Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Iraq's water crisis threatens its economic and politcial development

While Middle East analysts have focused on the Arab-Israeli dispute, Islamic radicalism and nuclear proliferation, a more serious problem looms ever larger, namely the shortage of water facing many of the region’s countries. Despite being known as Mesopotamia - the Land Between the Two Rivers - Iraq is confronting what could be an existential challenge. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which have given life to the Fertile Crescent, are in the process of being significantly degraded, threatening not only Iraq’s agriculture but virtually all aspects of the country’s life. What are the origins and development of this crisis? What the probable political outcomes of Iraq’s severe water shortages and can their negative consequences be confronted?

The argument is often made that the Iraqi state has not, historically, pursued prudent water control and preservation projects. In this view, Iraq’s water shortage problem is a function of state policies which have both neglected and even exacerbated it. This argument does have some merit. However, it fails to recognize that many steps were taken by various governments during the 20th century to try and control and better allocate the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.

The Hindiya Barrage, built on the Euphrates River in 1913 by the famous British engineer, Sir William Wilcox, was the first effort to control the Tigris and Euphrates river system. The Kut al-Amara Barrage, which was constructed between 1935 and 1939 by 2500 Arab and Kurdish workers had a salutary impact on farming, spreading irrigation to a wide area surrounding the barrage. The Wadi Tharthar Project, created by the Iraq Development Board with funding from the World Bank, is set in a large depression near the city of Samarra, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad. It was begun in 1952 and intended to protect Baghdad from the annual flooding of the Tigris River and to increase irrigation waters which could provide irrigation for a half million acres when filled to capacity. The Samarra Barrage, opened in 1956, is part of the diversion scheme to funnel excess water to the Wadi Tharthar. Lake Habanniya, a natural lake near al-Ramadi, has been used since 1956 to contain the flow of the Euphrates when a barrage was built to divert excess water to it.

The Falluja Barrage, first proposed in 1923, was not built until much later, having been completed in 1985 with the intent of expanding irrigation in al-Anbar Province. The al-Haditha Dam, constructed between 1977 and 1987, was designed to produce hydroelectric power, regulate the waters of the Euphrates and increase irrigation around the town of al-Haditha. In 1980, a German consortium began work on the Mosul Dam which was intended to capture the snow runoff from Turkish mountains to the north, to provide hydroelectric power and expand irrigation. The dam is the fourth largest of its kind in the Middle East. Historically, it seems clear that many of the water projects in Iraq have benefited the north central or so-called Sunni Arab triangle.

In the Kurdish region, there is the Dukan (Dokan) Dam, in al-Sulaimaniya Province, on which construction began in 1954 and which came on line in 1959. Initially intended for irrigation, by 1979, it also was able to produce hydroelectric power. Over time, it became so degraded that its ability to produce electricity today cannot be relied upon. The other large dam in the Kurdish region is the Bekhme Dam Project about which more is said below.

It should be clear from this cursory overview that a variety of Iraqi governments have taken water issues seriously. What analysts really mean when they speak of the state’s neglect of water issues is the period between 1980 and 2003 when wars and political instability curtailed most state-run projects. Under Saddam Husayn’s rule, dams and barrages were built in many areas south of Baghdad between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers not for agriculture but to drain them for military training purposes (Islam Online; 2008). The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and the UN sanctions regime imposed on Iraq between 1991 and 2003 effectively stopped all projects designed to deal with Iraq’s water needs. As pointed out in an excellent article in al-Sharq al-Awsat (Feb. 8, 2010) by Dr. Hasan al-Janabi, Iraq's representative to the FAO in Roem, it was only in the 1990s that Iraq began to face serious water problems.

During the war, Turkey built tunnels that were completed in 1986,diverting one-fifth of the Euphrates River’s water to the huge Ataturk Reservoir. Because Iraq did not want to antagonize Turkey during its war with Iran, it offered only muted protests against Turkey’s actions. Here is a clear example how Saddam’s wars negatively impinged upon Iraq’s water needs.

Despite the tremendous casualties during the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars, and Intifada of February-March, 1991, Iraq’s population nevertheless increased from 13 million in 1980 to over 29 million in 2010. During a period when the country’s resources should have targeted to increase agricultural productivity and food supplies, they were instead diverted to two disastrous wars. Indeed, the UN allied coalition bombing of Iraq in January 1991 pushed Iraq back to industrial levels of the early 1960s.

The most obvious impact of the water crisis has been its impact on Iraqi agriculture, both in the northern and southern portions of the country. Although Iraq’s main source of revenues is derived from oil, agriculture still plays a key role in much of the country. In 2009, 25% of the population was employed in agriculture which generates 10% of GDP. In Diyala Province, one of Iraq’s most unstable areas, 70% of the province is dependent on agriculture.

Iraqi agriculture was already in a weakened condition in 2003 after 12 years of UN sanctions which prevented any form of major development or improvements. By 2002, 80-100% of many of Iraq’s staples were imported. Even though Iraq’s three Kurdish provinces became an autonomous region in 1991, still Iraqi Kurdistan was importing 65% of its agricultural products in 2006 with its own agricultural sector only producing 35% of the region’s needs.

Irrigation in Iraq has been severely curtailed through a combination of drought, restrictions of water flow in the Tigris and Euphrates by its two upriver neighbors, Syria and Turkey, a lowering of the water table of underground aquifers due to excessive pumping, and by the inability of post-2003 governments to implement a national policy to conserve water and regulate water flows.

Rice production has been severely curtailed and even banned by the government in southern Iraq because not enough water is available to allow it to be cultivated. This problem has cultural overtones, making it more difficult for Iraqis to purchase high quality and expensive Anbar rice which is coveted in Europe for making beer and by Iraqis for meals during religious holidays. Many rice farmers have been reduced to collecting and selling salt gathered from drainage ditches along the Euphrates River.

The outcome of reduced agricultural output is that Iraq has been forced to import more food crops from abroad. The necessity to import food crops from abroad places greater strain on Iraqi hard currency reserves because food prices worldwide are on the rise (“UN Data Notes Sharp Rise in Food Prices,” The New York Times, Jan. 6, 2011 ).

Although the northern part of Iraq benefits from greater rainfall than the south, this region has suffered from its own problems with water which are both naturally induced and political in nature. Due to neglect and over pumping of wells, lack of government technical support, and political instability, many of the underground canals (karez/qanat) that have provided irrigation waters since time immemorial to Kurdish, Arab, Turkman and farmers of other ethnic groups in the north have been destroyed. A 2009 UNESCO study found that, after 4 years of drought, 70% of the karez that were still operating in 2005, the year the drought began, had been abandoned. This led to the displacement of 100,000 people in northern Iraq.

Much of this destruction of northern Iraq’s irrigation system occurred during the 1980s when Saddam Husayn decided to ethnically reconfigure the region of the Ninewa plains by removing Kurds who lived and farmed there. During the notorious Anfal Campaign, between 1986 and 1989, 3.5 million Kurds and other minorities were displaced and as many as 150,000 people died. Hundreds of villages were destroyed and with them the irrigation infrastructure that had supported them.

In the south, which has not received as much state attention to water resources as the north (e.g., it received much less electricity than Baghdad or Iraq’s Sunni Arab provinces during the 1990s), the situation is dire in many areas. Iraq’s signature agricultural crop, date production, one that has defined Iraq’s culture over time, has suffered not only from the persistent drought, but from the drop in the water level of the Shatt al-Arab, where the Tigris and Euphrates join, which has resulted in the increased salinization of the river water. Many date palms have died in the far south and the entire industry in this region is threatened with destruction.

With the significant decline in the size of Iraq’s lakes, many have become highly saline making it difficult for fish to reproduce. Fishermen on Iraq’s lakes have also been adversely affected. Many have been forced to leave the Lake Habbaniya area and move to urban areas where they place more pressure on limited government services and employment. This also means that urban areas receive smaller amounts of fish, the amount of which had already been in decline due to the pollution of the Tigris River which led the Iraqi government to ban fishing in it in the area around Baghdad.

Virtually all Iraq’s industries, from cement to oil, are adversely affected by the water shortage problem that the country is facing. Water is necessary for cement and oil production and for many other forms of manufacturing. Once a rural area loses its agriculture production, small industries can also be hurt as they lose the farmers who often serve as part-time workers in these industries to supplement their farm income.

While the al-Maliki government has provided a limited amount of loans to farmers to help them improve agricultural output, there is little official infrastructure through which to make these loans effective. The government has not provided loan guarantees for potential agribusiness investment. With water levels dropping, increased soil salinity and the lack of government support for agricultural exports, the incentive for companies to invest in agriculture has declined. Many government officials support the ban on agricultural imports because otherwise Iraqi farmers could not compete. However, many likewise favor price supports for consumers so that they will not be adversely affected by the sharp rise in local food prices.

An important outcome is that, once economic activity has been adversely affected in rural areas, it is often difficult to reintroduce it (something we already see in the KRG farm sector). Once crops have been destroyed and farmers have been forced to leave their land, it is not easy to entice these farmers or other agricultural workers to return to the land if suitable conditions of cultivation cannot be reestablished, and if they do not have access to urban amenities.

