Thursday, December 22, 2005

Now with Graphics

It's turning into yet another Iraq blog round here at the moment (sort of like the very lazy man's Brian Haw). Other topics will be subjected to my semi-coherent scrutiny in due course. The whole nuclear power thing is still outstanding for a start.

Alas though, it's impossible to resist mentioning that Tony and Donny have both been in Iraq today. Blair is "encouraged" by the security situation apparently. So encouraged indeed, that the visit was kept secret and he spent the entire lightning visit inside a heavily defended military compound.

If you're encouraged by the security situation Mr Blair, I recommend taking a stroll around the centre of Basra (with plenty of bodyguards of course, let's not be unreasonable). I'm sure very many people there would like to thank you personally and it seems such a shame to deny them that opportunity. Until that happens, you can, frankly, take your meaningless platitudes and piss off.

Speaking to the troops, he said:
The important thing is to try and help this country become the democracy its people want it to be.
I think he might be simple.

It seems that some people still don't understand what the problem actually is in Iraq. There seems to be an idea that everything is going to be alright because the Sunnis and the Shiites both want a united Iraq. (The Kurds mostly do want to be independent in due course.) There's no disputing that both groups want a united Iraq but that's missing the point. They do not both want the same kind of united Iraq. That's what's causing so much of the trouble. When Blair says he wants to help the "people" of Iraq, he's either ignorant of, or ignoring the fact that there is no consensus on what kind of Iraq "its people" want.

Just to emphasise the point, the secular parties led by Allawi have joined forces with the Sunni Arab parties to demand a new election. This is, if you like, a losers alliance. As things stand, neither of these groups is going to have much influence over the new government. Allawi's coalition (the Iraqi National List) is expected to win only perhaps half the number of seats it had previously held. The INL group has now joined Sunni leaders in threatening to boycott the new parliament. Washington's one time favourite is basically calling the election illegitimate. No-one'll be spinning that into a positive development anytime soon so it'll get ignored to the fullest possible extent.

One of the central underlying problems is the disagreement over the structure of Iraq. This "map" of Iraq is inspired by my admittedly very tenuous grasp of the concept of competition game theory.

Iraq: A map


This is an outrageous simplification of course but I hope it explains something about the current situation.* For clarity, I've split Iraq into 4 equal quarters which is very roughly representative but the real situation is obviously far more complicated than that. It's also important to acknowledge that oil revenues are only one part of the problem.

So, there are four people and each one lives in their own quarter of the country. Mr Sunni doesn't have any oil but the other three do. If we give each of them an equal say and ask them if they want to pool their combined resources or keep them seperate, you'll always get the same result. Mr Sunni will vote for a pooling of resources and Mr Shiite, Mr Shia and Mr Kurd will all vote for seperate control. Seperate control always wins and Mr Sunni always loses. For Mr Sunni to "win", ie get at least some oil money, he would need to persuade the other three (or at least two) to give up some of their own oil revenue. This is not in the best interest of any of the other three unless Mr Sunni has got something he can offer them in return. But he doesn't. He lives in a desert.

How do you solve this problem so that all four men are happy? With great difficulty. I'm not saying it can't be done but I am saying it's a very serious problem. Ignoring it certainly won't help.

* It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway. Its important to remember that this isn't just an intellectual exercise. This has very serious implications for real people and the country they live in.

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