October 24, 2005

Vector Watch

In an earlier post I discussed the possibility, and desirability, of the emergence of political movements and parties that can appeal to Iraqis across ethnic/sectarian divisions. This, I argued, would help to dissipate power that might otherwise concentrate in ethnic/sectarian groups in ways that can choke off the liberal tendencies of democracies, regardless of what are serious underlying political divisions. The success of such a trend relies, in part, on the expectation that the UIA ticket of Shiite parties will not be able to hold together for the December elections, or that their influence will be somewhat lessened - perhaps stemming from a cool reception by Sistani, or a backlash from secular leaning Iraqis or those fed up with the UIA performance in power. In furtherance of this discussion, Juan Cole offers some relevant observations from a translation of a story, in Arabic, from the newspaper Al-Hayat:

Al-Hayat [Arabic] is reporting that Iraqi political parties are scrambling to put together joint lists again. It says that the fundamentalist Shiite Dawa Party has decided to run again with the fundamentalist Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Fadilah (Virtue) Party may join that list, as well. But SCIRI is trying to attract some secular and Sunni candidates so as to combat the impression that its United Iraqi Alliance is a Shiite cat's paw of Iran. Al-Hayat says that the Kurdistan Alliance is exploring a coalition with religious Sunni parties. Several groups are negotiating to join the secular list of Iyad Allawi. For a while it seemed that the Iraqi Islamic Party (mildly fundamentalist Sunnis) might join Allawi, but it has decided to run alone. One subtext of the article is that both the Kurds and Allawi are trying to find ways to attract votes from the vast number of voters who used to support the secular Arab nationalist Baath Party.

From this there are encouraging signs, and others that are somewhat disappointing. First, the not so good news: if this article is correct, SCIRI and Da'wa will remain together which makes them, once again, a formidable electoral bloc. If this coalition receives Sistani's support, even tacit, it's quite possible that most Shiites will feel compelled to, or be persuaded to, disregard other political leanings in favor of confessional identification. This would negatively impact voter fluidity.

On the positive side, the flurry of activity and attempts at cross-ethnic/sectarian coalition building could be indicative of new Iraqi-styled vectors. Particularly encouraging is the effort by many groups to make inroads with former Baath Party voters and other Sunni groups. Bringing Sunnis into the political process is about as close to an unmitigated positive as you can find in Iraq at the moment. Also of note, early indications are that Allawi's more secular leaning slate (or Chalabi's?) has a significant level of popularity - at least at this stage. An invigorated secular movement could do much to counter what could otherwise be theocratic tendencies of the powerful Islamist/fundamentalist parties. Keep an eye on these movements, maneuvers and machinations.

Posted by at October 24, 2005 09:46 PM | TrackBack (1)

Thanks for a very encouraging report.

Posted by: wayne at October 25, 2005 03:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Keep an eye on these movements, maneuvers and machinations.

Eric, we're gonna have to make you the first expert in deck-chairology --- the study of the placement and movement of deck furniture on the Titanic as a metric for determining the bouyancy of a ship with a large hole in it, and related topics.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 25, 2005 02:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just call me the Unsinkable Eric Martin...and the band played on....

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 25, 2005 02:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Five top reasons to learn Arabic

1. Improve job chances in national security fields

2. Read ancient and medieval arabic poetry in the original

3. Read Maimonides in the original

4. Get better deals in suks

and the biggest reason of all

5. Figure out what the arab press is saying without relying on the filter of Juan Cole

I wonder if the article explained Dawa's motivations for a joint list? In terms of relative popularity? I mean the impression one gets is that there is considerable disappointment in Iraq with the performance of UIA - Id expect pols to run away from it.

In any case I cant see them doing any better than before. They got 55%. This time there will be Sunnis voting. They should still have enough votes to block anyone elses coalition, but they should be far weaker - which means fewer seats to distribute, and probably fewer cabinet posts to hand out.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 25, 2005 03:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, luk, the Iraqi political maneuvering could be a re-arranging of deck chairs on the Titanic, or it could be based on an increased feeling among Iraqis on the ground that a Ba'athist victory is growing less likely with each passing day.

Given that the U.S. and Iraqi militaries are seriously working on holding down real estate in Al Anbar and the Baghdad exurbs, I'm going to tentatively go with the latter.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at October 25, 2005 04:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You know, you raise a good question. If the "ship of Iraq" is going down - is it going down, and what does "going down" in this context mean anyway?

The worst case is the potential civil war, that in some cases, is already happening, in small doses (targeted killings, preparations to free Kirkuk, etc).

But it is dishonest to think it is that simple. Take Eric's "Getting to Know You" post, where he references the Rory Stewart article.

IF (and a big if) something like that is the future state of Iraq, well, it isn't democracy as we think of it, but it is a sight better than Hussein, and more importantly, that shifting coalition definitely has the possibility to be kept stable, which means Iraq is kept stable.

Also, the greater participation by Sunnis is a postive sign, as is - what looks to be - a willingness to participate in the coming elections as well.

So stability, of a sort, is possible, yes?

