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September 04, 2008



Bizarre that you insist on a trend of fragmentation, when all the signs point strongly in the direction of recentralisation, and the abandonment of federalism. As your two preceding guest op-eds argue, in their own way.

Crude Analysis

I noticed that you mentioned the response to the Anbar handover as captured by the TIME piece, but what about Ali Hatem's comments on Monday on Al-Arabiya when he not only didn't warn Maliki, but he said that Maliki has been taking some positive steps with the Awakenings in Anbar. Maybe he doesn't care if Maliki goes after the Awakening members in Baghdad, but perhaps many members in and around Baghdad have also infiltrated from Al-Qaeda, etc. Also, the Awakenings will largely only be challenging the Islamic Party in provincial elections in Anbar, and not Maliki. Ali Hatem said the Iraqi government can solve a lot of problems in Baghdad by dissolving some of the factions. It's hard for us here to differentiate between the various Awakening Councils and different members. But it's important to note that Ali Hatem, while cautioning Maliki, has also been saying he isn't going after the Awakenings in Anbar. Have there been any Anbar crackdowns by the government, or have they just taken place in and around Baghdad, and in places like Diyala? Surely the U.S. wouldn't hand over Anbar to Iraqi security forces if we expected Maliki to start cracking down on the Awakenings there....


Anyone who knows differently, please feel free to correct me about this...but I'm guessing American military officers in Baghdad are feeling pretty good just about having moved Maliki's government away from sponsoring death squads operating out of the national police and other government agencies.

The course now being followed by the Americans in Iraq makes a certain amount of sense, given one very big assumption. They are trying to keep things quiet long enough for the Iraqis to work out political accomodations. The assumption, of course, involves the time and resources the United States has to devote to this one, mid-sized Arab country -- given indefinite time and limitless resources, why not try in Iraq what has worked reasonably well in Bosnia?

I won't reiterate my rejection of that assumption here, but will point out that proposals by the administration's critics to speed up political accomodations all require of the Maliki government and its principle constituency much bigger leaps of faith than the one Maliki made when he moved against the Sadrists in Basra. Now, maybe these would have been leaps worth making, and if Maliki is really feeling stronger now he may be more willing to make some of them. But by the same token, if he is not only feeling stronger but actually is so, increased American pressure to accomodate people he regards as mortal enemies is less likely to be effective. It is even possible that threats of American troop drawdowns if Maliki fails to accomodate will be treated as bluffs to be called, if he does not feel dependent on American forces to protect his government from opposing factions and feels able to deal with them through the use of force.

I don't think Lynch is wrong at all to warn that the right ignition source has the potential to set sectarian conflict blazing all over again. I just remain skeptical that there is a solution to this puzzle that we can find if only we deploy threats of withdrawal skillfully enough -- and I do not believe that finding a solution to this puzzle can be our first priority or anything close to it.

Dan Kervick

Mark, this seems to me to be the doubtful part of your analysis:

... This is where the American political debate over whether to commit to withdrawal really matters for shaping the calculations of Iraqi actors - the Bush/McCain line simply gives Maliki no reason to believe that he will pay any costs for failing to accommodate with his political rivals.

Maliki can see which way the political winds are blowing in the United States, and they are blowing in the direction of withdrawal. Rather than being frightened by that, he must know it's his winning hand. Right now, the US is playing all sides and keeping them weak, and will continue to do so so long as the US is on the ground in Iraq and is the main supplier of security in the country. But the US simply cannot afford to leave a weak and war-torn state behind in Iraq.

So when the US finally does begin to leave, it will be forced to make its selection. The only game in town is the Iraqi government, and so at that point the US will stop dallying with the Awakenings and other Saudi proxies, and throw everything it has into remote support of the Iraqi government. Maliki and the government will get the weapons; they will get the US treasury's money; they will get the undivided intelligence support. And with that vote of confidence and provision of material support, international investors will no longer be in as much doubt about whom to play with in Iraq, or about the durability of the government. The risk to investors will decline, and the capital will flow in. Then Maliki's internal enemies will have substantially fewer choices.

Maliki is not confident about pressing for a US withdrawal and centralizing power because he knows that he already has all the power he needs. He is confident because he knows that once the US begins to withdraw he will quickly acquire all the power he needs.

In my view, this is a good thing. I've never liked playing ball with the minority Sunni Arab bosses and thugs who ran that country before we got there, and who spent the first three and a half years of the war killing our soldiers and blowing up and terrorizing innocent civilians. Iraq has a legitimate, elected government. Like any elected government, those in the losing minority who did not elect that government are going to be unhappy with that government and the arrangements it makes. So will some of their foreign patrons. Tough.

Eric Martin

Iraq has a legitimate, elected government. Like any elected government, those in the losing minority who did not elect that government are going to be unhappy with that government and the arrangements it makes.

Well, "legitimate" in the sense that he's targeting the opposition with his military and security forces. Unhappy in the sense that many are being forcibly disenfranchised. Not to mention all the fraud to come.

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