July 23, 2009

The Future of Iraq, Part IV

The Future of Iraq Part IV.jpg

Getting an accurate reading of Iraqi public opinion is hard. It might be impossible. I've seen Iraqis cheer American soldiers, and I've seen some Iraqis hug American soldiers in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad. A few weeks ago, though, hundreds of thousands celebrated when Americans evacuated Iraqi cities as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement.

It's theoretically possible that what we've seen is not contradictory. Some Iraqis are pro-American. Others are not. Those who celebrated when Americans left may very well be, at least for the most part, different Iraqis than those I've seen who greeted Americans warmly.

Iraqi public opinion, though, is famously contradictory. And Iraqi public opinion as stated by Iraqis themselves is notoriously unreliable.

Most Iraqis, like most Arabs everywhere, are extremely polite and hospitable. It's a guidebook clich

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 23, 2009 12:51 AM
Iraq has deep cultural problems. It's still a horribly corrupt country full of horribly sectarian people.
Posted by: Boojum at July 23, 2009 6:59 am
Adhamiyah isn't Iraq, and I think Sayyed's comments are overly negative.
On the Iraqi Army:
-Sunni Arabs are over represented
-a year ago, 31% were Sunni Arab
-half of officers are Sunni Arab
I would agree that the local police in Adhamiyah is dysfunctional, much as they are across large parts of Iraq.
I wonder, MJT, did you have any interactions with the former Iraqi National Police (now renamed Iraqi Federal Police)? They use to be heavily Badr; but now have a lot of Sunni Arabs and are much more professional. The IA is gradually transferring internal security responsibilities over to them.
Posted by: anand at July 23, 2009 8:49 am
Boojum, "horribly sectarian people" is a loaded phrase. People all over the world are horribly sectarian and racist from a certain point of view; not only in Iraq.
Many units of the IA are diverse and function well. An extreme example of that would be the ISOF, 1st and 7th IADs. The situation in Iraq is mixed.
Posted by: anand at July 23, 2009 8:52 am
You've given us a lot to think about Michael. Thanks for this great report.
Posted by: Herschel Smith at July 23, 2009 10:19 am
anand, insightful as always. America, Europe, even Russia sport the sectarianism violence of Iraq? Quite the contray, Iraq is one of the few places where sectarians blow themselves up on a weekly basis.
Michael, thank you for this important reporting. Without it, even more Americans would be clueless.
Posted by: maxtrue at July 23, 2009 11:25 am
When Vice President Biden said that Iraq was really 3 separate entities sharing space. And, should be seen, instead, as a part that's Kurdish. A Part that's Shi'a. And, a part that's Sunni. Why was this discounted?
When I read that the American military had given the Turks permission to fly into Iraqi airspace, to attack Kurdish villages; why did this information receive no follow up? Why did the Turks stop?
Yes, there were American military mistakes made in Iraq. But other things were then introduced. And, tried.
This began as our War on Terror. What's changed now?
Posted by: Carol_Herman at July 23, 2009 11:31 am
MJT: Most people think it will be okay?
Sayid: Simple people. Uneducated people. The same 80 percent of people I was talking about before. They don't see beyond their own nose.
You know, I don't think I agree with him that those 80% of "simple" and "uneducated" people are the problem... the "bad" people, as he put it. I don't think he believes that, either. Some of his later comments illustrate his lack of faith in the character of the educated and sophisticated 20%.
Most (if not all) Iraqi bloggers are in that 20%. And I've seen a lot of Iraqi bloggers make what seemed to be fair and quite well thought out posts, and then gradually descend into what seemed to me to be complete irrationality in their own comment sections. It may be that 80% of Iraqis don't know any better and are easily influenced into following the other 20%, but the fault is still with that 20% for leading in the wrong direction.
It's a good post, MJT. I don't necessarily agree that Iraq will revert to the way things were in 2006 after the US is gone, though. Somebody decided to push the "off" button, and whatever reasons they had for that will remain, with or without US troops there. I'll just hope that memory of how bad things were and basic survival instinct will trump things such greed and hate. Maybe there isn't much hope of that, but it's what I'm going with.
Posted by: programmmer_craig at July 23, 2009 11:32 am
Sayid's comments may well be excessively negative. Lots of smart people over there share his view, though, so I am not sure. We'll see. I don't know, which is why I published contrasting viewpoints.
And while it may be true that sectarian or racial bigotry of one kind or another is a problem everywhere in the world, it is vastly worse, and more violent, in Iraq than anywhere else I have ever been in my life.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 23, 2009 12:07 pm
Posted by: Boojum at July 23, 2009 1:11 pm
I've been reading lately that the Kurdish regions are beginning to flex their muscles and get closer to finally striving for independence in some way. Sayid makes it clear that Iraq has a good chance of reverting back to its dysfunctional Arab dictatorial roots when the power vacuum finally rears its ugly head, but I guess my question is will the Kurdish problem be the tipping point?
I can imagine that adding the fuel of Kurdish unrest in to the mix of this power vacuum is a recipe for disaster, and this seems to me to be the most dangerous of possibilities. One could remain optimistic that Shia's and Sunni alike will try and evolve in to a more participatory government, thus stifling the path back towards dictatorship, but I can't imagine this happening if the Kurds decide they've had enough of the madness.
Thanks again as always for another great report.
Posted by: Tman at July 23, 2009 2:14 pm
Great post. I realise your photos are just snapshots, but I keep getting struck by the "public squalor" aspect. Much of Iraq looks like no one cares. Just an impression.
I sometimes wonder if Iraq should not have had a "house of sheiks' as an upper house, on the grounds that such networks of association should be worked with, rather than pretended not to exist. A bit on the House of Lords model.
Posted by: Lorenzo at July 24, 2009 12:30 am
