Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 7, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQI POLITICAL UPDATE....Remember the Iraqi constitution that was approved in a referendum back in October 2005? Of course you do. But you might also recall that approval of the constitution was in serious doubt until, just days before the vote, Sunni leaders agreed to a last-minute deal. As the Washington Post reported at the time:

The major concession from Tuesday's talks was agreement by the Shiites and Kurds that a committee be created early next year to consider amendments to the constitution....The Sunnis' most visceral objection to the draft constitution is the provision for remaking Iraq into a loose federation with a weak central government. The federation would include a highly independent Kurdish north and possibly an oil-rich, Shiite ministate in the south, leaving Sunnis in the resource-poor center and west.

Now, this deal never struck me as a serious concession since all it required was that amendments be considered. It would still take a two-thirds majority in the Council of Ministers to get them passed, and that never seemed likely — especially since Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, the biggest Shiite party in the country, essentially repudiated the deal with a wink and a nod shortly after the constitution was approved.

Still, the process went ahead. First, though, Iraqi leaders had to form a government, and that didn't happen until May 2006. Then they had to form a committee to propose amendments, and that didn't happen until September. Now, seven months after the committee was named and a year and a half after the original deal was first struck, the Sunnis say they've had enough:

Iraq's top Sunni official has set a deadline of next week for pulling his entire bloc out of the government....Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi made his comments in an interview with CNN. He said if key amendments to the Iraq Constitution are not made by May 15, he will step down and pull his 44 Sunni politicians out of the 275-member Iraqi parliament.

"If the constitution is not subject to major changes, definitely, I will tell my constituency frankly that I have made the mistake of my life when I put my endorsement to that national accord," he said.

Specifically, he wants guarantees in the constitution that the country won't be split into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish federal states that he says will disadvantage Sunnis.

The October 2005 deal has served its purpose admirably: it got the constitution passed and it gave everyone some breathing room. But eventually the Shiites and Kurds were going to have to come through with some changes, and no real progress has ever been made on that. Just stalling.

So what happens next? Prime Minister Maliki might be able to buy himself some more time, but probably not much. Eventually it's going to become clear that the Sunni amendments aren't going to be proposed, or if they are proposed, that they aren't going to pass. That day is looking ever closer, and all the battalions in the world aren't going to help Iraq if the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 6:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Comments

Go talk with Christopher Hitchens. He predicted all of this was going to happen even if we did not invade Iraq so it's not GW's fault.

Posted by: Carl on May 7, 2007 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin, as my friend Egbert says. You are such a glass-half-full kind of guy.

In any healthy democracy there is always debate and calls for changes to the constitution. How many times has our constitution been amended?

This is proof that our troops are succeeding in bringing democracy to Iraq.

Posted by: Al on May 7, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Hitchens and Bush. Well, there you go. Lets just take their word for it, because its not like they are a matching pair of self absorbed, petulent drunks that have been consistently wrong on Iraq or anything.

Posted by: bmaz on May 7, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

All the controversy about the Surge is going to be completely dwarfed by the craziness that will follow if the Sunnis pull out and the Iraqi Federal government becomes just another Shiite faction.

The Republicans will scream that it will be even more irresponsible to pull out when there is no power that can take control of the country in our absence; and the Democrats will respond that our objectives there are a million times more unobtainable than before.

The situation on the ground will at that point begin to change and morph much more quickly than the US govt. can react; even if Bush and the Congress could come to some agreement on policy, the realities of the situation will make that policy obsolete before it is even finalized.

Bad ugliness.

On the brighter side of things, what remains of the Iraqi parliament will surely return tanned, ready, and rested after their two-month summer vacation.

Posted by: lampwick on May 7, 2007 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

I read/heard 2 comments that seems to sum Iraq up completely:

1. From an (Atlantic Monthly?) article (paraphrased):

"The civil war has already begun. It began the moment the Shiites realized how much they had gained and the Sunnis realized how much they had lost".

2. From the now defunct 'Imus in the Morning' show: (Also paraphrased)

"I talked to a friend a mine recently who had done some business in Iraq; a guy with real street smarts. He said the minute we pull out of there the whole place is gonna fall apart and a dictator twice as bad as Hussein will come in because he will be the only guy tough enough to hold it together. This is gonna happen whether we pull out in 10 weeks or 10 years".

