Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peering through the fog

The idea that the United States is in the process of "withdrawing" from a newly-democratic Iraq depends in large part on the idea that the United States is exerting no pressure on the Maliki administration to bring about any particular domestic political outcome in Iraq, other than the pressure for "reconciliation" that is supposed to result from the realization that the US intends a bona fide, complete withdrawal.

The no-pressure/Iraq-is-a-democracy picture depends on suppressing a lot of local Iraqi news, starting with the reports about Obama emissaries meeting with people outside the political process before and after the US election (Haroun Mohammed pieces in AlQuds alArabi, referred to in earlier posts here), hinting at a willingness to scrap and re-start the "political process"; and including reports about American involvement in a Maliki/Sadr deal; and finally the much more blatant Biden statements about a "more aggressive" US attitude to coming to grips with Iraq's political issues. None of that is on the information-radar in America.

To say that the Obama administration is taking a hands-on approach to internal Iraqi politics is not the same as saying we know what in particular the Obama administration is aiming for as a final result, or how it is going about it. Or for that matter whether the Obama administration has in mind any particular result beyond merely keeping the puppet weak and off-balance. The point is that although the purpose, if any, isn't clear, the fact of American involvement in internal Iraqi politics couldn't be any more obvious, now that Biden has issued his very clear warning.

In fact, an Iraqi writer by the name of Yasin Al-Badrani writes in Middle East Online, writes as follows about the clearly aggressive and hands-on implications of the recent Biden statement:
Without preamble the American government's radio station AlSawa reported this: "American vice president Joe Biden said America plans a much more aggressive program vis-a-vis the Iraqi government to push it to political reconciliation", and referring in the same report to strong criticism by Biden of the Iraqi leaders because they "have not yet solved their political differences". And he added: "We are convinced that we [Washington] must have a much greater involvement in Iraqi affairs, not only in the commitment to reduce the size of our forces in an organized way, but also in showing much more aggressiveness in pressing the Iraqi leadership to resolve their political issue, which could lead to lack of stability in Iraq following the withdrawal of the American forces."
If the Biden warning was a call for more ex-officers from the prior regime to join the political system, there was a response of sorts, and the early indications are that it was completely ineffective. But more broadly, different Iraqi commentators have different ideas about what the Biden administration has in mind.

* The above-quoted Yasin Al-Badrani finds it significant that Al-Sawa followed up the Biden report with a report that said former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi appears to be the leading candidate to succeed Maliki, as a reminder from Washington to Maliki that his position in office is not permanent.

* As noted in an earlier post, another Iraqi writer thinks the whole American strategy is still being played out in the context of a Biden-type "soft partition" framework.

* Historian Reidar Visser suggests the American administration seems still interested in arranging some kind of a grand settlement involving the two big Kurdish parties in the North and the Supreme Council in the South. He writes (in one of his "Notebook" items, dated February 8): "It is high time the US policy-makers abandon any plans to make further concessions to this group of opportunists (such as a "big compromise on Kirkuk") in some kind of "final settlement" in Iraq."

* A Baath party spokesman, commenting in an AlJazeera interview on the meaninglessness of the recent invitation to return to military service, said the American exit has to come first, and he added this:
[The Baath spokesperson, Khadir Al-Marshadi] said: The Baath party and the resistance will not accept half-solutions or partial solutions with the occupation, "for instance one cannot accept a cease-fire or a cessation of fighting here or there in Iraqi territory, for the sake of giving a better chance to the current political process."
Allawi in the wings; soft-partition; big compromise on Kirkuk; proposed cease-fires here and there--these are all fragments of a picture of American involvement consistent with the Biden warning, that I think it is fair to say Iraqi observers aren't able to understand or show in its entirety or with any greater clarity.

Naturally, the "progressive" policy-groupies in Washington can't contribute anything to this, because to acknowledge this kind of continuing American involvement--in any way, no matter what the shape or purpose of it--would be contrary to the theme of American withdrawal from a democratic Iraq.

Until there is renewed violence, at which point the theme will change, and become: Humanitarian intervention to prevent civil war.

As long as everyone in Washington buys into this very limited theme-based story-telling, it will continue to be very difficult to piece together what is actually happening. At most, people will perhaps complain about awkward transitions in the narrative, suggestive of amateurish story-telling, but no more than that.


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