Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Iraq: On the road to...?

Here's the latest ongoings in Iraq from Informed Comment

February 23: Stephen Farrell reports for the London Times that a minor tiff occurred last week between Senator Hilary Clinton and prime ministerial candidate Ibrahim Jaafari: ' Last week Hillary Clinton, the New York senator, visiting Baghdad, said that there were “grounds both for concern and for . . . vigilance” about Dr al-Jaafari’s Iranian connections. Clearly irritated, the candidate — at present Iraq’s Vice-President — brushed aside the remark yesterday. “We are not at an American traffic light to be given a red or green signal. I am speaking on behalf of a collective decision. I will stop when the Iraqi people say to stop,” he said. “Hillary Clinton, as far as I know, does not represent any political decision or the American Administration and I don’t know why she said this. She knows nothing about the Iraqi situation.” '

I take it that Hilary is laying out a Democratic Party strategy for the 2008 elections, which may well argue that Bush lost Iraq to Iran through his incompetence. The argument probably implies that Jaafari as a Muslim fundamentalist is not only close to Iran but will pursue policies and legislation that hurt women.

These points are not without some validity. But maybe Baghdad just after the elections wasn't the best time and place for her to criticize positive feelings toward Iran on the part of Shiite politicians (which, I have pointed out, is sort of like criticizing the Irish for feeling positively about the Vatican). Jaafari is an Iraqi patriot and he has a right to be offended at the idea that he might be a puppet for Tehran. Still, it does seem inevitable that some canny Democrat will figure out that the US public has severe doubts about the Iraq adventure, and find a way to parlay that into political advantage.

Jaafari for his part was ill-advised to lash out at Hilary. If he becomes prime minister, he will need a good working relationship with the US Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Current Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told the NYT on Tuesday that he had heard that Iran had lobbied its Iraqi allies against allowing him to continue as prime minister. Allawi professes puzzlement at this stance. Uh, Iyad, it might be because you let your defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, say that Iran is Iraq's number one enemy! You could see how a thing like that might annoy Tehran a little bit. Not that Iran really has a veto-- pretending that it does may be an attempt to smear the United Iraqi Alliance as themselves puppets of Iran. Allawi also admits to the strategy I suggested Tuesday morning, of attempting to become prime minister by allying with the Kurds and then trying to detach 60 or so members of the UIA.

Al-Hayat, however, suggests that two can play that game. It says that of the 40 deputies in Allawi's Iraqiyah list, 9 are thinking of bolting and joining the UIA. They include two persons who tilt toward the Sadr Movement, and 7 other members led by Husain Ali Shaalan.

It should be remembered that Allawi would need two thirds of the parliament, or about 182 MPs, to form a government. The UIA can prevent him from succeeding even if only 94 of its 140 deputies stand firm (and this conclusion assumes that Allawi could attact the allegiance not only of 46 UIA deputies but of all of the small parties such as the Sadrist Cadres and Chosen, the Turkmen National Front, the Islamic Action Council, and the Kurdish Islamic Bloc). I'd say Allawi's task is simply impossible.

Allawi does not count on the moral authority of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, which is what enabled the UIA to be cobbled together. Sistani probably could send envoys to most UIA deputies and argue them out of supporting Allawi. And I suspect that he would do so if he felt it necessary.

Al-Hayat quotes a member of the UIA who says that the delegates who supported Chalabi would not support Allawi, and that the UIA rejects even a cabinet post for him; and that he should just get used to leading a small opposition faction in the parliament.

Persons close to Allawi, in contrast, told the newspaper that the current prime minister remained confident that he could seduce enought UIA members away from their party to form a government.


What's next? If Jaafari can put together a 2/3s majority in parliament, he can have the president and two vice-presidents elected. They in turn will forma presidency council that will appoint a prime minister. He and they will then jointly appoint the cabinet ministers. The final government will need a 51 percent vote of confidence in parliament. (Some commentators are saying that it needs 2/3s approval the way the initial government did, but this is not true. A simple majority can confirm the government in power).

February 22: It turns out that the other members of the United Iraqi Alliance prevailed on Ahmad Chalabi to drop his bid to become candidate for prime minister. It is not clear if Jaafari, the winner, promised him anything in return for stepping down. AP suggests he might be a deputy prime minister for security and economic affairs. I'd say, keep that man away from money and security!

Personally, I think all the talk of withdrawing for the sake of unity is bunkum, and that Chalabi toted up his votes and did not have anywhere near 71, so he withdrew in time to save face and also in time to be offered some sort of consolation prize.

Charles Clover of the Financial Times, who has done some excellent reporting from Iraq, points to a cloud on the horizon. He says that Jaafari is committed to a vigorous de-baathification program, despite his commitment to reaching out to Sunni Arabs, and that the prospective prime minister may not understand the contradiction in his stances. I had assumed that Jaafari's opposition to the Fallujah campaign indicated he was less of a wild man on the issue than Chalabi, but maybe not. The Dawa Party certainly has reason for a grudge against Baathists, given all those mass graves the latter filled with Dawa Party members.

The press keeps saying that the crackdown on Dawa came in 1982. It was 1980, with the execution of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and I believe it is 1980 when Jaafari escaped to Tehran, where he stayed until 1989.