Sunday, September 9, 2007

Allawi and the Sunni Strategy

In my last post, I discussed how the recent rise Ayad Allawi has brought up rather unpleasant memories of Washington’s king-making in the past. Beyond Vietnam, Diem, and all that, there is also a pressing question of what Allawi’s second life might have to do with what Seymore Hersh has called Washington’s tactical "redirection."

First, a little recent history.

Allawi’s original stint in the prime minister’s chair came to an end with the election of 2005—that brief, shining moment for Bush’s dream of democratizing the Middle East—as he handed off the PM post to Nouri al-Maliki. At the time some perceptive commentators grasped that the 2005 election was not so much a victory for "the people" as one for the Iraqi Shia who constitute a broad majority and thus naturally have much to gain from any kind of democratic system. Al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party, which won the day, is explicitly Shi’ite in its organization and philosophy just as Saddam’s Ba’ath Party was the party for the Sunni).

In turn, the 2005 Shia victory meant increased influence for Iran where Shia Islam is firmly in the saddle. It should have thus come as no surprise that Tehran—the staunchest of enemies of the Untied States—nonetheless diplomatically recognized the Quisling government in Baghdad. Tehran did this not out of some deep admiration for democracy but simply because it grasped that it had much to gain with the Shia in charge.

Instead of choosing to work with Iran—a government which clearly also wants a stable state to emerge in Iraq—Washington has instead made Tehran numero uno on its hit-list.

In turn, the Bushies in the media have made a concerted effort to de-emphasize the dysfunctional democracy in Baghdad and sing the praises of progress being made in Sunni regions, most especially Anbar province where Bush recently made a presidential visit. (Lindsey Graham has been particularly assiduous in stressing this point in his Sunday morning appearances).

In this line, the usual suspects have emphasized that Sunnis who were formerly part of the insurgency have been essentially switching sides and backing U.S. forces.

While this is sounds like good news, it would disastrous if Washington decides to integrate this Sunni rapprochement into some kind of "redirection" strategy against Shia Iran.

How Allawi might function within all this is far from clear. Allawi himself is a Shia muslim—albeit a secular nationalist and one who was once a prominent member of the almost entirely Sunni Ba’ath Party. At the very least, he seems more than willing to work with Washington, and this can make him very useful if the powers that be decied to get rid of al-Maliki.

If Bush, Cheney & Co. really want to take the neocons’ advice and bomb Iran before the end of the term, then in installing Allawi, they might not just be searching for someone to end petty sectarian squabbling in the capital but someone to fortify Iraq as they open up a new front.

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