Friday, August 19, 2005

Peter Galbraith on Iraq

Peter Galbraith's piece in the New York Review of Books on Iraq is pretty good, though I always find the US-centric prism of American commentators a little grating (not that you can really blame them for it, it's only natural).

In this instance, though, I think it is detrimental to his analysis. He talks in ominous tones about Iran's pervasive influence in Iraq, particularly through its proxy the SCIRI. But he doesn't note the divergences within the Shi'a community - the fact that Sadr does not want a situation where the SCIRI has overall control over the organs of the state; the fact that Sistani does not advocate the same system of clerical control over government that exists in Iran, epitomised in the velayet-e faqih.

He also sees relations between the two as a zero-sum game vis-a-vis the US - where Iran gains clout in Iraq, the US loses it. That is a superficial, short-termist analysis. Better relations between the two will help to ensure the stability of the new Iraqi government and will help to remove one the greatest causes of instability in the wider region over the last twenty yeras - the rivalry between Iraq and Iran. Moreover, there are strong pressures in Iran - both from liberal middle class kids in the cities and poor Muslim families in the countryside - for the clerical elite to become less corrupt, more accountable, and actually do something to improve the lot of the vast majority of Iranians. I don't think it would be any surprise if this were the same popular sentiment in a more stable Iraq under a Shi'a Islamic government.

In the short term, Shi'a theocracy may look scary to the US, but even Shi'a theocrats aren't immune from the pressures of demographics and economics. I'm just not as worried by the possibility, essentially - most of the aggression towards the West in Iran is just elite posturing to distract the more gullible from the country's economic problems.


Blogger Hasenauer said...

I agree that reality calls for a more relaxed attitude towards Iranian influence in Iraq and towards the commitment to politicise religion on the part of Iraqi Shiites.

However, I would stop at supporting institutional impediments to the natural evolution of political Islam in Iraq, such as a Constitutional Guardians' Council. As in Iran, such a body distorts the democratic process and thus delays the process of holding ayatollahs to account.

Unfortunately, it seems that that is exactly what the UIA is pushing for in the constitution now. And, placing that as the price of 'conceding' the made up demand of a southern region, they might get it.

19/8/05 12:34  
Blogger waterboy said...

Which is a problem, indeed. I'm surprised that they pay such little regard to Sistani, but since he's loathe to intervene in politics I suppose they don't have to.

19/8/05 16:40  
Blogger Bing said...

Better relations between the two will help to ensure the stability of the new Iraqi government

But we seem to be moving in the opposite direction right now, what with those seals at Isfahan being broken. Surely, it's only a matter of time before the more hardline Congressmen start calling for another invasion, regardless of how realistic that is. Are you optimistic about US-Iran ties? If so, please do say why.

19/8/05 17:25  
Anonymous eerie said...

You should crosspost this for all the screaming Yin fans at 'Aqoul.

19/8/05 22:04  
Blogger waterboy said...

N - I mean better relations between Iraq and Iran, not the US and Iran.

I'm not optimistic about US/Iran ties, nor am I that pessimistic. The elites will argue and cajole, and ultimately they'll come to a compromise. The US is overstretched, and Iran doesn't really fancy trying its luck. On the nuclear issue, I expect lots of heat and not much of a conclusion, frankly.

20/8/05 02:17  
Blogger waterboy said...

Eerie - there are screaming Yin fans? Careful, I might get an ego or something... *blushes*

20/8/05 02:18  
Anonymous eerie said...

Well, I don't really scream. Lounsbury is more the squealing type.

21/8/05 22:54  

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