'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, February 07, 2004

On an October Surprise in Reverse

There's been a lot of talk lately that Karl Rove is planning an October surprise in which Osama Bin Laden will be killed or captured just in time for the general elections. Actually, I just saw Chomsky speculate about it this morning on BookTV (CSPAN2 is showing this speech again at 9:20pm tonight) but as far as I know it's all just speculation at this point. The Bushies may be planning an October surprise but they are also shitting bricks about an October surprise in reverse. The October surprise in reverse I am referring to is open warfare breaking out between the various ethnic factions in Iraq, an Iraqi civil war. This unspoken fear casts its shadow over all discussion of the upcoming Iraqi elections.

The original plan -- and by original plan I mean the one that happened to immediately precede the current one -- for the transition to Iraqi sovereignty was that the governing council would draft a constitution and then elections would be held according to this constitution, a long process with the CPA in control in the meantime. Last November, however, Bremer got a little excited about the state of Iraq. He felt that Washington wasn't taking seriously just how broken the country was; he made pleading phone calls to Condoleeza Rice, flew home for emergency meetings, and lo and behold it was decided that a new Iraqi government would be put in place by June 30. The plan was to select a bunch of "notables" and then hold caucuses.

Unfortunately for the caucus plan, Iraq's Shia majority didn't turn out to be idiots. Initially the US dealt with Shia resistance to its caucus plan by ignoring it, but after last month's massive protests this strategy became untenable. So the US ran to the UN and the UN currently has a team on the ground in Iraq. The official purpose of the UN team is a little bit muddy. In some news articles they are determining if the early direct elections the Shia favor are possible; in other articles they are surveying Iraqis to determine what sort of elections the Iraqi people would like. But the real purpose of the UN is to provide legitimacy to the US's caucus plan. The UN team is going to determine that its not feasible to hold direct elections before June 30 because, you know, it isn't feasible to have direct elections by June 30, and to broker some compromise with the Shia such that they support the plan. But that just begs the question -- what's so special about this date June 30? Who came up with it? Carina Perelli, head of the UN's electoral assistance division, who helped organize elections in such war-ravaged countries as East Timor, based on her years of experience? No, it was the Mayberry Machiavellis -- it was the Bushies, and they picked it based on wanting to be out of Iraq by November.

The Shia are, for now, supporting the UN team because they have little to lose and possibly because they believe the UN team is going to favor early elections. They believe this because the UN already studied the feasibility of early elections, before the headquarters bombing, and, rumor (a rumor spread by Ahmed Chalabi no less) has it, decided that the elections are feasible.* But given the Kurds ongoing moves toward independence and the resulting violence, the whole situation is increasingly tenuous. The Shia majority won't stand for any government that they don't have a large stake in. And the Kurds are not going to stand for a government that again oppresses them, to quote a CIA analyst, from "CIA warns of Iraq civil war",Kights Ridder, 1/21/04:

Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's their time. They think that if they don't get what they want now, they'll probably never get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed by the United States before.

And note that that article about the CIA warning about a possible Iraqi civil war was written before the recent violence against the Kurds.

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