Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iraqi National Alliance

Forming a Government in Iraq

Good to see that the de-Baathification campaign has been dropped in Iraq, at least for now. The effort to disqualify parliamentary candidates for supposed Baathist backgrounds was a truly poisonous effort engineered by Iran and executed by the opportunistic Ahmed Chalabi to rig the outcome of the Iraqi election. If it had succeeded in taking away votes from Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya slate, the result could have been a major backlash among Sunnis.

Since I have recently been critical of the Obama administration and U.S. diplomatic representatives in Baghdad for not doing more to resolve the post-election crisis, it is only fair to give credit where it is due and note that a behind-the-scenes American effort contributed to this important step forward. But there is much more that needs to be done.

The election results still aren’t certified. Only when that happens will the true jockeying to form a government begin. One of the key questions will be whether Nouri al-Maliki or his chief rival, Ayad Allawi, will get first chance to form a government. Going strictly by the election results, Allawi should get first shot. But Maliki has formed a post-election alliance between his State of Law slate and the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of sectarian Shiites close to Iran that finished a distant third in the balloting. An Iraqi judicial ruling would thus seem to suggest that the newly formed all-Shiite coalition should get first shot at government-formation, even though this would seem to run counter to the intentions of Iraqi voters who gave Allawi’s secular, nationalist slate the most seats.

Odds are that Allawi, a secular Shiite whose primary base of support is among Sunnis, can’t form a government in any case because of Shiite opposition, but it would be good to at least let him try so as to lessen charge of post-election manipulation. There is also serious cause to doubt whether Maliki can engineer a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s office. He has made many enemies and few friends among fellow Iraqi politicos, and his new coalition partners, the Sadrists, are adamantly oppose to his continued rule. Odds are that a lesser-known, compromise candidate will ultimately emerge as prime minister — just as Maliki himself came from nowhere to be chosen as prime minister in 2006.

While all this is going on, U.S. troop reductions are slated to continue at a rapid pace, down to just 50,000 soldiers by the end of August, thus lessening American ability to influence the outcome. That, in turn, will place a premium on smart, skillful diplomacy during what promises to be a very trying summer. Iraq has cleared one important hurdle, but many more remain.

Good to see that the de-Baathification campaign has been dropped in Iraq, at least for now. The effort to disqualify parliamentary candidates for supposed Baathist backgrounds was a truly poisonous effort engineered by Iran and executed by the opportunistic Ahmed Chalabi to rig the outcome of the Iraqi election. If it had succeeded in taking away votes from Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya slate, the result could have been a major backlash among Sunnis.

Since I have recently been critical of the Obama administration and U.S. diplomatic representatives in Baghdad for not doing more to resolve the post-election crisis, it is only fair to give credit where it is due and note that a behind-the-scenes American effort contributed to this important step forward. But there is much more that needs to be done.

The election results still aren’t certified. Only when that happens will the true jockeying to form a government begin. One of the key questions will be whether Nouri al-Maliki or his chief rival, Ayad Allawi, will get first chance to form a government. Going strictly by the election results, Allawi should get first shot. But Maliki has formed a post-election alliance between his State of Law slate and the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of sectarian Shiites close to Iran that finished a distant third in the balloting. An Iraqi judicial ruling would thus seem to suggest that the newly formed all-Shiite coalition should get first shot at government-formation, even though this would seem to run counter to the intentions of Iraqi voters who gave Allawi’s secular, nationalist slate the most seats.

Odds are that Allawi, a secular Shiite whose primary base of support is among Sunnis, can’t form a government in any case because of Shiite opposition, but it would be good to at least let him try so as to lessen charge of post-election manipulation. There is also serious cause to doubt whether Maliki can engineer a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s office. He has made many enemies and few friends among fellow Iraqi politicos, and his new coalition partners, the Sadrists, are adamantly oppose to his continued rule. Odds are that a lesser-known, compromise candidate will ultimately emerge as prime minister — just as Maliki himself came from nowhere to be chosen as prime minister in 2006.

