2004 May 12 Wednesday
US Deal Making May Lead To De Facto Iraq Partitioning

The creation of a Sunni militia commanded by Baathist officers to control Fallujah with American support has other groups in Iraq thinking they too can maneuver to get American blessings for their own local militias to control some piece of Iraq.

Muqtada al-Sadr, who led a wave of uprisings in Shia cities in the south a few weeks ago, will be encouraged too, though American forces this week began to flush his Mahdi army out of Karbala and another town in the south. Still holed up in Najaf, Mr Sadr says that he has learnt a lesson from Fallujah: “if you want to be friends with America, you must fight it.” The revival of a Sunni Arab militia has given Kurdish and Shia militia commanders good cause to reconsider their earlier promise to dissolve and join a new army.


Now Mr Hussein's former soldiers may be able to choose between a career in Mr Allawi's forces and in those run by former Baathist generals.

Defense Ali Allawi couches his spoken fears by referring to the fears of the Iraqi people about the return of Baathist officers to power.

BAGHDAD--A funny thing happened on the way toward Iraqi sovereignty. Last week, former Iraqi Army officers, led by a Republican Guard general, strode through Fallujah's streets in their old olive-green uniforms and shook hands with a U.S. Marine commander, sealing a pact to retake control of the city's armed forces. And Iraqi Minister of Defense Ali Allawi watched it all, aghast. "Iraq is too fragile . . . to overcome the legitimate fears of people that all those creeps are coming back into power," he says.

Allawi knows that his central Army will be less powerful if the US goes around and makes deals that empower local forces. But maybe the US will start supplying him with money to pay to local military leaders to rent their loyalty.

The Bush Administration appears to be as willing to make a deal with Sadr as it is with the Baathists.

General Martin Dempsey, commanding general of the 1st armoured division, said on Tuesday that he had begun negotiations with “stakeholders” including members of Mr Sadr’s militia to form two battalions of 1,840 troops in Najaf, which he said Mr Sadr's “lieutenants” could help to recruit.

How to become a "stakeholder" in Iraq? Well, one way is to have influence over people who have demonstrated an ability to kill Americans.

Shia tribal leaders are negotiating an agreement with Sadr to present to the US for approval.

Under the agreement, al-Sadr's outlawed militia would become a legitimate political organization, participants said. A criminal case against al-Sadr would be postponed until after June 30, when the U.S.-led coalition is scheduled to turn over sovereignty in Iraq to an Iraqi caretaker government. Al-Sadr is wanted in connection with the murder of a rival cleric in Najaf last year.

But Major General Martin Dempsey, Commander, 1st Armored Division, claims the US is not going to keep Sadr's militia together. The US is trying to hire away Sadr's militia into a different organization that would not have the same organizational structure.

Q General, David Lee Miller, Fox News. To what extent do you see Shiites in the south rising up Sadr? And to what extent, if any, do you think you might be able to use Iraqis to ultimately remove him from Najaf -- maybe Iraqi forces?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, that is -- our goal -- I wouldn't describe our goal as to have Iraqi forces remove him, except if they're Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) that are part of what we're trying to build as a legitimate force. And, incidentally, these young men we're getting from the political parties, the agreement is that they come into these ICDC units and they are broken apart and fused back together. So we're not building a Badr organization/company and an INC company -- we're building -- we're getting young men from those organizations and bringing them together. Yeah, I'd certainly like to get to the point where they would be the solution to the problem.

But Sadr's "lieutenants" will probably be leaders in this new structure. There will be important differences however. These guys will be on a payroll funded by the US taxpayer, will not need to go looting businesses to make the payroll, and their boss won't be telling them to shoot at American soldiers. Same guys though. Their character and outlook will not be all that different. But they will be under a different incentive structure. How long will that incentive structure remain in place and effective?

Sadr says he is ready to make a deal.

"I am ready to end everything if the occupation forces officially ask for negotiations on condition that these negotiations are just and transparent and under the stewardship of the Shiite religious authorities," Sadr said in a statement signed by him.

Will the CIA or military put Sadr on the payroll to keep him from trying to build up a replacement force some months down the line?

US military operations against al-Sadr are probably aimed at least in part at weakening Sadr's negotiating position.

Karbala, Iraq - The U.S. military attacked a mosque in this holy city late Tuesday in its largest assault yet against the forces of young rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, even as the first signs emerged of a peaceful resolution to the five-week standoff with him.

My guess is that the US military is going to continue to go around making deals with local militias in order to create a more peaceful atmosphere. The US is going to show various parties a lot of money to get them to go along. Some of the more powerful players will also be offered insider "legitimate" power and perhaps forgiveness for past sins. In spite of attempts to reform the ex-militiamen into new fighting forces which are nominally suppose to be part of a national force these deals are going to facilitate a devolution of power to the tribal and militia groups. The militia fighters have already demonstrated a willingness to fight for their factions. It is hard to believe these militia fighters are going to feel much allegiance toward the central government.

