Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chuck Hagel, Mali and US policy in North Africa and the Middle East

Secretary of Defense designate Chuck Hagel

They say they are Muslims, but I don’t know any Muslim who does not pray,” Mr. Diallo said.

A comment by Boubacar Diallo, a resident of Gao, after French and Malian forces expelled Ansar al-Din rebels from the northen Malian city this past January 26th.

The brouhaha surrounding the nomination of Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense has centered around his views on whether military force should be used to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and his views on Israel.  It seems clear that attacks on Hagel for his purported unwillingness to be tough with Iran and assertions that he does not support Israel are unwarranted.   

What is lost in the debate over Hagel’s qualifications to become Secretary of Defense is the new reality of the US’ position in the Middle East and on the larger world stage.  What is the relationship between Hagel’s nomination, the current conflict in Mali and, going forward, US foreign policy in the Middle East?

It is clear from the ongoing budget cuts at the Department of Defense which will result in 46000 layoffs of full-time and part-time employees, and the general pairing down of expenditures on the military, especially if the next sequester is not avoided, that the US’ capacity to deploy troops in multiple theaters of war will be severely constrained in the future.  Clearly, US forces have been stretched thin in fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone opening a new front in Mali and north central Africa.

Intuitively, those who want to sustain a robust US military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere – often subsumed under the rubric, “neo-conservative” - understand that the Hagel nomination indicates that the US military policy has turned the corner and is entering new uncharted waters.  While this does not mean that the US will become isolationist , it does mean that the use of military force will become a rarity in the future.  When military force is deployed, it will most likely come through a policy of “leading from behind,” as occurred in the deposing of Libyan dictator, Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Events in Mali indicate the complexities US foreign policy faces in the Middle East. The first word that must dominate any military strategic plan is “sustained conflict.”  In other words, the French intervention in Mali, which is backed by US air support in ferrying troops and supplies,  cannot be limited to a quick “strike and withdraw.”  In the face of French and African forces, Ansar al-Din rebels, and their leader, Iyad Ag Ghahl, have faded into their mountain redoubts in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain ordering Algeria and Niger. Only those with knowledge of the local terrain will be able to ferret these irregular forces out of their caves and other hiding places.

Much of what is happening in Mali is the result of a volatile mix of young men who lack employment opportunities, groups which have longstanding ethnic grievances – in this instance   the Tuareg, who have formed the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) – and a dysfunctional Malian military which overthrew a democratically elected government but subsequently has been unable to rule the country or secure its territory.

The large weapons systems that the US has relied upon in the past will no longer be useful for combating armed insurgencies such as the ongoing conflict in northern Mali and south western Algeria.  Barack Obama is ahead of the curve in realizing – unlike his neo-conservative critics – that the world has changed, both in terms of the type of warfare that the US will increasingly in the future and the capacity of the US to contain such insurgencies such as we see in Mali, both financially and in terms of (wo)manpower.

Thus Chuck Hagel is emblematic of a new foreign policy in which the use of massive military force will be limited to dire circumstances in which the national security of the United States is directly threatened.  Reliance on drones, special forces, and internationally constituted military coalitions, such as those formed in Libya and now in Mali, will become the new normal.   

This policy orientation will be supplemented by “cultural warfare” (the hackneyed but critical need to “win hearts and minds") as the US trains more of its college graduates in knowledge of foreign cultures, and critical languages, such as Arabic, Farsi, Pashto and Chinese, among others, and deploys them as analysts and embassy personnel where they will need to address conflicts, such as those arising from ethnic grievances, in a proactive manner.

Of course, those who would like to see the US strike Iran do not only seek to seriously damage its nuclear weapons program but to also send a message to other would-be rogue states which seek to become nuclear powers such as North Korea.  Despite Hagel’s assertions that he would consider an attack on Iran if it acquires nuclear weapons, the probability that President Obama would authorize such an attack is extremely low.  The Obama administration knows that such an attack would have disastrous consequences,  not only for the stability of the Persian Gulf and the larger Middle East, but for international energy prices which would skyrocket in the wake of such an attack, further destabilizing a weak global economy.

