Sistani rules, OK ? (again)
While most attention has been (rightly) focused on the tsunami tragedy, mayhem has continued in Iraq, leading to suggestions that the elections due for Jan 30 should be postponed. It’s clear enough by now that, in this respect as in others, the Fallujah operation has been a complete strategic failure, as well as being a moral catastrophe for the US. The population, forced by the threat of US terror to flee the city, has not returned, and the idea that elections can go ahead there is a nonsense. Things are little better in the rest of the Sunni triangle. As a result, the elections will be far from satisfactory.
That said, the only real hope is that the elections will be held on time, that they will produce a clear majority for the Shiite coalition endorsed by Sistani, and that the newly elected government will simultaneously reach out to the disaffected Sunnis and demand an immediate timetable for US withdrawal. It’s clear by now that the presence of US forces has done more harm than good in the long run. If Bremer had gone along with Sistani’s proposal for elections a year ago, things would be much better in every way. On the other hand, the situation is now so bad that only a gradual withdrawal can effectively be contemplated. It appears that Sistani and the groups he has backed recognise both of these facts.
Even in this best case outcome, things will be pretty grim. No serious commentator now pretends that a civil war can be avoided; the only question is whether a new government could restrict the resistance to a hard core of Baathists and Zarqawists, keeping the majority of all ethnic groups on side. Almost certainly this will require the abandonment of the secular elements of the existing setup, both those embodied in the US-imposed constitution and those inherited from Saddam. Women’s rights will be among the early casualties, as will the provisions of the constitution designed to protect Kurdish interests, although it is unlikely that the status quo of effective Kurdish autonomy will be much affected
It’s possible, though far from certain, that in the final washup, Iraqis will, on average be a bit better off than before the invasion. It’s much clearer that any eventual benefit will be far too small to justify the loss of tens of thousands of lives and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars.
fn1. The fact that the shooting of unarmed prisoners, recorded live on TV, barely raised a ripple is an indicator of how far the US occupiers have sunk in moral terms. But the earlier aerial bombardment of a city supposedly under the protection of the same occupying forces, was an even graver war crime. To forestall the obvious, I’ll point out yet again that the actions of the terrorists who exercised a fair degree of control in Fallujah before the US assault were even worse. But is “not as bad as Zarqawi” really the status to which Americans aspire? And whose fault is it that Zarqawi managed to operate from US-controlled areas in northern Iraq when Saddam was in power and then establish a base in central Iraq after the invasion?