Friday, October 14, 2005

Still mining the NYRB

This one, fortunately, is available on-line.

It's a lengthy and interesting article by Peter Galbraith which I finished last night. Galbraith's thesis is that the Iraqi constitution is the last hope for the country we must never forget we invaded. As he says at the end:

If the current constitution is rejected, there will not be another one. And another government with a one-year mandate will not be able to begin to address Iraq's deep political, economic, and security problems. For all its flaws, this constitution represents the last chance to hold Iraq together. The alternative is not a more centralized state. It is disintegration and chaos.
And, again, there is a certain time-capsule quality to these "current event" essays; it's hard to tell how much recent events would change his analysis or his conclusions, if at all.

But what interested me, beyond the analysis (which, really, speaks for itself) was a smaller issue, but no less important. Peter Galbraith "served as the first US Ambassador to Croatia and with the UN in East Timor. Currently he is the senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non- Proliferation and principal of a firm specializing in international negotiations. He was in Baghdad in July and August and participated in many of the discussions surrounding the writing of the Iraqi Constitution." So he knows what he's talking about; and yet, no reporters can seem to get the same information he did. At least, if they have done so, they have not reported it in the major newspapers, radio programs, or TV news shows. Perhaps observations like this are mere opinion, but they seem better informed than most editorials on the subject:

Three days later, President Bush telephoned Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric who leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraq's largest and most pro-Iranian political party, to ask for concessions on behalf of the Sunni Arab negotiators on the controversial issues of federalism and de-Baathification. Hakim politely thanked the President who, not being well versed in the intricacies of Iraqi politics (or even its broad outlines), was reduced to pleading that his requests be taken seriously. The President then said something about protecting women's rights and Hakim assured him they were sacred.

The call was pointless. Bush was asking Hakim to make concessions that the Sunni Arab negotiators themselves did not consider sufficient. Hakim's idea of women's rights is very different from what Bush wanted, but the President did not know enough to respond to the cleric. The Hakim episode reveals just how clueless the President and his advisers are about the divisions in Iraqi society. Small concessions cannot paper over the differences between the victims of horrific atrocities and those who deny that any crimes took place. There was also no small amount of hypocrisy in the President's expressions of concern about women. His diplomats had already agreed to soften key protections for women, and two days before expressing his concern to Hakim, Bush had publicly congratulated Iraq on "a democratic constitution that honors women's rights." While the President's personal intervention into the Middle East bargaining was predictably feckless, his ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, did much to produce the constitution that emerged. Days after taking up his post in early August, Khalilzad summoned Iraq's top leaders to the capital's Green Zone, initiating three weeks of nonstop talks that produced the Kurdish–Shiite deal that is expressed in Iraq's new constitution.
He makes other points about the progress of this constitutional process:

The Bush administration also made other mistakes, some of which bordered on the bizarre. Although the administration would have to rely on the pro-Western Kurds to support US positions in the negotiations, US diplomats went out of their way to offend them. The US embassy office in Kirkuk was instructed to snub a Kurdistan government–hosted July 4 reception, unless the Kurds flew the Iraqi flag. The Kurds, who associate the flag with Iraqi genocide, canceled the reception. A few days later, the US embassy's political counselor, in talking to the foreign press, denigrated Kurdistan's constitutional proposals, comparing the Kurdish leaders to carpet sellers who set a high price with the intention of settling for much less. Kurdistan's President Massoud Barzani had the last laugh, since almost all of his proposals were accepted.
But this blunt assessment is what really caught my attention:

President Bush's military strategy for Iraq can be summed up by a phrase in his June 28 speech to the nation: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." According to the Iraqis who run the Ministry of Defense, there is little hope that this will happen soon—or ever.

The Iraqi army nominally has 115 battalions, or 80,000 troops. This figure, often cited by those who see the Iraq occupation as a success, corresponds only to the number of troops listed on the military payroll. However, when the Ministry of Defense decided to supervise the payment of salaries, a third of the payroll was returned. (In Iraq's all-cash economy, commanders receive a lump sum for the troops under their command; this acts as an incentive for them to maintain ghost soldiers on the payroll.) One senior official estimated that barely half the nominal army actually exists.

Claims about weapons provided by the US to the Iraqi army are even more doubtful. Iraqi Ministry of Defense officials say the Americans have not provided them with records of who has been receiving weapons. Without such controls, soldiers sell their weapons on the open market where some are bought by insurgents. Most weapons captured in recent months come, I am told, from stocks supplied to the Iraqi army and police. Craig Smith reported on August 28 in The New York Times that the US military is now unwilling to provide more sophisticated weapons to the Iraqi military for fear they will be used in a civil war—or against the US.
Al Qa Qa come to mind for anyone else? Or just Bush's recent statements on how prepared Iraq is to take over its own security?

As I said before: I expect this to end badly.

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