Sunday, February 04, 2007

Political and Economic Tracks of the New Iraq "Strategy"

Today, we take a look at the political and economic components of the ad hoc fuck-up that is otherwise referred to as President Bush's new Iraq "strategy."

As with the military track, success does not look to be a likely outcome of the policy tweaks.

Especially when we are backing the less-than-attractive Maliki regime.

The success of the Bush administration's new Iraq strategy depends on a series of rapid and dramatic political and economic reforms that even the plan's authors have little confidence will work. ...

Several senior officials involved in formulating the political and economic aspects of the administration's strategy, along with a number of informed outsiders, agreed to discuss its assumptions and risks on the condition that they not be identified by name. Other sources refused to be even anonymously quoted, describing the administration as standing on the brink of an intricate combination of maneuvers [ed. note: the ad hoc fuck-up] whose outcome is far from assured. ...

The strategy's political component centers on replacing deepening Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish divides with a new delineation between "extremists" and "moderates." Moderates are defined as those of all religious and political persuasions who eschew violence in favor of safety and employment.

With the help of outside Iraq experts, the administration has compiled lists of active and still-untapped moderates around the country. "They wondered could I give them some [names] from the provinces or anywhere" from which to construct a new political base, recalled one think-tank expert called to the State Department in December. According to the intelligence estimate, however, Iraq's reservoir of such people, especially trained technocrats and entrepreneurs, has been drained as they have fled the country in droves.

As American and Iraqi combat forces focus on cooling the cauldron of violence in Baghdad, U.S. military commanders and State Department teams plan to funnel "bridge money" toward moderate designees in outer provinces and in the capital to create jobs, start businesses and revitalize moribund factories. Iraqi money would come in behind to make it all permanent. ...

As they put the plan together, officials held heated internal debates over whether Maliki was the right man to head such an effort. Some argued in favor of engineering a new Iraqi government under Maliki's Shiite coalition partner, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and Hakim's political stalking horse, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi.

They closely examined the makeup of Iraq's 275-seat parliament, where a no-confidence vote requires only a simple majority. Maliki's Dawa party is part of the Hakim-led United Iraqi Alliance, the largest Shiite group, with 130 seats. Making a strong case for SCIRI, some argued that the Iraqis themselves were so fed up with Maliki that a different governing coalition is possible with realigned Sunni and Kurdish elements. This view found proponents in the White House and Pentagon, and it extended into parts of the normally more cautious State Department. ...

Several officials said they believe that Hakim's backers in the Bush administration have been seduced by his forceful demeanor and Abdul Mahdi's fluent English. And while many emphasized the importance of a single, visible Iraqi leader, others have said it is a mistake to personalize the policy in one Shiite actor.

After extensive discussions last month with Maliki, Hakim and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the most senior Sunni in the Iraqi government, policymakers decided to place their bets on Maliki. ...

Many experts believe that the administration's effort to build a new political center, supported by "moderate" Sunni allies in the region that fear Shiite Iranian expansion, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, is hopelessly outdated. "Our struggle may be between moderates and extremists," Brookings Institution scholar Martin Indyk said last month. "Their struggle is between Sunnis and Shias."

On the economic front, where the United States has already invested more than $38 billion, the administration has asked for $538 million to keep current programs running and has proposed an additional $1.2 billion for new initiatives that it says will receive long-term Iraqi funding.

A combination of violent attacks on previous projects, sectarian favors, inefficient and overly cautious officials, and a complex bureaucracy -- much of it installed by the United States under the post-invasion Coalition Provisional Authority -- has left the Iraqi government with a significant capital surplus in each of the past several years.

Getting approval for reconstruction expenditures in the past, observed one U.S. official, has been like "pushing wet spaghetti." The surplus, which is kept in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, now totals $12.5 billion. Maliki has publicly agreed to spend $10 billion of it on reconstruction and jobs.

The State Department has sent new "tiger teams" to six Iraqi ministries to help clear away the wreckage of the past and speed financing for approved projects, and it plans to double to 20 the number of U.S.-staffed provisional reconstruction teams in Baghdad and around the country.


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