Monday, February 20, 2006

Dangerous Democracy

So we are near the end of the conflict. But the challenge of the peace is now beginning. We took the decision that to leave Iraq in its brutalised state under Saddam was wrong.
- Tony Blair, 14th April 2003
Very nearly three years later, Blair is far more cautious about making rash predictions concerning the end of the conflict. Shame he didn't understand the situation at the time really.

One other point before looking at recent developments. In April 2003 Blair quite clearly said that he took the decision to support regime change in Iraq. This, as we are all too aware, was illegal. The debate about the legality of the war centres on disarmament. Some say it was illegal and some say it wasn't but no-one argues that regime change was a legally acceptable goal of the invasion. And yet, here is Blair explicitly stating that this was his goal. He's actually done this any number of times since the invasion. In April 2005, for example, he told Paxman "I took the decision to remove him [Saddam]".

Just how do you prosecute someone for ordering an illegal act in this context? International criminal court? The evidence is fairly compelling what with Blair saying these things on national television. Seriously.

Today, of course, only an idiot would argue that we're nearing the end of the conflict. The idea that democracy would magically bring peace and stability to Iraq has been exposed for the simplistic nonsense it was. In another day of violence, many people have been killed. The violence shows no sign of abating.

And the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been speaking out today. His comments serve to emphasise just how stupid Blair and Bush were to believe that democracy would be the cure to Iraq's woes.
The ministers of interior, defence, national intelligence, the national security adviser have to be people who are non- sectarian, broadly acceptable, non-militia-related that will work for all Iraqis. The United States is investing billions of dollars into these forces, military and police forces of Iraq. American taxpayers expect their money to be spent properly. We are not going to invest the resources of the American people into forces run by people who are sectarian...
Oh, check him and his handbag threats. That Khalilzad has decided to bring out the biggest stick he's got left just emphasises how he feels his efforts have been progressing so far. The basic problem is, of course, that a very large majority of Iraqis did vote for sectarian politicians, be they Shiites, Kurds or Sunnis. Very few voted for secular non-sectarian parties. That is the reality of the situation and Khalilzad's opinion as to what Iraq needs doesn't change that in the slightest.

Those who knew a little about Iraqi society realised that this would be the outcome of elections before the invasion had occurred. They warned that in a country with a majority Shiite population which had long been brutally oppressed, the introduction of democracy would transfer power to religious Shiite groups. They further warned that many of these religious Shiites had close associations with Iran and that the invasion and the demoratic process which would follow would increase Iranian influence in the region. These warnings were ignored by Bush and Blair for reasons I've yet to fathom. Even as someone opposed to the invasion, it does not gladden me that the "doomsayers" were right, far from it, but right they were.

Now Khalilzad must attempt to subvert the democratic will of the Iraqi people in order to get the sectarian parties out of the key ministries (and particularly the interior ministry as mentioned here many times before). The irony is all the more bitter for the ever mounting pile of dead bodies it's constructed on.

Khalilzad is also attempting to do something about the militia groups inside Iraq. In an extremely unusual step for a US government official, he went some way towards recognising the influence that these groups now exert over the population in Iraq.
They cannot have two justice systems, one that is based on the Iraqi constitution law and another on Shari'a law.
For most pro-war commentors, particulary in the US, this is a problem which has been Orwelled out of existence. The fact that Shiite militias are imposing their own version of Shari'a law on the population of the areas they control is a non-event. I strongly suspect that the fact that the US ambassador has confirmed that this is happening will simply be ignored. Those Iraqi's who've had their businesses attacked and closed down, and those Iraqi women who are now forced to follow Shari'a law on pain of violence or even death do not have the luxury of ignoring these issues. And now, it appears, Khalilzad, for no doubt sound political reasons, feels he can no longer ignore the power of the militias either. He wants them disbanded. Good luck with that. Most of them are the armed wings of the politicians who've just been elected. He might as well have tried to persuade the IRA or the UDA to disband in the late 70's. Actually, that would probably have been a lot easier.

For added irony, the ambassador added a few digs at the Iranians. He accused them of providing assistance to various militia groups. This is something the Iranians undoubtedly do but when these complaints come from the ambassador of a country with 100,000+ troops stationed in Iraq, it's hard not to just snort derisively. His attempt to link the Iranians to Sunni insurgent groups is pushing credibility levels beyond acceptable limits. And if you don't snort at that, here's the ultimate test. Reacting to Iranian calls for British troops to be withdrawn from Basra, Khalilzad dismissed this, saying "Basra is Iraqi territory the last time I checked the map". Yeah, you maybe wanna tell your boss that, guy.

The truth is that Iraq probably has a better chance of a peaceful future if the US ambassador succeeds in his efforts to block the power of the democratically elected Iraqi politicians of the UIA. The odds of success, however, are long indeed.

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