Friday, January 05, 2007

The Good and the Bad

There's one aspect of the situation in Iraq which has still not fully penetrated the national conscience. It's the essential absurdity of the position the coalition now finds itself in. I was initially going to write this post as satire but it is beyond my abilities to create a parody which is more outlandish than the reality.

Here's the report which captures this in all its Pythonesque glory.
Iranians 'up to no good' in Iraq

Five Iranians arrested by US troops in Baghdad last month were on a covert mission to influence Iraq's government, British officials have told the BBC. The five men were senior intelligence officers "up to no good", an unnamed official told the Newsnight programme.
Right, no surprises there. The vilification of Iran has been ongoing for a while and most observers expect it to intensify this year. That's because the Iranian government is bad.

But there is a slight problem.
The arrests caused a diplomatic row when it became clear that the Iranians, who have since been released, had been invited by the Iraqi government.
Oh dear. They were invited to Iraq by the democratically elected Iraqi government and, as a democratically elected government, this means that it is unquestionable good.

How does the Bush administration see this?
The White House has suggested the arrests validated US claims of Iranian "meddling" in Iraq.
And they would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those pesky Americans uncovering their fiendish plot to visit Iraq at the request of the democratically elected government.

The details just add to the absurdity.
A number of Iranians were arrested in the Iraqi capital on 21 December, when US forces raided a compound belonging to Abdul Aziz Hakim, leader of a powerful pro-Iranian Shia party.
That's a U.S. raid on a compound belonging to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a party which is an important part of the government. Only a couple of week earlier, President Bush met al-Hakim to discuss reconciliation. The President told the intensely sectarian, fundamentalist Shiite, pro-Iranian al-Hakim that " the US supports his work... to unify the country". This meeting was apparently part of an attempt to isolate al-Sadr by persuading al-Hakim to help al-Maliki form a new "moderate" alliance. The SCIRI's armed wing, Badr organisation (trained and funded for many years by the bad Iranians), has thoroughly infiltrated Iraq's security services and many of the sectarian attacks carried out by people "wearing Iraqi uniforms" are the work of that organisation. Al-Hakim does not oppose the occupation at this stage because he thinks he can manipulate the U.S. government into using its military to crush the Sunnis. This means that he is good.

If the previous paragraph doesn't make sense, it's for the the very good reason that it's attempting to describe a situation which even Chris Morris couldn't have invented.

The problem is that al-Sadr, despite the fact that he's the most open to cooperation with Sunnis, would be prepared to work with them in a national unity government, is a strong Iraqi nationalist who wants to preserve the country as a unified entity and is concerned about the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq through the SCIRI and other parties, is strongly opposed to the occupation. This means that he is bad.

Because of that, the U.S. government has decided, in the overly simplistic and ignorant way which is their hallmark, that al-Sadr is the new root of all evil in Iraq and that tackling him offers the solution to all of Iraq's problems. This means that the new "surge and sacrifice" strategy is going to be built around dismantling the Mahdi Army. The Mahdi Army does undoubtedly cause many problems for the coalition but it is not the main source of instability between Sunnis and Shiites. The assault on the Mahdi Army will do nothing to calm the sectarian tensions threatening to tear Iraq apart. In fact, locally organised Madhi Army units are often all that protects Shiite communities from Sunni attacks. If the U.S. military removes that protection it may well leave these communities more vulnerable to attacks and this could further exacerbate sectarian tensions.

Over at Slate, after reading an excellent explanation of al-Sadr's actual position and the wider implications by Juan Cole, Mickey Kaus has cause to ask whether "we [are] backing the wrong Shiite in trying to form a "moderate" coalition between Sadr's rival, al-Hakim of SCIRI, and Sunni MPs". In a sense, the answer is an obvious yes but the U.S. cannot back al-Sadr because he refuses to co-operate with them and wants them out of the country as soon as possible. The Sadrists withdrew from the government in November in protest at al-Maliki's meeting with President Bush. They called Bush "the world's biggest evil" and demanded that the government issued a timetable for U.S. withdrawal as a pre-condition for rejoining the political process.

(It should also be noted that the Mahdi Army is not exactly what you'd describe as good. While al-Sadr has no interest in provoking sectarian tensions, he is a fundamentalist and the Mahdi Army do use violence to enforce their own strict religious edicts in areas under their control. He might be trying to stop the civil war but the sort of Iraq he wants is a far cry from a tolerant liberal democracy. And, while prepared to work with Sunni religious parties, he and his supporters are also strongly opposed to reconciliation with former Baathists as witnessed by their taunting of Saddam Hussein during his execution.)

To summarise then, the Iranians, despite being explicitly invited to help the good Iraqi government by the good al-Hakim, are bad. They "meddle" in Iraq and are "up to no good".

SCIRI leader Al-Hakim, despite inviting the bad Iranians to meddle in Iraq and having very close associations with them, is good. He is a moderate because he wants to use the U.S. military as a proxy army to crush the Sunnis as desired by his party and the bad Iranians.

And al-Sadr, despite being for a unified Iraq and opposed to the bad Iranians becoming influential in the country, is very bad indeed. This is indisputable because he doesn't like George.

Got that?

There are those who say that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would make the situation worse for Iraqis. Apparently, having a country full of heavily armed, frightened soldiers who don't speak the language or understand the culture commanded by people who are totally ignorant as to the complexities of the situation and who insist that they implement ridiculously oversimplified "solutions" which can never work is a great help to the Iraqi people.

No, I don't think so. The one positive thing the coalition presence is achieving is to keep neighbouring nations, Sunni and Shiite, from openly interfering militarily in Iraq and possibly widening the conflict to the entire region. This, they could just as easily do from Iraq's borders. My suggestion would be that they withdraw to those borders as a step on the way to total withdrawal.

The situation has deteriorated to the extent that there is no military solution. Only Iraqis can solve Iraq's problems. They may well benefit from the services of an honest broker to help lubricate negotiations between the various factions but it must be clear after all that has happened over the last four years that the U.S. and U.K. governments cannot possibly fill that role. The sooner Bush and Blair realise that, the sooner the situation will start to improve.

But no-one should expect a fast improvement. Reconciliation between sectarian factions in Northern Ireland has taken years and is still not complete. Iraq must come from an even darker place and reconciliation may well take considerably longer.

1 comment:

Bag said...

Yep. That about sums it up. I'm fed up trying to explain to others about Iraq because it makes no sense and I start to get confused myself. It's all about 'let's try this because this didn't work' nobody in power seems to have the slightest idea and they have all the information, power and money to do something. AlthoughI feel we have put a non swimmer in the water. It's all flailing about and dragging others down with them.