Not all is doom and gloom. In Ninewa Province, Iraq’s breadbasket, grain production of wheat and barley grew by 370% in 2010 due to favorable rains followed by mild winter temperatures and is expected to have continued high productivity in 2011. This is also true of Arbil, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya and al-Tamim governorates.

At present, the greatest problems caused by the water shortage are being felt by those sectors of the Iraqi populace who are most adversely affected by the drought and its social, economic and cultural impact. Peasant farmers who have been forced to migrate from their ancestral villages to urban areas where life is very difficult are angry that the government has done little to help them sustain their farms. Among families who remain in the villages (and those in urban slums), the lack of fresh drinking water, which requires purchasing water from private tanker trucks, places an added economic burden on the family.

Others who have been adversely affected by Iraq’s water shortages are urban consumers who see the prices of vegetables, fruits and grains rising sharply. Price rises are both due to reduced size of crop output and a government policy designed to help farmers by banning foreign imports of many agricultural products. Prices of vegetables have doubled in some parts of Iraq. While the Ministry of Agriculture has banned the import of a variety of fruits and vegetables to protect Iraqi farmers, the policy has created outrage among many consumers. Water affects the price equation in another manner because farmers need to resort to pumps to bring water deep in wells to the surface given the contraction of Iraq’s aquifers, further adding to the costs of production.

In the KRG, we see a more focused problem as many peasant farmers were already forced off their land by Saddam Husayn’s Anfal Campaign (1986-1989) and/or by the degradation of the Kurdish agricultural sector due to neglect on the part of the two dominant political parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after the region became autonomous in 1991.

Because so many farmers have been forced to leave their farms, many are now dependent on the KRG for their livelihoods as an estimated 90% of all jobs in the KRG are under the patronage control of the KDP and PUK. Because Kurds need to have ties to and influence (wasta) in one of these two parties, securing employment is often not easy. With the inflation rate in the KRG putting sharp pressure on salaries, which have not risen as quickly, there is much resentment towards the KRG leadership, as I discovered in my own interviews with Kurds, which is seen as permeated by corruption and nepotism.

There has been some effort by the KRG to lure Kurds back to agricultural pursuits. This would make the KRG less dependent on food imports and reduce population pressures on urban areas. However, Kurds will be reluctant to pursue farming unless there is a good livelihood to be made. And such a livelihood will not be possible unless local water resources are improved.

As water shortages place ever greater constraints on Iraqi agriculture, a process that began in the 1920s and 1930s has increased, namely migration from rural to urban areas (especially by the so-called al-shurugi/pl. al-shargawiya). This not only depopulates villages but undermines tribal and other social networks. This creates an ever larger social stratum that lacks employment, housing and other social services once migrants arrive in towns or, more often, large urban areas such as Baghdad or Basra.

Young people are more inclined to migrate from rural areas than their elders. Older farmers are usually more tied to the land, often more fearful that leaving the land will not produce a better outcomes than remaining in the village, or too infirm to leave. This creates a “perfect storm” for political instability because youth are more susceptible to recruitment by criminal gangs and sectarian organizations when they arrive in urban areas and are unable to find employment and lack social connections that would help them find employment, housing and other services.

As US forces have withdrawn from Iraq, new sectarian militias have emerged in the south of Iraq, while the so-called Islamic State of Iraq has increased its acts of violence in the so-called Sunni Arab triangle and in Baghdad and Mosul. One of the drivers of this new uptick in violence is not just the recent nine month imbroglio over forming a new government as Iraq’s political elite fought over the prime ministerial post and cabinet positions, but also the rising unemployment of youth as the government still has not been able to confront this problem in a serious manner.

As Muqtada al-Sadr has now returned to Iraq, and his movement holds important posts within the new al-Maliki government, it will be in a better position to increase its strength by channeling discontent against Iraq’s political elites among the urban masses whose day to day economic status is very precarious.

Political tensions have already emerged between the central government in Baghdad and the KRG over the Bekhme Dam Project. The idea of the project was first put forth in 1950, but it was only under Saddam Husayn’s regime that it began in earnest. Already in 1975, villages were depopulated in anticipation of building the dam and filling a large valley with water which would produce irrigation, significant hydroelectric power - enough to power the homes today of most Kurds in the KRG - and create tourist attractions. The problem with the dam is that it will displace several Kurdish villages and inundate priceless historical sites that relate to ancient Kurdish culture. Because the dam will be placed on the Greater Zab River, which supplies 33% of the Tigris’ waters, Baghdad has reacted with alarm that the KRG wants to build it.

With the central government and the KRG already struggling over control of oil in the north of Iraq, over the city of Kirkuk, over villages along the so-called Green Line that separates the KRG from the Arab provinces to the southwest, and control of the peshmerga, the KRG militia, adding the problem of water resources will only make a bad situation significantly worse.

It is true that myriad laws and regulations exist from the period of the Hashimite monarchy (1921-1958) and onwards that are intended to regulate water usage. However, most of these rules are not obeyed, e.g., restricting the use of water for irrigation purposes, because neither the central government or the KRG has the power or the will to enforce them. To date, both Baghdad and the KRG have been focusing on different issues, such as control of Iraq’s oil resources, control of the oil rich city of Kirkuk, and the military balance of power between the two governments.

Only when the central government and the KRG realize the extent to which water shortages can have disastrous consequences for both parties will there be an incentive for the two sides to cooperate in developing a national Iraqi water policy that can serve both Arabs and Kurds. If the other main issues that separate the two sides see some progress - which is highly doubtful in the short term - then water issues may also be treated in a more systematic and cooperative manner.

What policy changes can we expect in the near term? As an indicator of government concern with the water shortage problem, Minister of Water Resources, 'Abd al-Latif al-Rashid, signed a $35 million contract in April 2010 with two Italian firms (MED and SGI) to develop a comprehensive water resources plan for Iraq through 2035. At a Baghdad conference on water resources in 2009, government officials spoke of an impending disaster. In discussing the drop in water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Ali Baban, the Minister of Planning, was quoted as saying that, “Our agriculture is going to die, our cities are going to wilt, and no state can keep quiet in such a situation.”

For the first time, Iraqi officials seem to be taking seriously the need to develop a regional water policy and no longer view the problem of water shortages as simply a domestic issue. Ali Baban visited Turkey and Syria and made the case that Iraq needs their cooperation if it is to avert a national water crisis. Inserting himself once again into important domestic issues, Grand Ayatallah Ali al-Sistani has proposed that Iraq provide oil at reduced prices to those countries (meaning Turkey Syria and Iran) that provide Iraq with water.

The KRG needs to reconsider its water policies. A prominent Kurdish engineer who worked on the proposed Bekhme Dam believes that it can be broken down into several smaller manageable dams without having a detrimental impact on the region where they would be constructed. He argues that 90% of the building material for these small dams could be generated from the site and the surrounding areas, making the dams less destructive of surrounding villages as well as more cost effective. The engineer also points out that all of Iraq’s dams are in poor condition and in need of repair. This state of affairs was especially evident after the US invasion of 2003 when there were fears that the Mosul Dam might collapse. Here is an area, namely dam repair, where the Federal Government and the KRG could cooperate in sharing information on dams and in making the necessary repairs.

One area where little has been done is that of water conservation. The winter runoff of waters from the mountains in the KRG could be used in the summer throughout Iraq, but is not being so used at the moment. A team of foreign experts, in addition to the Italian companies already under contract with the Iraqi government, should be brought to Iraq to develop a sound conservation policy, and more effective means of finding above and underground safe water storage. The more time that passes, the worse the crisis and its long-term consequences for Iraq will become.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Keeping the politicians honest in Baghdad

Despite the continued machinations of Iraq's political elite over forming a new government now 8 months after last March's parliamentary elections, civil society continues to flourish and grow in Iraq. While civil society organizations are not going to be able to solve Iraq's myriad problems, it is important not to focus only on Iraq's political elite, however important. The Iraqi populace has been very active in using blogs, the media, and a wide variety of organizations. Women's rights organizations, student groups, conflict resolution organizations, blogs, labor organizations, artistic groups, and professional and business associations point to a rich social network. Unfortunately, the media in the West (and the Middle East) tend to focus excessively on elites, not realizing that democracy in Iraq will not work unless the citizenry at large is committed to that end.

Most recently, a large number of civil society organziations filed a suit in Iraqi courts to force Iraq's newly elected parliamentarians to begin work to confront the country's many pressing needs (see al-Hayat, Nov. 16, 2010). These organizations were furious that the newly elected members of the Council of Deputies were earning salaries of $11,000 per month but had, at the time the suit was filed earlier this fall, had met only once and then for less than a half hour. In addition, delegates who do not live in Baghdad receive $6000 per month stipend to cover local living expenses.

The suit that was filed demanded that the delegates return almost $40 million that represented salary that they had already received from their election to the time that the suit was filed 7 months after the election. According to Huda Adwar, president of the Iraqi NGO, al-Amal, the suit's aim was to protect Iraq's public wealth (al-mal al-'amm) and prevent its misuse. While the suit was not the reason for the parliament's finally beginning its work this past November, certainly the publicity generated by the suit placed great pressure on the new delegates who were well aware of public anger, especially in light of continued unemployment and lack of government services, to get the parliament moving. That the delegates were receiving what are very high salaries compared to national average, while the bulk of the populace is suffering from economic deprivation, was galling to Iraqis.

