The Iraqi government really is rubbish, isn’t it?

As recent events demonstrate all too clearly, the Iraqi government is rubbish. Though from what I read The West had a heavy hand in installing Nouri al-Maliki so I’m by no means complaining that their troubles are all home-grown; more despairing at our ability to prop up corrupt incompetents who don’t like us (vide Afghanistan).

I found this in the National Post:

In a reflection of the bitter divide, thousands of heavily armed Shiite militiamen – eager to take on the Sunni insurgents – march through Iraqi cities in military-style parades on streets where many of them battled U.S. forces a half decade ago.

You see the problem, of course: while ISIS (or ISIL) are out there kicking the government’s ass, govt-side folk are poncing around parading in cities where its nice and safe. There’s a motto here: competition is good; its what keeps people honest. Governments are by nature monopolies; keeping them honest is hard. But if the internal structures are too weak to keep them honest (as they are in Iraq) and external forces prop them up for geopolitical reasons (why hello!) then eventually you risk a structure so badly hollowed out that a tiny but very determined competitor can go for the throat. Or at least, for a major limb. Darwin wins again (see-also my review of Atlas Shrugged).

So, what would you do then?

All the above is entirely negative: I’m railing at the stupidity of the world. I’m allowed to do that sometimes. But its natural to ask, OK wise guy, what’s your solution? I don’t have a good answer to that, but I do have several bad ones:

1. Partition the country. Iraq is an artificial country we created for stupid reasons ages ago. Admit it was a mistake. Give the Kurds their bit, and tell Turkey to Get Stuffed when it whinges. Better still, suggest to them that they let their bit full of Kurds split off and join the ex-Iraqi bit.

2. Be more honest. We’ve f*ck*d the place over so thoroughly and lied about it so much that no-one could possibly trust us (us is the West; we Brits did a pretty good job in the early days, now the US has taken over as idiot-in-chief for the region).


* The Iraq disaster, continued
* Foaming at the mouth with me
* Turkey Gives Up On Unified Iraq – speculative headline backed off in the text, but interesting
* Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq – WAPO

20 thoughts on “The Iraqi government really is rubbish, isn’t it?”

  1. Could ISIS(L) import chemical weapons from Syria into Iraq? As far as I know there is no evidence, so far, that they have the capabability. It would be both ironic and tragic if the 2003 invasion of Iraq had this as an indirect consequence.

    I don’t like Assad, but this risk could have been greater if the narrow vote on intervening in Syria had gone the other way * thus strengthening ISIS’s tactical position;

    the debate about whether to bomb Syria.
    * which would have been welcomed by Tony Blair according to his recent muddled pronouncements.


  2. The problem is that the sandbox they play in is not the same as the historical alliances (i.e. see Ukraine, Bosnia, Croatia, etc, for non-ME examples). Kurds, Shiite and Sunni are only the broad groups. They are by no means the stable factions. Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Sunni yet went against a secular Iraq and Syria and also battled the extremist Sunni. A secular Syria may support ISIS now but only for convenience. It’s similar to the Palestinians. It’s not like Jordan created a Palestinian state when the controlled all the regions that Palestinians called home. The failed stability of Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iraq has not been seen in quite a while.


  3. all is as it should be

    the situation is now almost perfect

    Iraq produces oil for the world

    the money it makes is all spent on weapons tech and corruption

    the country is kept largely in the stone age

    and we get to keep living the good life



  4. “It’s not like Jordan created a Palestinian state when the controlled all the regions that Palestinians called home.”

    Never in history has this happened. You must have dreamed it.


  5. OK Robert, not Gaza. West Bank and Jerusalem. Jordan annexed it in 1950. It wasn’t given to the Palestinians after Jordan took it when Israel declared themselves a state. The Palestinian-Jordanian Civil War wasn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination.


  6. The partition is a done deal, although the Sunnis may yet make an attempt to try to conquer some or even all of the Shiite parts. I look forward now to the “and the Levant” bit.


  7. Hmm, didn’t the Brits use their time occupying Iraq to invent aerial bombing of civilians? And overall, pretty good job? It seems much of a piece with the more recent chapters of the ongoing train wreck.


  8. Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Sunni yet went against a secular Iraq and Syria

    Why do you find this surprising? Saudi Arabia may have a titular royal family, but it’s about as close as you can get to a theocracy without actually putting the imams in charge. The House of Saud have to keep their religious maniacs happy. There is a lot of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” in that part of the world.

    And in case it wasn’t obvious that Iran won the war, Maliki et al. are asking them for help, too. And at least the Iranians don’t have to pretend to be neutral on the sectarian issue.

    What’s been happening in Iraq was forseeable to (and forseen by) anyone who had actual knowledge of the region. Unfortunately, the intersection of that set of people with the set of people who had any power in the US or UK government in 2003 is empty.


  9. Why do you find this surprising?

    I didn’t and don’t. I pointed out that broad religious associations aren’t the story nor are alliances long-lived after they form. This was well understood in 2003. Less understood when troops were withdrawn. Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya are now chaotic disasters in search of a despot and their current situation his little to do with 2003. Much more to do with 2009. Afghanistan will quickly fall back into it when troops withdraw. There is no “Arab Spring” when it is hindered by a millenia of bloody clan feuds. The current disaster known as the West/US foreign policy has managed to push Palestinian issue to the back page and given Russia quite the leg up in the middle east. So much so that they ignore borders between them and Ukraine.


