Fascinating article in the NY Times today on the increasing desire of the Iraqi Shiite government to eliminate the Awakening leadership. The most interesting quote:
“The state cannot accept the Awakening,” said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. “Their days are numbered.”
I argued earlier that the continued existence of the Awakening Movement depends on two conditions: fundamental failure of reconciliation at the level of the Iraqi State, and the continued presence of US troops. The logic is fairly clear. If there was reconciliation at the level of the State, you wouldn’t need armed quasi-state Sunni groups. If you don’t have reconciliation at the level of the State, you need a combination of payoffs and military force to keep the quasi-state group (that is, the Awakening Movement) from asserting itself as an anti-state force, that is, as insurgents. As a means for reducing the violence in Iraq, US financial support for the Awakening Movement has been a marked success, but the success comes at the cost of institutionalizing the Shiite-Sunni conflict (and, of course, huge buckets of US taxpayer money).
What incentive does the Shiite government have for accepting and extending this arrangement? As long as an equilibrium exists between the groups, the incentive is clear: the arrangement reduces chaos while allowing the government to consolidate power. But that consolidation itself destroys the equilibrium; the more the State consolidates power, the less it needs the Awakening to reduce chaos. That’s what we’re seeing unfold now, I think. The Iraqi state apparatus feels increasing comfort with its ability (through the Iraqi Army) to maintain order itself. So the Awakening Movement becomes not only dispensable, but decidedly undesirable, since it always signalled the weakness of the State in the first place, and really constitutes a shadow governement anyway. An Iraqi general puts it more succinctly, if in the chilling biopolitical tropes that almost always precede rampant “ethnic cleansing:”
“These people are like cancer, and we must remove them,” said Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti, commander of the Iraqi Army’s 5,000-strong Muthanna Brigade, which patrols west of Baghdad, said of the Awakening leaders on his list for arrest.
Since theAwakening also depends on continued US presence, it’s likely that initial moves to eliminate the Awakening Movement are connected to any deal for removing US troops by 2011. It’s not surprising, of course, that the Sahwa was merely a temporary solution to the violence. It could not, structurally, constitute a permanent solution if the Iraqi State hoped to have any legitimacy, and it certainly had no viability without continued American involvement. But the continued failure of reconciliation makes one wonder what will happen to the 100,000 strong Sahwa armed body, much less to the Sunni population that sees the Sahwa movement as the only real state operating in their areas.