Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Iraq Political Situation - Analysis

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The most influential politician in Iraq issued a veiled warning Wednesday to Sunni Arabs that Shiites would not allow substantive amendments to the country's new constitution, including to the provision that keeps the central government weak in favor of strong provincial governments.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, said in an address in honor of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha that provincial governments will remain strong in the constitution, which can be amended for four months after the next government is installed.

"The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution. This constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people," he said. "It is our responsibility to form Baghdad province and the southern Iraq provinces."

Sunni Arabs place great stock in their ability to change the constitution, one of the reasons their politician urged the minority to turn out in large numbers during the Dec. 15 election.

They want a stronger central government because the constitution now bestows most power, including control over oil profits, to provincial governments. The Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north control most of Iraq's oil. There are few oil reserves in central Iraq, where Sunnis live.

To win their support for the new constitution, which was approved in an Oct. 15 vote, Sunni Arabs were promised they could propose amendments to it during the first four months of the new parliament's tenure. That government is expected to be seated around the end of February. Amendments need two-thirds approval in parliament and a majority in a national referendum.

In short, there are two major issues that will be driving the new government when it is seated:

1) Federalism
2) Oil Revenue Sharing

These go hand in hand, really, since the major natural resources for Iraq are in Kurdistan and the Shia South, plus, Baghdad being its own province will leave almost all power out of Sunni hands. The issue of federalism might not be so bad except that these provinces fully intended to keep all the profits for themselves and that is just not going to work. The Sunni only agreed to the constititution because they plan on changing it and part of that included the section on oil profit sharing.

The Sunni also prefer a central strong government that would provide security for all of the people and hopefully be more aminable to keeping the Shia from continuing reprisals against them. Of course, the Shia are thinking along the lines of Balkanization where they can have their own state and the fractious, dangerous Sunni who continue to blow up people can stay in their own. For the Sunni, it's going to take a real test of their abilities to control their insurgents and tone down the violence since continued violence at this point is counter productive to inducing the Shia that there is a viable, healthy and secure reason to NOT break off into their own federal state.

This is where I believe the Sunni may have realized that they made a few mistakes. The big mistake, aside from letting Zarqawi run wild in their area, was in going hell bent for leather insurgent in the first place instead of organized political activity. Secondly, when they resorted to violence it was often fractious with little political point accept to kill as many Shia as possible, which may have its own political point, but not when the Shia own the army, the police, their own militia and 60% of the population.

As one recent analyst said, the Sunni may have believed their own press, imagining that, because they were able to control Iraq for so long they were either far larger in numbers (ie, not a minority or less of a minority group than they really were) or, more likely, they imagined themselves to be so superior to the Shia and Kurds they thought they could simply bring the others to their knees.

In either case, they may be reaping what they had sown with the help of their Islamist friend: sectarianism where everybody is no longer Iraqi but is a member of a separate group who happens to live in Iraq.

Now we will see how badly that the Shia want peace since, if they totally hold this line of federalism without conceding some economic and physical protection to the Sunni, the Sunni may figure they have nothing left to lose and begin civil war where they will certainly get assistance from Assad and probably the back channels of Saudi Arabia, while the Kurds stand guard on their own borders and the Shia get help from Iran. One thing would be sure, at the end of the day, there would be a lot less people left living in Iraq.

Now, this is not dire predictions of all out civil war. The Shia may simply be doing what anyone in power does, strengthen your position and negotiate down. Let's hope they are willing to compromise for the sake of peace and not decide that they are now the super humans and the rest can piss off.

For the Kurds, they win either way except of course, they want the oil revenue to line their pockets and fund their dreams, otherwise, they already enjoy the freedom of federalist democracy. The only thing they will be interested in is keeping the oil, gas and sea port lines open (being a land locked area).

As for the US, we have our cards to play in this situation as well.

1) Money
2) Military security

We may need the Iraqis to become peaceful and help us decrease our burden and re-align for the next confrontation, but we have plans that would allow us to do that even if Iraq went crazy. If they don't work towards compromise and secure their country, we can withhold or block funds. Most people already heard that we had cut off funding for the rebuilding of Iraq. Many people think that is a sign of "defeat" and recognizing it can't be done. However, those folks totally missed the point of that action. It's another step in the political process.

We take it out of the Pentagon's hands, we give it to State. Now State works to provide aid through USAID, the IMF and a few other organizations which we control or are very powerful in. Now it is not a matter of obligation by us, but a matter of obligation by Iraq to do their part. Further, they are now a sovereign nation with a freely independent elected government. Now all negotiations and situations are a matter of state to state function, not occupation.

