Despite phone calls to legislators by President George W. Bush, and last-minute rescue attempts by UN and US diplomats, Iraqi politicians yesterday failed to reach a consensus on the crucial provincial elections law. This means several things:
- Provincial elections will not be held before the end of 2008. In fact, according to a UN spokesman quoted by McClatchy, they may not be held before July 2009.
- “The Powers That Aren’t”, who include former Sunni insurgents in Anbar and Diyala, will see this as part of a conspiracy by the “Powers That Be” — Maliki and his ISCI and IIP backers — to cling to power which isn’t theirs. Whether this means the PTA will return to violence is anyone’s guess, but the outlook is not promising.
- Arab anger over Kirkuk will grow. Ethnic hatred knows no summer recess, and the situation will only go from bad to worse while the lawmakers dilly-dally. Juan Cole and Missing Links are following local press reports.
- Republican presidential candidate John McCain will not have his “October Surprise”, which is good news, since it probably means the U.S. will back off a little and hopefully give the Iraqis more time to sort things out.
As Dr. iRack, fresh from a trip across Iraq, puts it: “The failure to pass the law, and the significant delay in elections it seems likely to produce, will put huge strains on the fragile calm that has descended across Iraq.”
Leaders of the Awakenings have been warning that they are ‘losing patience’ and ‘the next few months will be decisive’ so many times that I suspect some people have stopped taking them seriously. As with the evident nonchalance about the prospects of the major Sunni insurgency factions flipping back to the other side, this seems to rest on a notion that they have nowhere else to go and that there is neither the ability nor the desire to go back to the insurgency (‘we don’t need to accommodate those hoodlums,’ pace General Keane). This strikes me as a very dangerous bit of best-case scenario thinking, of a kind which hurt American efforts in the past and has continued to mar the analysis of surge cheerleaders throughout. There are all kinds of warning lights blinking, from both the Awakenings and from the insurgency factions whose members make up many of their cadres outside of Anbar.
At least, the actions of PTB are understandable: they simply want to grab ever more power, and to exclude everyone else. What is more difficult to understand is the behaviour of the international players. Why, for example, does the United States continue to support this steadily declining force? Previously, Washington may have considered them more malleable and susceptible to pressure, even if this factor is less evident today, and despite the fact that question marks concerning Iran’s influence in the PTB camp linger. But the Iraq that is being built by reliance on the PTB simply isn’t a sustainable one. Because it is based on appetite for power and extreme opportunism alone, it cannot survive except through the application of brute force and the use of material power: concrete walls (as seen in Baghdad), bribes to political enemies (particularly prominent among the Sunni tribes), and authoritarian handling of internal opponents (such as the Sadrists). When Washington’s ability and willingness to finance these kinds of measures come to an end, the only way forward will be increased authoritarianism or increased reliance on regional patrons.