The “Malian scenario,” which we can expect to see repeated in other areas of the Middle East, e.g., among PKK guerrillas in Turkey who seek greater autonomy for Turkey’s large Kurdish minority, or terrorist groups such as al-Qa'ida in the Mesopotamian Valley and it umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, that have reconstituted themselves in northern Iraq, will require two strategies.  First, such conflicts will require great patience on the part of the West and local allies as they cannot be solved overnight.  Second, they will require increased cooperation with local populations who share the US’ rejection of terrorism, and the use of violence to resolve long term conflicts. 

Cultural warfare, in the form of public diplomacy, e.g., increasing educational opportunities for Middle Eastern students in the US and the West, must extend to the political realm.  If Kurds in Turkey feel their grievances are being addressed, they will not support the violence-oriented PKK.  Sunni Arabs, in the so-called Sunni Arab Triangle of north central Iraq, will not support al-Qa’ida or the Islamic State of Iraq, and the Tuareg in northern Mali and southern Algeria will not fight alongside radical forces (indeed the MNLA has cut its ties with Ansar al-Din because it has come to realize that the organization is not interested in helping the Tuareg address their ethnic grievances).
Once again, Barack Obama has demonstrated his political savvy in foreign policy decision-making by appointing John Kerry to be Hillary Clinton’s replacement as Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta at Defense.  Those who fret about the US’ reduced military role in the world should be thankful that the Obama administration is developing a new approach to the Middle East that is not only be more cost effective in implementing US foreign policy goals in the region, but, more importantly, will save American lives.

As the quote at the beginning of this post indicates, those who live under the rule of Ansar al-Din, or other radical “Islamist” groups (I put Islamist in quotes because these groups really have nothing to do with Islam), universally reject their authority.  Being whipped, mutilated, having fingers cut off when found smoking, being prevented from watching soccer matches on TV, and women being forbidden from leaving their homes unless they follow strict dress codes and are accompanied by male relatives, has thoroughly alienated those who have experienced such “Islamist” rule.  Groups like Ansar al-Din are, in reality, common criminals operating under a veneer of an invented religion which they call Islam.

The good news is that the US can, through more effective cultural, public diplomacy and reconstruction strategies, in cooperation with international and local partners and UN agencies, win the support of those civilians who are caught in the cross-fire of the type of conflict currently underway in northern Mali.  The local populace seeks political stability and economic prosperity, not the sustained violence which leads to the destruction of their towns and cities.

We need someone like Chuck Hagel who is not afraid to adapt US military policy to the new realities of long-term insurgent and asymmetric warfare.  The 21st century is very different from the prior century.  US policy-makers and academic analysts are only beginning to realize the nature of the new challenges the US faces in the Middle East and elsewhere in the non-Western world.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Afghan warlords fear for their future

President Hamid Karzai and Ismail Khan

Guest contributor, Ahmadullah Archiwal, is a doctoral          candidate in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

 While the government of Afghanistan and its international  backers engage in reconciliation talks with the Taliban and the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar, former warlords increasingly fear being sidelined in any future bargaining.

Some warlords have expressed their categorical opposition to any sort of deal with the Taliban, while others tie reconciliation with the Taliban to certain political conditions. The latter say that, only when the Taliban accept the constitution and other laws of Afghanistan, should there be negotiations be conducted with them.

One of the most powerful Afghan warlord, Ismail Khan, the current Minister of Power and Water, has criticized the Western powers for disarming the Mujahideen and deploying western soldiers instead to bring security and stability to Afghanistan.  At a gathering of thousands of his supporters, Khan criticized the Afghan government and its international allies for their failure in bringing peace to the war-torn country. 

