Get it over with already

Fortunately for all of us who missed APSA, Robert Farley has a summary of a panel on withdrawal options from the Iraqle. ((Thanks to MT for this suggestion. I mean, why say “Iraq debacle” when you can just say “Iraqle”?)) The panel featured James Wirtz of the Naval War College, John Mearsheimer, Juan Cole, and Stephen Biddle.

Biddle noted that the only intellectually defensible options regarding Iraq lie at the extremes–escalation or complete withdrawal. The former has little chance of success and complete withdrawal is preferable to virtually any scheme involving residual forces.

Mearsheimer argued that because of domestic politics and institutional dynamics we’ll still be there in five years and beyond. Quoting Robert now, referring to Mearshimer’s remarks:

Ten years ago, I doubt I would have believed that Mearsheimer’s critique of US foreign policy would essentially mirror a standard leftist perspective. There are differences, of course, but on Iraq Mearsheimer is making an argument that would fit very comfortably into the netroots… The stab-in-the-back narrative that’s being prepared by the Republican Party will succeed in scaring a Democratic president and Democratic congress from taking any decisive steps to end the war.

That last part shows as much as an concrete policy problem what is so fundamentally wrong with the two-party straitjacket and the presidential form of government, but in the presence of such death, destruction, and depression, I’m not in the mood to use the Iraqle to make the case against American political institutions. I leave it as an exercise for the interested reader.


A “huge exodus” is underway from Iraq.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 30 per cent of the 1.8 million Iraqis who have fled to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere come from the minorities. The Christians, who have lived in Iraq for 2,000 years, survived the Muslim invasion in the 7th century and the Mongol onslaught in the 13th but are now being eradicated as their churches are bombed and members of their faith hunted down and killed along with other minority faiths. […]

…half of the minority communities in Iraq, once 10 per cent of the total population, have fled. They include Mandaeans, whose main prophet is John the Baptist and Yazidis whose religion is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism and may be 4,000 years old. […]

The so-called Faili, or Shia Kurds, who were stripped of their belongings under the old regime and expelled to Iran are now being forced to run again – forced out of Shia areas such as Sadr City because they are Kurds and Sunni cities such as Baquba, because they are Shia.

The small Jewish community, whose members arrived in chains as slaves, has been all but destroyed by persecution and the pervasive suspicion that Jews have collaborated with the US-led invaders. […]

Christians are frequent targets of kidnappers because they are thought to be rich and to have no militia or tribe to protect them. Mandaeans are traditionally jewellers and goldsmiths and this again makes them attractive targets for abduction. […]

One of the worst affected minorities is the small, 35,000-strong Palestinian community, many of whom had been in Iraq since 1948. Seen as being under the special protection of Saddam Hussein, they have suffered severely since his fall.

How will those responsible for this humanitarian disaster that has followed the destruction of the Iraqi state atone for what they have done?

The above excerpts are from an item that originally appeared in The Independent on 26 February; my source was The Jews of Lebanon.

50,000 per month

Far too little attention is being paid, especially in the USA, to “one of the world’s great man-made disasters” taking place in Iraq: Forcible population displacement. The UNHCR estimates that 50,000 Iraqis per month are being forced out of their homes. Patrick Cockburn, in the Independent (one of the world’s great English-language newspapers), notes that “Iraq is experiencing the biggest exodus in the Middle East since Palestinians were forced to flee in 1948 upon the creation of Israel.” About two million so far have fled the country–with Syria being the one neighbor that has “formally recognised a need for temporary protection for Iraqis”–and another 1.5 to 2 million are internally displaced.

One man from Baghdad told Cockburn, “Sometimes I have asked myself if it is not better to die than to live like a Bedouin all my life.”

As a result of these massive population movements:

There are fewer mixed areas left in Iraq. In Baghdad, militias now feel free to use mortars to bombard each other knowing that they will not hit members of their own community. […]

The land routes to Jordan and Syria run through Sunni territory. Shia trying to reach safety have been taken from their vehicles to be shot by the side of the road. But Shia can move to safety in south Iraq and therefore make up the bulk of the internally displaced.