Some criticism was directed at the civil society organizations because they filed their suit in the wrong court. Constitutional lawyer, the attorney Tariq Harb, said the suit should have been filed in the Higher Administrative Court rather than the Karrada Municipal Court. Nevertheless, the use of courts to try and influence the government shows a level of sophistication that is lacking in most Arab countries. That Iraqis are resorting to the courts represents a step forward in strengthening the rule of law in Iraq.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In Iraq, Don't Abandon the Provincial Reconstruction Teams

Vice-President Joseph Biden's admonition in a recent New York Times Op-Ed column (November 21, 2010) that the US not abandon Iraq at this critical juncture in its efforts to establish political stability, prosperity and functioning democracy couldn't be more true. After all the blood that has been shed since 2003 to move Iraq forward, the Iraqi people do not deserve yet another tragedy given the suffering they have faced over the past several decades.

One of the most successful models in promoting positive social change in Iraq has been the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) program which was introduced into Iraq in 2005 and then expanded in 2008. PRTs have deployed American and other foreign personnel throughout Iraq to work on a wide variety of projects. The beauty of the PRT model is that it enshrines a "bottom up" approach to development. Iraqis, not foreigners, set the social reconstruction agenda and then the PRTs work to implement the goals of that agenda. Unfortunately, the PRT program is scheduled to be phased out in 2011. Given the program's success, it there a way it could be saved?

In his Op-Ed, Vice-President Biden pointed out that Iraq suffers from many problems but has also made much progress since 2003. One commendable form of progress has been the use of elections and negotiations rather than violence to solve its problems. Of course, Iraq's political process is not a pretty one. And some political leaders, such as Prime Minister al-Maliki and KRG President Masoud Barzani, have shown distinct authoritarian tendencies. Nevertheless, no one faction can dominate the political process and thus a form of democratic politics is bound to persist for the foreseeable future. However, whoever leads Iraq will have to deliver the necessary social services to the Iraqi people if they are win their loyalty and thereby insure the country's continued transition to democracy.

As complaints over government inaction in many areas have mounted - such as electricity shortages that led to riots in Basra last summer - social reconstruction looms ever larger among a disgruntled population, whether Arab or Kurdish. Complaints over the high salaries of parliamentarians, who have met only 4 times since last March's elections, have led to lawsuits against the government (see my forthcoming post on this issue). The rise of insurgent activity, while still relatively limited, also reflects a sense that the government is not serving the interests of the populace at large, particularly the minority Sunni Arab population, and poor Shiites in the south.

One of the best models for providing services has been the Provincial Reconstruction Teams that were formed after the US changed its policies in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. Having participated in the training of PRTs for the past 3 years, I have heard numerous success stories. One that is particularly inspiring comes from al-Falluja in al-Anbar Province. Many will remember the killing of 4 private security guards who worked for the Blackwater Corporation in al-Falluja in 2004. Subsequently their bodies were burned and hung from the town bridge that crosses the Euphrates River.

PRT members related to me how they helped farmers in the al-Falluja area reclaim 17000 acres of land. The farmers indicated that, during Saddam Husayn's regime, they had been told what to plant and then given a pittance for the harvest. As a result, there was little incentive for them to maintain the quality of their land. Based on the needs they expressed, the PRTs helped the farmers repair their irrigation canals and dams and showed them how to use new fertilizers. Soon they were producing fruits and vegetables for expanding urban markets and making a tidy sum in the process.

What pleased the farmers most was not that they were making a good income. Their greatest concern was that, if their farms could not provide enough income, their children would be forced to migrate to Baghdad or other urban areas where they might be forced to join criminal or insurgent organizations. Further, they lamented the fact that their family traditions would be lost as well. I was struck by the parallel between this story and an article I had read a few years ago about farmers in the Dakotas who indicated that a rise if soy bean prices allowed them to repay their debts and save the family farm for their children. Clearly, farmers throughout the world share the same concerns, not just to prosper but to keep an important tradition alive.

In a few short years al-Falluja has been transformed from a town whose residents were very hostile to the US to one where the residents no longer evidence such feelings. Indeed, an unlicensed Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant opened in the town a few years ago and had lines stretching far down the street when it first began business. The key here is that the residents are enjoying a modicum of prosperity. Give people hope in the future and their attention will be focused on taking advantage of that opportunity. The PRTS alone did not turn al-Falluja around but they did contribute to helping its farmers enjoy a better life.

American officials have indicated that the PRTs must be phased out now that US forces are greatly reduced in number in Iraq and thus are no longer able to provide for the safety of American and other foreign personnel. However, there is a way to save the PRT model and that is to have Iraqis provide the technical services formerly provided by Americans. Iraq is awash in technical personnel who could provide the services that the country needs to rebuild its education and health care systems and improve municipal services and its national infrastructure.

PRTs could be attached to the provincial councils that were elected in January 2009 throughout the Arab regions of Iraq. In both the Arab and Kurdish regions of Iraq, NGOs that are working to provide services, such as the Iraqi Peace Network and the Women for Women International chapter in Baghdad, could provide important assistance to the new Iraqi PRTs. Having the PRTs placed under the supervision of local provincial councils but also linked to the appropriate ministries in Baghdad and Arbil would both strengthen local governance and create stronger ties between center and periphery.

Iraq's PRTs could be divided according to the services they provided. Thus there could be PRTs that focused on education, health care, refugees and displaced families, single family households, women's issues, municipal infrastructure, conflict resolution, youth issues, agricultural development, small business and environmental issues.

These PRTs would provide employment for professionally trained Iraqis and would send a message that the Iraqi government is truly concerned with the needs of the populace at large. The new PRT network would undoubtedly include many young Iraqis. Recent research that I have conducted with youth throughout Iraq indicates that many are cynical about their political leadership, whether in Baghdad or Arbil. Were they able to participate in social reconstruction, many would find a new sense of purposes and develop greater faith in the political system. Constituting 65% of the population under the age of 25, it is critical to inculcate Iraqi youth with a sense of civic responsibility and pride.

The US could continue to provide assistance to the PRTs from its embassy and consulates in Iraq, via visits from technical teams to Iraq and visits by Iraqi professionals to the US, and via videoconferencing. The European Union, Turkey, India and other Arab countries such as Egypt could provide assistance as well. UN agencies such as the FAO in Rome, which is served by the very capable Iraqi representative, Dr. Hasan al-Janabi, would have a national service network in Iraq with which to more effectively interact.

The cost of the new PRT network would be not be prohibitively expensive. If social reconstruction does not proceed and Iraq slides back into a serious insurgency, the cost of the PRTs would be nothing compared to what it would take to militarily suppress a new uprising in Iraq. Already, there is restiveness in the areas of the so-called Sunni Arab triangle and new Shiite militias have emerged in the south now that US and British forces have largely withdrawn from that area.

Surely the US could find a way to finance a new PRT system in Iraq. It could seek funds from its allies in Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf who do not want an unstable Iraq to their north, especially one that provides greater opportunity for Iranian meddling in its internal affairs. Turkey, Malaysia and the European Union could also be asked to contribute funds. Further, countries that help Iraq now will no doubt be given favorable treatment as its oil and natural gas industries - both of which have huge reserves - begin to expand over the next 5 years. The time to act is now, so as to keep Iraq on track to becoming a truly stable, prosperous and democratic nation-state. Dos the US have the will to help Iraq achieve these ends?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Afghanistan: Counterinsurgency or Social Reconstruction?

US and Western efforts in Afghanistan are based on a number of dubious assumptions. First, the Obama administration continues to think in terms of a military victory. The original idea of a draw down of US troops by the summer od 2011 has now changed as President Obama recently indicated that substantial numbers of American troops may remain in Afghanistan until as late as 2014. Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai recently indicated that the US troop presence should be reduced as he seeks to find an accommodation with the Taliban. Unfortunately, the focus remains on the military, rather than on a larger societal perspective.

Second, the US and its NATO allies continue to think that the Hamid Karzai regime will be able to rule Afghanistan once the draw down of Western forces occurs. However, all Afghans know that the Karzai regime is highly corrupt and that it offers them little in the way of security and social services. Countless journalists have reported that consistent American efforts to pressure President Karzai to change his ways have been ineffective. Although Karzai invariably agrees to crack down on corruption, there has been no significant change in his behavior at all. To expect that the Afghan leader will develop a greater civic consciousness and seriously try to help his people is naive in the extreme.

Third, the US and its Western allies, but especially the US, continue to conceptualize Afghanistan's problems in term of political elites. Essentially, there are three sets of elites, those who are part of President Karzai's circle, the Taliban leadership, and local warlords who are not linked to either. None of these elites offer much hope for the future for the Afghan people and thus cannot be viewed as the basis for a long term solution to Afghanistan's problems.

President Karzai views the country as his own privy purse, the Taliban seek to impose once again an incredibly repressive regime on the country (which Afghans reject), and most local warlords combine the worst aspects of the central government and the Taliban. Indeed, one reason the Taliban was so successful in taking power in the mid-1990s was the popularity it gained by suppressing the warlords who had ruled after expulsion of Soviet forces in 1990. The warlords' arbitrary and repressive behavior, including stealing from the people, seizing their daughters, and imposing tariffs throughout the country that hampered commerce made them highly unpopular.

