the Sunni portion that they contact Jordan as a potential new home, but would understand if they just want to stay Syria and slice off Alawiteystan…
5) Inform Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and any other Sunni countries that they have “brethren” Sunni in New Jordan and New South Syria that could really use a hand restoring peace (read “exterminating ISIS / ISIL”) and establishing new borders with the Shia rump states.
6) Sell all the bombs, planes, trucks and munitions they need to straighten the place out.
7) Optional: Merge Yemen with Oman or Saudi Arabia, whichever of them can be talked into taking it… (likely to be a hard sell…)
8) Offer relocation and refuge to ALL Christians anywhere in the involved countries. Move them, their stuff, even disassemble and move their churches to a new place. I’d suggest somewhere in West Texas or Arizona as reasonably empty and close to the geography that they are leaving… also buying land for them would be cheap; but if Australia wanted to kick in some of the Outback that would work too. Look, it’s all going to get destroyed and all of them killed anyway, so might as well pack it up and move it. Keep the villages intact. Rather like the Danish village in California (Solvang) that is a great tourist place… They can sell religious stuff to tourists and make a nice living putting on “Jesus in Syria” reenactments…
At the end of this you have a Kurdistan that is likely to be a pretty nice place. A Jordan that is much better off, has some oil, and where a lot of their “refugees” can now be relocated back to where they came from. ISIS / ISIL pretty much crushed by the only people who can do it effectively, their own Sunni governments. The Shia are no longer feeling like they need to be abusive to retain power to prevent being abused in turn, and they can all “get along” with each other while plotting how to bugger the Sunnis. But not having any Sunnis at home to bugger…
Turkey would be pissed at us, but they do that regularly anyway, and, frankly, ought to hand over their Kurds to Kurdistan (along with the land) as then they would be more peaceful too.
Russia would be a bit pissed as the Rump Syria would not be a very useful tool, but they are pissed at us anyway, so no loss.
Iran would be thrilled to have a nice stable Shia corridor and all, and pissed that they would have a stable Sunni landscape between them and the places where they would like to stir up trouble. They would also be pissed to be staring at a large uniform and well armed Sunni wall. But they are pissed at us anyway so no loss.
At that point, we can pack up our tent and go home, handing them all “Arms Merchant To The World” and “Bombs R Us! – reasonable rates” Business Cards on the way out.
The fundamental instability designed into the area by the Avarice Of Kings when the UK set it up to be a mess would be ended. There would be a real potential for peace in the area. No, I would not expect peace, just the potential of it. When the inevitable war between Sunni and Shia breaks out, sell munitions to both sides (cash only, thanks) and wait. Eventually it will be peaceful, one way or the other.