Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

Comments by

Reidar Visser

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2. National Reconciliation, paragraph 9
January 7, 2007, 10:15 am

This is an attempt at rectifying what may well be one of the most catastrophic legacies of the CPA period: the acknowledgement in the Transitional Administrative Law of Kirkuk as “disputed territory” whose status is to be resolved after the taking of a census. Clearly the criminal displacement policies by the old regime could have been dealt with at the level of individuals and families instead, without resort to vocabulary from the murky world of ethno-religious politics such as “disputed territories”.

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2. National Reconciliation, paragraph 7
January 7, 2007, 10:05 am

This is an obvious challenge to the current constitution with its differentiation between “existing” and “future” fields, and with a role for the regions in administering the latter. Given the composition of the committee charged with revising the constitution, this proposal – especially the portion that involves restoring the dominant role of the central government with regard to future fields – may at first seem unrealistic. However, among the Iraqi population at large, many still believe in a role for the central government in administering the oil sector. Often overlooked is the fact that the Iraqi oil resources outside the two centers of Basra and Kirkuk are comparatively negligible. Hence to speak of “Kurdish oil” or “Shiite oil” as if these resources were evenly distributed throughout Kurdish and Shiite territory is misleading. Most Iraqi governorates, including most Kurdish and Shiite areas, are relatively speaking poor in oil and stand to profit from an equitable distribution system channeled through the center. It is somewhat surprising that the report is mute with regard to another potential area of constitutional change where there already is a broad spectrum of Iraqi opinion: the rules for demarcating federal entities. Several parties have proposed size limits (three governorates, or even one governorate) and this is an area where moderate Shiite and Sunni opinions meet.

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2. National Reconciliation, paragraph 4
January 7, 2007, 9:56 am

The national reconciliation recommendations form an especially interesting part of the report. The proposals presented are quite radical but at the same time, it is clear that the United States have only limited possibilities for doing anything in practice about what is an internal Iraqi constitutional process. What is remarkable is that there has been no American attempt to link these issues in a positive-sum game. Instead of unilaterally imposing troop “surges” and trying to engineer “moderate coalitions” in backroom deals, Washington could have opted for a “deal” and conditionality logic instead, for instance by offering enhanced security (for instance a temporary increase of troops and more economic aid) in return for progress on constitutional reform. If the whole package were timetabled towards a full withdrawal of US troops, this could appeal to Iraqi nationalists and American opponents of the Iraq War alike.

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1. Performance on Milestones, paragraph 9
January 7, 2007, 9:52 am

This preference for “temporary” bases (and, elsewhere in the report, “advisers” instead of combat troops) may go down well with an American public. But it is noteworthy that “bases” and “advisers” are exactly the concepts that historically have prompted the angriest Iraqi reactions against foreign powers’ interference, as seen during the British mandate and the subsequent period of “informal” influence that brutally came to an end in 1958.

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4. Devolution to Three Regions, entire page
January 7, 2007, 9:42 am

This is an important recognition that it is the current situation of heightened sectarian confrontation in Iraq that is “artificial”, and not the state itself. Historically, Iraq has overwhelmingly enjoyed peaceful relations between its ethno-religious communities, and the international community should work to help recreate that peaceful equilibrium. The ISG rejects the partitionist alternative, and, at least implicitly, also the defeatist view that the population of Iraq is chronically locked in civil warfare. The sheer existence of a high number of multi-ethnic areas in Iraq with centuries-long historical traditions of coexistence should serve to refute the increasingly common misconception that Iraq can be held together only by the use of brutal force.