Fourth, the US and NATO view Afghanistan as a unitary state. Given the country's ethnic diversity and regional traditions, it makes much more sense to think of it in federal terms. Here Iraq has something to tell us about Afghanistan. Local provinces should have greater powers, especially in light of the limited services they receive from Kabul. This consideration also suggests why defeating the Taliban will not occur through Kabul but rather through the provinces.

Finally and most problematic, the US and the West continue to think of Afghanistan in short term policy goals. The time frame here spans 2-5 years at most. As I argue below, the problems of Afghanistan suggest the need for a much longer time frame. Developing policies according to the above mentioned assumptions suggests that the the US and NATO will lose in Afghanistan. But is there another approach?

The approach suggested here is built on two counter assumptions - assumptions related to a social reconstruction approach. First, defeating the Taliban must take place at the local level and largely bypass the Karzai regime. What I am suggesting here is the development of "regional security-development clusters." This entails finding local leadership that is willing to work with the international community, not just to provide security for the inhabitants but to help develop local agriculture and small scale artisan production and industry.

One step that has already been taken in that direction is the development of agricultural cooperatives in many areas of Afghanistan. One example is the successful triangulation between the Parwan Raisin Producer Association, which is located about an hour north of Kabul, Mercy Corps, a NGO located in Portland Oregon, and Fullwell Mill, a producer of organic and fair-trade foods located in Sunderland, UK. The US Agency for International Development has provided important funding to help the project succeed.

In return for participating in Mercy Corps.' training on how to grow organic raisins, local farmers now have a foreign outlet in Fullwell Mill which pays them excellent prices for their high quality Afghan raisins. While 35 farmers signed up to participate in the program when it began, 200 are now participating once the community saw that Fullwell Mill has kept its promises to purchase the cooperative's raisins at the attractive price they originally offered.

While the example of the raisin producer cooperative is a small one, it is indicative of the way in which the Taliban can be defeated in Afghanistan. Development here is based on a "bottom up" model. Rather than trying to create large costly projects designed in the West that do not fit with existing economic activity and customs, small scale projects such as the export model for Afghan raisins point to the manner in which Afghans can become economic stake holders and develop incentives to prevent the Taliban from winning adherents in their communities.

Once these communities prosper, and, more importantly, see a sustainable development model that will serve them well into the future, there will also be less problems with security. Afghans recruited to the police forces and army will now have an incentive to protect their communities because their families are enjoying ongoing economic benefits. Here we need to realize that the number of Afghans drawn to the Taliban because of its radical Islamist ideology is very small. Further, we need remember that few Afghans want to see the reimposition of the type of brutal Taliban rule that existed prior to the fall of 2001. Thus the Afghan populace is not inclined to support the Taliban if the correct mix of economic and security conditions are in place.

The Western counterinsurgency model does not adequately theorize the type of approach to thwarting Taliban efforts to seize control of Afghanistan because it still thinks too much in terms of military strategy and narrowly and short-term policy goals. The idea that foreign troops can wear the Taliban down and force them to the bargaining table does not address the long-term development problems faced by Afghanistan. Unless Afghans have the resources to provide for their families, there is no reason why the Taliban, and its highly lucrative opium production, will not reassert itself after a Western withdrawal from the country if Afghans have no other economic alternatives. Such an outcome would simply mean a return to the status quo ante with much Afghan, American and NATO blood having been spilled and huge amounts of monies spent to no benefit for Afghans or the West.

The second counter assumption challenges the idea that the US and NATO alone can prevent a Taliban victory in Afghanistan. When we see the large budget deficits being run by almost all Western countries, we need to realize that problems like the Taliban in Afghanistan have been to be addressed by a large international coalition. This means spreading the economic costs among a greater number of players. Saudia Arabia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil are all countries that could contribute funds and/or technical resources to help with the type of massive development effort required in Afghanistan (but one that need not be excessively costly if the focus remains developing already extant local production and resources).

What is needed in Afghanistan is a larger vision. This vision could be addressed by a series of international conferences in which democratic countries - all of whom face threats from radical extremists such as the Taliban and al-Qa'ida - work to develop an international response to the problems of failed states or quasi-failed states like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many others.

"Winning" in Afghanistan does not mean the temporary defeat of the Taliban only to see it reemerge yet again to repress the Afghan people and provide a safe haven for organizations like al-Qa'ida. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan would be terribly destabilizing to Pakistan, which is experiencing separatist movements and its own Taliban threat. While military action is obviously important in preventing a Taliban victory, the Obama administration's should move beyond its focus on force levels to addressing the underlying causes of radical extremism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Defeating radical extremism is a long term project. The West needs to get used to that idea. Local populaces must be given hope in the future. Developing an international alliance of states with mutually shared goals and values, and, equally importantly, creating stakeholders among the local populations caught in the violent crossfire, is the only way to win this struggle.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Local Control and Democratization in Iraq

Iraq has experienced very difficult times recently. It is still without a government over 8 months since last March's parliamentary elections. Violence, while still contained, has increased throughout the country over the past several months. Especially disturbing is the random nature of many of the bombings in urban areas that are designed to disrupt efforts to return life to some form of normality. The purposeful killings of Christians on November 1, who were attending mass at Our Lady of Salvation (Sayyidat al-Najat) Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad's Karrada district, is part of a systematic and brutal effort to prevent Iraq from creating a pluralistic and tolerant society.

While the nation's political elite continues to demonstrate its inability to address Iraq's pressing problems, Iraqis at the local level are using their new found power in the form of provincial legislatures to promote issues they consider important. In this posting, I want to discuss three initiatives taken by provincial councils and other legislative bodies. One calls for allowing provinces to establish offices in Iraqi diplomatic missions abroad. The second involves an attempt to fight an increase in electricity rates mandated by the Ministry of Electricity. And the third entails protests against federal oil and natural gas policy in two of Iraq's provinces.

One of these issues, which I mentioned in a previous posting, concerns the effort of the al-Najaf Provincial Council to force the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to allow the province to open offices representing its commercial, educational and tourist interests in Iraqi embassies abroad. After the al-Najaf Council voted to support this effort, claiming that provinces had the constitutional right to open offices in Iraq's diplomatic missions, the Babil Provincial Council followed suit with a vote of its own.

While Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have both objected to these efforts in arguing that they are not in fact allowed by the Iraqi Constitution, they point to an example of al-Najaf and Babil provinces using their new found legislative power to assert a local agenda, namely promoting their commercial and tourist interests. This is an important development since, in the Arab world, power flows from the center to the periphery, rarely the reverse.

Another example of the provincial councils using their power to try and offset that of the central government is the vote by the Karbala' Provincial Council to not accept proposed increases in electricity rates. Indeed, the local government has called upon Karbala's resident and those in administrative districts that make up the greater Karbala' region not to pay the increases.

Residents of Karbala' and the surrounding region argue that current electric supplies are sporadic and that they as consumers should not have to pay more for a service that is already in short supply. Further, local economists and businessmen argue that the increases would place an onerous burden on local industry and agriculture which are already having a difficult time competing in local and regional markets. As for the legitimate need for the Ministry of Electricity to invest in upgrading Iraq's outdated national electric grid, residents reply that the government could find ample funds if it would seriously confront the extensive administrative corruption that permeates the ranks of the state bureaucracy. Clearly, local residents are much more able to protest what they consider to be unjust actions of the central government when they are organized and have the support of local governmental institutions.

But perhaps the most impressive evidence that Iraqis in the provinces are taking their local power seriously is the vote by both the al-Anbar and the Basra provincial councils demanding that the central government consult them in the development of oil and natural gas resources in their respective provinces. Basra is the most energy rich province in Iraq while large amounts of natural gas have recently begun to be developed in al-Anbar Province. Both provinces have rejected Baghdad's unilateral actions in concluding contracts with foreign energy companies without including them in the bidding process and in the plans to develop the local oil and natural gas fields.

It is noteworthy that both Basra and al-Anbar provinces have invoked Article 112 of the Iraqi Constitution that requires that the federal government cooperate with local provinces in the development of any hydrocarbon resources. In Falluja, once the site of extensive violence and attacks against US forces (such as the killing and burning of 4 Blackwater private security guards in 2004), protests have been peaceful with demonstrators carrying placards in parades down the city's streets demanding that Iraq not sell the rights to its oil and natural gas to foreign energy consortia.

Whatever one thinks of the issues in these three cases, the use of local legislative institutions to challenge the central government's prerogatives is extremely limited in the Arab world. In Iraq, citizens elected local legislative councils throughout its Arab provinces in January 2009 and those councils are beginning to represent their constituents interests.

In the case of protests against the central government's oil and natural gas policy, we see how economic interests can cross-cut ethnoconfessional differences. al-Anbar Province is the quintessential Sunni Arab Province while Basra is predominantly Shi'ite. That these two provinces have come together around an issue that affects them both - namely the disposition of their respective hydrocarbon resources - demonstrates possible future areas of cooperation among Iraq's different ethnic groups and regions.