Now, at any time, the Kurds may declare their own state, the Sunnis may rebel en masse (more so than now), the south may form it's own state, etc, etc.

But those haven't happened yet.

You may be quite right - the ship may sink. And it is definitely a far cry from the absurdity of what the "cabal" promised, from WMD's, from pre-emptive threat, and from participatory democracy.

But you need more evidence to assert that FOR SURE, that the ship is going down, right?

One other thing - and a completely separate question, so if you feel so inclined, answer it separately - and this may distinguish your view from my own.

There is the Billmost post with this great line -

"Like Richard Clarke, Wilkerson strikes me as reasonably representative of the technicians who actually run the empire -- and his assumptions largely appear to reflect those of his class. American supremecy is a taken as a given, requiring no legal or moral justification. Not because America has any grand historical mission to spread the blessings of democracy to the heathen, but because American power maintains the world order and keeps the peace, or at least something approximating it. It also keeps the sea lanes open and the oil flowing and the wheels of industry turning, not just here but around the world."

I think there is a great deal of truth in that "technicians" view, which is more of a realist view.

The leading power in the world, "keeps the world running", to the best of its ability. As much as possible, building a "liberal order" as Ikenberry has said, and choosing cooperation when possible, but also keeping in mind that certain things need to run smoothly for the world order, because when things break, they break as much for 2nd and 3rd world countries as for 1st world countries.

Posted by: JC at October 25, 2005 08:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Considering the long run, it might not be such a bad thing if the more religious political parties did have a big influence in the beginning. Imposing laws based upon Sharia would probably alienate a rather large section of the populace much like it has done in Iran. Its one thing to talk about it and another to live under it. But so long as the US has a large presence there, I doubt that any government so elected would think that they could get away with the "one man, one vote, one time" routine, and so the people could throw them out of power at a later time with the collective understanding that such people must never be allowed to hold power again.

Posted by: tcobb at October 25, 2005 10:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, you're watching the wrong vectors. The correct vectors to watch the Shiite militias. Go back and re-read what the British writer said about the strength of the militias and the political parties' reliance on them to achieve their ends outside the political process. Oh, and I love to place a large wager on the assertion that the militias aren't involved in black market fuel smuggling. That's how militias and paramilitaries fund themselves, smuggling. But I digress. Rather than pay attention to Eric Martin's American-style political analysis, meditate on the statement of Mao (who knew a thing or two about siezing power in chaotic environments) that power grows from the barrel of a gun.

P. Lukasiak is the only one in this group that's making it to the lifeboat.

Posted by: aiontay at October 26, 2005 03:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

hentai movies

Posted by: baby at October 26, 2005 02:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Dawa are fundamentalist and SCIRI are fundamentalist, what are the Sadrists?

Chalabi running a more secular leaning slate - you've got to be joking, even with the '?'.  If you've read Rory Stewart's article (of which shorter extracts here), you will have noticed that it referenced a piece from June's Prospect by Bartle Bull. I've only just got round to reading this and it will be subscription-only now, but in brief:

'[Ahmed] Chalabi's Baghdad villa is the main gathering place for the Iraqi Shia political groups that are not affiliated with Iran'. That is, mainly Muqtada's supporters.  "Ahmed has brains but no guns, and the Sadris have the guns but not the brains."

The Sadrists were expecting Chalabi to stand against Ibrahim Jaafari for prime minister and felt betrayed when he pulled out of doing this. 'I overheard Chalabi saying that at the crucial moment - just minutes before a vote against Jaafari earlier that afternoon - he did not believe he could count on all the Sadri votes.'

Posted by: DavidP at October 26, 2005 05:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One other thing - and a completely separate question, so if you feel so inclined, answer it separately - and this may distinguish your view from my own.

I think I'm far more of a realist than you realize....

The reason I support withdrawal from Iraq isn't because I think the situation is beyond redemption in theory---its just that realistically speaking, what is happening in Iraq isn't about Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds, its about the the American military in the middle east under the "leadership" of George W. Bush. The rest of the world --- especially Syria and Iraq --- see Bush as a greater threat than they do the impact of a protracted Sunni insurgency (or al Qaeda for that matter.) Because Bush is seen as the greater threat, there is a great incentive in keeping the US military tied down in Iraq, and little incentive for the rest of the world, especially the Islamic world, to do what is necessary to bring stability to Iraq.

....and the longer the US stays in Iraq, the worse the situation will become. The overwhelming rejection of the referendum by the Sunnis may well be the "tipping point" which makes a full scale civil war (and bloodbath) inevitable --- it provided the Sunnis with hard evidence that they are united, and that there is an equally united opposition to them.

The US presence is absolutely necessary for the insurgency to continue, not only because it provides a rationale for the insurgents, but because the US presence guarantees that the kind of retaliation for attacks on Shiite targets that the Shiite militias would engage in will not happen---Sunnis feel free to support the insurgency because they KNOW as long as the US is present there will be no "bloodbaths" from Shiite militias.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 26, 2005 06:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The Sadrists are also fundamentalists. Not many good options. And I'm not a fan of Chalabi, nor am I tremendously confident in his intentions or motives. As I said in a prior post on this site, it is a shame that the secular movement will be led by either Chalabi or Allawi since each is tainted by scandal, close connections to America and other factors that make them less likely to enjoy widespread support amongst Iraqis.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 26, 2005 08:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. most recently AP (i think) says that Sadrists will run alongside some Sunnis from Anbar. Chalabi may or may not have a seperate slate.