Speaking in a large gathering of turbaned white-bearded supporters in the south western city of Herat this past September 7th, Khan said, “They have brought girls to protect us and have trashed the Mujahideens’ weapons and this is the reason that they are unable to succeed.” At this meeting, Khan announced the creation of a Mujahideen Council - Jihadi Shura – comprised of former Mujahideen, which will safeguard their interests.

Ismail Khan was one of the powerful Mujahideen commanders in Afghanistan’s south western region where he controlled four provinces, including Herat, during the Mujahideen government from 1992 to 1996, but was forced to leave when the Taliban seized the city. Khan loved to be called Amir, the leader or prince, instead the governor, when he was ruling Herat and its neighboring provinces. Indeed, Khan considered the provinces he ruled to be his own small emirate.

Khan fought the Taliban in his area of control and was once arrested by them.  Why he was freed is ]still a puzzle to this day since no one knows why the Taliban let such a powerful fish get away. Khan insists that he escaped the Taliban jail.  Following the Taliban regime’s collapse, he once again took over as Herat’s governor. 

However, Khan began to create problems with the central government in Kabul, including opposition to any presence of the Afghan army and national police in Herat.  Unfortunately for Khan, a factional dispute in Herat paved way for the central government to forcefully remove him from the governorship in 2004 and install him instead as the Minister of Water and Power.

Some analysts view Khan’s recent activities from a different angle. They believe that president Hamid Karzai is behind Ismail Khan’s recent move. This is part of the president’s maneuvers to remain in power for another term and pressure the international community to bow to his wishes. 

Although, constitutionally, President Karzai cannot remain in office for another term, a Loya Jirga (tribal council), or the declaration of emergency, could prolong Karzai’s hold on the presidency for another term or at least some additional time. Karzai has rejected the allegation that he seeks to stay in power for another term on numerous occasions.  However, other political parties and influential leaders are unsure of the situation and have begun making alliances to nominate someone else as candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for 2014. 

Meanwhile, the Karzai government’s mixed signals have prompted other warlords to speak out.  Afghan.First Vice-President Muhammad Qasim Fahim indicate on September 9, 2012, in another large gathering of  former Mujahideen, who were celebrating the 11th anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, that the security situation is deteriorated and it might not be appropriate to hold elections. Though Fahim’s comments were rejected by Ahmad Wali Masooud, another Mujahideen leader and brother of late Ahmad Shah Masoud, many Afghan observers deemed Fahim’s remarks as a signal of the government’s willingness to extend its stay in power beyond its tenure.

Although Ismail Khan pronounced at his own meeting that those attending represented all the Mujahideen based in the south western provinces, other powerful commanders said that Khan by no means represent all the Mujahideen in this region. Even though Khan has said that his views coincide with those of all Mujahideen, others warlords are opposed to his recent moves which they consider a threat to the country’s security. 

The Upper House of the Afghan parliament, Mashrano Jirga, which is dominated by the former Mujahideen, also termed Ismail Khan’s recent moves a threat for the security of the country. On the other hand, a spokesperson for the Herat Governor blamed Khan for distributing arms and ammunition in the province. There is also news that the price of an AK 47 has gone up to $1000 after the rumors of arms distribution spread in the city. 

Ismail Khan’s bold moves and his announcement that he has participated in the creation of the Mujahideen Shura with President Karzai is indicative of the fact that Karzai is hatching another plan for keeping his hold on power and signaling to the international community that he also has a B plan in his pocket.

Since Ismail Khan was one of the key players in Afghanistan’s civil war and has become a controversial figure given his recent moves, he has caused concerns among political circles both inside and outside the government. Being a government minister, creating the Mujahideen shura and distributing arms and ammunition to his followers, Khan has raised the question of whether he is preparing for another civil war in post- 2014 Afghanistan.