While Iraq continues to face enormous political, social and economic problems, not all the news is bad.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lessons Learned from Iraq or Lessons Learned From Afghanistan?

Many analysts have discussed the “lessons learned” for Afghanistan based on the US’ experience in Iraq. Little has been done to analyze what might be learned for Iraq from the US experience in Afghanistan. Perhaps the first lesson is “never take anything for granted.” After its rout of the Taliban in 2001, the US felt it could largely ignore Afghanistan despite Bush administration’s promises of a “Marshal Plan for Afghanistan” and numerous pledges of economic and social reconstruction aid from a large number of Western countries. When the promised aid was not forthcoming, the results were disastrous. Exploiting the corruption of the current regime of Hamid Karzai, the Taliban have slowly been able to reestablish themselves as a military and political force in Afghanistan. This turn of events required the US and the West to, in effect, create a brand new policy, resulting in considerable loss of life, both Afghan and Western, and the expenditure of huge amounts of money. If the US and its Western allies had consolidated their gains following 2001, starting all over again would not have been necessary.

In Iraq, the Obama administration does not seem to have any comprehensive plan for consolidating what gains have already been made in Iraq. Certainly, Iraq is still experiencing a political gridlock and has yet to form a new government following the March 2010 elections. Corruption is endemic and social services are lacking in much of the country. Ethnic mistrust is still a part of the political and social landscape.

Nevertheless, Iraq has a rudimentary democracy. The March elections were fair by all accounts. There is a vigorous civil society at work. The Iraqi Communist Party recently challenged the inactivity of the Chamber of Deputies (national parliament) and was successful in obtain a court ruling forcing the chamber to begin to meet and conduct the business for which its members were elected last march. Provincial councils have begun to insert themselves into both local and national affairs. For example, the al-Najaf City Council recently voted that the province be allowed to open offices in Iraqi diplomatic missions around the world to promote its economic and touristic interest. This in tunr has caused a broad national debate about whether such offices are legal under Iraq’s constitution, another indicator of a growing national civic engagement.

In Iraq, as in many countries of the Middle East, youth constitute a large segment of the populace. The so-called “youth bulge” is evident in Iraq as well where 65% of the population is under the age of 25. Research that I have been conducting with Iraqi youth from ages 14 through 30 is indicative of how Iraq might potentially develop in the near future. On the one hand, the positive news is that the overwhelming number of youth I have been able to interview are not sectarian in orientation and intuitively understand, as do their elders, that sectarian politics is neither good for Iraq or the type of behavior that bodes well for their future (unless perhaps they are drawn into sectarian criminal organizations). On the other hand, much of what these youth see in the political realm does not convey positive ideas about politics, much less attract many to run for public office. If the type of nepotistic and corrupt elite based politics continues in Iraq, then my data indicate that many youth who have the skills may seek to leave the country and pursue careers abroad rather than in Iraq.

What do these developments in Iraq imply for Afghanistan? Iraq is at a crossroads. It lives in a “rough neighborhood.” With the exception of Turkey, none of its neighbors want to see a democratic, ethnically and religiously pluralistic, and politically stable nation-states consolidate itself in their midst. For Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria, such a development is a disturbing prospect because of the reformist implications for their own political systems and societies.

Yet the Obama administration has not proposed any innovative policies that would help Iraq continue to consolidate the fragile gains it has made thus far politically, socially and economically. It has not, for example, developed a program that will replace its successful Provincial Reconstruction Teams, even if these were to be largely populated by Iraqis rather than Americans. To be sure, the Iraqis are a tenacious people whose progress since 2003 is remarkable in light of 35 years of highly repressive Ba'thist rule and numerous blunders on the part of the US occupation authority in 2003 and 2004, such as dissolving the Iraqi conscript army, cutting off funds to the state public sector, and pressuring the Iraqis to complete a new constitution in too short a time resulting in a flawed document.

The US should not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs. However, Iraq continues to seek American technology and technical assistance. Iraqis want our help in the education, health care and the municipal services fields. The Iraqi higher education system desires collaboration with the West. The Iraqi government continues to send many of its university students to study in the United States. The US continues to play a key role in helping Iraq improve its court system and consolidate the rule of law.

In the international arena, the US has played an important role in helping Iraq seek debt forgiveness from loans and reparations that go back to the Gulf War of 1991. The US is one of Iraq’s key allies in major international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. And let’s not forget the critical role that the US plays in Iraq’s efforts tor rebuild its security forces after 2003. The supplying of equipment and training is key to efforts to develop an army that can defend the country and police its long borders and local police forces that can assure citizens’ safety and security.

As with any friendship, this is always a quid pro quo. In exchange for its support, the US can ask of the Iraqi government that is begin to seriously confront corruption, that is follow the constitution and that it more vigorously implement the rule of law. Such behavior will further consolidate democracy and prevent the types of problems that we see with the highly corrupt and personalistic rule of Hamid Karzai in Kabul. Karzai’s behavior represents a perfect foil for the Taliban who can use his administration to justify their own efforts to seize power.

If the response to the arguments presented here is that the US is suffering a major fiscal crisis that has created huge budget deficits, perhaps the Obama administration should make Iraq part of its Stimulus Program. Numerous professionals who have lost their jobs in the US could find work in Iraq under the types of programs I am suggesting. This includes professionals, construction workers, teachers and academics, just to mention a few employment opportunities.

To offset its economic constraints, US policy in Iraq should increasingly assume an international dimension. Our oil rich allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait should be pressured to contribute funds to help develop Iraq. While a democratic Iraq might be threatening, a destabilized Iraq, in which the current Iranian regime, along with its Revolutionary Guards, extends its influence, is one of their worst nightmares.

The US needs to learn from Afghanistan that it ignores Iraq at its own peril.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What has Iraq's elite learned from the current political crisis?

The inability of Iraq's political elite to agree upon forming a new government does not bode well for the process of democratization following the highly successful March 2010 Council of Representatives (national parliament) elections. Still, the efforts of the major political actors and parties to form a new government has taught Iraq's politcial elite some important lessons .

First, it is clear ethnic and confessional identities alone carry relatively little weight in helping candidates achieve their goals. The best evidence of this is the intense competition that has been ongoing within the main Shi'i political parties, the State of Law Coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance and the Sadrist Trend. When Iran recently pressured Muqtada al-Sadr to throw the support of the his 40 seats the Sadrists won to al-Maliki, despite his hostility towards al-Maliki for suppressing his Mahdi Army militia in 2008, the other main party in the Iraqi National Alliance - the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (ISCI) - immediately began negotiations with al-Maliki's main competitor, Ayad Allawi, head of the secular al-Iraqiya List, which won the most seats in the March election. This development, along with al-Maliki subsequently distancing himself from Sadrist support after they demanded military and security portfolios in exchange for their support, clearly indicate that the unity that the Shi'i parties demonstrated in the December 2005 parliamentary elections through the United Iraqi Alliance was a temporary phenomenon and has now dissipated.

Second, the inability of ethnoconfessional groups to create cohesive alliances is actually beneficial for Iraq's political system It undermines the possibility of a confessional system on the Lebanon model from being established in Iraq. The inability of the large Shi'a parties to coalesce in a unified bloc has worked to inadvertently undermine sectarianism. At the time of this writing, ISCI's head, Ammar al-Hakim, is visiting the two most important Sunni states, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where he is attempting to drum up support for Ayad Allawi's efforts to impose conditions on all the major political parties that will prevent any of them from being excluded from receiving major portfolios in any government that is formed (al-Hayat, Oct, 12). Thus al-Maliki's efforts to relegate al-Iraqiya to a marginal role in the next government seems doomed to fail. That al-Hakim, the leader of what once was Iraq;s most sectarian party, is now cooperating with Allawi, Iraq's most secular political leader, is clear evidence that the desire for power and influence is cross-cutting ethnoconfessional identities.

Even the Kurds, who have maintained a unified bloc, still have to cope with the new Gorran (Change) Movement which won 8 seats in the March elections and continues to challenge the authority of the two main parties nthat control the KRG, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Clearly, the KDP and PUK no longer exercise the power and influence in Baghdad that they did in 2005.

While their 57 seats give them the possibility of playing a kingmaker role in the formation of the national government, namely allowing an Arab coalition to reach the 163 votes needed to form a government, the Kurdish parties, like their Arab counterparts, also realize that they will need to become more creative than simply throwing their votes to any coalition that promises to meet their demands, such as holding a referendum on the disputed city of Kirkuk. As their power wanes on the national scene, they will need to develop closer ties to those Arab parties with whom they share broad interests that affect all of Iraq if they are not to become further marginalized in the future.

Third, one of the most striking aspects of the post-election maneuvering has been the rapid shift in alliances - sometimes from one day to the next - as the major political actors and parties try and calculate what moves will best enhance their ability to maximize their power in the new government. As parties shift their contacts from one party to another, we see that all the major players have entered into dialogue with each other at one point or another.