Is the Internet/cell phone affecting Iraqi culture?
Does contact with the wider world change the world view of Iraqis?
You have talked with adults. How about the children?
Posted by: M. Simon at July 24, 2009 3:26 am
The sad part is that Iraqis aren't asking themselves what they can do to keep the country from falling into dictatorship once Americans leave, but rather they are asking themselves, "How can I be dictator?" or "How do I join the right dictator?"
Unlike post-war Germany and Japan, I don't think we Americans (or anyone else) engaged in democracy education in Iraq - how checks & balances can be made to work by the citizenry, the concept of true separation-of-powers, etc.
Pakistan is a democracy today because its lawyers battled in the streets and courts to remove a dictator. I don't know if Iraq will fall to a Ba'athist-style coup, or a slowly-gathering corruption by direction of the executive, as Nasser did in Egypt, but those are the two outcomes I see as most probable - unless coalition forces take a more active role in monitoring and exposing government abuses. There isn't much time left for that.
Posted by: Solomon2 at July 24, 2009 11:33 am
Solomon2, I see no evidence that PM Maliki does not want to allow free elections in the future. As long as Iraq allows free elections, that "IS" a success.
My concern about Iraq isn't about semi authoritarian government (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, even Russia, prove how successful such governments can be), but the rule of law. This has been a failure of the political process (Brahimi deserves a lot of blame for this outcome.) There needs to be a lot more coverage of Iraq's judicial system. Currently, it is a huge obstacle to Iraq's economic development.
Posted by: anand at July 24, 2009 2:29 pm
There's more to democracy than elections. Some systems, like party-lists, just lend themselves to corruption because "representatives" aren't really accountable to their electorate, just the party leaders. I am not happy with Iraq's current arrangement, and am one of those who opposed the U.N. plan in favor of a more local, distributed, system, as in the U.S.
Posted by: Solomon2 at July 24, 2009 2:46 pm
"If you give them money and jobs, they're good. If you cut the money, you will see another face. You will see the guns and the roadside bombs again."
That's called "jizya." Look it up.
It's a "religious thing."
Posted by: Amillennialist at July 26, 2009 4:05 pm
I am this " close to throwing you out of here, not only for being a hysterical bigot, but also for being an idiot. And I am not kidding.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 26, 2009 6:56 pm
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/27/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.
Posted by: David M at July 27, 2009 8:05 am
Elections will progressively help things, but it's always possible to get snookered by a fast-talking demagogue. Look at Chavez, Zelayah, Obama, Mugabe, Putin.
Posted by: Brian H at July 29, 2009 12:42 am
In case you are not familiar with the blog, I highly recommend Prof. Richard Landes' site www.theaugeanstables.com. Among other things, Prof. Landes focuses on the dynamics of honor-shame culture. In a 7/25 post on Eisenhower and the 1956 Suez campaign, he notes: "In the zero-sum world of honor, being indebted to another is a humiliation...The same phenomenon happened in Iraq in 2003. Americans expected cheering in the street when they came to liberate the people from Sadam's tyranny. Even as they would admit privately that were the US troops to leave it would be a disaster, Iraqis would nonetheless shoult loudly that they wanted the US out. Admitting gratitude, acknowledging dependence, recognizing publicly that the US had done what the Iraqi people had been incapable of doing---such things were unthinkable." Those underlying cultural dynamics will die slowly, if at all. Not that it is easier for Westerners to acknowledge gratitude. In the same article, Landes quotes a French friend who explained French anti-Americanism in a TV interview: "The French will never foregive America for saving her twice."
Posted by: GES at July 29, 2009 6:21 am
Kaplan chimes in.
Posted by: maxtrue at August 2, 2009 12:04 pm
This post pretty much captures my opinion on Iraq, which is pessimistic. Bosnia is still a tinderbox after a full decade. I don't see much hope for Iraq.
If the violence had stopped, or would stop - the infinite terror campaign -- then I could have some hope for a Putin-like state under Maliki. A dictatorship with clever trimmings, but with somewhat more freedom of expression for most people than in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Not quite as open as Lebanon, and equally fraught with danger in expression, but also not closed. Simmering potential conflict, but rare outright clashes.
But I think all of that is optimstic, because large anti-shiite terrorist bombings are continuing. It only takes one large bombing a week to just about guarantee that the Shiite response will get steadily more brutal and overwhelming, as far as I can see. How long a society can stand up to steady terrorist bombings before sharply escalating their reactions is a question of time, and not that much of it.
The Iraqis, as far as I can see, just aren't good enough to lance terrorists with a scalpel. Hell, even we have an extremely hard time doing so.
So, eventually, unless there is some sort of agreement to be made with the shadowy forces murdering Shiites, we will head back for round 2 of genuine war. It might be more one-sided than last time. More sunnis might be buyable, or stay on the sidelines, or turn coats. But there are massive and blunt instrument Iraqi operations in the future. Maybe only after we leave. Maybe not.
It won't end until the Sunnis either surrender - throw themselves into shiite arms asking for mercy, individually, municipally, collectively, whatever - or are savagely repressed into quiesence.
I hope that Maliki is humane, smart, and ruthless enough to punish his own side carefully enough to make it possible for Sunnis to surrender, cooperate, go with the flow, and in turn be protected. But I give that only a 50-50. It's a tall order in a sectarian and bigoted universe.
Posted by: glasnost at August 10, 2009 11:04 am
I'm curious as to your opinion, Mike, about the continuing terrorist campaign against the Shiite majority, whether and how it can be stopped, and the severe consequences I see if it continues.
Posted by: glasnost at August 10, 2009 11:05 am
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