Friday, December 02, 2005

Can't Tell the Players without a Program, but is the Game Gonna Actually Count?

In the colorless but thorough manner of the Financial Times, Steve Negus and Neil MacDonald help make sense of the shifting welter of Iraqi political forces by reminding us that

[A] pan-Shia conglomerat[e] union of both Islamists and secularists called the United Iraqi Alliance took nearly half the total vote [in January], riding on support from members of the country’s majority sect anxious to claim what they believed to be their rightful role leading the country, as well as the blessing of influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The FT expects these coalitions to morph in both composition and weight, however, since January was about preliminaries to a Constitution, whereas December is supposed to be about setting up a more real, or at any rate less symbolic, or possibly just apparently slightly distanced from the US, apparatus of government.

Here's the crux (or crescent). Not all of the Shia candidates are bound within clerical coalitions this crack out of the box.

The former UIA members’ grassroots appeal is untested, but for so many Shia politicians to strike out alone suggests that they think there are votes to be won from secular-minded Shia and others sceptical of the current government’s perceived sectarianism and inefficiency.

One of these former UIA members is Ahmed Chalabi, the leader and paymaster of the Iraq National Congress, who is not-so-coincidentally a fatally-compromised US intelligence fundsucker, Judy Miller source, and (what comes down to the same thing as the other two) serial fabulist.

His is not necessarily, however, the determinant note amid the symphony, or depending on your approach to Arab music and politics, cacophony of pan-Shia voices. The extent to which he is isolated and abandonded by voters will furnish an early indicator as to whether something good may yet arise out of Baghdad. Mercifully there are plenty of other potential Shia representatives who are neither mortally US-tainted nor excessively clericed-up.

However, the entire electoral exercise, taking place as it does within a ring of US bayonets, may not be allowed to have any validity on the ground in Iraq once that ring is drawn down within a year. (For a prophetic parallel, think no further back than the ill-starred fate of the quavering dependents of the late Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, once French troops were withdrawn in the face of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's hardy veterans massed along the Texas border in 1867. No, don't think of any Saigon rooftop helicopters at all.)

Yet it is barely possible, though it seems incredible, that the Bush administration continues to think it has until the 2008 elections to finesse the Vietnamization, er, Iraqization process. Those who do not know that the slapdash rhetorical tricks of Rovism are now "one with Niniveh and Tyre," despite his insentient clinging to the vestiges of influence, apparently imagine that public opinion will not quite have caught up with them by the 2006 midterms. There will be penalties for those who have not been paying attention to changes in American sentiment. Some of us can hardly wait to watch them being meted out.

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