Thursday, January 25, 2007

Surging Toward Iran

A very good interview with Ali Allawi (thanks Z!).  This man seems to be very sharp and is not afraid to tell the truth.  The first part of the interview (page 1) deals with the surge of troops and a US confrontation with Iran, which I agree with, especially this part:

'So it is not normal, let's say, that Iraq should adopt the US security agenda as it relates to Iran and make it its own. Iran is a neighbor - we can't really overlook the fact there are links of geography, of history, of common religion, and so on. The relationship that Iraq needs to have with Iran has to be an independent, neighborly relationship based on the mutual interests of both countries, not necessarily subject to the strategic imperatives of the US government.

But we have now, I think, been confronted with the Iraqi government having the support of the United States being withdrawn if it does not, as it were, toe the line when it comes to Iran, and especially if it does not toe the line with the administration's interpretation as to Iranian meddling in internal Iraqi affairs.'

Then I found page 2 and 3 to resonate with me even more:

Hanging Saddam Hussein
NIO: What is your view of the recent executions of top Ba'ath officials? Will they aid or detract from reconciliation in your view?

AA: There's no question about the degree of the criminality of these former leaders of Iraq and the way that they used the most oppressive and violent means to maintain themselves in power. There's no question that these people were culpable and were tried - albeit the environment of the Iraqi special tribunals was somewhat chaotic. But nevertheless, these people were convicted, tried mainly fairly, although chaotically, and found guilty.

The question is whether they should have been executed given the extent of the sectarian conflict and heightened sectarian tensions in Iraq, as well the broader Middle East. My own estimate is that Saddam should have been tried for the other crimes for which he was indicted - including the crimes against the population of the south, after the failure of the uprising [in 1991] - so that it becomes clear to all the nature of the crimes of this regime. And even if the trials took maybe another year or two or three, it doesn't matter.

But I think the way that the executions were handled basically subverted the purpose of putting Saddam on trial. So the manner of his death has overwhelmed the litany of crimes that he had committed and it became his legacy. People at the height of sectarian violence remember the way he comported himself in his last minutes, rather than the decades of oppression and violence and criminality with which he ruled the country.

I think, as it were, the cat is out of the bag now. Having executed Saddam in this way for the first set of the offenses for which he was convicted, it's very difficult, I think, to stop the execution bandwagon - which will increase tensions, I'm afraid.

NIO: And why do you think he was not tried for those other crimes?

AA: Well, there are a number of reasons, I think. One of them was the fear on the part of senior Iraqi ministers that the United States might spring him. I don't mean spring him and set him free, but maybe take him outside of the country. There was a fear about that.

The second reason, I think - I would call these negative reasons - is that the government wanted to appear to be strong and decisive. On the positive side, you can say that they had met what they thought were the legal requirements for the execution, therefore it was something pro forma - although I don't pay much credence to that because this is not a pro forma trial, neither is it your usual criminal.

But I think it has to do with the first two reasons, that fear that he may, one way or another, be taken out of the country as part of some deal that the United States may have struck with other countries in the area and the desire to appear decisive and strong.
Cornering the Mehdi Army
NIO: You have discussed in the past a strategy that involves accommodating the groups that have de facto power in Iraq, such as the Mehdi Army [of Muqtada al-Sadr], while also limiting their demands and claims. How can this be achieved, and do you believe that Washington would give and sustain support for such an outreach, given the expected criticisms that Baghdad, with US support, would be coddling the so-called "bad guys"?

AA: Well, the Mehdi Army is part of a movement. It's true, parts of it are undisciplined, parts of it have turned to criminality, but they form part of a political movement that has very strong street support. Under normal conditions I would say these people account for up to 70% of the Shi'ite street, as it were. We're talking about 6 [million], 7 million people whose political representation takes on various forms. Politically, they're part of the Sadrist movement, in terms of militias, various elements of the Mehdi Army.

