Ten Days? We’ll see…

"The major sticking points — the role of Islam in determining Iraqi law, issues of self-rule and regional autonomy, and the sharing of oil revenue in a federal context — put the goal of consensus beyond the reach of the governing coalition of Kurds and Shiites and the Sunni Arab minority. Yet a short delay while working on key disputes is far better than ramrodding through the National Assembly a constitution that would elevate clerical leadership to a political role in a future Iraqi society, and that would disadvantage women, especially in the area of family lawFred Hiatt of the WashPost

A number of correspondents in Baghdad (where they mostly are) have commented since the delay was announced yesterday on the seriousness of this evidence of discord within the Iraqi "nation."  The Washington Post editorial page evidently does not share this view.  Too bad!

What the media corps in Baghdad is trying to tell people is that except for issues of government structure (1 president, 1 parliament, etc.) THERE IS NO AGREEMENT among the delegates to the constitutional convention in Baghdad on anything of real substance. 

Why is that?  Aren’t they all IRAQIS?

No, they are not, not in the sense that those who ask that question mean.  Just about all of them will tell you that they are "all Iraqis together."  Such responses are a natural reaction to the potentially dangerous questions of outsiders, but we are supposed to be smarter than to accept such statements at face value.  It is true that there are and have been a fairly large class of people in Iraq who became over the decades since independence in the 20’s Iraqi nationalists. For these people community differences are less important than for the majority and for them, personal or community interests "rank" far below national interests, but they are and were always a minority, if a substantial one.  Mr. Samara’i, a Sunni Arab, comes to mind.  He describes himself as a "Sushi" because he is a Sunni and his wife is a Shia.  There are many such.  Unfortunately for their present influence on the process of government, most such people belonged either to the Baath Party (a secular Arab nationalist party) or to some similar group.  In the presence of Shia religious party majorities in the political process, the effect of such people is minimal.

The majority of Iraqis are still more self-identifying with personal, clan, tribal and ethno-religious group interests than ahything else.

The Kurds are desparate to keep themselves as saparate as they can from Arab Iraq.

The religious Shia are busily trying to consolidate their power over as much of Iraq as they can while they still have American troop "cover" for their actions.  If they can’t do that then they have shown their intention to establish a separate "autonomous" zone in the south.

The nationalist Sunni Arab guerillas and tribals remain insistent on "national unity," but they and their secular friends in the other communities were always the main defenders of "Iraq" as an idea.

The Zarqawi led international Jihadis are in a separate category.  They are fighting their own war for their own goals and have little to do with the Iraq political process.

TEN DAYS?  I just heard NBC in Baghdad say that there are 50 major issues unresolved.

WHY?  Simple.  Iraq was a post-colonial "work in progress" in terms of "nation building" when we invaded it.  It was a "jar of worms" in terms of having a sense of nationhood.  We unscrewed the lid on the jar and the worms are crawling around according to their own agenda, not ours.

The geo-strategic geniuses like Zalmai Khalilzad should have know that.  He has always been a major advocate for the "creative" use of American power for world improvement.  As an Afghan Pushtun and supposed Muslim he should have know better, but he and others did not and now he bears the burden of his own dreams.

"and that would disadvantage women, especially in the area of family law." Excuse me!  Family and personal status law are just about invariably the areas of life reserved for Sharia or something close to Sharia law in Arab countries even ones that have mixed law codes (Western and Islamic).

The status of women?  I have the disadvantage of having been to Iraq a lot in the "old days."  I hasten to add that I went on US government business.  I clearly remember the European born wife of an American ambassador telling me in response to my question on this issue that. "the problem modernized Iraqi women have now is that they are expected to do too much.  They are expected to have professional careers, be perfect wives and mothers, and be ready to "pick up the slack" when their husbands start running around."  I remember that the General Manager of the Rashid Hotel (the best in town) was a good looking, smart, skilled Iraqi woman in her late thirties.  There were a lot like her.

Now the Shia majority in the government is going to "improve" her status.

Ten Days?  We’ll see..

Pat Lang


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7 Responses to Ten Days? We’ll see…

  1. angela says:

    2 points where the delegates are “all Iraqis”
    – We tried to pressure them to make an agreement and in many areas to do so on our terms. Pride and simple political survival means that there would be defacto resistance and being skilled in these things they played us along to the end, getting our ambassador to express confidence that the deal would be made. Reminds me of the insurgents who start popping bombs when some of our spokespeople announce that the bombing have decreased or escalate attacks on our troops when we announce that such attacks have decreased. They as a people enjoy making us appear fools. Can’t say I totally blame them.
    – I am certain right now that every party to the agreement knows our desperation to have this thing done. This means they can bargain and assert pressures. As with asserting their independance they have a shared interest in making things difficult, in upping the negotiation pressure on us.
    This doesn’t mean that I discount the very real differences between various parties, but only that we’ve gotten ourselves into a position where “game theory” further encourages some very hard players to delay and cause difficulties.
    I do however think that it is possible an agreeement will be made because I suspect most of the participants take this about as seriously as most third world politicians take pieces of paper. Agreements mean little, Kurdish and Shiite autonomy and all sorts of other things are mantained by militias. One can still throw acid in the face of unveiled women even if it’s technically illegal. And anyone who thinks the mafias running all sorts of places are going to say, “oh gee a newly elected set of represenatives is now in charge and it’s our duty to lay down our guns, evacuate the police forces and throw flowers at our new democracy,” well if you believe that please post your name because I have some wonderful investments to sell you.
    However if we sweeten the deal enough everyone might play “let’s pretend.” But they have no incentive to make this easy. Their interest is to rough us up a bit so we remember who is the boss and to extort as much as possible. My guess is one or 2 more rewrites of the constittion would be necessary to get us into the optimal state of total desperation still fused with a bit of hope. At that point everyone can appear on TV with huge smiles and the dreamed for rise in the president’s poll numbers can occur. Victory!

