The End of the Former Iraqi Bureaucratic Class

The discussion at Mountainrunner over the destruction of Iraq’s educational system continues. However, in my haste to poste I left our some hyperlinks which should have been included. Below is a snipper of the conversation, between nykrindc and myself:

In our own country, we essentially allowed the confederates to do what you state, that’s not what I’m arguing we should have done.

Indeed. However, a partial victory is better than a partial defeat. Allowing the 85% non-Sunni-Arab part of Iraq to integrate with the world is a partial victory. Going back on the Big Bang by “stabilizing” the country with a tinkered version of the old regime is a partial defeat.

All it did was alienate people who were trying to become part of the political process.

Too simplistic, I think. Among other effects, it integrated people who were fearful of a political process dominated by Sunni Arabs and prevented counterrevolutionaries from holding important political office.

No, having Sunnis partake in the process would have done much to quell the Sunni insurgency which at the time was considered the biggest threat to the viability of the country. This would have aided us in addressing al Qaeda much earlier by moving us in the direction that we have moved only recently under Gen. Petreaus; allying with Sunni tribes and some militias to fight against al Qaeda.

al Qaeda and Islamism generally are feedback from the ghastly systems that pervade the Sunni portions of the Gap. They are symptoms of a disease — the vermin of a swamp — rather than the disease or the swamp itself.

Cynically allying with the old powers-that-be to dampen feedback is hardly a new strategy: indeed, it accurately reflects decades of practice by Saddam, Asad, Mubarek, the Saudis, etc.

Certainly, we should kill Qaedists. The Shia are doing this quite well. However, maintaining a bad system in order to prevent bad feedback is a backwards strategy.

This would have allowed us to undermine the AQI strategy of starting stoking the fires for civil war. Their strategy succeeded, ours failed and after Askariya, it became much more difficult to get what we wanted.

The Golden Mosque was a turning point in Iraq. It was the moment where the necessity of the Shia militias became obvious, and where American inability to defend Iraqis from Sunni terroriszts become painfully clear.

So much so, that rather than the Sunni insurgency our own military recognized the Shiite militias as the greatest danger to the viability of any future Iraqi state.

After last summer, the correlation-of-forces turned decisively against the Iraqi Sunni Arabs. All sides see that, no matter who wins, they lose. Therefore, it’s not surprising that we see them as a political piece to be played rather than as a former regime that can once again grasp power.

Read the rest at Mountainrunner, or read below for my comment.


What I meant was that their unanimous decision to boycott the elections was a mistake. The fact that they sought to return to the democratic process, at least for those that did, represented an admission of that mistake.

I understand your meaning. It’s clear the unanimous boycott was a mistake a strategic mistake, and that the current paritcipation is an attempt to leverage power through democratic means. However, we must be clear that merely using a democratic channel for power does not mean that one supports democracy. For instance:

They did not concentrate on just bombs rather; many sought to get back into the political process, others did not.

Indeed. A good comparison may be made between the armed and political wings of the PIRA — two complementary methods to power.

We agree on many things Dan, but we also disagree on many more. Here for example, you assert that this was their plan. This seems to be based on your view of all Sunnis as being part and parcel of the old Iraqi order. That is a point where we disagree, hence our differing perspectives.

We seem to disagree at heart over one thing: the nature of the altruism of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs.

If one assumes that they will give their (and their families’) blood & treasure for the good of an Iraqi state, then your argument is more reasonable. Much of what you’ve written (they want to “return to work,” etc.) implies that nationalistic intertia is their central motivation.

If one assumes that the Iraqi Sunni Arabs will protect their (and their families) blood and treasure from other factions in Iraq, then my argument is more reasonable. Much of what I’ve written (that they wish to maintain their privileges, etc.) implies that in-group cooperation is their central motivation.

You are again assuming that all Sunnis (or the majority of them) wanted to impose a Sunni supremacist government over the rest of Iraq.

In other words, they wish to keep what they had for all their lives until we intruded. (Or, at least, reap the material benefits of such a supremacy.) This is a natural human motivation, well backed up by history and psychology. Machiavelli wrote of this (men will sooner forgive the murder of their father than the theft of their inheritance, &c), and in the laboratory researchers into prospect theory constantly confirm this.

Even here, the argument of Sunni Arab supremacy cannot be made wholly since Baathism was much more nationalist and sought to undermine ethnic and religious differences in the pursuit of a national identity.

As an ideology, Baathism is a form of confession-neutral Arab National Socialism. Like European fascism before it, it mostly ignores the traditional world in favor of racial solidarity.

However, as practiced, Baathism ends up being a support mechanism for those traditionally well-educated minorities that first embraced it. In Iraq it serves the Sunni Arab minority, while in Syria it serves the Alawite minority.

Maintaining that Saddam was a true believer in Baathism is like attempting to analyze Stalin’s foreign policy through the lens of international class struggle.

It wasn’t only about oil; it was about modernizing the state and importing Western education and lifestyles. As Mountain Runner pointed out, “Iraq [was] a country very much connected (pre-sanctions) with the west and a highly educated, a middle class.”

