Anybody but Zarqawi

by John Quiggin on October 14, 2004

For once, there has been a little bit of encouraging news coming out of Iraq. I’ve also been encouraged by some of the reactions I’ve seen.

First, there was the announcement of a deal between the occupation forces/interim government and al-Sadr under which Sadr’s Mehdi army would surrender its heavy weapons and join the election process in return for cash handouts and reconstruction money, release of imprisoned leaders and other concessions. It’s a safe bet that the terms of this compromise won’t be fully observed by either side. Like Sinn Fein, I’m sure the Sadrists intend to keep a “pike in the thatch”, and the Americans have routinely failed to deliver on their promises in Iraq (reconstruction, precision targeting etc). Still, this is the kind of messy process that you’d expect in drawing a group like the Sadrists (part political militia, part street gang) into a political process with no track record and little legitimacy.

Even better is the news, discussed by Belle that nationalist insurgents in Fallujah, such as the First Army of Mohammad are getting tired of the foreign fighters who have been attracted to the city since it became a no-go zone. Although it may well turn out that not all members of these groups are actually foreigners, this label provides a convenient way of distinguishing between Islamic Iraqi nationalists and the jihadi groups led (or at least symbolised) by Zarqawi. It is the latter who appear to be responsible for most of the really horrific stuff that is going on at the moment – kidnappings, beheadings, suicide bombings and so forth, all seen as part of the general worldwide jihad[1] against the infidels. By contrast, the people of Fallujah in general had no enmity against the Americans until they came to Iraq, and would not wish to pursue them if they left.

It’s equally encouraging that most of the supporters of the war I’ve read seem to agree that this as good news. Only a couple of months ago many of them were demanding that Sadr be killed, and his movement crushed. As for the Army of Mohammad, it was the prospect of letting the Fallujans off that led the Americans to veto Allawi’s proposed amnesty just after the handover. Now, suddenly, it looks as if they are all going to become official good guys, just like the Baathists before them.

All of this is good news, in my view. At this point, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the most we can hope for from Iraq is that it does not become a terrorist base like Afghanistan under the Taliban, and that it doesn’t revert to a full-scale dictatorship like that of Saddam. Apart from that, I hope the Americans realise that, by now, it’s too late to pick and choose. If elections can be held, and produce a sustainable government, whether it’s dominated by Sistani, Sadr, Allawi or even the Army of Mohammed, that’s a lot better than any feasible alternative. And if the new government demands an immediate withdrawal, the US ought not to wait for them to change their minds.

Of course, even if the insurgents could be persuaded to join, or at least tolerate, the political process, the fundamental divisions (Shia, Sunni, Kurd; tribal/urban, and so on) that make Iraqi democracy such a problematic prospect would still be there. If Bush was looking for a road to democracy in the Middle East, he would, like the traveller in the story, have been well advised to start somewhere else. But it’s too late to worry about that.

fn1. Or crusade, if you prefer it in English

{ 25 comments }

1

abb1 10.14.04 at 11:34 am

Yeah, right, it’s all about Zarqawi.

He is The Great Satan who prevents Beautiful Democracy from flourishing in Iraq.

If only we could get (capture or kill) evil Zarqawi, everything would be different, the dead-enders would immediately quit fighting the Americans and their proxies.

Wait a second – didn’t we hear exactly the same about Saddam?

Falluja Negotiator: Iraq Govt.’s Demand Absurd

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq (news – web sites)’s interim prime minister has threatened to attack Falluja unless it turns in foreign militants, but a negotiator for the rebel-held city said on Thursday its people were being asked to chase shadows.
[…]
“Zarqawi is like the weapons of mass destruction that America invaded Iraq for,” Maddab said, alluding to Saddam Hussein (news – web sites)’s arsenal of banned arms that proved not to exist.

“We hear about that name (Zarqawi), but he is not here. More than 20 or 30 homes have been bombarded because of this Zarqawi and his followers but only women, children and the elderly have been affected,” the negotiator added.

2

John Quiggin 10.14.04 at 12:06 pm

abb, as I say in the post, all sorts of things are attributed to Zarqawi and “foreign fighters”, without much basis. But whoever is responsible, the beheadings, unlike the WMD’s are all too real.

3

Donald Johnson 10.14.04 at 12:35 pm

The beheadings and suicide bombings are real, but from what an AP story said a week or two ago, the American forces may be responsible for about two thirds of the civilian deaths. So the Muslim terrorists aren’t responsible for most of the really horrific things going on–they’re only responsible for some of them.

I agree that the news is encouraging for Iraqis–for their own sake they need to get rid of people who kill innocent people. But that would include the US forces and according to a NYT story on October 12, Pentagon officials think the death of Iraqi civilians in American air attacks can be useful in persuading the more moderate Iraqi resistance fighters to turn against the terrorists in their midst (foreigners or local) . It bothers me to read posts like this where that fairly important fact gets left out. There’s something to be said for being “realistic”, which means adopting a viewpoint that the political mainstream finds comfortable. You can talk to people across the political spectrum that way without getting into shouting matches, but it involves a fair amount of self-censorship.

