Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies is one of the leading military analysts on Iraq and the Middle East. In September 2008 he wrote a report on transferring Iraq’s provinces to Baghdad’s control, and its consequences. He notes that while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been able to wield the hammer recently in security operations, the Iraqi government still has not proven that it can carry out the more difficult build and hold aspects of a successful counterinsurgency program. That includes reconciliation, and real governance at all levels; something hindered by the deep divisions between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.
Iraq’s political system is still developing. The three main groups in Iraq, the Sunnis, the Shiites, and Kurds still have deep disagreements over the future of the country, which hinders the development of the government. Reconciliation is an important and necessary step to overcome these problems. Iraq has passed several reconciliation laws as part of this process, but it is always the implementation that matters.
The Accountability and Justice Law for example, was passed to replace the old Debaathification act from the American Coalition Provisional Authority. As reported earlier, no officials have been appointed to the Supreme National Commission on Accountability and Justice that is suppose to administer it. The government has been using this as an excuse not to follow it, except for the Interior Ministry, which has accepted former officers into the security forces. This is happening despite the fact that the new law says that no ex-Baathists can work for the ministry. It says a lot about Iraqis inability to follow through on legislation it passes when most of the government is ignoring the Accountability and Justice act, but the one ministry that is forbidden from doing so, is. It is no wonder then that this law and others like it have not ameliorated the distrust of the Sunnis.
In early 2009, Iraq is scheduled to have provincial elections, which could also change the country’s political make-up. Cordesman points out, that simply having a vote, doesn’t add authority or legitimacy. What is important is the type of governance that happens afterwards. In Iraq’s case, three elections since the invasion have done little to solve the nation’s divisions.
Voting has not fixed other problems such as the government’s inability to spend its budget and provide basic services. Cordesman doesn’t mention it, but Prime Minister Maliki’s announcements to rebuild Basra, Sadr City, Mosul, Maysan, and Diyala provinces provide perfect examples of the government’s inability to build after security operations have cleared. After each military offensive in those five areas, the Prime Minister said that Baghdad would spend $100 million to help with reconstruction. So far those have been empty promises. In Basra, the governor argued over spending the money. Similarly, in Sadr City, the local council couldn’t agree on contracts. In Mosul, Maysan, and Diyala, nothing has happened. In fact, the U.S. and England are doing whatever reconstruction is happening in Basra and Sadr City because Baghdad has not proven to be up to the task.
On October 3, 2008 Iraq received control of the 12th province, Babil in the south, from the United States. All of Iraq’s provinces are suppose to be turned over to Baghdad by early 2009. These are important steps towards Iraq receiving full sovereignty. However, the provinces are turned over when the number of attacks in each province decreases, not whether the provincial governments are working or whether there is any reconciliation. Cordesman argues that this happens many times whether the Iraqis are ready or not. In the March 2008 quarterly report to Congress, the Pentagon said that the turnover of Basra had been successful, there was less violence, and that the Army and police were in control. That month Maliki launched an offensive against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army that led to bloody fighting in the city of Basra and across the south.
Cordesman’s conclusion is that while there has been military progress in Iraq, the more important political and economic development has lagged behind. Baghdad has not been able to carry out meaningful reconciliation. The central government and provinces are barely able to provide basic service and spend their budgets. Iraqi elections in 2009 have the opportunity to shuffle the seats of power in the governorates, but they will still be sitting at the same broken table. The U.S. has put too much emphasis on security as a benchmark. Now that that is improving, it is time for Washington and Baghdad to step up their efforts to build Iraq’s infrastructure and government so that it can hold the country together.
For more on Anthony Cordesman’s writings on Iraq see:
Anthony Cordesman, CSIS Report on Iraqi Forces
Cordesman Interview: U.S. Needs To Stay For The Long Haul In Iraq
Aswat al-Iraq, “Maliki allocates $100 million for Mosul projects,” 5/18/08
- “Over 7,500 police members sacked this year – official,” 5/29/08
- “Parl’t forms accountability & justice panel next term – MP,” 9/8/08
- “SIIC head, Babel governor take up security,” 10/22/08
Biddle, Stephen, Nasr, Vali, Nash, William, “Political and Security Developments in Iraq and the Region,” Council on Foreign Relations, 6/12/08
Cordesman, Anthony, “Transferring Provinces To Iraqi Control: The Reality And The Risks,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9/2/08
Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008
International Center for Transitional Justice, “Briefing Paper: Iraq’s New ‘Accountability and Justice’ Law,” 1/22/08
Rubin, Alissa and Goode, Erica, “Iraq Struggle Unfolds in Peaceful Protest and Violent Attacks in Sadr City,” New York Times, 4/28/08
Al-Sabaah, “Cabinet allocates $ 100 mln to Diyala province,” 8/7/08
Senanayake, Sumedha, “Iraq: Will Passage Of New Law Appease Sunnis?” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1/15/08
Tavernise, Sabrina, “Shiite Militia in Baghdad Sees Its Power Ebb,” New York Times, 7/27/08
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