The new Iraq

by John Q on July 16, 2004

Although there’s plenty of news coverage of inquiries into the “intelligence” that justified the Iraq war, coverage of events in Iraq itself seems to have declined sharply since the formal handover of sovereignty and the shutdown of the Coalition Provisional Administration. There seems to be a general media consensus that things have gone quiet, with the result that, when the usual news of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations is reported, it’s always prefaced with something like Suicide Blast Shatters a Calm (NYT 15 July) or after a week of relative calm (Seattle Times 7 July).

Regardless of the calmness or otherwise of the situation, the installation of Allawi as PM has certainly produced a new dynamic. Allawi has moved quickly to establish himself as a strongman, resolving by default the questions left unanswered in the “handover”. His announcements of emergency powers and the establishment of a security service/secret police have been criticised, but they amount to little more than the assumption of powers previously exercised by the CPA with no legal basis of any kind. The big question before the handover was whether any new military operations would be under the control of the interim government or of the American military. Allawi has moved pretty quickly to ensure that he will give the orders here, putting the onus on the American military to come to his aid if his forces run into serious resistance.

Allawi has also moved to split the insurgency, distinguishing between “legitimate” resistance forces (essentially those whose attacks were directed at the occupying forces) and terrorists (Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda offshoot, and the remaining supporters of Saddam). The big beneficiary of this is Moktada al-Sadr whom Bremer tried to suppress in his last weeks, but who is now more popular and powerful than ever[1]. In a fairly standard move in situations of this kind, Sadr has switched from overt resistance activities to vigilante work, directed both at the Al Qaeda, Wahhabist and Saddamist insurgents and at “prostitutes, pimps, pornography sellers, gamblers – and those who sell alcohol.”[2] Naturally enough, other Shiite leaders are alarmed at this and are trying to find a way to isolate al-Sadr (as always, Juan Cole has the story covered). But, having fought the Americans and lived to tell the tale, al-Sadr is pretty much untouchable now.

At this stage, there are three plausible outcomes for Iraq over the next year or so. The first is that Allawi will succeed in crushing the insurgency where Bremer failed, and will also manage to divide and rule the Shiite majority. The likely outcome in this case is a strongman government, comparable to the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and broadly sympathetic to the US. The second is that elections will produce a Shi-ite majority government, including al_Sadr. Such a government would be overtly hostile to the US, and would almost certainly demand early withdrawal of the occupying forces. The third is that the insurgents will succeed in reducing the country to chaos. My money is on the second. It seems clear now that it would have been far better to have held elections in 2003, when the dominant Shiite voice was the relatively quietist Sistani and before disasters like those in Fallujah and Najaf.

Update Commenting on the version of this piece at my blog, reader Jack Strocchi points to this Sydney Morning Herald piece, which includes allegations that Iraqi PM Allawi personally executed prisoners at a Baghdad police station. The killings supposedly took place a week or so before the handover of sovereignty. Allawi has denied the allegations , and, although the SMH has statements from purported eyewitnesses, it seems implausible that Allawi would take such a risk for no reason, especially with the handover only a week away.

The more important point that comes out of the article is that the spread of such rumours is, on the whole, good for Allawi’s popularity in Iraq. I compared him to Mubarak, but, as Jack (channeling Steve Sailer) points out, Putin provides a better analogy in many ways. It’s not hard to imagine a situation where, with even partial success against the insurgency, Allawi could get control of most of the levers of power and secure majority support/acquiescence through some sort of plebiscite.

fn1. Amazingly, the US military is touting the campaign against al-Sadr as a textbook success in counterinsurgency

fn2. Very similar things are being done in Sunni “no-go zones” like Fallujah. The days of “Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy” are a long way behind us now.



Bob 07.16.04 at 2:24 pm

“There seems to be a general media consensus that things have gone quiet . . ”

Compare this:


norbizness 07.16.04 at 2:25 pm

My bold prediction: we topple Allawi in 2025 under the firm, decisive leadership of George P. Bush (Jeb’s son). 20 years is about the average half-life of a CIA strongman, right?


Barry 07.16.04 at 2:37 pm

Norbizness, only America-Haters would point out the alleged fact that he was supposedly installed by some sort of vague, UN action. And posting photos of Vice President Bremer allegedly ‘handing over sovereignity’ to him in some sort of ‘ceremony’ is illegal under the Patriot II, III, IV, V and VI Acts.


1MaNLan 07.16.04 at 3:14 pm

My money is also on an election, most probably of a moderate Shi-ite candidate of the Sistani variety. Although Sadr is a symbol of resistance to the occupation, my take is that he does not enjoy wide support as far as his fundamentalist policies go. Also, it is important to point out that Sistani has been supremely patient. He could have issued an anticoalition edict when Sadr revolted against the ill-advised American attempt to neutralize him. He did not go down that road. That fact that he did not does not mean that he won’t or can’t….so the elections better be seen by his supporters as legitimate and fair. On the other hand, I am reading that the Kurds are being armed and trained by the Israelis. The Turks are getting angry already about this and have said that they will not allow an independent Kurdistan (which will look for territories in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, its traditional homeland). Sistani has said he will not allow it to break away from Iraq, either. No matter which way things go in Iraq, there is likely to be trouble. The Americans and company could not provide stability or security in Iraq and much of the country is a no go area. This explains to some degree the lack of substantive coverage. A weak, fledgeling Iraqi government is not likely to do any better at rooting out opposition, at least for a couple of years.


