Monday, September 01, 2008

Iraq's McCain

I failed to call attention to the most interesting of all the Friday sermons, that of SupremeCouncil politician and preacher Jalaleddin AlSaghir. He too leads off with recognition of the suffering of the people as a result of lack of essential services like electricity and fuel, but unlike those who focus on government corruption and incompetence, Saghir says these are all secondary issues. He says the core problem is the failure to promote government de-centralization and the private sector.
[T]here is a problem that doesn't concern this minister or that minister, but rather it is a problem with the whole administrative and economic system in this country which if it isn't solved we will continue to have these [particular] problems...The problem is called centralism (markaziyya) of the state and state control over everything. [In cases like this] it is demanded of the state that it grasp and control everything, and there are many demands that have to be met based on this state having the grasp and control of everything. The alternative method is for the state to be directed not to centralism, but to the grant rights ...Today I am talking about the rights of the provinces, and about the fact that the provinces are entitled to have complete independence except in those matters involving general coordination with the central government, and this is confirmed in the Constitution and in the Law on Provinces.
Under the rubric of decentralization, AlSaghir includes economic privatization, calling in particular for privatization of the electric-power sector in Iraq, a solution he says would solve the problem of generation and distribution of electricity in Iraq within a year.

On the question of the poor turnout for voter-registration, AlSaghir is very specific. People who fail to understand that the lack of essential services is the fault of government centralism, are prone to become alienated and will decline to participate in the political process. This, says AlSaghir, is part of a plot by the arch-centralizers, the Baathists. First, he suggests that the atmosphere of alienation from the political process is part of "the discourse of the Baathists, who are promoting this so that people will only see the dark spots on paper which is otherwise completely white..." And:
With the call by [Sistani] ...we must intensify our preparations so that people understand and move toward true responsibility in this matter... The conspirators [referring to Baathists] are still planning by various routes to return to the former status, or to a part of the former status, and they have now seen that elections are an easier means and a quicker way for them to return to those responsibilities...
(He sees the hand of the Baathists in the Kirkuk crisis as well, warning against people talking about this or that Baathist being involved in the liberation of Kirkuk. And against people saying that the Supreme Council "has sold Kirkuk to the Kurds". He says the Kirkuk issue isn't "an issue that can be solved by voting [referring to the recent Parliamentary vote that was vetoed by Talabani], because it isn't a simple issue that should be decided by two extra votes this way or two votes that way. But he supports application of Section 140 of the Constitution).

To adopt the language of his counterpart on the American right, Saghir sees the transcendent issue of his time as the fight against the Baathists, in the context of free-market theory. For him the popular alienation from the political process is the result of government centralization and refusal to privatize services; and this popular alienation is feeding into the Baathist conspiracy to drive people away from the political process and permit them to return to power via the ballot box. He is almost saying: "They hate us for the freedoms (which we don't have but we should and could have, we must be vigilant to make the people keep on exercising in the form of the vote)".

You can see why this is America's main proxy party in the Iraqi system, particularly now that there seems to be some trouble with Maliki.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I hope you realized the that accusing the Ba'athists is kind of "silent code of communication" between the Kurds and United Iraqi Alliance.

Two days ago reported on Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that Kurdish officials said: The Ba'athists are behind the dispute between Kurdistan and Baghdad [which is something the Kurds never said for the last few years], that was a message to the UIA that both are still alliance.

In his speech Friday Al-Saghir answered back.

Link to the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat article:

البعثيون وراء خلافاتنا مع بغداد

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post. It seems like AlSaghir's agenda is just an extension of the larger American policy of disregarding or deconstructing sovereignty, in order to leave a vacuum for private enterprise to take over.

But in Iraq, even the transfer of power to private corporations has been disastrous, both because there is fierce nationalist opposition to that, and because the very companies which receive millions of American dollars (eg. mercenaries, people servicing the military and their bases) are themselves quite corrupt in terms of abuse of funds and overcharging. Anyway there doesn't seem to be any "real" free-market policy on the American side, as there was no competition for the bids given to massive American corporations which themselves are deeply embedded the larger U.S. military-industrial complex.

8:28 AM  
Blogger badger said...

LBird, thank you for that note and for the link, I hadn't been aware of that. (Btw, for readers, here's what she's referring to in the linked piece: [The chief of staff in the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region government said]: It is the prior Baathists and the neo-Baathists, who have infiltrated into power at some undetermined time, who are responsible for these present differences between Kurdistan Region and Baghdad, and they have been trying by every means available to them to deepen the differences and widen the gap between the Kurdish political forces and their allies in the country. He described what has been happening in Khaniqin and environs by way of crises as "dangerous ambushes or traps that have been set by those Baathists who have been working their own private agenda for the realization of their wicked aims". He said "The original Baathists and the neo-Baathists had been outside of the current political process in Iraq, but hidden hands have drawn them into the process and given them space to play their negative role". But he didn't name any of those hidden hands by name.

(Nor is there any indication elsewhere in the piece how exactly this Baathist/neoBaathist scheme is supposed to be working).

9:24 AM  
Blogger badger said...

anon: you're right of course

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The private sector has been very active in the Iraqi electricity market since the invasion.

As I recall, KBR; Pearson and some others have taken $4.5B from the US and billions more from the Iraqis just to reach pre-war levels.

Iraqis also get most of their needs from private generators. These are typically old 250kW disel units which can only run for 3 hours on and 3 off. A horrible web of wires then run from the neighborhod's generator to individual homes who have to pay exhorbitant charges for the power-limited supplies. Hardly a good advertisement for privatization.

A big problem for both the national grid and the private supplies is the shortage of fuel, which hits the suffering people in transport and heating too. How would privitizing electricity solve that problem? However, selling the infrastructure cheaply to the friends of the ruling class would make perfect sense to them.

Saghir is not just a preacher by the way, he is the head of the UIA Shiite Alliance in parliament and has reportedly been the greatest recepient of American bribery to push for oil and other US-friendly laws, but has recently lost most of his influence in parliament, and elsewhere too.

9:29 AM  
Blogger badger said...

thanks. On your last "recent loss of influence" point, any ideas where to look for evidence of that would be particularly welcome (asking for the moon here; this is a obviously very murky area...)

10:13 AM  
Blogger onix said...

i think the privatisation talks are part of the greater ploy of capitalism to defraud the majority of people of any options.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Badger, Saghir's failure to whip the UIA MPs on the elections law is a clear indication. The UIA itself has disintegrated, with the Sadrists and Fadhila out and Da'wa splitting into three. So he has lost influence on those be definition.

Even the Hakimists are showing signs of splits with al-Amiri (head of Badr) talking off script on the Kirkuk issue.

There are also rumors that the US has a lot of evidence on Saghir's links with the death-squads in Baghdad which they can use to blackmail him with, or remove him when he is no longer useful. There is virtually no public support for him whatsoever so he can be disposed off with ease.

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Privatization or attempts thereof are happening all around Iraq, be that in Iran or across in Turkey. Its the name of the game these days. Sell the people’s assets and squander the money on needless bureaucracy or other pork barrels. The race to privatize and carve up contracts for every essential service and infrastructure in Iraq has been on since the invasion, Bremer was the godfather of the mega sell out. This trend must be stopped, if not reversed, countries like Venezuela demonstrate that it can be done.

However, and although he is as creepy a politician as they come, I believe AlSaghir has a valid point when he criticizes the centralization of power structures and state control.

From my understanding, during Ottoman times the individual regions making up today’s Iraq had enjoyed a greater degree of local self-sufficiency and autonomy, but the British introduced a more centralised model of government, allowing for better financial and political control, a concept, it seems, widely accepted within Iraq for the most part of last century. But a certain measure of autonomy is important, especially in times like the ones Iraq is going through, when the aim should be to concentrate on the public’s concerns and respond to their queries and doubts.

Within Iraq’s process of re-inventing itself as a nation, I believe it could be helpful if institutions would examine which tasks could best be carried out by the regions themselves and which ones should be left to the central government. Not all roads have to lead to Baghdad.

I reckon that to offset growing centralism, stronger regions and local authorities are needed, working in tandem towards an overall productive balance, and in doing so making Iraq as a concept more tangible to its people. Having said that, to regain the confidence of the Iraqi citizen in the electoral process, the areas of responsibilities between the different layers of government need to be clearly marked out though, the last thing you want is conflicts of jurisdiction.

An overly centralised state control structure, apart from the fact that it tends to make the ordinary citizen feel pretty much completely removed from the political process, can also hinder economic development of certain regions. A centralised government can easily put regions in the stranglehold of a few very powerful people, who have vast areas of responsibility, and old scores to settle. Approvals for local projects are being made hundreds of kilometres away, by bureaucrats disconnected from any current needs the people within a particular region might have, giving out contracts to companies who can afford a lobbyist in Baghdad.

Supporting local firms, employing people who live where they work, with a personal investment in the outcome of their efforts, might be a good way to promote the growth of a regional economy. I guess the bottom line is that people with no incentive to get the reconstruction job done properly, won't.

The electricity and oil sector are mutually dependent, the classic catch 22. Unless a way can be found to maintain a more or less functioning power grid, more or less being able to guarantee the security of essential service workers, I can't really see much progress happening, privatization or not.

3:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home