Ismail’s current actions will force his rivals and other former commanders to find ways to secure their own future political roles. Afghan political institutions, which are already very weak, could be undermined still further and replaced once again by private warlord run fiefdoms.

Karzai and the central government’s silence in the face of recent developments in Herat raises a big question for Afghans.  It seems that Hamid Karzai’s real motivation in supporting the current efforts of Ismail Khan is to prolong his tenure as president and to divert attention of the international community away from that goal.  At the same time, Khan’s actions represent a show of power by a Mujahideen commander who seeks to gain more leverage in future peace dealings.  As the exit of the NATO and ISAF soldiers in 2014 nears, this year and 2014 are critical years for Afghanistan’s future.

Ordinary Afghans fear for the return of their country to the conditions of 1992, when Kabul was divided among various armed groups which subsequently led the capital to be reduced to rubble, leading to complete anarchy throughout the country. Unfortunately, the current Afghan government does not seem to be interested in giving assurances to ordinary Afghan citizens who have been and continue to be the main victims of a long 40 year conflict.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review of The Iraqi Revolution of 1958: A Revolutionary Quest for Unity and Security; From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider's Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam; and Iraq, Democracy and the Future of the Arab World

This review article appeared in the International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies 6/3 (2012), pp. 243-248.

The Iraqi Revolution of 1958: A Revolutionary Quest for Unity and Security, Juan Romero (2011), Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 241 pp., ISBN-10: 0761852581, ISBN-13: 978-0761852582, £41.95 (hbk).

From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam, Hamid al-Bayati (2011), Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 347 pp., ISBN-10: 0812242882, ISBN-13: 978-0812242881, £20.70 (pbk).

Iraq, Democracy and the Future of the Arab World, Ali Paya and John Esposito, eds. (2011), New York: Routledge, 220 pp., ISBN-10: 0415697905, ISBN-13: 978-0415697903, £23.70 (pbk). 

