Posted by: Sam Carson | 8 August, 2007

Iraq: lots of opinions, but not enough questions.

It isn’t hard to find an opinion in the media on what is happening in Iraq, but it is hard to find a descriptionRobert Dreyfuss takes on the mainstream media in Nieman’s Watchdog’s regular “Ask This” feature.

 The conventional wisdom is that Iraqis can’t get their act together; that Iraqi politicians are hopeless squabbling, fratricidal hate-mongers; and that there’s really no use trying understand what passes for Iraqi politics. The narrative continues like this: that Iraq’s civil war is hundreds of years old, with Sunnis and Shia killing each other since the dawn of Islam;.that Iraq isn’t really even a country, since its borders were arbitrarily drawn up by a cigar-smoking Winston Churchill in the 1920s; and that there is no chance that Iraq will meet the 18 so-called “benchmarks” that were enacted by Congress earlier this year because it’s impossible that Iraqis will ever forge a consensus that can hold their country together.

But is there any substance to this?  Is Iraq as we knew it a synthetic construction that spent it’s life on the brink of civil war?

There’s a case to be made that a majority of Iraqis – both on the street and in politics, including members of parliament – believe in a unified Iraq with its capital in Baghdad. Among those who support that view are the vast majority of Sunni Arabs, who don’t want to be squeezed into an oil-poor “Sunnistan,” and a significant majority of Shia Arabs, who support Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc and the important, but usually ignored Fadhila (Virtue) party. When put together with the dwindling, but still important middle class and the secular bloc of voters represented by Iyad Allawi’s party, the “nationalists” achieve or are close to majority status in the parliament. If you count the extra-parliamentary forces, including the Sunni-led Iraqi resistance and some Shia fighters who disdain parliament, the nationalists have a large majority among Iraqi Arabs.

So, what does the state of Iraqi politics look like, in broad terms?

There are three “no’s” in Iraqi politics that could serve as a basis for a consensus among Iraqi factions: opposition to the occupation, opposition to Al Qaeda, and opposition to excessive Iranian influence in Iraq. Most Sunnis, most secular Iraqis, and Shia supporters of the Sadr and Fadhila parties agree on all three of those. In addition, those parties have also taken steps in recent weeks to distance themselves from the feckless Maliki regime in Baghdad, either quitting or suspending their participation in both the Cabinet and the parliament. Yet, according to the New York Times, yet another U.S. review of its Iraq policy has concluded that there is no alternative to Maliki’s faltering coalition. Why is the United States so wedded to the Dawa-SCIRI-Kurdish alliance? Don’t they realize that any Iraqi government that depends on U.S. favor by definition can’t win support from the Iraqi people?

Robert Dreyfuss puts forward a number of questions that have not been properly answered by the media:

 Can any government or political party that has American support succeed in Iraq? Or is American support effectively the kiss of death for an Iraqi politician? Corrupt and venal Iraqi leaders, squatting in bunkers in the Green Zone, might welcome American support and American money – but do they have any “street cred” whatsoever?

Is the United States arming all three sides of an Iraqi civil war? If so, rather than trumpeting U.S. support for the Sunni militia, wouldn’t it better to stop arming all sides? Why, if the United States begins to leave Iraq, should it arm one, two, or all three sides in a civil war? Why not let Iraqis sort that out?


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