Some good news on Iraq

Okay, it’s still way too early for any celebrations. But just as the US announces the acceleration of its troop withdrawal from Iraq, the careful analyst Reidar Visser has had three intriguing posts on his blog (1, 2, 3) that bring us modestly good political news from inside Iraq.
(Of course, it’s worth exploring the causal links between these two phenomena… )
In the first of Reidar’s posts, he probed the oil dimension of the changing balance of power between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional center, Arbil, in these months as the Kurds’ longtime protectors and enablers from the US military decrease their footprint and power in the country.
He concluded:

    With Iraqi nationalism on the rise since the last local elections it would be prudent of the Kurds to gradually climb down from the maximalist policies that brought [the small Norwegian oil-exploration company] DNO and other smaller foreign oil companies to Kurdistan in the first place. There may still be a role to play for foreign companies in the north, but it seems increasingly clear that any such project will need a green light from Baghdad in order to be sustainable.

In the second, he looked at the Kirkuk dimension of the shifting Baghdad-Arbil balance. He writes,

    Iraqi public opinion has gradually coalesced around the view that Kirkuk is an integral part of the Iraqi state and even constitutes an Iraqi microcosm through its multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian demographic character. In turn, the shift towards stronger Iraqi nationalist currents has led to greater criticism of the post-2003 Kurdish attempts to define Kirkuk as a “disputed territory” and its policies to strengthen the Kurdish population presence in the city centre, which historically had a closer connection to the Iraqi plains and was culturally dominated by Turkmens…
    Reflecting this greater concern for Kirkuk’s status in Iraq and the perceived need to protest the policies of Kurdification (and specifically the possibility of elections being manipulated), a group of nationalist parties known as the 22 July trend last year secured the insertion into the provincial elections law of special clauses that excepted Kirkuk from the local elections pending agreement on interim arrangements that could ensure a more just procedure for choosing the governorate council. The attempt to find a solution stalled, but the point had been made: For the first time since the fateful mention of Kirkuk as a “disputed territory” in the 2004 Transitional Administrative Law, Iraqi politicians had effectively managed to reverse some of the tendency towards ever greater fragmentation in post-war Iraq.

And in the third post, he links to one of his longer Historiae studies which, he writes, shows that,

    In terms of Iraq’s maturation from a sectarian to an issue-based kind of politics, Maliki’s list represents considerable progress, although it was not quite as wide-ranging as some had hoped for…

All this seems to me to be good news, even if still only modestly so. Iraq’s people have suffered so much from the intense social and political fragmentation precipitated the US invasion of March 2003– and in many cases almost directly instigated by the occupation forces– that moves like these that seem to strengthen the peaceful political interaction and sense of shared national fates and national interest of the country’s different groups can only be welcomed.
(Another, smaller piece of good news from Iraq is that the blog-based book— “blook”– that Faiza Jarrar and two of her talented sons, Raed and Khalid, published last year about the first year of the US occupation of their country has now won an award. Congratulations, the Jarrars! I plan to write more about the book when I can. But first– my big confession– I need to buy and read it… They are all such wonderful, humane observers and great writers, and during those early months of the occupation I was strongly reliant on their blogged reports of what life was really like for the Iraqis under occupation.)

13 thoughts on “Some good news on Iraq”

  1. Yes, Reidar Visser’s analysis is good, but I’m not sure he’s latched on to the potential for mayhem, that the Kurdish-Baghdad relationship still has.
    There is no sign that the Kurds are ready to abandon, or even tone down, their maximalist territorial claims – most of northern Iraq, not only Kirkuk.
    RV says
    With Iraqi nationalism on the rise since the last local elections it would be prudent of the Kurds to gradually climb down from the maximalist policies
    True, but there’s no sign of it actually happening. In the KRG’s view, what is going to force them? That’s why Son of Talabani is lobbying in Washington, to hang on to territorial gains.
    The potential for conflict is much greater than RV thinks, which will probably be manifested in attempts to destabilise the Baghdad government. The Kurds think Baghdad is a wreck, and you only have to give it a little push and it will all fall down again. Sow a little sectarianism, and you’re back to 2006. They’re wrong but that’s not going to stop them trying.

  2. And on a “related” bit of good news, my son’s engineering/construction unit is slated to be out of Iraq/Kuwait today and in the states later today…. Pardon a Dad a moment of peace. Bring ’em all home.

