Obama’s Next Crisis?

Since taking office, Barack Obama has had to deal with an economy in free fall, a self-generated health care “crisis” and his attempt at “reform,” and a rising Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. So far, Iraq has been quiet enough that many in the media and public have redirected their attention to the wars du jour of Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The relative peace (punctuated by an occasional violent attack) in Iraq may be about to evaporate and cause yet another crisis for the president.

The Iraqi Accountability and Justice Commission dispenses neither, operates in secret, and is headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a suspected Iranian agent who duped the overly receptive Bush administration into invading Iraq, and Ali Faisal al-Lami, who was detained for terrorism. The commission has disqualified more than 500 candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections in March. The candidates were mostly Sunni, and the disbarment could very well re-ignite a Sunni insurgency or Shi’ite-Sunni civil war.

The ban, endorsed by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, conveniently helps his electoral mixed Shi’ite-Sunni alliance, ironically named State of the Law Coalition, by undermining his chief rival, the similarly mixed coalition of Iraqiya, which features a vice president, former prime minister, and a prominent Sunni politician who has been banned from running. Of course, in a conflict of interest so typical in Iraq, the Shi’ite coalition of Chalabi and al-Lami also benefits from the disbarment of Sunni candidates.

In 2005, the Sunnis also felt disenfranchised, which led to the rising insurgency and civil war with the Shi’ites in 2006 and 2007. So this kangaroo commission’s decision could have dramatic consequences.

The ruling seemed to shock American and foreign diplomats, who believe that the reduced violence in Iraq has occurred because U.S.-led “institution-building,” artificially imposed at gunpoint, has been working. But in most societies, laws and institutions usually follow a societal consensus and informal compact among factions. Little of that exists in Iraq, so the constitution, the laws, and the institutions adopted under pressure from an occupying power are just a veneer. The bald disqualification of candidates, more typical of autocracies such as Iran, is merely a symptom of the continued fractured nature of Iraqi society.

Until those underlying fissures are dealt with, the reduction in violence will only be temporary—caused primarily by American paying off of Sunni insurgents, prior ethnic cleansing that separated warring factions, and sheer exhaustion from war rather than the forming of a societal consensus in an artificial country. Historically, in other similar ethno-sectarian conflicts, violence has ebbed and flowed over time. As baseball great Yogi Berra quipped, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And it won’t be over soon.

In addition to the barring of candidates from the election, other symptoms of the continuing factionalism have been the difficulties in passing laws governing the March election and control over oil resources, the internal infighting in the much touted mixed electoral coalitions (especially in the newly announced Iraqiya), the Shi’ite-dominated army imposing de facto martial law in Sunni areas of Baghdad, and, most ominously, the seeming loyalty of certain units in the Iraqi security forces to their Kurdish, Shi’ite, or Sunni ethno-sectarian factions rather than the Iraqi state.

ivan-eland.jpgBecause a repeat of Sunni disenfranchisement and hostile reaction is possible, pressure is building for a strong U.S. intervention to motivate Iraqi coalitions to reach a compromise on the disbarred candidates, thus avoiding violence and ensuring a smoother electoral process. Yet even if a compromise is reached, it doesn’t deal with the underlying artificiality of the U.S. project to hold Iraq together.

The disbarment of candidates for the election is a canary in the coal mine and dramatically highlights the threat that renewed violence poses to Obama’s laudable plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of next year.

Ivan Eland

This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permission.

LA Progressive

Published by the LA Progressive on January 23, 2010
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About Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He also has served as Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), and has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee, and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Eland is the author of The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, as well as The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool. He is a contributor to numerous volumes and the author of 45 in-depth studies on national security issues.

His articles have appeared in American Prospect, Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Emory Law Journal, The Independent Review, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), Mediterranean Quarterly, Middle East and International Review, Middle East Policy, Nexus, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Conservative, International Journal of World Peace, and Northwestern Journal of International Affairs. Dr. Eland's popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Washington Times, Providence Journal, The Hill, and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC's “World News Tonight,” NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, CNN “Crossfire,” CNN-fn, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canadian TV (CTV), Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other local, national, and international TV and radio programs.