Sorry for not blogging much; I'm still playing frantic catch-up after that week in the Gulf, and the giant stack of papers to grade isn't getting any smaller. Consider this post a belated attempt to reflect on developments while I've been away. And then I'm off for the weekend on a much-needed family vacation.
Pretty much everybody has commented upon the Washington Post's latest dispatch from the increasingly unsteady Awakenings project and Nir Rosen's latest grim report. Since I've already written a godawful amount on this topic, I'll only add one more small data point: the spokesman for the Diyala Popular Committees (the local version of the Awakening militias) just told Aswat al-Iraq that the leadership had decided to immediately dissolve the Committees.
While most attention is now justifiably focused on the complaints of the Awakenings militias - not enough American support, not enough cash, too much friendly fire, not enough members hired in to the Iraqi army or police - the political level also bears some attention.
First, the long-simmering political struggle between the Anbar Salvation Council and Tareq al-Hashemi's Islamic Party seems to be reaching a boiling point. A lot of people have been putting their hopes in provincial elections to give the Anbar Salvation Council a voice in the political process - quite sensibly, despite the risks. But the last few weeks suggest that the ASC does not appear to be prepared either to wait until October or to rely on winning elections to seize local power. ASC leaders Hamid al-Hayess and Ali Hatem have been threatening to remove the Islamic Party from Anbar by force, and three days ago Hatem gave a deadline of two weeks. The Islamic Party filed a lawsuit against them in response, and two days ago, an arrest warrant was reportedly issued for these two leaders. A number of Iraqi sites are reporting that government forces raided the home of Hayess yesterday (fortunately he wasn't home); the implications of the Iraqi government actually arresting two of the key leaders of the ASC are, to say the least, murky.
A side point here: it's been widely noted that Adel Abed al-Mehdi's surprising veto of the provincial powers law has thrown a serious spanner into the works. Back when the package of three key laws passed through Parliament, I reserved judgement until we saw the actual text of the laws and saw how they would be implemented. With the provincial powers law now on hold, it appears that we might not even get that far. Abed al-Mehdi's reason for the veto is telling from the perspective of those who see the construction of an effective, viable, Weberian Iraqi state as the goal: he sees it giving too much power to the central government.
I also wanted to flag (belatedly) a fascinating article in al-Hayat by Mohammed Abu Rumman, a Jordanian journalist who has proved to be one
of the best analysts of Iraqi Sunni politics over the past few years. Before getting to the substance of his article, I'd note that Abu Rumman offers an identity for the Damascus-based Amir of
the Islamic Army: Amin al-Janabi. This has been widely speculated
upon - Janabi was also identified by Fares bin Hazzam in an article for a Saudi newspaper. I don't know if he's right, but two things give this identification some weight. First, al-Hayat several days ago published
an exclusive interview with the Amir of the IAI (the authenticity of which has been confirmed on the forums); while Abu Rumman denies having conducted that interview, it's still plausible given his and al-Hayat's excellent contacts within IAI circles that he knows what he's talking about. Second, I noticed a few weeks ago that when bin Hazzam's article was
posted to the IAI-friendly al-Boraq forum, the administrator abruptly
took it down and warned against disseminating black propaganda - suggesting perhaps that it hit too close to home. At any rate, I can't figure out yet whether Abu Rumman risks losing his contacts with the IAI for dropping the name... or whether he was helping their leadership out in their efforts to go public.
In the most interesting part of his article, Abu Rumman claims that the Islamic Army has been dividing between two trends: the first opposes the Awakenings strategy because it conflicts with the interests of Janabi's Syrian hosts (and their Iranian friends), while the second supports the Awakenings because it prioritizes the Iranian threat above the American. Those divisions explain why the IAI can simultaneously work with the US in some areas and attack them in others. After much internal debate, he reports, the leaders of both trends within the IAI are coming around to a common strategy. They will shortly announce a new political entity - the National Movement for Reform and Development -which will incorporate "the resistance factions and a number of the Awakenings." If this in fact happens it could give political substance to the much-discussed divisions between the Anbar Salvation Council and the insurgency-faction dominated CLC/Sons of Iraq/ Awakening militias in the mixed areas. Perhaps it could offer a vehicle into the political process, which the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance has thus far failed to provide. Or it could signal the collapse of the facade of a united "Awakening".
A lot of "ifs" there, which I think accurately captures the intense uncertainty surrounding all of this.
P.S. I'm not sure who is more dangerously delusional: Nuri al-Maliki, who just repeated his November claims that national reconciliation has succeeded to general bafflement; or John McCain, who warns darkly that "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" could somehow actually capture the Iraqi state and its oil reserves. I think we're in for a long nine months.