While preparing for my first research visit to Iraq in May and June 1980, I was taken aback by the few studies of Iraqi politics and society that could guide my work. Hanna Batatu’s massive study The Old Social Classes and Revolutionary Movements of Iraq had been published recently by Princeton University Press in 1978, and there were the three volumes by Iraqi expatriate scholar Majid Khadduri, Independent Iraq, Republican Iraq and Socialist Iraq. Beyond a few essays by Elie Kedourie, likewise an Iraq expatriate, and works by former British colonial officials, such as Gertrude Bell and Philip Ireland, there was little to help the non-Iraqi researcher unlock the complexities of Iraqi politics.
Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, the seizure of Kuwait in 1990, two wars that resulted from these attacks, the massive uprising (Intifada) that followed the Gulf War of January 1991, the severe UN sanctions regime imposed on Iraq between 1991 and 2003 and the US toppling of Saddam Husayn’s Ba’thist regime in 2003 have produced a deluge of writings on Iraq. The key question is, what have we learned from this outpouring of studies?
Three recently published studies offer insights into our understanding of Iraq. Treating them chronologically, Juan Romero’s study The Iraqi Revolution of 1958: A Revolutionary Quest for Unity and Security is one of the first works to focus specifically on the Revolution, especially the causal factors leading up to it. Hamid al-Bayati’s From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam is exactly what the title implies, a detailed account by an important political actor who exercised significant influence on Iraqi politics both before and after the overthrow of Saddam Husayn’s regime. Finally, we have Ali Paya and John Esposito’s edited volume Iraq, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World, which includes a number of important essays on the democratization process in Iraq after 2003.
Professor Romero’s study, which is based on a rich database of Arabic and archival resources, begins with an excellent theoretical discussion that poses the following question: Did the overthrow of the Hashimite monarchy in July 1958 constitute a true revolution? The author’s answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. He uses six criteria to make his argument, namely, popular participation in the Revolution, its extensive impact on Iraqi society, the subsequent expanded role of the state in the economy, a dramatic transformation of Iraq’s foreign policy, important changes in the form of government and, finally, a fundamental shift in the social psychology of Iraqi society.
Despite the conceptual and theoretical sophistication of the author’s introduction, the study fails to consider a number of counter-arguments which belie his position. Unlike the Bolshevik or Chinese revolutions, for example, the large landowning class and its political influence were not affected in any significant fashion by the Qasim regime’s policies, as Professor Romero himself notes (p. 208). Further, much of the Revolution’s accomplishments were undone by the brutal Ba’thist regime, which overthrew ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim in February 1963, which the author does not discuss.
One of the volume’s most serious shortcomings is the author’s failure to address the argument that the Revolution actually paved the way for dictatorship as seen in the Ba’thist regime, which came to power in 1968. The 1958 Revolution is part of a political struggle which extends back to the early years of the twentieth century and which continues until today, namely the ideological struggle over Iraqi identity. This struggle pitted al-wataniya al-mahaliya or "local nationalism" (or what I have referred to elsewhere as Iraqist nationalism), which viewed Iraq as a multi-ethnic and confessional society, against a much smaller group of Pan-Arabists who wanted to make Iraq part of a larger Pan-Arab nation-state. This tension, I would argue, was the main driver of the political and social cleavages which developed after the Revolution. These cleavages pitted Qasim and his allies in the powerful Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) against Colonel ‘Abd al-Salam ‘Arif and the Pan-Arabists in the officer corps, namely those who supported either the Ba’th Party or Egypt’s Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir.
Qasim was never, as the author asserts, a Pan-Arabist. While it is true that he was chosen to lead the Revolution due to his outstanding military performance in Palestine during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he was of the opinion that Iraq faced too many domestic problems to add to complicate them further by becoming involved in Pan-Arab politics. Qasim also feared that Iraq would become subordinated to ‘Abd al-Nasir if it chose to join the United Arab Republic.
Instead, Qasim promoted a new, inclusive political identity linked to ancient Mesopotamia, the Kurds and Pan-Arabism. These themes can be seen in his creation of a new national flag centered on the star of Ishtar, which referenced the Kurds through its yellow sun, and included the black, white, green and red colors of Pan-Arabism. The many parades in Baghdad during Qasim’s rule, which included floats portraying themes from ancient Iraq, as well as his emphasis on the shared folklore of all Iraq’s ethno-confessional groups which he saw as a means of overcoming Iraq’s political and social cleavages, demonstrated a new and sophisticated way of addressing Iraq’s complex identity politics.
