Thursday, August 02, 2007

Peter Galbraith: "The Iraq War is Lost"

A somber summary of the situation in Iraq by the former US Ambassador to Croatia, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms, and author of the current The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. Galbraith is sympathetic to the attempt to democratize Iraq but believes we've made too many mistakes of such a severe nature over such a prolonged period that the situation is inoperable. His take on potential upcoming elections is a perfect example of the numerous Hobson's Choices facing the US and the Iraqi people.

.....Provincial elections will make Iraq less governable while the process of constitutional revision could break the country apart....


Iraq's Shiite leaders are reluctant to spend reconstruction money in Sunni areas because they believe, not without reason, that such funds support the Sunni side in the civil war. In a speech in late June on the Senate floor Indiana Republican Richard Lugar reported that Iraq's Shiite-led government has gone "out of its way to bottle up money budgeted for Sunni provinces" and that the "strident intervention" of the US embassy was required in order to get food rations delivered to Sunni towns.

Iraq's mainstream Shiite leaders resist holding new provincial elections because they know what such elections are likely to bring. Because the Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 elections, they do not control the northern governorate, or province, of Nineveh, in which there is a Sunni majority, and they are not represented in governorates with mixed populations, such as Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. New elections would, it is argued, give Sunnis a greater voice in the places where they live, and the Shiites say they do not have a problem with this, although just how they would treat the militant Sunnis who would be elected is far from clear. The Kurds reluctantly accept new elections in the Sunni governorates even though it means they will lose control of Nineveh and have a much-reduced presence in Diyala.

The American benchmark of holding provincial elections would also require new elections in southern Iraq and Baghdad. If they were held, al-Hakim's Shiite party, the SIIC, which now controls seven of the nine southern governorates, would certainly lose ground to Moqtada al-Sadr. His main base is in Baghdad and new elections would almost certainly leave his followers in control of Baghdad Governorate, with one quarter of Iraq's population. Iraq's decentralized constitution gives the governorates enormous powers and significant shares of the national budget, if they choose to exercise these powers. New local elections are not required until 2009 and it is hard to see how early elections strengthening al-Sadr, who is hostile to the US and appears to have close ties to Iran, serve American interests. But this is precisely what the Bush administration is pushing for and Congress seems to want.

Constitutional revision is the most significant benchmark and it could break Iraq apart. Iraq's constitution, approved by 79 percent of voters in an October 2005 referendum, is the product of a Kurdish–Shiite deal: the Kurds supported the establishment of a Shiite-led government in exchange for Shiite support for a confederal arrangement in which Kurdistan and other regions like the one SIIC hopes to set up in the south, are virtually independent.

Since there is no common ground among the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis on any significant constitutional changes in favor of the Sunnis, such changes must come at the expense of the Kurds or Shiites. Since voters in these communities have a veto on any constitutional amendments, they are certain to fail in a referendum. A revised constitution has no chance of being enacted but its failure will exacerbate tensions among Iraq's three groups.

And this is just one big problem....

It's worth the effort to read it all -- more substance than you can get from days of surfing and watching cable news.