Thursday, February 14, 2008

Identifying the GreenZone teams

My computer is again functioning, unfortunately just in time for the Festival of Interpretations, following the unique passage of three laws in the GreenZone, including the 2008 budget.

Azzaman, in its domestic Iraqi edition, headlines: "Ceserean birth of three laws from the womb of disagreements and no-confidence", which just about sums it up.

To be more specific, since no one outside the GreenZone seems to have texts of the laws, and even if they did, a lot would still depend on the legislative history, which is also a little on the sketchy side, we are unfortunately left in the situation Heidegger so well described as Geworfenheit, or "in-der-Welt-sein", if you will.

So let's get started. The 17% of budgetary revenues to the Kurdish region is something everyone has noticed because it wasn't negotiated down, so the question is who supported this part of the package and who didn't. Azzaman, in the afore-mentioned Iraqi edition, quotes a Dawa politician to who said that apart from the Kurdish parties, the Kurdish position on this was supported by the Supreme Council (Hakim's group) and the Islamic Party of Iraq (Tareq al-Hashemi's group, aka Tareq al-Hashemi acting alone). These are the two Iraqi party-leaders who had the honor of sitting (on separate occasions) by the fireplace with Bush last fall at around time of the Amman meeting with Maliki, and who are currently among the last holdouts propping up Maliki's government (Hashemi still vp; Supreme Council providing the other vp Adel abul Mahdi and support in parliament.

Similarly, it is possible to identify the outlines of another coalition, by identifying the parties that walked out on Tuesday, forcing the adjournment to yesterday. Azzaman says:
Mashadani postponed the Tuesday evening session to yesterday, following the exit of members of the Sadrist trend, and of the Fadhila party, and the Accord Front (the main Sunni coalition) and the Dialogue Front (Saleh al-Matlak's party), [these members having withdrawn] in protest against the priority of the readings and of the voting.
So while the group supporting the Kurdish demand appears to have been the pro-occupation coalition of Supreme Council, Hashemi, and the Kurds themselves, the group holding up the parade was of a composition very much resembling the recently-announced Group of 12, (Sadrist current, along with some Sunni parties and others) whose initial statement of position
included opposition to Kurdistan-only oil contracts, opposition to continued dickering with Section 140 of the Constitution respecting the status of Kirkuk, and other, albeit more vaguely-expressed, nationalist positions. There isn't a perfect match-up of parties, but I don't think anyone can read through the various fragmentary accounts of what happened in the last couple of days in the GreenZone, without recognizing that broadly speaking there were two opposing sides, the Kurd-Hakim-Hashemi pro-occupation and perhaps semi-separatist side, and an opposing, semi-nationalist side that included the Sadrists, and a selection of Sunni parties. Naturally this would have to be refined once we know what the results actually were.

Identifying the sides isn't the same as being able to figure out what the final score was, but as any sports-fan can tell you, it is an important starting-point.

There is of course an alternative interpretation of what was going on, and it is a very familiar one too. Alissa Rubin spelled it out in her initial summary on the NYT web-site (mercifully replaced later with something a little more sensible), when she initially wrote that the Sunnis wanted the amnesty bill because most prisoners are Sunni, and the Shiites wanted the Provincial Powers bill because they mistrust the central power, so they compromised on that basis, one for you Shiites and and one for us Sunnis. (Which who knows, maybe some editor pointed out to her that "the Shiites" are divided on the question of centralism). Even though the Sunni versus Shiite interpretation doesn't make any sense, it is still the default or shall we say the knee-jerk way of looking at it.

All right, you say, then the next question is going to be whether der Dingda messed this up as usual, and if so how. Thank you for asking, and yes he did, as follows:

The Azzaman international edition, led its account of this as follows:
The Iraqi parliament yesterday approved the budget via a political agreement that cut through the constitutional roadblock that had been blocking approval of three separate laws for some time. And parliamentarians expressed their opposition to the deal for the three laws, which was far from the letter and spirit of the constitution. And Saleh al-Mutlak, head of the Dialogue Front, and members of the Sadrist trend expressed their opposition to the General Amnesty Law, which ignores [meaning "because it ignores"] prisoners who don't have six months [in custody] without investigation.
Meaning, fairly obviously, that the Sadrists and the Mutlak's group thought the amnesty law didn't go far enough because for instance it apparently requires people to have been in custody for six months without being charged with anything, before they are eligible for this.

By contrast, der Dingda writes referring to the text just quoted:
Al-Zaman quotes MP Salih Mutlak (a secular, ex-Baathist Sunni who is in the opposition) and MPs of the Sadr Movement as expressing fierce opposition to amnesty for prisoners, one of the three measures adopted.

It's difficult to imagine why on anybody's understanding the Sunni Mutlak would be in "fierce opposition to amnesty for prisoners" most of whom are Sunnis, but obviously we have a motive in the case of the Sadrists, who, we recall, are supposed to have "spearheaded" the mischievious De-Debaathification law. It's one story, namely that of the continuing blind sectarian Shiite versus Sunni war. The problem for those invested in it is that this story increasingly has to be based on misreadings and unsubstantiated knee-jerk explanations.

Of course, we don't know the text of these laws, so we don't know the actual score, but we can deduce something about the teams, namely that the old standby Sunni-versus-Shia story is getting a whole lot less plausible as the interpretive key to understanding GreenZone maneuvering.



Blogger Bruno said...

"he old standby Sunni-versus-Shia story is getting a whole lot less plausible as the interpretive key to understanding GreenZone maneuvering."

In other words, you're saying that things seem to be heading towards a pro-occupation and anti-occupation separation? Which would be politics along political and not sectarian lines, which is good.

Am I understanding you correctly?

3:16 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Basically. In the GreenZone. Which is "good" to the extent any breaking down of sect-defined positions is good for the country. Whether the "opposition" group will actually end up with meaningful "anti-occupation" positions is a different issue.

Naturally, for the resistance, this is a mug's game, and the only bone fide position is to stay out of GreenZone deals of any kind until there is a withdrawal-commitment.

9:14 AM  

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