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Iraq: The tipping point?
Posted by: McQ on Monday, January 23, 2006

Sen. Barrak Obama, just recently returned from Iraq, had this to say on "Meet The Press":
But you have a political situation that I think is still undetermined, how it’s going to play itself out. We just got the results from the recent election. It’s promising because we have more Sunnis participating in the legislature than we had last time. We don’t yet know, though, whether or not the Shias and the Kurds are going to accommodate Sunni interests or ignore them. And we don’t yet know whether the Sunnis are going to recognize that they are in fact a minority. And one of the key points I came away from, talking to both military officials as well as civilians, is that there’s not a long-term military solution to the problem there, that political accommodation is what’s going to determine the future of Iraq.
Pretty obvious stuff, of course, but very important. To me it is the tipping point concerning success or failure in Iraq.

Including the Sunnis means a much different Iraq than if they are excluded (whether they exclude themselves by boycotting the government or are essentially excluded from any position of power by the Kurds and Shites and quit it because of that).

It appears, at least from news reports, that the intent is to include Sunnis as the Shia parties were unable to form an absolute majority.
Iraq's most powerful Shiite Muslim alliance, led by religious parties, won the most seats but not a clear majority in the nation's first constitutional parliament, election officials said Friday.

Of 275 seats in the Council of Representatives, the United Iraqi Alliance won 128 seats in the December 15 election, while the Kurdish bloc of candidates was second with 53, based on final, uncertified results.

The United Iraqi Alliance includes the Dawa Party led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

The alliance fell 10 votes short of an absolute majority.

Shiites make up about 60 percent of the estimated 25 million Iraqis, and the Kurds about 20 percent. Both suffered under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

Two separate Sunni blocs garnered 44 and 11 seats in the election, officials said. Two smaller Sunni Arab-affiliated groups won four seats.
According to this story from CNN this is the vote although, if you do the addition, there are 35 seats unaccounted for. But if a party needs 2/3rds of the seats to have an absolute majority and the Shia bloc came up 10 votes short (per the story) then they actually had around 172 total seats (182 the necessary number of seats for that majority). One must assume that the additional 35 came from less popular Shia lists which have a natural alliance with the larger Shia lists mentioned.

So the percentages by which the vote break down in a way which are pretty typical of the religious and ethnic demographics of the Iraqi population. The Shia make up the majority and received the most votes (although, per the story, not an absolute majority). The Kurds and Sunnis each make up 20% of the population and according to these numbers, got about 20% of the vote. It breaks down roughly as it should:

60% for the Shia

19% for the Kurds

21% for the Sunnis

It appears then that the vote was pretty fair. That's obviously important to the legitimacy of the vote and the acceptance of that vote as the final will of the Iraqi people.

Given that accpetance by the majority, it now comes down to the Sunnis recognizing they're a minority and living with it. That is the wildcard in this process. If they indeed accept the inevitable and choose to work within the system to effect political change through the Council of Representatives and the government of Iraq, then the insurgency, both the internal Sunni supported version as well as foreign terrorists, lose support. That may see violence decline percipitiously.

The Kurds are also in a minority situation. On many issues, it would seem the Kurds would be the Sunnis natural ally. Both minority parties need to meet and consider how an alliance between them can help each of them and provide the political impetus for the Shia parties to cooperate and compromise. That also, however, means the Sunnis are going to have to be willing to cooperate and compromise. It's not clear, to this point, how far they're willing to go in those spheres, but it is the key to success.

Obviously, the success or failure of Iraq hinges on the ability of the three factions to form a government, cooperate and compromise. That means Sunni acceptance of minority status and some form of federalism. It also means the Kurds and Shias must be willing to make constitutional changes and assure the Sunnis of some share of oil revenues. If all of that can be accomplished, the rest will take care of itself and we'll see large US troop withdrawals by the end of the year or the first of next year.

If they're unable to do so, the internal insurgency will again increase, the government will be a non-starter, eventually considered to be illegitimate and the country will descend into chaos. If that happens, the US will be there for the foreseeable future as it again tries to restart the democratic process.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Pretty obvious stuff, of course, but very important. To me it is the tipping point concerning success or failure in Iraq.
While your comment is correct insofar as Iraq itself goes, I think there’s a stronger point to be made, here, as regards the idea of a leading Demorat.. one of ther stars... admitting publicly that a solution could even be had here, and that we were on anything even remotely resembling the correct course.

I can’t imagine Obama making such an admission a few months ago. And IMHO, that, as much as the positive stuff in Iraq that you correctly note, will determine the future in Iraq. I had my doubts the Democrats would have the will to see this stuff through. Without them doing so, Iraq never had a chance. Now, at least a ray of hope exists.

