Sunday, December 11, 2005

Lead-up to the next Iraqi elections I've been writing quite a bit on JWN about Iraq in the vital days leading up to the Dec. 15th election. Let's go back to this December 2 post, in which I wrote about an intriguing little bit of inside-the-beltway hearsay. One person at a lunch I was at that day recounted that he had been in DC recently, meeting "the (Republican) chairman of a powerful congressional committee" (un-named)...
And the chairman said something along these lines: "We told George Bush: 'You're not running for election any more. We are. In 2006 and again in 2008. What's happening in Iraq is hurting us, badly. What will our party's situation look like nationwide in summer 2006? You have to get serious numbers of our troops out before then. Hold the elections there on December 15! Declare them a victory! Then leave.'"
Anyway, it's beenm very evident all along to me that the greatest factor influencing the political timetable inside Iraq ever since 2002 has been the political timetable here in the the US... On Dec 4, I wrote about the apparent sinking of Ahmad Chalabi's election chances in Iraq, after Ayatollah Sistani warned his millions of followers not to split the Shiite vote. Since Chalabi has been running his own electoral list in the Dec. 15 elections-- List 569-- quite separate from the Shiite mega-list, List 555, that probably means he'll get very few votes indeed. Dec. 5, I wrote a bit about the "Exit Strategy" that MIT security-affairs guru Barry Posen has produced, that's already up on the website at Boston Review. (I'm one of the people whose "responses" to that article will be posted up on their site pretty soon. Me, Juan Cole, Joe Biden, Russ Feingold, etc., etc.) Basically, I think Posen doesn't really understand what's been going on in Iraq very well-- especially the degree to which Iran is already able to wield its influence over huge (and oil-bearing) parts of the country. In essence, that makes Teheran already a sort of status-quo power there. An interesting situation, and one that in an under-the-table sort of way the Bushies have already started to come to terms with... Most notably (as discussed in my post there) by authorizing Zal Khalilzad to start talking to the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad about how to co-manage the situation in Iraq... Dec. 6, I had yet another post about the CPT abductees. Those four brave souls certainly still need our prayers and thoughts. But I was talking today to one of my Quaker friends who knows Tom Fox pretty well. She said, "You know, we shouldn't feel sorry for them, really. They are doing something they chose to do, and they and their families all knew full well, going in, what the nature of their ministry of presence was." (Folks out there, please note that a ministry of presence has absolutely nothing to do with evangelizing, at all.) Anyway, my friend and I agreed that we should pray for the CPT four to have strength-- and also pray for their captors: both for their wellbeing, and also that their hearts can be opened to release our four friends safely. (Also, let's hope everyone concerned allows this safe release to occur, eh?) And, moving right along, on December 8, I published this piece in the Christian Science Monitor... I wrote there that I'd found Bush's first big "Iraq" speech of the present political season-- the Nov. 30 one, with the sappy "Victory" back-drop-- "generally unconvincing". But I did say that it was a good thing that Khalilzad was at least doing some apparently real diplomacy inside Iraq, both with the Iraqi Sunnis and with the Iranians... I had a post December 9 in which I looked at the notable dis-utility of information obtained under torture. That was especially in light of the fact that the accusations that captured Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi had made against Saddam Hussein in early 2002-- which formed one of the main "pillars" of the argument the Bushies made about Saddam having close operational ties with Qaeda-- had been made to interrogators in Egypt, after he had been "rendered to them for questioning early that year. ... Torture, "renditions", and the building of a fabricated "argument" that would be made to justify a terrible and quite unnecessary war.... Oh what a tragic tale. December 10 (was that really only yesterday?) I posted an interesting piece of analytical reporting by leftist Euro-Arab intellectual Gilbert Achcar, who watches things in Iraq quite closely. He was writing about a little-noted gathering that occurred in Baghdad last Thursday, in which leaders and representatives of many Sunni and Shiite parties and organizations came together to discuss and sign a joint document that, among other things, called for the "withdrawal of the occupiers". As Achcar noted, the fact of that gathering--which included people from the currently-ruling SCIRI and Daawa parties, as well as the (Sunni) Iraqi Concord front-- challenges the view that's very widespread in the US that Iraqi politics has already become irreparably sectarianized. Today, I've posted a total of six pieces on Iraq on the blog. They, um, just kept coming. This one is just a presentation of an obituary of one single Iraqi, Dr. Wissam al-Hashimi, who was a very distinguished geophysicist. He was abducted and killed in August, but I'd only just read his obituary, and I found it very moving. We hear so much about the sheer numbers of Iraqis who get killed. But we don't hear so much about who these people are-- and only too rarely are we ever told much about the large numbers of people of real talent and distinction among them (many of whom are apparently being targeted for killings, these days.) The next post was about the very significant "mea culpa" that Iraqi war-architect Kanan Makiya published in the New York Times today. If you don't want to read the whole post, here's the extent of his mea culpa: "What people like myself failed to appreciate, or understand, before 2003, were the powerful forces driving toward purely ethnic and sectarian criteria for the definition of the "parts" of the new federal idea." Not a complete mea culpa there, I think. But still, better than nothing? Here, I put in a little more about Moqtada al-Sadr. It presents an AP report that portrays Sadr's organization as much better organized, less corrupt, and more politically clear than most of the other forces in Iraqi politics. Then I wrote this post, which is about a significant policy paper recently produced by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Marina Ottaway. Marine argues that what she calls the "ethnicization" of Iraqi politics is not just a fact, but also an irreversible fact. (See the Achcar post on that issue, though.) Anyway, based on that, she argues that the only option for the US is to seek to make the radically decentralized version of Iraq "work" by making sure that the Sunnis at least get a workable "region" for themselves... Marina argues that the best way for the US to "pressure" all the Iraqi parties to make the concessions needed for this whole thing to work would be to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops... I think her argument in that regard is sound-- but I don't totally agree with her that the radical decentralization (or essentially, break-up) of the Iraqi political system is yet an inevitable fact of the country's future. In the next post, I looked a little at the situation in Baghdad, a city that has six million (or perhaps, many more) residents, and that carries vast historic and symbolic weight in the minds of all Middle eastern peoples. Marina Ottaway admits that the conundrum of Baghdad-- which under the present Iraqi constitution is not allowed to join any of the emerging "regions"-- will pose a challenge to any plans for decentralization. There have been reports of ethnic/sectarian "cleansing" being carried out in some of the city's neighborhoods. But how demographically segregated is it really becoming? Could it become another Sarajevo or Beirut? In that post, I examined just a tiny bit of the evidence on this point, and found it "mixed." Not least, because I wrote there about this report, in Monday WaPo, which is about the discovery of yet another Interior Ministry-run torture house in an un-named district of the capital. It was at the end of that report that I found the reference to "more than 1,000 detention centers in Iraq", which I decided deserved its own post-- both at JWN, and here. So what, over all, are the prospects for Iraq in this week as the election approaches? That's what I need to write about tomorrow...


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