Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Juan Cole...Top Ten Myths About The Iraq War

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005

Iraq has unfortunately become a football in the rough and ready, two-party American political arena, generating large numbers of sound bites and so much spin you could clothe all of China in the resulting threads.

Here are what I think are the top ten myths about Iraq, that one sees in print or on television in the United States.

1. The guerrilla war is being waged only in four provinces. This canard is trotted out by everyone from think tank flacks to US generals, and it is shameful. Iraq has 18 provinces, but some of them are lightly populated. The most populous province is Baghdad, which has some 6 million residents, or nearly one-fourth of the entire population of the country. It also contains the capital. It is one of the four being mentioned!. Another of the four, Ninevah province, has a population of some 1.8 million and contains Mosul, a city of over a million and the country's third largest! It is not clear what other two provinces are being referred to, but they are probably Salahuddin and Anbar provinces, other big centers of guerrilla activity, bring the total for the "only four provinces" to something like 10 million of Iraq's 26 million people.

But the "four provinces" allegation is misleading on another level. It is simply false. Guerrilla attacks occur routinely beyong the confines of Anbar, Salahuddin, Ninevah and Baghdad. Diyala province is a big center of the guerrilla movement and has witnessed thousands of deaths in the ongoing unconventional war. Babil province just south of Baghdad is a major center of back alley warfare between Sunnis and Shiites and attacks on Coalition troops. Attacks, assassinations and bombings are routine in Kirkuk province in the north, a volatile mixture of Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs engaged in a subterranean battle for dominance of the area's oil fields. So that is 7 provinces, and certainly half the population of the country lives in these 7, which are daily affected by the ongoing violence. It is true that violence is rare in the 3 northern provinces of the Kurdistan confederacy. And the Shiite south is much less violent than the 7 provinces of the center-north, on a good day. But some of this calm in the south is an illusion deriving from poor on the ground reporting. It appears to be the case that British troops are engaged in an ongoing struggle with guerrilla forces of the Marsh Arabs in Maysan Province. Even calm is not always a good sign. The southern port city of Basra appears to come by its via a reign of terror by Shiite religious militias.

2. Iraqi Sunnis voting in the December 15 election is a sign that they are being drawn into the political process and might give up the armed insurgency So far Iraqi Sunni parties are rejecting the outcome of the election and threatening to boycott parliament. Some 20,000 of them demonstrated all over the center-north last Friday against what they saw as fraudulent elections. So, they haven't been drawn into the political process in any meaningful sense. And even if they were, it would not prevent them from pursuing a two-track policy of both political representation and guerrilla war. The two-track approach is common among insurgencies, from Northern Ireland's IRA to Palestine's Hamas.

3. The guerrillas are winning the war against US forces. The guerrillas are really no more than mosquitos to US forces. The casualties they have inflicted on the US military, of over 2000 dead and some 15,000 wounded, are deeply regrettable and no one should make light of them. But this level of insurgency could never defeat the US military in the field.

4. Iraqis are grateful for the US presence and want US forces there to help them build their country. Opinion polls show that between 66% and 80% of Iraqis want the US out of Iraq on a short timetable. Already in the last parliament, some 120 parliamentarians out of 275 supported a resolution demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, and that sentiment will be much stronger in the newly elected parliament.

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran's poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma'd Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provice, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran's Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

6. There is a silent majority of middle class, secular-minded Iraqis who reject religious fundamentalism. Two major elections have been held. For all their flaws (lack of security, anonymity of most candidates, constraints on campaigning), they certainly are weather vanes of the political mood of most of the country. While the Kurdistan Alliance is largely secular, the Arab Iraqis have turned decisively toward religious fundamentalist parties. The United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite fundamentalists) and the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni fundamentalists) are the big winners of the most recent election. Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqiya list got only 14.5 percent of the seats on Jan. 30, and will shrink to half that, most likely, in this most recent election. A clear majority of Iraqis, and the vast majority of the Arab Iraqis, are constructing new, fluid political identities that depend heavily on religious and ethnic sub-nationalisms.

7. The new Iraqi constitution is a victory for Western, liberal values in the Middle East. The constitution made Islam the religion of state. It stipulates that the civil parliament may pass no legislation that contradicts the established laws of Islam. It looks forward to clerics serving on court benches. It allows individuals to opt out of secular, civil personal status laws (for marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance) and to choose relgious canon law instead. Islamic law gives girls, e.g., only half the amount of inheritance received by their brothers. Instead of a federal government, the constitution establishes a loose supervisory role for Baghdad and devolves most powers, including claims on future oil finds, on provinces and provincial confederacies, such that it is difficult to see how the country will be able to hold together.

8. Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get. No, it isn't. During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.

9. The US can buy off the Iraqis now supporting guerrilla action against US troops. US military and civilian officials in Iraq have on numerous occasions alleged in the press or privately to me that a vast infusion of billions of dollars from the US would dampen down the guerrilla insurgency. In fact, it seems clear that far more Sunni Arabs support the guerrilla movement today than supported it in September of 2004, and more supported it in September of 2004 than had in September of 2003. AP reports that the US has spent $100 million on reconstruction projects in Diyala Province. These community development and infrastructural improvements, often carried out by US troops in conditions of danger, are most praiseworthy. But Diyala is a mess politically and a major center of guerrilla activity (see below), which simply could not be pursued on this scale without substantial local popular support. The Sunni Arab parties, which demand US withdrawal and reject the results of the Dec. 15 elections, carried the province, winning 6 seats.

The guerrillas are to some important extent driven by local nationalism and rejection of foreign occupation, as well as resentment at the marginalization of the Sunni Arab community in the new Iraq. They have a keen sense of national honor, and there is no evidence that they can be bribed into laying down their arms, or that the general populace can be bribed on any significant scale into turning the guerrillas in to the US. Attributing motives of honor to one's own side and crass economic interests to one's opponent is a common ploy of political propaganda, but we should be careful about believing our own spin.

Even a simple economic calculation would favor the guerrillas fighting on, however. If they could get back in control of Iraq through a coup, they'd have $50 billion a year in oil revenues to play with. The total US reconstruction aid promised to Iraq is only $18 billion, and much of that will be spent on security-- i.e. it won't benefit most Iraqis.

10. The Bush administration wanted free elections in Iraq. This allegation is simply not true, as I and others pointed out last January. I said then, and it is still true:

' Moreover, as Swopa rightly reminds us all, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did. '

Iraq's situation is extremely complex. It is not a black and white poster for an American political party. Good things and bad things are happening there. The American public cannot help make good policy, however, unless the myths are first dispelled.

posted by Juan @ 12/27/2005 06:33:00 AM 0 comments

Over 20 Dead, 46 Wounded in Guerrilla War;
Governor of Diyala Wounded in Assassination Attempt
Sunnis Threaten Boycott

A wave of guerrilla bombings and apparently coordinated small arms attacks around north-central Iraq left over 20 dead and over twice as many wounded on Monday. (Actually, it is worse; the average estimated dead in the guerrilla war ranges between 38 and 60 per day, but wire services seldom report more than a fraction of these deaths).

Guerrillas launched a series of 4 car bombings around Baghdad, killing 5 and wounding 15. Later they detonated a motorcycle bomb in a Shiite neighborhood of the capital near a funeral, killing 3 and wounding 23. According to al-Sharq al-Awsat, guerrillas assassinated Nawfal Ahmad, a professor at Baghdad's Institute of Fine Arts when he came out of his house in al-Tubji, in north Baghdad. (Hundreds of Iraqi professors have been assassinated; it is not clear that this death is included in the totals given by the wire services, since none that I saw mention it explicitly). Police in Baghdad also happened upon 3 corpses on Monday, one of them that of a police officer.

In Buhriz near Baqubah northeast of Baghdad, a guerrilla platoon of more than thirty men launched a well-planned attack on local police at a checkpoint, jumping out of a minivan and firing rocket propelled grenades. They then advanced, throwing grenades. Late reports say that they killed 10 of the policemen and wounded others. They claimed on the internet to have killed or wounded all 20 policemen at the checkpoint, which may be near enough the truth. Iraqi police claimed to have killed six of the guerrillas.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that guerrillas at the same time assassinated Su'ad Jaafar, a member of the Diyala governing council along with 3 of her bodyguards while she was returning home. A member of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, she was a candidate for parliament in the Dec. 15 elections. They also tried to kill Raad Rashid Jawad, the governor of Diyala province (in which Buhriz is located), with a bomb planted on the route of his motorcade; one of his bodyguards was killed and he and two other bodyguards were wounded. US officials and officers have frequently said that US troops would be withdrawn when Iraqi security forces can handle the guerrillas themselves.