Professor Romero fails to address in a meaningful way the negative side of the Revolution. Despite his commitment to the interests of the Iraqi people, especially the less fortunate members of society by whom he was much beloved, Qasim was a dictator. He systematically dismantled civil society, including Iraq’s powerful labor movement, banned political parties and largely muzzled the press. These actions facilitated the rise of the Ba’thist dictatorship and one-party rule a decade after Qasim and the Free Officers seized power. In this sense, the Revolution left a very negative legacy, one which the author fails to recognize.
Despite some of these shortcomings, Professor Romero’s study provides a detailed analysis of the politics that led up to the Revolution. One of the most important themes is the extensive discussion of the impact of international politics on the Hashimite monarchy and on the mobilization of the Iraqi populace against the Iraqi strongman of the period, Nuri al-Sa’id.
Dr Hamid al-Bayati, currently Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, has written an important memoir about his experiences while in opposition to Saddam Husayn’s regime. Dr al-Bayati, who has already published a number of important studies in Arabic on modern Iraq, was closely associated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which later changed its name to the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC). This factor influenced opposition politics as the US felt uncomfortable with SCIRI, which had been formed in Iran in 1982 and led by Iranian Revolutionary Guards for the first two years of its existence.
This is a study very different from much of what has been published on Iraq since 2003. Rather than dwell on the negative aspects, the author emphasizes the strides which the Iraqi people have made since the Ba’thist regime’s downfall. Rightfully, he cites the positive outcomes of the elections in 2005, 2009 and 2010 and the enthusiasm with which Iraqis have generally embraced democratic politics.
As a central figure in the Iraqi opposition movement that developed during the 1990s, the author had meetings with many important American officials and other Iraqi opposition figures. We learn about the inner dynamics of the Clinton administration’s policies towards Iraq. For example, unlike the Bush administration, it was loath to support Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Conference (INC) over other opposition groups, preferring to engage the opposition movement as a whole (p. 90). Although he does not go into detail, it is also clear that Iraq’s neighbours, especially Saudi Arabia, played a critical role in fashioning US policy towards Iraq during the 1990s (p. 93).
While the Iraqi opposition could do little to influence Saddam’s regime militarily, it did influence international public opinion, often making it difficult for regime officials to travel outside the country. ‘Izzat al-Duri, Barzan al-Tikriti and Tariq ‘Aziz all found their ability to travel hampered by the effective INDICT Internet campaign, which highlighted the regime’s human rights abuses and filed charges against Ba’thist officials once they travelled abroad (p. 110).
The Clinton administration’s cautious approach to toppling Saddam – too timid in the view of many – contrasts sharply with that of the Bush administration. Here the author pulls no punches in criticizing the Bush administration for ineffective planning and not taking advantage of assistance by the Iraqis who would have helped the United States after Saddam was toppled. Dr al-Bayati asked why the US forces only secured the Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of Defense in Saddam’s Republican Palace once they arrived in Baghdad. He never found an answer (p. 189).
It is odd that Dr al-Bayati fails to analyze the sectarian dimensions of Iraqi politics in any comprehensive manner both prior to and following the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. He discusses the anger of the Shi’a towards the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani, for accepting military assistance from Saddam’s army in 1996, when his forces were about to be defeated by those of the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Because they defended the KDP, Barzani allowed Saddam’s forces to seize Shi’a opposition figures in Arbil.
While the author remarks that the Kurds and Shi’a have historically shared good relations, despite the anger that the killings caused, he fails to note that the KDP and Saddam cooperated extensively to smuggle oil out of Iraq under the UN sanctions regime (p. 137). This cooperation is all the more remarkable given the notorious Anfal Campaign, which Saddam directed against the Kurds during the late 1980s, including the bombing with chemical weapons of the Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988 with massive deaths and injuries to the populace.
These shortcomings notwithstanding, From Dictatorship to Democracy is required reading for anyone interested in the inner workings of the Iraqi opposition prior to the US invasion of Iraq.  How that opposition interacted with the American occupation, especially during the period between 2003 and 2004, and the highly flawed US policy towards Iraq tell us much about why Iraq developed such political and social instability following the American invasion.
Ali Paya and John Esposito’s Iraq, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World suffers from the problem of many edited volumes, namely limited thematic coherence. The chapters in the volume do not fit entirely comfortably under the three rubrics that divide the book: "Iraq," "Democracy" and "the Muslim World." Nor do the three rubrics themselves provide a coherent structure to the volume.