This process has demonstrated the importance of negotiations to all the political parties, something unheard of in Iraq since the parliamentary elections of the 1950s, prior to the toppling of the Hashimite monarchy in 1958. While these negotiations have not brought about a new government, they have demonstrated two things: that no one ethnoconfessional group can now or in the foreseeable future dominate Iraqi politics, and that developing an inclusive political coalition represent s the best path to power. In short, there are some pistive lessons to be learned from the current political stalemate in Iraq

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The US and the International Community Should Support Gorran

One issue that has bedeviled US foreign policy in the Middle East is the support for authoritarian regimes. All too often, short term stability has trumped support for long term reforms, especially reforms that promote democratic governance. This process is occurring again in Iraqi Kurdistan where the Kurdish leadership is becoming increasingly authoritarian and repressive. Fortunately, there is a breath of fresh air in Iraqi Kurdistan in the form of the Gorran (Change) Movement. Before discussing Gorran's contribution to democracy, we need to understand the context in which it was established

As a strong ally, the US should continue to maintain close ties with the Kurds and the Regional Government (KRG) which rules Iraqi Kurdistan. However, by supporting the current Kurdish political elite which does not reflect the interests of the populace at large, the US is once again making a serious mistake. It is trading short term stability for potential instability in the long term as it becomes identified with a repressive and unpopular elite whose legitimacy is on the decline due to corruption, nepotism and authoritarian rule. In neighboring Iran, support for the repressive and highly unpopular Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi produced the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 and the disastrous regime that continues to haunt the US and the Middle East to this day.

The two political,parties that control the KRG, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), claim that the Iraq's Kurds have enjoyed democratic freedoms under their rule since the region acquired semi-autonomous status following the Gulf War of January 1991. There was some progress towards democratization when the US imposed a "no-fly zone" after the war ended which allowed the KRG to break away from the Arab south. However, the KDP and PUK have dominated the political system, judiciary, the military and intelligence services and the economy, which has allowed for systematic abuses. As the dominant employer in the KRG, the KDP and PUK have been able to use the threat of dismissing Kurds from their jobs as an effective form of social control.

The reality is that the KRG government is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Attacks on the non-party press have intensified. Newspapers and journals that dare to criticize government corruption are subject to onerous lawsuits that impose heavy fines. At least two young journalists, Soran Mam Hama and Zardasht Osman have been killed for criticizing the KRG leadership.

The KRG has established an amalgam of courts, all of which are populated by judges sympathetic to the two major parties. Thus it is impossible to obtain a fair trial when political issues are involved. Many of the courts are extra-judicial because they were established by either the KDP or PUK and thus have no legal standing. In some instances, Ba'thist era criminal statutes laws are used to prosecute those who criticize the KRG such as the 1969 Iraqi penal code that allows prison terms for journalists
editors, writers, and publishers on defamation and other offenses

It is within this context of corruption, nepotism and authoritarian rule that a new political movement has appeared on the Kurdish political scene. The Gorran (Change) Movement was formed in the spring of 2009 by a reform group within the PUK, led by one of the party's founding members, Nawshirwan Mustafa. Gorran has grown quickly, beyond the dissidents who joined Nawshiran Mustafa in leaving the PUK. It enjoys widespread support in Iraqi Kurdistan among intellectuals, professionals and the educated middle classes, but increasingly among the broad swath of the Kurdiosh populace that is suffering from lack of jobs and access to education and other public services. Gorran has also received strong support from the Kurdish Diaspora in Europe and the United States.

Gorran was most successful,in the July 2009 KRG parliamentary elections. Of the chamber's 100 elected seats (an additional 1o appointed seats are reserved by the KRG for minorities and are delegated by the KRG president), Gorran won 25 seats. With the 15 seats won by the Services and Reform List, a coalition of Islamist and socialist parties, 40 of the parliament's 110 members are now part of the opposition.

Although the KRG leadership has refused to respond to questions posed by the Gorran and other opposition members about the use of public funds, the July 2009 elections have encouraged more Kurds to question how the KRG is being run. More and more Kurds seem inclined to vote for Gorran, especially in the Suleimaniya area which traditionally has been the PUK voting strength. Even though much of Gorran's initial strength came from PUK dissidents, now support for the party has spread to Arbil, Kirkuk and other Kurdish majority regions and towns.

As Gorran has generated more support, the KDP and faltering PUK have ratcheted up their efforts to suppress the party. During the March 2010 parliamentary elections, members of the peshmerga - the KRG militia - and police and intelligence officers were warned that, if they were suspected of having voted for Gorran, they would be required to swear on a Qur'an that they did not so. If they were found to have lied, their wives would be forced to divorce them for dishonesty. Despite efforts such as these to intimidate voters, Gorran still managed to gain 8 seats in parliament.

While it is still unclear where Gorran is headed, clearly it speaks to the disaffection of large segments of the Kurdish community in Iraq. As Gorran calls for laws to protect the media, an independent judicial system, and oversight of huge government revenues derived from oil production, more and more Kurds see the party that might deliver them from the lack of jobs amidst plenty and create a political culture in whjich freedom of expression acquires rel meaning.

Will the US support this expression of the Kurd's desire for democracy, and put pressure on the KRG leadership to "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk" of democracy? Or will it drop the ball, thereby becoming identified with suipportiung a stolid and repressive regime? The risks of the continued status quo are the possible rise of radicalism in the KRG alomh islamist lines. To assure that Iraq's Kurds live in a stable and truly democratic state, the US and other nations committed t democracy need to move from spectators on the sidelines to active participants in helping the Kurds acquire and exercise the rights that so many of us in the West take for granted

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Eid al-Fitr, Sectarian Identities and Iraq's Political Elite

It is commonplace to argue that Iraq is an "artificial society" because its main ethnic groups, the Sunni Arabs, Shi'i Arabs and the Kurds can't get along. The logical implications of this model, one of a society rent by ethnic and confessional cleavages, is that political stability, much less democratization, are not in the realm of the possible.

If Iraq's ethnic groups can't get along, one has a hard time explaining two developments that occurred at the end of Ramadan in September. While not earthshaking events, they still provide a window on ethnoconfessional relations in Iraq and belie the argument of Iraq as a society suffering from "ancient hatreds," to use a term favored by some students of ethnic conflicts.

Large numbers of Arabs traveled from the south and north central regions of Iraq to celebrate the end of Ramadan in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the semi-autonomous region of three Kurdish provinces in north eastern Iraq. Reports in the Iraqi press and al-Hayat describe a situation in whch there were so many Arab visitors that it was virtually impossible to find a hotel. In the market (bazar), Arabic was heard everywhere and Kurdish merchants were enjoying brisk sales. If Kurds and Arabs really despised one another, why did so many Arabs feel that the best place to celebrate Eid al-Fitr would be in the KRG?

Obviously, security was one concern since the KRG is largely devoid of the violence that still plagues areas of Arab Iraq. However, what we are seeing is the return to historic patterns in which large numbers of Arabs visited the north on a regular basis.

In describing the flood of Arabs visiting the KRG during Eid al-Fitr, newspaper articles conducted interviews with tourism officials who speak of large projects designed to accommodate much higher levels of domestic and foreign tourism. If ever larger numbers of Arabs do visit the north, this will be one opportunity for Iraq's Arabs and Kurds to establish better relations which were cut off after the 1991 Gulf War.

Indeed, Arabs always traveled to the north during the hot summer months. The difference now is that the KRG is in charge of tourist accommodations, not the central government, which will provide more employment for Kurds and promote the development of more small enterprises. While there is extensive government corruption in the north (as there is in Baghdad), revenues from tourism will help the populace at large which is not benefiting as much as it should due to the KRG's political elite appropriating much of the region's oil revenues for themselves ad their retainers

In the south, it is notable that many Sunni and Shi'i clerics celebrated Eid al-Fitr together to celebrate the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq. This recalls the June 1920 Revolution when Sunnis and Shi'is prayed in each mosques and celebrated each others' religious rituals to protest the British occupation of Iraq. After the February 2006 bombing of the al-Askari mosque in the ethnically mixed north central city of Samarra, a mosque particularly important to devout Shi'a because it is site where the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, went into occulatation in 874 CE, both Sunni and Shi'i clerics called upon their respective confessionalists to pray in the other sect's mosque as a demonstration of national and religious unity.

What these considerations point to is that the problems facing Iraq are not so much rooted in the populace at large but in its political elite. Much of this elite was not in Iraq during Ba'thist rule. Still weak and fragmented, many of its members constantly play the sectarian card. These sectarian entrepreneurs, who Iraqis historically have referred to as the tujjar al-siiyasa (merchants of politics) should not be confused with the Iraqi populace which demonstrated through the national parliament elections that were held this past March that they are fed up with sectarian appeals and want the government to focus on providing security and services instead.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Moving beyond Iraq's Impasse: Iran and the Return of Shiite Militias

Although there is definite movement towards finally forming a new Iraqi government, there are a number of disturbing developments as well. The return of Shiite militias as a force to be reckoned with in south central and southern Iraq is a disturbing new element in Iraq's current political impasses following the March 2010 Chamber of Deputies (national parliament) elections. Before turning to these militias, what led up to their reentry into the current political equation?