I had just come out of the shower at the time I heard #2 but it stopped me dead in my tracks. When you hear the truth it reverberates...

Posted by: James M on May 7, 2007 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

This is gonna happen whether we pull out in 10 weeks or 10 years".

Shrub is thinking he only needs to claim to be "makin' progress" for the next two years, when someone else will lose Iraq.

Posted by: asdfg on May 7, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

As I recall, this was forecast by lots of liberals on blogs.

Posted by: anandine on May 7, 2007 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

We already won this war. It's over. The National Review said so.

Posted by: Conservatroll on May 7, 2007 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK

This needs to be handled carefully, or Iraqi's might get killed. Who needs that?

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on May 7, 2007 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

In Other News --- Fire is hot. Stay tuned - here at 11.

Posted by: absent observer on May 7, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

"On the brighter side of things, what remains of the Iraqi parliament will surely return tanned, ready, and rested after their two-month summer vacation."

Lampwick nails it again.

How many of our soldiers have died so the Iraqi "government" could take a fucking vacation?

It's like we're trying to fail.

Posted by: cazart on May 7, 2007 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

Cazart,
Failure is the only thing Commander Guy has been successful at in his life.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on May 7, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Worst President Ever.

Posted by: curious on May 7, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Worst President Ever.

I prefer,

W is for Worst.

Posted by: E. Greegius on May 7, 2007 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans speak on Plan B in Iraq:

"By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B."
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), May 6, 2007.

"I have no Plan B."
John McCain, on his support for the Iraq surge, April 13, 2007.

"Plan B was to make Plan A work."
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace, on Iraq, March 5, 2007.

"I don't think you go to Plan B. You work with Plan A."
Secretary of State Rice, asked what the U.S. should do if the Iraqi government does not live up to its assurances, March 5, 2007.

Posted by: AngryOne on May 7, 2007 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

AngryOne,
I don't think Boehner wants you to go back any earlier. 93 days ago, he said to give it 90 days and to see what happens. We all know how that's gone.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on May 7, 2007 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

I've thought from the very beginning of this adventure that partition was inevitable. Looks like the Sunnis are actually starting to force things along.

Posted by: Disputo on May 7, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

all the battalions in the world aren't going to help Iraq if the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government.

What would you think of partition? It's not the worst outcome. A few battalions could probably help the Sunnis fend off an army of Shi'ites, and help the Shi'ites fend off an army of Sunnis. If all the Sunnis do is "irrevocably pull out", then there is no problem. The problem occurs if they want control of the country, as they were accustomed to.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 7, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Dear God.

Did anyone - anyone? - believe that the Shias and Kurds were going to do anything at all - even the minutest, tiniest cosmetic see we're really all in this together sorry I can't do more but gotta please the base smidgeon of a cosmetic alteration to Article 76 distance of smoking permitted from polling stations?

Didn't think so.

The pressure the Sunnis were under in late 2005 was intense. Zalmay Khalilzad was right in their faces screaming "you may hate me, but once I tell Dick Cheney you guys aren't playing ball, there won't be two rocks balanced against each other for 300 miles west of Baghdad. Got that?"

So they got screwed. They knew they were getting screwed, the Shias and the Kurds knew they were getting screwed. And after the election, who cared a whit that they got screwed? Er, sorry, Zalmay's not in right now, you can leave a message if you like, he's a bit busy, trying to stitch another fig leaf together, we're calling this one a surge, good name, huh, he'll get back to you. Suckers....

Posted by: Andrew on May 7, 2007 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

Failure's on the march!

Posted by: bungholio on May 7, 2007 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

The problem occurs if they want control of the country, as they were accustomed to.

They don't, and you have no comprehension of the political landscape. None. It's embarrassing just to read the tripe you post and try and pass off as thinking.

