Saturday, January 15, 2005

Iraq: Poor Planning, Elections, Hope, and Entering Phase V (Post-Election Iraq)

Even Neo-Coninsh intellectual standard barrier, Policy Review, has published a damning piece, by Michael E. O’Hanlon, on the Bushies’ lack of a post-invasion plan:

The problem was simply this: The war plan was seriously flawed and incomplete. Invading another country with the intention of destroying its existing government yet without a serious strategy for providing security thereafter defies logic and falls short of proper professional military standards of competence. It was in fact unconscionable.

Lest there be any doubt about the absence of a plan, one need only consult the Third Infantry Division’s after-action report, which reads: “Higher headquarters did not provide the Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) with a plan for Phase iv. As a result, Third Infantry Division transitioned into Phase iv in the absence of guidance.”

This lack of planning has lead to possible civil war in Iraq, and as Thomas Friedman argues has left us with the “least bad option” – forging ahead with elections on Jan. 30th:

We are already in a civil war in Iraq. That civil war was started by the Sunni Baathists, and their Islamist fascist allies from around the region, the minute the U.S. toppled Saddam. And they started that war not because they felt the Iraqi elections were going to be rigged, but because they knew they weren't going to be rigged.

They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share. Under Saddam, Iraq's Sunni minority, with only 20 percent of the population, ruled everyone. These fascist insurgents have never given politics a chance to work in Iraq because they don't want it to work. That's why they have never issued a list of demands. They don't want people to see what they are really after, which is continued minority rule, Saddamism without Saddam. If that was my politics, I'd be wearing a ski mask over my head, too.

The notion that delaying the elections for a few months would somehow give time for the "Sunni moderates" to persuade the extremists to come around is dead wrong - literally. Any delay would simply embolden the guys with the guns to kill more Iraqi police officers and to intimidate more Sunnis. It could only convince them that with just a little more violence, they could scuttle the whole project of rebuilding Iraq.

There is only one thing that will enable the Sunni moderates in Iraq to win the debate, and that is when the fascist insurgents are forced to confront the fact that their tactics have not only failed to prevent the elections, but have also dug the Sunnis of Iraq into an even deeper hole.

I am not sure Iraq is in a full-scale civil war, yet. The majority of the violence is still confined to 4 out of 18 provinces, the Sunnis make up only 20% of the population, and they are not all part of the terrorist groups now promoting anti-election chaos in Iraq. It is also a good sign that there was not any major retaliation by the Shiites after the assassination of Sistani’s aide. Though continued sectarian violence is almost guaranteed, and is likely to become more Sunni vs. Shiite, and less "insurgents" vs. "occupying army" after the elections.

As for a possible Shia theocracy, Iraqi blogger Decmocracy in Iraq sees this as unlikely: (Also see his interesting post on foreign influences in Iraq, and he calls the Saudis the Beverly Hillbillies of the Arab world.) :

Still the possible election of a large-scale Shia coalition has some people outside of Iraq worried that we will slide towards a theocracy like Iran. I say that it isn't going to happen.

There are many reasons for this. The first being that Iraq is too diverse to be a singular religion theocracy. Since we have so many Shias and Sunnis, it would be impossible to have a theocracy without angering the other group. It would if anything lead to a civil war, but this is very unlikely. Both sides realize that our nation is one of diversity, there are after all smaller religious groups too such as the various Christian groups, where would they be left in a theocracy?

This diversity is also ingrained in Iraq. We have lived our whole lives with other types of people. Not to mention, most of us grew up in a secular system. Saddam was a worthless man, but the Baathists were secular, at least until the end when they began trying to manipulate religions for their own use. Regardless, not only my generation, but that of my parents have grown up in an environment of secularism. I have seen my mothers pictures of her college days and the women were dressed very liberally, this continued in Iraq until the terrorists began spreading like a plague and infesting fear in the people.

So then how can people who are used to secularism accept a theocracy, or even accept a theocracy that is limited ie: one that only appeals to one religious belief? Its very unlikely, I would say impossible.

And from the Washington Post comes another bit of anecdotal hopeful news:

"Without elections, there will be tyranny," said Kadhim Hassan, a 37-year-old writer.
"A country will not find progress without making sacrifices," Mohammed said.

He pointed to the Iran-Iraq war and the battle in 1988 to retake the Faw peninsula on the Persian Gulf. Thousands were lost, he said, "for Saddam's moment of madness. If we lose 100 or 200 people as martyrs in the election, the sacrifice is worth it."

"This is the tax that we have to pay," added Mohammed Thamer, a poet. "We have no other option, no other solution."

"The Americans will leave," Karim said. "They will leave like the other occupiers, whether it's a short period or long."
In the meantime, the three men said, they would remain hopeful.

"I'm optimistic 1,000 percent," Danif exclaimed.

Karim nodded. "I'm twice as optimistic," he said.

Yassin smiled. "I'm optimistic, but I know there will be obstacles and difficulties."

He nodded to the others and said: "It's just the beginning."

And this is key. This is the beginning of a much longer process for the Iraqi people, and one that if it is to be legitimate, must have more Iraqi involvement and much less U.S. involvement. How this is to be accomplished should be the central question of the next few months. A good place to start this discussion is an amazing post by Nadezhda over at the insightful blog Liberals Against Terrorism:

The challenges ahead for the US will be two-fold. To shift the "shot calling" to whatever government in Baghdad emerges after Jan 30. And to reduce the US presence in the cities as much as possible. That means leaving the Sunni triangle to the Sunnis -- other than to harrass their ability to organize the insurgency operations. And reducing the US physical presence in other urban areas as fast as possible.

Complete withdrawal is clearly neither possible nor likely to be demanded by the new government -- they will insist on a timetable for future withdrawal, but they're not suicidal. The US should publicly embrace the notion of a timetable for withdrawal agreed with the new government and engage in publicly visible negotiations over that timetable. BTW, good PR inside Iraq for the Iraqi politicians, good fig-leaf for eventual involvement of other countries who would not be forced to be part of the US-led "multinational coalition", and good for the US, because we could stop playing the denial games for domestic consumption.
Bush's "peace with honor" is that America didn't cut and run but that America is coming home as the job gets done and as the Iraqis want us to depart. As we depart, we will point to some portion of Iraqis being able to start building a future, to a portion of Iraq that is emerging as an independent society, to America's continued commitment, on the basis of mutual respect between two countries to provide financial and, if requested, military support. These are the objectives of Bush's "peace with honor" as it is taking shape. I can embrace those objectives.

So can I. We need to remain focused on what is best for the Iraqi people, because it is both the right thing to do, and, in the long run, will be best for the U.S. as well.


At 8:39 PM, Blogger nadezhda said...

Thanks for the kind comment. You'll have to hold me to my pledge, because it's very hard not to want rub the collective noses of the BushAdmin in the fine mess we're in. Yet I think the impluse to hold him accountable isn't in our or the Iraqis best interests for the reasons I noted. We all need a "peace with honor," whether we like it or not.

Interesting times we live in, huh?

chez Nadezda


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