Announcing the 'New' UIA
So the revamped United Iraqi Alliance was finally announced today, and if you’ve been reading this blog for the last few months, this marks a seminal moment in Iraqi politics. The big news is not who was on stage as the announcement was made, but rather who was absent, namely Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Da’awa Party.
Negotiations proceeded at a feverish pace right up to the moment when the main actors began heading out to the conference hall, with the Da’awa Party pleading for a delay. However, these pleas fell on deaf ears since Maliki’s representative to the preparatory meetings, MP Hassan al-Sineid, had already agreed on the 24th (today) as the final date for the launching of the new UIA. Needless to say, the refusal to postpone the announcement took the Da’awa by surprise, believing as they did that they had far more leverage given Maliki’s popularity.
Yet Maliki’s political fortunes have been sinking as of late, as his claim to fame for bringing an end to violence, especially in Baghdad, was dramatically torn asunder by Wednesday’s multiple bombings aimed at high value targets. The political atmosphere is so poisonous that Da’awa apparatchiks had been insinuating, with Maliki in the lead, that the bombings resulted from the “strained political atmosphere,” implicitly accusing the Islamic Supreme Council headed by the Hakim family as the main culprits.
The Iraqi government for its part has been putting out conflicting stories about the bombings. The Defense minister claimed that the bomb parts were Iranian-made, again casting aspersions on the Hakims, who are perceived as close to the Iranians. But ‘Baghdad Operations Command’ released televised confessions from a Ba’athist who claimed responsibility for the truck bomb at the Finance Ministry, adding that he answered to the splinter Ba’athist wing headed by Mohammad Yunis al-Ahmad. (Note: a New York Times story today by Steven Lee Myers mistakenly attributed the confession to the Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri wing of the Ba’ath Party.)
This move by the new UIA effectively splits the Shia Islamist vote, and would naturally mean that the Sistani establishment in Najaf would be forced to pick sides.
The mathematics behind the announcement has to do with the notion that the principal parties of the new UIA got more votes in total than Maliki in last January’s provincial elections (Hakims 11 percent, Sadrists 7 percent, Ja’afari 4 percent, versus Maliki’s 19 percent). The chief power brokers are Ammar al-Hakim and Ahmad Chalabi, while Sunni representation is simply garnish, with Hamid al-Hayess of Anbar Province (former Iraqi National Congress bureau chief in Ramadi) taking the podium to give a Sunni face to the show. Former Allawi ally Qassim Daoud is there too, as are a smattering of non-aligned tribal leaders such as Hatim al-Sultan of the Banu Tamim.
Both Ja’afari and Adel Abdel-Mahdi said that they had hoped that Maliki and the Da’awa would have been on board, and kept the door open for a future realignment, but that is very unlikely at this stage. The chief stumbling block in the negotiations was that Maliki demanded assurances that he would remain the UIA’s sole candidate for the PM job post-elections, which the Hakims were not prepared to commit to.
I didn’t want to comment on the bombings, since it involved a personal fright. But the headline in the Washington Post the following day (Aug. 20) was simply shrill and ridiculous: ‘Iraq Carnage Shows Sectarian War Goes On’. The write-up by Ernesto Londono was equally hyperbolic, but I’m used to by now his attempts to over-dramatize events in Iraq. The Iraqi ambassador to the US has a letter to the editor published in the paper today addressing the WaPo’s headline and shoddy reporting.
Yet the most disturbing aspect of how the bombings were reported upon by the US media were the quotes by current and former U.S. officers in Iraq, as well as U.S.-based analysts, commenting on what happened. These statements reeked of what seems like gloating; they sounded like a jilted ex-wife taking pleasure that the younger bride for whom she was dumped ran away with the mailman. The ‘Blame The Iraqis’ crowd among America’s military and security classes are taking great pains to bleach-out their blemished legacies; they did nothing wrong and it was the always the Iraqis who screwed everything up. It is the common refrain of the insecure and the recognition-hungry. The atmosphere between Iraqis and Americans has been poisoned, by careerism and activist reporting, far beyond the effects of whatever antidote may be available. To me it is high time for full disengagement: leave the Iraqis to sort out their own problems without the snide commentary, and let’s see what those folks can do to ‘win’ in Af-Pak. U.S.-Iraqi relations should be restructured towards private sector investment and energy security. There’s very little other ground for ‘feel-good’ cooperation.
Lastly, check out a story in today’s NYTimes about beach life in Habbaniya Lake. This piece of reporting by Duraid Adnan and Timothy Williams is a far clearer reflection for how life goes on, and going well, in Iraq. At the end, it’s all about boys and girls flirting and creating happier memories.