Saturday, August 18

State's patience with Maliki worn thin

The Washington Post, that weathervane for US State Department winds, has decided to publish an editorial by Ayad Allawi. That in itself is news, although a somewhat mixed message because the Post published the editorial on Saturday -- traditionally a dead day -- instead of the 'don't miss' Sunday editorial fest in the Outlook section.

In his op-ed Allawi sends a clear message to the Middle East's Arab states: de-Baathification is the sticking point, and overturning de-Baathification cannot move forward under Maliki's government.

Allawi notes that Maliki has stalled the passage of March legislation to reverse de-Baathification but I find this the key passage:
Iraq's security forces need to be reconstituted. Whenever possible, these reconstituted forces should absorb members of the sectarian and ethnic militias into a nonsectarian security command structure.
Translation: the insurgency will continue until 'reformed' Baathist soldiers are reabsorbed into Iraq's military.

Allawi also takes a dig at General Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy:
Empowering militias is not a sustainable solution, because it perpetuates the tensions between communities and undermines the power and authority of the state.
Well, we're fighting a war against Qaeda so we do what we must. Would we need to fight this way in Iraq if the government declared a nationwide state of emergency and enforced it? That's Allawi's recommendation, which seems out of reach while Maliki holds the reins. And in the present state of affairs, I really don't see how even the combined Iraq and US security forces could make a state of emergency stick, countrywide.

There are so many fighting factions that it's hard to tell the security militias from the insurgents, Southern separatists, and Qaeda. So, reversing de-Baathification would be a forest clearing operation. Top of the list, bring all those disgruntled guys back into 'their' military.

I recall Rajiv Chandrasekaran's account of a furious military ex-commander, booted under Bremer's de-Baathification edict, telling Rajiv that the Iraqi army had been around before Saddam Hussein; that the army was for Iraq, not any one political party.

There are a lot of spitting mad military men in Iraq who would agree, although they couldn't have expressed their feelings while Saddam was their commander-in-chief. One such Iraqi told Rajiv that if he was wondering where all the military men had gone since de-Baathification, they'd gone to join the insurgency.

There has been some side-door easing of the de-Baathification edict since then, on the simple recognition that Iraq's army couldn't function with all its experienced soldiers gone. But the reversal needs to be made official and accompanied by genuine reaching out in all sectors to Iraqis who have recanted the Baathist line.

Can that happen under Maliki? Allawi thinks not.

The big question is whether Allawi can do enough coalition-building to force a showdown with Maliki by September. I think State is hoping so.

Note re Pundita's rendering of Allawi's first name: "Iyad" is closer to the Arabic translation but, according to Wikipedia, Ayad is the Iraqi pronunciation for Iyad. Pundita will probably continue to publish whatever spelling a source provides, which makes for inconsistency. If by some miracle Allawi ends up in Iraq's top post, the spelling of his first name in the press will surely standardize.

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