  3. First of all, yes, read the Jarrar’s book and weep at the human dimension of the tragedy, so easily forgotten when we read so much of political intrigue and military folly.
    It’s also worth comparing the two US broadsheet versions of the Maliki list story today.
    The NYT has: “Unity Is Rallying Cry Ahead of Iraq Elections”
    And WaPo: “Iraq’s Maliki Forms New Coalition Ahead of January Elections”
    The Times leads with, “Iraqi politics has a new catchphrase, the “yes, we can” of the country’s coming parliamentary elections. It is “national unity,” and while skepticism abounds, it could well signal the decline of the religious and sectarian parties that have fractured Iraq since 2003”
    No mention in either of these pieces about pre-war US deals with such sectarian parties; not a word about the sectarian mindset of L Paul Bremer as he put together his quota’d Governing Council and God forbid that anybody utter a word about the 2004 TAL with its ban on anyone holding senior office in the Ba’ath (for which read nationalist) from standing in elections. Please, don’t even dream about pointing the finger at the Generalship for pitching Badr and Kurd militia’s into the US’s conflict with the predominantly Sunni nationalist resistance groups. And let’s not have any whispering about the Interior Ministry/Badr hit lists that attempted – under the noses of the occupying forces – to cut the head off the nationalist factions across the country. No allusions to the “Ledeen doctrine” of “pick[ing] up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business,”
    Anthony Shadid in the WaPo piece says, “Maliki has shown a shrewd understanding of political power in the country, and his alliance drew on support from personalities and tribal figures in all of the country’s Sunni Muslim provinces.”
    Well, knock me down with a feather! All they had to do was look at the frequent and consistent polling results – even in the middle of the civil war phase – that told us that overwhelming percentages of Iraqi’s across the country favoured a united Iraq with a strong, no-sectarian, central government and manifesting the great resilience of an incredible people. One doesn’t need to be particularly “shrewd” to work out that an Iraqi nationalist stance would speak to the needs of a huge constituency south of Kurdistan.
    The remaining questions must therefore be; why didn’t our own rocket scientists understand any of this? And why, judging by the reports in todays papers, do these readily available facts still come as a surprise?
    Helena, what sort of a dark hole would we be in were it not for the likes of Visser, the Badger (in his day), Bernhard and Ladybird, shining their lights into the shadows of our understanding?

  4. It is nice to see, Steve, that Iraqi nationalism has become standard fare of the media. It’s good news, and it bodes well for the future.
    But it wasn’t as obvious as you make out a year or two back, if you will excuse me saying so. That is hindsight. Absolutely nobody in the west thought Maliki would resist, when Bush published his colonialist conditions for the SOFA in June 2008. I continued tapping my comments for three months before anyone agreed with me. I well remember speaking at a colloquium organised by Visser in the dark days of December 2006; I was the only one who spoke in favour of Iraq’s historical identity as a united country. They looked at me like I was a strange alien. Even Visser only really got going on Iraqi nationalism after that, though something was always there in his thinking. It’s intrinsic in his book about Basra.
    The problem was that nobody at that time listened to what Iraqis themselves had to say, to Salah and Shirin here, for example. Iraqis were never allowed a voice in the media. They probably still aren’t. You have to listen to Americans talking about what they think about Iraq.

  5. Hi Alex,
    Molly and I had been on the Iraqi nationalist theme throughout though I understand what you mean when speaking of the responses. Indeed (and I’ll stand corrected if wrong) I believe Helena was highly skeptical of what we were saying when she came to a screening of Meeting Resistance here in DC. But these responses were largely to do with the understanding being created by a false narrative here in the US and, quite frankly, in Europe too. There’s major media culpability here. I’ve spoken to Iraqi’s who were working for these organisations as translators and reporters whose corrections to the narrative were wholly ignored by the reporters with whom they worked.
    I believe you’ll find that Visser’s writing on the subject has been consistent on the point since at least 2005 and is heavily reflected in his pieces on the constitution, the elections and, most notably, on the history of Iraqi unity going back hundreds of years. This includes his use of what must be the ultimate historians put-down that anyone who says Iraq was cobbled together etc…clearly hasn’t looked at a source document.
    Our own time in Iraq – which included seeing the Mahdi army coming out to fight alongside the other nationalist groups and Sadrists delivering aid to Fallujah in 2004 – gave us a real sense of the strength of feeling regarding national unity and the will to explore the possibilities of what else could be the cause – rather than a symptom – of the civil war. Speaking only for myself, I retained an unshakable belief, from 2004 onwards, that although certain forces would throw everything they had at it, the Iraqi people would stand firm on being Iraqi.
    There were many sources of information that bolstered that belief and they included the little honour roll at the end of my last post. Apart from the big line items like the Istanbul Conference (Dec ’06) there were smaller ways one could keep an eye on things, like tracking the violence, for example, seeing where it occurred and what were the targeting policies. And, as mentioned above, there was the consistent polling of Iraqi public opinion. All of which made it a full time job, of course.
    As for Maliki: yes, a dark horse indeed but I was more surprised by his previous incarnation than I have been by what he has done latterly. His pre-war position was decidedly nationalist and yet he was able to hide his light under a bushel until the SOFA came around. In conversations I had last year with people inside the US embassy bubble, there was an air of disbelief that this could happen to their best-laid plans and were convinced that Maliki would fall on his face. I recognized and appreciated your own – pretty dogged, I may say – contribution to the discussion here, at Juan Cole and other places. Much of that took place when we were traveling with the film so I wasn’t able to get involved as much as I’d have liked to.
    I think it’s very easy for this to escape us when we’re looking at news from Iraq on a daily basis but, when we manage to maintain a long view – from 2002 onward – a different picture emerges and if I had only one sentence in which to explain what we did in Iraq I would say that we promised the Iraqi people democracy but only managed to disenfrancise a nation.

