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April 28, 2003

Substantial Penalties Apply To Early

Substantial Penalties Apply To Early Withdrawal

Well, this is unexpected.

Most former exiles wanted a lesser U.S. role, arguing that only Iraqis should rule the country, while those who had not left Iraq said they wanted more U.S. supervision because they did not trust those who returned after Saddam Hussein's fall.

Given the prior news coverage of protests in Iraq, one would think the Iraqi positions would be reversed, with the exiles supporting a broad U.S. role instead of opposing it. In fact, they probably do, but can't afford to say so without casting themselves in the role of Washington's hand puppets. The newly freed Iraqis, with the exception of the Iranian-backed Shiite clerics, want the U.S. involved over the intermediate to long term. Were coalition forces to leave in the near term, their perception is that the the next rulers in Iraq would be those same Iranian-backed Shiites.

I commented on someone's blog a while back that it would be nice to hear someone in the administration state that the U.S. would not allow the establishment of sharia law in Iraq, no matter what. I figured actually saying so was impolitic and therefore unlikely, which of course meant that soon afterwards Donald Rumsfeld said something along those exact lines.

As the Iraqi Shiite are riven with factionalism, odds are that the adherents of an Iranian style theocracy do not even form a majority within the Shi'ite population, but the United States would likely do nothing further to discourage their intentions in any case.

One, because they really are a minority of the overall Iraqi population, albeit a vocal one. Politically, they are likely to have as much influence on the final shape of the Iraqi government as the American anti-war protestors did on George Bush's foreign policy.

Two, even if the Shiite clerics hold a wider sway over the Shiite population, their power flows from the mullahs in Iran, and the position of the Iranian ayatollahs is a precarious one. The Bush administration is betting that it can outlast them, that the Iranian street will overthrow them long before the Iraqi Shiites can shift us out of Baghdad. The longer the process of building an Iraqi government takes, the better our position. We are running the building of Iraqi democracy as a marathon, a race which the Iranian backed clerics know they cannot win, so they're using what influence they have to turn it into a sprint. A power comes back online, and food and water become more available, the more their influence will dwindle. The only hope of the mullahs is to get the U.S. out now, or to provoke our troops into committing an Amritsar-like massacre.

Three, fundamentalist Iraqi Shiites make excellent bogeymen. The wilder eyed they are, the more bellicose their pronouncements, the more they scare moderate Shiites, Kurds, Iraqi Sunni Muslims and what remains of the Iraqi intelligentsia and middle class. None of those groups want ayatollahs ruling in Iraq, anymore than they want Saddam back. This applies to the Arab governments outside Iraq as well. As long as the fundamentalist Shiites appear to be a viable threat, U.S. forces in the region are the lesser of two evils.

Paradoxical as it may seem, radical Shi'ia fundamentalism will a positive factor in the growth of an Iraqi democracy, as long as the United States stays the course in Iraq. Their actions will serve to spook the other disparate groups in the area, forcing them towards a more common ground in a defensive reaction. We should probably thank Iran (and Turkey for that matter) for its ham-handed attempts at influence. Had the fundamentalist Shiites not presented themselves as the repressive alternative to U.S. rule, it probably would have proved necessary to invent them.

Posted by Bigwig at April 28, 2003 03:38 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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