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Iraq in a nutshell

So I am reading the declassified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate(PDF) that everybody is talking about. While there are dissenting opinions in the classified version, the 3+ pages in the declassified summary are the conclusions that every contributing intelligence source agree on. The core problem is captured in the very first bulleted point; the point that is getting quoted in the news reports.

  • Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate

How can so many learned people look at this and not understand the root of the problem immediately?

Democracy is the problem. Democracy = winner-take-all. Whether on the left or the right, politicians and pundits have been unanimous in couching our presence in Iraq in terms of “bringing democracy” like we have here in the United States. How can so many people be under the mistaken notion that we are a democratic republic? We are not. We are a constitutional republic. What MacArther and his staff understood while enforcing the Potsdam Declaration (perhaps even better than the Allied leaders did) was that we, the United States, are a republic governed by a constitution with some carefully limited democratic features. With that in mind, when the process foundered for building in Japan a new government adherent to the declaration’s terms, he oversaw the construction of a constitution with strict limits on the power and reach of both the government and the majority of the population. We, the US, handed Japan a constitution on a platter.

The only hope for peace in Iraq is to stop calling for democracy, and instead call for, or dictate, a constitution that guarantees the rights of life, liberty and property. Only if that effort fails, should we pull out and resort to preventing the development of military capabilities by intermittent military hit and withdraw interventions.

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32 comments to Iraq in a nutshell

  • Pa Annoyed

    Iraq constitution here.

    See articles 15 and 23 especially.

  • Pa Annoyed

    By the way, I’m intending no comment by posting that.

    Read the rest of it. I’d be interested in what people here think.

  • Midwesterner


    You neglected to mention

    Article (2):

    1st — Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation:

    (a) No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.

    (b) No law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy.

    (c) No law can be passed that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution.

    2nd — This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and the full religious rights for all individuals and the freedom of creed and religious practices.

    Can you say “conflicted”?

  • Pa Annoyed

    I can say “cleverly worded”. 🙂

    What does basic source mean? That laws may be based on Islam, but modified from that base?

    Why does it say undisputed rules? All it needs is for someone to dispute them, and they’re gone. And aren’t there lots of Islamic rules that are disputed nowadays?

    Does the bit about “guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people” mean that it guarantees the majority will be Islamic, or that it guarantees Islamic identity so long as it is a majority? “Guarantee” could also only mean they’ll deliver it if asked, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be asked. I’ll grant you that this last is a bit of a push, but you’ll note it says nothing about the non-Islamic minority, and the next bit guarantees them freedom of religion – pretty much unprecedented in Islamic nations.

    I don’t know whether will be interpreted that way, though. Allowing for the limitations imposed by its origins, do you think it could do what you ask, if the people living in Iraq wanted it to?

    But yes, you’re right. A lot of the wording is there to keep the Mullahs and the religious happy. In God we trust…

  • Midwesterner

    Why does it say undisputed rules?

    I think you are mistaking “undisputed” for a qualifier. It’s not. It’s a descriptor. 🙂

    and the next bit guarantees them freedom of religion – pretty much unprecedented in Islamic nations.

    That “freedom of creed and religious practices” could be a little bit interesting where Islamic creed and religious practices by Muslims against non-Muslims is recognized.

    That entire unresolvably self contradicting chimera is the institutionalization of the status quo.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Well, I can see how it could be interpreted either way. Interesting.

    Any other views?

  • Hey Chris, try a dose of this instead rather than the most dishonest man since Karl Marx.

  • RAB

    Well all I will say for now, and you know I was dubious about it when you mentioned it on an earlier thread Mid is-
    A coherent Constitution (hand me down or not) is a wonderful thing.
    The situation in Japan and Germany in 1945 was completely different than that which pertains in Iraq today.
    First of all, the fighting had stopped. We were dealing with two fairly homogeneous societys that had just lost a world war. They knew the basics of “democracy” already, just forgot it for a decade or so in a mad rush of blood to the head, and lust for Imperial expansion by force.
    Iraq has been a murderous Kleptocracy for 40 years, that has corrupted the people almost beyond redemption.
    There are three factions the Kurds the Sunnis and the Shites still fighting each other and us as I type. How is giving them a bit of paper going to stop that, however well drafted.
    Your winner takes all line is well noted by these factions, as in effect “We (the Coalition) haven’t won yet”.
    Factor in the supply lines to the Sunni from Syria, who hope for the hegemony they enjoyed under Saddam and Iran doing the same with the Shia , well there’s still all to play for, and democracy and Constitutions are what will occur, or not when a “Winner” emerges.
    Then there’s the Kurds. Dont hear much about suicide bombers in their areas. Why is that? Could it be, they know who they are and what they want already, and are prepared to implement and protect it ?
    Oh and while I’m on questions. Seeing as all our leftist friends keep saying it’s all about oil. Is there any being exported? Because it’s been a bloody expensive ordinance test otherwise.

