One of Abu Aardvark’s friends, recently back from a trip to Baghdad, contributed a brilliant overview of the Iraqi political scene. S/he breaks them down into the Powers That Be (the Kurdish parties, most of PM Maliki’s Da’wa, the Shiite ISCI and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party) and the Powers That Aren’t (everyone else, but especially the Sadrists and the Awakening Councils). Now check this out:

Nearly all of these [Powers That Be] spent that time outside of Iraq, especially if you consider post-1991 Kurdistan outside of Iraq. ISCI/Da’wa and the IIP lack a real social base and enjoy a level of control at the central government level far out of proportion to their level of support. The Kurds, though they do have local support in their region (or deeply rooted authoritarian control over the populace, take your pick), are dramatically over-represented at the national level, as well as in the provinces not part of the KRG–Mosul (where they hold 30 out of 41 seats!), Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Diyala…

Because of this narrow base and their disproportionate dominance of the political process from early on, the PTB only stand to lose by any movement toward political openness. It’s not a surprise that the PTB have all been dragging their feet on provincial elections legislation. ISCI/Maliki are working very hard to consolidate the control of the central government, particularly on the security level.

OK, so let’s recognize what that means. It means that the motivation for Nouri al-Maliki to crack down on the Sadrists — as the right has been applauding him for doing — is to throw an election. In short, to support his crackdown is to tacitly decide that we have a favorite candidate in the provincial election (that he may not even hold) in the fall and the national election in 2009. That further means, according to this analysis, that we’re tacitly intervening on the side of the cliques with the least amount of popular support.

Abu Aardvark’s friend contends that the "resistance/insurgency" is so weak and broken that all factions want in. That I’m not so sure about — at least not until we decide what "in" means. If "in" means "power for myself," then I’d consider the statement well-supported by the evidence. But if "in" means "power for myself and any ally and in any proportion and at the price of collaborating with both my immediate Iraqi competitors and the occupation and renouncing violence and other opt-out measures," then I don’t see how that survives the evidence of continuing political deadlock and continuing mass-casualty attacks.

But here’s the really interesting bit:

[T]he stronger the PTB get, the Iraqi people will look past the dubious makeup of the government and just be happy that the state has returned and there’s a modicum of law and order. At least for a while, and at least as long as the government is rich, at least as long as the US is there to back it up, at least as long as the PTB stay united. Hardly a recipe for a stable political order, but one that will work for the time being.

It will? Let’s concede that "a modicum of law and order" in fact emerges. When people have the "luxury" of not worrying that they’re going to get blown up at any moment and they have serious political grievances about an unaccountable and unpopular clique, and they have charismatic alternatives, do they grow more or less restive? By no means is it clear that the thugs within the Sadrists and the Awakening Councils would be more responsible than the current crop of Iraqi rulers, but they at least have the virtue of commanding popular support. If the idea here is that we need "a modicum of law and order" to extricate ourselves from Iraq, chances are we can negotiate that exit with the parties that say they want us out of Iraq — and whose constituencies will reward them for delivering the end of the occupation!

Alternatively, if we decide that by gum we love Maliki and we want him in power indefinitely, then what we should do is negotiate with him an end to the occupation. Let him drink his opponents’ political milkshake. They’ll be undermined, he’ll be a national hero, and we’ll get the fuck out of Iraq. Doing what Bush is having us do now and what McCain wants for the next 100 years — forcing a permanent occupation upon Maliki— gives us the worst of all worlds: an endless war, an endless provocation, an endless amount of anger at a hopeless and weak puppet, an endless need to support that puppet.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman