Swans Commentary » swans.com February 28, 2005  



New Boots In The Quagmire


by Michael Doliner




(Swans - February 28, 2005)   In the Iraqi elections on January 31 no list emerged with enough seats to form a government. Some coalition will have to be made. That coalition will require collaboration with the American occupation and either a partition of Iraq or the creation of a phony federation to conceal a de facto partition. These two requirements will lead the government into an impossible position. To form a government, a party or coalition of parties needs 2/3 of the 275-member parliament, or 184 seats. The United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite alliance backed by Shiite Muslim clergy) has only 140 seats and will need to make a coalition either with The Kurdistan Alliance (coalition of two main Kurdish factions) that has 75 seats, or with Ayad Allawi, an American puppet, who controls 40 seats.

Both the Kurds and Allawi are committed to collaboration with the United States, so any coalition with one of them will also have to commit to collaboration. The Kurds, in addition, are no longer able to survive politically in a truly unified Iraq. Their previous collaboration, in particular their participation in Fallujah's destruction, committed them to a course of separatism. But this is what they wanted anyway. Saddam Hussein repressed their nationalist aspirations until the Gulf War, when they became all but independent. It would be almost impossible for them to willingly give up their independence now after a generation of young Kurds has grown up with autonomy. The Kurds have their own militias, the Peshmergas, and would challenge any force the central government might send into the north.

Since the United States can't do without the Kurds and still maintain a presence in Iraq, even if The United Iraqi Alliance chose to ally with Allawi they would have to accept de facto Kurdish separatism. For Allawi is a tool of the United States and the United States must please the Kurds in this, their non-negotiable demand for separatism in fact if not in name. Thus no matter whom the United Iraqi Alliance chooses as a partner it will have to accept collaboration with the Bush administration and, at best, a paper federalism that leaves the Kurds independent in fact.

This is bad news for the United Iraqi Alliance. Just now when they seem to be gaining political power in Iraq commensurate with the size of the Shiite population, they face losing a third of the country and up to half of its wealth. It might be thought that the central government and the Kurds could reach some sort of compromise, but other than a paper federacy, none is really possible. The Kurds, having been betrayed before, will not allow any troops other than their own in their area. The most important problem is the status of the city of Kirkuk. Kirkuk lies on the border of the Kurdish region and also on top of a rich oil field. The Kurds have insisted that Kirkuk is their Capitol and have taken steps to increase Kirkuk's Kurdish population and drive out Arabs. Possession of Kirkuk and its oil wealth is part of the Kurd's non-negotiable demand (see "Kurds Set Conditions for Helping Shiites," Zaman.com, February 25, 2005). If the central government gives away Kirkuk and allows the Kurds military control through the Peshmergas, nothing else really matters.

But the central government will have other troubles. As long as the occupation remains so will the guerrilla war. The guerrillas' sabotage will severely cut into Iraq's oil income. Further subtract the Kurdish share from Kirkuk and the portion the IMF will insist goes to pay the interest on Iraq's debt. The lion's share of what remains will have to go for "security" against the deadly guerrilla war. This will leave precious little for reconstruction. Iraq has had no serious reconstruction yet and is unlikely to have any as long as the occupation lasts. Most Iraqis voted in the election in the hope that it would end the occupation and consequently improve their daily lives. They will be more and more disappointed as daily life fails to improve. Such failure will discredit the central government.

In addition the central government's necessary collaboration with the American occupation will put them in an awkward position vis-à-vis Iran. The Bush administration has made no secret of its plan to attack or at least try to destabilize Iran. The American bases in Iraq will certainly be used in this project. Thus the Shiite dominated government in Iraq will find itself collaborating in this American attempt at "regime change" in Shiite-controlled Iran. This will certainly prove awkward given the extremely close ties between the Iranian and Iraqi Shiites.

Just to complete the picture, the Sunni guerrillas who have been fighting against the occupation will emerge as the true nationalists opposing not only the occupation but also the dismemberment of Iraq. The claim of Shiite perfidy will ring true to any Iraqi nationalist and serve to further discredit the government and attract nationalist recruits to the guerrillas.

Whoever the new Prime Minister is, he will serve at the pleasure of the Shiite Ayatollah Sistani. Although Sistani will not be in parliament he engineered the election and everyone sees him as the eminence grise behind it. Since the new government will collaborate with the Bush administration, oversee the dismemberment of Iraq, fail to improve daily life, and cooperate in destabilizing the Shiite Iranian regime, it will fall into discredit. If it is discredited, Sistani will be discredited. Given the problems listed above it is hard to see any hopeful future for this government. How that will affect Sistani's stature is impossible to say, but it cannot do it any good.

The government that will come from the recent election will fail or sink to the status of a weak puppet that even the Bush administration will find little use for. Certainly no new election under occupation would be credible. Where will legitimacy for a new Iraqi state come from then?

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About the Author

Michael Doliner has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y.



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Published February 28, 2005