Friday, April 29, 2005

Meet The New Boss

I'm not sure to what extent the inability to form a government in the time spanning from the elections in late January to just yesterday was aiding the insurgencies in Iraq, but I do think that the formation of a cabinet and the transfer of power from Allawi's interim group to Jaafari should at least provide a spark of hope for a populace that was growing disenchanted and frustrated with the stalemated process. But this renewed optimism triggered by the long awaited establishment of an elected Iraqi government brings with it expectations, and with those expectations, the possibility for more frustration and let down. The questions remain: can the new government get results in terms of repairing Iraq's still dilapidated infrastructure, improve the delivery and availability of vital services, and clamp down on what are a variety of tenaciously resolute insurgencies plaguing the nation.

Those issues will need to be addressed with concrete measures, and until there is progress in those areas, I don't expect the formation of a government to, by virtue of symbolic importance alone, alter the situation on the ground. There is no incentive for the various insurgencies, especially those comprised of Sunnis, to give up the fighting just because elected Shiite and Kurdish representatives control the government. Quite the opposite, these new realities might push some to fight harder with a greater sense of desperation.

Further, if the new cabinet was meant to usher in an era of Sunni cooperation, it has failed in achieving that goal pretty decisively - at least so far. To the extent that the multi-ethnic makeup of the government was supposed to reconcile moderate Sunnis to the cause of the new Iraq, and thus tone down support for the Sunni revanchist insurgency, little has been changed by a cabinet that represents the victorious Shiite and Kurdish factions overwhelmingly. Prime Minister Jaafari's commendable attempt at outreach to the Sunni community, by appointing a prominent Sunni to the post of Minister of Defense, went down in flames when fellow Shiites in his own ruling party objected to the candidate's Baathist roots.

The movement to purge former Baathists from positions of power, and to prevent any from within their ranks from acquiring any role in the new Iraq, was aided by the ascension of Ahmad Chalabi to the office of deputy prime minister. The
New York Times reports that Chalabi will be getting help in these endeavors:

[Chalabi's] new position could help him to carry out that agenda, particularly with an ally getting the important Interior Ministry portfolio. Baqer Solagh, who is also known as Bayan Solagh, is a Shiite who shares Mr. Chalabi's anti-Baathist program. Many of Iraq's antiterrorist battalions are under the authority of the Interior Ministry, and members of Mr. Solagh's party, the Supreme Committee for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, have sworn to purge the former Baathists who are among the top commanders there.

...Ali Abdul Ameer Allawi, a nephew of Mr. Chalabi's, holds the powerful post of finance minister.
This lack of progress in terms of reconciliation has prompted stern rebukes from Sunni quarters.

A Sunni assembly member later stood up to accuse the Shiites of dividing the country, and even said one member had threatened to gather evidence that would send him to the gallows....

"This is not a national government, it is a government of the winners," said the Sunni member, Meshaan al-Juburi. "I am here to say that the Sunni Arab members have been marginalized, and the Sunni Arab political forces should be aware of that."
For jihadists like Zarqawi, the inclusion of Sunni voices would do little to change the desire to keep fighting. But since, as Nadezhda pointed out, there are really insurgencies plural, not only one, getting fence-sitting Sunnis and those fighting for a restoration of their former glory back into the fold could shut down certain strains of the meta-insurgency. By allowing hard-liners like Chalabi, who insist on absolute purges, to exert their will on the process, this potential breakthrough remains elusive. I don't think that any and every former Baathist should be welcomed with open arms into the governing body, but exceptions need to be made and compromises struck. The alternative would mean the alienation of an entire segment of society that just so happens to be, by virtue of their former roles in the Hussein regime, well-trained in military tactics and the inner workings of the mukhabarat. That is a recipe for endless violence.

In the meantime, and despite the progress on the political front in forming a cabinet, the
violence raged in Iraq at the hands of what seems an undiminished enemy employing fairly sophisticated techniques:

Insurgents unleashed a series of car bombings and other attacks across Iraq on Friday, killing at least 41 people, including three U.S. soldiers, and wounding dozens of people a day after the country's first democratically elected government was approved....

At least 11 car bombs exploded in and around Baghdad on Friday, including four suicide attacks in quick succession in the Azamiyah section of central Baghdad....

Insurgents also hit Iraqi forces with a coordinated assault in the southeastern town of Madain, less than two weeks after Iraqi forces raided the region to clear it of insurgents in an operation praised by the U.S. military as evidence of the progress made by Iraq in assuring its own security.

A roadside bomb was detonated, then two suicide car bombers drove from different directions into police special forces as they arrived to investigate, said police Lt. Jassim al-Maliky. A third car bomb targeted another police patrol and a fourth detonated near the city hospital, according to Iraqi police, who said the attacks killed 13 people and injured 20.
I find myself repeating a phrase I have uttered during the culmination of every event that was supposed to signify a turning point in this conflict: And now, the hard part.

(cross posted at
Liberals Against Terrorism)

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