December 1, 2003, 5:00 P.M.
The fact that most of the members of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) have little or no support in their own country is already complicating the U.S. exit strategy. Last week the Washington Post published an article about how Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a member of the Council, was behind the scuttling of the original U.S. plan to appoint the drafters of the new Iraqi constitution, rather than having them elected. As Josh Marshall points out in his November 30, 2003 post, this demonstrates a lack of political power on our part, which is further eroded by our expressed intention to get out of Dodge, so to speak.
Ali Sistani may be the exception to the rule that the IGC lacks actual power or influence in the country. His base of power is the substantial Shi’ite population of Iraq, a formidable political force. Another force to be reckoned with on the IGC is the group of Kurdish faction leaders who actually do have support in their area of the country.
Ironically, Ali Sistani, a Muslim cleric, argues against the U.S. plan very effectively because he favors more direct elections than those proposed by the U.S. The first U.S. plan was to appoint, not elect, the drafters of the new Iraqi constitution. After that plan was cast aside, with Sistani strongly supporting it, the U.S. proposed a caucus system, which Josh Marshall quotes a former advisor to Paul Bremer describing this process as “an insane selection system of caucuses, like the Iowa caucus selecting those who will vote in New Hampshire.” This does not bode well for the process, but on November 30, the Iraqi Governing Council voted unanimously to support full national elections as the best way to choose a government. Lest we forget, the constitution has to be drafted before the elections take place. The IGC is not near to a consensus on who will draft the new constitution, let alone what it will say. This is further complicated by the fact that the motives of all of the members of the council have their own motives, prejudices and desires regarding the shape of a future government. Shi’a Muslims, persecuted under the former regime, have a vested interest in a government that protects them from persecution, but the Kurds and Sunni Muslims are afraid of a Shi’ite government and the possible revenge that they fear could accompany such a regime.
As if these struggles are not enough, there are questions about how voting lists will be created. According to Joel Brinkley, writing for the New York Times on Sunday, Iraq has no voter roles, so it is questionable whether elections can actually take place. What’s more, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to create voter lists before next summer. For Council members, like our own Ahmad Chalabi, who don’t actually have a power base in the country, this is a big problem because the ethnic Kurds and Shi’ite and Sunni clerics already have a strong, well-organized power base with virtually instant communications through a network of mosques and clerical supporters.
Because of the uncertainty of next year’s elections, the current Governing Council is now considering a system that would allow the IGC to exist for up to two years, even after a popularly elected government is in place. This essentially leaves not one, but two governments in place after the U.S. pullout. It is unclear exactly how all of that is going to work, but it sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.
What is more troubling to me is the lack of any effective force to replace the U.S. troops on the ground, or to enforce the power of the yet-to-be-created government. When U.S. troops pull out, old factions will re-emerge to claim power in their particular regions, to effect revenge, and to press their individual agendas. The U.S. post-invasion presence has marginally quelled the uprisings, but has not dampened the passions that will eventually fuel the re-emergence of those factions. In short, we have not won the hearts and minds of the Iraqis and our presence has not molded a cohesive, nationalistic enthusiasm for a future government, created at our behest.
A year is not a long time in which to completely rebuild a government, a national infrastructure and a system of communication between and among various political, ethnic and religious factions who are historical enemies, naturally suspicious of the others and their motives. The history of the region and the lack of a unified national identity seem to weigh against a successful government transition in Iraq. The current U.S. cut-and-run plan may be part of George Bush’s re-election plan, but it potentially leaves Iraq worse off than it was before the invasion. It remains to be seen.
November 30, 2003, 9:40 P.M.
On November 30, 2003 at 9:35 P.M., I wrote:
Thank you for your response to my recent post regarding the shutdown of al Arabiya for broadcasting tapes of Saddam Hussein, in which he exorts Iraqis to attack U.S. forces in Iraq. As usual, your points are well reasoned and well taken, however, I still hold with my original point. The U.S. military is currently a big enough target for numerous groups working in Iraq. While your analogy regarding a hypothetical invasion of our country certainly illustrates why free speech is a powerful and valuable freedom, my point is that the current placement of U.S. troops in a war zone, regardless of the reasons for their being there or the legitimacy of their mission, necessarily limits speech by a deposed, despotic, vicious dictator bent on hurting those troops. Solicitation of murder and mayhem is not acceptable speech in any society. Al Arabiya was not reporting on Hussein's speech, they broadcast the entire speech, without editing or comment. In my opinion this is not protected speech, it is solicitation of murder.