  • Midwesterner

    Ah, RAB, your chronic whoa-is-me, all-is-lost ism is almost reassuring in it’s familiarity.

    First off, the fighting in Japan was most certainly not over. One has to realize that the process for replacing the government began with the Potsdam Declaration. That was approximately 10 day before Hiroshima! I would definitely call that “still fighting”.

    And where you say “completely different”, I say extremely similar at least in the case of Japan. And in many uncanny ways. Are you forgetting that when you and I were growing up “suicide bomber” was spelled “kamikaze”? And that they observed almost the same preliminary ritual (except a different god)?

    And your view of Japanese history is a rather idyllic one. At the least. Have you forgotten the 250 years of shogun rule? And peaceful? Perhaps you have forgotten the First Sino-Japanese War? They got Taiwan outright and China to cut loose Korea for that little adventure. And the Russo-Japanese War? Japan got Manchuria and half of Sakhalin Island out of that. Are you remembering that Japan actually annexed Korea in 1910? And that the Second Sino-Japanese War actually started around 1931/32 when Japan installed a puppet government in Manchuria? In fact, there seems to be a lot of Sino-Japanese history missing.

    Also, nothing democratic about Japan, RAB. Read the Meiji constitution. It’s as democratic as Japan ever got before the present government. By the generally enacted interpretation of that constitution, the emperor had absolute power and was the executive, judicial and legislative all in one. Like so many despotic constitutions, it had all the right things but with a couple of loopholes. For example, all of his edicts required the signature of a minister of state to be valid. But he had exclusive power over who was a minister of state. Etc. The nation certainly attempted democracy during the Meiji period. But it was really an oligarchy early on and a military dictatorship in the later part. Between those periods, the “Weak Emperor” 1912-1926, allowed some democracy and parliamentary rule to take place, but it became military rule with the great depression. And the 1930s in Japan bore a strong resemblance to the 1980s (and 1990s) under Saddam. Right down to murdering inconvenient politicians.

    The basic history of Japan/East Asia is so apropos. Like much of the mideast, a period of rapid westernisation was followed by conservatism and nationalism that became fundamentalist in its fervor. They got a lot more religious too, with Confucionism and Shintoism being taught in the schools. Not to mention Emperor worship.

    To cut this short, there is an awful lot of similarity between the Asia of Japan, Korea, China, Manchuria, and Russia during WWII, and the present mid east. The mideast could actually be considered a smaller problem by far and what we are losing there is because we are treating it like a policing problem.

    Remembering that Iraq is actually 3 nations that some unnamed people partitioned wrong, it is very similar to East Asia as far as the political dynamic goes.

    We have won in Iraq. They don’t even pretend to resist us, only sneak hit and run (or die) attacks on us with no effort made to take or hold territory. But our victory matters not one whit. Because as soon as we are gone, a new winner will be crowned. That is what all the jockeying around is for.

  • Simpistic my view may be, but the least-worst answer as I see it would indeed be partition. The Kurds have sortof got their act together, in part by excluding quite vigorously the insurgent rabble from the south. If the Sunni and Shia areas split of course we would see much wailing, gnashing, refugees and probably a border war in 5 years hence, at least the war should be at that border fought by armies and hopefully not in everyone’s back yard, market square and bus station (though you never know).

    IIRC, it is Turkey that is heavily influencing the Kurdish independence issue, for it has made it clear it will march in if “South Kurdistan” is created.

    Heck, the UK may be about to go through something similar, albeit on, we hope, more civilised terms…

    p.s. I do not think the coallition can say they have “won” beyond militarily until an administration is in place that performs the basic funciton of a government – citizens able to go safely about their lawful business without let or hiderance.

  • Nick M

    Well obviously my heart sank when I heard they were not going to enforce a secular constitution on Iraq. Same goes for Afghanistan to a lesser extent. Having Islam explicitly referenced in the way it is in the Iraqi constitution begs the question “Sunni or Shia”? Given the make-up of Iraq, allowing this is to be in the constitution is criminally stupid. Islam is an explicitly political religion.

    I don’t think a “new winner wil be crowned” any time soon in Iraq. We are looking at decades of factional strife with a number of other states stirring the pot. We are looking at Lebanon II. As you said yourself,”…only sneak hit and run (or die) attacks on us with no effort made to take or hold territory”, do you think they’ll change tack without the US Marines to referee?