In many respects, it strengthens our political hand which we need right now at this stage of the insurgency. It does weaken somewhat our military situation since now it is reliant more on the Iraqis, but even that is a plus since we can now tell them that we will not fund, equip or train their forces if things do not improve. Dangerous for us, but worse for them since we have not given them the type of equipment and training yet that makes them completely capable of being an overwhelming force against one another. Instead, they have equal equipment and training and the only difference would be numbers.

So, contrary to the Fisher report below, this is "staying the course" and taking the right actions to defeat an insurgency and declare victory.

I think we may have seen the first birthing pains of our new doctrine, both military and political.Powerful politician says Iraq's Shiites won't accept changes to constitution

Cordesman in the CSM echoes some of my thoughts:

The debate has been far too ideological," says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies here. "It doesn't prepare US citizens for all the contingencies when we might have to leave. It has been far too unwilling to ask: What really happens next?"

In his speeches, Mr. Bush has refused even to consider the possibility of failure - such as a political collapse, a deepening of civil strife, or the disintegration of the Iraqi Army. In many respects, positive pronouncements are natural - and not altogether unwise. "The president shouldn't go out and talk about all the ways we can lose," says Dr. Cordesman.[snip]

"If Iraq falls apart, that's a defeat," he says. "There's not a lot you can do by sending in more American troops."

This not to suggest that America should pull out - "It's a war we should win if we possibly can," he says - but rather it is an acknowledgment that policymakers must prepare for every eventuality. And in some cases, losing in Iraq might make more strategic sense than blindly staying the course at all costs.

"If the country moves into a major civil war, we can't afford to take sides," he says.

It is a controversial notion, even among analysts. And to be sure, Iraq presents different challenges than did Vietnam. "In Vietnam, you always had an alternate government," says Dan Byman of the Brookings Institution here, noting that when the US-backed South Vietnamese government fell, North Vietnam assumed control. If Iraq's government falls, he adds, "chaos brings a different set of circumstances."

And this from another analyst:

A lawless Iraq could become a much greater threat to the US than Afghanistan ever was as a nest for terrorist training and activity. Or it could destabilize the world's foremost oil- producing region. "Losing in Iraq has considerable costs," says Dr. Byman.

Yet he also suggests that the notion of winning and losing in Iraq has been overly simplified. It is probable that at some point "complete victory" might come into conflict with pragmatism, as America wrestles with when to cede its authority to a government still seeking its way.

Says Byman: "How satisfied are you with progress and not with absolutes?"

Iraq the Model had stated on January 9:

The surge in violence has immediately influenced the political situation and in a seriously dangerous manner. The Accord Front and the UIA started exchanging accusations; the UIA is frankly accusing the Front and al-Mutlaq of standing behind terror attacks. In a press conference yesterday Jawad al-Maliki said that killings are targeting people according to their sectarian backgrounds and accused Sunni parties of feeding terror to gain political gains and apply pressure on the government. A security committee of the government is calling the coalition forces to offer “more freedom for Iraqi security forces in chasing terrorists and criminals”.

Amid this, negotiations have reached a standstill. Actually what we are hearing now is announcements and claims from this or that party but there are no more joint press conferences like we used to see till recently.

The Accord Front didn’t remain silent after those accusation, Tariq al-Hashimi and Adnan al-Dulaimi condemned the terror attacks “that target all Iraqis regardless of their sect or religion”.
Al-Hashimi said they want the new president to be a Sunni Arab and declared they-the Front-will not accept a renewal for certain UIA ministers “especially Bayan Jabor”.
The Sadrists-who we mentioned in a previous post that they were trying to ally with the Islamic Party-expressed their readiness to accept a president from the Accord Front and continued their support for Jafari’s nomination for PM.

The Kurdish politicians aren’t commenting but a press release for the PUK made it clear that the Kurds “are ready to cooperate with whoever believes in applying federalism in Iraq”. A statement that makes one think that no deal is final as of now.

Interestingly, Iraq the Model felt it was the "darkest times" they had ever reported. I think this is fairly representative of the stress of the moment. This is make or break time and this election was to seat a permanent government for the next four years. The brothers, as well as several other Iraq bloggers had been hoping that the seculars would have a better showing in these elections or at least knock the Shia Islamists off their majority pedestal by not voting "sectarian", but it didn't happen. Understandably, they are feeling a little tense over the situation. However, there is hope considering what each party wants, needs and hopes for something better and none of them can really govern without the others.

Included in their "darkest times" analogy, was a comment about reported corruption:

The election commission is also coming under attack from al-Mada paper, the respectable newspaper has published a lengthy report supported with names, dates and figures that accuses top commission officials of corruption and skimming million of dollars from the money that was allocated for media campaigns that were conducted shortly before the January and December election.

