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2009 January 07 Wednesday
Iraq A Story Of Diminished Expectations

The end of US involvement in Iraq is in sight.

In Mahmudiyah the drawdown began almost a year ago. As hard as the Americans tried to fix the place, it's still nothing to brag about. The economy, although improving, remains crippled. Public services are practically nonexistent. Courts and government offices are open, but schools lack working toilets, and teachers are so bad that parents scrape money together for private tutors. Sewage floods some side streets, and telephone landlines fail as often as not. The big government hospital is chronically short of medical supplies; late last month, a man scoured the town's drugstores for surgical thread because the hospital had none for his wife, who was undergoing a Caesarean delivery. "The military is, in some cases, the only government people see," says Maj. John Baker, who advised Iraqi troops in rural areas near Mahmudiyah until late 2008. By normal standards the town is a mess—but it's less dangerous than it was, and at this point that's about the best anyone can expect.

"Iraqi good enough". Corrupt and inefficient just like the rest of the Middle East. Hey, if so many countries aren't Jeffersonian democracies this is not just by chance or momentum of past rulers.

The situation is summed up in a phrase you hear among American combat troops and trainers: "Iraqi good enough." The term expresses their resignation—realism, they'd call it—about the limits of what America can accomplish in Iraq. They say it when an Iraqi Army unit has no choice but to buy fuel for its Humvees on the private market because Iraq's military-supply system is so corrupt and inefficient. Or when the persistent shortage of capable leaders forces Iraqi battalions to function with only half the number of officers they require. Or when Iraqi soldiers fall apart in a senior officer's absence because that's the way it goes in a top-down society. The concept has spread to American Embassy staffers, who invoke it when speaking of the near-impossible task of reforming the decrepit old welfare-state economy. "Good enough" may not live up to Americans' hopes for Iraq, but at this point it describes the place we're likely to leave behind in 2011—if things stay on track. "It's a hell of a lot better than I thought we were going to get four years ago fighting in Anbar, or two years ago in a civil war," says counterinsurgency expert John Nagl. "The high side may not be that high, but the costs of failure are severe."

Hey, all those Anbar insurgents and all the bombings of civilians and soldiers served the purpose of lowering expectations. That's a pretty expensive and painful way to lower expectations. If only dreamers could have been more realistic about the prospects for Arab democracy going in.

Iraq will have elections (at least for a while) but will otherwise be very similar to the nondemocratic states in the Middle East. Lots of political prisoners, corruption, lack of rule of law.

America's expectations have plunged. Officials on the ground now envision an Iraq roughly like other nondemocratic states in the Middle East. The government will no doubt be repressive—not as bad as when Saddam Hussein was in charge, but even now Iraq's jails hold thousands of prisoners who have been held for months without hearing the charges against them. Corruption is rampant, in part because the state isn't strong enough to haul the biggest wrongdoers into court without touching off a rebellion. Residents of Mahmudiyah sarcastically call their mayor's neighborhood Owja, after Saddam's hometown—the lights stay on there even when the power is out everywhere else. And Tehran already has far more influence in the new Iraq than it did under Saddam.

We helped Iran expand its influence. Jewish neoconservative intellectuals sure damaged Israel's security.

In Iraq 2007 was bad enough to make 2008 look good. That's the upside of a bad year.

The increase in security has been striking in Baghdad, where shops are reopening and concrete barriers are being removed. But the surge did push insurgents north to cities like Mosul and Baquba, where attacks are still common but increasingly focused on Iraqi security forces rather than civilians. To be sure, insurgents are still able to carry out high-profile suicide bombings.

According to estimates from independent organizations, between 6,700 and 8,000 Iraqis were killed in attacks in 2008, more than a 50 percent drop compared with 2007. According to the Associated Press, 314 US troops are believed to have died in Iraq in 2008 compared with 904 servicemen and women killed in 2007.

The Kurd-Arab conflict could heat up.

It is simmering and could erupt if Baghdad and the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) don't come to an agreement over Kirkuk, the oil-rich city that is under central government authority but claimed by the Kurds as their historic capital. Added to the mix is a large Iraqi Turkmen minority backed by Turkey. A referendum to decide who should control the city has been postponed twice, and the UN has so far been unable to find an acceptable formula for a political settlement that would pave the way for a vote.

Will the Kurds and Arabs come to blows? Or will there be a de facto partition while the Kurds pretend to be part of Iraq?

By Randall Parker    2009 January 07 07:04 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2007 July 28 Saturday
Iraqi Government Refuses To Improve

How do you say mañana in Arabic?

