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Saturday, January 27, 2007

 

Discussing the future of Iraq, without the baggage

posted by Aziz P. at Saturday, January 27, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
I'd like to discuss Iraq for once, without mentioning Saddam, Bush, WMD, or neocons. I'd like to discuss Iraq, for once, without mentioning Democrats or Republicans, or invoking a concept like "victory" whose meaning is completely variable depending on which particular intersection of competing interests you choose to embrace. I'd like to discuss Iraq without nebulous worrying about a Shi'a Crescent. I'd like to discuss Iraq without hearing about Democracy, or about Israel, or America. Iraq is Iraq. Can we have that discussion, or are we too bound up in our interests outside Iraq to discuss Iraq, for its own sake?

Here's what we should be talking about, honestly, and without knee-jerk recourse to the various intellectual crutches I listed above.

Is national reconciliation possible between Shi'a and Sunni?

What manner of accomodation should be made for Kurdish sovereignity aspirations?

Who is being protected by the presence of foreign occupation troops - and who will therefore suffer from their withdrawal?

What influence and with whom does Al-Qaeda have in Iraq?

How realistic are concerns over alliance with Iran? What form would such an alliance take?

What are the most pressing domestic and infrastructure needs in Iraq?

What political reforms are the most urgent?

What valid roles can and should a foreign military presence play?

Are there any lessons from Vietnam we can apply to Iraq?

I have my answers to these questions below. Please join me and chime in with your own thoughts.

 

Is national reconciliation possible between Shi'a and Sunni?

I think it is. Reconciliation has been achieved in other nations before - see South Africa and to a lesser extent the Balkan states, where at least the animosities are no longer rampaging out of control, but channeled into other avenues. But before we talk about how it can be done, we must all agree on whether it can be done. The parties themselves must agree it can be done. I think that Sistani, Maliki, Sadr, and Talabani can and must make joint and public effort in that regard.

What manner of accommodation should be made for Kurdish sovereignty aspirations?

In a nutshell: none. Iraqi sovereignty and stability is not served by a truly autonomous and independent Kurdistan. One reason is because it invites meddling from Turkey, and Iraq has enough problems without another great power taking n active interest. Kurds should enjoy the same type of federalist autonomy that any major province would, but they cannot and must not be allowed to formulate a separate national identity. Kurdish politicians must be incentivized to participate in teh central political process, possibly via making it obvious that the benefits of this - in terms of, shall we blunt, pork - only stem from Baghdad.

Who is being protected by the presence of foreign occupation troops - and who will therefore suffer from their withdrawal?

The Sunni population is primarily benefiting from the presence of foreign troops. As well as all those brave Iraqis who have made immense sacrifices to work towards a free and stable Iraq.

What influence and with whom does Al-Qaeda have in Iraq?

The Sunni population, primarily, excepting Baathists. Agreement on this is a critical matter. We must draw lines of allegiance and clearly and realistically identify who is likely to end up on one side or another of those lines. This means more categories than just "sunni" and "shi'a".

How realistic are concerns over alliance with Iran? What form would such an alliance take?

Given the rivalry between Wom and Najaf, and the immense leverage that Iraq holds in terms of Karbala, Kufa, and Najaf being on Iraqi soil, it's facile to say that Iran will control Iraqi Shi'a. Any relationship between the two nations is going to be complicated by all the usual diplomatic and trade factors. If anything, in a religious plane, it is Iraq and not Iran that has the greater authority.

What are the most pressing domestic and infrastructure needs in Iraq?

Basic electricity and running water are at the top of this list. Intensive training of Iraqi-owned, Iraqi-workforce companies that specialize in these infrastructure regimes is critical.

What political reforms are the most urgent?

I believe centralization of revenue and taxation authority is the most critical, to be the biggest obstacle to graft and corruption and fragmentation. The central government must have sole authority over all government payrolls and ilitary forces' supply.

Also, free speech must be preserved with an absolute cessation of even the slightest bit of censorship of Iraqi media. A commitment to free speech must be made at the highest levels of Iraqi government policy.

What valid roles can and should a foreign military presence play?

Protection of infrastructure; training of domestic security forces; armed guards for all government personnel and facilities; advisers for Iraqi military units; military police units stationed to assist in routine police operations (law and order concerns, not search and destroy). The footprint of these forces must not be concentrated in a few dozen super-bases and the green zone but must be dispersed.

Are there any lessons from Vietnam we can apply to Iraq?

The Combined Action Platoon program is one that needs to be emulated, and actually allowed to succeed this time (MacNamara stripped the CAP program before it had a chance to reap benefits).


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.