Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Developments in Iraq

Today's major point of Iraq discussion is whether or not the deaths of the Hussein boys will help the coalition in Iraq. Your opinion on this probably depends almost entirely on your view of the Iraqi resistance. Given what I have said here and here, you can probably guess that I think it might help in the short term of they were personally involved in bankrolling this sort of thing. But in the long term, there are two many reasons people are opposing us for any one development to become a magic bullet in knocking down the resistance.

I still think the real story is not the guerrilla movement, which has more political than military significance, but the developments in Iraqi politics. For that reason, I read with interest al-Jazeera's story on Masud Barzani's refusal to disband the peshmerga fighters. Barzani's statements on this matter were filled with rhetoric about the pride of the Kurdish people, and stern warning about making them second-class citizens again, though he did restate his commitment to Iraqi unity.

What this tells me is that Barzani, a political actor on the ground doing what he thinks will cause him to achieve his goals, doesn't think the game has changed any. He's sitting on the governing council, but finds it handy to keep an army around. My knowledge of Iraqi history isn't that great, but in the 20th century it has been about shifting factions of individual leaders fighting over the reins of power. Saddam Hussein temporarily ended this when he came to power by making his first act a purging of other possible leaders, a move which has roots closer to those Ottoman sultans who strangled rival princes rather than let them become focal points of opposition rather than the brutal dictatorships to which I would compare most of his regime. Now we still have different political factions with shifting alliances, but they're all sitting in a room together trying to elect one of them as an interim leader (and failing). The development to watch for in Iraq isn't "Will there be a stable democracy?" but "Will they develop some mechanism for containing the factional disputes which before Saddam resulted in almost continual coups and revolutions?"

The good news is that all the major factions seem to be involved, with the main exception being the Sadriyun, who might not be as healthy as people say they are. RFE-RL briefly mentions the developing links between Muqtada Sadr and Tehran. Juan Cole earlier discussed how Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri, the Sadriyun's Iran-based spiritual leader, has begun angling for greater power for himself. Right now this group serves as a rallying point for all Shi'ite rejectionists, but if they start seriously devouring each other, or if it starts to become clear that Iran is really pulling their strings, they will decline. Even now they're mainly reacting to the governing council, which gets the top billing on az-Zaman, the only on-line Iraqi paper I know of, though due to the small print I seldom read it.

How will all this end? I don't feel comfortable making predictions, and I think that once the current harvest season is over we might see more issues developing in Kurdistan (most recent background here). But the current key is in what happens on that governing council in Baghdad.


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