Washington – Baghdad – Tehran

Iraqi MPs approve partial cabinet,” BBC News, 28 April 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4492457.stm (from Democratic Underground).

Remember this blog saying something about the Iraq-Iran alliance, and American efforts to create a Shia Gulf

MPs in Iraq have approved a new government by a large majority despite failure to agree on several top posts.

Among the names on the new list is Shia politician Ahmed Chalabi, a one-time US favourite who fell from grace.

Mr Chalabi will also take one of the deputy prime minister’s posts.

Chalabi is an Iranian agent and sometimes American agent. He is a Shia Iraqi patriot who knows his country benefits from connectivity with stronger powers. The Sunni Arab Nationalist offer disconnection and despair. Chalabi, Iran, and America offer Iraq a way congratulations.

Congratulations to the Iraqi people and to Minister Chalabi. It has been a long journey.

Update: Atrios, Martin Stabe, and BTC News completely miss the point.

Update 2: Juan Cole doesn’t mention an Iran angle, but adds some sensible thoughts

I wonder if this appointment was a sop to the more secular-leaning members of the United Iraqi Alliance, who must have been extremely alarmed that the fundamentalist Fadila Party was making a bid for petroleum minister. It should be remembered that in contemporary Iraq, as in Jacksonian America, cabinet posts are sources of patronage and wealth, since there is a sort of spoils system. Chalabi will place his Iraqi National Congress members throughout the ministry.

Hmmm… bribery side-payments as a method of control… hmmm…

4 thoughts on “Washington – Baghdad – Tehran”

  1. I don't think I've missed the point. Chalabi parlayed his US connections into a position of temporary power and has since used his secret police files and the remnants of Bush administration good will to keep himself in the mix. I'm not an expert on Chalabi's relationship with Iran, but it's difficult for me to see how he would have more influence there than would the SCIRI and even the Daawa party people.

    And now we see a demonstrably corrupt man in charge, at least for the moment, of the most lucrative ministry in the government. First we loot the country, and now Chalabi gets his opportunity. I expect Juan is close to the mark about why he's there, but I'm not sure the particulars of it matter and I'm pretty sure it will have negative repercussions in the not too distant future.

    You can look at the appointment as a pragmatic concession to regional politics and the US-Iraq relationship if you like, but to me it smells like a short-term convenience leading to long-term pain on a number of fronts, particularly with respect to the ownership of the oil. And I'm really not sure bribery as a form of transparent horizontal control will go down well in the current climate in Iraq.

    If I'm wrong it won't be the first time.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq was formed to be Tehran's “quisling” government in the event they seized Iraq or even just Basra. SCIRI has great ties to the Islamic Republic. Dawa was considered to independent or even too pro-British for Iran to trust.

    The point isn't just that the temporary Oil Minister is Iran's man, it is that he is both Iran's and America's man. There is no other figure that has such connections in both Tehran and Washington. He bodes will for a future Iraq-Iran-US alliance.

    I've disagreed with Cole a lot (http://www.tdaxp.com/juan_cole/ is dedicated to that), but he's right here. Every ministry is going to be “corrupt” compared to the West. In the words of Collounsbury (http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/04/20/bribery_as_a_form_of_horizontal_control.html, another blogger I often disagree with), “US standards are absurd and cold in the context” of the middle east.

    I'm not sure how we “looted” Iraq. Iraq's rather expensive, and we're spending billions on her. That's the opposite of “looting.”

  3. By looting, I was referring to the $9 billion or so in Iraqi oil revenues the CPA spent without accounting for it. I'd also question whether we're spending billions of dollars on Iraq or 1) billions of dollars on multinational corporations attempting to rebuild the country while ignoring the sorts of small-scale projects that would pump lots of money into local economies and 2) hundreds of billions on a military presence there which is insufficient to keep the Halliburtons and such from spending as much as fifty percent of their budgets on security.

    Here's my quarrel with Chalabi as the Iraqi bridge between the US and Iran: He has a history of being if not an outright thief (depending on whether you think the Jordanians and Swiss framed him), at least extremely careless with other people's money, and he will be seen by large numbers of Iraqis, including Shia, as a US factotum there to grab the oil. I can't think of any better way to foment yet more popular discontent than to start messing with the oil before there's even a permanent government installed. The only place I think Chalabi could wreak remotely as much havoc on the country and its relationship with the US is as minister of the interior.

    What I'm saying, I guess, is that I can see how Chalabi would be ideally placed to serve as the pivot for that tripartite relationship if he enjoyed any popular support in Iraq and wasn't tagged as corrupt, but that isn't the case, and it also isn't the case that the government is actually a government in the traditional sense of holding a monopoly on violence in the country. In fact, it's almost the opposite.

  4. Not sure how I “missed the point”. A better criticism would be that I didn't really bother to make one by linking to the Atrios post (which could be accused of the same thing). My only aim was to bring this to this story to the attention of UK bloggers, most of whom will be fully aware of who Ahmed Chalabi is and what theories exist about his significance in the region.

  5. The US spent far more than nine billion in Iraq. If this is a looting scheme, it's a darn inefficient one.

    More seriously, when fighting a networked conflict you can choose to be flexible or chose to emphasize paper-work and red-tape. CPA chose the latter. Some believe more bureaucracy would have made Iraq a safer place.

