“An Incendiary Threat in Iraq”

January 12, 2006

"Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politician has just dealt a huge blow to American-backed efforts to avoid civil war through the creation of a new, nationally inclusive constitutional order. That leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has turned his back on the crucial pledge, made before last October’s constitutional referendum, that the new charter would be open to substantial amendment by the newly elected Parliament. Instead, Mr. Hakim, who runs the dominant, Iranian-supported fundamentalist party, now says no broad changes should be made. In particular, he defends the current provisions allowing substantial autonomy for the oil-rich Shiite southeast.

The vote count from last month’s parliamentary election is not yet complete. But it is already certain that the Shiite religious alliance, in which Mr. Hakim is the most important leader, will hold enough seats to block any constitutional changes it doesn’t like. The only recourse is to persuade Mr. Hakim to respect that earlier pledge.

Mr. Hakim’s latest position is a prescription for a national breakup and an endless civil war. It is also a provocative challenge to Washington, which helped broker the original promise of significant constitutional changes. On the basis of that promise, Sunni voters turned out in large numbers, both for the constitutional referendum and for last month’s parliamentary vote. Drawing Sunni voters into democratic politics is vital to creating the stable, peaceful Iraq that President Bush has declared to be the precondition for an American military withdrawal. The most unacceptable defect of the new constitution for Sunnis is its provision for radically decentralizing national political and economic power, dispersing it to separate regions.

In a quirk of geology, most of Iraq’s known oil deposits lie under provinces dominated by Shiites or Kurds, while the Sunni provinces of the west and north are resource-poor and landlocked. Iraq as a whole is rich enough to support all of its people relatively comfortably. But a radically decentralized Iraq would leave the Sunnis impoverished, aggrieved and desperate, driving them into the arms of radical Sunni groups in neighboring lands.

Although Sunnis are a minority in Iraq, they are an overwhelming majority in the Arab world. An irreconcilable split between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis would leave the Shiites even more dependent than they are now on Iran and American troops.

Constitutional changes are needed in other areas as well, especially in regard to women’s rights and the overly broad prohibitions against former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. But decentralization is the most dangerously explosive issue right now. Mr. Hakim seems perversely determined to inflame it."  NY Times


It was sadly obvious from the time of the First Gulf War that intervention in the internal affairs of Iraq would lead to this point.

A systematic de-stabilization of a major country at the heart of the Arab World in which a minority (Shia) in the rest of the Arab World is a majority locally could only lead to civil war.  Is it surprising that the Shia Arabs of Iraq, having been empowered by us should now insist on retaining that power?  Is it surprising that this minority majority looks to its coreligionists to the east for support?  Not surprising.

The New York Times now perceives the threat of an Iraqi/Iranian bloc at the the head of the Gulf.  Who wrote the editorial?  Surely it was not David Brooks.

Pat Lang


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8 Responses to “An Incendiary Threat in Iraq”

  1. wtofd says:

    “You go into Iraq and you own it.” Apocryphal or not, Gen. Powell’s warning to the neo-cons and the President before invasion is the only sensical sound bite we’ve heard from this administration. They’ve opened Pandora’s Box.

  2. angela says:

    The Iranians seem to be becoming increasingly assertive in parallel with people like Hakim.
    I fear we may be facing players who are going for “bold” moves. We have talked of military intervention in Iran over the nuclear issue, but the leadership of Iraq is likely to prohibit their terriotry from being crossed or used in anyway and if an attack occurs we may get hit by our “allies.”

  3. john says:

    It’s a little late and arguably accidental, but President Bush appears determined to fulfill President Wilson’s point twelve whether he (Bush)understands what it means in Iraq or not:
    XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.

  4. qwerty says:

    It would be interesting to know how more about how the saudis view these developments. I doubt the see a shia goverment backed by iran as something positive in iraq

  5. Serving Patriot says:

    I’m sure they’d be happy to see an economic embargo sponsored by the UN installed against Iran. Taking Iran’s (limited) production out of the market would immediately raise the price of oil (again) and further enrich the monarchy and kingdom in a way that might help them silence (buy off) their domestic opposition (which was radicalized in the era of cheap $25/bbl oil).
    After all, they and their gulf oil cronies have done a pretty good job of keeping Iraqi oil off the market despite the presence of 150K+ foriegn troops. And look at the windfall they’re enjoying as a result. And everyone would enjoy the return of “contraband” oil shipments and all the corrupt moneymaking opportunities they entail. Heck, even the western navies would be happy – they could take up maritime enforcement again and force the purchase of new multi-billion dollar warships!
    Sounds like a win-win-win situation for everyone – except the Iranian people of course.
    Now, if the Saudi Gov’t could just assure themselves those pesky Shi’i in the Eastern Province would continue to be loyal to the King…

  6. qwerty says:

    If the saudis really feel threatend would it be to far of to imagine an alliance between them and the sunis in iraq? Or stirring up sunnis in irans Khuzestan province like the article below seems to suggest.
    Seems to me the political situation in the middle east is slowly moving to a regional war with either proxies or regular forces with a clueless administration trying to get out.

  7. john says:

    The Middle East seems significantly destabilized. But I have confidence in the ability of petty tyrants and/or outsiders to control and navigate the Arab and non-Arab peoples out of their difficulties. On the serious side, Kurds and Shiis are not going to willingly relinquish this opportunity to determine their own fates. Iraq was put together by force, stayed together because of force; remove the force and Iraq disappears. The interesting question is the extent of the administration’s part in or awareness of the apparent dissolution of Iraq.

  8. Some Guy says:

    This is so depressing. And as always, you cut to the heart of it, Colonel. Why is this surprising to anyone? Even relatively uniformed louts like me could tell civil war was not a remote possibility but THE possibility to be worried about, setting aside the foolishness of why, how, and to what end we invaded Iraq (and that is a hefty set of set-asides).

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