4

jet 10.14.04 at 12:59 pm

Unless the polls have changed drasatically in the last few months, they were still showing a majority of Iraqis support for the US in Iraq. Something like 60% want the US to stay and provide security. But on the other side, something like 75% think the invasion was wrong and want the US out as fast as possible. I’m sure those numbers aren’t exact, but probably close enough for a comment.
In the end, Iraq probably won’t be that stable, but if oil production can ramp up, there will be something like 3 million barrels of oil a day. At $40-$50 a barrel and a population of 25 million and no crazy dictator propping up a huge military infasctructure, I think Iraq is going to be alright. That is a lot of money to smooth out the wrinkles.

5

Buck 10.14.04 at 1:32 pm

Jet, the polls I’ve seen in the last six-nine months showed that most Iraqis were ready to take their chances without us. Right around April, in fact, they decided that the “security” we were providing wasn’t worth it.

Oil and money will not smooth out the wrinkles.

6

Hugo 10.14.04 at 2:09 pm

Even if the democratic process goes as smoothly as is feasible, it will still produce a weak government that is dependent upon U.S. forces for its survival. In other words, whether it likes it or not, any government will have to be a U.S. ally simply in order to surive. And that’s all the U.S. wants or needs – a weak, pro-American government that has basic control over central Baghdad and the pipelines.

7

abb1 10.14.04 at 2:12 pm

John,

But whoever is responsible, the beheadings, unlike the WMD’s are all too real.

I am saying that the beheadings are just the tip of the iceberg, a symptom, like, say, the Black Panthers were an extreme manifestation of the US civil rights movement. Or Hamas suicide bombers and Palestinian intifada.

It’s just a relatively insignificant symptom of a very big problem, the occupation.

8

Giles 10.14.04 at 3:55 pm

“there will be something like 3 million barrels of oil a day. At $40-$50 a barrel and a population of 25 million”

Thats 6 dollar per person per a day – if the oil had no extraction costs. Hardly enough to deliver prosperity.

9

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.14.04 at 4:29 pm

Actually $1 per day per person in Iraq (if distributed to all or substantially all of the people) could do quite a bit for the prosperity of Iraq.

10

nirtak 10.14.04 at 4:42 pm

Whether six dollars per person per day is a lot of money would depend on what people in Iraq survive on now, don’t you think? I don’t have any numbers at my fingertips, but I have a hunch it six dollars would be quite a substantial increase.
You are right about the extraction costs, though – and what is even more important, while the money would no longer prop up a huge military infrastructure, it won’t be any use if it goes into propping up something else, like the partisan political base of a few politicians, whoever they are…

11

jet 10.14.04 at 6:16 pm

Saudi pumps the sweet stuff at a cost of $10/barrel. Iraq won’t have the nice western sponsored infastructure show up over night, so their cost per barrel will probably be significantly higher. But it will still be much lower than the $20-35/barrel it costs in the US. So we have a country of 25 million with a candy resource that requires very little man power to move and gets something like $40Billion per year, and we still have people saying that is “only $6 per person”. That is over $2,000 per person. Me thinks thee dost protest too much.

In reality they are already making some of that oil money already. So I guess we will only be adding a 50% increase to the countries GDP which apparently isn’t a big deal to those “progressives” who can’t see something good in Iraq if it was shoved up their ass (and the point is if it was shoved up your ass you wouldnt have to see it, now would you, because the burning discomfort in your colon would be proof positive of its existance).

Sorry for the rant but I go off when someone says the sky is red and it is obviously fucking maroon.

12

Giles 10.14.04 at 6:22 pm

No the point is that even if all the oil was costlessly and perfectly distributed that would still only give each person 2000 dollars per capita – i.e. Iraq would still be classified as a poor country by world economic standards.

The smallness of the figure is the essence of what is wrong with the middle east and many resource rich countries – people just hear x million barrels at y$ and think whow what a lot of money. What they forget is to divide by z million people.

As the back of the envelope calculations show, oil alone, at virtually any price, cant make the majority of people in Iraq even moderately well off by world standards. They’re going to have to do something else as well to achieve development. So both the insurgents who are hitting the pipelines and the parties who are dreaming that once the oil flows all will be well are deluding themselves. Oil isn’t really as much of an issue as they’d like to think.

13

Giles 10.14.04 at 6:40 pm

nb 2000 pa alot?

countries with 2000 dollars pc GDP

Dominican Republic, West Bank, tonga, Guatamala, Jordan.

Its not alot. Period.

14

jet 10.14.04 at 6:41 pm

Giles,

But oil isn’t all Iraq has. Iraq has others sources of income than oil. My point was that even if Iraq is only moderately successful in building industries, they get 30-40 Billion a year roughly free (not much manpower required). And if that oil stays state owned and not handed out as gifts for political interests, it will provide a lot of capital the country is going to need.

I’m certainly not implieing that oil is the magic fix Iraq fairy. But to discount the major boon it would be is dishonest.

15

abb1 10.14.04 at 6:51 pm

I dunno, I think I am with jet on this one (even tho it doesn’t have anything to do with Zarqawi ‘n stuff).

Something like 30% of the world’s population live on less than 2 bucks a day.