The Sunnis aren't Nazis or ogres. They don't want to control the country, they only want a fair share of the dividends, which they've been shut out of since the invasion and the professions they tended to fill were eliminated: the army was disbanded, teachers and professors were being hunted down and killed, doctors were being killed and/or hounded out of the country, their infrastructure jobs were being given to Americans at ridiculous salaries while their families went hungry, etc.

And it was the Shi'ites and the Americans who sytematically crushed the Sunni professional class. Is it any wonder they started planting bombs?

Please don't respond to this post. I just can't bear the stupidity.

Posted by: trex on May 7, 2007 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRmarler: What would you think of partition? It's not the worst outcome. A few battalions could probably help the Sunnis fend off an army of Shi'ites, and help the Shi'ites fend off an army of Sunnis.

From the Sunni perspective it's a horrible outcome unless there is an oil revenue sharing plan. However, given the lack of follow-through on the previous commitments, Sunni's are unlikely to swallow it--regardless of how good it might look today.

Posted by: has407 on May 7, 2007 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

This is the exact question I have asked for years-even if order is restored in the central provinces, how is Iraq going to be put together again? How is it that I, a lay person out in the boonies asks that question when all of these masterful politicians and policy analysts in DC are finally coming realize that those are the rocks on which the Iraq adventure will break. I seem to remember a SE Asian where we fought for a puppet government that did not have a chance in hell of reuniting the war-torn country.

Posted by: Neal on May 7, 2007 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

The fact is, most Iraqis do not favor partition. Once the foreign occupation is lifted, they will find a way to unify their country and deal with the scars of almost 16 years of continuous warfare with the United States.

Posted by: smedleybutler on May 7, 2007 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

The Sunnis aren't Nazis or ogres. They don't want to control the country, they only want a fair share of the dividends, which they've been shut out of since the invasion and the professions they tended to fill were eliminated: the army was disbanded, teachers and professors were being hunted down and killed, doctors were being killed and/or hounded out of the country, their infrastructure jobs were being given to Americans at ridiculous salaries while their families went hungry, etc.

And pulling out of the government irrevocably helps them?

has407: From the Sunni perspective it's a horrible outcome unless there is an oil revenue sharing plan.

I was taking seriously KD's conditional: "if the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government." If that is something that they initiate and carry out, then they will have cut themselves out of an oil revenue sharing plan, and any hope of a fair share of other dividends. If that is what they do, then a partition is not as bad as a civil war aimed at the Sunni/Baathist reconquest of Iraq. A "fair" share might have been available to them in 1991 had they allowed the Shi'ites and Kurds to secede, keeping for themselves most of the developed oil fields.

If the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government, then the U.S. can pull its troops irrevocably out of al Anbar province, and assist the Shi'ites and Kurds in defending their borders with fences, walls, and so forth.

Start over. "If the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government", then U.S. forces can protect the sections of the divided nation against attempts at conquest by the others.

Perhaps you meant to say that "If the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government" is an inappropriate assumption upon which to base any thinking. maybe so. If that's what you mean, then you certainly may be right. However, I wouldn't be surprised if the rest of the Iraqis cheered and said "Good riddance, and don't come back".

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 8, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Carl:Go talk with Christopher Hitchens. He predicted all of this was going to happen even if we did not invade Iraq so it's not GW's fault.

Heh. Here's what Hitchens said would happen after we accomplished "regime change" Iraq. The emphases are mine.

Hitchens: War requires that two countries pit their armies against one another for indefinite combat. I'm willing to bet you now that there will be no such engagement in Iraq.

Danner: I see we're redefining the words.

Hitchens: I haven't used the word war all evening. There will be no war, but there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention to remove the Saddam Hussein regime, long overdue.

Danner: Orwell would be proud of that construction. If implosion is determinative, it will happen no matter what we do, then why indeed need there be a ruthless brief military intervention, not defined as war.

Hitchens: If we said, Let's watch the place fall in on itself as the regime collapses, and see what happens, then you would get ethnic strife, revenge killings and a total social breakdown and yes, you would tempt other countries or factions within them to intervene. That would be the most irresponsible outcome of all. Bear in mind, this is taking place on top of about 9 percent of the earth's proven oil resources and it's not a matter of indifference if someone with a dirty bomb or some other device decides to try and ignite them again. There should be an international readiness to intervene and place Iraq in a friendly internationalist trusteeship.