Matthew2 07.16.04 at 4:05 pm

“Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy”

Ouch! A blast from the past…


Rajeev Advani 07.16.04 at 4:55 pm

John, I find you’re too dismissive in referring to the case of Sadr (I’m referring to your footnote.) It was a startling success; who knows how many thought Sadr would spark a general uprising/civil war. And the techniques used to disarm him: massive combat power followed by civil works projects, seems effective and worthwhile to have in textbook or two.


Rajeev Advani 07.16.04 at 4:55 pm

John, I find you’re too dismissive in referring to the case of Sadr (I’m referring to your footnote.) It was a startling success; who knows how many thought Sadr would spark a general uprising/civil war. And the techniques used to disarm him: massive combat power followed by civil works projects, seems effective and worthwhile to have in a textbook or two.


Dan Hardie 07.16.04 at 5:40 pm

On the issue of ‘calm’, both CNN and the Washington Post (‘Faces of the Fallen’) run irregularly updated lists of US fatalities, both combat and non-combat. Since the autumn of ’03, the mode figure for deaths has been approx. 40 per month, with usually 30-35 combat deaths; falling below this in Feb ’03, much higher in April and May, and back to 41 (according to the CNN photos, although the graph hasn’t yet been updated) in June.

Fatalities listed by CNN from July 1st-13th are very high: 32 so far, 25 of them in combat. If they continue at this rate the US forces will have one of their worst months yet. There seems to be a lot of unreported fighting, particularly in Al Anbar province.

The media do seem to be avoiding the provinces, simply because it is so dangerous- Jonathan Steele of the Guardian, praised by Hitchens for reporting facts favourable to the US occupation, none the less said he rarely went outside Baghdad because the Iraqi provinces were the most dangerous environment he’d ever seen. The insurgency doesn’t seem to be anywhere near out of steam, as the normally gung-ho Jim Hoagland notes in today’s WaPo.

(NB: I am quoting the US troop deaths not because I don’t value the deaths of Iraqis, but because I can’t find any remotely reliable source for the deaths of either Iraqi civilians or guerrillas. CNN compiles names of killed non-US coalition troops, but keeps this info off its graphs.)

I would also hazard a guess that the jihadis may find it possible to oblige Allawi to ask the Americans out in force. The print version of the WSJ has been reporting that 98% of the US Federal funds mandated for Iraqi reconstruction is unspent, and that the Iraqi govt. is dependent for an estimated 80% of its revenue on oil proceeds. If I were a jihadi, I would order attacks on the oil infrastructure, and Allawi will more or less have to mount a big crackdown to defend them. If he can do this with Iraqi heavies, so much the better. If he can’t, the US will have to do it for him.


roger 07.16.04 at 6:29 pm

Never underestimate the effects of the Bush administration’s incompetence. According to a report in a major Australian paper, the Age, that came out this morning and has achieved pass-around status on the lefty blogs, Allawi personally executed 6 prisoners the week before he was elevated to the presidency through the good offices of the Iraqi Governing Council. If true, the story won’t be reported for at least two weeks in the American papers, and then will creep in through some page A-8 story. But eventually it will achieve enough mass that it will hit the frong pages.
No WMD. No tie with Al Qaeda. And now no democratic leader. The project sinks a little deeper in the water every day.


gavin 07.16.04 at 7:12 pm

Well, apart from the programmes, the intentions, the missing stuff, the sarin shells, and the uranium.

No tie with Al Qaeda.
No tie to 9-11, perhaps, but lots of general ties to AQ and other groups, the money paid to suicide bombers, the plan to kill Bush 41, and the stuff Putin talked about recently.

And now no democratic leader.
Obviously really, there haven’t been any elections yet!


roger 07.16.04 at 7:37 pm

The programs and the intention? Hmm, somehow I didn’t hear that in the rush to war. Bush never said, someday, Saddam might get his hands on some chemical weapons. No, he sent Powell to the U.N. with details — details they were very proud of — of current systems. Evidence that consisted of telephone transcripts — which turned out not to be what Powell said they were. Evidence of unmanned air vehicles for spraying chemicals — which turned out to be unsuited to spraying chemicals.
Sarin? The army itself discounted that evidence. The shell it was in was of pre-98 manufacture, probably 91. That shells with Sarin might have been dumped in ammo dumps that are all around Iraq was not exactly a cause for war, and wasn’t presented as such.
As for Powell, the Senate report has established that the sources of information were scurrilously bad.
Ties with Al Q. No. Not one record of a monetary transaction. Not one record of a weapons transaction. Not one record of any kind of material support whatsoever.
Hard to find you say? Well, not that hard to find. We know that Pakistan’s ISI even cooperated with the killer of Daniel Pearl, who did send money to Mohammed Atta.
Our punishment for Pakistan was severe. We granted them 3 billion dollars.
Uranium? Where is it? Aluminum tubes? The CIA convened independent experts to study the tubes. They came back with a negative. So the CIA sent them back to the drawing board.
Missing stuff. Wow, we have been on the ground for 15 months — without any elections yet, and with a potential murderer at the helm! — and we can’t find it? Either we are criminally understaffed — which would make sense, since we are criminally understaffed – and made a half hearted attempt to find the stuff — endangering the rest of the middle east with its dispersal — or it wasn’t there.

With that as a standard, better start rev up the helicopters for going after… well, name the country. Georgia?

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