"A Strategic Assessment of Conflict Drivers, Dynamics, and Prospects in Iraq"
Dr. Faleh A. Jabar, Sociologist, Chairman of Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, Research Fellow, Birkbeck College, University of London.
Raid Fahmi, Economic expert, Research Director, Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies.
Tim Heath, Research Associate, Centre for International Cooperation and Security, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford.
Dr. Alejandro Colas, Lecturer in International Relations, School of Politics & Sociology
Birkbeck College, University of London.
Dr. Ray Kiley, Senior Lecturer, Dept of Development Studies, SOAS.
CPA Coalition Provisional Authority
IAO Islamic Action Organisation, led by ayatollah M.T. Mudarissi
IGC Iraqi Governing Council (Iraqi interim body under the CPA)
IIG Iraqi Interim Government
IIP Iraqi Islamic Party (Sunni)
IMF International Monetary Fund
INA Iraqi New Army
ING Iraqi National Guard
KDP Kurdistan Democratic Party, Barzani-led party
MAI Munazamat al-Amal al-Islami (Islamic Action Organization), a Shi’i outfit led by ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mudarissi (Karbala)
MB Muslim Brotherhood
MNF(I) Multi-National Forces Iraq
MUC Muslim Ulema Council (doctors of religion), led by Harith al-Dhari
NGO Non-Governmental Organisation
OFF Oil for Food Programme
PUK Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talbani.
SCIRI The Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq
SOEs State-Owned Enterprises
TAL Transitional Administrative Law
Since the transfer of sovereignty on 28 June 2004, conflict in Iraq has been driven by a contest involving intra-, inter- and trans-community forces vying for both the ‘slices’ and ‘layers’ associated with the triple process of nation rebuilding, state-formation and stabilisation. The bulk of competing forces wished to curry the favour of voters during the January 2005 elections in generally non-violent forms. The success of the elections has lent a great degree of legitimacy to the ongoing political process, weakening the insurgency’s logic of resistance to an illegitimate occupation.
The transition involves three aspects: nation-rebuilding (based on inclusion and equitability), state formation (purging, reforming and restructuring), and stabilisation (counter-insurgency and law and order). These processes can be conceived of in the strategic framework of democratization and power sharing. Each of these aspects has unleashed violent and/or peaceful institutional and extra-institutional responses (grievances).
The resolution of conflict is likely to come through the construction of a democratic, pluralistic, federal decentralised polity with consociational checks and balances and broader participation. The crucial social basis for such a polity is the trans-communal, trans-ethnic urban middle classes embedded in a market economy.
This independent report provides a strategic assessment of the key drivers of conflict in Iraq, and is aimed at supporting national and international stakeholders in the design of policies and programmes that contribute to conflict reduction.
Mapping the Dimensions of Conflict in Iraq
Background to Conflict
Iraq has emerged from half a century of authoritarian-military rule, inheriting a thorny legacy from devastating wars, crippling sanctions, misrule, mismanagement and all-pervasive nepotism and corruption. This condition drained resources, destroyed civil society, personalised institutions of power, and left a state of hyper-segmentation and crisis of identity.
Following the demise of the totalitarian Ba’ath regime, a plethora of social, political, institutional and cultural forces was unleashed. They seek to reshape the political order and redefine national integration mechanisms, to redress grievances or retrieve privileges. The majority are competing to get into the system through peaceful institutional politics.
A mixture of intense political and criminal militarised violence has created a highly insecure environment, disrupted services and oil production, incurred huge national loss (estimated between $10 b.- July 2005), and brought reconstruction almost to a standstill. Political-criminal violence is likely to continue to overshadow the political process. A monopoly over the means of violence is a basic precondition for governance and sovereignty.
In this context, counter-insurgency replaced peacebuilding and reconstruction as the Coalition’s immediate priority. The Iraqisation of security functions has been accelerated, and capacity-building has been adjusted from an initial focus on the military, to an emphasis on law-enforcement, and subsequent re-adjustment back towards developing a more robust military counter-insurgency capacity.
Political and Institutional Dimensions
Post-conflict transition was envisaged by the CPA along a liberal model of market-embedded democracy with consociational and decentralised structures. While this has opened up an historical opportunity to restructure Iraqi polity, both in its system of governance and as a nation-state, it has also laid bare the pre-existing fracture lines and freed all active and dormant forces of conflict.
Ba’ath rule destroyed mechanisms of inclusion and participation. All post-monarchy regimes reproduced a centralist monopoly at the expense of Kurds and Shi’is. Under the deposed Ba’ath regime, Kurds, Shi’is and others were politically excluded and marginalised.
With low Sunni turnout in the January 2005 elections, Sunni areas were sharply under-represented, and Shi’is were over-represented in the vote. This accentuated perceptions of unfavourable distribution of power mainly among Sunni forces, but has triggered a measure of re-evaluation of attitudes towards engaging in the political process through the ballot.
The institutional reforms initiated by the CPA, while essential to establishing the rule of law, empowering civil society and enhancing democratic transformation, were approached in such a way (such as de-Ba’thification, wholesale dismantling of government agencies) as to act as a strong driver of conflict over the short-medium term.
Administrative decentralisation empowered local governance in the provinces and weakened the potential authoritarian tendencies of the central government, and strengthened periphery-centre polarisation (e.g. Basra). In lowly urbanised areas, decentralisation has the potential to empower local mafias and warlords; in highly urbanised ones at the expense of enhancing the institutional basis of the rule of law and civil society empowerment. Attempts by the executive power (the government) to reverse decentralisation have an authoritarian potential, and have already accentuated tensions between the centre and the periphery.
Wars, sanctions, repression, costly militarisation and pervasive state intervention have dislocated the Iraqi economy (e.g. per capita income dropped from $4000+ in 1980 to $200 in the mid 1990s).
Aid donors and the Iraqi authorities rightly view the security situation as a severe constraint on economic reconstruction and admit that the lack of economic rehabilitation is a contributing factor to current violent conflict, and increased risk of spreading violence if the population does not perceive real economic improvements. Accelerated economic reconstruction and reform have the potential to damp-down existing grievances and reduce the propensity towards violence.
Economic reconstruction, conceived by the CPA and the IIG, has two objectives: reconstruction and market-oriented reforms. The sensitivities of economic reform are intensified by the question of debt and repayments. Iraq's oil industry is expected to generate the bulk of government revenues, but foreign aid will be the major source of funding for economic and institutional reconstruction in the short term. Involvement of the national and foreign private sector in the economy will be essential. Deterioration of the security situation has significantly raised production costs, and diverts resources to non-productive activities. Yet, Iraq’s economy has not been crippled by violence, and small trade businesses have been able to grow thanks to the reforms. A tangible rise in government salaries has improved the living standards of 2 million employees and pensioners. Stabilising the currency and introducing accepted standards in the banking sector, improved economic performance. Regional economic disparities are, however, alarming.
Iraq’s oil wealth enhanced authoritarianism and state patronage. Without some checks and balances on oil, unrestricted authoritarian tendencies are at risk of developing. Oil is also at the heart of the dispute over Kirkuk, and the southern federalist tendency has similar roots.
The multi-party coalition in the government has fragmented old state economic patronage, but has not ended it. Constraints are required to neutralise it and to widen economic participation.
Social Dimensions: Ethno-Communal, Socio-Cultural Cleavages
Politicisation of ethnic and communal identities is a cause and effect of conflict. This is the result of decades of a coercive system of selective inclusion and personal patronage. These fracture lines pre-dated modern statehood, but have now mutated into conflictual identity politics. An examination of the social dynamics lies beyond the trichotomy of Kurds-Shi’is-Sunnis. Other components include: pan-Iraqi national identity, trans-communal modern social formations of upper, middle and working classes (some 60% of urbanites), gender and generation, and clan or tribe-based social structures. Generally, local identity politics have the potential to put checks and balances on an authoritarian-centralist national authority, and fragment communalism, but in certain cases, such as Basra, they have the potential to lead to violent local versus state authority conflict. Counter-ethnic identities - the Turkmen and Assyrian in particular – while holding risks, have the potential to put checks and balances on the authoritarian tendencies that may develop under Kurdish ethnocracy.
Regional media networks have been hostile to the Coalition’s presence and supportive of political violence. They dominated the public media space in Iraq, determining the focus of coverage, and indoctrinated perceptions among the public of the violence as ‘resistance against occupation’. This monopoly was broken by the creation of more objective TV networks by Iraqi groups (such as al-Sharqiya, al-Fayha and the US-sponsored al-Hurra).
The Sunni Community
The insurgency is essentially confined to the ‘Sunni triangle’, with three distinct areas: Anbar, Mosul and Diyala, in addition to Sunni suburbs in Baghdad. Scholars view the insurgency as ‘national’ or ‘Sunni’. We are inclined to the latter.
Four political groupings organise and sustain militarised violence: institutional restorationists led by the Ba’ath, national-Islamists, native and foreign fundamentalists.
The insurgency is essentially political, but it also has economic, cultural and ideological factors. Three distinct strategies motivate the Sunnis: peaceful engagement, political resistance, or military campaign. The borders between these groups are mercurial; differentials allow for negotiations or compromises. The success of the January 2005 elections produced a ‘shock and awe’ effect on the Sunni community, which has since been reconsidering its position.
A Shi’i mainstream nonviolent trend is generally prevalent. Three social forces lead the community: clerics, middle class techno-professionals and tribal chiefs. They embrace Islamism, communalism, liberalism, and radical populism. These groups are fragmented by: city, ethnicity, ideology, family and/or tribe. Muqtada Sadr leads his Mahdi Movement on a ‘Native-Iraqiness-first’ line, opposing both Grand Ayatollah Sistani and exile Islamists. His movement represents the rise of junior clerics. Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s influence has been benign. His insistence on majoritarian rule and opposition to federalism are, however, potential drivers of conflict.
Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrian
Kurds contribute to peaceful transition, but are not conflict-free in intra- and inter-community terms. Three major problems face the Kurds: anti-federalist Islamism (Halabja), the rise of hostile tribal confederations (Sorchi and Herki) and the autonomy of party militias (Kirkuk). Existing tensions with non-Kurdish communities, i.e. with Turkmen and Assyrians (Kirkuk), is a potential driver of conflict. De-Arabisation and Turkmen-Assyrian rights are as conflictual, as there is a contradiction between Kurdish ethnic and Shi’i versions of federalism.
Regional stakeholders have conflicting agendas over the future of Iraq, intertwined with their concerns over US agendas in the Middle East and over domestic developments.
The demise of the Ba’ath removed a major security threat to Iran, but was replaced by conceivably a greater threat from the US. Iran pursues: 1) promoting a friendly Shi’i majority rule; 2) US withdrawal from Iraq; 3) co-administration of Holy Shi’i Shrines, and 4) co-supervision over Shi’i religious Madrasa. Kuwait is in line with the Coalition and the newly elected Iraqi government for democratic transformation, but fears economic malaise may favour extremism, or result in a failed state. Saudi Arabia faces escalating internal terrorism, legitimacy problem reform pressures, and sour relations with the US. Iraq’s political process is unwelcome, signaling a threatening ‘Shi’i awakening’ region-wide. Syria has pursued active intervention to weaken US influence, disturb transition plans and rehabilitate Iraqi Ba’ath. Damascus has become the safe haven of fleeing Ba’ath officials, running into 30,000-40,000. Syria lost the Iraqi market ($3bn), has embarrassingly succumbed to Western demands for withdrawal from the Lebanon and is flanked by pro-US allies: Israel and Turkey. Jordan, by contrast, is in tune with the Coalition and elected Iraqi authorities, but out of tune with its own public. While it shares other stakeholders’ concerns over Salafi militancy, it has sympathy with the Sunni community and is skeptical about Iran’s intentions. Turkey strives to: 1) prevent the creation of an independent Kurdish polity; 2) protect Iraqi Turkmen; and 3) secure a foothold in the Iraqi market. The rise of the Shi’i factor might induce Turkey to seek to neutralise Iran’s role.
The Sharm-el-Sheikh summit (November 2004), and subsequent meetings, gave the multilateralisation of Iraqi’s post conflict reconstruction a positive momentum and offers a building block for greater regional cooperation and a new regional peace settlement between Iraq and its neighbours. Palestinian elections impacted positively on Iraq, whilst Iraqi elections, together with developments in the Lebanon, have produced some positive demonstration effect across the region, and partly shifted the topic from a focus on violence in Palestine and Iraq to peaceful transformation through the ballot.
Porous and undermanned borders have intensified interaction between Iraq and its neighbours in both negative and positive ways. All neighbouring states have a stake in transition and protégés. Sunni-Shi’i polarisation in Iraq has regional echoes, with Salafi or al-Qa’ida-associated groups agitating openly for a ‘Jihad’ (holy war) in Iraq. Interaction is further expanded by trans-national tribal networks and business groups with fruitful trade relations.
In the current situation, insurgency has been the major violent manifestation of conflict. It has thrived on the loss of sovereignty and the weak, though growing, capacity of the interim and transitional central authorities.
Security issues have figured highly in the priorities of the population in polls conducted since 2003.Creation of Iraqi security forces has proceeded slowly in relation to the requirements of the security and political context. If the state security forces do not attain a sufficient security capacity to tip the balance against the insurgency and criminality by the end of 2006 the question remains as to how far the public will be willing to tolerate such violent pressures. The January 2005 elections conferred a great degree of legitimacy on the central authorities and the political process as a whole; the deployment of the first armoured Iraqi unit on the day of the ballot signaled the enhancement of native capacity. If legitimacy, broader participation, and growing native capacity are consolidated throughout the transition the insurgency might well reach a breaking point.
All major actors in some way directed their strategies toward the January 2005 elections and the ensuing constitutional process. The Iraqi authorities, the Coalition and their allies have staked conflict-reduction and resolution on this political process. The endorsement of the electoral and constitutional process by the UN, and its direct involvement in its implementation also bolstered the legitimacy and logistical capacity of the process. The greatest credit however goes to the Iraqi people, and the forces and groups that stuck with the elections agenda.
The result of the Sunni boycott of the elections has been the over-representation of the Shi’i and Kurds, triggering debate among the Sunni community as to the wisdom of their boycott. Several Sunni groups are strongly inclined to take part in the political process, as indeed recent large-scale street demonstrations and political activity in Baghdad has signified, and which may encourage other Sunni elements to follow suit.
The success of the Islamists-dominated Shi’i bloc has inevitably alarmed secular and moderate players - domestic, regional and global. The Kurdish bloc represents the only de facto moderating force in the new government and the constitutional process. Centrist moderation is likely to be enhanced with broad centrist-coalition building (Alawi initiative, September 2005)
The incomplete nature of sovereignty in practical terms has the potential to act as a driver of oppositional nationalism against encroaching neighbours and against the MNF(I), or both, involving both state and non-state actors.
Constitutional and Electoral Dynamics
Analysis of these dynamics suggests that the three major processes - election-constitution-election - are the defining moments of shaping the new nation-state. Their complexities are augmented by insurgency, foreign presence, lack of progress in reconstruction (versus expectations), and perhaps some unintended consequences of economic liberalisation.
The Constitutional process
Drafting the new constitution involves several conflict drivers: first: majoritarianism (the Shi’i position) versus consociationalism (the position of Kurds, Sunnis and liberals); second: ethnic federalism versus unitary centralism (Kurds versus the others) or universalized administrative federalism versus limited ethnic federalism (The Shi’i-Islamist United Alliance bloc versus the others); third: decentralisation versus centralisation/Basra versus the rest; fourth: Islamisation versus secularisation (Islamists versus Arab seculars and Kurdish nationalists); fifth: statist versus market economy; and finally, conservatism versus individual freedoms (e.g. women’s rights). TAL left the status of Kirkuk as undecided as the form of federalism. A hidden element in federalism or decentralisation will be oil revenues and their distribution between the centre and the peripheries. These issues will activate all drivers of conflict.
The likelihood of a failure to adopt the new constitution is not weak. Failure would plunge Iraq into its first major political crisis, though holds the potential for three positive consequences: it would draw Sunnis to the ballot in a bid to display their (disruptive) power, increase the propensity to consociational compromises, and make the most likely second constituent elections more predictable. Political competitors would also be less in number and their weight more easily measurable. Over-representation of Shi’is will diminish if Sunnis keep the momentum to caste their vote. A more moderate constituent assembly is likely to emerge as a result.
If a second constitutional process ended in a No-Vote by two thirds of any three provinces, TAL will remain in place as the constitution of the nation. But the political situation will be highly volatile. Agreement on finalising TAL as the constitution will require two additional elements: the shape of federalism and the final status of Kirkuk
The next phase of this transition is general elections (December 2005 or possibly 2006). The strongest conflict driver in this phase will stem from political polarisation over ‘slices’ between the big contenders, or between them and smaller, marginalised, but armed, groups. It will also flow from unmet constitutional demands. No single, decisive party or block is likely to emerge from the general elections; failure at coalition building can easily degenerate into a political void inviting civil strife: a Somalia-type failed state.
Aid, Economics and the Dynamics of Conflict
Aid is not a central influence on the conflict dynamics, but it can play a role in sustaining and exacerbating rather than addressing grievances underlying much of the conflict. The problem of a security-development vicious circle has emerged, in which longer-term security is seen to rest on first securing the conditions for development, but at the same time, longer-term development is seen to rest on attaining a greater degree of security.
As corruption assumes systemic levels, it not only hampers reconstruction efforts, but presents a serious security risk resulting from the defence of strong vested interests in the continuation of lawlessness, and the possible collaboration between corrupt police elements and armed groups. It threatens also the political process by weakening the authority and credibility of the government.
Liberalisation, democratisation, and marketisation are part of long-term conflict reduction strategy; in the short-term their pursuit may intensify violent conflict. Even cautious reforms must be approached with great sensitivity to their conflict-generating potential. The question of building the institutional capacity, or privatisation of the oil sector, is crucial and sensitive. The issue of the ‘timing’ of these reforms is important.
The conflict has important security implications for aid agencies. Aid agency staff have been targeted, leading to their flight from Iraq, whilst those still present have faced an unprecedented level of security precautions (with major budgetary implications), and an inability to fully implement projects or maintain independence.
Centrally provided social services have been retrieved only in education and health. Unmet expectations in the areas of social services, welfare, and economic improvement, are likely to be strong drivers of popular discontent, which are likely to be manipulated by those espousing violence and those engaged in radical protest politics.
Actual and potential triggers of conflict may flow from specific acts by the insurgency, the actions of radical groups (Sadr or the Virtue party led by Nadeem ‘Isa al-Jabiri), major political actors, and reactions to all sorts of developments on the socio-economic, political and security fronts:
· Individual events such as the assassination of Ja’fari, Talibani, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani or even Moqtada al-Sadr have the potential to trigger massive unrest or create an alarming void.
· Mass killings by insurgents which are of a sectarian nature, such as occurred recently in Hilla that claimed the lives of more than 120 citizens, have the potential to set in train uncontrollable inter-ethnic/inter-communal violence.
· The inception of single (Kurdish-North) or double federal (North-South) state arrangements will be conceived as the dismemberment of the nation and is likely to inflame transitional politics.
· Anti-MNF(I) agitation can be orchestrated and encouraged by Shi’i Islamist victors on any pretext (arrests, unintended killing, etc.).
· Oil concessions to foreign companies can trigger massive ‘oil nationalism’.
· Fuel shortages or galloping prices, coupled with massive redundancy of State Owned Enterprise (SOE) employees, can trigger riots with armed confrontations.