While all this is going on, U.S. troop reductions are slated to continue at a rapid pace, down to just 50,000 soldiers by the end of August, thus lessening American ability to influence the outcome. That, in turn, will place a premium on smart, skillful diplomacy during what promises to be a very trying summer. Iraq has cleared one important hurdle, but many more remain.

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An Unusual Alignment of Interests

More than any other Arab head of state in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has mastered the art of telling listeners what they want to hear.

Last week, he said his country is fully committed to peace in the Middle East, though he worries the Israel government isn’t. He knows this is what bien pensants in the West like to believe. He knows they find it refreshing that he can talk like a liberal while Iran’s Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten apocalypse.

He also knows how to talk like the right kind of hardliner. Yesterday, he condemned the double suicide-bombing in Moscow’s underground metro and urged the international community to “fight terror around the globe.”

It’s no wonder, then, that some in Washington, Paris, and even Jerusalem think he’s a man they can do business with. All they have to do is convince him that his alliance with Iran is counterproductive, that it runs contrary to his self-evident interests and public pronouncements.

Syria, though, is the most aggressive state sponsor of terrorism in the world after Iran. Assad doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense when he isn’t preening before peace processors. Last week, he said Israel only understands force — a statement perfectly in line with his behavior. And just two days ago, he and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi urged the Palestinian Authority to scrap negotiations with Israel and return to its terrorist roots.

It’s hard to say if Western diplomats and foreign policy makers are actually suckered in by his act or if they’re just playing along because doing so suits them. Either way, they’d be wise to ignore him even when he makes the right noises and pay a little more heed to what other Arab leaders are saying instead. Their interests are far more in line with ours than Assad’s are.

Over the weekend, all, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Syria’s and Libya’s calls for armed attacks against Israel. Most aren’t interested in signing a treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu any time soon, but at least they don’t yearn for another Operation Cast Lead or a Third Lebanon War. The status quo ultimately isn’t sustainable, but it’s mostly non-violent right now. There’s nothing urgent about it as long as the Syrian- and Iranian-led resistance bloc isn’t fueling its missiles.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential of the Sunni Arab regimes, flatly reject the idea of dialogue with Tehran while publicly supporting the peace process theater. Even if they’re no more sincere about the latter than Bashar al-Assad, as long as their rhetoric matches their immobility and conflict aversion, who cares?

Meanwhile, Iraqis gave Ayad Allawi and his slate of staunchly anti-Iranian candidates a plurality of votes in the recent election. The moderate Nouri al-Maliki came in second while the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance came in dead last. Iran tried to Lebanonize Iraq with its Sadrist militias but seems to have failed. The Saudis are profoundly relieved, and the rest of the Arabs outside Syria surely are, too.

So what we have here, for the most part, is an Arab Middle East that wants to put the Israeli conflict on ice and resist the resistance instead — which is more or less what the Israelis want to see happen. It’s an unusual alignment of interests, but it is authentic. Iran’s Khomeinist regime has been gunning for Arabs in the Middle East since it came to power — and not just in Lebanon and Iraq but also in the Gulf and North Africa.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unreliable allies (and that’s being generous), but their interests really do overlap with our own and even with Israel’s once in a while. Assad, at the same time, can’t always be bothered even to pretend he shares interests with the U.S. and Israel. His government has been sanctioned and stigmatized for a reason, and it’s not because he’s misguided or misunderstood.

President Barack Obama clearly wants to tilt U.S. foreign policy more toward the Arabs, but he doesn’t have to do it at the expense of our alliance with Israel. Just start with what Washington, Jerusalem, and most of the Arab states have in common and build outward from there. The present alignment may only come round once in a century, so we best not blow it.

More than any other Arab head of state in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has mastered the art of telling listeners what they want to hear.

