Sunday, May 11, 2008

Political science and the Sadr City bombings

The secretariat of the United Iraqi Alliance held a meeting today (Sunday May 11) presided over by Abdulaziz al-Hakim, head of the main component of that bloc, namely the Supreme Council. Naturally Maliki, who belongs to the other major component, the Dawa party, was also in attendance. Following the meeting, Maliki made lengthy remarks to the journalists in attendance (apparently not including any western journalists).

His first point was that these meetings are important as a point of contact between the parliamentary blocs on the one hand, and "the executive authority" which he, Maliki heads, on the other. So for instance when he stressed the utmost importance of this meeting, he added:
We are convinced that [meetings like this] form the solid basis for launching joint activities between the lists and blocs that participate in the government [on the one hand], and the executive authority [on the other], and these activities will continue today with the UIA. And there are preparations with the other lists and blocs too, to put them also in the picture respecting the political realities...
Having established the distinction between the "lists and blocs" on the one hand, and the "executive authority" of the government on the other, Maliki gave his interpretation of the agreement with the Sadrists.

His point was that the agreement with the Sadrist bloc was in the sphere of agreements among the political blocs, and as far as "the executive authority" is concerned, it agreed with the agreement, but only because it represented the application of a principle that the executive authority applies everywhere and to all groups, namely that weapons are to be exclusively in the hands of the government. He said:
[The Sadrist-UIA agreement] requires some explanation, because what was arrived at, and the points of agreement, are the rules [dawaabit: "general rule, canon (moral), precept or order"] for action and interaction in the field that apply to all sides and tendencies and parties and trends, to which they must all be committted in their actions in the area of security. But what occurred was bilateral relationships and discussions between the UIA and the Sadrist trend, and not between the government and the [Sadrist] trend.

Now the government, as long as it sees that any type of effort [like these discussions and agreement] as long as it arrives at the actual goals and objectives that we desire--including non-intervention in the affairs and operations of the police and the army, not possessing heavy weapons, not using these weapons to attack the institutions of the state--and we wish them to be legalized and to be committed to the rules of order, and so on--then the clauses that result are the same clauses that we have been announcing and even distributing from airplanes.

So the good thing about the Sadrist trend is that they have responded positively to these rules, and for our part, when we see this committment, then we will move toward the second stage, which is establishment of security and stability, and ending all of the sanctions and the weapons...The following stage will be construction and the providing of more services...
Maliki's point is that the government only agreed to this UIA-Sadrist agreement insofar as it embodies the same "rules" that his government has been leafleting Sadr Sadr City with, namely that there is to be no interference with the state and its institutions. It is up to the government to enforce this rule, so naturally whenever any parties agree among themselves to abide by these rules, the government will of course agree to that.

The executive authority, according to Maliki's interpretation as explained here, is paramount in the sense that while parties and blocs may make agreements among themselves, in the final analysis the only legitimate meaning that such agreements can have is to support the government within the framework of "the rules". The government does not bind itself by agreements with political parties or blocs; rather, such agreements are by definition within the framework of the "rules", of which the executive authority and only the executive authority is the arbiter. (Starting to sound familiar)?

This is the explanation for the frightening remarks attributed to Maliki spokesman Ali Dabbagh and Badr Organization head Hadi al-Amiri this morning in the corporate media:
[Sadrist spokesman] Obeidi said the agreement allows only Iraqi forces to conduct raids in Sadr City, not the U.S. military. But Dabbagh told The [LA] Times that the deal did not address the role of foreign troops, a point underscored by Hadi Amri, a member of the ruling alliance's negotiating team.

"There is no point that prevents the Americans from performing military operations in Sadr City," Amri said. "The U.S. forces are and will continue bombing . . . the places that are launching mortar rounds or rockets at their bases and/or the Green Zone."
Of course this raises the question how a ceasefire agreement can be structured to as to allow continued bombing by one of the parties. But the answer to that question is simple. This is not, in the minds Maliki and his allies, a cease-fire at all, but merely an agreement among political parties and blocs to abide by the state-supremacy rules of which the executive authority is the arbiter. There is nothing to prevent the state from calling in air-support in pursuance of its establishment of these state-supremacy rules; on the contrary.

This is the mind-set. While it doesn't explain the internal Maliki-SupremeCouncil tensions, it does help to understand their common ground. Moreover, I think it also helps us to (partly) understand why it is that the Democratic-party policy people have fallen silent so suddenly since the Sadr City bombings started. Because as you can see from a review of Marc Lynch's posts over the last few months, the central theme has been to stress the need for central authority as opposed to regional fragmentation, but now that the central authority turns out (!) to be just what you would expect from a trusted representative of the occupying forces, they are at a loss for words.


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