Ethnic strife is more likely and predictable in Kirkuk, where the status of the province is undecided, and the legacy of Arabisation in general is not resolved. The decentralisation drive of Basra-South is as likely to inflame transitional politics as Kirkuk’s ethnic confrontation, especially so if those of the Kurds were satisfied.
Conflict Management and Violence Reduction Assessment
Rejectionist insurgents will continue to use extreme violence with the aim of disrupting the transitional process. Criminal groups will seize opportunities to extend their networks.
Conflict management and the reduction of violence are contingent on successful formation of the state and on nation-building. Failure is bound to trigger civil war and result in a failed state – the worst-case scenario. Incomplete or protracted state-formation and nation building is also bound to create a high-risk environment.
The continued presence of over 150,000 foreign troops, the ongoing military operations and the direct influence of foreign interests are likely to encourage xenophobic and violent tendencies among conflict actors. The presence of these forces is however providing the much-needed breathing space to allow the new political order to take shape
The strategy of sub-contracting security to tribal notables and other informal authority networks holds a strategic risk, namely that it undermines the medium-term objective of state formation.
The major risk attached to the strategy of Iraqising security functions is any conceivable link to a strict timetable as far as the presence of the MNF(I) is concerned.
The informal influence of neighbouring states, and the transnational political, religious and socio-economic forces flowing from them, can further exacerbate existing conflicts both within and between Iraq and its neighbours.
Unexpended or unevenly targeted development assistance can exacerbate the conflict drivers identified previously and bolster the main actors responsible for violent conflict.
The celebration of legitimate elections and opening of the Constituent Assembly have enabled Iraqis to take ownership of the transition process. This will promote the integration of conflict-reduction through a legitimate, non-violent political process, thus meeting the short-medium term objectives of conflict-reduction strategies and the full restitution of Iraqi sovereignty. Two important qualifications to this sequence should be noted, firstly that the constituent process of 2005 may itself trigger structural/historical conflict drivers, and secondly, that conflict-reduction is not a one-off, irreversible process. There is also the possibility of a geographical differentiation in the pace and extent of state formation, national-rebuilding and stabilisation across the country’s regions.
Four principle scenarios emerge from this analysis, ranging from the best case (low risk and reduced international role, whereby the Iraqi government is in control and requires reduced international and more strategic assistance), to a scenario of high risk/low opportunity, where state formation, nation rebuilding and therefore stabilisation have failed and Iraq is plunged into de facto civil war with regionally-backed proxies intensifying current conflict divers.
While significant risks will remain, the direction points to the gradual consolidation of real functional sovereignty over the coming 1-2 years with an accompanying reduction in the risks of large-scale violence or high visibility/high impact insurgency. Stable consociational democracy in Iraq is the only strategic solution to conflict. Democracy building, however, is an arduous, complicated and long process with a preliminary phase of 1-5 years, but which also requires a longer enhancing phase of 6-15 years. What will probably emerge in Iraq is more than an ‘emerging democracy’, less than a stable one. The expansion and emancipation of the middle classes (54% of the urban population) from state control and patronage constitutes the backbone of this strategic line.
Unforeseen circumstances in the transitional period require contingency plans that may only briefly divert from original to urgent priorities provided that planners do not lose sight of the ultimate objective. Further recommendations:
· Development of contingency political-security plans for dealing with the untimely deaths/assassinations of key figures;
· Emergency planning to intervene to stem and stabilise widespread civil strife in Kirkuk and Basra;
· Continued relative weighting of support to the development of the capacities of the Iraqi Army over policing, whilst taking a differential approach at the local level depending on the stability of the local security situation;
· Continued and accelerated Iraqisation of counter-insurgency operations;
Encouragement to negotiated decommissioning;
Continuation of clear public statements of intention for phased, gradual withdrawal of MNF(I) in line with progress in Iraqi security capacity-building to prevent increased threat to elected government and civilians that would ensue otherwise;
Priority given to reduction of unemployment among the young, and in poorest districts (Sadr City) or provinces. Job creation schemes need to take account of under-employment as well as unemployment in order to address grievances of formerly high status individuals (e.g. Ba’athists) and the educated;
Reform: Privatisation and De-subsidising Policies:
· Maintenance of gradualist approach in introducing substantial economic reforms, privatisation of SOEs, and de-subsidising fuel;
· Early installation of social safety net mechanisms in advance of shift from in-kind food ration system to cash transfers, and efforts to address corruption in the system;
· Instigation of a targeted debate among key stakeholders over privatisation to build as high and wide political support as possible before wider public consultation;
· Establishment of proper institutional and legal dispositions, transparency, appropriate evaluation process of public assets, and the involvement of SOE management and employees and Iraqi private sector in any privatisation process;
Development of a medium and long term strategy for restructuring and diversifying Iraq’s economy away from oil dependency;
· Avoidance of early (short or medium term) privatisation of oil sector; ‘oil nationalism’ is too strong in ME and can serve as a rallying point for extremism;
· Examination of the anti-democratic and authoritarian effects of oil rentierism on governance;
Development of a strategic vision for curtailing effects of oil rentierism: through the allocation power of the legislator, or a system of nationwide citizens taxed dividends (along the lines of the Alaska Option);
· Immediate/accelerated reconstruction of Falluja, Najaf, Sadr City and Samara, with high visibility of central government;
· Efforts to speed-up disbursement of aid funds, in part facilitated by wider involvement of native contractors;
· Focused developmental approaches where local rather than national security situation allows – and use it as a demonstration effect for ‘rewards of peace’;
· Broader consultation and coordination between central/local authorities, civil society and donors on aid programmes and priorities;
· Avoidance of flagrant political instrumentalisation of aid by donors beyond human rights, rule of law, and good governance;
· Improved communication of successful examples of reconstruction programme, including anti-corruption efforts, to focus on positives and encourage debate away from security situation to reconstruction;
Strengthened support for Humanitarian and Community Assistance Projects undertaken by NGOs, for their value and high appreciation by the Iraqi public;
Engaging Civil Society
Systematic mapping of civil society organisations to identify key players with whom to partner in peacebuilding, reconstruction and development;
Financial support and technical assistance to developing broad civil society capacities;
Orientation of support to the promotion of inter-ethnic/inter-communal dialogue based on cross-cutting issues/social organisations/local/regional identities; and the stimulation of grass root peacebuilding initiatives;
· Focus on three urgent regions in the coming year: Kirkuk (inter and intra-ethnic conflict), Najaf (intra-communal conflict), and Basra (regional versus national conflict);
· Broader involvement of communities’ social actors in dialogue over security, political and administrative processes and reconstruction, to include professionals, tribal chiefs, notables (of recognised noble descent), clerics, and businessmen, with a differential approach to high, medium or low urbanised communities;
Improved multilateral coordination over conflict analysis, conflict reduction strategy development, programme design and implementation and experience sharing;
· Commitment to TAL decentralisation/consociational/federal principles;
· Differential approach to decentralisation in highly rural or highly urban provinces;
· Encouraging inclusion and participation in administration and national agencies on provincial rather than sect or ethnic quotas basis;
· Encouraging stronger central-provincial authorities’ liaisons and communication;
· Continuation of training of judiciary and linking aid to independence of judiciary;
Strong commitment to good governance, rule of law, and pressure against authoritarian tendencies;
· Recommend maintaining momentum behind Sharm el-Sheikh towards Westphalian Peace model, regional cooperation, state-building through regional collaboration (e.g. cooperation over border control; wider confidence building dialogue over e.g. trans-boundary Tigris-Euphrates basin management;
· Blocking of communalisation of regional relations;
· Active maintenance of momentum behind pursuance of Middle East peace, and continued engagement with Iran, Syria, Turkey and Jordan.
Since the transfer of sovereignty on 28 June 2004, conflict in Iraq has been driven by a contest involving intra-, inter- and trans-community forces vying for both the ‘slices’ and ‘layers’ associated with the triple process of nation rebuilding, state-formation and stabilisation. The various Iraqi conflict actors are vying for power over both the (re)distribution of socio-economic resources and the levers of political authority in post-Saddam Iraq. Different actors, with different goals, use different means in the contest over resources and authority.
The plethora of competing forces wished to curry the favour of voters during the January 2005 elections in generally non-violent forms. The success of the elections has lent a great degree of legitimacy to the ongoing political process and the formation of the new transitional government, weakening the insurgency’s logic of resistance to an illegitimate occupation. Rejectionist insurgents have shown that they intend and have the capacity, though dwindling, to continue to use extreme violence with the aim of disrupting the post-election consolidation of the changed political status quo, with the intention of undermining the reassertion of Iraqi sovereignty through the constitutional process and follow-up elections up to the end of 2005.
The bulk of established political organisations draw on religious, communal, ethnic or ideological affiliations, structured in three layers of identity: 1) communal identity (Kurds, Shi’i, Sunni, Turkmen, Assyrian); 2) sub-communal identity (tribe, family, city, region); 3) trans-communal identity (Iraqi nationalism, upper/middle/working class solidarities and interests). All these identities cut across each other, making the seemingly monolithic communal framework in reality far more complex and fractured.
The ‘post-conflict’ transition involves three distinct, yet overlapping, aspects. Each of these aspects, either independently, or in their interaction, has unleashed violent and/or peaceful institutional and extra-institutional responses (grievances) with the potential to produce violent conflicts. It is useful to differentiate these three processes as: nation-rebuilding (based on inclusion and equitability), state formation (purging, reforming and restructuring of power structures, justice system, bureaucracy), and stabilisation (counter insurgency and imposing security and law and order). This can also be conceived of in the strategic framework of democratisation.
In strategic terms, the resolution of conflict is likely to come through the construction of a democratic, pluralistic, federal decentralised polity with broader participation and consociational checks and balances. The crucial social basis for such a polity is the trans-communal, trans-ethnic urban middle classes, freed from state patronage and embedded in a market economy, and consequently delivered from the narrow confines of particularistic identity politics.