Last week, he said his country is fully committed to peace in the Middle East, though he worries the Israel government isn’t. He knows this is what bien pensants in the West like to believe. He knows they find it refreshing that he can talk like a liberal while Iran’s Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten apocalypse.

He also knows how to talk like the right kind of hardliner. Yesterday, he condemned the double suicide-bombing in Moscow’s underground metro and urged the international community to “fight terror around the globe.”

It’s no wonder, then, that some in Washington, Paris, and even Jerusalem think he’s a man they can do business with. All they have to do is convince him that his alliance with Iran is counterproductive, that it runs contrary to his self-evident interests and public pronouncements.

Syria, though, is the most aggressive state sponsor of terrorism in the world after Iran. Assad doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense when he isn’t preening before peace processors. Last week, he said Israel only understands force — a statement perfectly in line with his behavior. And just two days ago, he and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi urged the Palestinian Authority to scrap negotiations with Israel and return to its terrorist roots.

It’s hard to say if Western diplomats and foreign policy makers are actually suckered in by his act or if they’re just playing along because doing so suits them. Either way, they’d be wise to ignore him even when he makes the right noises and pay a little more heed to what other Arab leaders are saying instead. Their interests are far more in line with ours than Assad’s are.

Over the weekend, all, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Syria’s and Libya’s calls for armed attacks against Israel. Most aren’t interested in signing a treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu any time soon, but at least they don’t yearn for another Operation Cast Lead or a Third Lebanon War. The status quo ultimately isn’t sustainable, but it’s mostly non-violent right now. There’s nothing urgent about it as long as the Syrian- and Iranian-led resistance bloc isn’t fueling its missiles.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential of the Sunni Arab regimes, flatly reject the idea of dialogue with Tehran while publicly supporting the peace process theater. Even if they’re no more sincere about the latter than Bashar al-Assad, as long as their rhetoric matches their immobility and conflict aversion, who cares?

Meanwhile, Iraqis gave Ayad Allawi and his slate of staunchly anti-Iranian candidates a plurality of votes in the recent election. The moderate Nouri al-Maliki came in second while the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance came in dead last. Iran tried to Lebanonize Iraq with its Sadrist militias but seems to have failed. The Saudis are profoundly relieved, and the rest of the Arabs outside Syria surely are, too.

So what we have here, for the most part, is an Arab Middle East that wants to put the Israeli conflict on ice and resist the resistance instead — which is more or less what the Israelis want to see happen. It’s an unusual alignment of interests, but it is authentic. Iran’s Khomeinist regime has been gunning for Arabs in the Middle East since it came to power — and not just in Lebanon and Iraq but also in the Gulf and North Africa.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unreliable allies (and that’s being generous), but their interests really do overlap with our own and even with Israel’s once in a while. Assad, at the same time, can’t always be bothered even to pretend he shares interests with the U.S. and Israel. His government has been sanctioned and stigmatized for a reason, and it’s not because he’s misguided or misunderstood.

President Barack Obama clearly wants to tilt U.S. foreign policy more toward the Arabs, but he doesn’t have to do it at the expense of our alliance with Israel. Just start with what Washington, Jerusalem, and most of the Arab states have in common and build outward from there. The present alignment may only come round once in a century, so we best not blow it.

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Iraq’s Losers

David Ignatius and Kori Schake make a good point about the Iraqi election results: the big loser, at least for now, is Iran. Ignatius notes how hard the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force worked to derail the electoral ambitions of Ayad Allawi and to engineer a victory for the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite religious combination of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists. Iran was widely seen as responsible for the De-Baathification Commission’s attempts to disqualify many Sunni, secular candidates, and, Ignatius reports, “A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.”

Obviously the Iranian strategy failed, as Allawi’s Iraqiya slate came out the top vote-getter with 91 parliamentary seats, followed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition with 89 seats. The Iraqi National Alliance was a distant third with 75 seats.

