Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gotta Give a Shout Out to the Large Professor

There have been some pretty serious developments with respect to the Maliki government's position vis-a-vis the Sunni Awakenings/Sons of Iraq groups over the past couple of weeks. The nickel version is that the Maliki government is shifting from a mere refusal to integrate the Awakenings/SOI into the Iraqi Security Forces (or grant them civil positions in the government), to an active military campaign to forcibly disarm and disband those same militias. Arms have been seized, some leaders have been arrested and others killed.

Marc Lynch has been out of town - so he has a solid alibi to explain away his silence on this important topic. I do not have such an excuse, but will take advantage of his return to make amends for my heretofore neglect. The Extra P:

A couple of weeks ago, I laid out the case that the problem of the future of the Awakenings was coming to a head. Well, while I was away, the issue seems to have exploded. McClatchy, the New York Times, the LA Times, and others have run important stories on what seems to be a concerted campaign by the Maliki government to crack down on the Awakenings movement - with what appears to be grudging American acceptance.

The Awakenings experience demonstrates the limits of American influence over the Iraqi government - months of sustained, intense pressure on Maliki to integrate the Sons of Iraq into the Security Forces has produced remarkably little results, and now Maliki is cracking down on a pillar of Gen. Petraeus's strategy against al-Qaeda. This should be another nail in the coffin of the popular idea that improving security will lead the Iraqi government to make political accommodations with its rivals.

As argued previously, the argument that all the Iraqi factions needed was a lull in the fighting to resolve the underlying political issues that led to the fighting in the first place was always tenuous. Further, the Awakenings/SOI strategy that preceded, and then accompanied, the Surge was working at cross-cutting purposes with the above. On the one hand, the deal with the Sunni insurgents reduced the levels of violence, but on the other hand, as Brian Katulis points out, it further fractured Iraqi society by creating - or strengthening - distinct power nodes outside the central government.

What has been extolled as a central “success” of the surge has also exacerbated existing political divisions and fomented new political cleavages in an already fractured and fragile Iraqi body politic. Newly empowered sahwa leaders are challenging each other, traditional Sunni Arab political parties, and the Iraqi government. […]

What’s worse, current U.S. policy in Iraq does not take into account how the sahwa movements have...[made] it more difficult to achieve progress in striking the power-sharing deals necessary to stabilize their country.

The hope, or roll of the dice, was that the Maliki government would eventually, if begrudgingly, incorporate the Awakenings/SOI groups into the government - leading to non-violent buy-in from a potentially destabilizing segment of Iraqi society. Maliki, however, feels no pressure to act. Why would he when he has the US military around to back his every move? The US government can't pressure Maliki when its leverage is undermined by the fact that leaders like Bush and McCain are promising to provide Maliki with military support for the next millenium - whether or not Maliki is willing to make political concessions. The violence in Iraq will flare up, however.

Maliki's actions should not be interpred solely through the sectarian (Shiite v. Sunni) lens, however. Rather, federalist/nationalist, or Powers that Be (PTB)/Powers that Aren't (PTA), paradigm is relevant. In this respect, Maliki has targeted political factions that do not currently hold power in the regional, and in some cases federal, government (the Sadrists, Awakenings/SOI). In doing so, he is pushing ahead with an anti-democratic consolidation of power - flirting with the formation of a military dictatorship gussied up with democratic trappings. Sam Parker (via a footnote to a Reidar Visser piece) explains:

The PTB/PTA dynamic is different from "government" and "opposition" in two important ways. First, PTA includes the Awakenings, Sadris, emerging nationalist groups, tribal leaders, etc. who either aren't represented in governing institutions at all or, in the case of the Sadris, for whom there is a tenuous relationship between the militant street movement and the guys in the COR. Moreover, many of these groups, first the Sadris and now the Awakenings (and whoever gets rolled up with these two groups along the way), are facing active, military persecution by the PTB. There is an intense effort to keep them shut out of all governing institutions. This portion of the PTA cannot accurately be described as "opposition" in any sense. They are too disenfranchised to be the opposition, and they're surely not in parliament.

Second, it is true that the PTA also does include the parliamentary opposition. But even here, opposition/government doesn't adequately convey the dynamics. In a normal parliamentary political system, there is an assumption that the government can be voted out and replaced, that this transition of power will occur peacefully as a result of everyone following the rules. But what if you have a ruling coalition that never intends to share power if it can get away with it, openly flouts parliamentary procedure, owns the "state" security services in a way that is very unlikely to be transferrable, all within a set of governing institutions that has not once experienced a peaceful transition of power? The PTB are trying to lock up and shut down the political system, whatever rudiments of democratic institutions may be formally in place.

Considering the above, I was hoping to find Marc Lynch's question harded to answer:

But here's a stumper. What if that battle is joined, but the "former Awakenings" ("the once and future insurgency?") choose not to turn those guns against their American "friends" but concentrate exclusively on the Iraqi government. Which side does the U.S. support? The Awakenings movement which it has built and cultivated, or the Iraqi government which it has built and cultivated? Could get messy.

Will get messy.

Thus far, the US has played an active role assisting in Maliki's crackdown, and there is little reason to think this will change. The Bush team is still banking on the hope that Maliki will eventually soften on the issues of permanent bases - or at least open up the oil fields to sweetheart deals (two items that his government has thus far resisted). I don't expect the Bush team to conclude that a better deal is possible from loosely organized, if at all, groups of former insurgents. In the meantime, however, our policies will further alienate the Sunni Muslim world. Lynch discusses one aspect of this dynamic:

...Tareq al-Homayed, editor of the Saudi paper al-Sharq al-Awsat, has a widely discussed piece voicing intense displeasure with the 'betrayal' of the Awakening (English version here). The crackdown could very well put the ice on the recent opening of relations between Arab states and the Iraqi government (which has not, at any rate, yet extended to the Saudis).

Perhaps more troubling, though, is the additional propaganda boon given to al-Qaeda and other anti-American elements seeking to radicalize the region. In short, the US will be portrayed (accurately in many respects) as assisting a Shiite-led, anti-democratic government in a bloody crackdown on Sunni factions - and other Iraqi factions that pose a threat to that government through the democratic process. All for the promise of beneficial access to oil and permanent military bases.

They will continue to hate us for our freedom.

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