    This isn’t a civil war in the sense that England or the USA have had (between defined groups over defined goals*) but factions of people who just hate each other. And it isn’t just Sunni vs. Shia, there is also the tribal/clan element that really sprays gas on the fire.

    This is demented tribal feuding on a grand scale and unutterably complicated. The hatreds are obvious to the participants (imbibed with their mother’s milk) but utterly baffling and quite surreal to outsiders. There will be clans in Iraq who hate each other and have forgotten why (c.f. the feud in Huck Finn) or it might well go back to the fact that somebody screwed somebody else’s goat 300 years ago.

    *Yeah, I know more complicated than that, but…

  • RAB

    Wooah! I roused a sleeping tiger with that one, didn’t I mid! Well it was one of my early morn generalisations, but reading back over my post the only thing I think I got wrong was Japanese democracy.
    I did assume that with rapid Westernisation that they may have borrowed a Parliamentary system to go with it.
    However, it was the homogeneity factor that was my main point. I agree with Nick M there is no such thing in Iraq and never has been. The situation of Iraq under Saddam was more analogous to Zimbabwe and S Africa where a small minority Tribe had all the power over a much larger one/ ones.
    In a technical sense you are right, we did win the war militarily, but then the US did that in Vietnam too. It had all the firepower. But it lost eventually for the same reason that we will lose in Iraq. The steady attrition, the mounting bodybags and the hostility of US domestic opinion, and lack of political will, the sheer frustration of not getting anywhere and not getting anything to work, what do you think Hillary will do when she get’s in the White House? I think cut and run just like Vietnam.
    Then there is the glaringly obvious question of fundamentalist Islam. The Japanese realised that western ways worked and actively sought to imitate it. Islam couldn’t give a fuck, and wants nothing from us but our lives!
    The Kamikazi line was a bit specious! They were trying to kill us, not each other as well.
    Hey but I love a game of Table Tennis. See ya later no doubt. (my team lost yesterday too!! Wink Wink)

  • Midwesterner

    Interesting comments. I’m going to enjoy a leisurely breakfast while looking out the window where it was still, at 9AM with the sun quite high, barely climbed of -20F.

    Then I will make a pot of coffee.

    TimC, I think you nailed it pretty darn good. In re your “PS”, our military has won in the sense that it is uncontested in any serious way and has achieved all of its military endeavors. Where we have failed has been entirely in the police/civilian/political arena.

    Nick, pure tribalism is not that far back in our own histories. It’s most resent departure from what is now in the anglosphere was probably in Scotland where clans allied against the outside, but had ‘issues’ between each other. (One of my own ancestor clans, the Ormsbees sp?, split into three factions when the English won.)

    RAB, but every despotic regime in the last century or so has had a democratic and/or parliamentary constitution. Even the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) has a “democratic” constitution. My point on factionalism in Iraq is that they are actually different nations. Almost as different as Japan, Korea, Manchuria, etc. Can you imagine if we expected those nations to agree on a democratic constitution? And then all get along?

    Breakfast smells good. The wood cook stove is kicking out heat and the humidifier kettle is simmering loudly. I’ll be back in an hour or two.

  • RAB

    Have a good breakfast Mid.
    My point on factionalism in Iraq is that they are actually different nations. Almost as different as Japan, Korea, Manchuria, etc. Can you imagine if we expected those nations to agree on a democratic constitution? And then all get along?
    Erm, I live in the United Kingdom. We were choogling along pretty good for 300 years, till Tony Blair turned up doing his damnest to destroy our mutual Constitution.

  • Nick M


    I know tribalism isn’t that far back in our (meaning “the West”‘s) history hence my reference to Mark Twain. The really interesting question is how come it isn’t anymore? And furthermore, what can we do to combat it in Iraq. Not having the execution of Saddam look pretty much like a sectarian lynching might have helped.

  • Nick M

    I’m English but I have ancestry from right across the British Isles (yes, probably even from Wales). I am hardly unique in this (note UK footy selection policy for national teams – Michael Owen is Welsh and Ryan Giggs isn’t*). Most Brits are “mongrel-Brits”.

    Do you not think centuries of inter-marriage has perhaps blunted the animus between the peoples of the UK? The kids that play together stay together (or at least don’t butcher each other over ancient ethnic and religious feuds).

    I think I’ve just answered the question I just posed.

    *And Vinnie Jones got into the Welsh team because his Granny once went on a beany to Bangor.

  • there is an awful lot of similarity between the Asia of Japan, Korea, China, Manchuria, and Russia during WWII, and the present mid east.