For Sunni there is no real place of safety in Iraq. In Baghdad they are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas. Cities like Ramadi and Fallujah are partly ruined and very dangerous. […]

What a tragedy. What an utterly preventable tragedy. What a Made-in-the-USA tragedy.

Meanwhile, all is not quiet on the northern front. The LA Times quotes an International Crisis Group report as saying, “Kirkuk is as likely as Baghdad to produce a calamity that can fracture Iraq.” Later this year, as mandated by the Iraqi constitution, there will be a referendum on the status of Kirkuk province. Kurdish officials are already taking steps to ensure the “correct” outcome.

Rogue elephant

Robert Fisk:

Few paid attention late last year when the Islamist leadership of this most ferocious of Arab rebellions proclaimed Bush a war criminal but asked him not to withdraw his troops. “We haven’t yet killed enough of them,” their videotaped statement announced.

Well, they will have their chance now. How ironic that it was the ghastly Saddam, dignified amid his lynch mob, who dared on the scaffold to tell the truth which Bush and Blair would not utter: that Iraq has become “hell” .

And on how Bush’s escalation only compounds past, irrevocable, errors:

“Democracy” should have been introduced at the start ­ not delayed until the Shias threatened to join the insurgency if Paul Bremer, America’s second proconsul, did not hold elections ­ just as the American military should have prevented the anarchy of April 2003. The killing of 14 Sunni civilians by US paratroopers at Fallujah that spring set the seal on the insurgency. Yes, Syria and Iran could help George Bush. But Tehran was part of his toytown “Axis of Evil”, Damascus a mere satellite. They were to be future prey, once Project Iraq proved successful. Then there came the shame of our torture, our murders, the mass ethnic cleansing in the land we said we had liberated.

And so more US troops must die, sacrificed for those who have already died. We cannot betray those who have been killed. It is a lie, of course. Every desperate man keeps gambling, preferably with other men’s lives.

It now seems like ancient history since the Baker-Hamilton report urged a change of course (albeit an overly moderate one) and also urged engaging Iran and Syria diplomatically (however unlikely they would be to throw Bush a lifeline). Now Bush responds with an escalation and with a military raid on an Iranian diplomatic office. The incident, widely and justifiably condemned internationally, took place in Kurdistan, and has angered the US allies in control of that part of the (former?) state of Iraq.

Will anyone stop this rogue elephant?

Horowitz on Iraq

Donald Horowitz is one of the leading experts in political science on ethnic conflict. I often disagree with his specific electoral-institutional recommendations, but his views on any conflict he turns his attention to are always worth considering seriously. By way of Kenneth Anderson’s Law of War blog, following are some key excerpts of a recent piece by Horowitz from the Wall Street Journal. Continue reading

Cover story

I have resisted the temptation to comment on the Iraq commission report. Till now, that is.

I take it as axiomatic that the commission is not a serious policy exercise, but rather an exercise in political cover. But the question remains, cover for whom?

    1. Cover for a Republican government looking to manage defeat while calling it “victory”?, or

    2. Cover for a Democratic party to sign on to an open-ended commitment while calling it a “change of course”?

Alas, there is nothing in the behavior of either party over the last six years to lead me to believe that it could possibly be no. 1.

This assessment is only enhanced by the presence on the commission of its chairman James Baker–a critical player in steering the aborted 2000 Florida recount Bush’s way–and especially of noted foreign-policy expert Sandra Day O’Connor–a pivotal member of the US Supreme Court’s coalition that intervened against the full recount by then underway.


On AP:

Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican who voted in favor of the Iraq war in 2002 and has supported it ever since, now says the current U.S. war effort is “absurd” and “may even be criminal.”

In an emotional speech on the Senate floor Thursday night, Smith called for changes in U.S. policy that could include rapid pullouts of U.S. troops from Iraq. He said he never would have voted for the conflict if he had known the intelligence that President Bush gave the American people was inaccurate.

Senator, when the “intelligence” does not pass the sniff test, it probably reeks of political manipulation. But, in any event, welcome back to reality. We’ve missed you. May you bring more and more of your colleagues back over.

