Breaking the circuit
Since the situation in Iraq seems to have stabilised momentarily, this might be a good time to think about measures that could prevent a renewed downward spiral. An essential starting point, and a relatively easy measure, would be to dump both Bremer and Chalabhi. Every major decision Bremer has made has been a disaster, from the dissolution of the Iraqi army to the failed attempt at rigged elections based on “caucuses” to the decision to pick a fight with Sadr. The cumulative result is that the Coalition is stuck with a promise to hand over power on June 30 and no-one remotely credible to hand it to. The other party in all of this is Chalabhi, who is still apparently Bremer’s preferred candidate, despite the fact that he has zero credibility in Iraq or, for that matter, anywhere outside the Pentagon. It might not be feasible to remove him from the Governing Council, but he should be dumped from any administrative position he holds, and particularly from his role in the disastrous de-Baathification campaign.
My suggestion for the next step would be to send Powell to Baghdad to take personal charge of the proposed transition. Although he’s been compromised like everyone else in the Administration, he’s by far the most credible person they have.
A direct approach from Powell and (UN advisor) Brahimi might induce Sistani and other Shia religious figures to shift from the sidelines into support for a sustaniable outcome. The crucial elements would have to be
* Pushing for elections as soon as possible. Since this would produce a government with a clear Shia majority, this would provide an incentive for Shia militias to comply with calls to abandon armed resistance to the occupying forces
* Abandoning the most objectionable provision of the Interim Constitution, namely those endorsing the US claim to continued military control. Instead, the US needs to accept that, as of June 30, it will have to put its troops under the ultimate command of some combination of an interim Iraqi government and an international successor to the CPA (either the UN or NATO).
* Dropping the “three-province” provision that gives the Kurds an effective veto of the new constitution, while making it clear that the existing autonomy of the Kurdish areas was non-negotiable
At the same time, Powell would need to make more serious attempts to reconcile the Sunnis. An obvious starting point would be to repeal Bremer’s dissolution of the army, and offer former soldiers either re-enlistment or a cash payment on discharge.
As I’ve said before, I’m not confident that this approach would work. In any case, judging by the inane rhetoric from Bush about “staying the course”, there is no willingness in Washington to admit that the whole Iraq enterprise is in serious danger of failure. Moreover, many in the Pentagon would rather lose than put their forces under the command of foreigners. So I think we’ll see a continuation of policy based on neocon dreams. Perhaps the rush for the doors evident among the members of the “Coalition of the Willing” may be what it needs to wake them up.