  6. if I had only one sentence in which to explain what we did in Iraq I would say that we promised the Iraqi people democracy but only managed to disenfrancise a nation.
    My answer who think that US did good job to Iraq and Iraqi see this
    My Name is Baghdad

  7. Iraqis were never allowed a voice in the media. They probably still aren’t.
    No, of course they still aren’t. When was the last time you heard in the mainstream media someone like, say, Ra’ed Jarrar? Well, why should the media consult with Iraqis and give them a public voice when it is so easy to get much more satisfying information from Americans who know little or nothing of what they are talking about?
    You have to listen to Americans talking about what they think about Iraq.
    So true, and there isn’t a single one of the ones who actually are widely listened to who knows what he is yapping about. In fact, most of them have no real expertise or understanding of the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, but are just mindlessly repeating the standard received wisdom that has been passed down from one ignorant person to another. Even Juan Cole, despite the fact that he is genuinely well-informed, has never really understood Iraq, proving that it takes a lot more than an abundance of very good information to put together a meaningful analysis. I maintain that no matter how well educated or well informed a person is, if they don’t have an intuitive sense – if they don’t “get it” – their education and information are not likely to lead their thinking in the right direction except by accident.

  8. “Iraqis were never allowed a voice in the media. They probably still aren’t.”……“You have to listen to Americans talking about what they think about Iraq.”
    Iraqis summarized their voices to the media after six years of listening to Americans talking about what they think about Iraq and Iraqis. They came in very cheep and simple Iraqi way to make those Americans hypocrites with their ignorants talking about what they think about Iraq, that was Muntazer al-Zaidi to wakeup those who living high with their dreams and lies.
    in the our modern history If there are wars produced Criminals will be Bush Family the father& the Son followed by Hitler.

  9. Thanks everyone for reading, commenting and linking! I just wanted to say that Just World News has been a fantastic help in reaching a wider readership for writings on themes that were once considered esoteric, heretic, or both. I got in touch with Helena back in December 2005 when she linked to a piece I had written on the overall marginality of SCIRI and their federalism idea within the UIA, and later she was kind enough to draw attention to articles with such unfashionable titles as “In Basra, Iraqi nationalism remains proud and articulate”. Also big thanks to Alex for lots of inspiring input along the way, on the medieval and the Baathist periods alike!

  10. “I maintain that no matter how well educated or well informed a person is, if they don’t have an intuitive sense – if they don’t “get it” – their education and information are not likely to lead their thinking in the right direction except by accident.”
    I couldn’t agree more, Shirin and I would add that more education and more “knowledge” can actually create a barrier to such intuitive understanding.

  11. Thanks, Reidar, for the correction.
    I think it’s well-known that I’m a great supporter of Reidar’s analyses. I was planning to mention it again, but it was late at night….
    To talk about the past, which is not worth arguing about, back in 2006 everyone was very tentative about the strength of Iraqi nationalism. I was too. In the wake of the Samarra bombing it was difficult to believe in Iraq’s unity.
    Today that problem has been resolved. But not that of the relationship with the Kurds, in particular the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
    That is the great conflict in Iraq now. It is wise to consider everything that happens in Iraq now in that light. The KRG is determined to secure its gains, Kirkuk and the rest of the map of northern Iraq that they claim.
    They will go to any lengths, they are not willing to make peace, because of the illusion of success under the US occupation.
    We have already heard of Son of Talebani’s efforts as KRG representative in Washington. There’s a big effect in the US. Odierno planned an intervention force to protect the Kurdish frontier, though that seems to be dead now.
    The position of the KRG is much weaker than it was, as a result of Iraqi nationalism. So lobbying in Washington, and, if I may say so, bombing in Baghdad.

  12. Alex, I just wanted to get the chronology right; my comment wasn’t meant to detract from the fact that those discussions we had were extremely inspiring. I really learnt a lot from them. As you say, those were pretty dark days, and I thought it was particularly valuable to have contributions like yours and the one by Fanar Haddad to strike the right balance between centripetal and centrifugal forces in our admittedly very federalism-oriented workshop. No doubt the project in itself was a sign of the times, but I hope at least we were able to maintain a certain degree of critical distance.

  13. نِصفُكُمْ يَمتَهِنُ الطِّبَّ..
    ولكِنَّ المَنايا بِخُطاكُمْ نازِلَهْ!
    فإلى مَن يَلجأُ الشَّعبُ، وأَنتُمْ
    فَوقَ كُلِّ العِلَلِ الأُخرى غَدَوتُمْ
    عِلَلاً مُستَفحِلَهْ؟!
    وقَطيعُ المُستشارينَ لَدَيكُمْ
    ضِعفُ حَجْمِ القَطَعاتِ الباسِلَهْ!
    فَلِماذا كُلُّ حَلٍّ عِندَكُمْ
    يَحمِلُ ألفَيْ مُشكِلَهْ ؟!
    للشاعر العراقي البارع احمد مطر
    احمد مطر

    د. عمر الكبيسي

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