A Government without a State
Anyway, another Le Monde article on Iraq. This opinion piece by Patrice Claude focuses on the impossible task of "disarming the militias".
Iraq: A government, not a State
George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the commanders-in-chief of a 145,000-man expeditionary corps fighting in Iraq for the last three years, seem to have finally decided to stop feeding public opinion dangerous illusions. In short, these two “wartime leaders” are today weakened by the conflict. And yes, there were numerous and tragic tactical and strategic "errors" committed by their civilian envoys and military commanders in the field. No, it is not possible to say at this time when or how the troops of the so-called multinational force will leave, without risk, a gravely destabilized country which is, moreover, about the implode before their eyes.
US military command, which just decided to send in 1,500 additional GI’s to “temporarily” reinforce a contingent already numbering 133,000 seems to have understood. The war, or rather, the wars that are killing nearly a thousand Iraqi civilians a month, seem more bloody and murderous than ever. For months now, twenty, thirty, even forty corpses with their hands bound and having been savagely tortured or mutilated turn up daily in and around Baghdad.
A genuine “ethnic cleansing” aiming at creating neighborhoods, towns or even entire cities that are ethnically or confessionally homogeneous is underway in the country. As of the beginning of April in Baghdad, no less, 100,000 people have fled their homes and are now “displaced persons”. The phenomenon has spread to the South, under Shi’ite Arab domination, especially in Basra, the country’s second largest city, where the Sunni minority has been has become a target for assassination and entire families, terrorized, are beginning to seek exile. Faced with the chaos brought about by rival Shi’ite militias, the government decided at the end of May to impose for at least a month a temporary State of Emergency on the entire region, the most important outlet for Iraqi oil.
The same goes for the North. Numerous Kurds, who wish to reverse the policy of Arabization practiced by the former regime, live in and around Kirkuk and Mosul, where they hope to establish themselves as the majority. In progress is a civil war, which can be compounded with the “anti-terrorist” campaign led by the Americans against armed groups whom they term “the resistance” and “jihadists” --more often than not Iraqis, according to a Pentagon report, commanded by the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.
Since the March 2003 invasion we have seen highs and lows. Out of charity, we will not make a list of the dozens of triumphant military communiqués predicting “imminent victory” or “a decisive turning point” emanating from Baghdad, Washington and London. But right now, one thing is certain: Although approximately 50,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and 28,700 are currently interned, the insurgency, predominately Sunni, appears to be more powerful than last year. In its most recent quarterly report, the Pentagon believes that the forces of the rebellion “will remain probably level” with those at present, at least until the end of the year.
In such a context, one can understand why George Bush and Tony Blair are multiplying the number of their prudently optimistic declarations on the future along with promises of “unity” and national “stabilization” to come about with the new Iraqi government. After all, the only chance for these two men to save their parties at the polls in the upcoming elections – November for US Republicans – rests on the shoulders of the new Prime Minister in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki.
Will this Shi’ite politician with a reputation for “toughness”, back from years of exile in Syria, then Iran, and a member of the religious Daawa Party, as was his predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari, reveal himself to be more “consensual” vis-à-vis Iraq’s minorities and more capable of purging the Iraqi forces of thousands of “sectarian militias” –without mentioning the spies of the Sunni guerrilla movement who have infiltrated them? It remains a mystery. The will is there and one hears affirmed and reaffirmed far and wide: “We must eliminate sectarian forces from the army and the police; (…) we must eliminate the militias and ensure that only troops loyal to the government carry arms.” But how is this to be done, when every political party, mosque, community, tribe, clan and neighborhood, and even groups of residents of a single street or building, have formed their own militia, protection team or vigilante squad? Some experts say that today in Iraq there are practically as many militiamen and irregulars as soldiers, police and paramilitary combined, i.e. 260,000 men. Who is going to disarm them? The State?
SIX MONTHS OF NEGOTIATIONS
According to sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), “A State is a human community that, within the limits of a territory, successfully claims for itself the monopoly on legitimate physical violence”. Using this measure, there is no State in Iraq. The primary allegiance of most police, paramilitary members and many soldiers is not to Iraq but to the different political or religious leaders of their respective communities. There is no State when citizens are forced to seek justice and protection from their tribes. There is no State when the central power shows itself to be incapable of ensuring a minimum of public services – water, gas, electricity, fuel – to their citizenry. There is no State when the majority of elites and members of the middle class are fleeing the chaos and the anarchy to settle in neighboring countries. Neither is there a State when several large ethnic and confessional communities in a given geographic space dream only of permanently cutting themselves off from the rest.
Following the 15 December 2005 elections, it took six long months of negotiations among the different Iraqi political factions to come up with a “national unity government” – including Sunnis – as demanded by Washington. Three weeks later, the country is still waiting for those non-sectarian rare birds able to occupy the three crucial ministries of Defense, Interior and National Security. Unity? What “unity”?
Article published in the 6 June 2006 edition.