Iraq: June 4, 2004

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With American approval, a UN representative and the Iraq Governing Council agreed on the selection of Iyad Allawi as the prime minister of  a temporary Iraqi government. Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer was chosen as president (the largely ceremonial post of "chief of state"). Other ministers were quickly selected and the Iraqi Governing Council dissolved itself while the new government awaited the coalition to grant them "full sovereignty" on July 1st. The current plan for Iraq's new government is for national elections to be held in early 2005 and for coalition troops to leave by January 2006. The big unknown is how much control the Iraqi government will have over coalition forces.

The basic problem is very stark and simple. There are not sufficient Iraqi police and soldiers to deal with the various heavily armed groups (Baath Party, Shia radicals, al Qaeda, criminal gangs) operating in the country. In the past, the problem of the opposition militias was taken care of by creating a well paid and trained armed force to deal with armed opposition. The fighting was usually brutal, in order to make sure the opposition was crushed, and not just off in a corner licking its wounds and plotting a comeback. The coalition forces will not operate with the usual Arab brutality and directness, but the armed opposition groups will have to be defeated before any new Iraqi government can realistically claim to control the country.  The leading armed opposition groups to the new Iraqi government are;

- The Baath Party gunmen represent the Sunni Arab hard core who will not accept a democratic Iraq, and the election of a Shia/Kurd majority government. The Baath Party wants to make a comeback, and re-establish Sunni Arab domination of Iraq. This group won't quit until hundreds more of their gunmen are killed and dozens of the leaders (and paymasters) of the movement are arrested. Doing this means getting Iraqi police into Sunni Arab strongholds like Fallujah on a permanent basis (with regular coalition patrols to do the heavy fighting.) Most Sunni Arabs are willing to give democracy a try, but until the armed and ruthless diehards are confronted, the Sunni Triangle (west of Baghdad) will be hostile territory for coalition troops and Iraqi democrats.

- The Shia Islamic radicals, like Muqtada al Sadr, want an Shia Islamic Republic in Iraq. Most Iraqis don't want this, but the Islamic radicals have guns and feel they are on a mission from God. Dozens are still attacking coalition troops each day, and getting killed. Iraqi police and soldiers are, so far, reluctant to stand up these holy warriors. But if Iraq is to be sovereign, Iraqis will have to do the deed. 

- Al Qaeda, and other Sunni Arab Islamic radicals, want a Sunni Islamic Republic in Iraq. Most Iraqis don't want this, but the Islamic radicals have guns and feel they are on a mission from God. The al Qaeda members are somewhat better organized and more fanatical than their Shia counterparts. But there are even far fewer Iraqi Sunni Arabs, than Arabs,  who are into establishing a religious dictatorship. So al Qaeda depends a lot of foreign Arabs, as does the Baath Party groups, who bring in volunteers from Syria (which has the only other Baath Party government in the world) and Arabs from all over the Middle East. 

- The large criminal gangs can be defeated by the Iraqi police, if the Sunni Arab and Shia Islamic radical groups were not around.

None of these armed groups has been strong enough to take over parts of the country, except when coalition troops backed off to allow negotiations. But these anti-government militias will resist government control with continued terror and assassinations of government officials. The new Iraqi government is under a lot of public pressure to do something about the partisan terror and violence. At the same time, commanders of coalition units will be looking out for the safety of their troops and are not going to tolerate interference from the Iraqi government. This will be further complicated by the mass media (both Arab and non-Arab) that have come to consider any coalition military operation as an "atrocity against Iraqi civilians" or a "war crime." The new Iraqi government won't have sufficient military force (selected and prepared by coalition trainers) to deal with the situation for at least a year. If the Iraqi government goes into combat before that, it risks defeat, and having to call on coalition forces to save them. The Iraqis will also try negotiation, which may work with the factions of the Baath Party and Shia radicals, but won't get very far with the al Qaeda crowd.

It will all come down to law and order. The new Iraqi government wants it, but only coalition troops can do the heavy lifting to make it happen.

 

 

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