Of course, the impact of the remark is more than a little diluted by the mandatory I-was-misunderstood moment that came later:

A spokesman said Friday that Smith did not mean to call the war criminal in a legal sense.

Fine. A political sense will do.

There are thus just two amendments to the Senator’s remarks that are in order. First, delete the “may even be” and replace with “is.” Second, add the adjective “high.” Then we’ll really be getting somewhere.

“Blindly stupid nationalism”

The preceding post on Iraq’s UIA factional balance notwithstanding, I have largely steered clear of Iraq since the halcyon days of the constitution drafting and parliamentary election. That country, and the continued lack of any meaningful debate in my own about how we extricate ourselves from the Bush-Cheney not-so-splendid and not-so-little war are just way too depressing. But, courtesy of the Pithlord, I break the silence just for a moment… Continue reading

The regional dangers of a disintegrated Iraq

Interesting piece by Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Center in Tel Aviv.

A few passages:

Saddam’s Iraq was once the Arab bulwark in the east, but its removal has opened the floodgates for Iranian regional ascendancy, for which nothing positive can be said from an Israeli standpoint.


The disintegration of Iraq along sectarian lines would be the first such development of its kind in the Arab state system since its creation in the 1920s. Others could follow…

Considering the alternatives, none appears more appealing than the restoration of the integrity of an independent, unoccupied, Arab-Kurdish Iraqi state, which would probably be more inclined to restrain Iranian influence than an occupied and fragmented Iraq.

Kaplan: The future of America–in Iraq

Interesting column by Robert Kaplan in the LA Times on Dec. 24. The first paragraph is:

IF YOU WANT to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions.

I guess I can hope that they learn to appreciate proportional representation!

Guerrillas and Elections: The Iraqi Sunni Arabs

As we await the results of the December 15 parliamentary election in Iraq, we should–as advised also by James Joyner and Stephen Bainbridge (whose site is temporarily down)–refrain from triumphalism despite the apparent strong participation across most of Iraq. (I would not call the reported 80% turnout “massive” as Joyner does or even “impressive” as Steven Taylor does. It was precisely what should have been expected, and it is decent but hardly overwhelming.)

There is one very important thing to keep in mind about the role of these elections in the ongoing sectarian conflict that US forces remain in the middle of: The apparent strong turnout among Sunni Arabs in this election, possibly including an increase even in Anbar (where only 37% of the electorate participated in the constitutional referendum), does not in any way necessarily imply the demise of the guerrilla insurgency. Guerrilla warfare and elections are often parallel “currencies” of political power.

To understand why, it is helpful to consider what is the maximum objective that the group that has armed resistance among its constituents can obtain via institutional representation. The LA Times reported Sunday on the views of Hassan Zeidan, described as a former senior Baath Party general (thus barred from candidacy in this election), who said:

the Sunni groups would seek to enter into alliances to try to deny power to the current Shiite-led coalition under Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari. Possible allies, he said, include the Kurdish parties and the followers of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who was once a Baathist.

He said that if elected, the Sunnis would press for an early U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and push for added constitutional changes to unify the country and reduce the chances that Iraq could break apart along ethnic and sectarian lines. [my epmhasis]

How achievable are these stated goals? Hardly at all, if we base our assessment only on the political power they will win via the elections. Perhaps partially if they retain their other currency, armed resistance.

Even if my projections of the vote, which I presented the day before the election, are considerably optimistic from the perspective of the Shiite UIA and pessimistic for the Sunni parties, there is no realistic scenario in which the UIA will not be the largest party, holding well over one third of the seats in parliament. Even with the four-month window in which an absolute majority of the parliament can adopt any amendments that might be recommended by a cross-sectarian constitutional commission, a majority coalition to adopt constitutional changes desired by the Arab Sunnis will be hard to achieve, for reasons developed below.

While a UIA showing of around 38-40% (down from 48% last January) would make a majority coalition excluding the UIA mathematically feasible, it would be politically a non-starter. The primary reasons are:

    (1) Existing constitutional provisions on government formation;
    (2) The continuing pivotal position of the Kurds;
    (3) The political fragmentation of the Arab Sunnis.

