Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Harder than the Hardest, Hardest Aardvark Can Get
The current government, and more broadly the Green Zone political class, is one of the few Iraqi groupings which genuinely wants or needs a sustained American presence – as the guarantor of its political survival. At the same time, they have been one of the greatest obstacles to national reconciliation, and have proved largely resistant to American pressure. Since surviving a series of attempts to unseat his government, Maliki seems to feel politically secure and has spoken often about his belief that national reconciliation has already been achieved. Support for relatively unconditional American backing is similarly strong among the Green Zone Kurdish leadership. Even the Green Zone Sunnis, who have often been the most critical of the US in public and have long since quit the Maliki government, need the Americans to maintain their political positions.
The Green Zone dominant parties share a common situation, of disproportionate power in the national government and an eroding position within their own constituencies. The Sunni parties feel threatened by the rise of the Anbar Salvation Council and the Awakenings, and by their failure to achieve substantial national reconciliation legislation to strengthen their political hand with their constituency. The united Shia list of the UIA has long-since fragmented, with the Sadrists and Fadhila and other Shia parties now largely on the outside. By most reports, ISCI has lost ground with Shia voters, and would likely lose in elections (provincial or national). ISCI's political leadership therefore depends on US support for its political weight, and despite its strong Iranian ties would likely be loathe to see the US leave. The Supreme Council's response to a withdrawal would be clearly shaped by its terms, and by the role – implicit or explicit – of Iran in the presumed post-US order. At the same time, in the context of an agreement (tacit or overt) with Iran, its role could be guaranteed. Without such a guarantee, however, the incentives would be strong to unleash the Badr Brigades to stir up trouble in hopes of preventing the US from following through on its plans to depart.
No Iraqi actor would scream more loudly or offer more dire warnings of impending doom than the current Green Zone elite – and, not coincidentally, these are the voices most often heard in Washington and by politicians on short visits to Baghdad. But their warnings should be understood at least in part as expressions of their own political self-interest. No Iraqi actor is more likely to quickly readjust its behavior and calculations should such a withdrawal be announced. With the US set to depart, the whole range of national reconciliation initiatives which are currently seen as at best luxuries and at worst mortal threats would suddenly become a much more intense matter of self-interest. [emphasis added]
While it's a point that I have been making for some time, it bears repeating: We are currently incurring unthinkable costs in order to prop up Iran's primary ally in Iraq (ISCI). In fact, Iran's chief proxy is so unpopular that, should we withdraw our support, ISCI would have a difficult time succeeding in free and fair elections. Iran must feel blessed to have such magnanimous adversaries.
But remember, as John McCain warned us recently, if we withdraw from Iraq any time in the next decade or ten, we would greatly boost Iran's influence. On the other hand, fighting, spending and dying so that ISCI can maintain its position of power in the Green Zone (and Shiite south) limits Iran's influence.Happy Fifth!
[UPDATE: See, also, Matt Duss (at his new Think Progress digs) who adds layers of evidence to the central assertion]