Iraq: Friendly Bigots


November 12, 2009: The large scale bombings of government buildings in Baghdad over the last three months created a public uproar against the government. Democracy in action. In response, senior officials decided to fire over 10,000 Sunni Arab members of the security forces. But the bombings continued. Since it was Sunni Arab terrorists doing the bombing, it was assumed that Sunni Arab security personnel were assisting them. That was partly true, but the terrorists often just bribed security personnel to let them through, and most Iraqi police and soldiers (whatever their religious preferences) were willing to take the money and look the other way. It gets worse. The thousands of dismissed Sunni Arab security personnel were the most experienced (as they had worked for Saddam), and most likely to be able to deal with cops who could be bought or rented.

Iraq has a loyalty problem. Too many Iraqis are only willing to give absolute (no bribes will work) loyalty to family or tribe. Thus at the national level, too many Iraqis can be bought, and you can never be sure who you can trust. Saddam dealt with this problem by trusting no one, except family and tribe. Even then, he constantly moved people around, and had to kill a few of his closest associates, to inspire more loyalty from the others. In a democracy, you replace the bullets with cash. The Iraqi government is so corrupt because many politicians see it as a matter of life or death to shower close associates with stolen money, to insure their loyalty. The one exception to this is the Kurds, who fear the Arab majority so much, that they have become, by local standards, incorruptible in security matters. The Kurds are still divided by families and clans, and still willing to be bought, but not when it comes to security. Many Kurds make a good living down south, as security contractors. This is actually a tradition that goes back centuries. You want a reliable bodyguard, go hire a Kurd.

Still, Iraqis have taken too democracy. On the down side, they have splintered into hundreds (296 at last count) parties. This reflects the narrow loyalties of most Iraqis. These parties form coalitions, which do most of the wheeling and dealing in parliament. As years, and decades, go by, the number of parties will decline and more Iraqis will be loyal to nation, rather than tribe.

Most Iraqis still believe Kuwait is part of Iraq, which provides the potential for another invasion of this neighboring country. Inside Iraq, Islamic conservatives have taken control of religious education in public schools. Here, Moslem children are taught that it is their duty to stay clear of non-Moslems and be prepared to eventually fight them. Scary stuff, especially if some of your childhood friends are non-Moslem. Iraq was ten percent Christian in the 20th century, but decades of Islamic conservative hostility has caused most of the those Christians to immigrate. This is a pattern seen all over the region in the last century. But a few percent of Iraqis are still non-Moslem (mostly Christians), and they are not made comfortable or welcome.

November 8, 2009: After months of arguing, parliament finally passed the new voting law. The elections will be held on January 21st, and the number of seats increased from 275 to 323 (to reflect population increases). Most importantly, the Kirkuk problem was settled, sort of. The Kurds had demanded that new voting rolls be used (that reflect the large number of Kurds who had returned to the city in the last few years). Arabs and Turks wanted older voting lists to be used, and for the central government to run the vote. But the Kurds will be able to run the vote, with the government having a vague "right of review." So this struggle is not yet over, but at least the national elections can go on.




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