Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Throw another log on the fire...

It is a familiar story, but maybe it's worth noting that the gist of the recent commentary on the De-Debaathification law is wrong, being nothing more than an updating of the Iraq=sectarian-meltdown story. Cole's original claim (Jan 13) that the new law was "spearheaded by Sadrists" to make life worse for the ex-Baathists is something he made up out of whole cloth, but it has taken hold. The sequel is that Hashemi tried to veto the law, but he failed and it is being implemented anyway, and this is seen as a humiliation for him, and for the Sunnis, and another step in the sect-based meltdown. The subtext, as usual, is that all of the Iraqi parties are narrow sectarians.

Among the inconvenient truths are that the Sadrist news-site Nahrainnet.net reflected rank-and-file Sadrist opposition to the new law, not approval or "spearheading" of it; and that today's Al-Quds al-Arabi prints on its front page a news-item favorable to the law headed "Thousands of Iraqis recover their jobs with the new law on inclusion of the Baath". If you take all of actual reports together, the unavoidable conclusion is that this was an attempted compromise, with hard-liners and accomodationists on both sides, so that as you would expect there was a variety of opinions about it among Sadrists, and a variety of opinions about it among ex-Baathists, and no doubt in other groups as well. The head of the parliamentary commission dealing with this happens to be a Sadrist, so Cole used that to claim "Sadrists are spearheading this"; and while some of the Sunni politicians thought the new law would on balance be good for ex-members of the Baath party, others disagreed, and this put pressure on vp Hashemi, a Sunni and leader of the Islamic Party of Iraq, to be seen to be fighting to the end for a better deal, which is what he did. (Reflecting intra-Baath disagreements, there have been news reports* suggesting a relationship between this new-law problem and the struggle between the Izzat al-Douri and the Yunis al-Ahmed wings of the Baath party). There is no suggestion anywhere in any local report, of the idea that this reflects a Sadrist move against the Sunnis. That is pure Cole, and the Colestory became dominant because it fits a much more powerful preconception: that of the Iraq=sectarian-meltdown story-line.

The struggle is in fact not a sectarian but a political one, and in the current case it is hard to disentangle two threads: (1) On the one hand, the American-inspired attempts to obtain a broader-based GreenZone government in order to legitimize the coming bilateral agreement and (2) on the other hand, apparent attempts by some "nationalist" GreenZone players (those who are blocking the Oil Law, for instance) to thwart the Americans at their own game. The Colestory makes it all so much easier to follow, the only subtext being: All of the Iraqi parties are despicable, the Sadrists for pressing home their advantage, and as for the ex-Baathists, any Cole reader knows that they are all in one way or another part of that sinister group the "Sunni Arab guerillas".

*See for instance this piece in AlMalafpress.net, which concludes:
The new law has caused considerable reaction [among expatriate ex-Baathists] once many of them started having to consider the method of its application, and whether in fact they would be allowed to return to their government jobs, and what would be the position Baath party leadership, currently represented by of Izzat al-Douri toward the middle-level people who could be permitted to return to their general jobs, or toward those who will be included in the purging according to the new principles in the Justice and Accountability Law, which is not yet in effect, following the opposition expressed by vice president Hashemi to some of the provisions...
the point here being merely that there have been internal pressures on Hashemi, relating to political strategy, contrary to the idea that he is a stick-figure representative of "the Sunnis" battling against the Sadrist orcs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Colestory makes it all so much easier to follow, the only subtext being: All of the Iraqi parties are despicable, the Sadrists for pressing home their advantage, and as for the ex-Baathists, any Cole reader knows that they are all in one way or another part of that sinister group the "Sunni Arab guerillas".

Absoulte rubbish! I have been reading Cole for all of five years and I do NOT get that view from his writings. You appear to have a chip on your shoulder.

5:08 PM  
Blogger badger said...

What you mean is you have discovered a source of Truth, the criticism of which can only be the result of a personality defect. Are there not other forums that are more up your alley?

6:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:21 AM I dislike people putting words in my mouth. I didn't say that at all. I said that I read Juan Cole (among many others, by the way, including you!) and in no moment do I interpret him the negative way you do. Everyone (including you, I'm sure) has their biases, but I feel that you exaggerate Cole's biases. Let me clarify another detail - I am not from the Middle East nor have I studied the Middle East. My interest in the Middle East emanates (and I am sure you can agree with me in this sense) from the fact that my (US) government is involving our citizens (and by implication my relatives and family) in Middle Eastern affairs in a highly 'toxic', negative and predatory nmanner. In this sense, it behooves each and every citizen of the USA to learn as much as they can about the region so as to not fall victim to US propaganda. Of course, (and you should be able to agree to this as well) it is physically impossible for all of us to become "experts" on the region (nor do we need to). Juan Cole, you, Helena Cobban, As'ad AbuKhalil, Imad Khadduri, Abu Aardvark and many others provide us with useful information which we greatly appreciate. I son't rely on any one, because I too am an academic and a researcher and have been trained to diversify my sources. I just don't agree with some of your criticisms of Juan Cole.

7:42 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Three points:

(1) Part of the propaganda you refer to is the stress on the religious-sectarian side of the fighting, making people forget that there even is any nationalist project.

(2) Making up a story to the effect that the recent law was spearheaded by Sadrists isn't bias, it's making up a story to color the event as a sectarian struggle. And making up a story to the effect it was designed to hurt the ex-Baathists is also not bias, but making up a story. There's a difference.

(3) Cole's stuff gets copied everywhere. I recently saw his attack on the Sadrists in connection with this cited as if it was part of a story in Al-Hayat! This isn't a case of picking on someone, what he does when he makes these things up has an important deleterious effect. That's why I take these points up.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cole has on various occasions acknowledged the existence of a nationalist project. You have to admit, however, that there exists sectarianism. Whether instigated by locals, the US or other neighboring states, it does sometimes appear to be gaining ground against the nationalist project.

Look, ...as much as I would love to, I simply don't the have time to argue you point by point. One thing that I gather from Cole is that the Sadrists (like many political groups) are not a homogeneous lot. Similarly, neither are the Baathists, politically speaking. Hence, I give credit to Cole for not oversimplifying what is a complex situation. On the otherhand, I do notice that on occasion, Cole has gone against what even he himself has said in other contexts, thus resulting in what is an oversimplification (I really don't have the time to fetch the example). So he at times is sloppy! Granted. Should he perhaps know better? Yes! But remember, this is a blog, not a manuscript for a book or an article for a scholarly journal.

Still, that is a far cry from your unfair overgeneralization:

the only subtext being: All of the Iraqi parties are despicable, the Sadrists for pressing home their advantage, and as for the ex-Baathists, any Cole reader knows that they are all in one way or another part of that sinister group the "Sunni Arab guerillas".

If it makes you feel better, there is one thing I dislike about Cole. He believes that the US can and should do something to "fix" Iraq (whatever that means). I find that eerily reminiscient of imperialist condescension (I detect some traces of the white man's burden in that so-called "pottery barn rule" - you broke it, you own it - applied to Iraq). I firmly believe that the US had no right to go in there in the first place. Other than pay retribution for damages caused, the US should leave and stay as far away possible from Iraq (and the rest of the Middle East) in the immediate and long-term future.

10:27 AM  
Blogger JSN said...

Badger, early on the American press started describing Iraq as a mix of Kurds, and Shia and Sunni Arabs. Sometimes I thought this was to show off that they knew more than to think that they knew something about Iraq.

And, early on, America decided that early decisions would have to be approved by all "three groups,"

I was thinking that this might, in part, have helped create sectarian division. If the US was going to divide power up and give X share to the Kurds, Y share to the Arab Shia and Z share to the Arab Sunnis, then...

... there would be no point in being a member of a mixed group. You knew that your group was going to get a share, so a rational person would say "I'll join the A faction of my group"

What do I know, here in NYC, but, I was wondering, do you think that could have been a factor? If so, how much of one?

4:27 PM  

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