    Small scale projects have been “ignored.” Or they didn't receive the focus to the exclusion of infrastructure projects that you would have liked?

    You apparently take the word of a internally insecure ex-Ba'athi Ally with aspirations for monarchy in Iraq at face value. I don't have so much faith in Hashemite justice.

    Chalabi was a leader member of the United Iraqi Alliance ticket, a slate of mostly Shia movements encouraged by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. If your views of who is popular in Iraq doesn't mesh with actual Iraqi democracy, there's not much I can do for that.

    As I implied before, the “corruption” charge is nearly meaningless.

    By your definition of government neither America nor Japan have “governments in the traditional sense” — America has relatively widespread streat violence, while Japan has traditionally encouraged the formation of yakuza syndicates.

    If instead you are saying that a government fighting an insurgency is not a government — well, that's crazy.

  6. Mickey Mouse would have done well on the UIA list. Chalabi would have been toast on Allawi's list. It's hardly a measure of his popularity, or that of the many candidates whose names weren't revealed until the day of the election to protect them from assassination. It's a measure of Sistani's, SCIRI's and Daawa's popularity.

    The “government” is holed up in a few square miles of Baghdad because the rest of the country is too dangerous. The “government” no longer controls police appointments throughout the country; the local militias are dictating those (Basra's security is in the hands of al-Sadr's militia). The “government,” even with the help of a large US troop presence, can't even secure the six miles of road from Baghdad to the airport.

    A government governs, and this one hasn't the strength to do that. My definition is a traditional one: it means that a government incapable of defending itself internally is not a government in any recognizable sense of the word.

    If the Hashemites wanted to reclaim the Iraqi throne—an idea that was floated by Richard Perle and his fellow travelers a decade or so ago—they'd have to do it by the force of US arms, and it would be somewhat stupid of them to target Iraq's opposition. That aside, the State Department had problems with his accounting of the money he got from them, and the Swiss have had serious problems with Chalabi's family enterprises as well. I don't think Switzerland's financial regulators have any desire to govern Iraq. You might wamt to look into Chalabi's suit against the government of Jordan for a more realistic look at his defense against those charges.

    Small-scale projects are the ones that put money into the hands of people on the local level. The US suffers from a bad case of giganticism, and the decision to concentrate on those huge projects contributed greatly to providing the insurgency with a pool of heavly armed, pissed off, unemployed young men. The areas that were most quiet in Iraq even when the insurgency was gathering steam elsewhere were the ones where US commanders were using their slush funds to employ local men on local projects, and the insurgency only took firm root in those areas when the money ran out. What a coincidence. If you want to do some research on that, start with General David Petraeus in Mosul. I'll give you a head start.

    “Flexibility” with respect to the Iraqi money is hardly an appropriate word for this. (Don't be frightened by the “democrats” in the URL; it's the Inspector General's report on the CPA audit.)

    I can't make links? If you want the ones I intended to use in the comment, drop me an email: editor@btcnews.com

  7. The UIA list was assembled under Sistani to bring together a coalition of Shia parties that could government Iraq. It was not formed as any sort of giveaway list. If the INC did not add to the viability of the UIA, or if the INC's interests were contrary to its coalition partners, it would not have been on that list.

    Your claim that the Iraqi government does not control more than a few square miles is startling. Do you have a reference for such a claim?

    Iraq is in a classic fourth generation war. Some parts are peaceful (especially Kurdistan), some are in the first stage of political terrorism (the Shia south), some are in the second stage of hit-and-run attacks (the Sunni triangle, but less so than before), and none of it is in the terminal stage of conventional rule by the insurgents (as Fallujah was a year ago). More info is at http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/04/05/mao_s_3_stages_of_4gw_now_with_tractors.html.

    In some aras of the Shia south, there has been conflict on the reappointment of police appointments. However, these have been peaceful as the “rogue” policemen are members of the same parties as that run the government.

    If you can give a reference to the Basra claim, please do. Sadr-affiliated protestors recently broke up a picnic in Basra. The next week, counterprotestors showed up. Sounds more like liberty than chaos!

    The Iraqi government appoints ministers, runs internal security organization, controls exports of natural resources, enforces contracts, and the other parts of “governing.” You seem to be pushing a perfectionist definition of governing that has never been achieved, where the existence of crime nullifies the reality of the government.

    During this century, the Hashemite family controlled Mecca, Medina, Transjordan, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Syria, and Iraq. They now control only the old Transjordan. I don't know whether Hashemite policy has been “stupid,” but it certainly doesn't have a history of effectiveness!

    Criticisms of Chalabi's accounting miss the point. As I mentioned before, Western standards of transparency are cold and impracticle in much of the world (especially when engaged in a war!).

    I think more than infrastructure projects, the ” pool of heavily armed, pissed off, unemployed young men” came from the CPA's dissolution of the Iraqi army. This may or may not have been a good idea (I still support it), but it ended a major employer of young Iraqi males. Fortunately, Iraq's unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing, removing this as a long-term cause.

    Certainly free cash and “slush” funds are helpful in a 4GW conflict. Your recognition of this makes your criticism of flexibility/”corruption” in the CPA and INC even more puzzling!

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