Washington, al-Maliki and the Militias
Recently, the Green Zone parliament in Baghdad drafted a law that would forbid any political party that has an armed wing from participating in the upcoming regional elections in Iraq. This law comes on the heels of an announcement by the Green Zone leader al-Maliki stating very similar terms. The obvious target of this law are the forces behind al-Sadr known as the Mehdi Army. Other factions in Iraqi politics that might be affected include the various Sunni groups that maintain an armed wing not approved by the US and those few secular parties that remain in Iraq and feature armed elements.
Despite any proclamations to the contrary claiming that Iraqi groups other than the aforementioned will also be affected, the reality is that other political parties that have so-called militias are the forces of Dawa and SCIRI, and the Kurdish parties. The first two groups have, for all practical purposes, integrated their militias into the official security forces and the Kurds are very unlikely to dismantle their Peshmerga merely because the Green Zone government asks them to. After all, it can be reasonably argued that the Green Zone parliamentarians and their US sponsors need the Kurds more than the Kurds need either of them.
As for those Sunni groups, popularly known as the Awakening Councils, their existence as legitimate armed forces exists primarily at the whim of the US. This means that at any time, they too could become outlaw forces and the target of the Green Zone government.
No matter what happens in this most recent power struggle between the US-sponsored regime in Baghdad and the forces arrayed against it, the political situation will likely become more inflammatory. If al-Sadr’s movement and other anti-occupation elements stand down their militias, they stand to command a large minority if not an outright majority in the Green Zone legislature. If that happens, then Washington’s plans will suffer immensely and legislative calls for a withdrawal of all US forces will increase in strength and frequency.
If the opposition groups that are also armed refuse to turn in their arms and stand down, the fighting will most likely increase as Green Zone forces and their US backers intensify their military campaign to defeat them. Either way, the political tenor will probably become more radical on the Iraqi street and Washington and its occupier government will grow weaker and less legitimate than it already is.
Why should these militias stand down? If events both recent and not-so-recent are any indication, the political decision by parties opposed to the US occupation to give up their arms only means that the occupiers and their client forces can attack them with even greater impunity. In other words, if they give up their guns, the political resistance faces the very real possibility of both figurative and literal obliteration. Already, the occupier’s forces have used the truce declared by al-Sadr to arrest members of his militia and erect concrete barriers on major streets going in and out of the part of Baghdad known as Sadr City. For the Sadrist forces and others opposed to the occupation and Green Zone government to follow the proposed law discussed above would only make the job of getting rid of those political forces opposed to Washington’s plans for Iraq that much easier.
It’s obvious by now that Washington has no intention of trying to win the hearts and minds of the people who claim al-Sadr as their political leader. Without this option, the only remaining choice is neutralization-a choice ultimately made by Saddam, as well. It is a choice that haunted him and will haunt Washington, too.
Once again, the only true solution to this conundrum and every other problem brought on by the continuing US occupation of Iraq is a complete US withdrawal. If public opinion polls are to be believed (and the sheer consistency of the results in this instance indicates they should be), the majority of Iraqis want the US occupiers out of their country. This has been the case since the end of the first year of occupation and will most likely continue to be the case unless Washington somehow manages to silence every single Iraqi that opposes their presence. Then again, opinion polls of US residents have consistently shown that they too want US troops out of Iraq, yet the troops are still there doing the work of the few Americans and Iraqis who truly benefit from their presence.
Instead, the US Congress is trying to convince the bureaucrats the US military props up in the Green Zone to pay for the US endeavor in Iraq. Two Democrats and one Republican (Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana) are now drafting legislation that would replace all future aid grants to Washington’s client regime with loans. This is what passes for opposition legislation in the United States these days. In actuality, it is just another attempt by Washington to blame Iraq for the mess the occupation has created. Furthermore, the fact of reconstruction is more myth than anything else and what exists is rife with corruption in almost every facet. Besides all this, the loans would keep Baghdad in debt for a considerably long time, forcing any government there to spend its resources not only on so-called reconstruction costs but on interest payments, as well. In regards to the militias, the legislation’s sponsors hope that Baghdad will pay for the Awakening Councils, thereby making them a semi-official part of the Green Zone’s security forces, despite al-Maliki’s consistent opposition to the Councils’ mere existence. This fact alone seems likely to doom the legislation as proposed, if not completely.
The suggestion that Iraq should pay for its reconstruction assumes that the Iraqis asked to be destroyed by the US military. It further assumes that the government set up by the occupiers is a government that is able and willing to fulfill the Iraqi people’s desire for peace and freedom from occupation. The reality is that this is nowhere near the case. Not only does the Green Zone government exist because of the US military and intelligence presence on Iraqi soil, it exists because Washington allows it to. Of course, one hopes that Iraq will someday pay for its rebuilding. However, as long as its government is beholden to the US for its survival that is unlikely to occur.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org