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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Samarra crisis: Tying the strings

Reading Iraqi blogs lately has made me realise that I am as well, if not better informed about what is happening in Iraq than any overpaid newspaper commentator. So in the spirit of blogging I think I have even more right to publish my own poorly researched highly subjective articles.

Let me start with two obvious points as described excellently by Mohammed in Iraq The Model. The Sunni fundamentalist Wahabis were behind the bombing of the Samarra mosque. Probably people from Saudi Arabia as this bombing also coincided with an attempted bombing of the largest refinery in Saudi Arabia.

The second obvious point is that the violence following the bombing was well-planned and organised. People did not spontaneously decide to put on black clothes and go occupy the nearest mosque.

If you are worried about who actually carried out the bombing you are asking the wrong question. Any number of groups in Iraq have the means and the ability to bomb the shrine. the real question is how did they get away with it so easily. If you have read the reports, you will know that setting up the explosives would have involved a lot of heavy drilling and about 12 hours hard work. The big scandal is that there was no proper security around the shrine and the perpetrators knew it.

Security is in the hands of the Iraqi police and internal defense forces and these are in the hands of the Shia militias. This bombing could not have happened without their knowledge. So the next question this raises is why would the Shia militias be so happy to allow one of their shrines to be destroyed like that. The answer to this can be seen in the political process.

Things had not been going to well for the political Shia. They made a lot of gains in the past year and stood to lose everything. They had control of the interior ministry a working majority in the interim government and the lions share of the vote in the election. But the negotiations after the election were going pear-shaped. They did not have enough votes or supporters to get the two-thirds majority needed to form a government. The Kurds, encouraged by the Americans were digging in their heels to prevent the Shia getting control of the key defense and interior ministries and the Americans were enticing smaller parties in the UIA to switch sides. This would have made the UIA an actual minority in the parliament and allowed Iyad Allawi to be shoe-horned into the role of Prime Minister. Something extreme needed to be done to break this downward cycle and the Shia parties are nowhere near ready to burn bridges with America.

Given this situation a civil war would have been a big advantage. It cements the UIA back together again as the smaller Shia parties would not be able to survive (literally) without the protection of the big Shia militias. It also gives the big Shia parties the justification to override the stalled constitutional process and go ahead with the formation of a break-away Shia state in the south that they had always been planning. I am also sure that they expected American politicians fearing upcoming elections would be scared to hell of the violence and would make any number of concessions to the Shia.

However, I do no think the civil war plan played out the way the Shia militias expected. In one word Sadr happened. Instead of falling into line with SCIRI and Badr, Sadr jumped into an alliance with the Sunnis. If the Shia militias had continued their civil war plan they would have to face splitting the Shia movement down the middle with Sadr's supporters allied with the Sunnis against them. WIth the positive reaction of the Iraqi people to this unlikely alliance, victory would not have seemed so certain. So after staring into the abyss the Shia politicians and their counterparts in the militias would have been forced to break off the civil war and go down the political route again.

Hence Jaafari's little trip to Turkey that incensed the Kurds so much. I would not be surprised if he went there to agree on what happens to the Kurds if the Shia form their own state.

So what now? It is clear now that the Americans are no longer the main problem for the Iraqi people. They have come out of all this as impotent and irrelevant. The only thing the American army was able to do during this civil crisis was disappear in their bases and hope no one knocked on the gates. If America is not willing to contribute another 100,000+ soldiers to Iraq they might as well not bother.

Now the main enemy for the Iraq people and the main danger for the region is the current government. It creates the situation for civil war because of the deadlock inherently written into its constitution. Parties in the government are forced into increasingly violent actions to break any deadlocks.

It is also encourages civil war because it encourages the parties to form breakaway sectarian states with their own access to oil wealth. Unfortunately the leaders of the parties are to greedy and stupid to realise that such a move will inflame the sectarian divisions across Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and spark an international war over the oil-producing regions.

The best solution is to drop the whole constitutional process. Iraqis must form a national unity committee and start from an entirely Iraq perspective. This is in the interests of the Kurds who will be fed to the turkish dogs otherwise and for the Sunnis who are left sitting in the desert. and the Shia because it will prevent a war that can kill millions.


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