Although there’s plenty of news coverage of inquiries into the “intelligence” that justified the Iraq war, coverage of events in Iraq itself seems to have declined sharply since the formal handover of sovereignty and the shutdown of the Coalition Provisional Administration. There seems to be a general media consensus that things have gone quiet, with the result that, when the usual news of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations is reported, it’s always prefaced with something like Suicide Blast Shatters a Calm (NYT 15 July) or after a week of relative calm (Seattle Times 7 July).
Regardless of the calmness or otherwise of the situation, the installation of Allawi as PM has certainly produced a new dynamic. Allawi has moved quickly to establish himself as a strongman, resolving by default the questions left unanswered in the “handover”. His announcements of emergency powers and the establishment of a security service/secret police have been criticised, but they amount to little more than the assumption of powers previously exercised by the CPA with no legal basis of any kind. The big question before the handover was whether any new military operations would be under the control of the interim government or of the American military. Allawi has moved pretty quickly to ensure that he will give the orders here, putting the onus on the American military to come to his aid if his forces run into serious resistance.
Allawi has also moved to split the insurgency, distinguishing between “legitimate” resistance forces (essentially those whose attacks were directed at the occupying forces) and terrorists (Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda offshoot, and the remaining supporters of Saddam). The big beneficiary of this is Moktada al-Sadr whom Bremer tried to suppress in his last weeks, but who is now more popular and powerful than ever. In a fairly standard move in situations of this kind, Sadr has switched from overt resistance activities to vigilante work, directed both at the Al Qaeda, Wahhabist and Saddamist insurgents and at “prostitutes, pimps, pornography sellers, gamblers – and those who sell alcohol.” Naturally enough, other Shiite leaders are alarmed at this and are trying to find a way to isolate al-Sadr (as always, Juan Cole has the story covered). But, having fought the Americans and lived to tell the tale, al-Sadr is pretty much untouchable now.
At this stage, there are three plausible outcomes for Iraq over the next year or so. The first is that Allawi will succeed in crushing the insurgency where Bremer failed, and will also manage to divide and rule the Shiite majority. The likely outcome in this case is a strongman government, comparable to the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and broadly sympathetic to the US. The second is that elections will produce a Shi-ite majority government, including al_Sadr. Such a government would be overtly hostile to the US, and would almost certainly demand early withdrawal of the occupying forces. The third is that the insurgents will succeed in reducing the country to chaos. My money is on the second. It seems clear now that it would have been far better to have held elections in 2003, when the dominant Shiite voice was the relatively quietist Sistani and before disasters like those in Fallujah and Najaf.
Update In the comments thread, Jack Strocchi points to the startling allegation that Allawi personally executed prisoners in a Baghdad police station and implies, correctly I think, that Putin, rather than Mubarak. may be the best analogy. Tim Dunlop has more and links to the rightwing response. Unsurprisingly, this is one of acceptance of the need for an authoritarian strongman.
fn1. Amazingly, the US military is touting the campaign against al-Sadr as a textbook success in counterinsurgency
fn2. Very similar things are being done in Sunni “no-go zones” like Fallujah. The days of “Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy” are a long way behind us now.