It is clear that, as in all societies, and perhaps particularly in the Iraqi context where challenges to the status quo across all sectors were so heavily suppressed, non-violent ‘conflict’ has the potential to have an overridingly positive impact on Iraq’s development along democratic lines. However, the level of violence stirred by the pursuit of redresses and the ‘recapture’ of power and influence is seriously putting at risk the realisation of that progress over the short- and quite possibly the medium-term. The prospects for the transition developing along a more, or less violent trajectory will be determined by the divergence or convergence of native and regional perceptions of, and interests in, equitable nation building, legitimate state formation and stabilisation. The methods applied by the elected Iraqi Transitional Government and its international civil and military backers in pursuing these outcomes will also be crucial.
The context of the violence in Iraq - past, current and potential - is complex and dynamic. The realisation of a more stable Iraq, of reconstruction, development, and democracy, must be based on building a sustainable peace. Understanding the drivers of conflict and how interventions may act to reduce conflict or inadvertently exacerbate tensions (or both) in the transition process is crucial to this goal. This independent report provides a strategic assessment of the key drivers of conflict in Iraq, their underlying causes and inter-connections, their triggers, and the likelihood of them producing violence. Such an analysis is aimed at supporting national and international stakeholders working in Iraq in the design of policies and programmes that are sensitive to conflict and contribute to conflict reduction over the coming months and years.
The report takes a structured approach to analysing the structural dimensions of conflict in Iraq, the principal actors and the dynamics of the conflict. It does so through a political economy lens. Iraq’s is a complex and unique case for analysis, where the principal international actors on the ground interested in peacebuilding are conflict actors in their own right, and a case where sources of current conflicts pre-existed the invasion, but where their dynamics have become intimately intertwined with those set in train by the conduct of the ‘occupation’. There is no precedence of a similar case that combines aspects of Kosovo or East Timor models with post-war German or Japanese models. Through this complexity, this report seeks to bring together a strategic-level conflict assessment, drawing out in particular an analysis of key social and political actors, and their interests and incentives in Iraq’s transition.
The report benefits from field research in Iraq conducted throughout 2002 to 2004 by three of the authors. In addition, the report relies on open source literature, official briefings (Government and non-state stakeholders) in London, Washington DC, Amman, Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq (Basra and Baghdad), and outsourced field research in Basra, Kirkuk and Falluja. While the major assumptions and hypotheses that underlie the findings are couched in the idiom of social sciences, conceptions and perceptions of native and other actors have been preserved in the original as far as possible to avoid objectification and abstract representations.
2. Mapping the Dimensions of Conflict in Iraq
Background to Conflict
Iraq has emerged from half a century of authoritarian-military rule, inheriting a thorny legacy from devastating wars, crippling sanctions, misrule, mismanagement and all-pervasive nepotism and corruption. This condition drained much of the nation’s rich resources, destroyed its once vibrant civil society, personalised institutions of power, and left the national community in a state of hyper-segmentation and crisis of identity.
Following the demise of the totalitarian Ba’ath regime, a plethora of social, political, institutional and cultural forces was unleashed, some unpredictable and uncontrollable. They seek to reshape the political order and redefine national integration mechanisms, to redress grievances or retrieve privileges.
Prior to the international intervention, ethno-communal, social, economic and political grievances were reactions against the state as the main actor, and regulator and owner of the bulk of social wealth (oil). Subsequently, these grievances were shifted against the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). With the creation of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and the transfer of sovereignty, grievances gradually took on a more direct inter and intra ethno-communal character. Grievances are also directed against the Multi-National Forces Iraq (MNF(I)) which is conceived by some native actors as a decisive agency of change, as an obstacle to their agendas and hence as a key actor to influence positively or negatively. It is notable that the majority of these native forces are competing to get into the system through peaceful institutional or ‘street’-politics.
Old institutional forces and Salafi groups (native and alien), by contrast, conceive of change as a zero-sum game. Militarised violence conducted by these two major groups is the central challenge to security. The driving force is the institutional forces of the Ba’ath. The institutional-Ba’ath core benefits from $4bn confiscated from the central bank and weaponry from the old army depots, and is highly motivated. The insurgency relies on a new, relatively young, generation of former regime loyalists recruited in the last two decades, involving a host of institutional and political elites (today’s ex-army, ex-intelligence and ex-security servicemen, plus party cadres). This new generation has been drawn mainly from tribal Sunni domains and is united by ideological ties, kinship bonds, economic interest and communality of guilt.
Salafis (fundamentalist Islamists), are relatively minor actors in terms of their support bases, as are ‘foreign fighters’ associated with al-Qa’ida, though they are responsible for a degree of violence and attention by the MNF(I) well beyond their numbers. The Salafis have a regional funding network.
Criminal violence is also widespread, heavily armed, and overlaps with the militarised political violence through contracted crime.
Other sources of actual and latent conflict are embedded in the socio-political and economic dynamics of the transition period and the legitimising electoral-constitutional process ahead. Competition between native actors to reshape the political system and power relations has the potential to fragment the national consolidation process.
President Bush’s declaration of an end to ‘major combat operations’ on 1st May 2003 indicated the Coalition’s expectation of a relatively swift and unproblematic shift to peace-building and reconstruction tasks in post-war Iraq. The perception was that the transfer of security and law enforcement functions to Iraqis could be undertaken in a relatively orderly and staggered fashion over two to three years. The continuation and intensification of post-conflict violence throughout 2003 and 2004-5, however, led to the US identification of the Iraqi security situation as a ‘low intensity conflict’.
A mixture of intense political and criminal militarised violence has created a highly insecure environment, disrupted services (fuel and electricity shortages) and oil production, incurred huge national loss (estimated in July 2005 at around $10 b.), and brought reconstruction almost to a standstill. Political-criminal violence has and is likely to continue to overshadow the political process.
Violent attacks grew in number and sophistication, scoring an average of 25 per day at the minimum, and an average of more than 150 at the maximum. On the day of the elections some 300 attacks were reported; thereafter the number went down to 50 or so per day. The loss of life amongst civilians has been massive: some 13,000 to 16,000 between April 2003 and September 2004 according to moderate estimates. The losses among native security forces and the MNF(I) have also been significant. Attacks are focused on the interim/newly-elected transitional government, MNF(I) and other foreign presences, and economic and political targets. A growing part of it is also directed against the Shi’is and Christians, as well as, to a lesser extent, Kurds and ex-Ba’athists.
Insurgents’ numbers are estimated at between 5,000 to 6,000 combatants with some 20,000 to 25,000 logistical network members and, of course, a measure of local public support in most Sunni areas and some pockets in Shi’i areas. The major actors are restorationists; minor actors are native and alien Salafis, as well as the Shi’i Mahdi Army led by Muqtada Sadr.
Criminal violence is no less problematic. Some 200,000 ex-convicts were released prior to the invasion, with 30,000 who were either on death row or serving life sentences. The criminal underworld is organised in mafias, specialised in smuggling, drugs, bank robbery, forgery, kidnapping and assassination.
An added element of the insecure environment is the presence of tribal warlords, tribal gangs, and private or political militias. While some of these have the potential for serving either as auxiliary paramilitaries or of being incorporated in institutional security structures, they still pose an actual or a potential threat.
The country has been left awash with arms (4.5 million pieces from the old army), and the culture of violence is deep rooted in a militarised society stricken by poverty and weak governance.
Security has been and will continue to be the central problem for the newly-elected authorities and the MNF(I). The combined ratio of native and MNF(I) security forces is still far behind a regional average of 30 per 1000 per head of population, and a national average of 34 per 1000 under the old regime, which could not, even at that level, control effectively the Arabic parts of the country (i.e. excluding the Kurdish de facto autonomous region). Whilst regional ratios should not be taken to imply optimal levels, it is clear that the current numbers of security personnel are well below those necessary to maintain law and order to reasonable levels of security. State monopoly over the means of violence is a basic precondition for governance and sovereignty.
The Coalition’s response to this ensuing security context can be conceived of along several lines. Firstly, counter-insurgency has replaced peacebuilding and reconstruction as the immediate military response to conflict. Secondly, the Iraqisation of security has been accelerated; and thirdly, capacity-building has been adjusted from an initial focus on the military to an emphasis on law-enforcement, and subsequent re-adjustment back towards developing military capacity, as signified with the recent building of mechanised capacity.
The Coalition initially focused on support to developing and restructuring the Iraqi MOD along civilian control lines, and creating new formations. A report by [US Department of Defence official] Ikenberrry in March 2004 recommending a focus on police capacity-building reinforced the Coalition’s changing emphasis toward law-enforcement over defence in the Iraqisation of security. Authorised Ministry of Interior (i.e. police) forces on the eve of elections outnumbered Ministry of Defence (i.e. armed) forces by two to one, although the numbers of trained and equipped forces are currently almost on a par. This is also reflected in the fact that starting salaries for police officers are one third higher than those of army recruits. Despite this differential there has been a continuous supply of recruits for both forces. However, this emphasis on policing proved un-practicable under current counter-insurgency conditions (though this functional separation must remain as a strategic concern). The revised approach has been to build the capacity of special units within the Iraqi army and the police to enable a more robust Iraqi force to respond to the security situation.
Divided loyalties, a degree of infiltration by insurgents, intimidation, and (in the case of the police) corruption, reduce the capabilities and efficacy of security agencies. The Iraqi Minister of Interior has estimated that 40% of the police force is unreliable. Desertion and/or disobedience against fighting under foreign command lowered the morale of the INA. Only a few units seemed cohesive and consistent. Another handicap to effective security is weak intelligence; capacity in this area is being rehabilitated almost from scratch in terms of manpower, data-base and infrastructure.
(Regional and trans-border security aspects are discussed later in this report.)