Baghdad - Iraq is in the throes of its worst political crisis since the fall of Saddam Hussein with the new democratic system, based on national consensus among its ethnic and sectarian groups, appearing dangerously close to collapsing, say several politicians and analysts.

This has brought paralysis to governmental institutions and has left parliament unable to make headway on 18 benchmarks Washington is using to measure progress in Iraq, including legislation on oil revenue sharing and reforming security forces.

And the disconnect between Baghdad and Washington over the urgency for solutions is growing. The Iraqi parliament is set for an August vacation as the Bush administration faces pressure to show progress in time for a September report to Congress.

Referring to the Iraqis as Iraqis is a mistake. The people in the government do not see themselves as acting on behalf of a group called Iraqis.

Robert Springborg, director of the Middle East Institute at the University of London, says the heart of the problem was that no one is truly committed to a strong and unified government.

"The actors involved have their own agendas, the central government and its resources are a tool for their own aspirations ... none are committed to a government for all Iraqis," he says.

This will not change. We can stay for years and this will remain the same. They are so tribal and sectarian that they have little or no loyalty to give to something called Iraq.

Out of the $20 billion in construction projects the United States is funding in Iraq we've so far tried to turn over $5.8 billion projects for Iraqi mismanagement but the Iraqi government refuses to even take over many of those projects to begin their post-construction mismanagement.

Iraq's national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars.

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq's national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.

The United States often promotes the number of rebuilding projects, such as power plants and hospitals, that have been completed in Iraq, citing them as signs of progress in a nation otherwise fraught with violence and political stalemate. But closer examination by the inspector general's office, headed by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., has found that a number of individual projects are crumbling, abandoned or otherwise inoperative only months after the United States declares that they have been successfully completed.

The Iraqi government has a limited supply of mismanagers. We've created too much infrastructure for them to mismanage.

The US government has another $14 billion worth of projects in Iraq nearing completion. Next year whether US troops stay or leave the supply of crumbling wasted projects in Iraq is going to triple. I say we leave and let that waste and damage take place out of our sight.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 28 09:29 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2007 June 02 Saturday
Iraqis Prepare For All Out War Once US Withdraws

Edward Wong, a New York Times reporter who has been covering Iraq, says the Iraqis see their war with each other in terms of absolute defeat or victory and are in no mood to compromise with each other and share power.

PERHAPS no fact is more revealing about Iraq’s history than this: The Iraqis have a word that means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the streets.

The word is “sahel,” and it helps explain much of what I have seen in three and a half years of covering the war.

It is a word unique to Iraq, my friend Razzaq explained over tea one afternoon on my final tour. Throughout Iraq’s history, he said, power has changed hands only through extreme violence, when a leader was vanquished absolutely, and his destruction was put on display for all to see.

This is why democracy can't work in Iraq. The Iraqis are not egalitarian. They understand submission and dominance, not equality. What is amazing about Wong's article is that it is published in the New York Times, the epitome of high church liberalism. Do the editors appreciate the underlying message of this article? Do the editors understand that the Iraqis are a massive advertisement against leftie multiculturalism and that the Gray Lady is basically running that advert in their reports from Iraq?

The Iraqis do not think with our values. They are very different from us. We should make decisions on Iraq based on this basic fact: The different cultures of the world really are different from each other.

The Iraqis are not weary of war. They hunger for absolute dominance over each other.

But in this war, the moment of sahel has been elusive. No faction — not the Shiite Arabs or Sunni Arabs or Kurds — has been able to secure absolute power, and that has only sharpened the hunger for it.

Listen to Iraqis engaged in the fight, and you realize they are far from exhausted by the war. Many say this is only the beginning.

President Bush, on the other hand, has escalated the American military involvement here on the assumption that the Iraqi factions have tired of armed conflict and are ready to reach a grand accord. Certainly there are Iraqis who have grown weary. But they are not the ones at the country’s helm; many are among some two million who have fled, helping leave the way open for extremists to take control of their homeland.

Read the whole article.

The United States should pull out of Iraq and leave it to the groups there to fight it out and for a victor to emerge. We could help the Kurds secede if we want to have friends in the area once we are gone. But what matters most is that we should leave. The Iraqis are going to fight it out once we are gone. If we leave tomorrow or next year or 5 years from now or 10 years from now they will still fight it out in a war where the factions see only total defeat or total victory as possible outcomes.

What should Americans learn from this war? That not all the peoples of the world are Jeffersonian democrats or liberals. That some peoples despise the idea of equality and prefer dominance and total defeat of other groups. That Western ideals are not Muslim ideals. That Arab Muslims are not compatible with Western democracy and freedom. Americans should learn that we need to keep Muslims out of the West as our best means to protect ourselves from their thoroughly illiberal religion.

