Friday, September 03, 2004

Allawi and the Shi'ites

Did anyone else notice this:

"On Tuesday, the same day that Dr. Allawi abruptly canceled a peace deal struck with the Mahdi Army, he met with a group of more than 300 prominent leaders from Sadr City and asked them to withdrawal their support from the militia. As an inducement, he offered some $300 million in reconstruction projects for the neighborhood.

"The meeting ended inconclusively, according to tribal sheiks who were there, but the prospect of millions of dollars in aid set off excited discussions throughout the area. Sadr City, a vast and impoverished area of Baghdad, has as many as three million people."

The fact that a peace deal struck in such spectacular fashion has now been cancelled would seem newsworthy, even during a political party's national convention. Also interesting to me, however, is that Allawi is apparently doing here what he is doing in Falluja. The Sadr City leaders, however, seem pessimistic about his overall strategy toward the Sadrists, and felt like a settled issue has now been reopened without cause.

There are several ways of looking at this. One, of course, is that Muqtada Sadr simply cannot be trusted, so working to undermine him is the only option. If you think he is serious about participating in the democratic process, then you might want to just have some faith in the ballot box when the alternative is possibly reigniting a rebellion against you. However, we also need to look ahead to the manner in which an Iraqi election might be conducted. Tribal leaders maintain influence through mediating among their followers and between their followers and political powers outside the tribe, and by distributing wealth in shows of generosity. Allawi is probably trying to buy their loyalty, knowing what has happened in places like Oman where people often look to tribal shaykhs to tell them how to vote. Whether such a strategy would even be appropriate in the urban shantytown setting of Sadr City I have no idea.


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