Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Deus Ex Hakim-a

In order to consolidate, and shore up, the political base of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (possibly to facilitate a coordinated effort to rein in Moqtada al-Sadr), President Bush met with Maliki's intra-Shiite adversary, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who heads the SCIRI party. SCIRI is also Sadr's chief rival in the Shiite camp.

Presumably, Bush met with Hakim in order to offer the latter concessions in exchange for Hakim's pledge to support Maliki should the Prime Minister attempt to knock Sadr down a peg or two. Such a non-aggression pact from Hakim is an absolute pre-requisite for any potential contra-Sadr maneuver due to the underlying political dynamic in the Shiite coalition (UIA).

Within the ruling UIA coalition, Maliki only secured the Prime Ministership over rival SCIRI candidates because of the support that Maliki received from Sadr. Without SCIRI agreeing to put its weight behind Maliki now, the Prime Minister would remain vulnerable and beholden to Sadr, and thus his ability to act against the firebrand would be severely constrained.

Even with the unequivocal support of Hakim, however, Sadr is still holding a trump card capable of gumming up the works. His own "nuclear option," if you will. Because the UIA only enjoys a narrow majority in the legislature, and Sadr's contingent holds many seats in the UIA, Sadr could pull out of the government altogether causing a collapse of the ruling bloc. This would either lead to a new round of elections (with a similar post-vote stalemate likely either way), or force Maliki to somehow bring in moderate Sunni/secular factions in sufficient numbers to forge a ruling bloc with the remaining UIA seats.

The formation of that Sunni-Shiite unity government would be an immensely difficult task, even if undertaken for the limited purpose of neutering Sadr. In fact, it seems that Sadr may be just as close, if not closer, to forming his own cross-sectarian alliance with Sunni groups in the legislature for the purpose of demanding a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

That is why I expect Maliki's measures to be limited and incremental in nature - think the loss of a ministry post or two, and some mild form of harrassment for Sadr's militia - the Mahdi Army.

On the flip side, however, it should be noted that Sistani and other vital Shiite power nodes have put an emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the UIA coaltion, thus preserving Shiite supremacy in the new Iraq. Sadr would not want to incur the wrath of Sistani, or the wider Shiite community, for scuttling these larger designs and ending Shiite supremacy. So I wouldn't expect Sadr to invoke the nuclear option on a whim or absent some form of adequate provocation. But Sadr will have a tipping point, and Maliki can only push to that boundary and no further.

Thus, this intrigue will likely amount to little more than an elaborate spinning of the tires in the sand. All sound, no fury. That being said, it may still be possible to salvage some modicum of wry amusement at the site of the Bush administration turning to the Tehran funded, and founded, SCIRI as the savior for Iraq. The irony is rich.

Jim Henley is at his best punching holes in these ill-founded dreams [emph. added]:

Is there really someone in official Washington dumb enough to think that if we only “make a deal” with Hakim at the expense of his various rivals that the Administration will finally have found the guy who can make it all work out for us? “The guy” does not exist.

Hakim is the latest in a long line of backup quarterbacks in a town with a losing football tradition. Nobody knows much about him, but they figure he can’t be worse than the shlump who’s starting. All anyone knows about him comes from a fragmentary passage in a scouting guide from the other year, but a beat reporter said some coach, or maybe it was a player, said the guy has shown flashes in practice and maybe he’d give the team a spark. As long as he’s not playing he’s the most popular guy in town.

Cripes, it’s worse than even I thought: our government is like the callers to a sports talk radio station.

Matt Yglesias is also up to the task, with a slightly different emphasis:

Really, truly do we need to take the idea that Hakim is the solution in Iraq even remotely seriously. The hope, it seems, is that more Hakim means less Muqtada, but what's the point? Why would we want to trade an upstart Iranian-backed vicious Shiite Islamist would-be theocrat for a more establishment-oriented Iranian-backed vicious Shiite Islamist would-be theocrat?

Which is reminiscent of something that I wrote a couple of months ago:

If my theory is correct, the upside of this intrigue, and the related maneuvers, would be the possible containment of such a radical and destabilizing force as al-Sadr. The downside would be that, in order to execute such a strategy, the Iraqi government would be forced to move closer to SCIRI (itself a party with close ties to Iran - and heavily implicated in death squad activities and other sectarian violence). That's like sacking Peter to appoint Paul.

You know, in a very limited, narrow sense, I'm actually going to miss the Bush administration when it finally folds its tent and heads off into the sunset. This material practically writes itself. Such a target rich environment can lead to muscle atrophe, though. They've taken the 'hard work' out of snark and there will be a day of reckoning.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?