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2. Politics

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[...] The Oil Law and revision of the de-Ba’athification Law were two of the milestones for the Iraqi government from the ISG Report so I guess the progress of the Oil Law and this story are good news. I don’t think we should underestimate the complexity of incorporating these member of the old Iraqi Army into the new, however. [...]

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Here the ISG spurns the opportunity to say what it could have said about the Iraqi constitution — that instead of the national compact it was meant to be, it became a blueprint for Iraq’s dissolution because of the odd, unprecedented nature of the federalal system it encourages. The ISG claims that this “highly decentralized structure” (that’s to put it mildly) is favored by the Kurds (true) and by “many Shia (particularly supporters of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim).”

Well, Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim does not at all appear to have many supporters, even if he has a well-oiled political machine (see my separate comment on SCIRI), and those Shiites who do support al-Hakim’s “southern federalism” scheme seem to be limited precisely to his followers. In a parliamentary vote on a draft federalism law that sets up a mechanism for creating regions this past October, the draft squeaked by on the combined votes of SCIRI and their Kurdish partners (the Kurds want to get Kirkuk in exchange for their help) and a few secular Shiite defectors who favor the principle of federalism but don’t care too much about its nature or the mechanisms by which regions are to be established.

My bet: the law will never be implemented, because aside from Sunni Arabs, most Shiites (the Sadrists, Fadhila, the Da’wa splinters, Sistani followers, and many seculars) are dead-set against it. But the debate alone has inflamed sectarian tensions, and will continue to do so as long as SCIRI continues to talk about setting up a “Shia-stan”.

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This is a common error in the media as well, the notion that SCIRI would be the largest Shiite political party. It’s nothing of the sort. Most powerful, yes, precisely because of the fact that it’s well organized, as well as well trained and well funded. It was created in 1982 in Iran by the Iranian security services, essentially to destroy Da’wa (an effort that, with additional help from Saddam, has largely succeeded). SCIRI has an armed milita, the Badr Corps, that heavily recruited from among Iraqi prisoners of war and refugees. The Badr Corps fought alongside Iranian forces against Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, and SCIRI was therefore long considered a collaborator group. It has tried to shed that baggage since its return in April 2003, but it still lacks popularity. Nor does it have a majority in parliament; the Sadrists do (and they do have a genuine mass base). My bet is that in free elections in which SCIRI were to stand alone, it would fade as a politically significant factor. To avoid such a scenario, SCIRI clutches the Sistani-sanctioned United Iraqi Alliance, and has also launched a scheme to establish a southern majority-Shiite region that it would rule (with heavy hand), much like the Kurds have their own region. At least one Iraqi commentator thus referred to Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim as a would-be “Barzani of the south.” The “largest political party” in Iraq SCIRI will never be.

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The report repeatedly stresses the need for Prime Minister Maliki to suppress the militias, and particularly Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. And yet, even in the same paragraph, it acknowledges that Maliki “owes his office in large part to Sadr…”

This is rather like expecting a freshman Republican congressman to “suppress” Grover Norquist, and instead of serving as a useful recommendation, it only mirrors the tortured contradictions at the heart of the administration’s policy in Iraq. How is Maliki to suppress his own political sponsor? We are not told, only reminded that it would be a good thing to do, even the most important thing to do.

This whole line of “analysis” reminds me of nothing so much as Graham Greene’s skewering of U.S. attempts to build up a “third way” strongman in “The Quiet American.” It has about as much hope of success.