|05-11-2006, 08:05 AM||#1|
Angling in the Deep
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Texas Riviera, Southern Mountains
Saving Iraq: Mission Impossible
al-Maliki sure won't "save" the country, but it's doubtful anyone could. There's no appeasing religious fanatics.
Saving Iraq: Mission impossible
Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite hard-liner distrusted by his foes, will almost certainly be unable to stop Iraq's slide to chaos.
By Juan Cole
May 11, 2006 | The man who would be Iraq's prime minister announced Tuesday that "90 percent" of the work in forming a new government was done. You would never know, from the petty squabbling in the U.S.-protected Green Zone over who gets what ministry, that beyond its concrete barriers a brutal "war of the corpses" rages each night in the nightmarish streets of Baghdad, and that the rest of Iraq continues to spiral out of control. Guerrillas killed 20 and injured 70 with a truck bombing in the far northern city of Tal Afar (reduced by the U.S. last August, and extolled by Bush as "a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq"). The shooting down of a British military helicopter in Basra on Saturday, and the anti-Western riot that followed, signaled that even the relatively quiet Shiite south is seething with a thousand mutinies.
Iraq stands on the brink of all-out civil war. Is Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki the man to forestall it?
Hopes for a breakthrough hinge on the assumption that al-Maliki will be able to act more decisively than his failed predecessor, Ibrahim Jaffari, in crucial areas: putting together a government acceptable to all the parties, restoring a state monopoly on the use of force (i.e., disbanding militias), preventing sectarian killings, restoring basic services, and resolving the explosive question of federalism. Al-Maliki seems more aware than Jaffari of the urgency of these problems. But the painful fact is that they are almost certainly beyond his ability to solve.
Despite the hype that will attend the formation of a new government, whenever it finally comes about, there is little prospect that it will make a decisive difference. Al-Maliki seems doomed to preside over a lot of violence and chaos, and can only hope to make a difference at the margins. And the increasing hostility of the Shiites in the south to the Anglo-American troop presence will put the question of when they are leaving on the new parliament's docket.
In the fractured, mistrustful world of Iraqi politics, it is unclear whether any figure could serve as a uniter. But al-Maliki carries far too much baggage. His years of activism on behalf of a movement for a Shiite, Islamic state -- and his support for policies that explicitly targeted Sunnis -- will leave the secular-leaning Kurds and the fundamentalist Sunni Arabs, who form the other major blocs in parliament, permanently mistrustful of him. Nor does he have the political clout to impose his will. Al-Maliki's United Iraqi Alliance, grouping Shiite religious parties, has only 46 percent of the seats in parliament, and no prospect of gaining a reliable ally on the whole range of issues facing it among other parties. Even if al-Maliki can form a government, it will be weak and vulnerable to a vote of no confidence.
The same schisms and group loyalties that have ripped Iraq apart have plagued the attempt to form a government. Shiite Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi complained on Sunday about the vying for cabinet posts among the largely faith-based or ethnic parties, saying that cabinet posts should "go to upstanding persons of experience and competency." Former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi sounded the same theme, warning of the "danger that some parties and blocs are dealing with the ministry portfolios as though they are spoils."
Al-Maliki attempted to quiet some of those fears this week, saying that an agreement had been reached among the parties that the sensitive ministries of Defense and Interior would go to technocrats with no ties to ethnic militias. Al-Maliki admitted, however, that no actual candidate had been agreed upon for either of these key cabinet posts or for oil, trade and transport. Several names are still in contention for each, and some party has strong objections to each of the candidates.