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October 16, 2005

Iraq the Muddle

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

It looks like the Iraqi Constitution is going to barely meet the requirements for passage -- majority support overall, and 1/3 support in at least 15 of the 18 provinces. I wish I could hope that this is a hopeful sign. The Sunnis came out fairly strongly against it, and it's unclear that they'll regard this as an election justly lost. And after reading the article that Kevin Drum linked about Shi'ites entering the Iraqi army for purpose of slaughtering Sunnis, it's hard to feel good about the future of interfaith relations in Iraq.

My guess is that the majority of Americans still see Iraqi Muslims more or less as an cohesive ethnoreligious unit, and not as a strife-torn collection of Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, and Turkomen. I'm pretty confident that this misperception will all-too slowly change, as so many false beliefs about Iraq have. It's this misperception of Iraqi unity that permits the president's "As Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" nonsense. What if it's a bunch of Shi'ites who stand up, proudly donning Iraqi Army uniforms, and rushing off to kill some Sunnis? And as for leaving when the elected government tells us to -- what if the elected Shi'ite government encourages us to stay and make sure the Sunnis whom they've cut out of the oil wealth don't cause any trouble?

After botching the early stages of reconstruction and losing whatever chance we had to lead Iraqis in some novel direction, we made the only realistic choice and threw in our lot with the Shi'ite government. Sistani is to be congratulated for maneuvering us into this spot, by encouraging his people not to violently resist the America occupation, and pushing us towards democratic elections that his majority would dominate. Now, in a complete unbalance of power, a Shi'ite-US-Kurdish alliance is facing off against the Sunni minority. The Sunnis resort to asymmetric warfare with car bombs and terrorism, and everyone rides the cycle of revenge.

At the core of the argument for withdrawal is the knowledge that our hands are tied. A lot of bad things are happening and are going to happen in Iraq. From the decaying state of women's rights, to the training of a new generation of international terrorists, to the deaths of our soldiers, to the deaths of so many Iraqis, to the prospects for far greater slaughter in a civil war, there's a lot of really bad stuff on the table. In order to avert some of these problems (people being blown up by Sunni terrorism) we support our Shi'ite allies, allowing them to exacerbate the other problems.

The most important priority now is averting civil war (or, if you prefer, keeping the civil war from going completely out of control). This requires that Shi'ites be willing to make concessions and that Sunnis be willing to engage in the political system. Proposals to withdraw, I think, are among the few effective cards we have in our hands here. Shi'ites need to know that aggressive actions against Sunnis are not actions we'll stand behind. Sunnis need to know that the best path to getting rid of us is not one that involves car bombs. Taking some nominally uplifting occasion -- say, the ratification of a constitution -- as the occasion for announcement of a withdrawal plan would be good domestically, since it would mollify those who worry that we might embolden insurgents by announcing defeat.

Sadly, this is all academic. As the votes are totaled, the Bush Administration is going to proclaim ratification a great success and use it in an argument for "staying the course." Bush is too insulated from criticism and reality to change anything for the rest of his term, and all these things are under executive control. It's hard to see what a 2006 House victory could accomplish here. By 2008, goodness knows what Iraq will look like, and how little control we'll have over the situation. Even if our Democratic nominee is someone who professes to oppose withdrawal (and perhaps if we get a Republican who publicly oppses withdrawal!) I'm guessing that a fairly rapid withdrawal is what we'll actually get.

October 16, 2005 in Iraq | Permalink

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Comments

Now, in a complete unbalance of power, a Shi'ite-US-Kurdish alliance is facing off against the Sunni minority.

Hold up there, tiger. Are we a bit unclear on how democracies are supposed to work? Iraq tried Sunni Baathist rule, and it didn't turn out too well for the supermajority of the population that wasn't born Sunni.

They've now had two elections, which even Zaraqawi admits terribly erodes his base of support and his legitimacy. It is also quite interesting how you chastize others for treating Iraq as a monolith, when you make the same assumption of the Sunnis. they did not vote as a monolith, by any stretch of the imagination.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee | Oct 17, 2005 1:38:45 AM

Are we a bit unclear on how democracies are supposed to work?

Last I checked, democracies shouldn't be turning religious minorities into second-class citizens and having them (perhaps rightly) fear getting the same end of the stick as the Bosnian Muslims and Rwandan Tutsis.

Posted by: Dustbin Of History | Oct 17, 2005 4:20:47 AM

I think most of this post is correct except for "My guess is that the majority of Americans still see Iraqi Muslims more or less as an cohesive ethnoreligious unit, and not as a strife-torn collection of Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, and Turkomen."

The President's poll numbers on Iraq and in general are now at all time lows this past week. Yes, it does surprise me that some people still believe that who we're fighting over there are mosty foreign terrorists, considering how far from the truth that is. I do not think its the general consensus if you polled Americans. Just from my personal encounters with others, I've found that people are aware of who we are fighting "over there" and find unacceptable the current situation. I do not that this ratification will reverse that trend in the slightest nor do I think its enough to give Bush a free pass on stay the course. It may slow the rising withdrawal tide, but after a week or so of more suicide bombings, any stoppage will be overrun once again.

Posted by: Adrock | Oct 17, 2005 1:21:33 PM

Americans-in-denial say that all the terrorists there are foreigners who came in just for the purpose of causing trouble.

Sunnis-in-denial say that all the Shi'ite's who are voting against them are foreigners who came across the border to help the Shi'ite's win government and then give control of it to Iran. They do not even accept the numerical majority of the Shi'ite government.

When we are dealing with people who lie to themselves and lack any objective institutions to correct themselves, we can't just expect that either Sunni's or Rumfeld will wake up one day and accept that they lost and move on.

Posted by: Tony Vila | Oct 17, 2005 3:14:11 PM

Americans-in-denial say that all the terrorists there are foreigners who came in just for the purpose of causing trouble.

You forgot their other favorite: "Baathists."

Posted by: Dustbin Of History | Oct 17, 2005 8:35:02 PM

The most important priority now is averting civil war

This may be true for those of us who appreciate peace and stability, but I wonder if Bush and his supporters agree. Going into this war, there were three possible outcomes: a liberal republic, another secular dictatorship, or a civil war. The fourth possibility is "quagmire"--but we can end that by simply withdrawing from the country, so it will never happen if it's worse for us than the other three options (which I think that it is).

So why do I think that the Bushies may welcome a civil war as being better than Husseien?

1) They are rash. They just want to mix things up, figuring that we'll come out on top. In other words, they are willing to play Bin Laden's game.

2) They want the Muslim world to fight against itself as a way of distracting the terrorists.

3) They want the Muslim world to fight against itself as a way of teaching them tolerance (similar to how Christian tolerance came at the end of extensive sectarian warfare)

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