We need to tell our elected representatives that we should leave Iraq. George W. Bush is beyond reason. Only Congress can get us out. Also see my post US Soldiers In Iraq See The War As Pointless.

By Randall Parker    2007 June 02 11:14 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 March 08 Monday
Will Iraq Remain Democratic And United?

The Kurds and various Shia factions look like they may be working up toward guerilla warfare in Kirkuk.

The long-simmering friction between Kurds and Turkmens here is taking a sectarian turn, with thousands of Shiite militiamen recently arriving to protect the Turkmens and Arab coreligionists against Kurdish hopes to incorporate Kirkuk into their sphere of influence in the north.

....

And concern that those tensions will spill over into violence has grown with the arrival of several Shiite militias here in recent weeks.

They include the Army of the Mahdi, the militia of the firebrand cleric Muqtada Sadr; the Badr Brigades, the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; Iraqi Hizbullah; and the Dawa Party.

Marc Erikson thinks the more radical Shiites may eventually seize power.

I consider it a dangerous illusion that - after a putative electoral victory of Shi'ites under Sistani's leadership - the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr or al-Da'wa and Badr Corps leaders and their followers could be smoothly integrated into a peaceable Shi'ite political body leading a unified, democratic Iraq. Quite understandably, with thousands of their former comrades in arms buried in Saddam's mass graves, hatred for the once Ba'ath Party-led Sunni minority runs deep, as do motives of revenge and retribution. In the long run, more importantly, these radicals will not foreswear the ideas for which many of them have fought for decades. With a popular following and armed to the teeth, why should they subordinate their goals and aspirations to those of a weaker leader's? Badr Corps commander Abdul Aziz al-Hakim spelled out the strategy quite clearly: first have elections, in which Shi'ites under moderate leadership win an absolute majority; then use popular pressure and force transformation into a Khomeini-style Islamic republic. It's the old Leninist two-stage strategy by the precepts of which the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917 after intermittent moderate Menshevik rule under Alexandr Kerenski.

Will the long term presence of US soldiers stationed in Iraqi bases be enough to prevent a creeping radicalization of the Iraqi government into a Shiite theocracy? Will the Shiites and Kurds gradually escalate fighting into a low grade guerilla war? In response is there anything the US could do aside from allowing a partitioning of Iraq patterned after Bosnia?

By Randall Parker    2004 March 08 02:56 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 February 29 Sunday
Prospect Of Democracy Breeding Ethnic Hatred In Iraq

Yale law professor Amy Chua, author of World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, argues that democracy is unleashing inter-ethnic conflicts around the world, including in Iraq.

When sudden democratisation gives voice to this previously silenced majority, opportunistic demagogues can swiftly marshal animosity into powerful ethno-nationalist movements that can subvert both markets and democracy. That is what happened in Indonesia, Zimbabwe, and most recently Bolivia, where weeks of majority-supported, Amerindian-led protests resulted in the resignation of the pro-US, pro-free-market "gringo" President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. In another variation, recent confiscations by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of the assets of the "oligarchs" Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky - all well-known in Russia to be Jewish - were facilitated by pervasive anti-semitic resentment among the Russian majority.

Iraq is the next tinderbox. The Sunni minority, particularly the Ba'aths, have a large head start in education, capital and economic expertise. The Shiites, although far from homogeneous, represent a long-oppressed majority of 60-70%, with every reason to exploit their numerical power. Liberation has already unleashed powerful fundamentalist movements which, needless to say, are intensely anti-secular and anti-western. Iraq's 20% Kurdish minority in the north, mistrustful of Arab rule, creates another source of profound instability. Finally, Iraq's oil could prove a curse, leading to massive corruption and a destructive battle between groups to capture the nation's oil wealth.

Chua points out that the government of Indonesia, once it became democratic, nationalized $58 billion dollars worth of assets formerly owned by Indonesian Chinese. The result is stagnation of Indonesia's economy with high unemployment, poverty, and the rise of extremist movements. Will similar calamities befall Iraq? Since I favor placing empirical evidence ahead of ideological beliefs when setting policy I think the rational response to the situation in Iraq is to split the country up into 3 countries where there is a single dominant overwhelming majority in each country with more trust of its own members. More arguments for that approach here.

Chua is unwilling to build on her observations to either explain why there are market dominant minorities or to explain what ought to be done about preventing the development of the conflicts that inevitably come from having market dominant minorities. Paul Craig Roberts argues that Chua misses obvious conclusions about US immigration polices and about US foreign policy that can be drawn from her observations.

