Friday, April 21, 2006

[Insert Name] The Great

Buckling under pressure from US representatives, Kurdish factions, Sunni factions, the kitchen sink and, most importantly, Ayatollah al-Sistani (with Moqtada al-Sadr's approval), Ibrahim al-Jaafari agreed to let the UIA choose an alternative candidate for the prime minister's office. Overall, I think this is a positive development. It should pave the way for the formation of a government, and create at least some positive momentum in political circles.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly the kind of breakthrough that, alone, will signify anything resembling a sea change. Maybe not even a pond change. Allow me to explain my tepid reaction by way of an extended analogy. The short version: while there are numerous, deep-rooted and intractable problems plaguing Iraq at this juncture, almost none of them are significantly attributable to the person named Ibrahim al-Jaafari. So removing Jaafari from the picture can only accomplish so much.

Like most of the great intellectual debates (nature/nurture, materialism/ideology, supply side/demand side, etc.) the controversy surrounding the "great person theory" of history vs. a more contextually deterministic analysis can, erroneously, be framed in a binary and "either/or" manner. However, these debates are more accurately framed using a spectrum - how far along the spectrum of ultimate determination does each influential factor fall. And even then, what other contingencies exist in the immediate surroundings that alter the potency of a given agent, actor or influence. In reality, the competing forces/explanations are intertwined in a more fluid and dynamic give and take.

For example, it's possible to have a genetic predisposition for a disease, but that pre-disposition could remain dormant unless triggered by certain environmental stimuli. Conversely, one could have no genetic pre-disposition at all for that same disease, but due to overwhelming environmental stimuli, the disease could manifest.

The present situation in Iraq does not seem conducive to the emergence of a "great person" who could transcend the societal divisions, and rein in the armed factions, to forge a national pact that would quell the violence. At least not yet. Even if a person with such a "genetic" make-up would emerge, the environmental factors contributing to the formation of the disease of narrow, short-sighted ethnic/sectarianism appear too formidable and likely to override more enlightened impulses. At least at this moment. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

Further, the cast of characters discussed as replacements for Jaafari don't exactly inspire confidence as to their "great person" potential. For now, it appears that the UIA will be choosing a replacement from within Jaafari's Dawa Party. From the NY Times, we get a look at the two front-runners:

Jawad al-Maliki, an outspoken and highly visible member of Parliament, and Ali al-Adeeb, a longtime party official and aide to Mr. Jaafari.

Via Juan Cole, we learn that Maliki spent time in exile in Syria. Adeeb, in Iran. Cole also noted, a few days back, that there was initially some push back on the candidacy of Adeeb from Sunni factions [emph. mine]:

Aljazeera reports that Salih Mutlak, leader of the neo-Baathist National Dialogue Council, dismissed al-Adib as no better than Jaafari, and in some ways worse, since he lacked the latter's political experience. (I have all along wondered who the Sunni Arabs thought they could get from the UIA as a prime minister who would be different in basic policies and outlook from Jaafari).

We'll have to see if that has any impact on Adeeb's candidacy going forward. As for Maliki, the Times article reported, "some rival coalitions see him as abrasive and inflexible."

While the various politicians involved tried to characterize the potential change in leadership as "remarkable" and a harbinger of a violence-quelling national unity government, they seemed less certain about who, exactly, they were getting as a replacement to Jaafari.

"I don't know much about [Adeeb] and a lot of people don't know much about him," said Mr. Pachachi, a secular Sunni Arab.

[Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud] Othman said Mr. Adeeb "looks more acceptable to most people."

Well then, that settles it. So, from what we know, they are both high ranking members of a Shiite religious party. Both are relatively inexperienced and untested. One has ties to Syria. The other Iran. And there are rumblings of discontent concerning both. Color me unexcited.

As I've mentioned previously, Jaafari was blamed for the infiltration of militias in the governmental security forces operating out of the Ministry of Interior - which was actually under the stewardship of SCIRI member Bayan Jabr. One of the supposed advantages of getting rid of Jaafari was that by replacing him with a SCIRI candidate for prime minister, a party other than SCIRI (Dawa?) would take over Interior. The hope was that this Dawa representative would do a better job of purging militia (Badr) influence from official forces. But my guess is that SCIRI will retain Interior now that Dawa will keep the prime minister's office. Even if not, though, what hope is there that a Dawa official would perform much better?

The scourge of militia activity in Iraq is far more pervasive, ubiquitous and potent an epidemic to be blamed on, and laid at the feet of, Jaafari. Especially because Jabr, not Jaafari, was in charge of the one governmental organ most often criticized in this regard.

Further, knocking Jaafari off his perch was supposed to help de-fang Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support of Jaafari gave that candidate a one vote lead over his rival in the previous UIA internal vote for the nomination. Problem is, al-Sadr still controls the largest bloc in the UIA and will once again have a lot to say about who makes it out of the nomination process. And, as Swopa noted, Moqtada had to give his personal approval for Jaafari's withdrawal in the first place.

While the goal of a national unity government is a laudable one, at the end of the day, I'm not certain that this alone will quell insurgent violence. Amending the constitution to ensure Sunni participation in the oil industry, and access to oil revenues, and to forestall the creation of near-autonomous regions in oil rich areas to the north and south, would be the more meaningful political development. Without such a structural alteration to alleviate Sunni fears of powerlessness and persecution in the post-Saddam Iraq, a "unity" government that grants the Sunnis a couple of cabinet positions will likely be viewed as window dressing. Unless they get access to the oil, the rest is meaningless.

So Jaafari's gone. To be replaced by Maliki, Adeeb or some other as-yet-unknown member of the Shiite fundamentalist UIA. But the pressing problems remain: militia activity is out of control, the constitution remains an engine of fragmentation and violence rather than national accord, Kirkuk is an open question, the security situation is abysmal, internecine fighting continues and through "soft" ethnic cleansing, large groups of Iraqis are migrating, under duress, to ethnic/sectarian homogeneous enclaves.

I'd like to think that either Jawad al-Maliki or Ali al-Adeeb, or whoever is eventually tapped, will rise to the occasion and become one of history's notable "great persons." I just don't know if the current chaos would even recognize and make room for a great person if one came along.

Again, hopefully I'm wrong.

[UPDATE: As Nadezhda points out, the UIA wasted no time in declaring their candidate. It's Jawad al-Maliki. Feel free to insert his name in the relavant places above. The era of "Maliki the Great" is upon us. Let's hope he lives up to the advanced billing.]

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