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Sistani rules, Ok (Part 5)

August 31st, 2004

After summarising the generally gloomy prospects for IraqPaul Krugman writes in today’s NYT

much of U.S. policy in Iraq – delaying elections, trying to come up with a formula that blocks simple majority rule, trying to install first Mr. Chalabi, then Mr. Allawi, as strongman – can be seen as a persistent effort to avoid giving Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani his natural dominant role. But recent events in Najaf have demonstrated both the cleric’s awesome influence and the limits of American power. Isn’t it time to realize that we could do a lot worse than Mr. Sistani, and give him pretty much whatever he wants?

He’s right, but it’s important to look ahead to the next step. Sistani has rejected violent resistance to the American occupation, but has always opposed the occupation and has refused to meet with the Americans or their representatives. Assuming elections go ahead and a Shia majority government is elected, it will be under intense pressure to demand the withdrawal of US troops, regardless of the security situation.

Among the possible responses to this, the really stupid one (and therefore the one the Bush Administration will probably pick, if Bush is re-elected) would be to invoke Article 59 of the Transitional Administrative Law approved by the unelected Iraqi Governing Council, which allows for US troops to remain in effective control of the country until a permanent constitution is in place.

A more plausible solution, but one that would probably be unacceptable even to a Kerry Administration, would be to hand over command of a scaled down (but still mostly American) force to a UN commander, operating subject to the control of the elected government. The Iraqi government would probably accept such a compromise.

The final option would be to pull out as requested, and leave the Iraqis to sort out the resulting mess. It’s looking increasingly likely that this will be the actual outcome, and perhaps it would be better than what we have at present.

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  1. gordon
    August 31st, 2004 at 17:45 | #1

    Sorry, Prof. Quiggin, I don’t get your point in the final para. where you say that a US pull-out is the most likely “actual outcome”. If, as you say in para.3, a re-elected Bush regime is likely to remain under Article 59, are you implying that a Kerry regime is the one which will “…pull out as requested, and leave the Iraqis to sort out the resulting mess?”

    Frankly, a pull-out by any US govt. without securing Iraqi oil for US companies, to be sold for US dollars, would completely destroy all my views on the US involvement in Iraq. After recovering consciousness, however, I might open a bottle of something good – and try to finish it before the Israelis arrive!

  2. John Quiggin
    August 31st, 2004 at 17:54 | #2

    To clarify, I think an attempt to invoke Article 59 would be a catastrophic failure, presaging an eventual “cut and run”.

  3. Blair Fairman
    August 31st, 2004 at 18:17 | #3

    The mess might not last that long. The hard liners are more likely to lose support if they don’t have the Americans to blame for all the trouble. A civil war for a few weeks might be bloody but it might be better than a long drawn out bloody low level war against the occupying power.

  4. tipper
    August 31st, 2004 at 20:46 | #4

    John
    Your third option is similar to what I wanted to happen in March last year, when we first went into Iraq, except for the withdrawal from Iraq part. My advice was to go in and destabilise the region as much as possible, then stand back, whistling, while they kicked the shiite out of each other (The exception being the Kurds) But seeing that the Neo-cons started to go all utopian on me and wanted to “introduce democracy” (is that a joke or what) I thought I would keep quiet and wait until they learned to grow up. They are doing that at a mighty fast rate, and are now coming around to my way of thinking.
    So station the mightiest army on earth in the Kurd dominated north where they have over 90% support, and let the rest of Iraq get on with it.
    The allies only stepping in at the last minute when the Sunnis and Shiite have fought themselves to a standstill, hopefully after drawing Iran and Saudi Arabia into the conflict.

  5. September 3rd, 2004 at 23:33 | #5

    Pull out tomorrow and save time and money!

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