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November 28, 2006

Nouri al-Maliki (and Partition) are Bad for Iraq
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It is a mystery to me how the idea of partitioning Iraq into three separate states (or "statelets") has gotten traction in elite foreign policy circles. It's amazing how an idea so self-evidently bad could be considered good. I suppose I can see the attraction. Everything else has failed, so let's try something so left-field, that, who knows, it might actually work. Sort of like John Chait's Swiftian exercise of floating, tongue-partly-in-cheek, the idea of bringing Saddam back into power. Well, Reza Aslan does a useful service in debunking the three-state plan in the latest issue of TNR:

Partitioning Iraq would in no way solve the country's most intractable problem: how to divide oil revenue evenly. Considering that the vast majority of Iraq's oil fields reside almost exclusively in the Shia south and the Kurdish north, it is not difficult to imagine how partition could lead to the permanent exclusion of the Sunnis from what is practically Iraq's sole source of revenue. This would likely result in an even greater sense of alienation among the Sunnis and, consequently, increased sectarian violence.

However, the rest of his article is somehow less convincing. Aslan argues that:

Despite the country's rapid descent into chaos and the government's deadlock on fundamental issues like revenue-sharing, the Iraqis have done a masterful job of coming together to lay the groundwork for a unified, viable state. The Iraqi constitution provides a template for a united yet pluralistic nation...And the fractious government, in spite of its bumbling ineffectiveness, has nevertheless managed to come to terms on issues of mutual concern that would have been inconceivable a mere year ago. Indeed, the fact that the Iraqi government remains standing despite a devastating civil war is in itself a miracle.

Well, one of the reasons we have an ever-intensifying civil war in the first place is because of the utter incompetence of Nouri al-Maliki's government and its continued willingness to turn a blind eye to the increasingly brutal, roving death squads of its Sadrist coalition partners. Yes, Maliki is complicit in the state-sponsored murder of Sunnis. If there's been one time where I've felt that toppling a democratically-elected leader would be the moral thing to do, it is now. Of course, this is not to say we should, because we have no guarantee that the next guy would be any better (and ousting elected leaders would set a very, very bad precedent). In any case, our indulgence of Maliki and the Sadrists must end. Oh, but I forgot, we don't have anymore leverage with anyone in the Middle East, the wonderful result of six years of the Bush administration's uncanny ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time all of the time.

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Comments

The origins of the partition idea had less to do with solving the Iraq problem than it did with solving the Kurds' problem. As such I had some sympathy for it, even though the regional political implications always made it, as they do today, impractical.

It is important for us to remember -- and perhaps more important for some of us than for others -- that partition of the whole country is even being discussed for one reason, that being the oppression inflicted by a government dominated by Iraq's Sunni Arabs on the country's Shiites and Kurds for many years and continued by the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency.

You don't find white hats in Arab politics, and the death squads run out of the loathsome Sadr's Mahdi militia deserve everything that has been said about them. Neither they nor the politicians dependent on Sadr's support, though, would have anything like the public sympathy they do among Iraq's Shiites were it not for the deliberate campaign of murder by the insurgency directed at Shiites over the last three years. Of course the Sunni Arabs, who declined to fight the insurgency while it was assassinatng Shiite officials and blowing up Shiite civilians, are now outraged that the inevitable Shiite retaliation has fallen upon them. Years passed during which Sunni Arab insurgents murdered Shiite police recruits in large numbers nearly every month; now Shiite death squads are run out of the Interior Ministry. Did Iraq's Sunni Arabs, and their sympathizers elsewhere, expect something else?

Civil war in Iraq did not just happen. It is what the insurgency wanted to happen. There was no big secret about it; the insurgency's objectives were widely publicized and discussed. It got what it wanted. We ought to be clear about that, comforting though it may be for Americans to think all would have been well had we, or at least our government, done things differently.

Again, we're falling into the non-empathetic, father-knows-best role of making judgments about other people's actions, in this case Maliki and Sadr. You say that they're democratic but also incompetent and brutal (so much for democratic idealism--RIP). They employ roving death squads which is something the US would never do, discounting for the moment the US Army and Marines.

