Thursday, June 19, 2008

Things fall apart

There has always been a problem trying to piece together anything but fragmentary and discontinuous accounts of Iraqi affairs, but the problem is getting noticeably worse. What's happening in Mosul following the publicized security campaign there, or is that campaign still going on? What about the provisional Sadrist okaying of the campaign in Amara; what does it say about conditions in the Iraqi army and police? And what is the meaning of "foreign minister" Zebari touting in Washington the near-certainty of a bilateral agreement by the end of July, in the face of more or less contradictory statements by the Prime Minister?

If we take up these questions one by one, a pattern emerges, and it is that the Maliki government, narrow-based as it is, is increasingly losing coherence even within that narrow base. (1) In Mosul, there seems to be a confrontation between a Kurdish/SupremeCouncil alliance on one side, and Maliki/Islamic Party on the other. (2) In Amara, the issue is going to be that the Iraqi forces contain both good and bad, and it isn't certain how far centralized chain of command will be effective. (3) And in Washington, the conclusion some are drawing is that foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari is running his own show, unconstrained by the technicality of being a part of the Maliki administration.

(1) Judging from a recent article in Fatehoon, a news-site that has provided a lot of recent Mosul coverage, Mosul politics seem to have broken down into a conflict between groups that were supposed to have been allied among themselves: namely the so-called five-party pact involving the two big Kurdish parties, the two Shiite government parties SupremeCouncil and Dawa, and the Islamic Party of Iraq (Hashemi's party). Fatehoon says there was a meeting June 15 involving representatives of the two big Kurdish parties and the SupremeCouncil, whose aims included: setting up methods for cooperating in gathering intelligence on troop-movements among the forces under the control of Maliki; discussing the possibility of a joint (Kurdish-party/Supreme Council) electoral list with the aim of keeping the Sunni Arabs out of the Ninawa provincial council; SupremeCouncil cooperation in helping the Kurdish parties relocate from Mosul locations where the Maliki security-campaign aims to evict them; and so on. (There is even mention of setting up a joint security committee to assassinate intellectuals who are thought to be potential candidates and/or supporters of the Sunni Arabs in the local elections, with particular reference to the Islamic Party of Iraq, in order to chill the Sunni-Arab participation). Fatehoon is SunniArab-leaning, so one would want to be alert to the possibility of exaggerations in this. However, I don't think they could have made up this entire framework of a split between the Kurdish/SupremeCouncil alliance on the one side, and Maliki/Islamic Party on the other. In other words, it appears the "government" five-party coalition has split down the middle over Mosul policy. If this has been reported anywhere, I missed it.

(2) What about the Maliki campaign in Amara, and the relationship between bona-fide law-enforcement on the one side, and sectarian attacks on the other? By way of enlightenment, here is how one Sadrist spokesman described the situation to an AlHayat reporter:
Ismaa Musawi, a member of the politial council of the Sadrist trend said Maliki's initial statements are "a good proposal, and he hopes he will carry through on them in a serious and focused way, avoiding the interventions (or meddling) of some". He told AlHayat: "There are some parties [not political parties, just "some parties" meaning people] who are not pleased with the idea of stability in regions that are popular strongholds of the Sadrist trend. And unfortunately these parties are scattered (or distributed) throughout some of the security and military institutions. [If there are] some violations and excesses, it is in confrontation with these parties, and not with the government, which has said on more than one occasion that it is targeting outlaws involved in violence against innocent persons, and this is what we ourselves are for, in rallying the followers of Sadr and excluding those who use the Sadrist trend as an umbrella for criminal activities."
Musawi's point is that government law-enforcement policy is one thing, but at the same time there are "some parties" scattered throughout the army and police who have anti-Sadrist agendas. His particular point is to make sure the journalist understands the agreement on the policy level, but at the same time, he is also highlighting a lack of confidence in government implementation of that policy. (He doesn't say this, but clearly the "some parties" dissatisfied with Sadrist stability anywhere in the South are mainly SupremeCouncil people with their nine-governate "federal region" plans).

(3) Finally, foreign minister Zebari's statements in Washington illustrate the same picture of incoherence within the "government". This is expressed most clearly by Nahrainnet, in an item this morning with this title: "Zebari after meeting Dick Cheney: "The security agreement will be signed by the end of July, in spite of all the objections". The journalist points out that in none of his statements did Zebari mention any of the objections to the agreement, whether parliamentary or from the Najaf authorities or anywhere else, nor did he one even mention the name of the Prime Minister. It was exactly as if Zebari were unilaterally in charge of this file for the Iraqi side, he says.

What these three situations have in common is that they all raise the problem of disintegration within the Iraqi government. In Mosul, the Supreme Council and the Kurds (allies of Maliki in parliament, supposedly) appear to be laying plans to thwart Maliki's support for Sunni Arab groups, siding instead with the expansion-minded Kurdish parties. In Amara, the question is whether or to what extent sectarian militants affiliated with the Supreme Council will be able to turn a law-enforcement campaign into a military-political attack on the Sadrists. And in Washington, the focus is on whether or to what extent the Kurdish foreign minister actually controls the issue of signing a bilateral agreement with the US.

My point here is not to speculate on what is happening behind the scenes in the Maliki administration: is he moving this way or that. On the contrary, the point is that these issues are not being followed or monitored or reported on in any coherent way, so that really these are unanswerable questions. Partly this is a continuation of the pattern of fragmentary coverage of the whole occupation story since the beginning, but I think there is something new here too, and it is the further fragmentation of an already-narrowly-based government. The Kurdish foreign minister is behaving as if he controls the US negotiations; SupremeC0uncil militants are in a position to turn the Amara campaign to their own ends; and in Mosul, the Kurdish parties and the Supreme Council appear to be cooperating in a project for Kurdish expansionism, contrary to the stated intentions of the Mosul campaign.

It is tempting to think that this is becoming a case of the de facto separatists and US allies--the Kurdish warlord parties and the Supreme Council--against everyone else, because this in some sense would put "everyone else" in the nationalist resistance camp. But the real lesson is that the issues aren't being covered in any coherent and continuous way, so there is way too much room for the imagination.


Blogger Bruno said...

Thank you for the continued commentary, Badger. It is very interesting and informative. :)

6:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a short but interesting report here about how al-Hakim has rejected overtures from Dawa that they run as a list in the elections. I thought the last paragraph about how Dawa have tried, and failed, to capitalise on the rise of Maliki's personal approval ratings was especially interesting.

Any thoughts?


2:38 AM  
Blogger badger said...

It's interesting.The Dawa guy, speaking to party people in Europe, says the party is at risk of being wiped out in the provincial elections, because of "mistakes", but we don't hear what the mistakes are. Maybe he was referring to the Jaafari defection. But why the additional remark about the party not being able to even capitalize on the popularity of Maliki. I'm a little mystified why Dawa would be losing ground and not the Supreme Council. Unless... what is happening is that the Supreme Council has been able to capitalize on South-Central Shiite jingoism and separatism, while the Dawa, taking a *relatively* more responsible and national position, has not. Btw, Do you figure these people are doing internal polling or something ?

4:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lot's of interesting questions and the short answer is I don't know.

I've fired off a note to the colleague who flagged it with a list of your questions + link to here.

I know (Friday prayers) that he won't be online for the rest of the day. But him being him I expect he'll fire off a reply sometime tomorrow if he's able to get online.


9:06 AM  
Blogger badger said...

thanks !

9:09 AM  

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