    One example was a contract for producing and broadcasting public service TV clips with a total of 4,666,000 $. The contract was signed in Jan-3-2005, 27 days before the first election day! The contract didn’t specify the number of items produced, their broadcast time, the stations where they will appear on or the number of times each item is broadcast!

    Another contract for printing posters with a total cost of 300,000 $ was signed and paid for without even mentioning the number of posters or their technical specifications in the contract. Moreover, the amount of the contract was cashed to the commission’s media officer and not to the print house as it should be.

However, this may be a good sign that at least there is some sort of internal auditing and it is being reported. Something I'm quite sure would never have happened in Iraq before unless Saddam was getting ready to kill or jail an "opponent" and was hoping to discredit him before the swarm.

Things can still go either way, but it's arguably better than last year at this time.

Then there's this piece by EJ Dionne, still clamoring about the potential for civil war - It's no longer Vietnam, now it's Somalia:

"You can only help people if you have sufficient resources and they have sufficient political unity and will to be helped," declared Anthony Cordesman, the well-known military analyst. "And we should not risk American lives without far better planning, intelligence and understanding of exactly what it is we're trying to do and of the risks."

One prominent senator declared: "If the Congress voted right now, we would vote to pull our troops out." Another warned against "a vague, open-ended, humanitarian mission, gradually taking sides against an urban guerrilla force, having no exit strategy before you go in, having troops on the ground before you've defined their mission, and a series of ad hoc decisions."

But the president insisted that we should "finish the work we set out to do," and he won praise from an official on the ground who declared: "It would be a disaster if the United States pulled out now."

All these eerily contemporary comments came from an Oct. 10, 1993, broadcast of ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley." The participants were reflecting on administration policy in Somalia a week after a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by rebel forces. [snip]

There are many flaws in comparisons between Somalia and Iraq, but one similarity should not be forgotten. If the United States is not careful, our troops will find themselves in the middle of a full-blown Iraqi civil war. This could make President Bush's talk about "victory" -- he used the word at least 13 times in his speech on the war yesterday -- seem hollow.[snip]

Maybe Bush, who yesterday reminded the Shiites and the Kurds of the importance of protecting minority rights "against the tyranny of the majority," is listening. Somalia offers a sobering lesson of what can happen to American forces when our government blunders into the middle of a civil war. We dare not do it again. And we had better see the warning signs.

Too bad he didn't list out what all the "many flaws". The primary difference between Iraq and Somalia is that Somalia was in the middle of a civil war when we decided to intervene. There was no government, no elections, no political process beyond war lords with guns staking out their territory and stealing the food from the people who were systematically starving while the militia men sat around sucking up ju-ju weed to get high and die because there was nothing else. Obviously, there are still militias in Iraq, but there are political parties, political processes a government, a central military and police to insure some sort of stability and security unlike Somalia where the only security was whether you had a gun and how close you were to your chosen war lord.

While there is an insurgency in Iraq and foreign terrorists, there is no "civil war" like Somalia or any other state.

In Iraq, the different groups know that the future of wealth, power and stability comes from the political process. Most of these groups know that civil war means that the money and power are gone or at least devolve into little petty fiefdoms where they will preside over ruins and the dead. In Somalia, it was already petty fiefdoms with no money or power and there was no immediate future where it would be anymore than than ruins and the dead. Thus, the warlords were quite happy to preside over fiefdoms of blood and rubble.

In Somalia, we went in as "humanitarian assistance" with little armor, force protection or men. Secondly, in Somalia, we were not prepared to use force of arms to settle the situation as we have in Iraq. In Somalia, we had no allies except the foreign countries and NGOs we came in with. Obviously, in Iraq, it's a whole different ball of wax.

In Somalia, we were not prepared to spend money to develop political processes, infrastructure, business or security. We've definitely put a lot into Iraq and have, even with the over all slow process and continued insurgency, definitely put it back on the right track (of course, in Somalia, there was very little left to rebuild, Iraq had something).

In Somalia, we weren't thinking about Islamist terrorists taking over a country with weapons systems, natural resources worth billions or land where they could set up shop to kill us (although, on that last one, speaking of being caught by surprised, we should have been). In Iraq, the stakes are much different. We know the Islamists are there. They've already killed 2987 of our people and many more Iraqis as well as killed a sizable portion of our over 2180 troops. We know that if the Islamists get any part of this territory, it changes the whole future of the region, our economy and security, as well as any plans for the future of the war on "terror" (Islamists).

In Iraq, we know whose there and what happens if we give it to them. We weren't nearly as informed in 1993.

So, while Dionne's main point about not getting involved in a civil war is well taken, this administration is at least twenty steps ahead of Clinton in 1993, all-be-it, learned the hard way.

Iraq is neither Vietnam nor Somalia. It's Iraq and some people need to get used to that idea. They'd probably sleep a lot better at night and eat less anti-acids.

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