Indeed — the Arab middle east has been in decline since 1945, and the farther back in time to go to then the better and more connected life was. Antimaterialism has not been the problem of the middle east (few Arab tyrants have opposed wealth & modernism).

Indeed, they were targeted by the Sunni insurgency that developed from the most radical elements of the regime, instead of moving to prevent these moderate Sunnis from moving toward the insurgency, we did just the opposite which in turn allowed the insurgency to grow from a nuisance to a viable threat to the state.

You’ve made a similar point elsewhere — it amounts to saying that because the radicals on the other side are also radical, radicalism is bad.

Of course not. The point of the war was radical change. That al Qaeda in Iraq and the United States both bitterly oppose the old regimes does not make one right and the other wrong — or one merely the tool to each other. al Qaeda and America both act to destabilize the region, the main difference being the preferred replacement. (Probably & hopefully what comes next will be a disappointment to both — regimes modeled along the Muslim Brothers in Syria and Egypt. But I digress..)

Even so, that argument [that oil wealth does not bring true development] applies just as well to the current administration in power,

I brought it up because you mentioned that “with Hussein gone and Iraq finally being able to reconnect to the global economy, it would have been subject to the same forces that push countries to reform over the long-term.” My comment attempted to negate your point. Your latest reply upholds my comment and negates your original point.

Their [SCIRI, Dawa, Sadr] initial popularity resulted from their long opposition to Hussein, and the parties’ (note I did not say leadership) somewhat effective social service network.

So far, I agree. The most popular Iraqi political parties became popular because of their political views and community services.

heir popularity increased after, not because they had a base but because they appealed to ethnic and religious solidarity

Further, they gained power by opposing the articial state and supporting the liberation of their countrymen from the possibility of oppression by the old regime. Again, I agree with your description.

What I was arguing was that we should have prevented these exiles, and Allawi, and Chalabi from coming back to allow for native born leaders.

I realize that moral repugnacne is not a logical argument — but is it not morally repugnant to make someone a persona non grata because Saddam exiled him?

More directly, the flow of exiles back into Iraq had a predictable effect: increasing the social capital of Iraq. Exiles came back with unifying visions and political skill. With this they were able to offer their services. Some (Allawi, Chalabi) were rejected by the Iraqi people. Others, like the SCIRI and Dawa networks, were embraced.

This is how democratization should work. The repatriation of the regime’s old enemies and the popular selection of new leadership.

No. From what has been reported, our withdrawal would be contingent upon Sunnis moving against al Qaeda and we would only fully leave when they could prove that as a force it was destroyed. The caveat to that would be, if they are allowed to return, we return as well.

This strikes me as politically naive. Change is hard — leaving Anbar makes it much, much harder to come back than merely an internal repositioning would.

Now, I support leaving Iraq. But that support includes the realization that leaving means we do not return, at least not for some time. Making that decision without such knowledge is operating out of ignorance.

The constitution has to be amended. Shiites and Kurds agree on that, Sunnis just want a guarantee that it will actually be amended.

If Shia and Kurds agree on that, it would be already. Instead they talk of a summer recess and, failing that, just get nothing done. Talk is cheap. Action is expensive. Our Shia and Kurdish clients are willing to speak the words we want to hear. But they know we will leave and they know it is up to them to defend themselves against the terrorists. That’s why they have yet to authorize the Terror Subsidization Act of 2007 (or whatever the wealth transfer from Iraqis to Sunni Arabs will be called).

No. It’s about giving them a stake in the new system. That is the deal we and the Iraqis have pushed for.

They have all the stake they can ever legitimately have in a centralized system: 15% of the vote.

The details, like in anything, are what continue to keep it on hold.

A mass transfer of wealth from those who support democracy to those who oppose is it hardly a detail. It’s the main point.

No. The reason is because the Shiite militias after AQI bombed the Askariya mosque, have targeted mostly Sunni civilians

I agree that Sunin residential areas have been targeted. As the insurgency appears to be well-embeeded in Sunni society, this is the only practical way of ending terror attacks against most Iraqi civilians.

and have become so dangerous that they threaten the viability of any possible Iraqi state.

How so?

It’s one of the primary reasons why many Sunni insurgents have called for a truce with U.S. forces, so that they can focus on defending and fighting against the Shiite militias who many times use American forces to advance their own aims which are mostly detrimental to Iraq and Iraqis.

Indeed. Divide and conquer is a good strategy, and one that the Sunnis are attempting to use. However, their newfound weakness makes “conquer” improbable — perhaps “survive as a politically meaningful entity” is a more realistic goal.

It also has to do with having their own Sunni police forces and army units

Because when you are fighting an enemy, the appropriate solution is to further arm him?

Or do you think that independence from the political system (which is exactly what conventional independent Sunni forces in Iraq would achieve) is a way of giving a stake in that system?

Not only is militarization of the Sunnis wrong from my perspective — I don’t see how it agrees with yours.

since it has become increasingly evident that the national forces have by and large been infiltrated by the Shiite militias who rather than provide security for Sunni civilians are directly responsible for the violence against them.

Clearly, the Iraqi police are primarily interested in protecting the greatest number of Iraqis from terrorists. This is unfortunate for populations that support terror.