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JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF

Vol. 4, No. 10     15 December 2004


The New Iraqi Government: An Interim Appraisal

Amazia Baram


  • In the present government there are 10 Sunni Arabs, 14 Shi'ite Arabs, and 8 Kurds, plus 1 Turkoman and 1 Christian. The Kurds are all Sunnis, as is the Turkoman, making 19 Sunnis and 14 Shi'ites, which is very generous toward the Sunnis.

  • Historically, Iraq has been ruled by Sunni Arabs who represent a minority of some 15-18 percent in a state where 55 percent are Shi'ites and 18 percent are Kurds. As a result of the last war, all of a sudden Iraq is to be ruled by the majority and the Sunni Arabs feel they are being disinherited. The motivation behind the extensive terrorist campaign in today's Iraq is to reverse the results of the war and return the Sunni Arab minority to national hegemony.

  • The motivation behind the Shi'ite insurrection is more complex. Muqtada al-Sadr and his young, junior mullahs decided to challenge the tradition-based supremacy of the four grand ayatollahs, led by Sistani. Under him, young, unemployed, uneducated Iraqi Shi'ites hoped to become the equivalent of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

  • The Kurds would love to be independent, but they will not become independent and they know it, because Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Baghdad will never allow it. An extensive autonomy is another matter altogether, and this is what they are aiming at.

  • Either a more or less representative system develops in Iraq in which most people feel they have a stake - something far more representative than Saddam's system - or there is total anarchy. If the central government does not enjoy a degree of legitimacy, the country will divide - not neatly into Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish zones, but into a large number of warring factions and warlords.


Paul Bremer received much criticism for appointing the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Although Sunni Arabs in Iraq and outside of Iraq claim that the Shi'ites are not a majority in Iraq, Bremer decided that the Shi'ites were at least 55 percent and he reflected this in the IGC, which seemed unfair to the Sunnis. Many Sunnis in the Gulf States, too, felt deep frustration, and started to support the Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq.

In the present Interim Iraqi Government (IIG) there are 10 Sunni Arabs, 14 Shi'ite Arabs, and 8 Kurds, plus 1 Turkoman and 1 Christian. The Kurds are all Sunnis, as is the Turkoman, making 19 Sunnis and 14 Shi'ites, which is very generous toward the Sunnis. There is also a Sunni Arab president.

The Iraqi Governing Council has a president and two vice-presidents who are politicians, and a prime minister and his deputy who are also politicians, while most of the cabinet ministers are professionals - not politicians - and it works remarkably well.

The government has had both successes and failures: successes in the educational and the hospital and clinic systems, as well as oil production (reaching 2.5 million barrels per day) and curbing inflation (only 5.7 percent this year so far); failures when it comes to security and crime, electricity, water, sewage and trash removal.

The greatest surprises are Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and President Ghazi Yawer. Allawi worked for the CIA for many years. If he can create the impression that things are getting better - even if slowly - and that he is a tough guy, he has a chance. Iraqis like tough guys and this didn't start with Saddam Hussein. Most of the Shi'i community hated Saddam ferociously, but they grudgingly respected the fact that he was tough. This is often the case in Iraqi history.


The Military Aspect of Security

U.S. General David Petraeus, in charge of training the Iraqi security forces, believes Iraq needs about a quarter of a million security people: police, National Guard, shock troops, border guards, and other units. Allawi wants to reach this number very quickly at the expense of the level of training, and I believe he is wrong. Petraeus is saying no. Today in Iraq, many policemen are on the street without having even one week of training, and only one-third have gone through eight weeks. At least three months are needed to train a police officer and, if possible, six months. In Israel, police training takes a year.

If Allawi and Petraeus come to an agreement to give policemen at least 12 weeks of training, by the end of 2005 Iraq will have just over 100,000 more or less trained security people, less than 50 percent of what they need.

Today there are some reports of success with Iraqi troops. Two battalions - the 202nd battalion of the National Guard and the 36th battalion of the Iraqi Army - fought well in Samara. The secret here was not just training and leadership, but very close cooperation between Iraqi and American forces. Wherever U.S. troops actually lived in the same camp with the Iraqi units, results were the best. Since August, joint patrols have become commonplace, and this is proving to be of great value.