  2. J says:

    ‘grudges’ run ‘deep’. the kurds would rather jettison and become an independent nation (they been trying and trying for years), then you’d have turkey entering the fray if they did. you have the shia who want their wealth back, remember they are shia ‘arabs’, not persians. then you have the sunnis who ‘were’ used to controlling everything for so many years are now the ‘odd man out’, and they hate it.
    what we have is a ‘volatile’ mix becoming a simmering cauldron.

  3. ismoot says:

    I am not impressed by the “Shia Arab” not “Shia Persian” bit. I thought I dealt with that in my post today.
    The Shia we are concerned with here have been in league with the “Shia Persians” for a long time and given the demography of the ME and the traditional politics of the religious/political communities you can expect these “Shia Arabs” to end up in bed with the “Shia Persians.” They already are in bed with them.
    You don’t want to “buy” all the shallow BS spread abroad by armchair experts who never set foot in Arabia or who were in the CPA where they sucked up all the nonsense that Iraqis were able to devise on relatively shor notice.

  4. ismoot says:

    The root cause of their inability to devise a lasting constitution which would end the war is the depth of their mutual communal hostility.
    It doesn’t really have anything to do with us except that we give them someone to “play games” with. pl

  5. angela says:

    It is hard for me to believe that anyone in their right mind is hoping for a real constitution which resolves real differences. The political forces have taken shape, they believe political power comes through a gun barrel.
    If one is an idealist then one might hope that a facade can be mantained, that just having people pretend to be together and to gather physically might increase the possibility if real, though less dramatic deals and compromises and habits being made.
    However I think for the most part the “constitution ” is about convenience and face. Various parts of the “government” find advantages to holding it together for now, and we desperately want something that can be sold as “success.”
    I believe our desperation for this has put us in a position of greater weakness while encouraging a situation where the various parties rub their grievances a little rawer while sharpening their sense of entitlement.
    This is not a good thing when one percieves the situation as one where the best we can do is use our limited leverage to make bad situations a little less worse.
    I think the players are “all Iraqis” is that for various motives they do all have percieved interests in defying and gaming us. This “unity” stresses already serious fractures and further weakens our credibility as a competent broker.
    We have pretty much said we will take *any* constitution, it can “delay” all the difficult questions, we pretty much guaranteed this “constitution” would be out yesderday. They decided not to. We now explain this was because of sand storms.
    Yep nd they are the ones kicking sand in our face and we are the ones who set ourselves up. I think I have been fairly clear on my opinion that the Iraqi “government” is not going to be the vehicle by which things work out there. I think I’ve also been pessimistic on the likelyhood that any rational solution will take place.
    Still sometimes opportunities do arise, stresses can bring out the strangest sets of circumstances. Also of great importance is the credibility we have left to influence larger strategic issues in the gulf and beyond.
    To me we have squandered more of our already hurt reputation, somehow we managed in the tradition of this administration to set up a situation where parties who won’t agree on anything else unite to make us look like klutzes.
    My guess is that they will do so for a few more weeks and then hand us a meaningless toothless piece of paper. But they are going to make us beg.

  6. angela says:

    “My guess is that they will do so for a few more weeks and then hand us a meaningless toothless piece of paper. But they are going to make us beg.”
    I should add this is the “optimistic” reading of what they will do, what we can hope to get if we cooperate.
    It is perfectly possible that the Shiite will shaft the Sunni, stressing those fault lines which we’re trying to smooth and even chose to enter clauses we specifically have stated are unacceptable.
    We have set up a situation where rather unsavory forces have a lot of leverage over us.
    Ordinarily I think focus on the situation over there is too US-centric, it’s as though Iraqis don’t exist. But somehow by first vetoing and then smiling as they stick delays up us and saying all sorts of things, we have managed to aggravate something which at best could be concieved as essentially meaningless into something far more explosive and a test of our policy.

  7. ismoot says:

    What we are seeing is either the dissolution of Iraq as it has been or the subjugation of Iraq by th Shia Arabs and their big brothers to the East.
    As meaningless as constitutions are, and the Middle East is littered with them, the Shia are still not going to be willing to concede anything in writing if they don’t have to. Like all Arabs, they are obsessed with Words. pl

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