The Bush Administration delights in finding “turning points” in Iraq so often that by now we must have turned our way through a maze, though not out of it. The events to which it points are nothing more than new acts in the kabuki offered by Iraq’s government and security forces. Real turning points would be evidence that a state is coming into being in Iraq. Two recent signposts suggest the contrary–namely, that any possibility of recreating an Iraqi state is receding.
The first report is from the June 28 (unhappy day! Franz Ferdinand, you took the world with you) Washington Times in a piece by Rowan Scarborough titled, “Shi’ite Iraqi militia regroups into ‘gang of thugs.’
Prominent Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a foe of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, has lost control of his Mahdi Army, which has embarked on a wide range of criminal activity, defense officials said.
The officials said the Mahdi Armyhas become a criminal organization that commits homicides, kidnappings and robberies in the Baghdad area.
As usual, our “defense officials” show their lack of understanding of Fourth Generation situations, where “both/and” is more common than “either/or.” As to whether the Desert Fox, Mr. al-Sadr, has lost “control” of his Mahdi Army, control generally being loose in 4GW, time will tell. But like every other militia in Iraq, the Mahdi Army is also a criminal gang, doing what criminal gangs do. The same individual can be and often is a Mahdi Army militiaman, a criminal and a member of the Iraqi police or army. Maybe Americans would get it better if they thought of 4GW as the world’s biggest all-you-can-eat buffet.
If American military intelligence is accurate in this instance (the blind pig finding the occasional acorn?) the news that “Sadr has lost control” is not good. The more frequently Iraqi entities, of whatever sort, fraction and fragment, the farther Iraq moves away from becoming a state. Because Mr. al-Sadr opposes the American occupation, Washington sees him as an enemy. But if he controls his militia he is someone who can deliver if we make a deal with him. If he has lost control of the Mahdi Army with whom can we or someone make a deal that would incorporate that militia into a state?
The second signpost is a story in the July 5 Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Port city of Basra now a haven for rival oil-smuggling gangs.”
This once-placid port city is looking a lot like the mob-ruled Chicago of the 1920’s, an arena for settling scores between rival gangs, many with ties to the highest echelons of local and national political power.
Basra’s sudden political troubles and violence are rooted in a bloody competition for control of millions of dollars in smuggled oil, residents and officials say
“The amount of actual terrorism in Basra is very limited,” said the Iraqi defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim Mifarji.
“The dominating struggle is between armed gangs and political groups.”
Here again, we see fractioning where restoring an Iraqi state requires unifying. Basra is Shi’ite-controlled, and the fact that the fighting there is almost all among Shi’ite factions points to fractioning of the Shi’ite community. Money garnered from criminal activity is a powerful divisive force, and also a common one in 4GW situations, because the absence of a state makes legitimate economic activity difficult. The more the real economy comes to depend on illegal, gang-controlled enterprise the further away any restoration of the state moves.
It is difficult to find anything in Iraq that points to a successful restoration of an Iraqi state. The Iraqi Government’s ongoing attempt at “national reconciliation” seems to hold little promise because that government is a creature of a foreign occupier and remains under its control. Nothing illustrated that fact better than the immediate American veto of the Iraqi Government’s desire to offer amnesty to resistance fighters who have killed American troops. Obviously, such amnesty would have to be part of any deal with the resistance. That would be true even if the resistance were losing; it is all the more so when the resistance is winning. Winners seldom surrender and allow themselves to be put on trial.
In the end, the Iraqi resistance, in all its many dimensions, represents reality, “flip-flops on the ground.” Iraq’s government and state security forces, in contrast, are kabuki. And no kabuki performance goes on forever.
WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.