Thursday, September 22, 2005

Iraq War: The federalist option

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Peter Galbraith, one of the sons of John Kenneth Galbraith who is carrying on his father's diplomatic footsteps, has been an advocate of Iraqi Kurdish independence, either in the de facto form of very decentralized federalism or in the form of Kurdistan as a separate nation.

I've never been convinced by arguments put forward by him or by Leslie Gelb in favor of that position, either in terms of their analysis of the ethnic/religious divisions in Iraq or in terms of the desirability of a "Kurdistan" (de facto or otherwise) for American interests.

But Galbraith is a very well-informed observer of events in the Iraq War.  And he has written an evaluation of the proposed Iraqi constitution and what it implies for the situation in Iraq: Last Chance for Iraq New York Review of Books 09/07/05.

This description of the Iraqi army caught my eye.  Bush's "stay the course" strategy looks for the Iraqi army to "stand up" so that American troops can "stand down," i.e., leave.  Galbraith writes:

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.

This number of troops in the Iraqi army is a key figure to watch.The White House and the Pentagon likes to conflate the army and police to talk about number of "security" personnel.  Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq had a regular army of 400,000, not counting the more "elite" Republican Guard.  According to Galbraith, the official (and phony) account has Iraq with only 80,000 troops.  Jeffrey Record wrote in Dark Victory (2004):

The issue of U.S. force size in postwar Iraq is greatly compounded by U.S. dissolution of the 400,000-man Iraqi army and plans [at the time he was writing] to replace it, within three years, with a predominantly light infantry force of only 40,000.  Such a replacement army would be too small to defend Iraq against its more powerful neighbors, and might prove insufficient even to police Iraq's extensive and rugged border with Iran.  Indeed, such a small army, absent a major U.S. force presence or credible commitment to Iraq's defense, could invite Iranian and Turkish military intervention in Iraq.

Galbraith sees the proposed Iraqi constitution as offering a good chance for providing the basis of domestic peace in Iraq.  Galbraith is certainly no flak for the Bush administration, but I think he's being very optimistic about that.  A large part of that optimism seems to be based on his view, which he discusses in the article, that an independent Kurdistan is both workable and desirable.

On that subject, he writes:

Most Kurdish leaders say that if the constitution fails, the next talks will be about partition. An independent Kurdistan is no longer unlikely. Arab Iraqi leaders understand that the Kurds want out, and are increasingly weary of having to pay the price for keeping them in. Even Saleh al-Mutlaq, theSunni negotiator, has said in a recent interview, "If the Kurds want independence, they should ask for it." Every Shiite leader whom I asked about the issue—including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi—said that they would support Kurdistan's independence if that's what the Kurds want. Some Arabs bluntly told me that, at this stage, they would prefer that Kurdistan left.

But he seems to pass lightly over what seems to be a very complicated situation in the city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds tend to see as part of "Kurdistan":

The constitution also has a formula to resolve Iraq's most enduring territorial dispute: between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq over the oil-rich province of Kirkuk. The constitution includes mechanisms to return Kurdish victims of Saddam Hussein's ethnic cleansing to Kirkuk and for a referendum to decide its status not later than the end of 2007. The United States could promote the peaceful resolution of the Kirkuk question by encouraging power-sharing arrangements among all of Kirkuk's communities—Kurds, Arabs, Turkomen, and Chaldo-Assyrians. Whether the Americans are capable of the more informed involvement in Kirkuk's ethnic politics that is now needed is not at all clear.

If a favorable resolution of that complicated situation depends on deft diplomacy by the Bush administration, I would say that it's a forlorn hope indeed.

Galbraith's provides a lot of information on the Iraqi constitution and some of the manuevers involved in bringing it into being.  This was a good tidbit:

The Kurds, and other secularists, were particularly appalled by the idea of clerics on the court, but since they had no support from the US, they chose not to make an issue of it. Instead, the Kurds stripped the Iraqi Supreme Court of jurisdiction over Kurdistan's laws. Here the Kurds' negotiators were influenced by US constitutional experience. Having seen US justices decide the election of 2000 on the basis of their personal political preference, they had no confidence in US arguments on the value of an independent judiciary. (my emphasis)

He summarizes the potential benefits of the proposed constituion this way:

The strongest argument for the new constitution is that it could avoid civil war. But it has three other virtues: (1) it may hold the country together, (2) it limits Iranian domination to the southern half of the country, and (3) it provides for a more workable military strategy than the one to which the US is now committed.

The "more workable" military strategy he mentions seems to consist mainly of turning over the main security duties to local partisan militias.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

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