First, the constitution (Article 73) requires the Presidency Council to “name the nominee of the Council of Representatives bloc with the largest number to form the Cabinet.” That is, the first move in forming a government will necessarily go to the UIA.

It would be possible for a majority of members of parliament to oppose the UIA nominee, and thus force the Presidency Council to propose a second candidate to be Prime Minister from outside the largest bloc in parliament. However, such a development is unlikely, precisely due to the pivotal position of the Kurds and the fragmentation of the Sunnis. These latter two conditions apply even to the constitutional-amendment process; that is, they apply even given the possibility that a majority coalition for constitutional changes theoretically could form that is different from the majority that empowers the cabinet.

So the second obstacle in the way of Arab Sunnis leveraging electoral and parliamentary power to obtain changes they desire is that the Kurds will again be pivotal. Moreover, Kurds have much more incentive to remain in alliance with the UIA than to forge a new one with a bloc of Arab Sunnis–even if the latter is able to overcome its fragmentation and act as a bloc to promote collective interests of the Sunni community.

While it is clear what the Sunni parties might want from the Kurds, it is not clear what the Kurds would be willing to offer the Sunnis to build a coalition with them. The Kurds have already obtained their primary goals as a result of the current coalition with the UIA. These are: recognition of Kurdistan as an existing region within a federal Iraq, retention of their militia, control over their oil revenue, and a mechanism by which they can annex the Kirkuk region (split between Arab Sunnis and Kurds) to Kurdistan.

Arab Sunnis would like to renegotiate many of these Kurdish gains, especially the oil revenue distribution and the status of Kirkuk. Kurds have no incentive to do so–unless pressured to do so and unless they conclude it is necessary to avoid a civil war in the north that they (the Kurds) want to avoid. Obviously, the threat of igniting civil war in the Kirkuk region (and perhaps also Mosul, which is also mixed) is a trump card the Arab Sunnis will retain in an attempt to punch greater than their (electoral/parliamentary) weight.

Finally, there is the greater fragmentation of the Arab Sunni political scene relative to those of the Kurds and Shiities. It is unlikely that any one Sunni list will prove to have dominated its sectarian electorate to the extent of the main Kurdish alliance (which probably won over 90% of Kurdish votes in January) or the UIA (which appears to have won over 70% of Shiite votes in January, and could have won more this time with the inclusion of the Sadrists).

We have already seen the fragmentation of the Arab Sunnis in action: in one party’s announcement of support for the constitution in exchange for relatively minor concessions days before the referendum.

Thus it is far more likely that some fragments of the Arab Sunni political representatives will be brought into the coalition with the UIA and the Kurds than that there will be any broad Sunni-backed alliance to counter the UIA or to negotiate as a block in favor of collective goals of the Sunni portion of the population.

The likely result is at least a temporary re-fueling of the insurgency, rather than a dampening of it, as a key part of the Arab Sunni constituency continues to support insurgency as an alternative currency of power to augment their weak position within the institional political process.

Guerrillas and elections are often complementary, not contradictory, forms of political representation.

Iraqi Dec. 15 election: What can we expect?

On December 15, Iraqis will vote in the third national election this year, this time for a parliament with a four-year term. What can we expect, given that Sunni Arab lists are participating, unlike in January’s election for the constituent assembly?

Some quick and rough estimates suggest something like the following, where the first number is my estimate for December and the second number was the result in January:

39%/48%– UIA (the main Shiite alliance)
18%/25.7– Kurdish alliance
11%/13.8– Iraqi List (Allawi)
20%/0– combined for the main Arab Sunni lists

I am assuming that there will be very minimal changes in each group’s voting preference. In other words, that there are not many swing voters, for instance between the UIA and Allawi’s list within the Shiite community. Some reports have suggested there could be, but count me as skeptical until shown reason to be otherwise.

If this is even close to accurate, then obviously the UIA will not be in as commanding a position to form a cabinet as it was after January’s election, but it will still be far larger than any other alliance.

I derive these estimates by an analysis of the turnout in groups of departments that are dominated by one ethno-sectarian group or another, in January and October. The assumption I make is that the October referendum turnout rates will be repeated without major change in December.