Perhaps Maliki and Sadr are idealists too? Is that possible? Perhaps they have said or thought: "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Those that promote and endorse democracy must accept the difficulties that come with it. It's a package deal. Our own civil war was extremely deadly, and other countries have gone through similar circumstances. Many people foresaw what would happen in Iraq if the glue that bound the disparate groups together was lost, and now it's happening. It's no surprise. We either have to get out and let it take its course or try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I suggest the former.


Re: Sadrist death squads

News report: In a reflection of the growing new dimension of civil strife, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday that the militia of radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr has grown eightfold over the past year and now fields 40,000 to 60,000 men [that's 4,00 to 6,000 "death squads"]. That makes it more effective than the Iraqi government's army, the official indicated.

Sadr is so powerful that if provincial elections were held now, he would sweep most of the south and also take Baghdad, said the intelligence officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position [his position just got more sensitive].

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/27/AR2006112701398.html

Perhaps indulgence isn't a bad way to go.

However, the rest of his article is somehow less convincing.

I'll say! The spectacular clulessness of a claim such as "the Iraqis have done a masterful job of coming together to lay the groundwork for a unified, viable state" tends to undermine any other claims by Aslan on our attention - whether on the subject of partition or any other topic.

The following claim isn't much better:

Well, one of the reasons we have an ever-intensifying civil war in the first place is because of the utter incompetence of Nouri al-Maliki government and its continued willingness to turn a blind eye to the increasingly brutal, roving death squads of its Sadrist coalition partners.

This seems to be a popular theme this week among US government officials and ex-military types. But it partakes just as much of fantasy and denial as Aslan's comment. The presupposition behind the statement is that Maliki actually could do something about the death squads, if only he weren't so corrupt and "incompetent", and was willing to "take them on" and not turn a "blind eye" to them. But the leaders of the death squads and militias sit right with him in the government! No matter what inclinations or desires Maliki might have, there is nothing he can do to reign in the death squads and militias short of disbanding the government and staging an internal coup against it, since the government barely exists outside the leaders of those militias and death squads. Nor would even a coup work - since coups require military muscle, and neither Maliki nor anyone else in Iraq could assemble an independent military force with as much power as the militia-based coalitions he would be seeking to supplant.

You might as well say that Bush would be a successful president if only he were willing to shut down Washington; arrest and kill the leaders of Congress and the heads of the CIA, the State Department and the Defense Department; and disband the Secret Service and the joint military command. What world are you oooking at?

"utter incompetence of Nouri al-Maliki's"

Maybe if iraq hadn't had to suffer from the "utter incompetence" of the US goverment and military.......

It is a mystery to me how the idea of partitioning Iraq into three separate states (or "statelets") has gotten traction in elite foreign policy circles. It's amazing how an idea so self-evidently bad could be considered good. I suppose I can see the attraction. Everything else has failed, so let's try something so left-field, that, who knows, it might actually work.

So what's your plan Shadi?

Iraq is already in pieces. I think we're now at the point where those who think Iraq should not be divided begin to explain what their own plan is for putting it all back together again. Right now, given the situation on the ground, it is the notion of a unified Iraqi state that increasingly looks like the idea from left field.

To refute some proposal, it is not enough to point out that it is likely to have many bad consequences. One must also argue that there is an achievable alternative with better consequences.

Dan, as long as we maintain the fiction that the official iraqi government has some sort of sovereignty, we can't partitioin iraq. We have to pretend that iraq is one country as long as we pretend the iraqi government thinks so. We can't even just tell them to partition iraq -- their constitution won't let them.

Even worse, note that the Sadrist legislators are talking about leaving the government. What if a majority of legislators leave? Can we justify detaining them in the Green Zone? If they escape and set up a new Assembly outside the Green Zone, then we have to hunt them down and capture them or our credibility in iraq is shot.

We're talking about big weighty choices like partitioning the country, but our legitimacy there depends on the claim that we're supporting the sovereign elected government there, and there's a limit to our ability to prevent that government from making decisions. There's even some limit to our ability to stop the legislators from votiong with their feet.

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