Nevertheless, the volume contains a number of excellent essays. In reviewing them, I will focus on those which deal explicitly with Iraq. Abbas Kadhim’s elegantly titled essay ‘Forging a Third Way: Sistani’s marja’iyya between Quietism and wilayat al-faqih’ draws attention to one of the greatest ongoing threats to the development of Iraqi democracy. If the Iranian regime, which recently appointed Iraqi-born Ayatollah Mahmud Hashimi al-Shahroudi ostensibly to oversee the interests of Iranian pilgrims, is able to influence the successor to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, then the efforts of the Iraqi marja’iyya to prevent the politicization of Shiism – a process that is already evident among the so-called Sadrist Trend – could introduce a serious ‘fifth column’ into Iraqi politics.
Dr Kadhim’s essay offers many insights into Ayatollah Sistani’s socialization. More importantly, it examines the origins of the so-called ‘quietism’ of the marja’iyya, a process which began when the British arrested and deported Shi’i clerics who participated in the 1920 Revolution. However, it was the brutality of Saddam’s dictatorship that cemented the ‘extreme measures of self-restraint’ followed by the Shi’i clergy between 1974 and 2003 (p. 68).
The chapter ends with a discussion of Ali al-Sistani’s role in promoting tolerance, non-violence and democracy in Iraq, a topic which has still not been adequately analyzed. Lower case al-Sistani] l-Sistani has been instrumental in expanding suffrage for women, reducing violence and forcing the Iraqi government to follow the Constitution, as he did in cooperation with Grand Mufti Ahmad ‘Abd al-Ghaffur al-Samara’i, the head of Iraq’s Sunni Arab Muslims, during the March 2010 elections.
The role of the Kurds in democratization has likewise not been given enough attention, particularly the positive impact of the Gorran (Change) Movement, which made its appearance on the political stage in the 2009 Kurdish Regional Parliament elections. Salah Aziz’s essay ‘Kurdistan: Democracy and the Future’ covers a broad range of issues relating to the Kurds’ response to the development of democracy in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), both before and after 2003. Human rights issues, violence against women, civil society organizations, federalism, the conflict over oil, and accountability and transparency in governance are covered to provide a comprehensive overview of Kurdish politics in the first decade of this century. It is also helpful to have voting data for the Kurdish region drawn from the 2005 parliamentary elections.
Laith Kubba’s chapter ‘Lessons from Iraq’ offers an excellent thumbnail sketch of the problems that plagued the American occupation of Iraq after 2003. He details the lack of knowledge possessed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer and makes clear that a more planned and hence more effective US occupation policy could have prevented many of the problems Iraq subsequently experienced. The marginalization of the Sunni community and reliance on ‘carpetbaggers’ (to use a phrase of Tariq and Jacqueline Ismael) meant that many of the key players in the post-Saddam period were expatriates who used their ties to the United States to promote selfish and narrowly construed agendas, rather than help rebuild Iraqi society.
The author spares no criticism of the so-called Islamist movements which sprang up with the insurgency that developed in late 2003 and 2004. al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and Ba’thist-supported militias which adopted Islamic names made little headway among the largely pragmatic Iraqi people. Indeed, they eventually provoked tribesmen in al-Anbar to develop the "Awakening Movement" (al-Sahwa), which quickly marginalized these insurgent groups.
Faleh A. Jabar’s excellent chapter ‘Religion, Sect, Ethnicity and Tribe: The Uncertainties of Identity Politics in the New Society’ presents a nuanced and analytically sophisticated overview of the dynamics of change in Iraqi communal identity politics, especially after 2003. Dr Jabar sums up the dynamics succinctly when he states, ‘The Kurdish catchword was "federalism," that of the Shi’a was "demography was democracy" (the Shi’a being a majority of the nation), and that of the Sunnis was "restoration" (p. 21). The author’s analysis is crisp and to the point. His commentary on the impact on the middle classes of the post-Saddam era is one missing from most discussions of post-Ba’thist politics. The general tenor of Dr. Jabar is that efforts to subsume Iraqis politics under rigid social and political categories grounded in religion, sect, ethnicity and tribe – especially after the damage wrought on Iraqi society by the 1990s sanctions regime which upended much of the social order – are doomed to analytic failure. As such, the author calls for a new conceptual framework for Iraqi politics based in political sociology. In this sense, this chapter is analytically very provocative.
All three of these studies teach us much about the dynamics of pre- and post-Ba’thist Iraq. They point to the failure and the potential of Iraqi politics since 1958. If nothing else, they offer a cautionary tale. Politically, Iraq is still very unsettled, and claims about the nature of its political life should be tempered with an appreciation of the dynamics of change and avoidance of a static focus on sectarianism and communal identities