    There is absolutely no similarity. The people in Iraq are ARABS – not Japanese. A totally different proposition.

    A constitution is a piece of paper, as someone remarked. It can formalize an agreement that exists already in a society. It cannot come into being where no agreement exists. Iraq cannot have a constitution that is more than a meaningless piece of paper.

    Partition is also impossible as the shia and suni are hopelessly intermixed geographically.

    What is the solution for Iraq ? There isn’t any, or any that can be imposed by the US. Surely not democracy western style.

    Why doesn’t the US adopt the Afghani solution ? Let the warlords, or clans or whatever fight it out among themselves and find some way of living together (or not), with the US sitting on the sidelines, hitting those that it doesn’t like, and supporting (with money and armaments) those sobs that are our sobs. Not a neat solution, but better than running away.

  • Midwesterner


    I truly believe that it comes down to life, liberty and property. When the system of government effectively protects your property, you begin to acquire some. And as it continues to protect your property, you acquire more. As that government protects your property, you begin to equate it with your property. Threats to a government are perceived as a personal threat by those who benefit from it, and as a personal victory by those who are harmed by it. This is why so many wars begin over taxing issues. That is why there is so little concern by them over the attacks on the government. It is of no benefit to them anyway. The need of the constitution is to recognize individual life liberty and property. If any factions, religion, race, gender, geographic location or whatever is institutionalized, it is collectivisation and of necessity violence will follow.

    Both VR and I (and several others, I think) are concerned that our own history is not that far below the surface. It’s dangerous to believe that we are in any biological way immune to what we see happening in Iraq. I think in the same circumstances, we would likely behave in a similar way. (Collective) religious fundamentalism actually is a rational defense against thugocracy. It is only so irrational when we compare it with what we have achieved in the time since our own Renaissance. I do think civilisation is merely the veneer over the real us. Anything we do that strengthens that veneer of civilisation makes it more likely to endure in difficult times. A consistent sets of principles and the laws that enforce them is the best stability we can give to this veneer. We have a lot of DNA in us that is not so very rational.

    As for the new winners, they’ll probably be ‘crowned’ on a daily basis, check Al Jazeera for whose stock is up today. But I don’t think it is accurately “tribal”. It is international within artificial borders. And after we leave, there WILL be ethnic cleansing by the victors.

    do you think they’ll change tack without the US Marines to referee?

    But we are not refereeing. We are just telling everybody to stop the way they are doing things, but we are not offering them anything more than platitudes. It truly IS a winner take all fight. And they know it. And we are offering them no alternative. And so, like the VC in indochina, they are setting up to make their move as soon as we leave.

  • Midwesterner

    Golly, Jacob. The Kurds, well, they think they are Kurdish. And there are 800,000 Assyrians in Iraq. Not to mention a whole lot of Turkmen.

    And the Shia in Iraq are presumed to be helped to some degree by the Shia in Iran, who are mostly Persian.

    No, I know you would like to see Iraq and that whole region as a homgeneous and irrational mass, but it is actually a very fragmented and territorial mix.

    And Jacob,

    What is the solution for Iraq ? There isn’t any, or any that can be imposed by the US. Surely not democracy western style.

    That’s my point. We aren’t a democracy. We are a constitutional republic. We don’t have a “winner-take-all” legal system. (Just ask Al Gore.)

    What you call the “Afghani solution”, is certainly a plan “B” or “C”. But Since it will almost certainly come at the cost of a genocide far beyond anything Saddam was conducting, that plan should be a very distant runner up.

  • No, I know you would like to see Iraq and that whole region as a homogeneous and irrational mass, but it is actually a very fragmented and territorial mix.

    That they are a “fragmented and territorial mix” was exactly my point.
    As to the “irrational mass” – the fragmentation doesn’t hider that in any way, they are fragmented and also an irrational mass. This is of course an oversimplification – there are probably a lot of rational people too, but in general, as a whole, the element of irrationality is very big. Extreme irrationality.

    the “Afghani solution”, is certainly a plan “B” or “C”

    Fine, since plan A ( a peaceful new regime a la Japan) has failed so far – time to switch to plan B.

  • Midwesterner


    Saddam was more analogous to Zimbabwe and S Africa where a small minority Tribe had all the power over a much larger one/ ones.

    Actually, the comparison to Japan in that period is warranted. Japan controlling Manchuria, Korea, and much more and its relationship with China is not that different than anywhere else that an ethnic group has attempted to establish regional hegemony. You could also add Serbia and any number of others.

