Sunday, February 17, 2008
my freedom's an illusion:
The de-Baathification rollback law was a hoax. Why believe the recent spate of Iraqi legislation is any different? Marc Lynch:
But as with the deBaathification reform (which looked so promising on first blush and then not so much when the details emerged), it all depends on the details of the laws, the implementation, and the reception. Thus far, the reporting in the Western, Arab and Iraqi press has been very light on the details, mostly repeating what Parliament spokesman Khaled al-Attiya said in his press conference. Given the centrality of the details, it isn't encouraging to hear that "the parliamentary success was clouded because many of the most contentious details were simply postponed, raising the possibility that the accord could again break into rancorous factional disputes in future debates on the same issues."
The most significant here is the provincial elections law. You hear a lot of whispers from Iraq followers and military types that the Awakening will take Anbar in the election, but the evidence for that seems to be a mixture of the Awakening Council's boasts and the U.S. military's desire to believe them. That's not to say the Awakening Council won't take Anbar, just a point about suspension of disbelief.

Several things will be worth watching if the Awakening councils win in Anbar (or Diyala, or Salahuddin, etc). First, obvs, the new provincial councils' relationship to Baghdad. The Iraqi budget process is a complex, maddening thing that's kinda-sorta modeled on a French system (or so I was told in March) where provincial councils bidding on services offered by the central government ministries. Provincial taxation is minimal, so the provinces rely on disbursements from Baghdad to buy the aforementioned services. Then the governor and the provincial council fight over priorities. That would make Canadians ready to tear each other to pieces. In Iraq... well, why belabor the point.

Next, do the new provincial councils start replacing Baghdad edicts with their priorities, expanding their control over the provinces at the expense of the Baghdad government? More to the point, do they start trying to make Baghdad irrelevant?

Third, what's the character of their governance? Diyala, for instance, is a mixed province. If a majority-Sunni movement takes control of the province, does it start persecuting Shiites? Does the Shiite-controlled central government -- which has Shiites as police chiefs and Army commanders in Diyala -- strike back?

Fourth, does the U.S. paint yet another black-and-white portrait where the Awakening Councils in office are The Good Guys and their enemies are our enemies, etc.?
--Spencer Ackerman