When Nuri al-Maliki became Iraqi Prime Minister in 2006, he was seen as weak and lacked popularity. That all changed in March 2008 when he ordered an offensive against the Mahdi Army (JAM) and other militias in Basra who were terrorizing the population. While many considered the offensive an ill-advised and dangerous gamble, the Iraqi Army, with US logistical and air support, successfully completed its mission. Subsequently, it entered Revolution (Sadr) City in Baghdad where it subdued the JAM before moving on to the border city of Amara, a critical entry point for weapons and drugs from Iran. In interviews in the Arabic press in the spring of 2008, formerly scornful Basrawis now had pictures of Maliki in their cell phones and referred to him as a strong leader.

Many Iraqis breathed a sigh of relief when the JAM was effectively eliminated as a major military force. This was especially true of middle class Shiites in Baghdad and elsewhere whose automobiles, homes and other property had been confiscated by the JAM in neighborhoods that it controlled (NY Times, July 27, 2008).

Not all Mahdi Army militiamen were willing to follow the lead of Muqtada al-Sadr who has focused on the electoral route to gaining power since 2008. The Sadrist Trend (al-tayyar al-sadri) won 40 seats in the March 2010 Chamber of Deputies (national parliament) elections. Due to the stalemate in forming a new government, the Sadrist bloc of seats is crucial to whoever tries to become the next Iraqi prime minister, whether Maliki, Adil 'Abd al-Mahdi, a vice-president from the Iraqi National Alliance or (the least likely) Iyad 'Allawi, head of al-'Iraqiya.

While the focus in the post-election gridlock has been on the struggle between the two main coalitions - the Iraqiya List, which won 91 seats, and Maliki's State of Law Coalition, which won 89 seats, al-Hayat reported in September that a deal was in the works in which Adil 'Abd al-Mahdi would become prime minister, Ayad 'Allawi would be given the presidency, and the Kurds would take over the position of speaker of the parliament.

Iran, which has developed a close relationship with Nuri al-Maliki, did not find this deal acceptable and has been, according to the Arab press, behind the reemergence of a number of Shi'i militias, all of which are either splinters of the Mahdi Army or have ties to Muqtada al-Sadr. While Maliki is anathema to Sadr for his 2008 attack on the JAM, and Sadr has steadfastly refused since March to support him for another term as prime minister, he apparently has now relented under Iranian pressure and concessions from al-Maliki. Those concessions will undoubtedly give Sadr access once again to ministries that will allow him to control the distribution of social benefits such as he did when part of the government in 2006. More disturbing are rumors that Sadr may be offered positions that have to do with national security and/or the military.

Beyond the pressure currently being exerted by Iran, Both Sadr and Maliki have strong incentives to come to terms. First, Sadr does not want to see armed groups that have splintered from the JAM gain power at his expense. These militias have engaged in violence with Iranian support. Two of them, the League of the People of Righteousness (asa'ib ahl al-haqq), and the Hizballah Brigades (kata'ib hizb allah) broke with Sadr after 2008 when he opted for a political strategy. Another group, the Promised Day Brigades (alawiat al-yawm al-maw'ud) has close ties to al-Sadr and seems to represent a new incarnation of the Mahdi Army.

Following the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, these militias became more active in Iraq's south central and southern regions, with the League engaged in operations in Dhi Qar, Misan and al-Basra provinces while Hizballah claimed responsibility for explosions in Karbala', al-Najaf and Baghdad. With the continued political crisis, and a smaller US military presence, these groups feel encouraged to try and exploit the growing power vacuum.

Second, al-Maliki knows that time is not on his side. Already strong support has developed for appointing 'Adil 'Abd al-Mahdi as prime minister due to al-Maliki's struggle with Iyad 'Allawi and the subsequent gridlock it produced. There is considerable resentment at Maliki's efforts to expand the power of the post of prime minister, such as creating military and intelligence units that only report to him. Removing Maliki from office would prevent him from further institutionalizing his power in ways that many politicians, even Shi'is in the Iraqi National Alliance, find disturbing.

What do these developments suggest? First, they show that Iraq's Shi'i political elite is by no means unified. Second, Iran seems to have been able, for the moment, to use its influence to forge a new government in Iraq. However, it is doubtful that it will be able to sustain this level of influence as Iraq's elite hydrocarbon industry continues to grow, political processes become more institutionalized and Iraq's political elite becomes more self-confidant.

Third, ongoing developments leave open the question of where the Sunni Arab community fits into the new political landscape that is taking shape. While Maliki proclaims that no victorious party (meaning al-'Iraqiya) will be excluded from the new government, Iyad 'Allawi insists that al-'Iraqiya will not join any government headed by Maliki.

Finally and more disturbing is the increased power and influence of Shi's militias that are JAM wannabes. They underscore the fact that Iraq's poor have not seen much benefit in economic developments and state benefits since 2003. Unless the new Iraqi government begins to get serious about poverty, employment, health care, education and municipal services for the poor and dispossessed, radical groups such League of the People of Righteousness, the Hizballah Brigades and the Promised Day Brigades will continue to proliferate and threaten Iraq's political stability and efforts at democratization. These cxonditions will continue to provide fertile soil for Iran's Revolutionary Guards and other disruptive foreign elements to detabilize Iraqi politics.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The "Ground Zero Mosque": a Teacheable Moment?

The New Middle East is a blog intended not only to offer analysis but to suggest solutions to the problems of the Middle East as well. In that spirit, I examine one of the latest issues to bedevil American politics and create much controversy and acrimony, the so-called “Ground-Zero Mosque.”

This posting makes two fundamental points. First, by not confronting the controversy, the US encourages distorted stereotypes that the US is engaged in a “war on Islam.” Second, this controversy offers the possibility to confront head on the misunderstandings that exist in the US about Islam and Americans of the Muslim faith. For Muslims outside the US, such an approach can clarify how Islam is treated in the US. In other words, the controversy surrounding the lower Manhattan Islamic center can become a “teachable moment.”

First, let’s clarify some issues. There is no “Ground-Zero Mosque.” The 13 floor Islamic Center that is proposed in lower Manhattan will be a multi-use building. It will include a conference center, auditorium, swimming pool and a prayer area. It will not be a mosque. Second, it is not at Ground Zero, but two blocks away. Third, the builders of the community center are within their constitutional rights to derive benefits from their property and to enjoy one of our most cherished protections, namely freedom of religion.

Apart from these facts, Park 51, the group that seeks to build the proposed Islamic community center, has been accused of being “insensitive” to the feelings of Americans who lost loved ones during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and non-Muslim Americans generally. Here the controversy takes on a particularly troubling tone. The assumption underlying the “insensitivity” argument is that the attack on the United States was an attack by Islam. In other words, because the attackers were Muslim, 9/11 represents, in a larger sense, an attack by Muslims on the US.

It is clear, from numerous eye witness accounts, that the leader of the 9/11 terrorists, Muhammad Atta, was someone who enjoyed spending time in bars, drinking and playing video games. This is hardly the behavior of someone whose motivations for attacking the World Trade Center were religious in nature. If his hostile act was motivated by religious feelings, one would think that he would have spent time engaged in reading holy texts and religious reflection. Instead, his behavior points to the fallacy of seeing the 9/11 attacks as linked to Islam. It underscores the manner in which some Middle Easterners have attempted to use Islam in extremist ways to create hostility towards the West. What is really at work is the attempt to legitimize terrorist acts that are political in nature, by tying them in a perverse way to religion.

Most radical Islamists have no more than a superficial understanding of Islam. This became clear to me many years ago when I first began analyzing radical Islamist movements while analyzing trial proceedings of members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. When asked by a judge, himself thoroughly conversant in Islamic (as well as civil) law, as to why they had engaged in acts of violence, the accused tried to justify their atcs by invoking Islam. However, when the judge asked them to explain how what they did related to Islam, all they could provide was slogans. It was apparent that their efforts to justify their behavior in religious terms was not only superficial but wrong.

An American parallel to these extremist groups is the Ku Klux Klan. Just because the Klan has used the burning cross as its symbol, does not make it a Christian organization. This is also true of many other radical groups in the United States, such as the Posse Comitatus and the Aryan Nation. Efforts to evoke a bogus “tradition” to support their ideology and behavior is not supported by the historical record. Whether the Klan or al-Qa’ida, what we are really seeing is an “invented religion” that is not recognizable by the overwhelming majority of orthodox believers.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Islamic community center controversy is how it plays out in Muslim majority countries throughout the world. Many of this countries are our close allies, such as Turkey, Indonesia (the world’s largest Muslim country), Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Arab Gulf states. How can the US win over public opinion in these countries when it appears to their citizens that restrictions exist on the ability of Muslims to practice their faith in the US? If political authorities were to prevent the Islamic community center from being built, this would enable anti-American elements to accuse the government of supporting “attacks on Islam” and working against the country’s national interests. This who seek to manipulate the controversy for political ends do not realize the damage they are doing to US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Many analysts argue that the controversy is all about the coming November congressional elections. While there is truth ins this assertion, the problem of Muslim minorities in Western countries is much larger one. It is clear that the US economic crisis and the changing demographics. Paralleling ethnic and racial conflict in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much of the controversy today is based on fear. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (like myself) are a declining ethnic demographic as we move to a majority Latino and East Asian society. We will not solve our economic woes and reverse the changing ethnic and religious makeup of the US through conflict. As the examples drawn from our earlier history show, only dialogue and education can create meaningful solutions.