Now you can't really confront the Mehdi Army without taking on the entire panoply of the Shi'ite groups, or the large lower-class elements of the Shi'ites that support this movement. It's a mass movement. So you can't just excise parts of it and assume that the others will just fall in line. They may not do so. I think it's a very shortsighted strategy just to take on the external manifestations of the Sadrist movement without trying to accommodate it one way or another in a political process.

NIO: And you think it is possible to accommodate but also limit their demands at the same time?

AA: I can't say they have a coherent political program. They don't. They are a large group of people who have borne the brunt of the deprivations of the Saddam regime in the 1990s. Very little attention was paid to them politically prior to the overthrow of the regime, and even the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] I know had nothing but contempt for them.

Still, these people are trying to create a presence for themselves politically. In regards to whether they are by and large supportive of the invasion - well, they're not. But they have to be represented

politically and over time you can begin to deal with their more responsible leaders and wean them into the political process. But if you force them into a corner, you're basically declaring war on a very large percentage of the Shi'ite population of Iraq.

The end of the state
NIO: To what degree would a highly decentralized federal government in Iraq feed Iraqi concerns - rooted in the colonial era - about outsiders dividing and weakening the state? And if security were also decentralized, as you have recommended in the past, wouldn't minorities remain quite vulnerable?

AA: I believe that the Iraqi state that was constructed so laboriously after World War I has come to an end, simply because it has ended up being occupied and has been responsible for great instability in the area and a great deal of domestic violence and oppression. So the state came to an end when the United States invaded the country and broke open, as it were, all the possibilities that Iraq could evolve into the future.

From that premise, the geopolitical unit that was created in the early 1920s had now ended. We now have to come up with a different formulation and we have to deal with the requirements of the major constituent groups as to how they see their role in this state, in this new country, assuming it maintains its geographic and geopolitical boundaries.

From that point of view, it's very difficult to re-establish a centralized state, given the great deal of fear and hostility that exists between various communities and also given the fact that something like 25% of your population and territory is already effectively outside the control of the central state.

So we have to really reconsider this. I suppose it's like the United States when it started - there was a great deal of devolution of power to the states and only after a period of time some federal institutions emerged. I think you have to start with that premise.

The various component groups of Iraq now feel far more vulnerable than they had, say, 20 or 30 years ago. They have gone through a very traumatic post-Ba'athist period in the last four years and we have to rebuild and reknit the sinews, as it were, of a unitary society and state. Now, you can't do that under conditions of great turmoil. So when you refer to the minorities, there are minorities in Iraq outside of the three main blocs, but none of them, I think, are sufficiently large to warrant their own territorial unit. I mean I can't imagine a unit for, let's say, the Iraqi Christians or the Turkomans.

So you have to work within decentralized areas. When you devolve power this way, you basically assume, or expect, that security will be provided at the local level. As you try to build up towards a central and federal arrangement, then you have to be prepared to cede part of power to the center. But until all groups are prepared to cede that, the center can't reimpose its will on the parts.

NIO: And in areas that are multi-ethnic, say Baghdad, Kirkuk, is there anything specific you would propose there?

AA: Well, it's not a cut-and-dried process. I think you have to start - I mean, Baghdad can be turned into a territory with its own government and its own regional powers over and above that of the federal region. Or maybe Baghdad may be divided into three cities. I mean, it is already. Sadr City itself is probably as big as the rest of Baghdad, just by itself. It may very well warrant that it should be incorporated as a city, in which case the capital, excluding Sadr City, might become part of a workable administrative unit.

So you have to think a little outside the box, but the plan should be towards creating not necessarily homogeneous units, but units that are large enough to be self-sustaining, to have the appropriate administrative and security machinery, and, at the same time, not have so many fault lines that create or exacerbate tensions.

And I think this should be monitored by some kind of international force after - with the United States' agreement, obviously - after this thing is headed to a transition, to a new situation.

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