Monday, April 03, 2006

Staying the Course

Some thoughts on the future of Iraq. There's no doubt that the new Iraqi government, if and when it forms, will have enormous problems with legitimacy. As well as the failures to meet basic security and other needs covered by John Robb, there are the sectarian divides to consider.

The compromises which will be necessary to allow the formation of a power sharing "national unity government" will further discredit its legitimacy on all sides. Some Shiites will insist that the UIA have given away too much of what was rightfully theirs, some Sunnis will insist that they still don't have enough, and the Kurds will continue on their way towards greater autonomy (causing much consternation in Ankara, no doubt.) The Kurds are also highly unlikely to concede any ground to the Sunnis on the issue of the northern oil fields.

In the meantime, the UIA finally looks as if it might be weakening in its support for Jafaari. At this stage Jafaari remains defiant and al Sadr has said that Jafaari must not back down. The SCIRI and others, on the other hand, appear to be wavering. Having thought about the numbers (the UIA have 130 seats out of 275) it seems that if the UIA did split, it'd be even more difficult to choose a new PM. It'll take 184 votes. All the other parties, from Allawi's secular INL lot to the Sunni Islamists (IAF) to the Kurdish parties and the rest, have 145 votes between them. These parties contain all sorts of differences of opinion, far more than exist in the UIA, and even if they could agree on a candidate, they'd still need support from some UIA factions in order to get to the magic 184. Despite the growing urgency, it may well be a long time yet before a government emerges. (Think of the difficulties of forming a Sinn Fein - Ulster Unionist coalition government. And then add the fact that there are three main factions instead of two and they're in a much less stable country and there's a lot more distrust all round and you'll get some idea.)

It might still be better for Iraq in the long term if the Shiite Islamist coalition of the UIA does fall apart. I'm talking really, really long term though and a very big "might". It's also possible that Jack and Condi's intervention to pressure Jafaari over the weekend might be counter-productive. Whatever government does finally emerge from the negotiations, its legitimacy will be disputed by factions on all sides. Loyalties will remain uncertain. Violence will continue.

On security, the Financial Times article on the emergence of new Sunni militias is, unfortunately, just one more step on the road to a very bad place.
Faced with the growth of Shia militias such as the black-shirted Mahdi army - the militia of the prominent cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - and alleged abuses by the Shia-dominated police forces, Sunni in mixed-sect neighbourhoods and cities throughout Iraq are stashing guns in their mosques and knitting themselves into militias of their own.
The inability of the government/coalition forces to provide an acceptable level security makes this an unsurprising development. Note that these militias are not an extension of the Sunni insurgency but a localised grassroots attempt to provide security against Shiite violence. This further militarisation of the civilian population has all the hallmarks of another step towards all-out civil war.

Then there are the Wahabbis. After the attack on the shrine at Samarra many prominent people, including the US ambassador, acknowledged that another similar attack would have grave consequences. As I mentioned at the time, there's no doubt that another such attack is being planned. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that it hasn't happened yet. It should be pointed out that, far from a campaign of indicriminate random violence, the Wahabbis are working to a plan. They know, at least some of them know, that pushing too hard will turn the Iraqi population against them. That's why it has become known that Zarqawi has been replaced as leader (whether that's actually true or not is another matter though).

My worry is that they're waiting for the government to form before launching the next attack. Any "government of national unity" which does form is going to be a fragile thing indeed. Would it survive the aftermath of another attack designed to foment sectarian divisions? Or would it disintegrate? Ahrd to be sure but the signs are hardly encouraging.

None of this is good. We now know Blair was warned of the likely difficulties of post-invasion Iraq before committing to war. His response: "But he's evil, isn't he?" (From Iraq:the Reckoning). Yes, Saddam was evil. That's absolutely no excuse for not listening to the expert advisers who actually knew what they were talking about. He was told that the occupation would be the most difficult part of the whole undertaking, that rebuilding a Iraq would be a task of unprecedented difficulty, and that without careful planning and even more careful implementation, it could easily descend into chaos (I'm paraphrasing from memory here but that was definitely the gist of it). And Blair ignored that advice and decided to trust the Bush administration's assurances that they'd got it covered.

Well, they didn't. Blair should have checked for himself, asked to see the plans, talked them through at length, asked to see the contingency plans, talked them through at length too. He didn't. It was gross negligence. I can think of no other way to describe sending British soldiers into a country without first checking to make sure there was a workable plan to achieve the stated goals and then get them back out.

This was a clear abandonment of his duties. Now it's time he did that permanently.

If you're in need of a little light relief after that, why not read about little Jack Straw being reprimanded by headmistress Rice? That's him told.

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