2. Chalabi scandal is the bank thing, a product of the jordanian courts. Whom i dont trust on this. Im not sure how much of the Allawi Defense minister scandal is due to the UIA trying to get him. If this is a semidemocracy, is not wise to be skeptical of scandal accusations against political enemies?

3. Im not convinced being connected to America is a negative among most secularist voters - how many Iraq the models, and how many riverbends? In any case he anti-America, anti-Allawi, anti chalabi secularists have the opportunity to support many other small parties. Those parties did not do well in January. The excuse then was that there wasnt enough time, the election was too soon, etc. By December theyll have had almost another year. If they cant win then, Im inclined to think this is a dog that wont hunt - IE there ARENT many secular Iraqis looking for a secular alternative to Allawi, Chalabi, and Ba'aath.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 26, 2005 10:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BTW, Eric, John Kerry just called for the withdrawl of 20,000 US troops in December, right after the Iraqi election.

I cant vouch for Bush being determined enough - but I can say that everyone in the left half of the Demo party - Dean, Kerry, Levin, etc are NOT. If theres an alternative to Bush its to be found in McCain, and in those Dems - Leiberman, H Clinton, etc - who have been the strongest supporters of the war from the start.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 26, 2005 10:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, the Chalabi scandal is the bank thing, and then there are other ones that might be more for domestic consumption (domestic being US).

Still, his reputation in Iraq is not exactly squeaky clean. Which is more my point than his ultimate guilt or innocence. I don't think paying attention to scandal accusations is important to determine the truth of the underlying claim, but it is indicative (or can be) of public opinion.

As for #3, first, the latest poll numbers conducted by the Brits were not encouraging on this front (see below for poll data and link).

Second, the hope is that the secularists could build momentum and appeal beyond the base - reach out to fence sitters and those disillusioned with the UIA. I don't think being close to the Americans helps in these regards. Chalabi and Allawi clearly have the best organizations with the most money and, ahem, backing, but their ability to reach a broader audience will be the true test. They haven't done so yet. Maybe many dogs won't be hunting.

Poll info:

The survey was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:

45 per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.


Posted by: Eric Martin at October 26, 2005 10:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If they cant win then, Im inclined to think this is a dog that wont hunt - IE there ARENT many secular Iraqis looking for a secular alternative to Allawi, Chalabi, and Ba'aath.

the only real chance of a secular party gaining traction at this point would be with a rehabilitated Ba'athist organization. The poll results you cited make it clear that anyone who is too closely associated/identified with the occupation forces is going nowhere -- so Allawi and Chalabi are out. Nevertheless, the poll results also indicate that the Iraqis see things as getting worse right now, and a reformed Ba'athist party might be able to gain traction by appealling to those who see the advantages in the status quo ante.

But since the religious parties were the only game in town in terms of opposition to Saddam, they will continue to hold sway over the populace for quite some time --- long enough to gain enough political control to make true "democracy" an impossibility.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 27, 2005 12:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The Daily Telegraph, of course, is a Conservative (tory) newspaper in Britain. So, they saw and published bits of the poll.

Note, though:

'In Basra, the proportion [of people who feel attacks are justified] is reduced to 25 per cent.'

"This clearly states that the Government's hearts-and-minds policy has been disastrous. The coalition is now part of the problem and not the solution.

"I am not advocating a pull-out but if British soldiers are putting their lives on the line for a cause which is not supported by the Iraqi people then we have to ask the question, 'what are we doing there?' "

So, what are you advocating then? This is perhaps indicative of why the tories have not been seen as a, erm, credible opposition.

Note, however, that the only 'anti-war' candidate in the leadership contest, Ken Clarke, was eliminated in the first round (i.e. he came fourth), though the views of David Cameron (remember that name) in this area, as in many others, are not well-defined.

Posted by: DavidP at October 27, 2005 09:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

By the way, I did not mean to be too negative about Chalabi, but he is clearly no longer the American puppet / great white hope of secularism.

Just over a year ago, he seemed to have been hung out to dry. Jim Hoagland wrote in the Washington Post of May 21, 2004 that the raid on his house 'can only encourage Baathist killers or others who would be willing to rid the occupation authority of this meddlesome Shiite politician. [...] Murder by proxy now seems within the realm of the possible in U.S.-occupied Iraq. The raid carved into concrete and then flashed a spotlight on the message that Chalabi will receive no protection from U.S. occupation forces'.

Since then he has rebuilt his political base. He has persuaded Muqtada al-Sadr and his people to end their insurgency and encouraged them to take part in the political process, but no doubt he would seek to build a broader coalition than that.

( I quote from Bartle Bull's earlier Prospect article, 'The coming of Shia Iraq',
here , if you're interested.)

Posted by: DavidP at October 27, 2005 11:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by