$2K/head = $8K for a family of 4. This simply means that you’ll never go hungry or sleep in a ditch. Not too bad considering that it’s a gift.

But of course there is no chance it’ll be equally distributed now; ironically, this is how was, I understand, under Saddam in the 70s and 80s.

16

Giles 10.14.04 at 6:53 pm

No jet, I think a middle income country is about 5000 dollars per capita. So oil helps Iraq get about 40% of the way there.

But more important than the extraction costs is the implicit rescources curse – and in Iraq’s case I think this is the belief that its wealth can be built on oil.

17

jet 10.14.04 at 7:06 pm

Abb1,

While I realize this is a tangent to a tangent, I hardly think it plausible that in the 80’s Saddam was “equally distribut”ing the oil revenues. He was fighting a war with Iran and going into debt up to his neck with France, Germany, and Russia. If that oil money was being cut evenly to each citizen, I’m Colonel Sanders and I sell chicken.

I’ll concede that off the top of my head I can’t point to anything concrete to refute your premise that 1970’s Iraq was a Marxist utopia. But for some reason I don’t think the corruption, fractured structure of the country, and strong military spending spontaneously appeared the day before the Iraq-Iran war.

18

jet 10.14.04 at 7:14 pm

Giles, why did you have to burst my bubble. I was going along happily in dream land where middle-eastern countries don’t try to make oil do everything and actually create strong industries with double digit growth potential.

Oh well, I guess spending on research until we had 5 cent per kilowatt hour solar power would have been a better alternative to the war and Saddam could have rotted in Iraq and tried to pay for WMD’s with sand.

19

abb1 10.14.04 at 7:42 pm

Well, it wasn’t a Marxist utopia, of course, but I have an impression that their economic system worked pretty much the same way as the Soviet economy: sell oil/gas – subsidize various government-run industries and organizations – pay pretty much the same salary to everyone. Of course there is a top layer of ‘nomenklatura’ – corrupt bureaucracy, but I imagine most of the oil revenues were in the end distributed more or less equally.

Now, I think, Paul Bremer already wrote into their constitution that everything has be privatized and the maximum tax rate is 15%. So, it’s going to be more like a Libertarian Utopia.

20

Roger Hurwitz 10.14.04 at 8:26 pm

folks, one of the reasons why oil is $54/brl is because of the reduced and uncertain supply of Iraqi oil. If it could pump 3 M bpd (and that will not be under best conditions for a year plus), the price of crude would likely be south of $40.

Moreover payback of foreign loans and royalties instead of full revenue on some of the oil, in addition to extraction and industry rehabilitation costs are going to amount available for distribution. This makes even distribution more unlikely and will exacerbate tensions in the North where there is already considerable ArabKurd rivalry over control of Kirkuk.

Were equal distribution of revenue the great panacea, then the best US strategy would be to pull troops out immediately and flow the next schedule $80 billion expenditures directly to the Iraqi population. but that I am afraid would not be serving the strategic interests of the Bush administration.

21

JRoth 10.14.04 at 9:03 pm

I’m sorry to be obtuse, but I’m not getting jet’s 7:14 post; I mean, it sounds sarcastic, but the only land in which ME countries create wealth (as opposed to extracting it) is, indeed, a dreamland.

22

a different chris 10.14.04 at 10:34 pm

>(if distributed to all or substantially all of the people)

Did I just spot a Milton Friedman-class assumption?

Oh, and another one just swam by:

>And if that oil stays state owned and not handed out as gifts for political interests

Roger, I’m not so sure anything but a serious shift of energy use (please god not coal) will bring oil back below $40, but otherwise I think you are spot on. That stuff is simply crack cocaine for government.

23

Giles 10.14.04 at 10:52 pm

Turning to the figures for Iraq

In 1970 GDP per capita was $ 3470 and Population 9.4 million
In 1980 GDP per capita was $6400 and Population 13 Million
In 1990 GDP per capita was $2460 and Population 18 million
In 2000 GDP per capita was $1221 and Population 22.7 million

So at current oil prices if we add the ½ the $2000 oil bonus in full, we take Iraq back to the standard of living it had in 1990. If oil doubles to 100 dollars, we take Iraq back to 1970. If oil doubles again i.e. $200 per barrel, we take Iraq back to its hey day of the 1980s. Point is that because its population has doubled, the potential benefits of oil are smaller than Iraqi think – it s not just Saddam that caused the fall in wealth but also the doubling in population. Hence there will be no return to the boom days of the 70s based on oil.

24

Donald Johnson 10.15.04 at 8:39 pm

Sanctions also played a major role in lowering Iraq’s GDP.

Where, by the way, did the GDP statistics come from? They’re quite different from others I’ve seen cited. Not that I have any reason to believe one set over the other.

25

Giles 10.15.04 at 11:37 pm

Dat is From Maddison

Data From Easterly (who claims his souce is PWT) are
1970 4409
1975 5463
1980 7242
1987 3204

Why are my figure high or lower than you’ve seen?

Anyway aside from Population growth, I think it looks like GW1 knocked 1000 off and sanctions another 1000.

Comments on this entry are closed.