Home > World Events > Some unsolicited advice for the United Iraqi Alliance

Some unsolicited advice for the United Iraqi Alliance

January 31st, 2005

The Iraqi elections seem to have been about as successful as could have been hoped, and may represent the last real chance to prevent a full-scale civil war. The pre-election analysis suggests that the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite coalition, will get the biggest share of the votes, but probably not an absolute majority. If so, their leaders will face two immediate choices.

The first is what to do about forming a government. The obvious choice is a coalition with Allawi. Given the power of incumbency and the fact that there was no real campaign in many areas, his group is bound to get a fair number of votes, even though it’s clearly unpopular. There’s even talk that he could re-emerge as PM

The second choice is what to do about the Americans[1]. Until a couple of days ago, the UAI platform called for a timetable for US withdrawal, but this was apparently changed at the last minute Meanwhile the Pentagon has been talking about continuing full-scale occupation for at least two years. In view of the security situation and the obvious pressure from the Bush administration, the obvious course of action is to defer any talk of withdrawal to the indefinite future.

In my view, the obvious choices would be disastrous in both cases, and for much the same reason. Holding elections is great, but the point of democracy is that they should make a difference and that governments should act in accordance with the wishes of voters. If the election leaves Allawi in office (even as a coalition partner) and the Americans in charge, it will be soon come to be seen as a pointless farce. And unless the government makes early US withdrawal a central demand, it will inevitably end up being seen, at best as a client and at worst a creature, of the Americans. The Sunnis won’t be slow to point this out, and neither will the Sadrists, who have played a cautious game that has given them some representation in the new assembly while maintaining a public boycott of the election.

Of course, there are good reasons to be fearful about the consequences of a US withdrawal. But this is the same kind of reasoning that led to the elections being delayed until now, when they could have been held under far more favorable conditions a year ago. What reason is there to believe that another two years of occupation will leave Iraq more capable of managing its own security? And if the Iraqi government doesn’t grasp the nettle itself, there’s always the risk that the Americans will make a unilateral decision to cut and run at the worst possible moment.

fn1. Officially of course, it’s the multinational coalition. But with Poland and the Ukraine about to withdraw, and Blair talking about an indicative timetable for withdrawal, there’s not much left of this figleaf.

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  1. January 31st, 2005 at 09:45 | #1

    John, i’m not sure democracy works in any country that is split into 3 fundamental religous groups divided by geography. Its like 3 countries in one.

    Perhaps they need to divide the country into 3 states, and develop a healthy rivalry (like qld Bulls vs NSW in the cricket or State of Origin).

    It would represent the absolute pinnacle of peace to see Shiite vs Sunnis in a state of origin match. Not sure such a healthy rivalry could ever exist without violence. But it would be nice to wish such a future for the poor people of this embattled country.

  2. Katz
    January 31st, 2005 at 10:25 | #2

    As Swopa http://www.needlenose.com/node/view/1043 and Juan Cole http://www.juancole.com/2005/01/mixed-story-im-just-appalled-by.html remind us, these were elections that were forced upon the Bush clique by the intelligent pressure applied by forces who claimed to speak for Sistani. The Bush clique were intellgient enough to recognise that being dragged by the short and curlies was not a good look so they ran to the head of the parade.

    It’s still too early to tell what the results will be. My guess, based on nothing definitive, is 20% Kurdish, 20% Collaborationist Shia and Sunni, 60% United Iraqi Alliance (The party that enjoys Sistani’s endorsement).

    This 60% is almost enough to dictate the Constitution.

    However, “the general referendum [establishing the permanent constitution] will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it.”

    allows the six Kurdish governorates–a small minority of the population of Iran–created by the interim constitution to stymie any Constitution sponsored by representatives of the Shiite majority.

    It is arguable that the United Iraqi Alliance thinking runs something like this:

    “The Bush clique is desperate to withdraw from Iraq. By the time the referendum on the permanent constitution comes around the US will have insufficient appetite to impose an unpopular–and patently unpopular–regime on Iraq. But there are many advantages to be derived from controlling the interim administration, not the least of which is sitting in the ministerial seats when the COW finally withdraws, disingenuously pleading a moral victory.”

    Mere speculation, but not entirely idle.

  3. JC
    January 31st, 2005 at 10:29 | #3

    As I recall, Iraq is not split into three easily discernible areas. That is, Iraq is not “split into 3 fundemental groups divided by geography”.

    Saddam invested much effort into populating Kurdish cities in the north with Arabs and Baghdad has over 2 million Shiites.

    If we are to divide the country, who gets Kirkuk? What of the Shiites in the Sunni heartland? It can’t be done.

    Go read Juan Cole. Poke him on this issue and he’ll give you a hiding.

  4. January 31st, 2005 at 10:42 | #4

    JC,

    I know i’m oversimplying things a lot.

    Its more like a tapestry of areas, and you can’t divide it neatly geographically at all.

    But there are 3 distinct cultures and they tend to group together. Such grouping can prevent a healthy democracy, and competition between such groups is best played out on a sport field then the barrel of a gun.

