Sunday, May 21, 2006

Forming a Government

So Iraq finally has a new government. Sort of. It seems that Grand Ayatollah Sistani's intervention was not enough to overcome all of the obstacles to forming a government.

The post which I think is the most important (excluding the PM obviously) is the Interior Ministry. It has yet to be filled. The Defence and National Security Ministers have also not been appointed. Maliki has said he intends to fill these posts within a week. In the meantime, he's taken control of the IM himself and appointed his deputies, Salam Zaubai, a Sunni of the IAF and Barham Salih, a Kurd of the PUK, as acting Defence and National Security Ministers respectively.

I've written quite a bit about the Interior Ministry. It was previously controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Many Sunnis believe that the SCIRI had filled the IM with members of their militia, the Badr brigade, and were using it to wage sectarian war. It appears that Maliki does intend to remove them from the IM. Depending on who he puts in instead, this could be a genuine bit of good news.

Defence, I've not often mentioned here but it's clear why this is a contentious post. Military coups are pretty much endemic in unstable countries. Control of the military could be an enormous advantage to one faction or another, particulary if and when the coalition troops withdraw*.

I can't say I know a great deal about the reponsibilities of the National Security Minister. I'll look it up.

There's still some way to go before the full government is formed then. Whoever is finally appointed to these positions, they'll face an enormously difficult task. The government will struggle to act decisively while at the same time maintaining the fragile agreements which hold it together. This can be easily seen by the reaction to Maliki's announcement that he intends to use "maximum force" against terrorism.

As Juan Cole reports, Nur al-Din al-Hayali, a spokesman for the Sunni IAF said "the Front has reservations about the program of the government . . . We have reservatons about the laws related to fighting terror, which do not distinguish between the Resistance, which plays a heroic role for the sake of liberating Iraq, and acts of violence that all reject".

That brings home just one of the problems. One of the key party's in this new government openly supports and praises those who attack coalition troops*.

President Bush does not hesitate to call attacks on coalition troops terrorism. He is, of course, waging a war on terror. The new Iraqi government contains people who think some of these "terrorists" are actually "heroic" freedom fighters. Consistency requires that he attack this new government immediately.

Strangely, he's praising them instead.

Maliki, it must be said, does appear to be genuinely attempting to defuse the sectarian tensions in Iraq. The question has to be whether its too little too late. While again stressing that it gives me no pleasure to say this**, I'm afraid I believe it is. Sectarian factional tensions have momentum. In Iraq, there has been a steadily accelerating movement towards greater sectarian tension for at least two years, probably more. It'll take an enormous effort just to stabilise this movement, never mind push it back in the other direction.

On the day of the election in Iraq, in the face of much trumpeting of images of purple fingers and general euphoria in the MSM, I wrote a post warning that it would be foolish to expect these election to be a cure-all.
The real test then, is not the elections themselves, impressive as they undoubtedly looked on your TV screen. The real test will be whether the newly elected political groups, with their openly stated and directly conflicting visions of Iraq's future, will be able to successfully work together. Will they be able to find the solutions to the many outstanding issues which currently fuel the insurgency and instability in Iraq? It seems an almost impossible task but perhaps, just perhaps, it can be done.
When I tried to point this out at other places on the interwebs at the time, people called me a deluded stopper idiot or words to that effect. But there can be no doubt that the situation has worsened considerably in the intervening period (particularly after the Samarra bombing).

Now, with the security situation worse than ever, the new government is going to have to solve its differences over federalism, the constitution, control of the northern oilfields and Kirkuk, and various other issues. The odds, sadly, are not good.

* Given the make up of this government there's still a strong possibility that they'll ask the coalition to leave in fairly short order. The IAF certainly want a speedy end to the occupation and so do many in the UIA, particularly those loyal to al Sadr. Power politics will play a part here though; the various factions of the UIA will only call for withdrawal if they believe their dominant position can be maintained without coalition support. That seems to be Sistani's postion; can't find the link but he's called for the removal of "all evidence of the occupation" or something similar. He's been in no great hurry to have this happen while the coalition has been providing security for the religious Shiite dominated government though.

** I'm not one of those people who'd like to see Iraq descend into oceans of blood. I know some people want Iraq to collapse so that the US government finally gets the message that its policies are imperialist and unworkable. The argument, it seems, is that this might finally put an end to future US military interventions and therefore serve some greater good. For me, that really isn't convincing. As I see it, that's wishing instant misery and suffering on Iraqis now in the hope, nothing more, that their suffering will prevent even more suffering in the longer term. It seems a bit dubious to me in the means and ends department.

No, I'd rather see Iraqis living in peace while we in the West fight our political battles over our countrys' future foreign policies. More than three years after Mission Accomplished, living in peace is a luxury Iraqis still don't have.

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KeirHardiesCap said...

Has Ahmed Chalabi, the convicted fraudster been GIVEN a position in the govt?

CuriousHamster said...

No, he's been left out in the cold. Shame...