Abandon What?

| Mon Aug. 15, 2005 4:42 PM EDT

Robert Dreyfuss' piece on how to get out of Iraq, linked to by Clint below, is good and worthy of discussion, so let's discuss. This part of his plan, in particular, seems to me as outrageous as any delusion dreamed up by the Bush administration:

Talks in Amman, or Geneva, or at the United Nations, could serve as a vehicle for dissolving the current Iraqi interim government and holding elections that could produce a far more legitimate and broad-based regime in Baghdad. [I]t is perfectly clear what the United States has to do: It must abandon its deformed offspring in Baghdad, the hapless regime of Shia fanatics and Kurdish warlords, and pray that it can establish direct talks with the people it is fighting.

And, pray tell, why should the "Shiite fanatics" or "Kurdish warlords" go along with this idea? Right now, as thorny as the talks over the new constitution are getting, they all have a pretty good deal: not only do they hold disproportionate power in the National Assembly, they're also in position to siphon off a good deal of oil wealth from their respective regions. Meanwhile, Shiite militias control southern Iraq, and have shown they have no trouble toppling, say, rival mayors in Baghdad when the mood suits them. The Kurdish warlords, for their part, remain extremely popular in Kurdistan (if anything, Barzani and Talabani are criticized for not pushing hard enough for Kurdish independence), and still control an army of some 100,000 peshmerga fighters. Dislodging these two groups from positions of influence and power would be a pretty neat trick.

And yes, it's true, many Shiites are secular or moderate, and strongly dislike the fundamentalist governments holding near-tyrannical sway in southern provinces like Basra. At the same time, the US already experimented with putting a secular Shiite in charge, and Ayad Allawi proved none too popular, as I recall. Now a U.S. offer of withdrawal in exchange for Sunni participation in the government has some appeal, granted—as Spencer Ackerman explained a while back—but the idea that somehow a negotiated settlement with both insurgents and "the people" could take place over the heads of the current National Assembly—and, let's be honest, over the head of Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani—borders on fantasy. At any rate, as far as one can tell, the current Iraqi government already has offered many of the things Dreyfuss thinks the US should offer—including amnesty for insurgents—although the reports here are conflicted: according to some, Ahmed Chalabi has been the one scotching these sorts of deals; according to others, the countervailing pressure comes from the United States. Nevertheless, even if elements of the current Iraqi government really are the ones burning all the olive branches, that still leaves the question—can the US really just dislodge the current government from power? Not likely.

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