is slowly shifting to Iraqi leaders on the ground
with men and arms. Politics abhors a vacuum, and
in Iraq, local militias are filling it
24 issue - Larry Diamond is not going back to
Iraq. One of America's foremost experts on building
democracy--a man who has spent years studying and
helping countries from Asia to South America make
the transition--he had been working with the Coalition
Provisional Authority in Baghdad over the last
few months. Three weeks ago, when it was time
to return to Iraq from his perch at Stanford,
he decided not to do it.
has become increasingly gloomy about the situation
in Iraq, and a meeting in April with a women's
group there crystallized his feelings. "I'd met
these amazing women a couple of times before and
had been urging them to organize and get active
politically," he explained. "Then one of them
stood up and said, 'If we do all these things,
who's going to protect us?' She was right. We're
asking people in Iraq to do things that will get
them killed. Without security, democracy is impossible.
If we're trying to win people over in Iraq," he
said, "the strategy is obvious: it's about security,
seem to agree. In a poll done in April by the
CPA, 70 percent of Iraqis cited security as their
single most important priority. And while the
addition of about 20,000 American troops will
help, security forces in Iraq--whether American,
foreign or Iraqi--remain too thinly spread throughout
the country. The result is a pervasive sense of
insecurity, which has an even deeper political
consequence. Power is slowly shifting to Iraqi
leaders on the ground with men and arms. Politics
abhors a vacuum, and in Iraq, local militias are
such groups have power on the ground, America
must either fight them or, if that would be too
costly, cede ground to them in some way. In the
Kurdish regions, the United States has allowed
the two parties and their peshmerga military force
free reign, which has included some ethnic cleansing
of Arabs in Kirkuk. In Fallujah, the Army has
agreed that an ex-Baathist group will run the
city. In Najaf, the Coalition has been willing
(finally) to confront Moqtada al-Sadr. But it
can only do so because it has the tacit support
of other, more important Najaf clerics. (Even
so, al-Sadr has been able to rally backing for
his cause. A poll shows him with 45 percent support
in Baghdad and a staggering 67 percent in Basra--the
latter figure is even more striking when you consider
that Basra is not al-Sadr's geographic base.)
out of weakness and haste, the CPA is simply folding
these militias into the new Iraqi Army and police.
Such militias owe their primary loyalty to religious
groups like the Dawa and the Supreme Council of
Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which have strong
fundamentalist leanings. Others have ties to smaller,
less well-known groups. But the general phenomenon
of armed groups is on the rise--easy in a country
in which virtually every male over 14 owns a Kalashnikov.
Over time, these political groups will struggle
for power--and their militias will help them do
battle. When elections are held, they will use
force and money to ensure that the results come
out their way.
is not a democratization strategy. It is an exit
strategy. But it will not work. Elections held
in an uncertain security environment with militias
running around the country will produce contested
results and a renewed power struggle--in other
words, a road neither to peace nor to pluralism.
trends cannot be negated; it's too late for that.
But counterforces can be encouraged. That means
the CPA must focus first and foremost on state-
building. Iraq needs a neutral, national state,
and that state needs a professional army and police
force. The Iraqi ministries and administration
need more people, money and authority.
U.N. plan to create an interim government that
is composed of technocrats, not politicians, will
help give the Iraqi state some independent ballast.
But it will need not just power but legitimacy.
And legitimacy can come only if it shows Iraqis
that it can stand up to the occupying power. Washington
should understand and even assist in this dynamic.
At least in appearances, we have to lose for Iraqis
to win. Washington must also get the Governing
Council to stop its dangerous attempts to derail
the transition plans. For its part, the United
Nations must give its stamp of approval to the
new government. It should encourage figures like
Ayatollah Sistani to bless it as well. If forces
from within and outside Iraq all come together
to support it, the interim government has a chance
at success. That means Iraq will get some breathing
space to build institutions, create a constitution
and hold elections. On the other hand, if the
interim government comes under fire from radicals
and disgruntled power seekers, it might well collapse.
The future of Iraq will become a competition among
political groups, many of them with armies and
antidemocratic leanings that will run their areas
of control with brute force. "It's Nigeria in
the 1960s," says Larry Diamond. And that ended
in a bloody civil war.
the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2004
Posted: May 17, 2004