  10. “The West had a heavy hand in installing Nouri al-Maliki…”

    It’s been mentioned before but it bears repeating: there are quite a few nations that would count themselves as part of “The West” but which didn’t participate in the invasion of Iraq.


  11. You can’t easily federalize the country. The oil wealth is found in Shiite and Kurd controlled areas (mainly). If the country were heavily partitioned, the Sunnis would get little wealth, and would have no incentive to cooperate in building Iraq as a nation. During the formation of the Iraqi constitution, the Sunnis argued against extensive federalisation. (So this is not really like Ukraine.)

    The Kurds have been sitting pretty. The areas under their control have oil wealth. They have an incentive, up to a point, to cooperate with the Sunnis in order to stabilize Iraq, to faciliate the export of their wealth.

    Maliki doesn’t offer Sunnis a degree of autonomy or, due to his government’s total corruption, any sharing of wealth. But the Sunnis have discipline, military know-how, and a good sense of politics: they did, after all, run the country for a long time.


  12. Some problems have no good solutions. And sometimes, you have to accept that even if there is possibly something you could do to make a situation better, the odds of finding it are so small, and the odds of making things worse are so large, that the best thing you can do is mind your own business. Finally, I’m very much of the opinion that there are almost no situations which can be significantly improved by aerial bombardment.


  13. I don’t know if this comment is appropriate to the conversation but here goes.
    Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship of Iraq can be termed a “wicked problem”. The invasion that overthrew him led to a post-Saddam Iraq that was (and still is) an even more wicked problem.
    What does the world do? If we sit back, Iraq could collapse and ISIS could start forming a huge caliphate, which I understand was Osama Bin Laden’s endgame. On the other hand, intervening is potentially even more disastrous (vis a vis the 2003 invasion).

    [I’m not convinced that calling the problem “wicked” adds anything to calling it “difficult”. But yes: the entire situation is part of a series of choices made by a variety or people over the years, often for temporary expediency and their own advantage, rather than long-term good or the good of the region. ISIS has been astonishingly successful astonishingly quickly, which demonstrates the rottenness of the current Iraqi govt / state. But it begins to look more like they were just the trigger for, effectively, a popular uprising; its hard to see that wave propagating into regions where the sectarian allegiance is different -W]


  14. When one says, “what would I do” I think the best way to do that is to assume you’re the British PM and US President and then explain. “Partition Iraq” isn’t really an option open to either of them.

    [Being forced to say “I didn’t write those words very carefully” is a fairly feeble defence, but its all I have. But the US, in particular (not us, really, any more) does have a great deal of influence. If the US was know to be – had spoken strongly in favour of – partition, then that would make a difference. In many of these things its a question of which side of the fence to jump (I’ve said this before). If you know (as everyone does) that the West has a knee-jerk reflex in favour of preserving existing boundaries, that’s significant. And, IMO, bad -W]

    I’m not sure it’s open to anyone else either. I think neither the Sunni nor the Shiite Arab Iraqis want partition from each other – some are willing to live together, some want to dominate the other, some want to exterminate the other. But not partition.

    The Kurds might be ready to split off if the US President backed them, but other than that symbolic victory (they already have a de facto state) I don’t think it does anything to solve problems in Iraq.

    Meanwhile, I think it’s interesting that both Ukraine and Iraq had miserable military failures. Ukraine responded by creating a national guard that may play more of a role as each month goes by, while Maliki responded by creating non-state-run sectarian militias. The former seems like a better strategy.

    [The Iraq government looks worse by the day. The US is intervening to prop them up, again. Without that they’d fall over in a heap -W]


  15. Iraq is an artificial country we created for stupid reasons ages ago.

    Or more accurately, a selfish reason, oil. As points out:

    Misak-ı Milli stated that the Mosul Province was a part of their heartland, based on a common past, history, concept of morals and laws. Presumably, from a British perspective, if Mustafa Kemal Atatürk succeeded in securing the stability in his efforts to establish Republic of Turkey, he would have turned his attention to recovering Mosul and penetrate into Mesopotamia, where the native population would probably join him. The British Foreign Secretary attempted to disclaim any existence of oil in the Mosul area. On 23 January 1923, Lord Curzon argued that the existence of oil was no more than hypothetical.[26] However, according to Armstrong, “England wanted oil. Mosul and Kurds were the key.”[27]

    The Mosul region was incorporated into Iraq by Britain for an utterly selfish reason for which they were prepared to lie.


  16. Well, if we’d left well alone with Mossadegh Iran might have become a functional place. Yes, I know, Iran is not Iraq, but the region had a chance until we boxed clever (and I hate being part of that “we” by nationality). As they say, you break it you own it. Tragic, really.

    “Mohammad Mosaddegh … was the democratically elected[1][2][3] Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 until 1953, when his government was overthrown in a coup d’état orchestrated by the British MI6 and the American CIA.

    “An author, administrator, lawyer, prominent parliamentarian, his administration introduced a range of progressive social and political reforms such as social security, rent control, and land reforms. His government’s most notable policy, however, was the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC / AIOC) (later British Petroleum or BP).

    “Mosaddegh was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the CIA at the request of MI6, which chose Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi to succeed Mosaddegh.”

    For those interested in these things, The New Yorker did two features in the last few months, one on Maliki and one on Iran’s negotiator (interesting guy). Both the usual high quality reporting one expects from that source.
    (fortunately, neither is paywalled)


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