Catching Up on Iraq Stuff
-UIA announcement delayed: As expected, the declaration of a ‘new’ United Iraqi Alliance list, due compete in the next national elections in January, was kicked down the road until August 24. The declaration was supposed to occur today, but continuing ‘negotiations,’ or rather political brinkmanship, resulting from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s refusal to sign on just yet, delayed what was pegged to be a spectacle of Shia Islamist unity.
Maliki wants guarantees that he will be the UIA’s sole candidate for the PM job post elections, and that the candidacy of the current Minister of Interior, Jawad al-Bolani, be publicly quashed. Bolani’s momentum was buoyed by what one source called Ammar al-Hakim’s nod towards him, and a judgment that the Hakim family’s preferred candidate, current Vice-President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, would never be marketable to the rest of the UIA as PM material. To bolster this trend, Bolani seized on the gruesome incident at the Rafidayn Bank-Zawiya Branch on July 27 which implicated one or more of Abdul-Mahdi’s bodyguards, to cripple whatever hopes the latter had of ever becoming prime minister. The bank heist, in which eight employees were killed, has severely wounded the Hakim family in their traditional Baghdad bastions, Karrada and Jadiriya. For now and for the foreseeable future, Abdul-Mahdi is simply too radioactive for any important role in Iraqi politics.
Of course, Maliki isn’t getting any guarantees because almost no one among the major Shia players, not to mention the Kurds and the Sunni Islamic Party, wants to see him back as PM. Which naturally leads to Maliki’s continued tease: “give me what I want or I will go it alone.”
Maliki’s stance enjoys the realization that without him, the UIA is dead in the water. The fortunes of all the Islamist parties seem to be sinking, a fact reflected to a certain degree in the provincial election results and anecdotally. What Maliki doesn’t realize is that his little flirtations with the UIA, and with a broad coalition of anti-UIA forces, ends up pissing everyone off. When he eventually makes up his mind, the blowback will be severe and damaging: if Maliki goes it alone then the component parts of the UIA will accuse him of collusion with Ba’athists, while if he rejoins the UIA he will be accused of sectarianism. Either way, he shall bear the brunt of the popular gripe regarding corruption, poor services, and mismanagement of the economy. Maliki's current PR strategy of scapegoating others (..."parliament is delaying everything") doesn't carry much water: it is his name that Iraqis curse when the electricity goes out.
-Rehabilitating the worst of the Sadrists: I find myself in agreement with Muqtada al-Sadr: rehabilitating the Asa’ib al-Haq (‘League of the Righteous’) terrorist group is immoral and dangerous. Maliki cynically thinks that they should be brought back into the political process, much like his policy of rehabilitating Shia Ba’athists while shunning Sunni Ba’athists. Maliki thinks that such micro-constituencies of able enforcers or thugs can be turned into his own arm of political intimidation against others. The Americans and the Brits have played along, hoping to cut a drug deal with the Sadrist offshoot in return for a couple of their hostages and several corpses. Towards that end, they have been releasing the leaders of Asa’ib al-Haq. In a story on August 4 in the New York Times, it seems that Muqtada al-Sadr has issued a written statement condemning such moves. Of course, al-Sadr is worried that these former Sadrists whom he has excommunicated will get back in the game and will turn their energies, and guns, against him. Either way, neither the Iraqi state nor coalition forces should be in the business of rewarding bad behavior; they should just rough it out until such groups are eradicated and weeded out of Iraqi society.
-Even the 'Dining' section is politicized: The New York Times carried a story by Steven Lee Myers about the culinary tradition of masguf (grilled fish) in Iraq. The author and his editors clearly were trying to follow the agenda of saying “Life goes on in Iraq, but just barely, and it could unravel at any moment, and we may just yet remain credible harbingers of doom.” I don’t have the patience of running through all the crap in this particular piece, but three things stand out: the assertion that under Saddam liberties were looser, that selling alcohol is still done clandestinely, and that the “guts” of the fish are fried and served as an appetizer. First, Saddam closed the bars, liquor shops and ‘cafes’ of Abu Nawas Street as part of his ‘Faith Campaign’ in the 1990s. Second, every little grocery store on and near Abu Nawas Street has turned itself into a liquor store, which is something that any pedestrian can clarify for oneself. Third, the fried “guts” is actually the roe sack (carp eggs) which can be bought at Whole Foods. The sack is fried in the oils that ooze out of the fish, and that’s the whole point of masguf and why it is yummy (…missed in the article): the oil from the top of the fish slowly streams down to cook the rest of the fish.
-Stories about Kirkuk as a A-bomb about to detonate: Rod Nordland, ‘Now It’s a Census That Could Rip Iraq Apart,’ The New York Times, July 26; Anthony Shadid, ‘Worries About A Kurdish-Arab Conflict Move To Fore in Iraq,’ Washington Post, July 27; Andrew Lee Butters, ‘Why Kurds vs. Arabs Could Be Iraq’s Next Civil War,’ TIME, July 22. All these stories are ridiculous, but Shadid quoting Hamid al-Hayess of Anbar to say that if the Kurds try to take Kirkuk then “we will wipe it off the face of the map” takes the cake. Quoting a clown like Hayess on Kirkuk is like quoting Marion Barry on the Skip Gates arrest. Anyone can find crazy quotes, but it is up to the reporter and the editor to decide whether they run or not. When crazy quotes are run, as they do in Western press stories on Iraq, then it reflects a continuing agenda. Anyway, Hayess publicly stated to Iraqi media that he never said such a thing, so Shadid should check his notes.
I didn’t plan to write about Kirkuk, but with the degraded level of what’s being written about the place, and the expectant glee of imminent doom as reflected in the press accounts, I may just have to pour some cold water on this type of dribble. But not today, for I have work to do.
-The Reese memo debate: I agree with Col. Timothy Reese’s memo (see text here) that the Americans should declare victory and go. Although Reese may have been miffed by the fact he can’t boss around Iraqi officers any more like interns and hence was motivated to fire off a screed against those who won’t get him his coffee anymore, the reality is that America’s presence in Iraq is devoid of strategic direction. In a nutshell, I believe that direction should be safeguarding Iraq’s democracy from a drift towards authoritarianism (…which some Americans and Brits on the ground are encouraging), and arming and developing Iraq’s military and security forces to act as America’s principal strategic ally in the region (…which isn’t happening). Washington is unclear about what it wants to do with Iraq, while it irrationally blows assets and money on Afghanistan, a country that has very little of the long-term strategic potential (political, military and economic) that Iraq enjoys. The Obama administration’s cluelessness about Iraq’s future is merely a continuation of Bush’s second term, and it is too late to fix this structural flaw in America’s strategic design. There is no violent agenda that the current Iraqi Army and police, even with all their shortcomings, can’t handle, so sure, pull the plug and off you go.