Friday, October 21, 2005


A very important article in Prospect Magazine written by Rory Stewart, former coalition deputy governor of Maysan and Dhi Qar provinces in southern Iraq.

It is a well structured piece, providing an overview of the evolution of the organizations that are vital to understanding the political (and martial) conflict and coöperation in the region.

Any understanding of the current situation in Iraq depends on a detailed knowledge of these parties. But, as my conversation with Abu Akil indicated, it is difficult to define the differences between them. This is as true for Iraqis as it is for foreigners. The leaders are reluctant to emphasise the differences between their groups, keen to conceal their more extreme views from the more moderate electorate and, most importantly, having led covert insurgency organisations for 20 years, are accustomed to keeping their programmes secret. Like tribes rather than political parties, the clearest differences between them lie more in history and leadership than in policy.

Some brief excerpts.

On the importance and the conduct of the militias supporting those organizations:

Although they now hold all of the senior elected positions in the provincial government and have thousands of followers in the police and the ministries, the groups continue to rely on their militias. They use them to enforce religious practices: firebombing internet cafés, alcohol and music shops, and attacking unveiled women. Many from minority religious groups, such as the Christians, have fled to Baghdad, preferring the terror in the Sunni triangle to threats from the Shia parties.

How successful has the coalition been?

Most people in the south tolerate the coalition only because they believe the presence of the troops in bases may deter civil war. Iraqis are reluctant to trust us or work with us. Because of this lack of co-operation, it has been difficult for the coalition to achieve as much as it had hoped with its billions of dollars in development aid, and it has received almost no credit for its efforts. The Shia are grateful that the coalition toppled Saddam but for little else. Despite thousands of troops and tens of millions invested in essential services, despite a number of impressive reconstruction projects, despite ambitious programmes in police training and in developing "good governance and civil society," the coalition has had only a minimal political impact in southern Iraq.

The author's conclusion is, in part, that these organizations are out of our hands:

The leaders of these groups have a distinctive Islamist ideology and complex history. This new Islamist state is elected, it functions and it is relatively popular. We may not like it, but we can only try to understand it and acknowledge that there is now little we can do to influence it.


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