  5. still working it out
    January 31st, 2005 at 12:28 | #5

    alphacoward,

    To divide ethnically and geographically is impossible. It always leaves very vulnerable ethnic minorities in the newly created states. It sounds like a neat solution but I am pretty sure there is no example of it being done without major blodshed in the 20th century at all. However many of the 20th centuries greatest bloodbath’s came from just this kind of solution.

    Have a look at what happened in Punjab during the partition of India or more recently the break up of Yugoslavia to see ethnic geographical partition in action.

  6. January 31st, 2005 at 23:25 | #6

    “and may represent the last real chance to prevent a full-scale civil war.”

    What is that based on exactly??

  7. kyan gadac
    February 1st, 2005 at 02:36 | #7

    Juan Cole’s monday morning summary is hardly reassuring – it’s worth noting how stage managed the media has been on this point – the school for scoundrels is in!

  8. harry clarke
    February 1st, 2005 at 07:08 | #8

    Note the AFR article by Imad Moosa on Iraq elections today (Feb 1). It is as sensible a statement on the elections as I have read. Why are people (including many Sunni’s) risking their lives if the election is pointless? Overall it is a tremendous success even given the limited voter turnout.

    And what are the murderous gang of human waste trying to achieve by denying people the right to vote? A return to the good old days of ‘the Great Leader Saddam?

  9. February 1st, 2005 at 13:24 | #9

    I suggest people look at the “optant” solution applied after the Prusso-Danish war over the Schleswig-Holstein Question. This worked admirably, as it was applied. However the technique was abused later, most particularly over Transylvania after 1918, where it was used as a cover for a unilateral exchange of minorities (i.e. all one way, no exchange) under threat of expropriation etc. The proper use was like lifting with your back rather than your legs, grandfathering the problem out.

    Of course, you can only do that when you are already in control, not in order to achieve control.

  10. February 1st, 2005 at 15:41 | #10

    John, what’s up with your trackback? I make an honest effort to poach some of your much larger readership with a legitimate ping, only to have a whole load of code appear in Haloscan, and no success.

    There is a lot of right wing triumphalism going on at the moment, which is fascinating given the myriad things that can still go wrong.

    I’d say from a progressive point of view, if the parties can be kept at the table discussing a secular democracy, rather than splitting into ethnic enclaves, this will bode a lot better for minority rights and peace in the region.

  11. February 1st, 2005 at 16:41 | #11

    Trackback in question being this one:
    http://northcoteknob.blogspot.com/2005/02/peaceful-tolerant-pluralist-democracy.html

    Sorry, but I tried the other way!

  12. Katz
    February 13th, 2005 at 20:10 | #12

    The United Iraqi Alliance, as expected, received about 60% of the popular vote.

    Now much depends upon how insistent this party is in demanding immediate and far-reaching recognition of Islamic law in the proposed constitution.

    My guess is that they’ll feign compomise in order to take control of government business under the interim arrangements. After all, they’re not going anywhere, and they may be well served in allowing the Americans to sacrifice a few more of their soldiers to pique their appetite for “withdrawal with ‘honour’”.

  13. Katz
    February 13th, 2005 at 20:10 | #13

    The United Iraqi Alliance, as expected, received about 60% of the popular vote.

    Now much depends upon how insistent this party is in demanding immediate and far-reaching recognition of Islamic law in the proposed constitution.

    My guess is that they’ll feign compomise in order to take control of government business under the interim arrangements. After all, they’re not going anywhere, and they may be well served in allowing the Americans to sacrifice a few more of their soldiers to pique their appetite for “withdrawal with ‘honour’”.

  14. Katz
    August 15th, 2005 at 11:05 | #14

    By reason of spam, this thread was temporarily resurrected.

    Memo to RWDBs:

    GAME OVER!

    This story reports, as I imagined might happen way back in February, the Bush clique’s belated acknowledgement that, despite its lies, obsfucations, bombing, invasion, torture, oppression and manipulation Iraq will be an Islamic republic:

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/iraq/iraq-will-be-run-as-an-islamic-republic-us/2005/08/14/1123957950629.html

    At least two issues arise from this;

    1. Are the loved ones of US troops killed in Iraq pleased about their sacrifice to the cause of Islamism?

    2. Will you RWDBs who waved the flag in defence of Bush’s fiasco learn in future to think before you shoot your ignorant mouths off?

    (I’m more confident about an intelligent response from the bereaved than from a pack of idiots obsessed by proving the political efficacy of high explosive and depleted uranium.)

  15. Ian Gould
    August 15th, 2005 at 13:13 | #15

    Don’t be silly Katz – now that some on the right have realised that Iraq is not going to resemble a western edemocracy any time soon, it’s a sign of their realism and their sensitivity to cultural differences.

    It was only when the Left were saying it that it was proof of our anti-arab racism; our contempt for democracy; our cowardice and our anti-Americanism.

  16. Katz
    August 15th, 2005 at 15:51 | #16

    Thanks for setting me straight IG.

    Clearly, I require a long stay at the Dick Cheney Ashram of Cosmic Clarity and Earth Consciousness to get my head around just how intuitive the Right is about The Truth.

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