How then can the controversy become a teachable moment? One way would be to create a presidential council on interfaith dialogue in the US. This would include clergy of all the major faiths in the US to meet on a regular basis and make recommendations to the President and Congress on how to promote religious tolerance and to confront problems that reflect religious tensions. Another efforts could entail a series of national town meetings - broadcast around the world - in which President Obama brings together clerics from major faiths to discuss the basic tenets of our country’s different religions, to emphasize the many ways in which they share values and beliefs, and how different religious groups are cooperating to solve economic, social and cultural problems throughout the country.

Many Americans have little understanding of Islam, which is understandable given the relative lack of study of Islam in our educational system. Many Americans think Islam is a political ideology. Others think it is a religion that has borrowed from Judaism and Christianity, the other great Abrahamic faiths, and thus is not a true religion at all. But even a superficial study of Islam indicates that it views itself as completing God’s prophetic message that began with Judaism and Christianity.

Throughout Muslim countries, one finds the names Musa (Moses), Aisa (Jesus), Ishaq (Isaac), Ibrahim (Abraham), Mariam (Mary) and Yusif (Joseph), reflecting that the prophets of Judaism and Christianity are also those of Islam. In the Qur’an, Christ has the power to make the dead living, a power not ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad, who is considered the last (seal) of God’s prophets. That the prophets of Judaism and Christianity are also considered prophets b y Islam explains why the Qur’an reads in many places like the Torah and the Bible. But unlike Christ, Muhammad was someone who was chosen, for reasons known only to God, to bring the final part of his prophetic message to mankind.

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. Millions of Muslims contribute on a daily basis to making the United States a better country. To give an example, this past year, Hany Mawla, an American of Egyptian heritage, left his law firm to become the first Muslim (and youngest) Superior Court judge in the State of New Jersey. A graduate of Rutgers University’s Department of Political Science, where I had the pleasure to work with him, Judge Mawla was formerly the president of the State of New Jersey Arab-American Heritage Commission. Under his leadership the commission worked with other heritage commissions, such as State of New Jersey Holocaust and Amistad commissions, to develop educational curricula that help promote greater understanding between Islam, Judaism and Christianity and between Caucasians and African Americans in New Jersey.

In a larger context, the hostility towards Islam in certain quarters in their country continues a tradition extending back to the 19th century when the Irish Italians, East Europeans, Slavs, Jews and Chinese all found themselves facing discrimination after emigrating to the United States. The anti-immigrant activities of the American or "Know Nothing" Party and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 were only the opening salvos of a "culture war" that has been going on up to the present. In the 1960 presidential election, John Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, had to assure American voters that he would not follow orders from the Pope. At that time, Paul Blanchard' s book, American Freedom and Catholic Power, was still popular in many Protestant circles.

Islam has been part of the US' cultural fabric since the early days of the Republic. John Adams praised the Prophet Muhammad in his writings. The famous author, Washington Irving, wrote the best selling Mahomet and his Successors, in 1850, which followed his equally popular, Tales of the Alhambra, about the famous mosque in Muslim Spain. The first American mosque was built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1934, even though Muslim communities existed well before that. As Islam becomes known to more non-Muslim Americans, we can expect that it will enter the cultural mainstream and that Muslims, from a variety of national backgrounds will, like other immigrant groups before them no longer be viewed in hostile terms.

The question at the end of the day is the following: wouldn’t the United States be better off as a society were it to try and tackle the misunderstanding and lack of knowledge surrounding Islam, rather than trying to politicize it? Islam is only going to grow as a religion in the United States. It is time to confront that fact rather than sweep it under the carpet.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Operation New Dawn: A Serious Policy Initiative
or a Codeword for Leaving Iraq ?

What can we expect from Operation New Dawn? Does this policy have any substance or is it just a cover for the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq? If the latter is the case, this is a great mistake because the stakes in Iraq are extremely high, not just for Iraqis and the US, but for the entire Middle East. If Iraq can continue to develop politically and economically, its current government crisis notwithstanding, its impact on a region where democracy is largely non-existent could be salutary indeed. While the contours of Operation New Dawn are still in formation, the tenor of President Obama’s speech on Iraq last evening certainly did not leave the impression that the US views Iraq as a critical component of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Despite continued violence and the inability of Iraq’s political elite to form a government following the March 2010 national parliament (Council of Representatives) elections, Iraq has nevertheless made considerable progress towards democracy. Free and transparent parliamentary elections were held in January and December 2005 and in March 2010. Arab provincial legislative elections in January 2009 and Kurdish Regional Government parliament elections in July 2009 brought many new legislators into the political process. Voter turnout has reached or exceeded 60% and has been as high as 70% in Iraq's Kurdish region. Voters have shown considerable maturity in voting for services instead of supporting sectarian parties. In the March 2010 national parliamentary elections, all political parties were forced to make cross-ethnic appeals and 62% of the sitting delegates lost their seats due to their perceived incompetence. Over 20% of the new delegates are under the age of 40, indicating that young Iraqis are interested in politics. In a March 2009 poll, 64% of Iraqis said that democracy is the best form of government. In Iraq’s Kurdish region, a new democratic movement, Gorran (Change), is challenging the entrenched, authoritarian political elite controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Clearly, democracy enjoys widespread support in Iraq.

Rather than helping Iraq consolidate these gains, the US is shifting its focus to Afghanistan, threatening the progress it has made to date. The disastrous consequences of Western inaction in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s defeat in late 2001 behoove the US not to make the same mistake again in Iraq. The West and the Afghani people are now paying the price for the international community's failure to deliver on the numerous promises of development aid that never materialized.

Now that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended, US policy-makers assume that the US’s future role must be limited to military training and urging Iraq’s political elite to adopt a more civic approach to politics. This minimalist approach is deeply flawed. Rather than acting like nervous spectators, the Obama administration should adopt a bold international initiative that addresses the many problems that threaten to send Iraq back to the violent conflict of the pre-2008 period. Without such help, Iraq will find it difficult to continue to democratize.

At this critical juncture, the Obama administration’s international reconstruction initiative should include the European Union, our Arab oil-producing allies, and moderate Islamic states such as Indonesia and Malaysia to address Iraq’s myriad problems. A serious shortage of services has created deep resentment among Iraqis. Electricity levels have improved little since 2003. June riots in Basra and the south over the lack of electricity left at least two people dead. Medical care is sporadic and jobs are hard to find. Unemployment is especially high among Iraqi youth, who constitutes 65% of the population under the age of 25. Demand for education is high, but only the private system meets the needs of more affluent Iraqis.

Due to the Iran-Iraq War, the bloody uprising against Saddam Hussein following the 1991 Gulf War, and post-2003 sectarian violence, Iraq has a disproportionately large number of female headed households. Mothers are often forced to send their children to join criminal and even terrorist organizations because otherwise they face starvation. Former Awakening Movement members, who helped the US defeat al-Qaida in Iraq, may be returning to the insurgency because the jobs they were promised haven’t materialized.

This social and economic environment is tailor made for a revival of insurgent groups such as al-Qaida’s front organization, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq. Even if the US can create an efficient Iraqi army and police force, and cajole Iraq’s political elite to form a new government, none of this will matter if the populace cannot find jobs and obtain basic services. Extensive government corruption (Iraq is 175 of 180 countries on Transparency International’s list of most corrupt countries) pours more oil on the fire. As Iraq signs more contracts with foreign oil companies and oil revenues increase, popular resentment will only rise. The disconnect between the lifestyles of Iraq’s political class and the deprivation suffered by much of the populace at large creates the “perfect storm” for renewed violence and instability.

The US already has an effective model in place for helping Iraq address its social reconstruction needs in the form of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Developed in embryo by US forces in Iraq, the PRTs were later formalized by General David Petreaus and former Ambassador Ryan Crocker to provide Iraqis with critical services. Where implemented, the Iraq PRT model has been enormously successful. Rather than following a top-down approach, the PRTs help Iraqis implement projects that they define. The result has not only been successful projects but the creation of strong ties between Americans and Iraqis who feel that they are being listened to and respected by the US.

Instead of reducing its scope as the Obama administration has proposed, the PRT model should be expanded. As part of an international effort, it could be funded in large part by our wealthy oil-producing allies. Saudi Arabia has every interest in a stable and prosperous Iraq so as to limit Iran’s influence there. (And Iraqis have consistently made clear that, while they seek good relations with Iran, they do not want the Islamic Republic to meddle in their internal affairs.) For the Arab Gulf monarchies that have large restive Shiite populations, good ties with Iraq, a majority Shiite country, can provide political benefits at home. And investing in social reconstruction can bring enormous future economic dividends to those who help Iraq now once its oil and natural gas industries are modernized and develop.

Rather than nervously biting our nails in the hope that Iraq will become politically stable, the US must be more proactive. A dramatic increase in technical support not only provides jobs for Americans but wins the gratitude of Iraqis, especially if they, not the US, continue to set the development agenda. If situated within an international effort, and funded by our allies, providing this technical support will not tax our overstretched budget. Failure is not an option in Iraq, especially with Iran, a would-be nuclear power, on its border. Iraq, like Afghanistan, is a long-term project and one that requires creativity to achieve success. If the US really takes democracy seriously in Iraq, it should heed the Arab proverb, “patience is the key to happiness.”