As Schake notes, the results suggest that “Iraqi voters don’t want Iran running their government or having sway in their society.” Allawi was the most anti-Iranian candidate. Maliki may well have lost votes because, writes Schake, he “is seen — rightly or wrongly — as more susceptible to Iranian influence.”

These are all, of course, only preliminary conclusions. It is still possible that Iran may regain the edge in post-election camel-trading that it lost in the actual vote. Allawi will struggle to form a government, and if he fails, Maliki will get a shot. Both sides have an obvious incentive to woo at least one of the Shiite religious parties by making who knows what kinds of concessions. The obvious alternative would be for Maliki and Allawi to form their own coalition — a nationalist unity government –but that would be hard to pull off because they can’t stand each other.

Stay tuned. It’s hard to predict what will happen. In some ways, that is the highest tribute we can pay to Iraq. In how many other countries in the Middle East is it so hard to know in advance who will rule after an election? In most countries, the voting is a mere formality to ratify the authoritarian status quo. Not in Iraq. It is emerging as a genuine democracy, but it now faces a major test. As has been noted by many experts, the true test of a political system is whether power can shift peacefully from one party to another. It will be the reaction of the losers, more than the winners, that will set the tone in Iraqi politics and help determine the ultimate success or failure of its democratic experiment.

David Ignatius and Kori Schake make a good point about the Iraqi election results: the big loser, at least for now, is Iran. Ignatius notes how hard the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force worked to derail the electoral ambitions of Ayad Allawi and to engineer a victory for the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite religious combination of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists. Iran was widely seen as responsible for the De-Baathification Commission’s attempts to disqualify many Sunni, secular candidates, and, Ignatius reports, “A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.”

Obviously the Iranian strategy failed, as Allawi’s Iraqiya slate came out the top vote-getter with 91 parliamentary seats, followed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition with 89 seats. The Iraqi National Alliance was a distant third with 75 seats.

As Schake notes, the results suggest that “Iraqi voters don’t want Iran running their government or having sway in their society.” Allawi was the most anti-Iranian candidate. Maliki may well have lost votes because, writes Schake, he “is seen — rightly or wrongly — as more susceptible to Iranian influence.”

These are all, of course, only preliminary conclusions. It is still possible that Iran may regain the edge in post-election camel-trading that it lost in the actual vote. Allawi will struggle to form a government, and if he fails, Maliki will get a shot. Both sides have an obvious incentive to woo at least one of the Shiite religious parties by making who knows what kinds of concessions. The obvious alternative would be for Maliki and Allawi to form their own coalition — a nationalist unity government –but that would be hard to pull off because they can’t stand each other.

Stay tuned. It’s hard to predict what will happen. In some ways, that is the highest tribute we can pay to Iraq. In how many other countries in the Middle East is it so hard to know in advance who will rule after an election? In most countries, the voting is a mere formality to ratify the authoritarian status quo. Not in Iraq. It is emerging as a genuine democracy, but it now faces a major test. As has been noted by many experts, the true test of a political system is whether power can shift peacefully from one party to another. It will be the reaction of the losers, more than the winners, that will set the tone in Iraqi politics and help determine the ultimate success or failure of its democratic experiment.

Read Less

Iraqi Elections — Good News

The Iraqi election looks, so far, to be generally good news. It went off without too much violence and it was managed by the Iraqis themselves with minimal American help. The preliminary results show that in the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki’s State of Law Coalition appears to have outpolled the unholy alliance of ISCI and the Sadrists — the Iraqi National Alliance, which is widely viewed as the party closest to Iran. Meanwhile former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, which appeals for Sunni and secular votes, appears to be in first place in Sunni areas and running a close second overall behind State of Law. If the results hold up, it would suggest that last year’s provincial elections were no fluke — Iraqi voters prefer nationalist candidates running on law-and-order platforms to religious candidates who are seen as too close to the Iranians. This is yet another big step forward in Iraq’s emergence as that most unlikely of creatures — a real Arab democracy, something that President Bush’s myriad of critics long dismissed as a neocon fantasy.

