December 18, 2007:
In Iraq, the surge campaign
worked. Between February and September, 2007 it improved the security situation
in Baghdad and adjacent regions. It has curbed sectarian violence in the
capital and reduced the freedom of action and the support base of insurgents
and terrorists in central Iraq.
However, back in the United States, many
politicians believed that the main rationale for the surge was to provide an
opportunity for political agreements to be negotiated among Iraqis. The depth
of hatred between Shia and Sunni did not produce as much reconciliation as U.S.
based pundits demanded, so the security improvements were seen in a diminished
light. A political settlement is essential for sustaining the security gains
and for longer-term stability. Despite the declaration of a national reconciliation
plan by Iraqi leaders June 2006, by the Fall, only limited progress had been
made toward reconciling the differences between the political groups and
forging a national agenda. Iraqi politics is dominated by sectarian political
groups, and many of the Shia groups block crucial legislation. Serious
political dialogue between the sect-based parties has proved difficult and the
results are limited.
Meanwhile, rivalries within the Shia and Sunni
communities are increasing, particularly in the Shia south, where the Sadr and
Badr (the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq) compete for political and economic
control of the region. The Iraqi government has grown less effective in the
past year. Iraqi ministers from Sunni, Shia, and secular groups have withdrawn
from the cabinet, making it more difficult for the government to get things
done in many parts of the country. The Shia and Sunni party coalitions that
entered Parliament in December 2005, have started to come apart. Meanwhile, a
new alliance of Sunni Arab tribes in western Iraq further mixes things up. The
tribal alliance has not automatically joined with existing Sunni Arab parties,
so new alliances are beginning to emerge, and some may succeed in crossing
sectarian and regional divides.
The level and duration of U.S. troop presence in
Iraq depends on the stability and strength of the Iraqi government. That is
blocked by sectarian and tribal divisions that create a culture of corruption.
What Westerners see as "government officials see as stealing government
funds," Iraqis see as "powerful men taking care of their own".
It's a matter of degree, compared to the West. There, patronage and nepotism
are also a problem, but a much smaller one. The West has tamed corruption, and
this has produced more efficient government and more productive economies. In
the Arab world, over a trillion dollars of oil wealth (in the past fifty years)
has produced little fundamental economic power. So much of the money was
stolen, and spent on non-productive items, that the Arab world cannot compete
with other parts of the world where economies are encouraged to thrive and
grow. Many Iraqis, and Arabs in general, recognize the problem. But change will
only come if enough individual politicians and government officials resist the
tribal and sectarian demands that political office be exploited for the tribe,
not the nation. It's the inability to do that that created and sustained Saddam
Hussein. Unless the Iraqis can change their political culture, another Saddam
Hussein will return. And when the oil is gone, so will poverty.