January 23, 2006
Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a
freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics
and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone.He can be reached through his website: www.robertdreyfuss.com.
There’s no one left to put Humpty Dumpty together
again in Baghdad. Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s feckless ambassador in
Iraq, is trying. But, unwilling or unable to reach out to the Iraqi
resistance, Khalilzad instead finds himself immersed instead in gooey
egg mass. The Iraqi body politic is shattered, with little hope now of
avoiding an all-out civil war. That’s the only conclusion that can be
reached by looking at the results of the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq,
whose official returns were announced on Friday.
Those results gave the Shiite religious bloc 128 seats out of 275.
Their junior partners, the two Kurdish warlord parties, got 53. The
religious Sunnis got 44, the secular Sunni parties got 11, and Iyad
Allawi’s non-ethnic, secular alliance got 25. So the coalition of
Shiite fundamentalists and Kurdish warlords controls 181 seats, at
least, just a few votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to form a
government. Let’s look at the bad news, item by item.
First, the Arab League’s peace initiative for Iraq is dead. It was,
I’ve written, perhaps the last best hope for holding Iraq together and
avoiding an ethnic-sectarian war. The effort began last fall, when
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan organized an initiative to hold talks
between Iraq’s Shiite-Kurdish government, the Sunni-led opposition, and
the resistance. Scheduled for Cairo last November, the first meeting
failed when the two fundamentalist Shiite parties, Al Dawa and the
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that they
would not talk to the insurgents, whom they describe as "terrorists."
(That word, in fact, is increasingly used by SCIRI and Al Dawa to refer
to all Sunnis in Iraq, not just to Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda or
even to the Baathist-military resistance.) In December, I wrote for
TomPaine.com that the Arab League effort would collapse if the
SCIRI-Dawa forces, augmented by the fanatical Mahdi Army of Muqtada
Sadr, won big in the elections. They did, winning nearly half of the
seats in the new parliament. So, no surprise: on Saturday, Iraq’s
foreign minister, a Kurd, announced that the scheduled Arab League
follow up meeting in February, which had been dubbed a National Accord
Conference, would not be held.
Second, the notion that Iraq can form a "national unity government"
now, led by the SCIRI-Dawa-Mahdi Army coalition, is beyond absurd.
Khalilzad, described by The New York Times, as the
"unabashedly hands-on U.S. ambassador," is pushing hard for the
inclusion of some docile Sunnis in the new government. "The advice of
Zal, as he is known here, will not be subtle," says the Times , hopefully. And listen to the pathetically naïve musings of a "senior U.S. official" in Iraq, quoted by Reuters:
For us Iraq can’t build on a relatively narrower sectarian or ethnic
basis. It has to be inclusive. We support a unity government as the
best means of bringing Iraqis together after a hard-fought election
contest, and we are encouraging all sides in this to look to the
advantages. In the end it’s an Iraqi decision not an American decision.
We are prepared to help the Iraqis in any way we can to reach an
agreement that brings the country together, broadens the base of
support of the Iraqi government and results in a competent and capable
In fact, however, the all-or-nothing sectarianism of Iraq is now set
in stone. That is thanks to nearly three years of U.S. mismanagement in
Iraq, during which time the United States first insisted on installing
in power the creatures that populated Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National
Congress and its exile allies, then forced every Iraqi institution from
the 2003 Iraqi Governing Council to the interim government of Iyad
Allawi on down to apportion its power according to some ethnic and
sectarian census, meanwhile encouraging the SCIRI-Dawa alliance to
establish its power, and its paramilitary forces, throughout southern
Why is a national unity government impossible? Because the 55 Sunnis
who were elected to the parliament do not represent the resistance, and
so they cannot exercise influence over the fighters opposed to the U.S.
occupation. And, even among those Sunnis who will now take up seats in
the parliament, only a handful—perhaps the Iraqi Islamic Party and a
few others—are willing to join the Shiite-dominated regime. Therefore,
Khalilzad cannot succeed in creating a broad-based Iraqi government
that can successfully appeal to the resistance. All the king’s horses
and all the king’s U.S. troops can’t do it.
Making everything worse is the fact that the hard-line Shiites,
especially Abdel Aziz Al Hakim and Adel Abdel Mahdi of SCIRI, have
ruled out even minor compromises with the Sunni opposition. Their
policy is: No to "the terrorists," no to changes in the divisive Iraqi
constitution, and no to the Arab League. By refusing to change the
constitution, the Shiites insist on the imposition of sharia-style
Islamic courts, insist on grabbing nearly all of Iraq’s future oil
revenues for the Shiite south, insist on creating breakaway "federal"
states in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south, insist on giving
Kirkuk to the revanchist and expansionist Kurds, and more.
That’s the ersatz constitution, you will recall, that passed in a
referendum on Oct. 15, despite the fact that 50 of its 130 clauses
hadn’t yet been finished, despite the fact that copies of the document
weren’t printed and circulated to the population that was voting,
despite the fact that it was written in secret (under U.S. supervision)
by the Shiite-Kurd majority over the objections of the token Sunnis in
the room. The Sunni community was tricked into voting on Oct. 15 and
then Dec. 15 by promises that the constitution’s bad provisions could
be amended. Now, SCIRI says: No such luck.
Making things even worse, the Shiites continue to insist that Sunnis
who were elected to the parliament are too close to the resistance and
are therefore "terrorists." This is not an argument calculated to win
friends among the Sunni bloc. If SCIRI demands that Sunni politicians
disavow the armed resistance, they will succeed only in recruiting a
handful of quislings into the quisling-run regime in Baghdad. It’s part
and parcel of the dead-end "de-Baathification" scheme that was pushed
so far by Chalabi. It’s now been twisted to the most extreme
interpretation. "The Shiites have turned de-Baathification into
de-Sunnification," according to Salman Al Jumayli, spokesperson for the
Sunni Accordance Front, which has 44 seats in the coming parliament.
"They're only targeting Sunnis and they've turned it into a weapon to
get rid of all their political opponents." Khalilzad seems genuinely
distressed by this, but he is at a loss over what to do about it. What
seems clear is that the signals put out by Khalilzad before the
election, about being willing to talk to the resistance, have been
extinguished, along with Allawi’s hopes of getting enough seats to
create a nonsectarian, centrist (and pro-U.S.) government.
So what’s left is an increasingly Iran-leading, Shiite
fundamentalist theocracy with a rump Kurdish republic attached to it.
And you can put this in your signs-of-things-to-come file: Muqtada
Sadr, the cherubic (and Rubenesque) militant young cleric, said on
Sunday that the Mahdi Army, which is now a big part of the Iraqi
government to be, says that his forces will fight alongside Iran’s if
Iran is attacked by the United States over its nuclear program.
So it’s curtains for Bush’s "victory or defeat" policy. The
insurgency will strengthen, so that won’t help. The Shiites are likely
to move in an increasingly radical (and pro-Iranian direction), so that
won’t help. The violence will get worse.