But it is hard to know what lies ahead. Predictably, there are claims of fraud being bandied about by losing candidates and there is sure to be much difficult camel trading ahead as the new government is being formed. The situation remains unsettled, so it is well worth listening to Ryan Crocker, the first-rate former ambassador and General Petraeus’s indispensible partner in implementing the surge and turning around the situation in 2007-2008. Here is what he has to say in a new interview with Foreign Policy about the impending drawdown of U.S. forces, which are scheduled to go from roughly 100,000 today to 50,000 by the end of August:

The agreement I helped negotiate had an intermediate timeline to have forces out of cities and towns by mid-2009, which was accomplished, and full withdrawal by 2011. The August 2010 date was not part of that agreement. I would have preferred to see us keep maximum flexibility with the Iraqis between now and 2011.

It makes me nervous. We’re going to have a prolonged period of government formation. It could take two or three months, [and] it’s likely to be a pretty turbulent process. I think [the government formation process], in and of itself, is not likely to be destabilizing, but it means that the major issues out there aren’t going to be addressed. Things like disputed internal boundaries, Kirkuk, the relationship between federal, regional, and provincial governments — all of that’s going to be on hold until you have a new government.

That means that things aren’t going to be much further along come August than they are right now. So I would be more comfortable, within the terms of the agreement we negotiated, with keeping a more robust force for a longer period of time.

Sage words from one of our very best diplomats. We can only hope that President Obama is listening.

The Iraqi election looks, so far, to be generally good news. It went off without too much violence and it was managed by the Iraqis themselves with minimal American help. The preliminary results show that in the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki’s State of Law Coalition appears to have outpolled the unholy alliance of ISCI and the Sadrists — the Iraqi National Alliance, which is widely viewed as the party closest to Iran. Meanwhile former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, which appeals for Sunni and secular votes, appears to be in first place in Sunni areas and running a close second overall behind State of Law. If the results hold up, it would suggest that last year’s provincial elections were no fluke — Iraqi voters prefer nationalist candidates running on law-and-order platforms to religious candidates who are seen as too close to the Iranians. This is yet another big step forward in Iraq’s emergence as that most unlikely of creatures — a real Arab democracy, something that President Bush’s myriad of critics long dismissed as a neocon fantasy.

But it is hard to know what lies ahead. Predictably, there are claims of fraud being bandied about by losing candidates and there is sure to be much difficult camel trading ahead as the new government is being formed. The situation remains unsettled, so it is well worth listening to Ryan Crocker, the first-rate former ambassador and General Petraeus’s indispensible partner in implementing the surge and turning around the situation in 2007-2008. Here is what he has to say in a new interview with Foreign Policy about the impending drawdown of U.S. forces, which are scheduled to go from roughly 100,000 today to 50,000 by the end of August:

The agreement I helped negotiate had an intermediate timeline to have forces out of cities and towns by mid-2009, which was accomplished, and full withdrawal by 2011. The August 2010 date was not part of that agreement. I would have preferred to see us keep maximum flexibility with the Iraqis between now and 2011.

It makes me nervous. We’re going to have a prolonged period of government formation. It could take two or three months, [and] it’s likely to be a pretty turbulent process. I think [the government formation process], in and of itself, is not likely to be destabilizing, but it means that the major issues out there aren’t going to be addressed. Things like disputed internal boundaries, Kirkuk, the relationship between federal, regional, and provincial governments — all of that’s going to be on hold until you have a new government.

That means that things aren’t going to be much further along come August than they are right now. So I would be more comfortable, within the terms of the agreement we negotiated, with keeping a more robust force for a longer period of time.

Sage words from one of our very best diplomats. We can only hope that President Obama is listening.

Read Less




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