Wednesday, March 11, 2009

De-Bremerizing Iraq: Can it be done?

It is an idea that seems to be catching on: If America and its "moderate Arab" friends want to create any kind of bulwark against expanded Iranian influence in the region following the US "withdrawal" from Iraq, this would have to involve some kind of fundamental re-structuring of the Iraqi political system. Or re-re-structuring you might say. De-Bremerizing. Or rehabilitating would be another word.

Various thinkers have had various, mostly hare-brained ideas about promoting something short of that--some kind of sectarian re-balancing, going back at least to the famous Hadley memo where Bush was advised to wean Maliki away from Sadr and offer him instead a substitute power base that would include more Sunni-Arab representation, down to the recent nagging calls for Maliki to incorporate more of the Awakenings into the government security services, etcetera etcetera. Obviously all falling short of anything you could call meaningful.

Now, as it happens, having run an election campaign on slogans against the American-imposed sectarian system, Maliki is escalating his own rhetoric in favor of fundamental "change", issuing calls for letting bygones be bygones including with respect to innocent members of the now-outlawed Baath party, suggesting constitutional changes might not be a bad idea, and so on. And as I have often noted, there have been suggestions of American agents or representatives promoting this kind of idea to Iraqi expats and other Iraqis outside the political system. So there is the spectre of American influence in the direction of the aforementioned de-Bremerizing of the Iraqi political system, along with some kind of a typically vague Maliki response. (A response which, in any event, has a clear electoral purpose whether or not it also has the desired "strategic" dimension).

As I have also noted more than once, you have to appreciate why the existing Iraqi political system is unsatisfactory in any number of ways, in order to follow this story any further, and for that you have to understand the meaning of sectarianism, as opposed to nationalism, in the context of a shattered country like Iraq. I have done my best on that score in previous posts, so I won't repeat the points here.

(As for the American version of the Iraq storytelling, it is painfully clear that any discussion of de-Bremerizing is taboo. This is partly reflected in the media boycott of the recent NUPI/Iraqi report, and more immediately it is reflected in the initial reporting of the latest violence, which is uniformly being attributed to resurgent sectarian and ethnic struggles, in effect reprising the stories of the 2003-7 period, in which only the sectarian factors were reported, in effect denying that there was any such thing as principled resistance to the occupation, something supposedly proved by the story of the Awakenings. It stands to reason that a Bremerized, sectarian, Iran-vulnerable system will be resisted just as the actual occupation was, and the American story will be the same: There isn't any principled resistance: it all goes back to sectarian in-fighting).

So my argument is that if there is an underlying requirement--de-Bremerizing or "re-nationalizing" Iraq in order to provide a bulwark against expanded Iranian influence--there is also, in terms of American "news", a countervailing requirement, namely that de-Bremerizing is not and cannot be seen as an issue, otherwise the US would be seen as not exiting from Iraq, but deepening its involvement, and besides, you are not supposed to think that sectarianism is a problem, rather that it is in the nature of Iraq.

Of course, it still remains to be seen in practical terms if or how they would plan on rehabilitating Iraq in the face of Maliki's strong domestic position. As far as I know, no one has suggested how that would conceivably be done. Still, there are starting to be hints, and I think Maliki's suggestion that hinted at re-legalizing the Baath party was one of those hints.

Here is a report from the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouq* that tells what one Egyptian journalist was told recently by sources he describes as well-placed in Damascus and Riyadh: He says "the first threads" of a grand bargain came into focus recently in Beirut, and it involves an agreement between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria to support a revival of the Baath party--first via re-legalization of the Baath party in Iraq, and then with a merger between the Iraqi and Syrian parties. The reporter says he was told that the Baath party leader Izzat Ibrahim Al-Duri had been instrumental, with support from the intelligence agencies of those three countries, in creating the Iraqi Awakenings and helping them defeat AlQaeda, and this earned him special respect among the US and is Arab allies.

The journalist says the basis for this approach is that any Gulf-regime/American backed "Arabism" would be too weak to perform the roles of standing up to Iran and preventing any Shiite separatism in the Gulf region, whereas a revival of Baath-party Arab nationalism--"or Nassarist", according to an expression he says one Beirut source used--would be a much stronger and more effective thing. So the idea is of a resurgent Arab nationalism, but one quietly and in the background supported by the United States of America and its "moderate Arab allies", with the very important addition to the team of Syria.

A lot of details are missing, obviously, but I think the concept is worth keeping in mind as we start to read about the very wise and meaningful, if subtle, Obama initiatives we are told are already starting to be felt in the region ("talking to Syria", "encouraging Arab unity", etcetera).


* This is a new newspaper, available at, launched last month, by an Egyptian corporate group that includes the venerable publishing house Dar Al-Shorouq (original publisher of the novels of Naguib Mahfouz among other things), so it is not a fly-by-night. Judgments about how its place in the Egyptian establishment might be reflected in its news will have to come later.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for the report. this doesn't surprise me, it was a matter of time.


9:02 AM  

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