Friday, January 23, 2009


Nowhere is the mystery of the new administration's policy-intentions more mysterious than in Iraq. (Let me re-phrase that, having read the text of Obama's remarks at the State Dept yesterday: There isn't any mystery about Obama policy in Palestine, which will be more of the same, only with more NATO involvement. But there is some mystery about his plans for Iraq).

Even if the mystery itself cannot be solved right away, still it is important to get a grip on the language and concepts in which these policy-issues are going to be expressed, because this is quite different from the language and concepts that have been soaked into Western public opinion over lo these six years or so.

Following up on ideas he has expressed on other occasions recently, Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in Najaf on Wednesday that the policy of sectarian and political-party "allocations" (muhasasa) is what has destroyed Iraq, and he repeated his rejection of the idea that the share of responsibility of the state itself is any less than that of the sects and the political parties.

"And he said [continuing the account offered by the Iraqi paper AlDustour] that what will follow the general elections at the end of this year will usher in a new stage for the country, and it will be 'far removed from the formation of a government and a Chamber of Deputies based on sectarian and political-party muhasasa".
He said the elections will draw the picture of a new Iraq that will go beyond the current, temporary stage, and he stressed the need for forming a unitary central government that is strong, explaining that this does not mean ending the formation of regions and of provincial councils. He repeated the need for the parties to work together, so that gaps do not form which could be exploited by enemies to affect the development of the state. And he said the steadfastness of the Iraqi people in preserving the unity of the country is what has protected it from the attacks of terrorists who wanted to tear the country apart and annihilate it.
I think before deciding on the share of political hypocrisy or genuineness in this, first of all it is important to understand where this language is coming from.

(1) Muhasasa as the root of all political evil: This has over the years been a commonplace in the language of the Sunni armed resistance groups, but of course their point was that this sectarian-division principle not only vitiates the whole "political process", but was introduced into Iraq under Bremer for the specific purpose of dividing the country and weakening it. They said Maliki and others are the opportunistic, short-term expoliters of this policy, and anyone who participates in any way in the political process is contaminated by it.

So the first thing to notice is that Maliki is running as an opponent of the system he stands accused of exploiting in betrayal of Iraq's national interests.

(2) A new beginning? Haroun Mohammed reported--and no one else did--on a pair of excursions by people described as by emissaries of Obama to people who stand between participants in the political process on the one hand, and the armed resistance on the other. (Nov 6 and Dec 28 respectively, both on p 19 of AlQuds alArabi). These interlocutors were described in those reports as "former Baathists and others who are outside the political process." And the message--according to HM's reports--was that the Obama administration will be open to the idea of a complete re-start of the Iraqi political system, on the basis that the muhasasa system is so corrupt as to be incapable of patching-up or reform. So far as I am aware, these reports elicited no comment either in Washington or in Iraq. (One of the emisarries in the second round was described as a Democratic former senator--George Mitchell perhaps?)

(3) Et tu, Biden? The plot thickens. In Thursday's edition of the Kuwaiti paper AlWatan, we read that Maliki has ordered the re-formation and re-activation of a set of "national reconciliation" efforts, including bringing into the political process the maximum possible number of people from "outside the political process" and this is described as a response to a message from none other than VP Joseph Biden:
And the sources said that American vice-president Joseph Biden was clear in his meetings with Maliki and other Iraqi leaders, that support by the Obama administration for the political process will depend on the extent of effectiveness of an "Iraqi solution" to the issue of national reconciliation, that would grant legal and political legitimacy to any agreements that can be arrived at between bhe Iraqi government and the Obama administration, which [the Obama administration] will not accept agreements with Iraqi leaders in the absense of clear national reconciliation that brings together all of the opposition in the crucible of agreement about strategic relations between the two countries.
(I am duty-bound to mention, also, that there are parts of this AlWatan account that seem to me to be Arabic expressions of something that was possibly originally written in English. It's mostly just a feeling I get when the phrases drop too easily into the framework of English expressions like "Biden was clear, that..."; and "legal and political legitimacy"; and so on. It is just an observation. Or you could ask yourself, what Iraqi would have told the reporter "Biden was clear, that..." or was it not rather an American?)

In any event, there are many chickens coming home to roost here, among them the question of squaring the circle and making a national-unity government out of a sectarian one and/or the impossibility of doing that. But for now I think it is enough "to get clear" (as we say) on the fact that the Obama administration is making this, for whatever reasons and with whatever chances of success or otherwise, into one of its Iraq-policy themes.

National unity is the major election theme for Maliki, and this is reflected not only in his speeches, and in the above-mentioned resurrecting of the "national reconciliation" processes, but also in other areas, such as the apparent moves to reconcile with the Sadrists. Among the mysteries: How much of this is electioneering, and how much is actually linked to any real or apparent change in US policy under Obama?


Blogger badger said...

An Israeli landed at Kennedy Airport in New York

At the control the officer asked:
- " Occupation ? "

The Israeli answers:
- " No, just for visit. "

--, from a post where he says:

"2 Israel jokes show that time is up for Israel lobby

Warning to the Israel lobby. It's over. The whole thing is over. Gaza was a giant mistake. The 60 years of pulling the wool over Americans' eyes and saying it's equitable to the indigenous population and it makes sense when we drop white phosphorus on their children--it's over.

The politicians will be the last to turn, but when they do, katy bar the door. "

8:40 AM  

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