How Should We Use Our Power? - January 28, 2003

That's how much Hitchens knew. I doubt if he knows more now, since it's been many a drink since then. Maybe he underestimated the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Bush administration, but after 9/11 he shouldn't have made this error. So his punditry is merely a mass of hot, alcohol-scented gas that adds to global warming without performing any enlightening function.

Posted by: cowalker on May 8, 2007 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

quote from al Hashimi: If Sunnis aren't an equal partner in the government, he said, they should say "bye-bye to the political process."

Well, 20% are not going to be equal to 51% are they? At least with a federation or independence they can govern themselves. Too bad they don't have oil, but niehter do Japan, S. Korea, Israel or Greece -- or Massachusetts. Somehow, these peoples, with their professionalism, create civil society and wealth.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 8, 2007 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

MatthewRmarler: If that is something that they initiate and carry out, then they will have cut themselves out of an oil revenue sharing plan, and any hope of a fair share of other dividends.

Not if they believe that they would gain less by cooperation or could gain more ultimately through the use of force.

Perhaps you meant to say that "If the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government" is an inappropriate assumption upon which to base any thinking

The Sunni's are definitely playing at brinkmanship, but I don't believe it's an unreasonable assumption that they can and will unilaterally and irrevocably disengage. Especially since they could lose any validity among many of their supporters if the do not; and if they don't have that, they might as well go home.

This is largely dependent on factors that the US does not control, over which the US has limited control, and of which we have limited insight. Specifically, the House of Saud is unlikely to stand idle while Sunni influence wanes to the benefit of Shia/Iran.

Fast-forward to a nominally partitioned Iraq... None of the states are particularly powerful, and they are dependent on the support of other neighboring states in order to hold their ground. The likely axes are Iran-Shia, Saudi-Sunni, and ???-Kurd.

That looks like a prescription for more and and on a wider-scale violence, not less.

Posted by: has407 on May 8, 2007 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

"assist in defending their borders with fences, wall and so forth"

"can protect the sections of the divided nations by attempted conquest from others"

Geez, no danger there - Why the boys and gals will be home by Christmas ____ Please fill in the blank. Just what our troops are trained for - Defense of fences, walls and the like - Been watching a lot of films of the Somme or the Marne, or Ypres, or even the Maginot Line, or even old Crusade films, Colonel Matthew? Oh, you'll just give them Blue Helmets, eh?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 8, 2007 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, isn't Marler stupid enough to keep pretending that walking past a car dealership is sufficient evidence to convict someone of vehicular manslaughter? Someone with such poor ability to connect cause and effect isn't really someone whose thought processes about the outcome of the wholesale slaughter, that he and his ilk championed, should be respected.

You've been wrong about everything Marler, why should we trust your crystal ball now?

Posted by: noel on May 8, 2007 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

At this point most Americans car less about using American troops to protect a terrorist Sunni religion, we would rather they all are shot after seeing these jackasses and their belt bombs.

The only support terrorist Sunni get is the same support Sunni terrorist have always gottent, from the conservative wing of the Republican party. It is this consistent support for Islamic terrorism that characterizes the Republican conservative and their arms deals to terrorists going back to Reagan.

Remember, it was the Bush's business partners that blew up the Towers. It is Dick Cheney who took the bribe from the Saudis for continued support of Sunni terrorism.

Posted by: Matt on May 8, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

A "fair" share might have been available to them in 1991 had they allowed the Shi'ites and Kurds to secede, keeping for themselves most of the developed oil fields.

Since the government in 1991 was a military dictatorship overseeing a staff and military that included Shi'ites and Christians, it was simply not possible for the Sunnis, most of whom were neither dictators nor legislators, to "allow" anyone to secede.

Congratulations, you are now descending into an ex-liberal level of having close to zero comprehension of what you're talking about while desperation pushes you ahead anyway.

Posted by: trex on May 8, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

The entire Iraq debate was brilliantly summed up the Onion in this point-counterpoint editorial before the war started in 2003.

Posted by: Derek Scruggs on May 8, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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