Daily Archives: May 15, 2006

On Hold in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on May 15, 2006
Iraq / 3 Comments

Bush takes a lot of heat for sticking to his guns, most recently from Stephen Colbert:

“When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday — no matter what happened Tuesday.”

Iraq is, presumably, a case in point. It just ain’t so. In truth, the Bush administration has done nothing but flip flop about the political outcome in Iraq. The long wait for a new government in Iraq is a product of US indecisiveness.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki could form a government today if he didn’t face pressure from US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The Sadrist Shiite parliamentary bloc recently rebuked Khalilzad for pressuring Maliki to make too many accomodations on behalf of the Sunni Arab minority. From the New York Times:

As 275-member parliament convened Sunday, Bahaa al-Araji, a lawmaker loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, denounced what he said was continued U.S. meddling in the selection of ministers for the coveted interior and defense ministry posts… “Within the past two days, the occupation forces have been interfering with certain names and certain posts,” said al-Araji, whose group holds 30 seats in parliament. “There are also blocs participating in the (formation of) the government that have begun demanding more than what they are entitled to electorally…” he said, singling out the Sunni Arab Accordance Front as one example.

Who is stalling? Araji threatened that if the US did not quit stalling the process on behalf of the Sunni Arab forces, the Shiite alliance would “form a government without regard to their demands.” According to the NYT report, Araji “set a deadline of two-days before the 130 alliance deputies act unilaterally.”

Such a government would, no doubt, drive most Sunni politicians into the hands of the insurgency. The fact that such a government has not been announced is hardly a consequence of Shiite ambivalence or hesitation, however. It is a result of US attempts to pressure Iraqi Shiites to reach out to the Sunni Arab minority.

There have been some moments of extraordinary US political decisiveness in Iraq, but they have always been contradicted in short order. In May 2003, early in the occupation, the Coalition Provisional Authority issues orders to de-Baathify the Iraqi state apparatus and to disband the Sunni Arab-dominated Iraqi Army officer corps. Both steps were bold initiatives designed to signal US support for a full-blown political transformation in Iraq. Both steps also generated massive opposition. In Iraq opposition took the form of the Sunni Arab insurgency. In the US it took the form of a revolt by the Arabist Republican foreign policy establishment.

No later than September 2003, however, Bush administration resolve weakened and started to wobble. Eventually, the de-Baathification order was rescinded and the US began to reach out to former regime elements. By June 2004, the Bush administration took another bold step, albeit one completely at odds with its first bold step. In that month, the Coalition Provisional Authority formally handed sovereignty to Iyad Allawi, a former Baathist. It looked like the US had returned to its older policy of favoring “Saddamism without Saddam.”

If Allawi was supposed to function as an unelected authoritarian Iraqi “strongman,” this role was completely undermined by the January 2005 elections, the October 2005 Constitutional Referendum, and the December 2005 elections. Undertaken with the enthusiastic support of Right Zionists (so-called neocons) and the Iraqi Shiite majority–but over the objections of Right Arabists–these elections put full-blown political transformation back on the Iraqi agenda.

The current stalemate is an index of US flip-flopping and mixed signals. On most days, Ambassador Khalilzad devotes himself to appeasing the Sunni Arab minority–most visibly in the March 2006 attempt to form an extra-Constitutional “national security” council. That one looked like a coup in the making.

Even as the “security” situtation continues to deteriorate on all fronts, the US remains fundamentally unwilling to take a stand and stick with a plan on the “political” front. Plan A: support the Shiite majority and get on with counter-insurgency against the Sunni Arab resistance. Plan B: support Allawi as a new Iraqi strongman and get on with the inevitable counter-insurgency against the (future) Shiite resistance. Plan C: declare Kurdistan the 51st state of the US and get on with the inevitable military clashes with Turkey.Right now, the US seems to be carefully weighing its options and pondering alternative plans. How many US troops died today while the Bush administration sat stewing in its own strategic ambivalence and half-hearted flip-flopping?