In Dhahab, north of Buhriz, another guerrilla band shot dead 5 Iraqi soldiers, in what may have been a coordinated attack. In Fallujah to the west, a guerrilla wearing a suicide bomb belt killed himself as he waded into a crowd of persons trying to join the police, killing two of them, as well.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that guerrillas set ablaze a gas pipeline carrying gas from Kirkuk to Samarra, via an improvised explosive device that they detonated in southwest Samarra, a city of some 200,000 an hour north of Baghdad. The Washington Post reports that the US military has imprisoned the rebellious Samarra population behind an earthen berm in an attempt to keep guerrilla fighters out, in which they have had some success. US forces have on several occasions declared that they have made substantial progress in Samarra, but violence usually breaks out there again after a time. One suspects that a lot of the violence is not actually coming from the outside.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat[Ar.] : The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq announced Monday early results of the special voting held for certain groups, such as expatriates, members of the armed forces and security forces, and for prisoners. Among these groups (which total just under 500,000 or less than 5 percent of the electorate), the Kurdistan Alliance received 36.5%, the United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite) received 30.2%, and the National Iraqi list headed by Iyad Allawi received 11.1%. The National Accord Front (Sunni fundamentalist) received 4.8%. These results are incomplete and could change. The majority of these voters were expatriates, helping explain the disproportionately large Kurdish showing and the disproportionately small vote for Shiite fundamentalists. These numbers will not affect very much the overall shape of the election, which the Shiite religious parties appear to have dominated.

The NYT saw separate statistics for the voting patterns of the 200,000 military, police and prison voters, which gave the Sunni parties about 7 percent, and concludes that Sunni Arabs are under-represented in the new military. The Kurdistan Alliance got 45% of the votes from the security forces, while the UIA got 30%. I am not entirely sure that you can read off these totals as the ethnic make-up of the military and security forces, though, since it is possible that Sunni Arabs in the military did not vote as enthusiastically as Shiites and Kurds. But the NYT and its sources are correct that these proportions are suggestive and disturbing.

The National Accord Front denied earlier reports that it had asked the Shiites to give Sunni Arabs ten seats. (Actually, the report I saw said that the request came from some Sunni Arab cabinet ministers).

The Sunni fundamentalist National Accord Front, along with the secular National Dialogue Council and the National Iraqiya list of Allawi, have planned a big demonstration in Baghdad for Tuesday. They, along with 39 other political parties and lists have formed an organization, the Conference for Rejection of the Fraudulent Elections, CRFE (Muram in Arabic). They charge that the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, stole the election through electoral fraud. They also accused the IECI of not actually being an independent electoral commission, implying that it was serving Shiite interests.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat has sources who attended meetings of the rejection front in Amman, which included Iyad Allawi, Adnan Dulaimi and Salih Mutlak, and who reported that these politicians will inform the Arab League Secretary General, Amr Moussa, of their demands that the election be held all over again in the provinces where widespread fraud occurred, especially in the northern cities and in Basra and Baghdad. They sources say that the three leaders have decided to boycott parliamentary sessions in an effort to paralyze it if it will not heed their demands. They are also planning to write a letter to Kofi Annan.

Cole: Parliament requires a 2/3s vote to elect a president, who must appoint a prime minister from the coalition with a simple majority. I figure 2/3s as about 184 votes. Allawi and the Sunni Arabs probably won't have more than 50 or 55 seats all told, leaving around 220. The Kurds will have about 50. If we subtract them, we come down to 170. Therefore, an Allawi/Sunni boycott would force the Shiites into another coalition with the Kurds if they are to form a government, and the Kurds can extract promises moderating Shiite fundamentalist policies before they agree. Since the Rejectionist Conference is alleging fraud in "northern cities," probably a euphemism for Kirkuk, it may in fact push the Kurds to ally with the Shiites again, since both have an interest in protecting their electoral victories in their provinces. On the other hand, if the Kurds and the Shiites can do business, then the Allawi/Sunni boycott would become meaningless and would simply deprive them of a vote in parliament.

Once a Shiite-dominated government is formed, the United Iraqi Alliance could simply vote down its rivals by simple majority, though it would risk a presidential veto if it failed to get a consensus. The president (who likely will be a Kurd and likely will be Jalal Talabani) and the two vice presidents (likely a Sunni Arab and a Shiite) each can exercise a separate veto over legislation for the next 4 years. If the Kurds and the Shiites can find a pliable and complaisant Sunni Arab to serve as vice president, though, they could just run roughshod over the Sunni Arab and secularist minority.

Generally speaking, in parliamentary systems boycotts usually backfire and a poor political strategy. If the Sunni Arabs and secularists were smart, they'd make themselves swing votes in parliament and use their economic power to lobby for policies they want, thus leveraging themselves into great influence. The Sunni Arabs and ex-Baathists were used, however, to ruling by the iron fist from above, and so are hardly canny parliamentarians, and don't know how to make themselves indispensable as a minority.

posted by Juan @ 12/27/2005 06:30:00 AM 0 comments


Post a Comment

<< Home