Politics rears its Iraqi head
Today brought some bad news for the Surge. "Iraq's three-member presidency council has rejected a draft law to hold provincial elections and returned it to parliament, the president's office said on Wednesday." Fortunately, the other two laws which were part of the reform package "the 2008 federal budget and a general amnesty" passed. But "the law to hold provincial elections has not been approved and has been sent back to the parliament".
Max Boot argued the fact that "80,000 Iraqis, primarily but not exclusively Sunnis" had joined the Sons of Iraq "after having fought Iraqi and coalition forces" was "the best evidence" that real reconciliation was waiting to happen on the ground. Unfortunately they will have to wait a little longer. How much longer we don't know. Readers will remember that the original UN designed Iraqi electoral process -- the closed party list -- resulted in the emergence of parties based on sectarian interests. As a consequence politics in Baghdad is dominated by a divisive sectarianism. In contrast, the Surge has raised up a new generation of grass-roots leaders, many of whom have come from "the other side". The electoral law needs to be changed for the gains of the Surge to be institutionalized.
Although the Iraqi Parliament had passed an electoral reform law designed to eliminate the closed party list distortions that "left Kurds and Shiites with vastly disproportionate power over Sunni Arabs in some areas" and made it difficult to remove corrupt local leaders the election law was vetoed by Iraq's three-member presidency council because "officials in a powerful Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (S.I.I.C), objected to provisions that they contend unlawfully strip power from Iraq’s provinces".
The real story, according to the International Herald Tribune, was that a provision that let the Iraqi prime minister to fire a provincial governor would be a threat to the S.I.I.C's power base. The veto sent the measure right back to Parliament, on holiday until March 18. US officials still believe that the election law has only momentarily been delayed, but partisan politics had already shown how obstructive it could be.
Each passing week forces commanders on the ground to extemporize while Baghdad's partisan politics plays its dreary games. And every delay raises the risk that stagnation would provide an opportunity for trouble to break out again. In the same week the veto was passed sixty four pilgrims were killed in the Shi'ite south, including the 74-year old chief of the Iraqi Journalists' Union, Shihab al-Timimi. The men on the ground have done their best. Now the politicians will do their worst.