The Political Aspect of Security

The Sunnis:

Almost 80 percent of the terrorists in Iraq today are Sunni Arabs coming from west Baghdad, from Falluja and Ramadi (along the Euphrates on the way to Syria), and we know why. Historically, Iraq has been ruled by Sunni Arabs who represent a minority of some 15-18 percent in a state where 55 percent are Shi'ites and 18 percent are Kurds (the figures represent my assessment, based on historical population censuses).

As a result of the last war, all of a sudden Iraq is to be ruled by the majority and the Sunni Arabs feel they are being disinherited. The motivation behind the extensive terrorist campaign in today's Iraq is to reverse the results of the war and return the Sunni Arab minority to national hegemony.

Many Sunnis feel a sense of entitlement - that only they know how to run the country. One can understand the deep frustration when the army was disbanded and salaries were not paid, leaving many feeling that they had no choice but to fight because in the new state they had no chance. The people who are building the new army will have to include many Sunni officers. This will necessarily present a serious problem: some of the Sunni Arab officers will certainly be "moles" working for the terrorists. This will necessitate a highly dedicated corps of political officers, people whose responsibility will be to closely monitor all army officers and detect any illegal activities.


The Shi'ites:

The motivation behind the Shi'ite insurrection is more complex. Muqtada al-Sadr and his young, junior mullahs decided to challenge the tradition-based supremacy of the four grand ayatollahs, led by Sistani. He took advantage of the powerful xenophobia and deep frustration of the lowest social class in Baghdad (mainly concentrated in Sadr City, a dismal slum in northeast Baghdad), setting them against both the U.S., the Iraqi provisional government, and Sistani.

Under him, young, unemployed, uneducated Iraqi Shi'ites hoped to become the equivalent of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In 1979, within days after Khomeini returned to Tehran, the young men of the capital's poor suburbs became his shock troops, catapulting them to a position of power, glory, and material well-being.

However, ferocious battles with U.S. troops in April, May, and August 2004 resulted in some 3,000 dead among al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, as well as massive devastation in Najaf, Karbala, Kufa, and Sadr City. The tribal sheikhs in Sadr City told al-Sadr: the Americans can destroy us and their strikes have been very painful. Go talk to the Americans. Reach an agreement that you can live with, but don't ask for too much.

In addition, they all knew that the moment the fighting stops in Sadr City, about half a billion American dollars were going to pour into this shantytown and gradually transform it. In Iraq there is still a sense of collective responsibility because of tradition and social values. Al-Sadr was thus forced to join the political process.

If he and his supporters are offered reasonable places on the united Shi'ite election list, he is very likely to drastically reduce or even cease his military activities. However, many of his militiamen are not very disciplined, and small-scale operations will still occur, based on local initiatives.


The Kurds:

The Kurds would love to be independent, but they will not become independent and they know it, because Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Baghdad will never allow it. An extensive autonomy is another matter altogether, and this is what they are aiming at.


The Forthcoming Iraqi Elections

Every politician in Iraq today is preparing to be prime minister. Lots of shady deals are being concocted, and broken. In the forthcoming elections, based on public opinion polls and informal discussions, some 70-80 percent of Iraqis will vote for their own community - Shi'ite, Kurd, or Sunni.

Either a more or less representative system develops in Iraq in which most people feel they have a stake - something far more representative than Saddam's system - or there is total anarchy. With no central army, no single dictator can impose his rule again over the whole country. If the central government does not enjoy a degree of legitimacy, the country will split, but not neatly into Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish zones. Rather, it will divide among a large number of warring factions and warlords.

*     *     *

Amazia Baram is a Professor in the Department of the History of the Middle East at the University of Haifa, and advises various branches of the Israeli and U.S. governments about Iraq and the Gulf. In 2003-2004 he was a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. He also served as chair of his university department and Director of the Jewish-Arab Center and the Gustav Heinemann Institute for Middle East Studies at the University of Haifa. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on October 13, 2004.


Dore Gold, Publisher; Yaakov Amidror, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215 USA, Tel. (410) 664-5222; Fax. (410) 664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. © Copyright. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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