Certainly the U.S. government and the IMF should take care not to export policies that worsen ethnic conflicts, but the more powerful conclusion to be drawn from Chua’s material—a conclusion that Chua studiously avoids—is that the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand should immediately cease and desist from reconstructing themselves as multi-ethnic societies. Accentuating ethnic conflict abroad is stupid, even criminal, but it is insane to import unassimiliable ethnic groups into Western countries, thus replicating in the West the Third World conflicts that Chua so terrifyingly describes.

In his analysis of Chua's work Steve Sailer points out that property rights and one man-one vote do not always mix and that this is bad news for the future of the United States.

That property rights and one man-one vote democracy don't always mix well would not have surprised Aristotle, Edmund Burke, or Alexander Hamilton. Yet many Americans who call themselves conservatives have forgotten this.

One reason: we are one of the fairly small number of lucky countries with "market dominant majorities." We can have our cake (capitalism) and eat it too (democracy) because our majority group is economically quite competent.

America's perpetual trouble has been a less-productive black minority. Black-white economic inequality is not a problem that America is going to be able to solve any time soon. But, due to our market-dominant majority, our country is rich enough to live with it.

In contrast, if our current mass immigration system is allowed to continue, America will become just another country with a market dominant minority. Through government policy, we will have inflicted upon ourselves the kind of ugly society seen in most of the rest of the world.

Also see Vinod on Amy Chua's work.

Proclaiming that all ethnic and racial groups should all be equally economically successful will not make it happen. Less successful groups will inevitably resent more successful groups and will therefore act politically, whether at the ballot box or by other means, to express their resentments. Any society whose most successful groups become a smaller fraction of the population is one that is going to have more strife, more crime, more use of government to seize assets from the most successful groups, less civility, and less trust. The debate over this problem and its implications for and foreign policy - especially for immigration policy - has now reached the leftish mainstream in the UK with David Goodhart's Prospect article about Great Britain becoming too diverse being republished in the Guardian. Anthony Browne, Environment Editor of the London Times, has also played a role in bringing a skeptical look at immigration into the mainstream of British political debate. But that debate is still taboo in The New York Times and other legitimizers of elite liberal-left discourse in America. This taboo also has the effect of making US foreign policy in places like Iraq dangerously naive as the assertion of unversalist beliefs about how we can all just get along in democratic capitalistic utopians obscures the much uglier truths about why the world's problems are so much less tractable.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 29 01:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 November 09 Sunday
Jim Hoagland: Sunnis In Iraq See Democracy As A Threat

Jim Hoagland argues that fear of eventual Shiite majority rule drives Sunni Arabs to oppose US forces in Iraq.

But for the Sunni areas that seem to have willingly become the sea in which the insurgent fish swim, democracy is a code word for domination by the country's Shiite majority. The Sunnis fear that democratic elections would enable the Shiites to do unto them as they did unto the Shiites under their co-religionist, the dictator Saddam Hussein.

The United States has failed thus far to develop a strategy that convinces them otherwise and splits the Sunni population from the killers based among them

Hoagland says that the Sunnis look at the prospects for democracy under majority Shiite (approximately 60% of the population of Iraq is Shia Arab by some estimates) rule and ask a very simple basic question: What is in it for us? Well, to be fair to the Sunnis: Not much! Does anyone really expect the twenty percent of Iraq's population who are Sunnis to have much say in a democratically elected government? It is hard to see how that can be accomplished without creating some contorted decision-making process that gives veto power to the Sunnis and the Kurds.

Modest proposal: Split Iraq. Admit that Humpty Dumpty can't be put back on the wall unless a brutal strongman rules Iraq and that a brutal strongman is not in US interests or in Iraqi interests.

A split would leave the oil in the hands of the two new nations ruled by the Kurds and the Shias. Sunni Islamic fundamentalists would lack the money needed to create the kinds of problems the Wahhabi Sunnis cause with their control of Saudi Arabian oil fields (which mostly lie in a province which is, btw, probably majority Shia). The long-suffering Kurds would get a country of their own and there'd be considerable justice in righting the wrongs of their historical experience.

One big complication would come from any proposal to split Iraq: What to do with Baghdad? Whether it gets placed on the Sunni or the Shia side of the border a large fraction of its population would be placed under rule of a majority of the other sect of Islam.

Update: One other point about Iraq: If Donald Sensing is correct then the US occupation authorities are doing a terrible job in using radio and TV broadcasts to reach the Iraqi people with their version of why they are there and what they are doing. Given the number of ways that the Bush Administration has been lame in its handling of the Iraq situation the information that Sensing relays seems at least plausible.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 09 05:54 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
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