Friday, October 13, 2006

Iraqi Federalism Off To A Shaky Start - Guest Posting by Badger of "Missing Links"

Today's posting in the occasional series of guest postings is from "Badger" of Missing Links.

He covers the explosive vote engineered by Al-Hakim in the Iraqi parliament for "federalism." This is a major story. The consequences of that vote are likely to be disastrous not only for Iraq, not only for the Middle East in general, but also for the circa 140,000 American dead men walking hostages to fortune future body bag occupants service men and women in Iraq. I'm sure it won't be a surprise to my readers that it hasn't been covered either widely or well in the western press. The gates of hell have just swung wide open? Well so what? No missing blondes in a Caribean resort? No pre-greased pages being preyed upon by Republican congressmen? No little fluffy bunnies? None of those? Oh well then it's back page news for most.

And yet America desperately needs a more informed populace and a more informed political debate. "Badger's" blog helps fill in some of those gaps. I wrote about "Missing Links" back on September 18th. I'm impressed by his very solid work as I said back then:

"Helping Fill In The Gaps

Via a comment of his on Juan Cole's place I've just discovered Badger's new blog "Missing Links" which Badger describes as; "News items from the Arabic-language press to help fill in the gaps."

I'm impressed. The articles he's selected are well worth reading both in their own right and as indicators of what's drawing attention in the Arabic language media - and his analysis is well argued. In short "Missing Links" is a resource for people who want to be able to make up their minds on the basis of information...."

But don't take my word for it, judge for yourselves. Badger kindly agreed to do a guest posting. I suggest you read his posting here. Then head "upriver" his place and read his latest "Iraqi federalism vote: Behind the contradictory numbers" and also that you add his blog to your daily reading.

There will be no other postings today.


Iraqi Federalism Off To A Shaky Start

We're used to the idea that the Western press beautifies the American wars with its "campaigns" and its "casualties". It's always been a little harder to get a handle on the political beautification.When the Iraqi parliament voted Wednesday on a bill to set up procedures for establishing federal regions in Iraq, the Western press reported a beautiful democratic event, and a victory for the federalists.The Iraqi press reported a procedure that reeked of skulduggery. Here's how I tried to sort through the different accounts in the immediate aftermath of the vote, a picture-perfect illustration of"political beautification". (Since then, AP has filed what I guess they call a "row-back", retelling their story to bring it a little closer to reality. You can read that here).

Baghdad papers Azzaman and Al-Mada said the vote on the federalism-procedures bill on Wednesday was 138 yeas out of 138 voting, in other words one-half of the 275 parliament members plus one, with all of the others boycotting the session. Another standard source, the pan-Arab paper Al-Hayat, said the vote was 148 in favor, out of 175 voting. Al-Sabah described the yea vote as "a majority, with 140 present." Ah, you say, surely the New York Times cleared this up. Actually the New York Times didn't offer its own figure, even though it had five staff people working on this. It said the Associated Press said the bill passed with 140 yea votes, without mentioning what the attendance was. Of maybe you prefer the Le Monde approach to this. They didn't report any vote count at all, noting only that the bill was supported by the UIA which has 138 members, and the Kurdish alliance, which has 52, thus ensuring "une solide majorite". So there you have it. The English-speaking result is a non-controversial 140 votes in favor, end of story, nothing to see here. The Arabic-speaking result is a squeaker, passing by barely one vote, suggestive of skulduggery. The French-speaking version is that the vote isn't worth reporting because this was supported by two blocs which, if all of their members had voted with the bloc, which they didn't, would have ensured a solid majority. Al-Hayat, with its 148 yeas out of 175 voting, is the statistical outlier.

Voting In The Dark

Okay with the numbers? Now let's look at the meaning. Various Arabic newspapers noted that the Speaker of Parliament, one Mashhadani, was one of those boycotting the session, which was then presided over by his deputy, Khalid Atia. "According to al-Hayat, Khalif al-Alayan, a leader of one of the mainboycotting groups, said: "This [the voting procedure] was done by collusion", followed by a cryptic remark, which -- this is only a wild guess, but -- looks like where the editor on the desk said "why don't we just leave the rest of this out". Azzaman says several parliamentarians spoke of connivance, and some of outright illegality in the passage of this. (Apparently this was voted on clause by clause, and the process took several hours, some alleging that this was drawn out to give time to pressure enough members to come in and vote, and the time it took was over the legally-permitted time for doing this).

Al-Mada is a little more helpful on the overall picture. They report that Mashhadani, before he too joined the boycott, ordered that the session be closed, ordering out even the members' staff people, and he cut off the direct electronic transmission of the session to the outside, creating a hermetically sealed environment. Which would mean there weren't any reporters there to count the votes. Of course that doesn't explain why the reporters couldn't have had recourse to an official record after the vote was over, but I guess there are some things we are not meant to know.

Bottom Line: Is Iran Undermining Our Number-System ?

"Well and good, Badger", you say, "but come to the point. Who are the black hats here?" Actually in the English-language and the French-language worlds, there weren't any black hats here. The bill passed, by a non-controversial majority, and that was that.

In my opinion, this was open-and-shut for the NYT and its information-allies, because Iraqi "federalism" is a foregone conclusion for the US and its allies. A smoother national outcome would have been nice, but it appears the default was always creative destruction, which now means an easy-going federalism is a lot more attractive than trying to put the pieces back together for a strong and competent central government. I realize this doesn't make rational sense in any world you and I are capable of imagining, but there you have it.

(If there had been a problem with the vote in the English-speaking version, it would have been the fault of the Iranians, but you knew that).

The newspapers that reported this passed by only one vote, however, had to face up to the whodunnit question. In specific terms, the finger points at four members of the party that is headed by Ayad Allawi, the so-called "Iraqi List", which being supposedly of the strong-central-government persuasion, was expected to oppose this bill by joining the boycott. Allawi is the former CIA asset from London, who went on to become interim head of the Iraqi government between the Bremer and Jaafari administrations. Azzaman names the four members of his group that had naturally been expected to join the boycott. Had they joined the boycott, Azzaman said, the bill would have failed, but unexpectedly they attended and voted for it, and that was what tipped the balance. Azzaman names the four of them, in dramatic fashion, under a separate headline: "The four that changed history". But the paper also says there were parliamentarians complaining of "direct Iranian pressure". In any event, the Azzaman take on the whole process is that the passage of this bill plunges Iraq into a tunnel of sectarian and racial division from which there will be no exit. The reporter says this bill faced "vehement popular opposition". And he quotes someone from the Fadhila wing of the UIA, which along with the Sadrists, opposed this bill as untimely: The Fadhila person said what has been a partial and latent civil war is now going to come out into the open.

If you want a detailed, dispassionate analysis of the procedures outlined in this bill, indicating why this could well be a slippery slope to long-term instability, you should read the essay on this by historian Reidar Visser, at The Draft Law for the Formation of Regions: A Recipe for Permanent Instability in Iraq?, and also his update on this at Iraq Federalism Bill Adopted Amid Protests and Joint Shiite-Sunni Boycott.

Luckily, Sovereignty Is Not An Issue

The other unusual story of that day, apart from a mortar attack and spectacular fire at an American ammunition depot, was this: US military personnel, dressed in civilian clothes, broke into the Central Courthouse in Baghdad and removed the former Electricity Minister, who had just been sentenced to two years in jail for fraud, and took him to the American Embassy for safekeeping. (Al-Hayat version in the piece linked to above). He is a dual Iraqi-US citizen, and the Americans probably thought he might not do well in the all-Iraqi prison system. The Iraqi Justice Minister had some choice words to say about this.


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