The facade of democracy will be created by elections to choose a democratically elected government. But before the elections much power will already have shifted into the hands of various military officers, clerics, and tribal leaders. The newly elected government (assuming we get that far) will be weak. It will be necessary to let the power shift to local power brokers in order to keep the peace in each area.

This development puts the Kurds in a difficult spot. The Kurds are acting a lot more restrained and civilized. This is probably costing them influence. Will they see this as a lesson that violence would pay them some political dividends? At the very least if there are going to be Sunni and Shia military forces which are effectively outside of the control of the center then the Kurds had better hang on to their weapons too. Of course, they are probably going to anyway.

The Bush Administration seems to have crossed a Rubicon of sorts as it seeks to add more carrots into the mix along with sticks of military force in order to lower the casualty rates and make Iraq outwardly more peaceful. Therefore the Iraqi insurgents have been effective in causing a change in Bush Administration policy toward Iraq. While a reasonable case can be made for the idea that the Bushies have been "played" by the Sunni officers in Fajullah in particular this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Bushies were already "played" by Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi advocates of the war. Better to be in a con game with locals who have real power who can provide some benefits in resturn. But this redistribution of power came at the very high cost of a lot of lives of American boys and of innocent Iraqi civilians along with a considerable amount of ill will on the part of Iraqis and Arabs in general.

Will the Bush Administration's new found willingness to make deals with various devils in Iraq translate into a political gain for George W. Bush back in the United States? This depends in part on whether Paul Bremer and the US generals can make and manage deals with all the right people. Management of those deals will require a great deal of skill. Whether all those people can be incentivized to stick with their deals remains to be seen. Also, not every enemy in Iraq wants to make a deal. There are religious jihadis who just want to kill kill kill. Can the US hire ex-Baathists who are competent enough and motivated and well connected enough to help run down most of the jihadist car bombers? Time will tell.

Update: Writing in the Jerusalem Post Paul Rubin says if the US supports one faction in power the US will be blamed for what that faction does. Do we want that? (requires free registration)

Does the US want to become a participant in an Iraqi civil war between Islamists and nationalists, Sunnis and Shi'ites, and among ambitious would-be tyrants?

Does it want to be the sponsor of a regime that will be overthrown and thus blamed by the victors?

Does it want to be the sponsor of a regime that survives and wins that war by ruthless repression and by killing tens of thousands of people?

No matter how the US leaves Iraq, radical Shi'ite Islamists, al-Qaida terrorists, and pro-Saddam forces will claim they threw it out. The only thing that will shut them up is the victorious side wiping them out.

One advantage of partition done the US is that at least one of the partitions (Kurdistan) will not go through a huge convulsive civil war. This would be a public relations win for the Bush Administration and for the United States in general. The United States would be able to point the finger of blame at the Shias or the Sunnis if they have a huge convulsive civil war by saying "See, the Kurds showed it is possible to make a peaceful democracy".

Better to be able to strike a morally superior pose: "Sherif Ali! So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they remain a little people. A silly people! Greedy, barbarous, and cruel-as you are!"

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 12 01:20 AM  MidEast Iraq Partition

Brock said at May 12, 2004 7:04 AM:

Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Co-opting young hotheads with local power now, national integration later isn't a bad idea, but there must be limits. We don't need another Shah.

Nice movie quote. Always a good Lawrence of Arabia reference.. :-)

mal said at May 12, 2004 8:28 AM:


letter from solder

MichaelA said at May 12, 2004 11:20 AM:

Even the assumption that the partition would avoid bloodshed in Kurdistan is questionable. There are still a large number of Arabs in Kurdish areas, resettled there by Saddam's regime and they are not welcome in independent Kurdistan. There is also the small minority of Turkmen, backed overtly by Turkey. There is also the fact that there are two major Kurdish factions, which have cooperated well so far, but that is no gurantee that they will continue to do so.

Randall Parker said at May 12, 2004 11:49 AM:

MichaelA, Those Arabs are already unwelcome and being squeezed out even without a partition. Last I read a few months ago several tens of thousands had already left and more are leaving all the time. Kurds are showing up to demand their houses and apartments. The Kurdish authorities in those cities are not exactly sympathetic to the Arabs.

We would need to provide money to fund the relocations. We ought to start on that now building housing in Sunni and Shia areas and assigning it to Arabs now in Kirkuk and other cities where they were moved to by Saddam. Again, it is going to happen anyhow and already is happening. Look for a post from me on this. I'm going to collect up some reports on the escalating violence between Arabs and Kurds.

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