Sunday, June 04, 2006

Seperate Worlds

Much was made last week of the fact that President Bush sort of apologised for some of the errors he's made in dealing with Iraq at a joint press conference with Tony Blair. If it was an attempt to apologise, it was a feeble one.

But what of Tony Blair's response? The two men were asked this question:
Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?
Blair suggested that the de-Baathification process wasn't handled very well. No arguing with that. But then he did what he does so often and his rhetoric became completely detached from reality.
And, you know, I think it's easy to go back over mistakes that we may have made. But the biggest reason why Iraq has been difficult is the determination by our opponents to defeat us. And I don't think we should be surprised at that.
Why was he then? He doesn't say.

That aside, you can laugh at the banality of such a statement of the bleedling obvious (as they did on Have I Got News For You this week) but in fact, that's actually missing the point to a great degree.

It is true that al Qaida types made their way to Iraq and have been determined to "defeat us". It was also entirely predictable of course. That Blair would attempt to suggest that it was only obvious in hindsight is a mark of the man.

But many of the difficulties have nothing to do with the "determination of our opponents" at all. Blair's childish and simplistic "us and them" description of Iraq is a world away from what's actually happening. It was thinking just like this which led to Blair and Bush to underestimate the tensions which would exist between Iraqis in the post-Saddam era in the first place. Blair, even now after three years of bloody occupation, does not appear to have even slightly begun to understand the complexities of the situation. It is staggering.

In Iraq, the main problem is one of loyalty. (This is itself going to be a simplification of course). Loyalties operate on many levels - family, tribal, religious, factional (the Shiite UIA, for example, is made up of an alliance of seven main factions) and national. Most Iraqi's do feel a strong sense of loyalty towards the idea of a unified Iraq, a national loyalty. This however, does not mean they all want the same unified Iraq. The type of Iraq they want depends very much on the other loyalities they hold.

A Dawa party member will want to follow a slightly different path from a SCIRI member. These differences, relatively small as they are, can most probably be overcome through negotiation. The differences between a Dawa supporter and an Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni Islamist) supporter are likely to be far greater. The degree of federalism, oil revenue distribution, the extent of de-Baathification, and control of key ministries are just some of the issues they're likely to have different views on. These differences are so fundamental, so intractable, that they will be enormously difficult to work through democratically.

The continuing difficulties of appointing an Interior Minister reflect the likelyhood that the various political parties will be able to function together effectively as a government. (As I understand it, Maliki has now gone beyond the time allowed for him to form a government and should now resign and the process of selecting a new PM should start again. This stipulation of the constitution appears simply to have been ignored. It is not auspicious.) The factions of the UIA have been unable to agree on a candidate who will be acceptable to the Sunnis. In the meantime, these tensions are causing a steady increase in Iraqi on Iraqi violence.

In Basra, much of the violence seems to be motivated by tribal and factional loyalties. There is undoubtedly tension between the majority Shiites and the minority Sunnis and this does spill over into sectarian violence. Indeed, it is believed that this violence and the resulting forced migration has caused the Sunni population of Basra to fall from 40% to 15% during the three years of occupation. It is a sobering statistic. Iraq has, tragically, already travelled far down the path which leads to all-out civil war. But Basra's current problems are as much to do with Shiite factions fighting for control as they are about sectarian tension. It is an enormously complex situation.

None of this seems to have registered in Blair's poor excuse for a brain. To him, it's all simple. We're the good guys and the bad guys, "our opponents" are trying to defeat us. Aside from the simplistic awfulness of these pronouncements, they also reveal a fundamental cultural arrogance, This, also, was part of the reason why Blair was so surprised by the realities of post-invasion Iraq. Despite what our great egomaniacal leader may think, most Iraqi's don't consider their loyalty (or otherwise) to "us", the coalition, to be the defining feature of their lives.

Iraqi loyalties are complex. As noted, most Iraqi's have a strong sense of loyalty towards Iraq itself. The does not, however, transfer easily to a weak, divided, isolated national government. The new government, if it is to have any chance of averting the disintegration of Iraq, must try to instill in the population a sense of loyalty to the central government. Their inability to do this, given their relative powerlessness, is a major obstacle to any sort of progress.

The many soldiers and policemen being trained by the coaltion, the only basket of eggs in town, are apparently going to be the tool which will provide the new government with the power and authority it desperately needs. But what of the loyalties of these trainees? Do they feel an over-riding sense of loyalty towards central government? Or are tribal, factional and sectarian loyalties still the dominant factor? The evidence coming from Iraq suggests the latter and the worry must be that the training and arming of vast numbers of Iraqis of various and conflicting loyalties will simply make the civil war more bloody and violent when it comes.

In the United States, analysist are already arguing that all out civil war is inevitable and discussing how the "coalition" should deal with it. It is to be hoped that the US and UK government's do have informed, thoroughly prepared and workable plans ready to implement as the situation unravels but given their performance so far, to assume they do would be optimistim to the point of idiocy.

The tensions which existed under Saddam but were suppressed by his brutality are now obvious to all. To those who took the time to understand something of the realities of Iraq before the invasion, they were equally obvious then. And the enormous difficulties these tensions would create after the fall of Saddam and the release of his oppression, were also obvious. Warnings were issued that nation building would be by far the most hazardous task the "coalition" would face (Blair received very similar briefings). These warnings were essentially ignored.

Three years on, Blair says:
And therefore, I'm afraid, in the end, we're always going to have to be prepared for the fall of Saddam not to be the rise of democratic Iraq; that it was going to be a more difficult process.
Why was he not prepared? There is no excuse for gross negligence and misjudgement on such a massive scale.

Blair talks often of the "right to life". So committed is he to this cause that he's prepared to sacrifice essential civil liberties in order to secure the right to life of British citizens. But for the British Prime Minister, although he'd undoubtedly deny it and genuinely believe that denial, the lives of Iraqis are of less importance. What else could explain his cavalier attitude towards the warnings he was given and his willingness to gloss over the countless deaths which have resulted from his failure to understand the consequences of his policies?

Tags: , , ,

No comments: