Reading about Iraq

I don’t usually post about Iraq, because I don’t really have anything to offer. But I could not help contrast the idea that the killing of Zarqawi is somehow significant with the following two pieces.

First, from the best blogger in the world at Baghdad Burning.

We heard the news about the dozens abducted from the Salhiya area in Baghdad. Salhiya is a busy area where many travel agencies have offices. It has been
particularly busy since the war because people who want to leave to
Jordan and Syria all make their reservations from one office or another
in that area.

According to people working and living in the
area, around 15 police cars pulled up to the area and uniformed men
began pulling civilians off the streets and from cars, throwing bags
over their heads and herding them into the cars. Anyone who tried to
object was either beaten or pulled into a car. The total number of
people taken away is estimated to be around 50.

This has been
happening all over Iraq- mysterious men from the Ministry of Interior
rounding up civilians and taking them away. It just hasn’t happened
with this many people at once. The disturbing thing is that the Iraqi
Ministry of Interior has denied that it had anything to do with this
latest mass detention (which is the new trend with them- why get
tangled up with human rights organizations about mass detentions,
torture and assassinations- just deny it happened!). That isn’t a good
sign- it means these people will probably be discovered dead in a
matter of days. We pray they’ll be returned alive…

Another piece of particularly bad news came later during the day. Several students riding a bus to school were assassinated in Dora area. No
one knows why- it isn’t clear. Were they Sunni? Were they Shia? Most
likely they were a mix… Heading off for their end-of-year examination-
having stayed up the night before to study in the heat. When they left
their houses, they were probably only worried about whether they’d pass
or fail- their parents sending them off with words of encouragement and
prayer. Now they’ll never come home.

There’s an ethnic cleansing
in progress and it’s impossible to deny. People are being killed
according to their ID card. Extremists on both sides are making life
impossible. Some of them work for ‘Zarqawi’, and the others work for
the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. We hear about Shia being killed in the
‘Sunni triangle’ and corpses of Sunnis named ‘Omar’ (a Sunni name)
arriving by the dozen at the Baghdad morgue. I never thought I’d
actually miss the car bombs. At least a car bomb is indiscriminate. It
doesn’t seek you out because you’re Sunni or Shia.

We still
don’t have ministers in the key ministries- defense and interior. Iraq
is falling apart and Maliki and his team are still bickering over who
should get more power- who is more qualified to oppress Iraqis with the
help of foreign occupiers? On top of all of this, rumor has it that the
Iraqi parliament have a ‘vacation’ coming up during July and August.
They’re so exhausted with the arguing, and struggling for power, they
need to take a couple of months off to rest. They’ll leave their
well-guarded homes behind for a couple of months, and spend some time
abroad with their families (who can’t live in Iraq anymore- they’re too
precious for that).

And second, from Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

Zarqawi had been a significant leader of the Salafi Jihadi radical
strain of Islamist volunteers in Iraq, and had succeeded in spreading
his ideas to local Iraqis in places like Ramadi. He engaged in
grandstanding when he renamed his group "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia," even
though he had early been critical of al-Qaeda and had a long rivalry
with it. For background, see the Zarqawi file.

is no evidence of operational links between his Salafi Jihadis in Iraq
and the real al-Qaeda; it was just a sort of branding that suited
everyone, including the US. Official US spokesmen have all along
over-estimated his importance. Leaders are significant and not always
easily replaced. But Zarqawi has in my view has been less important
than local Iraqi leaders and groups. I don’t expect the guerrilla war
to subside any time soon.

Baqubah is dangerous not because of
Zarqawi but because it is a mixed Sunni-Shiite and Kurdish area that
had Baath military installations and arms depots, and enough Sunni
Arabs from the old regime know about them to work them against rising
Shiite and Kurdish dominance.

On the other hand, there have been
persistent reports of a split between the main arm of the guerrilla
resistance, the Sunni Arab Iraqis, and Zarqawi’s group.

Al-Hayat reports today [Ar.]
that groups in Fallujah have launched attacks on Zarqawi followers
there after the latter attacked the al-Husain Mosque in the Askari
quarter two days ago, destroying the tomb of the founder of the mosque
within it. (Salafis influenced by Saudi Wahhabism despise attendance at
saints tombs, insisting on a Protestant-like elimination of all
intermediaries between human beings and God. Many Islamists in Fallujah
are actually Sufis, who value saints in the way rural Catholics do.) An
attempt by the radical Salafis to destroy the mosque (on the grounds
that it had been tainted with polytheism) was stopped by the "1920
Revolution Brigades," a local ex-Baathist group. There was a running
gun battle between the two.

Zarqawi’s group had also tried two
days ago to attack a Fallujah police station, but they were repulsed by
local tribal youth. The battle left two cars burned and 4 dead from the
tribe of Al-Bu `Isa.

The contrast between the dregs we get on the news here and these kind of comments is astounding. Read the two of them, and it’s clear that this event will have no effect whatsoever on the level of destruction in Iraq.

I’ve been reading these writers for a couple of years or so. Both have shown a steady progression towards disillusionment, anger, and despair over the state of Iraq. Watching Juan Cole go from moderate, academic observer to outright fury has been quite something.

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  1. It is a heartbreaking story. It’s terribly hard for lucky Americans to even imagine the terror involved.
    I voted for Kerry with one hand while I held my nose with the other, as he never forwarded any notable ideas about what to do with the mess in Iraq. During the campaign he never even came out against the continued occupation! Meanwhile, two noble winning,libertarian economists have long been pushing that we give the Iraqi people the oil (which is now almost 2 trillion dollars worth), thru a plan somewhat like the Alaskan plan…everyone would have a royalty check coming bi-weekly, and shares of an Iraqi National Oil company would be in the hands of every citizen.
    The plan was even supported by Paul Bremmer, and later by development experts writing in “Foreign Affairs”… but it got no more traction with the anti-war left than it did with Bush and his mandarins in Washington.
    How much of this senseless violence might have been avoided if it didn’t look like we were there to grab their oil? And if there wasn’t a $2trillion dollar pot practically sitting in Baghdad enticing rogue elements and their foreign supporters to fight fiercely for this prize of all prizes?
    Like many Americans, my dad gets on the computer first thing every day to check his stocks… imagine if every family had a huge rooting interest in the value of Iraqi oil stock… and those young men who were being tempted by an angry mullah to blow stuff up had to explain themselves to lots of stock owning relatives who had just heard bad news about their shares on the radio or TV.
    from the blog Marginal Revolution:
    Back to the Future of Iraq
    In the weeks after the Iraq war “concluded” there was lots of discussion about reforming the economy. But the opening of the second front pushed those plans into remission. I hope that it is not yet too late to leave Iraq with better economic institutions. Yet as we seek a way out, our influence diminishes and the chance that the war was fought for nought increases. I was pleased, therefore, to see Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development and Arvind Subramanian, a division chief at the International Monetary Fund try to push reform back onto the agenda.
    As the United States, the United Nations, and the Iraqi Governing Council struggle to determine what form Iraq’s next government should take, there is one question that, more than any other, may prove critical to the country’s future: how to handle its vast oil wealth. Oil riches are far from the blessing they are often assumed to be. In fact, countries often end up poor precisely because they are oil rich. Oil and mineral wealth can be bad for growth and bad for democracy, since they tend to impede the development of institutions and values critical to open, market-based economies and political freedom: civil liberties, the rule of law, protection of property rights, and political participation.
    Can Iraq avoid the pitfalls that other oil-rich countries have fallen into? The answer is yes, but only if it is willing to implement a novel arrangement for managing its oil wealth with the help of the international community…. the Iraqi people should embed in their new constitution an arrangement for the direct distribution of oil revenues to all Iraqi households — an arrangement that would be supervised by the international community.
    The article is in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs, it is well worth reading but if you don’t have a subscription you can find a more succint version of the argument here.
    Thanks to Dave Meleney for the pointer.
    Posted by Alex Tabarrok on August 25, 2004

  2. In the early 1980’s there was a big debate in Canada over our role in testing the Cruise Missile, which is of course part of the US nuclear weapons arsenal (as well as its conventional one). I remember hearing a philosopher talk about how, used correctly, Cruise missiles could be play an important role in a deterrence strategy rather than an aggressive strategy.
    I had the same reaction to him as I have to your suggestion. Given the people in power in Washington, I’m afraid it seems a long way from reality. It just doesn’t really seem very relevant to discuss plans like giving the Iraqi people their oil.
    You say “How much of this senseless violence might have been avoided if it didn’t look like we were there to grab their oil?” – but let’s face it, ensuring a reliable source of oil is at least a part of the reason for the invasion in the first place. It’s not just a matter of “looking like”.

  3. Tom:
    Who could have much doubt that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield were, in fact, fascinated by the expectation of controlling all that oil? But the prospect of calling them on their callous, and some would say, murderous ways seems to boor you. How better to expose them than by proposing that they actually do the right thing and suggesting what exactly that would look like? Isn’t that what your book is all about?
    If it seems senseless to hope that someday a cruise missile technology might permit a Department of Defense that is actually about defense rather than offense….
    If it seems senseless because of the type of people that have been running Washington, DC for so long…
    And, if it seems senseless to hope that Americans might have been enflamed to insist on a policy whereby we DON’T STEAL THEIR OIL….
    Why then, Tom, are you so often arguing to put more power, rather than less….in the hands of these morally challenged people we call politicians? (understanding that Washington, as well as Moscow and Beijing have always had some minority of operatives who are very, very good people…but like my girlfriend’s efforts amidst remarkable bureaucrats in some very difficult schools….)
    Your reply reminds me of Judge Scalia’s recent majority opinion which said: “Because the police have been so much more careful about following the rules since the Mapp and Miranda decisions…..well, heck, lets trust them now to do the right thing without the rules…and if they make a mistake now and again…well, darn it, evidence should be used in court however it was gathered, that’s why they go out and get it, right?”
    Tom, why give MORE power to folk like that?
    Why encourage the illusion that police or politicians will most often use power wisely and decently when….
    power corrupts….not always…but so, so often.
    absolute power corrupts absolutely….this one seems to be always true, can you think of an exception?
    The US has over 100,000 paid lobbyists working for special interest groups, and over $120 million dollars were spent lobbying the recent pharmaceutical “reform” package.
    Percentage of House members who lose election since serious gerrymandering became dominant…typically less than 3.
    People killed by their own governments, 20th century, worldwide: 169 million = 53 per 100,000 population, per year.
    Private murders, worldwide, year 2000:520,000 = 8.6 per 100,000 population.
    Ratio: 6.2
    all the best,

  4. Dave,
    “power corrupts….not always…but so, so often.
    absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    – couldn’t agree more.
    On the other hand:
    “Why then, Tom, are you so often arguing to put more power, rather than less….in the hands of these morally challenged people we call politicians?”
    Is Dick Cheney a politician or a business executive? I could ask you, why are you so often arguing to put more power, rather than less, in the hands of business?
    The main distinction you are suggesting is that we either trust government or we trust business (the market). But really, we can’t trust either of course , because of what your quote from Lord Acton says about power corrupting.
    So I don’t think that’s the real dividing line. Government is, after all, a resource that various groups compete to control. I’m not arguing to just hand over power to whoever is in government.

  5. Tom:
    Lots of excellent comments on The Long Tail, bravo.
    On this thread you say:
    “Is Dick Cheney a politician or a business executive? I could ask you, why are you so often arguing to put more power, rather than less, in the hands of business?
    Great question. JayLeno’s website has his Bush impersonator giving the most amazing answer to just that querry.
    As for me…I have to ask… How much damage Cheney can do as oil man vs. as Executive in Charge at the White House?
    Let him try to force oil up 50 or 100% from his previous desk and see how it goes.
    You gotta see the video at: Leno Tonight NBC .
    all the best,

  6. Tom:
    Where was I arguing to put more power in the hands of a businessman? Tom, I spect I trust them FAR less than you do…. thus my anxiousness that they be kept from the kind of market power Bush and Cheney now have…. just like all of us should be kept from such power…
    Ideally there would be NO billion dollar favors available for politicians of any stripe to hand out to their friends and favorite operators…..
    Imagine for a moment George Bush’s Chrismas card list… and how terribly happy 98% of his old oil friends are with him…
    So… I ask again…
    “How much damage Cheney can do as oil man vs. as Executive in Charge at the White House?”
    Economists often like to measure or estimate important imponderables…. and this is a big one. When I am getting gas I often as folk at the same pump…”How much would a gallon of gas be if we had no war going on in Iraq?” …so what is your relatively expert wild guess? Isn’t Cheney 50 times worse as VP than as Haliburton CEO?
    Remind me again why you wouldn’t want a world in which even as head of Haliburton, Cheney would have little sway in Washington…. and his power would surround his abilities to get out better products/services and to intimidate his customers from trying his upstart new competitors.
    Wouldn’t your kids be safer growing up in world more like that?

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