Sunday, August 28, 2005

"Letter from an Iraqi Reader" to Juan Cole

Juan Cole posts this communication he received from someone he describes as "an acute Iraqi-American observer." This is to Cole's credit, since on several important issues his correspondent disagrees (to a greater or lesser extent) with Cole's recent analyses.

Some of the points below strike me as more convincing than others, but on the whole it seems clear that Cole is right to describe this person as "acute," and what he has to say is worth pondering. Point #3 strikes me as especially on target (to say the least!), and point #4 as especially poignant.

--Jeff Weintraub


From the weblog of Juan Cole ("Informed Comment")
Sunday, August 28, 2005

Letter from an Iraqi Reader
An acute Iraqi-American observer writes:

' I agree with much of what you wrote in your latest article in However, I think that your genuine good wishes for the iraqi people are superceded by the selfish interest of different groups in Iraq.

Here are a few selfish interests that will play big:

1) Shiites are probably the majority even in Baghdad, or at minimum 50% of the Baghdad population (especially with sadr city's 2 million shiites, and other prominent shiite districts like Sha'ab, Shu'la, Khadhimiya). Almost certainly Baghdad would NOT be included in the shiite federation of the south as envisioned by Al-Hakim and others because then the concept of a federation really doesnt make much sense when you pretty much include all the major cities except for Anbar and provinces to the north. Shiites in Baghdad will not want to be left to being a minority in a "Sunni" federation, and Sunnis in Baghdad will not want to be part of a "shiite" federation. There is a strong possibility then that most shiites in Baghdad would vote AGAINST the constitution over the federalism issue. That would most certainly seal the constitution's fate when combined with votes from Anbar, Sallahudin, and Mosul.

2) You and I might agree that SCIRI is under the thumbs of the mullahs of Iran, but the bottom line is that they do have huge influence in the south. Ironically, in a way it is like the Christian Coalition's over reaching power in US politics. Here you have whackos like Pat Robertson who may not be representative of American Christians in general, but still has influence with the Bush administration. Al-Hakim does NOT represent all shiites, but he does have that kind of influence because he is very well organized in terms of political, social, and security services. While the Christian coalition does not have a militia, they did exploit their superb organizational skills to help bush win the last election. For al-Hakim's supporters, there is no compelling reason for them to give up their selfish interests in the south. So, with regards to your article, I would like to see what you would propose as an incentive for Shiites like al-Hakim to compromise?

3) Baathists....I am all for allowing former Baathists who did not commit major crimes to work in the new Iraqi government, but I think it is quite unreasonable to be forced into letting the baathist party re-establish itself. Baathism was brutal to most Iraqis. For Saleh al-Mutlak to say that the Baathist party is the "best party we ever had" and expect people like me to be sympathetic to him, he has another think coming. When it comes to the Sunnis, they need to get over their feelings that they should be ruling Iraq. In truth, I think most Sunnis simply do not even respect Shiites or Kurds as being worthy of leading iraq. The Sunni view is that Shiites and Kurds did not achieve power independently and are just holding on to the coat-tails of the americans. Why should the Sunnis then take the Shiites seriously. The Sunnis probably think that when America leaves, they can re-assert themselves and rule iraq once again. That is why they are determined to maintain control over the whole of Iraq through a strong central government. That central government will be the vehicle by which they regain their power over the whole of iraq once america is gone. How do you propose to bring them back to reality where they understand that they cannot rule iraq while being less than 20% and not having tanks and helicopters?

4) Iraqis like me are stuck between all these groups. I am religous, but I don't want religion in the constitution. I think federalism is ok as long as it doesnt lead to the break up of Iraq . . . While my wife does wear hijab, I don't want laws in place that force her to. Baathists can go back to work, but I am sickened by people who are heartless and carry the picture of Saddam with pride and forget the suffering he has caused to millions of people. Unfortunately, people with my types of views tend never to be able to hold the same level of influence as the al-Hakim or Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars types. How do you enable moderates to have a stronger say at the table? '