Marc Lynch Again
Okay, so it’s either that Marc Lynch doesn’t know Arabic all that well, or he’s purposely misrepresenting what’s being said to serve his own political goals. This is how he wrote up Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha’s interview with the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that was conducted last week:
The most interesting parts of the interview revolved around the question of Sunni political representation. The interviewer asked Abu Risha who gave him, or the Anbar Salvation Council, the right to claim to represent anyone. Abu Risha replied that their success against al-Qaeda was the basis of their legitimacy, a fascinating mirror of the claims of the insurgency factions that their legitimacy derived from their military success against the American occupation. (He repeatedly praised the institutions of the Iraqi state, especially the the Army - but said little about the Iraqi government.) Power indeed flows from the barrel of the gun, in Abu Risha's answers, rather than the ballot box. Abu Risha dismissed the electoral legitimacy of both the local councils and the Tawafuq Bloc due to the low levels of Sunni participation in the elections. He pushed the idea of an Iraqi Awakening (Sahwa Iraq) as a "political entity" as the legitimate representative of all Iraqi tribes and all the various Awakenings. He claimed that there could be no conflict between the Awakening and the armed factions, but never got specific despite some pointed questions from the interviewer. Whenever the armed factions came up, he would change the subject to tribes - an obvious finesse of a politically major question. Finally, as always with the Awakenings, his position ultimately came down to money: he complained that under "the former government", Anbar received 870 million dinars a year from the central government, but in the 2007 budget (he claimed) it got only 289 million dinars, which weren't being spent appropriately. Hint, hint.
I watched the interview too (full Arabic transcript here), and I found Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha downright reasonable and sophisticated: his primary point was that the tribes were not a substitute for the state, rather their goal in the Awakening Council was to fortify the institutions of the state. The tribal role aims to nominate young men for the Iraqi Army and the security services, much like a pillar of civil society augmenting the performance of the state. But rather than dwell on military bluster and how they managed to fight Al-Qaeda in Anbar Province, Sheikh Abu Risha was more interested in talking about economics: he wanted the state’s help in creating jobs, in re-invigorating the province’s industries and in re-building what had been destroyed.
However, Lynch glosses over all that (…the bulk of the interview) and focuses on two points:
-Political representation: Sheikh Abu Risha didn’t call into question parliamentary representation but rather took issue with the provincial council. Sheikh Abu Risha claimed that there were no elections in Anbar Province for the provincial council that was subsequently dominated by the Islamic Party; the sheikh said that these results were determined at a time when 500 to 1000 refugees from Anbar were bused to a school in the Mansour neighborhood where they gave their votes. Lynch may not realize that Mansour is not in Anbar since he’s never been to Iraq. Abu Risha makes a salient point if his information is indeed correct. Abu Risha is asking for new elections, not a coup: he wants elections to be held in Anbar proper, not at some school in Baghdad.
-Money: Lynch mistranslated or misheard: Abu Risha said that 289 “billion dinars” (…around 220 million dinars) have been allocated to Anbar for 2007 alone as opposed to the 870 “million dinars” allocated in the Saddam years. He was making the point that a lot more money has been given to the Islamic Party-led provincial council nowadays than under the previous regime but much less reconstruction was accomplished. He is charging the Islamic Party with corruption.
Why would Marc Lynch do this? Lynch serves to validate the political positions of the American left; his alleged expertise is excessively cited by journalists to lend credibility to all sorts of talking points. Except, he’s not an expert on Iraq: his expertise ranges from the Arab media (he watches Aljazeera and Al-Arabiya, but doesn’t comment on Iraqi TV media; he reads some Sadrist and marginal Iraqi websites too) and Jordan.
I have taken issue with how General Petraeus and his counterinsurgency advisors have handled the issue of the tribes, but I have no problem with how Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha has presented his goals. If the tribes are used to bolster the state instead of being an alternative to it, then I support this goal wholeheartedly—it is realistic and doable. Tribes should be used as job placement agencies, not as embryonic fiefdoms controlled by warlords, and that is Abu Risha's position. I would much rather prefer that the respectable tribal leaders suggest new recruits for the Iraqi Army than have ex-insurgents draw up the rolls.
But the American left doesn’t dabble in nuances because fixing Iraq is not their intent—they want to win elections. Therefore, their objections to the tribal policy are inferred by their hostility to the Bush administration rather than its feasibility. That is why Lynch would misrepresent the words of Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha because the latter’s reasonableness doesn’t serve the political interests of his fellow-travelers in the leftist blog-mob.
It is also the reason why Marc Lynch seems to champion Adnan Duleimi and the Tawafuq bloc since they are obstructing political development in Iraq. Not only that, but Duleimi’s three sons are heavily involved in violence and they’re all on the run due to various arrest warrants that have been issued for them. Lynch and Co. are willing to give Duleimi the benefit of the doubt because they relish his shrillness, but afford no such tolerance to the Maliki government. Similarly, that is why so many leapt upon the bandwagon of the bogus Dhiya al-Kawwaz story and still insinuate that the issue remains foggy even after several news outlets (like the U.S.-funded al-Hurra TV) have interviewed the family that the ‘anti-Maliki’ al-Kawwaz had falsely alleged were massacred.
Hey, I’m willing to see all this as innocent mistake: maybe Marc Lynch doesn’t have a firm command of the Arabic language and that’s why he misunderstood Sheikh Abu Risha. But Lynch will never admit to that; he will start pointing fingers left and right rather than being humbled.
He has a right to his opinion and I am interested in hearing what he has to say about Iraq, but I take issue with the certainly with which he pronounces about Iraq, and how he uses this perceived expertise to bolster mistaken positions.