Written By: Bithead
...and assure the Sunnis of some share of oil revenues. If all of that can be accomplished,

I am a BIG supporter of the War in Iraq. But on this point I believe that the Coalition missed a HUGE opportunity. I realize that the security situation was Number 1 to 10 priority for the Coalition and the Interim Authority, but I believe the US missed a great long-term opportunity in not pushing privatization of the oil industry and other state-owned enterprises (SOE) more forcefully. It would have been better had the SOE’s been bundled together randomly into shares and issued out to ALL Iraqi’s, again in a random manner. The Oil Ministry likewise. This would have meant that Iraqi’s would have had a stake in the performance of the economy, OF IRAQ, not just their locality. It would have tied Iraq together more firmly and meant that Sunni’s, as individuals, would have received a portion of the oil revenue. Mayhap just hopeless libertarian dreaming on my part, but I think it might have made the situation in post-war Iraq better.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Joe, I agree with you in principle.

But tactically this would have been a non-starter. I see a couple of reasons why the initial phase of OIF put all non-elastic primary resources under coalition control: it encouraged hesitant OIF supporters among American nationalists in both parties, and simplified the tracking of capital flows in a war-zone.

First, I noticed that all the criticism of the war, after the initial three-week mission, centered around "control issues." The slogan, "Bush had no Plan," says it all - the critics’ chief concern has been the size of the plan. Like devoted central planners, (and my college girlfriend) the Bush’s critics complained that there was not enough control over variables like troop levels, artifacts looting, water, power, garbage pickup, etc., and never that there was too much.

Second, the multiple delivery networks for fuel and electricity that the free-market would have created would have complicated our military’s task of pinching-off capital flows to militants.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Steve I agree... to an extent. However, a bundling of SOE’s and their sale, MIGHT have also, presented all Iraqi’s with the idea, that "Hey it’s my money we’re talking here! Why are you MORONS blowing up the oil pipelines?" Or, "It’s my money here, why isn’t this company making money?"
Of course it would have allowed, possibly Ba’athists to use their offshore cash to buy up control of the post-war economy and to provide cover for monetary transactions to support the insurgency.
I see my proposal as one for the first six months to a year after OIF, not for immediate implementation.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Until you have the rule of law established, which includes property law, and contract law, how exactly could you have implimented anything other then absolute control by a temporary power of the resources???

So, until you have courts, and laws (which requires a Legislature), you can’t privatize the oil industry.
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
So, until you have courts, and laws (which requires a Legislature), you can’t privatize the oil industry.
Not entirely sure that this is true. Courts can handle disputes, but a market can pre-date the courts, can’t it? Certainly the Continental Congress issued bonds without there being a strong Federal Court system.
I would point out Poland privatized without a strong court system...
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Emblematic of the uphill battle the "privatization" forces had to fight; here’s a little blurb from Al Jazeera on Dec. 28, 05, entitled "Iraq’s Economy Looks Positive in 2006"
Under Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, the issue of privatisation was mentioned repeatedly resulting in public outcry that the nation’s industrial patrimony was about to be sold off cheap to foreigners with disastrous effect, as happened in post-Soviet Eastern Europe.
I think Bush, Rice and Rumsfeld have struck a good balance.

Taking a closer look at Barak Obama’s "criticisms," I noticed that the only succinct opinion he offers, "..political accommodation is what’s going to determine the future of Iraq", alludes to the same political process that Bush’s much-maligned "plan" has succeeded in instituting. This is surely a tipping point. It appears prominent Dems are getting in-line.

Otherwise, Barak’s only complaint seems to be his lack of omniscience. He intones that he doesn’t "yet know" "whether" this or that will or won’t happen. Or he opines that a situation is "still undetermined." Looks like he’s trying to appear to be critical, while not really criticising.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Could we please stop referring to Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis? It is the equivalent of saying Protestants, Catholics and Pennsylvanians.

Most Kurds are Sunnis.

The division into Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds is impolite and reveals ignorance. Its real damage, however, is that it makes a religious division out of something that is more political, regional, and cultural than religious.
Written By: John Lederer
URL: http://
John that would be wonderful if it weren’t the Iraqis breaking it down as such themselves.

It was the minority Sunnis who held power under Saddam (and yes, they were mostly Ba’athist, but that’s irrelevant now). It is the Kurds, then and now, who were an oppressed minority and seeking autonomy. And the Shia majority which was out of power in Iraq previously. With the removal of Saddam religion has become a MAJOR factor in Iraq.

Those descriptions do address more than religion. Sunnis are mostly concentrated in a particular region, as are the Kurds (thus the regional aspect). Each obviusly have different cultural imperatives (thus the differing names). But attempts to ignore the political and religious faultlines as they appear in present day Iraq and as the Iraqis themselves define them is simply silly.
Written By: McQ
Uh John, I think that KURDS view themselves, primarily as KURDS, not necessarily Sunni’s whereas Shi’i view themselves as Shi’i rather than Arabs or Iraqi’s. It is true that the division is one of culture and politics. I would argue that the central government of iraq prior to OIF viewed them as distinct groups, too.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://

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