*Three US soldiers were slightly injured in Falluja on Tuesday along with 3 Iraqi policemen, according to AP. The Americans had joined Iraqi police in fending off an angry crowd that attacked on the police station there that used rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. CNN covered this very cursorily according to the transcript. AFP reports that the protesters, from the al-Muhammadi tribe, want the release of 12 prisoners from their tribe, including a tribal sheikh, who they say are being unfairly held. Americans are used to dealing with atomistic individuals. They don’t realize that often if you mess with an Iraq, you are messing with all his cousins, too.
Guerrillas also used a remote control bomb to blow up the truck of a civilian working for a Halliburton subsidiary, who was delivering mail to the US military on Tuesday.
*The Arab League refused to recognized the appointed Interim Governing Council appointed by Bremer, and refused to send troops to Iraq. The moderate fundamentalist journalist Fahmy Howeidi wrote an editorial for al-Ahram saying that the Arabs were not going to come in on behalf of Washington and put down Iraqis fighting against US occupation. Tom Friedman of the New York Times criticized Amr Moussa of the Arab League for insisting that only an election could provide legitimacy, claiming that none of the Arab League’s members has an elected head of state. Friedman like many others is confusing the legitimacy bestowed by national sovereignty with that bestowed by election. Ideally one would have both. But Iraq lacks the former while most Arab states lack the latter. Moreover, for all the coercion and corruption in elections in the Arab world, some elected leaders there probably do represent their constituents’ views. It would be silly to say that Ibrahim Jaafari has as much legitimacy as the prime ministers of Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain and Morocco. Most Iraqis don’t even know who Jaafari is.
*One of Khomeini’s grandsons, Hussein Khomeini, has been in Iraq for weeks. He called up Agence France Presse and called for a referendum in Iran over whether to retain the clerically dominated form of government. Khomeini has been calling for a separation of religion and state in Iran. Before 20th century nationalism, it was common for Iranian clerics to take refuge in Iraq (under Ottoman rule) from the Iranian state, and to say from there things that could not be said in Iran itself. Hussein Khomeini may be only the beginning of a revival of this tactic. Meanwhile, President Mohammad Khatami warned of a take-over of Iran by fascism and the misuse of clerical office to impose tyranny. Uh, President Khatami, that cow got out of the barn some time ago. He objected to the Iranian Right implying that his reformist policies were written for him in Washington. He also attacked Iran’s secular left. – AFP/ al-Zaman
*Global security analyst and virtual isolationist Edward N. Luttwak argues that democracy in Iraq is a fool’s errand. He says the Kurds are divided into two tribal enclaves, the Sunnis in the middle of the country are resentful of being deprived of their former perquisites, and that the Shiites are “largely illiterate,” under the sway of their ayatollahs, and want an Islamic state that is incompatible with human rights and democracy. He also notes that only a long-term US colonization of Iraq could hope to change this situation and produce a real democratic outcome, but that because the Iraqis resent the US occupation, the Americans are likely to get out quickly and leave the country in a mess.
The argument, which is admittedly an op-ed. is overdrawn to say the least, though healthy skepticism about the Neocon approach to democratization of the region is in order. First of all, despite Kurdish tribalism, the Kurds have had fair elections, and there is no reason to think they cannot do so again. Indeed, parliamentary politics is the perfect forum for transforming violent clan feuds into peaceful politics. If the PUK doesn’t like the KDP, they can just work harder to attract voters. Tribes and castes in India do this all the time (well, with a bit of chaos, violence and corruption, but it is still far better than Saddam’s Baath Party).
It is hard to know how many Sunni Arabs in the triangle are violently anti-democratic. It may not be all that many. The 3 million West Baghdad Sunnis seem to be all for democracy. And, if Iraq has a Federal system such that people in Falluja control their local destiny according to community standards, they may not mind having a Shiite Prime Minister. After all, there have been Shiite Prime Ministers in the past in Iraq, and it never caused riots or anything.
Shiite illiteracy should not be exaggerated. Indeed, scholastic Shiism of the urban sort is if anything overly bookish. (55% of Iraqi men are literate, and there is no reason to think that the majority of these men is not Shiite). And, it is an urban prejudice to equate literacy with support for democracy. The tribal Shiite leaders of the Middle Euphrates have adopted moderate political stances, whereas the Sadrists in the big city of Baghdad are essentially 1980s style Khomeinists. And, Shiite militias and theocratic parties are not static. AMAL in Lebanon had a paramilitary in the 1980s and yet the party gradually evolved into a parliamentary political party that trades horses with Maronite Catholics and is far more moderate than the Lebanese Hizbullah. So even the Sadrists may change some of their tune if they have to run for office and have to get things done for constituents by trading horse with other political groups.
Finally, it is not at all clear that only a 30-year tutelage by the Americans could make Iraq democratic. It isn’t that hard to hold elections. That there will be a weak army may be a good thing; strong armies make coups and dominate the society.
I think parliamentary elections and “democracy” tend to be mystified in Western political thought. Elections aren’t that hard to hold. What you need is the right rules for governing outcomes and subsequent compromises. And, you need powerful elites like the military or the clergy not to come in and derail the process. I think the Iraqis can pull this off, as long as our expectations are not unrealistic. That is, you could at most get India. You’re not going to get Sweden anytime soon (but then we poor Americans don’t even get Sweden because of our plutocrats).
The other thing to keep in mind is that American air power hasn’t disappeared from the skies of Iraq, and warlords or separatists know it. Further, the Iraqi government will have billions in oil income and strategic rent, which is another centripetal force. Skepticism is a good thing, but sometimes it veers toward cynicism, which isn’t.