Economics, General, International Relations, Iraq, Political Philosophy, War On Terror

The Other War In Iraq

Instapundit has a lengthy note from a Colonel in Baghdad on the recent fighting in Basra. He observes that the driving force in that conflict was not Moqtada al-Sadr, but the lack of services being provided by the Iraqi Government. Indeed, that highlights a bigger issue: over the long term, the biggest problem in Iraq isn’t terrorism. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been largely crushed. Moqtada al-Sadr was forced to cry uncle and is viewed by all as an Iranian stooge. While there are still acts of violence in Iraq, they’re less and less the sort of organized attacks that we’ve seen over the course of the war.

The real issue is going to be corruption. The biggest roadblock to democratization is corruption, and it’s endemic in Iraq. The Iraqis have a source of revenue in oil, and it’s enough to sustain their development. The problem is without a system of accountability and transparency, that money won’t go to where it’s needed.

Over time, we’re going to need a new “surge”—but one that focuses on working with the Iraqi government to stop corruption. We’re in a unique position to help, and working alongside the Iraqis we need to develop systems that help make sure money goes to where it is truly needed and those that steal from the Iraqi treasury are brought to justice.

Most NGOs focus on issues other than helping improve the rule of law in foreign nations—and it seems counterintuitive to think that accountants rather than aid workers can truly help developing nations. Yet, if a nation is to transition successfully from autocracy to democracy, fiscal accountability is absolutely crucial. Many democratizing states fail to democratize because the government does not act with accountability to the people, which causes the people to lose faith in government.

The US needs to work with NGOs like Transparency International and the Iraqi government to create a more democratic and accountable political and financial system for the Iraqi people. We have made great strides in terms of fighting terrorism and providing security—yet that alone won’t be enough to make Iraq a strong and functional nation. The future of Iraq hinges on the ability of the government to provide critical services while remaining accountable to the people. If it cannot do this, then the Iraqi people will be forced to turn to militia leaders for help, and Iraqi society will fragment. This does not have to come to pass, but in order to prevent it we have to start looking beyond basic security and towards governmental reform.

Iraq, War On Terror

The Battle For Basra

The Iraqi Army is engaged in a major action against Shi’ite militias in the southern Iraqi city of Basra as radical “cleric” Moqtada al-Sadr is calling for “civil disobedience” against the Iraqi government:

The clashes came as Sadr’s movement mounted a nationwide civil disobedience campaign in many parts of eastern and central Baghdad, demanding the release of Sadr’s followers from detention centers and an end to Iraqi government raids. Sadrist leaders ordered stores to be shut down and taxi and bus drivers to stop operating. Television footage Tuesday showed neighborhoods turned into virtual ghost towns, their usually busy streets all but empty.

In a statement, Sadr called upon Iraqis to stage sit-ins and threatened a nationwide “civil revolt” if U.S. and Iraqi forces continue attacking and arresting his followers.

The actions were the latest sign that the ceasefire imposed by Sadr on his Mahdi Army militia is under strain.

Al-Sadr is worried: he renewed his “cease fire” recently, but now the radicals are losing confidence in his leadership. Over the period of the cease fire, several splinter groups decided to ignore his orders and launched attacks against the Iraqis and the coalition. Now it appears that al-Sadr is trying to placate those who want more action. There’s a huge risk in that: al-Sadr risks losing popular support by undermining the security gains of the last year and risks the dismantling of his organization at the hands of the Iraqi Police and Army.

That’s precisely what needs to happen. Moqtada al-Sadr has been a thorn in the side of Iraqi peace for far too long. Having the Iraqi government take him down, rather than the coalition, is the best option in terms of minimizing the fallout. Al-Sadr’s actions have indicated that he wants to be a terrorist rather than a politician, and he should be treated accordingly.

If Moqtada al-Sadr were such a great leader beloved by the Iraqis, he wouldn’t need to be hiding in Iran. The fact that al-Sadr seems unwilling or unable to show his face in Iraq is itself suggestive of his lack of power. His rise to power was based on the threat of Sunni militants—with al-Qaeda in Iraq being rolled back more and more each day, there’s little need for his “services.”

With luck, this will be the ignominious end of Moqtada al-Sadr—a marginalized figure being groomed for Iran for a position he’ll never be able to take. His Mahdi Army crushed, his followers disenchanted, his movement disbanded, al-Sadr will be unable to threaten Iraq’s peace and stability again. It is important that the young Iraqi state crush this rebellion—as important as George Washington putting down the Whiskey Rebellion was in our early history. The state must have the monopoly of violence to legitimize itself, and al-Sadr’s attempt at rebellion will ensure that the Iraqi government establishes quite clearly that it will defend itself from attack by undemocratic forces.