Political and Institutional Dimensions
Post-conflict transition was envisaged by the CPA along a liberal model of market-embedded democracy with consociational and decentralised structures. While this has opened up a historical opportunity to restructure Iraqi polity, both in its system of governance and as a nation-state, it has also laid bare the pre-existing fracture lines and freed all active and dormant forces of conflict.
The CPA phase was characterised by a sense of Iraqi disempowerment and gradual loss of faith in the CPA to deliver essential public goods (security and services). Polarised for or against peaceful transition, conflict overshadowed the process of Iraqisation and legitimisation of the newly-forming polity. While the bulk of society was (and continues to be) more inclined towards peaceful, institutional or street politics, violent segments have continued their actions, shifting the borders between the two inclinations as a result of MNF(I) blunders or insurgency successes.
Violence assumes an Islamic or Islamic-nationalistic rhetoric. At the heart of it is a protest against the new distribution of political and social power. Formerly privileged and marginalised groups have already engaged in violence, and others may do so in the future.
Problem of the State:
Historically, the Iraq nation-state was run by two main native forces: firstly, the diverse landlord class which enhanced the national integration of all the agrarian segments of society; and, secondly, the military-bureaucratic elite who were mostly drawn from the Sunni Ottoman institutions. Both landlords and military-bureaucrats developed common interests and blended under the monarchy.This class was multi-ethnic and multicultural, and as such served all-inclusive nation-building. Military regimes (1958-68), by contrast, improved middle-class representation, but disrupted national integration institutions. Ba’ath rule destroyed mechanisms of inclusion and participation. All post-monarchy regimes reproduced a centralist monopoly in favour of northern/western provinces at the expense of central, northern (Kurdish) and southern (Shi’i) ones.
Under the Ba’ath regime, Kurds and Shi’is were politically marginalised. There was no meaningful representation of either group in political institutions: the old Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) was a Ba’athist-Sunni body, so were the Ba’ath cabinets and the four controlled national assemblies (parliaments). Inclusion was limited, selective and totally controlled by the ruling elite. An estimated 80% of the officer corps was Sunni, whereas more than 80% of the soldiery was Shi’i. Only Arabised Kurds were admitted to the military. Civil administration was perhaps the only exception throughout the Ba’ath period (1968-2003). Secular Ba’ath hegemony targeted and weakened the Shi’i informal and autonomous religious institution; Shi’i rituals and religious taxes came under particular pressure. Kurdish Sufi orders were politically co-opted and manipulated (the Qadiriya) or weakened (pro-Barzani Naqshabandiya).
All in all, political, economic, social and cultural participatory mechanisms and spaces were dominated by a totalitarian state with a ruling elite relying on a very narrow social base. The pretence of national unity was shattered in 1991, following the south-north uprisings.
Fragmented Identity Politics:
Along this trajectory, Shi’is developed a fundamentalist Islamic challenge that matured under the impact of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, although grievances were couched in a sectarian idiom. Migrant poor from the Shi’i south to Baghdad and big cities, shifted from communism to localised communalism under the impact of their homegrown clerics and tribal leaders. Re-tribalisation policies pursued by the Ba’ath government in the 1990s provided the framework. When both flanks - Shi’i Islamists in exile and Shi’i communities - reunited in 2003, localised identity politics were further fortified and entrenched, causing intra-community competition and grievances over non-inclusion.
The Kurds developed ethnic politics. After the 1991 uprising, a de facto autonomous region deepened Kurdish ethnic identity that, for the first time in Iraq’s history, revitalised other ethnic identities and politicised them, above all among the Turkmen and Assyrians. The current goal of Kurdish federalism is contested by demands for autonomy by other groups within the northern region (Assyrian administrative region, or Turkmen autonomy in Kirkuk).
Thus all disenfranchised communities, small and large, have collective and local identities that have both unifying and divisive propensities. Competition among communities to secure their conceived legitimate share in the new system overlaps with intra-communal jockeying for power. Cross-community alliances are evident: Islamist Turkmen tend to unite with their Sunni or Shi’i co-religionists. Islamist Kurds are also divided. But trans-ethnic and trans-communal political forces are generally weak, although middle and business classes form the trans-ethnic, trans-communal social space.
Loss of Supremacy:
While all groups are seeking to redress their historical or newly emerging grievances, Ba’ath-Sunni elites most of all stand to lose their previously uncontested supremacy. Serving at the top for almost half a century, privileged Sunnis, in particular institutional (state and party) elites conceive of the reshaping of the political order and the construction of all-inclusive national participatory institutions as a zero-sum game.
Since change is not perceived as homegrown, grievances are couched in nationalistic-Islamic terms. This may well serve several objectives: 1) to conceal restorationist self-serving agendas; 2), to expand their appeal across the national board; 3) to co-opt Islamists; 4) to question the patriotic credentials of other communities by casting them as ‘collaborationists’; and 5) to undermine less violent Sunni groups in their participation in the transition.
Sectarian feelings have never been short among Sunnis at large, but the politicisation of these sectarian tendencies is recent. This is a response to the politicisation of Shi’i identity, enhanced by Sunni fears of marginalisation through the principle of ‘majority rule’ or by communal power-sharing.
Not only the collapse of the army and other power structures where Sunnis had been dominant, but also their reduced share in the new state institutions and bodies has enhanced Sunni perceptions of being reduced to a feeble minority.
Perceptions of inclusion:
The formation of the IGC (Iraqi Governing Council, 13 July 2004) on a communal-quota basis invited the first reaction by the Muslim Ulema Council (MUC), at present led by Dr. Harith al-Dhari, which denounced the communal composition of the IGC rather than its formation per se. An interesting passage in their communiqué reads:
“ [T]he Governing Council divided the Iraqi people on a sectarian basis and gave a certain sect the absolute majority…with no accurate consensus to support this claim…The community that was given the majority status does not - with all due respect - represent the absolute majority…Previous statistics show that Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen Muslims constitute more than 50% of the population.”
Much of the Sunni-embedded violence has been generated by perceptions of majority rule as an unfavorable mono-empowering scheme; whereas consociationalism (i.e. the very arrangement envisaged to protect minority rights and balanced communal inclusion), was distorted by the very method of forming the IGC and, to some extent, the interim government. Both of these institutions are seen to represent the ‘sinister’ plans of the occupying powers.
As a result of low Sunni turnout in the January 2005 elections (both by choice and fear resulting from intimidation), Sunni areas were sharply under-represented, and Shi’is were over-represented in the constituent assembly. This accentuated perceptions amongst Sunnis of an unfavourable distribution of power, but triggered a measure of re-evaluation of attitudes towards engaging in the political process through the ballot.
Institutional Administrative Reform:
Institutional reform initiated by the CPA was geared towards ending state monopoly over the media, establishing the independence of the judiciary and the central bank, creating a professional, apolitical military, reforming the police, decentralising the administrative system of governorates, purging the bureaucracy, and establishing new human rights and women departments, among other things. While these measures are essential to establishing the rule of law, empowering civil society and enhancing democratic transformation, the method by which these reforms were carried out (such as De-Ba’athification and the wholesale dismantling of government agencies) has been a strong driver of conflict over the short to medium term.
Administrative decentralisation empowered local governance in the provinces and weakened the potential authoritarian tendencies of the central government, (CPA Order 71 and 93), but it also acted to strengthen periphery-centre tendencies (Basra for example). At the same time, as provinces have different social structures, in provinces with low levels of urbanisation (e.g. Omara or Simawa) decentralisation has the potential to empower local mafias and warlords at the expense of enhancing the institutional basis of the rule of law and civil society empowerment. Such circumstances have the potential to inhibit the development of democratic processes. Attempts by the executive power (the government) to reverse this policy of decentralisation has an authoritarian potential, and has already accentuated tensions between the centre and periphery at a delicate moment of state formation and nation-building. While bad governance in the provinces is evident, it is a constitutional court that should address such breaches of the rule of law at provincial and central levels.
Aid donors and the Iraqi authorities have rightly viewed the security situation as a severe constraint on economic reconstruction; they also rightly admit that the lack of economic rehabilitation is a contributing factor to current violent conflict, and increased risk of spreading violence if the population does not perceive real improvements in their economic conditions.
Accelerated economic reconstruction and reform have the potential to dampen down existing grievances and reduce the propensity towards violence, particularly among those who are less politically/ideologically motivated, and hence weaken the popular support bases for those who seek to mobilise support for violence through the manipulation of economic grievances and frustrations.
Three wars, over a decade of international sanctions, political repression, costly militarisation and pervasive state intervention have dislocated the Iraqi economy. The consequence was a severe deterioration in Iraq’s human development indicators, which had exceeded the average for the region only two decades previously (GDP per capita dropped from over $4000 in the early 1980 to as low as $200 in the mid 1990s).
From the 1980s, the structure of the Iraqi economy was shaped by increasing reliance on the oil sector, unsustainable expansion of non-productive service sectors (particularly the military), the continuing decline of productive sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing industry, the collapse of productive investment in non-military connected economic activities, unaccountable political and bureaucratic control, and an overvalued currency which accentuating the rentier features of the Iraqi economy.
Unlike the command economies of the Soviet type, Iraq had a mixed economy with a substantial private sector that employed more than 70% of the workforce. However, most of the jobs were in the informal economy that developed rapidly during the 1990s. In the formal economy, the private sector was heavily dependent on government expenditure and subsidies. The state sector controlled oil revenues, around 200 State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), and prices of refined oil products, and distributed food rations as a placatory measure to virtually all Iraqis, absorbing a substantial part of the state budget.
On the eve of the war, the Iraqi economy was already in very poor shape: high unemployment (18% according to underestimated official figures in 1997); deteriorated infrastructure; a rentier-state welfare mentality; ageing state-owned enterprises and obsolete capital equipment; inefficient bureaucracy undermined by wide-scale corruption; a heavily diminished human capital base due to a low quality education system and the outflow of qualified people,; accentuated regional economic imbalances; an unsustainable foreign debt; and the near absence of a well-defined structure of corporate governance and property rights.
