Iraq: April 5, 2005


More than two months after the January 30th election, the legislators have finally formed a government. The major problem was agreeing on a Sunni Arab to be Speaker of the Assembly. In a formula similar to that adopted by Lebanon (and many other ethnically divided nations, including the United States), a Shia Arab was to be Prime Minister (the most powerful job), a Kurd the President (head of state, much less power) and a Sunni Arab the Speaker of the Assembly (also less power.) Ministry jobs were to reward everyone (including smaller minorities like Turks and Christians) in proportion. But the Sunni Arabs have an additional problem in that many of their prominent men are tainted by past association with Saddam or the Baath Party. Islamic conservatives are also avoided, as is anyone with too enthusiastic a history of corrupt behavior. All that narrows the field, and it took a long time to agree on an acceptable man. The Sunni Arab who became the Speaker, Hajim al Hassani, is a fifty year old investment banker who has spent the last 25 years living in the United States. There he no doubt became with the concept of "ticket balancing."

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs are still intent on regaining control of the country, but now believe they can do it later, rather than sooner. The Sunni Arabs know they have an education and experience advantage over the more numerous Shia Arabs. They know that powerful Sunni Arab nations in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, will back them in many ways. The fear of Islamic conservatism from Shia Iran can also be manipulated. With many experienced, loyal and capable Sunni Arab officers in the police and army, peace can be restored. The largely Sunni Arab terrorists are now fighting among themselves, angry at the failure of their bloody efforts, and not seeing any way out. Sunni Arabs see these radicals as impractical losers, and have turned on them. Now the more traditional Sunni Arab leadership sees a familiar path to power. A decade or so of peace and prosperity, followed by powerful Sunni Arab army and police commanders staging a coup. For the good of the country, or at least for the good of the Sunni Arabs.

Democracy will have a hard time surviving in Iraq. Most of the people are starting to understand what a working democracy means, and are wondering how some serious problems will be overcome. First, there's the corruption. Iraq is a nation of merchants, where everything is for sale. Everything. If you can sell or barter your daughters for a  marriage, then why not a government job, or contract, or vote? "Honest government" is much easier said than done.

And then there are the tribes. The refuge of most Iraqis in the face of corrupt and tyrannical government, the tribal leaders shift support when they see it in their interests. Saddam was saved from a 1991 Shia Arab rebellion by a timely intervention of powerful tribal leaders (including some Shia ones). The tribes received some economic and political concessions. After Saddam fell, the tribes did not want to deal with foreigners. Two years later, they do. Alliances with al Qaeda, Baathists and Islamic conservatives have not worked. There's now an elected Iraqi government with access to billions of dollars in oil money, and a growing force of police and troops. The tribes are like ships at sea, they move in the direction the prevailing winds push them. Even if democracy takes hold in Iraq, the tribal connections will be meaningful for generations to come.


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