    Also, the suicide bombers both started out the same way. Remember the Beirut bombing? The pattern early on was for suicide bombers (terrestrial in the mideast and kamikaze in Asia) to attack military units or activities. Had we handled Japan/Asia like we are handling Iraq/mid-east with Japan still in Korea and Manchuria, we would almost certainly have seen the suicide bombers of Asia reallign to whatever the target of choice was.

    Regarding the Great Britain comparisons, without such an unprecidented use of the constitutional concept, Great Britain would probably be some what akin to Yugoslavia.

  • Midwesterner

    To Jacob and RAB and anyone else.

    The rise of Islamic fundmentalism is not irrational compared to what they are looking at for an alternative.

    It’s obvious to them that we have nothing to offer. So they look at the picture of what their society would be without Islam and decide more Islam is better. Islamic teaching does a lot for its followers. There is a reason why it is so globally successful. To think of it as a group suicide is a huge mistake. It would not be where it is if that were the case. It is not the suicide of the group, it is the suicide of the individual.

    And when your choice is to stand alone in certain death, or give yourself to a powerful group and take your chances, that is the rational response.

  • RAB

    Well I swear that wasn’t there before!
    You were smited Nick M wern’t you!
    I think you nailed it.
    In my own experience of a “country” that feels like a country, well I was born in one.
    If you took swabs of DNA from the Valleys and S Wales, I’m sure they would find that practically nobody was actually “Welsh”.
    But, Like on Sunday, they all turned on their tellys and watched “The Match” sang the anthem (well hummed and mumbled the words). And Believed they are welsh because they tell themselves so.
    Just like America really. Know what I mean!
    And so unlike Iraq, even though their dna is more mixed than a little island like ours.
    Mingling doesn’t seem to be their thing.

  • Nick M


    I’m always getting smited.


    I’m with you on most of what you say. Obviously protection of property is important otherwise why bother? But I still think my point about intermarriage and (in general) free mixing of peoples is the core of it. We didn’t desegregate the schools in Northern Ireland when LBJ was doing that in the US and look at the total mess that left us with for decades.

    What Iraq needs is a Romeo and Juliet (Brazil has one). It needs love across the barricades. It needs a Sunni and a Shia to duet “I got you babe” otherwise we’ve got a hell of a mess that will rage on ever more sickeningly, interminably. I’m not being romantic here, I’m being practical.

    Of course how we get to that is a complete sodding mystery to me but then how you get an anarchy to respect property rights is as well.

  • Midwesterner


    Quoting from this(PDF):

    Many commentators have pointed out that even in Iraq, where Shia-Sunni conflict is most intense, the hostility between the two communities does not run as deep as that between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland or Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. Hatred is less visceral, and Shias blame Saddam, not their Sunni neighbors, for their poverty and suffering. There are more mixed communities, and there has been frequent intermarriage. But the growing intensity of sectarian conflict in Iraq is corroding these bonds. As Rwandans and residents of the Balkans can sadly testify, mixed marriages and a history of communal coexistence are no guarantee against fratricide. Even Sarajevo’s cosmopolitan blend of Muslim, Croat, and Serbian communities, with its hybrid culture and mixed families, did not protect it from the violence of Yugoslavia’s genocidal wars.

    As they sometimes say: “Read the whole thing.”

    And read with always the question in mind of should we be building collective/democracy or be building constitution/individualism. The author also seems to have a misplaced belief and faith in democracy.

  • Midwesterner

    or more clearly

    should we be building social democratic institutions or building constitutional individualist institutions?

  • RAB

    Well make up your mind!

  • Midwesterner

    It’s essentially the same either way. I just tried to rephrase it in more generally recognizable terminology. (not to mention, phrasing)

  • RAB

    I’m feeling a little phrased myself.
    So goodnight for now.
    7 hours difference, well well,
    never noticed before the breakfast

  • Nick M

    I’m almost sold. Almost. Rwanda is the signal case in point that sometimes very bad things just sort of happen.

    And then it’s hatred over arbitary divisions: Sunni/Shia, Big Enders/Little Enders.

    But, I do think the tribalism that results from the prevalence of cousins marrying in much of the Islamic world is a big part of the problem. Tribalism is inherently antithetical to individualism and the fact that all contracts have to be awarded to somebody’s brother-in-law (rather than whoever is best) can hardly be good for the material progress of civil society.

  • Midwesterner

    I wish I could remember precisely, I think it was this Brian Micklethwaite podcast(Link)

    In which he talks to an author of a study in which it was discovered that even more important than anything else, was the importance that laws be equally and consistently applied for a nation to achieve success by modern standards.

    If I picked the right podcast, it’s definately worth a listen while you’re working on other things.