Though military operations in Spring 2003 and subsequently caused limited damage to the infrastructure compared to the 1990-1991 war, post-conflict looting and the ongoing sabotage of oil, power and water facilities have effectively neutralised Coalition efforts to avoid damaging the infrastructure (as well as progress that might have been expected in improving such services beyond their March 2003 levels).
In the difficult conditions created immediately after the war, economic reconstruction was conceived by the CPA and the IIG with double-embedded objectives: rebuilding productive capacities in the goods and services sectors, and introducing structural market-oriented economic reforms.
The sensitivities of economic reform are intensified by the question of debt and repayments. UN Security Council Resolution 1483 attempted to immune Iraq’s oil revenues and assets from debt collections until December 31, 2007. This resolution does not, however, mention or address the issue of interest accrual on outstanding debts. Iraq, with a debt of $120bn, is the largest per capita debtor in the world. It still has to pay reparations as a result of the war with Kuwait in 1991. This currently stands at $33bn, but there is a further $71.6bn of claims pending decision or in unprocessed claims. The issue of debt overhang (including possibly repayments through reparations) is a vital one if sustainable development is to be secured. In September 2004, the IMF obtained assurances from all Iraq’s major creditors, including the complete Paris Club, that a moratorium on debt and interest payments would be extended to December 2005, and this was followed by the Paris Club decision in November 2004 to cancel over a period of 10 years 80% of the debt it is owed by Iraq. This amounts to around $33bn, and the decision may encourage other creditors to follow suit. However, this relief will still be subject to IMF conditionality. Whilst the IIG fully endorsed the Paris Club decision, reservations were expressed by elements within the IIG over the IMF conditionalities attached to the agreement, and opposition may grow once serious steps are taken in that direction.
With the collapse of non-oil economic activities and their unlikely recovery over the short and medium term, Iraq’s oil industry is expected to generate the bulk of government revenues needed for reconstruction and debt repayment. However, considering the fluctuating production capacity and the burdens of debt and compensation, oil revenues cannot provide any more than government resources needed to fund essential services, civil service salaries and other operating expenses in the budget. Therefore, foreign aid, estimated at $55bn, will be the major source of funding for economic and institutional reconstruction. This was the case in the 2004 budget and most probably in the 2005 budget.
Shortages of petroleum products and corruption in their distribution have become a major source of discontent. Huge sums are being allocated to finance their import from neighbouring countries in order to meet rising domestic demand for gasoline as restrictions on car imports were lifted and as the domestic refineries and feed and distribution pipelines have been unable to meet increased consumption, the latter as a result of frequent sabotage.
Involvement of the private sector, both national and foreign, in the economy as a whole will be essential since public resources are inadequate to provide the needed volume of investment in the foreseeable future. However, the extent to which private capital can seriously contribute to restoring Iraq’s infrastructure in the foreseeable future remains unclear.
The deterioration of the security situation impacts the economy in multiple ways:
· It raises production costs and diverts reconstruction resources to non- productive activities.
· It deals a serious blow to reconstruction efforts, forcing existing foreign enterprises and NGOs to leave Iraq, dissuading prospective foreign investors from bringing much needed capital and sharing reconstruction risks, impeding the rehabilitation of existing production capacities and destroying newly created ones. Thus insecurity imposes a physical constraint on the entry of foreign contractors to the country and hampers the resumption of normal economic activity.
Insecurity causes severe shortages in the production of public services, particularly electricity, and in oil products, generating pervasive black market and other illegal activities. These shortages and their ensuing consequences in terms of deteriorating living conditions, lower purchasing power and growing discontent, erode public confidence in the government and the political process. It thus comforts and reinforces the message of radical and fundamentalist opposition groups.
However, though security concerns remain serious, Iraq’s economy has not been totally crippled by violence, and small trade businesses have been able to grow and thrive despite domestic unrest. This is largely due to the reforms discussed below. A tangible rise in government salaries has improved the living standards of some one million employees and one million pensioners. The previous basic salary of government employees was $5 per month; now the basic salary is more than $80 per month.
Among the market-oriented reforms started by the CPA and followed by both the interim government and the transitional government, the reforms of the currency and financial system have yielded positive results by successfully changing and stabilising the currency and introducing accepted standards in the banking sector. On the other hand, the autonomy of the Central Bank remains only grudgingly accepted by the executive power. Most reforms have been institutional, steering clear from a destabilising shock therapy approach.
Growth in the post-conflict period from April 2003 to September 2004 was high (in the range of 55% to 65%), thanks largely to a windfall increase in oil prices, but also as a result of monetary stability and increased trade and commerce. However, the IMF put growth in 2004 at around 52%, falling to an estimated 17% in 2005. While unemployment rates in 2004 dropped relative to 2003, differential local averages show alarming disparities between provinces. Regional disparities and inequalities are more dangerous than inequalities between social classes in the conflictual political transition. The highest regional unemployment rate is in Thi Qar province (46.2%), the lowest are in Karbala and Najaf (14% and 18% respectively). Moving to the Sunni areas, Anbar, Mosul and Diyala are the most affected: 33.3%, 31.2%, and 31.2% respectively. This situation will feed into radical politics (Sadr and the Virtue party), insurgency and communal grievances.
Corruption has become systemic and is draining resources and eroding confidence in the interim/transitional authorities and the transitional process altogether.
Iraq’s oil rentierism and command/mixed economy have ambivalent effects relative to conflict. Iraq’s command economy structure is tied to state-led development under dominant communal elites and a ‘consent for cheap services/employment’ social contract. The state has been, and may well continue to be for some time to come, the largest single owner-employer, and the largest single producer-investor, but it cannot sustain that role. This involves a strategic risk.
Shi’i and Kurdish businessmen who had their assets confiscated or were previously excluded from state contracts are now in the process of reintegrating into the business class. Multi-party coalition in the government has rendered state economic patronage, which was formerly monopolised by a few, fragmented. This fragmentation of economic monopoly has allowed wider access to resources, economic and otherwise, across the business classes. Some of the previously privileged elites are now suffering from the loss of their monopoly, which is feeding into wider grievances. Not until state agencies are ‘re-institutionalised’ can this patronage system be ended, to allow for a more integrated business class to mature.
Lastly, oil rentierism must be examined from strategic political perspectives. Oil rentierism was the political economy of authoritarianism. Under the monarchy a Development Board and the parliament had some control over the allocations of oil revenues. Without some checks and balances on oil, unrestricted authoritarian tendencies are at risk of developing. Oil is also at the heart of the dispute over Kirkuk, and is a major factor stimulating federalist tendencies in the south.
Social Dimensions: Ethno-Communal, Cultural and Social Cleavages
The politicisation of ethnic, communal and cultural identities is both a cause and effect of conflict. This politicisation is the result of half century or so of the destruction of all-inclusive national participatory mechanisms, replaced, as they were, by a coercive system of selective inclusion, and personal patronage.
Ethnic, communal and sectarian fracture lines pre-dated the inception of the Iraq nation-state, but have been gradually deepening, having been crystallised into conflictual identity politics during the 1990s. At present, they are focused on the distribution of and securing access to power, economy and resources. This contrasts sharply with the ideological politics of the 1950s and 1960s. But this apparent shift from ideological to identity politics could be misleading at first, if it is abstracted from other aspects of sociological realities, and second, if the inner divisions of identity politics are not examined.
An examination of the social dynamics of conflict needs to go beyond the trichotomy of Kurds-Shi’is-Sunnis to take into account four major components of Iraq’s composite and transitional society which produce significant complexity in the dynamics of conflict and approaches to managing them.
The first component is the existence of a pan-Iraqi national identity cemented by a long and shared history of revolutions, wars, and cultural spaces (educational system) and collective institutions (army, bureaucracy). Even under Ba’ath rule, the Ba’ath party had to sacrifice some of the basic themes of its Pan-Arabist discourse in favour of ‘Iraqi’ patriotism, invoking pre-Islamic history (Babylonian, Somerian and Akadian history), or pre-Islamic tribal discourses. On the negative side, this nationalism is xenophobic (including against Iraqi exiles), invoked between 1980-2003 successively against Iran, Israel and the West. On the positive side, it has trans-communal potency, embedded in urban life, middle-class values and lifestyles, business interests and shared institutions (education, army, bureaucracy). Iraqi nationalism is nowadays widely invoked in response to the politicisation of various sub-national identities, but also, while more narrowly so, against the occupation.
The second component often neglected in analysis, policy-making and strategic assessment, is the development of cross- or trans-community modern social forces, such as upper business classes, middle classes (professionals, technocrats) and industrial working classes. These groups have their own interest-based associations, leagues and unions, and are the main reservoirs of civility and economic-oriented action. Profit has no ethnicity or creed. It is universal. Exclusion from economic participation can become couched in the idiom of identity politics if this exclusion, as indeed is the case in Iraq, is the result of group discrimination (in particular the case of discrimination against Shi’i merchants). But the assertion of economic interest is bound to be trans-communal. It is embedded in the economics of the market, of monetary and fiscal policies, in investment and protection of property rights. No market can function properly without consolidation of the rule of law.
Upper business classes may run into a quarter of a million in the Arabic part of Iraq; major categories of the middle classes with capital, property or salary form (with their dependents) around 54% of the urban population. As a result of deregulation in the mid-1980s, the weakening of the state in the 1990s, and similar measures in the Kurdish areas, property and capital-owning classes expanded to reach somewhere between 40% to 50% of all business and middle classes. All these groups, whether propertied or salaried, have over the past two decades been freed from state patronage, and thanks to the recent stability of the Iraqi currency and reform of salaries, the salaried sections have been delivered from sanctions-imposed pauperism. This is the social basis for any strategy towards market-democracy building in Iraq. True, the full-fledged clout of these classes has been momentarily partly trapped and partly overshadowed by identity politics, yet their potential is of strategic importance for any stable democracy in Iraq.