The graph below shows the comparison of turnout rates in January’s constituent assembly election and October’s constitutional referendum. The horizontal axis is turnout in January. The vertical axis is turnout in October, as a percentage of the January turnout (thus the October rate can be over 100% without there necessarily being anything untoward).

Iraqi turnout comparison

Click on the image for a larger version.

The closer a province (or, more properly, governorate) is to the diagonal, the less changed was the turnout between the two elections. It is notable that almost all the Shia-dominated provinces had modest declines, while the Kurdish provinces had almost no change, except for a small increase in Arbil.

For any province in which there was a no vote on the referendum of more than 5%, there is a number in parentheses indicating what that percentage was. Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between turnout increase and negative votes on the constitution: these are the provinces with large Arab Sunni populations. (I also included this number for Arbil, given that is is one of the few provinces lacking a large Arab Sunni population in which turnout was up. Even in Babil, by contrast, the small increase in turnout is probably mostly explained by the small no vote, i.e. by Arab Sunnis coming out to reject the constitution.)

It is quite striking how different the two provinces with the biggest negative votes are in their turnouts in both elections (something I noted in a previous post as well): Anbar had a large increase, but coming from a very low base (2% in January). Saladdin, on the other hand, was one of the few provinces where turnout was greater in October than the number registered in January. The different behavior of voters in these two provinces is attributable to some combination of different party leanings (perhaps the IIP, the one Arab Sunni party to have come out for the constitution right before the referendum, is stronger there) and, more importantly, guerrilla activity (which is greatest in Anbar).

Based on these turnout changes, I derived estimates of the likely contributions of each of the three main sectarian groups to the turnout, and the percentage of each group that voted for the main parties.

It is conventionally estimated that Shiites make up 60% of the population and Kurds and Arab Sunnis around 20% each (ignoring the numerous other minorities, the most important of which are the Turkomen).

Based on turnout in the provinces most dominated by each group, it appears that each group’s contribution to the January vote was as follows. (The number in parentheses here is the rough estimate of what percentage of each group voted.)

67% Shiite (68%)
28% Kurd (84%)
5% Arab Sunni (16%)

My figures work out to about a 61% total national turnout. (For Shiites, 68% turnout by a group representing 60% of the electorate yields Shiites delivering 41% of the total eligible vote; 41% of the potential voters is 68% of the actual vote). Actual national turnout was reported to be around 60%, so the numbers check out.

In October, the same calculations result in the following, again with the first number indicating the contribution of the group to the actual votes cast, and the number in parentheses indicating the estimated turnout of that group.

54% Shiite (61%)
27% Kurd (90%)
20% Arab Sunni (67%)

Notice how Kurds were represented about the same share in the two elections, because their turnout actually increased. Shiites turned out to be the least motivated group in October. Will that change in December? If it does, then my estimate of 39% for the UIA will be too low.

These calculations result in a total turnout estimate in the referendum at 68%, which is a few percentage points on the high side of what was reported.

In January, about 72% of Shiites appear to have voted for the United Iraqi Alliance and around 21% for the Iraqi List. Assuming those percentages do not change much, we get UIA at 39% in December and Iraqi Alliance at 11%.

An unknown factor is how much the addition of Muqtada Sadr to the UIA and the subtraction of Ahmed Chalabi will affect the UIA vote. Here I am assuming it is a wash, but if Sadr adds more than Chalabi takes away (which would be my guess), my estimate for the UIA will be too low.

Another change in the list lineup that could affect the results include the Kurdistan Islamic Union, which separated from the main Kurdish list. The KIU last ran separately in the Kurdistan regional elections of 2000 and won 20% of the vote. But it is unlikely to attract such a strong showing in all-Iraq elections. Even if it does, would it align for government-formation purposes with any bloc not joined by its fellow Kurds? It would seem not.

The Iraqi List may also outperform my estimate, at the expense of the main Arab Sunni lists, given that it has some Sunnis on its slate. But I would not expect it to gain a lot more than what my estimate says.

Well, let’s see how my good estimation capability is!