Tuesday, June 08, 2004


One Militia, Two Militia, Three Militia, Four

The Guardian reports today that "Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, signed an order stating that, with immediate effect, members of illegal militias 'will be barred from holding political office for three years after leaving their illegal organisation'." Effectively, the US is barring Moqtada al-Sadr from participating in elections and setting up a justifiable excuse for doing so. Although the "no militias" rule seems reasonable enough, in reality it gives the US fairly broad power to selectively ban candidates. Given the security situation in Iraq, where assassinations of leading political figures are far too common, all political leaders maintain a certain level of security. Political candidates whom the US endorses are allowed to maintain large private security forces as well as receiving US military support. Those political leaders who are perceived as hostile to the US occupation are not afforded the same kind of support from the US military and their private security forces are put in a position adversarial to that of the US, becoming militias.
Welcoming Mr Bremer's decree, Ayad Allawi, the new prime minister, said: "While recent news has associated the word 'militia' with the sort of violence orchestrated by Moqtada al-Sadr, in fact most of these groups and individuals were part of the resistance against Saddam Hussein's regime. To reward former resistance fighters for their service, opportunities have been created for them to join state security services or lay down their arms and enter civilian life."
So "friendly" militias (those who have decided to work with the US) are legitimized in the new state security services while "unfriendly" militias are stripped of their ability to enter the Iraqi political sphere. Jonathan Steele and Patrick Wintour write:
The ban on the militia members taking part in political life is a gamble, since it carries the risk that it will increase Mr Sadr's popularity and undermine the new government's search for democratic credibility in the eyes of the sceptical Iraqi public.
The "eyes of the sceptical Iraqi public" are sure to notice that government jobs ("opportunities" to "reward former resistance fighters") are going to the militias of Iraqi politicians in power and in favor with the US occupation. As much as the US would hate to see al-Sadr wind up with any sort of position within the new Iraqi government, this cannot be the best strategy to garner credibility. Furthermore, as Juan Cole writes:
Bremer's action in excluding the Sadrists from parliament is one final piece of stupidity to cap all the other moronic things he has done in Iraq. The whole beauty of parliamentary governance is that it can hope to draw off the energies of groups like the Sadrists. Look at how parliamentary bargaining moderated the Shiite AMAL party in Lebanon, which had a phase as a terrorist group in the 1980s but gradually outgrew it. AMAL is now a pillar of the Lebanese establishment and a big supporter of a separation of religion and state. The only hope for dealing with the Sadrists nonviolently was to entice them into civil politics, as well. Now that they have been excluded from the political process and made outlaws in the near to medium term, we may expect them to act like outlaws and to be spoilers in the new Iraq.
Of course any effort to include the Sadrists would be overly antithetical to the "either with us or against us" doctrine and show a bit too far-sighted an approach to actually rally any kind of support from the people in charge of the Iraq war.

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