The third component of Iraqi society is composed of a number of other identifiable groups. Gender and generation constitute important differentiators. Iraq is renowned for its vibrant women’s movements. These movements have been revitalised as a reaction to conservative, Islamic pressures to impose the veil and curb women’s rights and liberties. Iraq’s youth, on the other hand, are at the heart of every strand of politics, leaning mostly to radical politics, and have generational issues that, in large urban settings, have, like women movements, important trans ethnic-communal potential to pursue issues of peace, civility and such like. The newly emerging NGOs are still in their infancy, acting more as subcontractors for foreign NGOs.
The fourth component is clan or tribe-based social structures. This segment plays a crucial role in preventing or mediating conflicts; in other cases it gets involved in violence, or in mafia-like highway robbery. The tribal world is formed from three different structures: 1) the ‘tribe’ per se; 2) tribal associations, and 3) tribal chieftains.
Tribes have been on the decline, but tribal organisations sustained a partial rehabilitation in the 1990s facilitated by the decline of other realms of civil society and of central authority. Tribes and clans are rural or provincial kinship groups, fragmented into extended families. A large tribe such as the Dualim tribe is too fragmented (more than 40 such sub-clan fragments) to collectively engage in any pacifying political effort. These kinship groups are strongest in rural areas and provincial towns, but they are weakening in the larger cities. In provincial towns they share power with other social groups such as professionals, clerics, ex-military commanders, and wealthy landlords and businessmen. Scanty field research seems to suggest that tribesmen have divided political loyalties. The younger generation, age group 15 to 25, is more inclined to modern, mostly radical, politics; older age groups take the traditional ways and norms of the tribe itself.
Tribal associations, which now number more than dozen, should not be confused with tribes and clans. These associations are civil-urban groupings inclusive of all tribes in a region, province or the country, irrespective of sect, ethnicity and religion. Some have become national tribal associations, based on a political platform, constitution, disciplinary regime and elections. They function more like civil society organisations and incorporate, in their very structure, cross-community, cross-ethnic connections.
Unlike associations, tribal chiefs are organised in extended families. Their wealth (or poverty), their access to central power and their leadership qualities, all determine the extent to which they have influence over their tribal domains. Powerful sheikhs of the Sorchi or Mezouri tribes (in Arbil and Dohuk) are capable of mobilising thousands under arms or of forming political parties. Weak tribal chiefs have tended to enhance their status by acquiring additional social roles. The chief of the Zouba tribe, Harith al-Dhari, is a doctor of religion, a pedagogue and chairman of the Muslim Doctors of Religion Society. In urban centres, tribal chiefs function as arbitrators and referees, administering informal systems of justice. They showed their great potential in their mediation of the ceasefire in Sadr City and in combating Sadr’s militia in Najaf and Hilla (Babylon).
Having elaborated the modern-traditional components in the framework of Iraqi nationalism, we need now to examine the inner divisions and dynamics of identity politics itself in the present context.
Identity politics has three major forms: aggregate (i.e. communal), sub-communal (local), and counter-ethnic (minor ethnicities against a major ethnicity).
Communal political identities split into ‘embattled minority’ (Kurds), ‘oppressed majority’ (Shi’is), and the newly contrived ‘disempowered minority’ (Sunnis). Politicisation of identity is a construction that invokes and involves religious and cultural discourses; it revolves on the redistribution of power sharing and is geared towards redressing past perceived or real group discrimination and maximising each group’s share. These aggregated identity lines may serve as indicators for the consociational foundations of power distribution on the national level (e.g. allocating shares in the army and administration), but they hardly veil inner schisms caused by diverging social, economic and other interests within the community.
Local identities commonly take the form of city solidarity. Local identities reflect the social diversity and regional disparities in any given community, which is anchored in diverging interests, uneven development and cultural cleavages. The strongest cases of localism are observed in Najaf versus Karbala, or Basra in the Shi’i south versus others; or Erbil versus Sulaymania and Halabja in the Kurdish north. Generally, local identity politics have the potential to put checks and balances on an authoritarian-centralist national authority, and fragment communalism. In certain cases, as in Basra, they have the potential to lead to violent local versus state authority conflict.
Counter ethnic identities - the Turkmen and Assyrian in particular - came into being politically as a reaction to the creation of the de facto Kurdish autonomous region in 1991. While both groups have their own myths and discourses of origin, like all ethnic histories, theirs are based on territorially conceptualised ethnicity. Both envisage an administrative region of their own. In the case of the Turkmen, a strong regional power extends protection (i.e. Turkey). This has an alarming destabilising potential. If settled peaceably, demands of counter-ethnic identities (administrative rights of minorities) have the potential to put checks and balances on the authoritarian tendencies that may develop under Kurdish ethnocracy.
Nowhere have regional media been such an integral part of conflict as in Iraq. Bereft of any medium of communication, other than state-controlled TV, radio and newspapers, Iraq fell completely under the influence of regional media networks, which were hostile to ‘Operation Iraq Freedom’, as indeed was the public in the region at large. Motivated by ideology (Islamism, Arabism) or regional interests (Iran), these networks came out more or less strongly in opposition to peaceful transition, and were clearly supportive of political violence. TV networks such as al-Jazeera (Qatar), al-Arabiya, MBC (both Saudi), Al-Alam (Arab-speaking Iranian network), Al-Manar (of Hizbullah in the Lebanon), almost dominated the public media space in Iraq, determining not only the focus of coverage but more importantly the public’s perceptions of it. The overnight deregulation of the media sector lead to a rush to install satellite dishes, connecting Iraq’s public to the outside world. But it had no national networks by which to put through a multi-vocal message.
Under the sustained impact of regional media, recent violent conflict in Iraq was reduced to a US versus ‘Resistance’ conflict, with no other actors, or no other processes beyond that framework. The word ‘resistance’ (Muqawama) has sacred, legal connotations, and it has been successfully integrated into the political public discourse in Iraq. Such framing lends legitimacy to political violence and acts as an agitator and mobiliser region-wide. Ironically, even the Western print and electronic media unwittingly or otherwise took part in this circulation. Images of fighting and of exaggerated or doctored abuses, captured the imagination of the young and motivated them to seek violent retribution and solutions. The internet has also had an impact. Native and foreign groups fighting in Iraq have access to the internet and are using it to connect globally. Their video footage, photo images, oratory, and written statements spread the message and act as a conduit of agitation, mobilisation, fundraising and organisation. For instance, images of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses and cases of alleged sexual abuse circulated rapidly.
From early 2004 the regional monopoly over TV coverage was broken. More objective TV networks were started by Iraqi groups such as al-Sharqiya and al-Fayha, among others, to meet the Iraqi public demand for information, as regional networks were deemed untrustworthy or impartial. The US-sponsored Al-Hurrah which has a special section covering Iraq, began to make its impact felt, inviting the wrath of insurgents. Al-Arabiya network has recently shown signs of more balanced or less ideological/ agitative coverage of Iraq.
Iraqis are more inclined to the word of mouth (mosques) and the power of image (TV); the radio, it seems, lost its centrality as the medium of the masses. Iraqi perceptions of regional TV coverage of their affairs are generally negative; they see it either as attempts to destabilise Iraq, or manifestations of envy by Arabs of Iraqi freedoms and prospects for prosperity. Most insurgents seem to think of this coverage as a signal of brotherly support.
3. Native and Regional Actors
Due to the complexity of Iraq’s society it is useful to build on the structural analysis of conflict developed above, to analyse the key native actors in more depth through the often multidimensional lenses of community, city/region, modern, traditional and political identity.
The Sunni Community:
Insurgency in Iraq remains essentially confined to the so-called ‘Sunni triangle’, which involves three distinct areas: Anbar, Mosul and Diyala, in addition to the Sunni suburbs of Baghdad. Scholars and experts disagree on its nature and scope. It may be understood as either a ‘national’ or a ‘Sunni’ phenomenon. In this account we are inclined to the latter. Four political groupings organise and sustain militarised violence; they are: institutional restorationist groups led by the deposed Ba’ath, the national-Islamists, native fundamentalists (Salafis), and foreign fundamentalists.
While insurgency is political, it also springs from economic, cultural and ideological factors. Discharged civilian and military functionaries feel humiliated and deprived of their livelihoods; some tribal groups seek revenge, or blood money, or defend their code of honour (when unwittingly breached or conceived to be violated by the coalition forces, and even, recently, according to reports, by foreign jihadis).
Islamists are motivated by sense of loss, fear of Shi’i supremacy, and suspect a conspiracy hatched against them. Fundamentalists, by contrast, see through the radical Wahhabi lens of waging a crusade against infidels, Jews, and crusaders in an incessant global battle of good and evil. The political discourse of insurgents is a mix of nationalism, Islamism and sectarianism, all blended in the rhetoric of anti- occupationism. These nuances are best seen in Anbar province, the home of the four major tribes. It blends strong Arabism with Islamism and tribalism.
The Dualim was perhaps the last tribe to give in to Ottoman and post-Ottoman pressures to end their nomadism and tribal wars and take-up sedentary agriculture. Descending originally from Najd, the Dualim and their neighbours have had strong ties with the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. The bulk of Islamist leaders of Iraq’s Muslim Brotherhood or of the Salafi strand come from Anbar, Mosul, Samara and (for the Islamist Kurds) Halabja.
As it lost its artisanal and agricultural economy, Anbar shifted to government service and, under the Ba’ath, to government contract-based business also. Although the province accounts for less than 5% of Iraq’s population, it boasts of having supplied two presidents of the republic, dozens of ministers, hundreds of high military commanders, and thousands of wealthy businessmen (some third of the newly rising nouveau riche). Since 1963, Anbar had full access to the powers that be. Now it faces this gross loss. Differences, however, exist between Falluja, a tribal-clerical-military city, and Ramadi, a city of businessmen and professionals.
