Saturday, August 23, 2008

Say it again, Sam

Given that he is a knowledgeable person, it's worth paying attention to what Sam Parker has to say (quoted in footnote one of the linked text) about the Maliki administration (via Reidar Visser):
In a normal parliamentary political system, there is an assumption that the government can be voted out and replaced, that this transition of power will occur peacefully as a result of everyone following the rules. But what if you have a ruling coalition that never intends to share power if it can get away with it, openly flouts parliamentary procedure, owns the "state" security services in a way that is very unlikely to be transferrable, all within a set of governing institutions that has not once experienced a peaceful transition of power? The PTB are trying to lock up and shut down the political system, whatever rudiments of democratic institutions may be formally in place.
The context of his remarks is an explanation of the utility of the powers-that-be/powers-that-aren't phrase as a defining form of shorthand to describe the current Iraqi political situation. But what he is actually describing as the PTB is something that would be more simply described as the startup phase of a military dictatorship.

What does this imply about current US policy? Visser notes (scroll to his entry for August 21) that the US ambassador Crocker has come out in support of what is essentially the Kurdish position on interim arrangements for Kirkuk (namely continuing the current Kurdish control) despite the fact that there was a majority Parliamentary vote for a different, power-sharing interim arrangement. In the LATimes today there is an unambiguous statement by the US military official in charge of the Awakenings file:
"Our goal is that by June 2009, the Sons of Iraq are out of business," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer, who is charged with the Sunni paramilitary file.
So it seems that on the key issues the US is unambiguously backing the PTB: overriding of Parliament on the Kurdish question, and adopting the antagonistic government attitude to the Awakenings--supporting key manifestations, in other words, of what Parker describes as a closed, autocratic system.

What you get by not calling this the startup phase of a military dictatorship, but rather "the powers that be", is the suggestion of a possible form of enlightened and benevolent US policy. Here's how Parker explained that in his post at Marc Lynch's site:
Is supporting this government worth the cost to the US? The interests we sacrifice, the destabilizing role such a government would play in the region, the lives and money, and so on. How much better is it than alternatives that would emerge without our managing of the political scene? I mean that as a serious question, meaning I'm open to the answer to the first question being "yes." If we are going to stick with this general idea, however, we do need to tilt things in the general direction of getting the PTB to let more of the PTA in.
He is suggesting that the benevolent US administration could do more via marginal adjustments to "tilt things" in the direction of softening the intransigence of the "powers that be". If he had spelled out what he now says he meant--that the PTB are a nascent military dictatorship--that would not have made much sense. And it would have brought into much sharper relief the question of US policy with respect to the bilateral negotiations.

So what really is the US position in the current negotiations for a bilateral agreement? I think the indications are that the Bush administration has turned "strategic conditionality" on its head, and is actually supporting this autocratic administration and helping them secure their grip on power, if they will only please just sign something that authorizes the continued US troop-presence.


Blogger Joel Wing said...

2 things.

1) There was no way the Kurds were going to agree to the clause in the election law about Kirkuk. The U.S. estimates that up to 60% of Kirkuk is now Kurdish. They control the provincial council, the head of the council, the governorship, and the security forces. The election law said that the Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen would all get an equal share in the council and Baghdad would take over the security file. While the central government should in theory be in control of security across the country, there's no way the Kurds, who are a majority, would give up control of the council, etc. under the law.

2) There are reports that the government wants to end the SOI by the end of this year. They are already increasing arrests of SOI leaders that began this Spring. I just wrote a piece about it as well if anyone is interested. Click on my name for a link.

12:58 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Those debating points might be relevant were it not for the fact that Parliament has voted on this. And between supporting the Parliamentary majority position and supporting and enabling the Kurdish intransigence, the US ambassador chose the latter.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the parliamentary vote was a secret ballot! That appears to be the only way the Opposition was able to pass this legislation. Secret ballots and parliaments do not equate. And in any case, under the Iraqi constitution the Council can return legislation to the parliament and this is what has happened.

Interestingly, if the Turkomen/Arab proposal for arbitrary sectarian Lebanon-like quotas in Kirkuk were adopted, in contravention of the Iraqi constitution, it would create a precedent for every other province in Iraq.

2:31 PM  
Blogger badger said...

So: Motown gj and Talabani arguing law and demographics versus the Iraqi parliamentary majority (just kidding)

2:52 PM  

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