August 01, 2007
The Way To Go in Iraq
Peter Galbraith's piece on "The Way To Go" in Iraq is about the best I've seen at digging beneath daily outrages and promises and laying out the underlying tensions tearing apart the society. For instance, the other day, I saw, and recommended highly, the film No End in Sight. The movie spends a lot of time on the tragic mistakes made in the immediate aftermath of the war: Decommissioning the Iraqi army, allowing looting, De-Baathification, etc. But as Galbraith explains, though the American's may have accelerated the civil war through policies like De-Baathification, it's not at all clear that a different way forward could have prevented it:
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim leads the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC, previously known as SCIRI), which is Iraq's leading Shiite party and a critical component of Prime Minister al-Maliki's coalition. He is the sole survivor of eight brothers. During Saddam's rule Baathists executed six of them. On August 29, 2003, a suicide bomber, possibly linked to the Baathists, blew up his last surviving brother, and predecessor as SCIRI leader, at the shrine of Ali in Najaf. Moqtada al-Sadr, Hakim's main rival, comes from Iraq's other prominent Shiite religious family. Saddam's Baath regime murdered his father and two brothers in 1999. Earlier, in April 1980, the regime had arrested Moqtada's father-in-law and the father-in-law's sister—the Grand Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr and Bint al-Huda. While the ayatollah watched, the Baath security men raped and killed his sister. They then set fire to the ayatollah's beard before driving nails into his head. De-Baathification is an intensely personal issue for Iraq's two most powerful Shiite political leaders, as it is to hundreds of thousands of their followers who suffered similar atrocities.
This is a society with, shall we say, some baggage. But the Surge was supposed to give them time to work all that out. By flooding the country with American troops and temporarily stabilizing the security situation, the Bush administration hoped to give the Iraqi government time to make progress on political reconciliation. Well, the Iraqi government went on vacation, so that's unlikely. But more to the point, the substance of "reconciliation" -- oil-sharing laws, revising the Constitution to create more centralization, limited re-Baathification -- doesn't quite address the underlying tensions splitting the society:
Sunni insurgents object to Iraq being run by Shiite religious parties, which they see as installed by the Americans, loyal to Iran, and wanting to define Iraq in a way that excludes the Sunnis. Sunni fundamentalists consider the Shiites apostates who deserve death, not power. The Shiites believe that their democratic majority and their historical suffering under the Baathist dictatorship entitle them to rule. They are not inclined to compromise with Sunnis, whom they see as their longstanding oppressors, especially when they believe most Iraqi Sunnis are sympathetic to the suicide bombers that have killed thousands of ordinary Shiites. The differences are fundamental and cannot be papered over by sharing oil revenues, reemploying ex-Baathists, or revising the constitution. The war is not about those things.
The war, in other words, is not about anything we can control, or even particularly effect.
This same post, after considering some differences of intensity and length of the rancor, can be applied to the Israel Palestine war. Yet I do see people taking moral positions or sides in that war, or saying that Americans should make some kind of effort to lessen the violence and injustice.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 1, 2007 11:31:35 AM
Unitary Iraq is gone. It could only be held together by a strong man employing the full extent of a totalitarian government, a large military led by one religious faction (Sunni), and a huge security apparatus to repress dissent.
The one major fact that Bush/Cheney can't deal with is that the Shia majority will prefer warm and close relations with Iran - a block of oil power that could rival Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
This isn't Vietnam. That was about Vietnamese nationalism and communist ideology.
Iraq is about the folly by the Brits post WWI and Bush/Cheney in 2003 in thinking that lines on a map define a nation. Once the scab of Sunni dictatorial rule over the Kurds and Shia was ripped from the wound of historic Shia/Sunni conflict, the bleeding was inevitable, and can't be papered over by power-sharing agreements among those who won't share power.
The interesting question is whether a resolution takes the form of three nations or a revived autocracy under another strong man yet to emerge. We can't handle the truth, but that is the truth.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 1, 2007 12:21:41 PM
Yes Bob, but you don't see people saying we should put American troops in the West Bank though.
The explanation of harbored resentment simply explains why a situation is as it is. But either way you slice it, the violence brought by this resentment accomplishes nothing but death and destruction, in both cases.
Posted by: Adrock | Aug 1, 2007 2:12:37 PM
"Yes Bob, but you don't see people saying we should put American troops in the West Bank though."
The West Bank doesn't have 20% percent of the world oil reserves, or very powerful neighbors with passionate interests.
The American/Saudi relationship with Iraq reminds me of the Israeli/Syrian relationship with Lebanon. We may not be able to resolve the sectarian conflicts in Iraq, and may indeed be part of the cause, but our interests in Iraq will remain compelling. I don't think the Iraqis will submit to a strongman, and I don't think the Shia can effectively rule Iraq anymore than Hezbollah can rule Lebanon.
Bush may or may not have committed us irrevocably to a major military presence in Iraq, but an America that withdraws from Iraq will be an unrecognizably revolutionized America. Unlikely.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 1, 2007 3:26:56 PM
Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 7:53:07 AM
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