Mosul is another Arab-Sunni dominated conservative province. Renamed ‘Ninawa’, it also contains large swaths of Kurds, mostly Yezidi, Assyrians, Arab-speaking Christians, and Turkmen. Mosul is one of the oldest historical cities in the country, with the oldest and strongest landlord, mercantile class and military classes. Mosul has become the city of the military, having perhaps the highest numbers of the officer corps relative to any other city. Like Anbar, its business class flourished on lucrative state contracts. Mosul’s fears of exclusion and sense of loss are accentuated by the fear of Kurdish influence. Unlike Anbar, its concern over Shi’i influence is rather slim.
Diyala, on the other hand, combines features of Anbar and Mosul realities. Like Anbar it has a strong tribal structure and agricultural economy (fruit and date palm orchards), but like Mosul it has an ethnic and sectarian mix: Kurds, Turkmen and Shi’is. Fear of Shi’ism and Kurds aggravate their loss of state patronage. Tribes in this province have connections with their cousins in Anbar and Mosul.
There are three distinct political strategies among the Sunnis: peaceful engagement, political resistance, or military campaign. The borders between groups and individuals subscribing to any definite strategy have been mercurial. But these nuances differentiate ideological restorationists from institutional groups looking for inclusion and employment, or differentiate moderate Islamists from ideological Salafis. The latter merits some consideration:
The Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) calls for peaceful transition grounded in recognition of the superior military power of the US and is anchored in the possibility of building a large Sunni block versus Shi’i Islamism. This strategic alternative envisages an alliance with the Sunni Kurds and Turkmen and, interestingly, with secular Shi’i forces to ensure a majority. Officially, the IIP opposes violent politics. The Muslim Ulema Council (doctors of religion) (MUC), led by Dr. Harith al-Dhari, endorses violent opposition against the MNF(I) only. The IPP and MUC exert reciprocal influence on each other to such an extent that a radical, violent faction developed within the IIP threatening its moderate positions, while a moderate faction developed within the MUC promising to soften its stance. The Society of Ifta and Ansar al-Sunna, led by Salafis, endorses a fully-fledged military campaign to dislodge foreign presence and eliminate all native groups seen as collaborators.
Native and foreign Salafis have similar platforms, discourses and mind-set, but natives are more sensitive to the community pressures and needs. For example, native Salafis agreed more than once to ceasefire arrangements and raised compensation demands in their Friday sermons.
Violent groups, while fearful of the rise of Shi’is, welcomed Muqtada Sadr’s radicalism but denounced Sistani’s quietism and threatened to eliminate him. Bombing of Shi’i shrines or churches did not hamper a limited cooperation with Sadr’s faction during the April and August 2004 crisis. This rapprochement between Sunni radicals and the Sadr faction soon ended, however, with the ceasefire in August 2004, terminating the discourse of Shi’i-Sunni brotherhood. Attacks on Shi’is continue unabated in the ‘triangle of death’.
All Sunni groups benefit from an infrastructure of mosques and Sufi lodges of the Qadiriya order; they also benefit from cross-border tribal networks with, and proximity to, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. While the Islamist groups appear to be in the saddle, the driving force is the Ba’ath ideological core with former Ba’ath institutional backing. A degree of mistrust reigns among these groups. Moderate leanings are apparent within them or among influential social milieus in their regions. Sunni business classes, professionals, tribal chieftains, and notable families wish to carry on ‘business as usual’ and form a ‘silent’ and peaceful block. Liberal or Arab nationalist groupings at the centre (Baghdad), such as Adnan PacheChi’s Independent Democrats or Chadirchi’s National Democrats, seem disconnected from the beleaguered Sunni constituencies.
The success of the January 2005 elections produced a ‘shock and awe’ effect on the Sunni community, which is now reconsidering its position with regard to its tacit or direct support to the insurgency versus the benefits of engaging through the political process.
Generally, Shi’i provinces and Shi’i communities in mixed provinces seem more peaceful and more hopeful with respect to the transitional process. As discussed below, different positions have been taken by different groups and provinces due to varying economic, political and social interests.
A mainstream non-violent trend is generally prevailing. They conceive of Iraq’s history as an error-oppression chain. This chain commenced with what they now regard to have been a costly and miscalculated Shi’i insurgency (the anti-British 1920 Iraqi Revolt), resulting in exclusion from power and ultimately ending with group discrimination of the majority (Shi’is) by the minority (the Sunnis). In this oversimplified schema of history lies a current interest in and a drive for the restructuring of Iraq as a nation-state.
In 1920, Shi’i communities were led by three social groups: radical mujtahids in Shrine Cities (Najaf, Karbala and Kazimiya), disgruntled tribal chieftains, and urban merchants who suffered through the war and as a result of more competitive British firms. The bulk of Shi’is were rural and their urban lot had no military or bureaucratic functionaries. Now, Shi’is are largely urban, with a large segment composed of middle and business classes, professionals, military commanders and technocrats.
Three socio-political forces lead the community: clerics, middle class techno-professionals, and tribal chiefs. They embrace Islamism (radical and moderate), communalism, liberalism, and radical populism. These three groups are highly fragmented.
Clerics are divided by city-ethnicity and by senior and junior ranking. They are clustered in Najaf, Karbala and Kazimiya. Najaf is the highest seat of religious authority, wielded mainly by influential, yet predominantly non-Iraqi religious dignitaries: Sistani, Ahmad Fayaz, Basheer al-Najafi and (the only Iraqi) Said al-Hakim. Clerical families, such as Hakim, Bahr al-Uloom, Khoi and others, share social influence. In Karbala, the Shirazi and Mudarissi clerical families have the greatest influence in the local community. Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarissi is a cleric-politician in Islamic Action Organisation (Munazamat al-Amal al-Islami - MAI). In Kazimain, clerical dignitaries hail from Khalisi, Sadr and other families. Competition notwithstanding, there is a high degree of cooperation under the umbrella of grand ayatollah Ali Sistani, a champion of peaceful, democratic, and presumably non-clerical rule. Ethnic divisions are, however, not insignificant. Competitive city solidarities are divisive. Hilla, for example, cherishes its local Shi’i leaders from the Qazwini noble-clerical family.
Muqtada Sadr leads his Mahdi Movement on a ‘Native-Iraqiness-first’ model, opposing both Sistani and exile Islamists. His movement illustrates another cleavage in the clerical world: the rise of junior clerics to prominence through radical politics and appeal to younger generations - the only means they have to bypass established clerical constraints of theology, seniority of rank and other norms. In April 2005, the Sadr faction publicly renounced violence, while intelligence reports suggested a reorganisation of the Mahdi army was taking place, probably by splinter groups.
The Virtue Party led by Nadeem ‘Isa al-Jabiri and sponsored by slef-appointed ayatollah al-Ya’qubi, shares Sadr his conservative drive for Islamic rule, but disagree on tactics: they are bent on peaceful politics.
Shi’i middle-class groups, both exile and native, have been involved in secular-Islamic politics and seek clerical patronage as the source of legitimacy, funds and infrastructure support (offices, charitable institutions, mosques and the like). Even the liberal Iraqi National Congress (INC) of Ahmad Chalabi changed course in this direction as from November 2003.
Shi’i political groups are either led by clerics or a mix of lay-clerics. The parties are numerous: the Da’wa Party has several offshoots; among which is a Basrite organisation led by the late IGC member Izz al-Din Salim. In addition, the list includes the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) of Hakim, MAI of Mudarissi, Hizbullah of Muhammadawi in Omara, Badr Organisation (formerly a military arm of SCIRI), Hizb al-Fadhila (Virtue Party) of Nadeem ‘Isa al-Jabiri and his patron, ayatollah al-Yaqubi; they compete with dozens of other Shi’i ‘Islamic’ groups of a local nature. Relations between these groups are highly competitive, at times even bloody. Cooperation is, however, not wanting, motivated partly by common ideological-communal themes, partly by electoral interests, and partly by pressure from Sistani, or even threats from Iran.
Lastly, Shi’i tribal chiefs are driven by their socioeconomic and political interests to play independent tribal roles, seek alliances beyond the communal realm, or simply serve under a communal-Islamic umbrella. Where they act independently, they compete against clerics and Islamic politics.
In this context, Sadr seems the Shi’i outsider. Sadr’s insurgency in Najaf, Baghdad, Kufa and other cities was backed by the Iranian leader Khaminei. Sadr’s insurgency won him some sympathy among Shi’is and Sunnis alike during the April 2004 crisis. His weekly tabloid was closed down by the CPA and an arrest warrant was issued against him in connection with the murder of Majid Khoi. In August 2004, during the crisis of Najaf, he was overshadowed and momentarily marginalised by Sistani’s mediation to dislodge the Mahdi army from Najaf.
Sistani’s influence has been and is likely to continue to be benign in terms of peaceful transition. His opposition to Khomeini’s theory of Wilayat al-Faqih (The Rulership of the Jurist) promoted Najaf as a counter-balance to Qum. Iranian efforts to neutralise Sistani’s influence have been intensified. Sistani is a guarantor of non-fundamentalist Islamic rule. He did not authorise clerics to hold office in government; he also supported an electoral list that allocated half of the slots to non-partisan professionals and technocrats in order to reduce the influence of SCIRI, Da’wa and others. Sistani is also an advocate of a simple form of majoritarian rule and opposes federalism. These influences are likely to strengthen peaceful institutional politics on the one hand, while at the same time having the potential to accentuate ethnic and administrative drivers of conflict during the constitutional process. However, the Sistani umbrella will neither last long nor reduce the predominance of local Shi’i actors.
Local Shi’i actors may prove crucial in the future. City or province solidarities are a fact of social and economic life. Shi’i cities developed different economies and sundry interests. Najaf and Karbala rely heavily on religious tourism and religious academies (involving the livelihood of some 4000 seminarians funded from Khums payments). Kazimiya in Baghdad has a history of prosperous mercantile-artisanal activity.