Shifting of Chairs in Iraq

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I guess it’s good news that Ibrahim al-Jaaferi is withdrawing his candidacy for another term as prime minister of Iraq. The Sunnis, Kurds, and the Bush administration all wanted him gone, and on the surface this seems like a) it will mollify some of the minorities in Iraq and hopefully be a step on the path to national reconciliation or whatever people are hoping for, and b) it points to the idea that the United States and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad still have leverage over Iraq and can put pressure on various parties for the better.

That’s the surface view. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that this solves much of anything in Iraq. The Kurds, reportedly, don’t like Jaafari because they want a Shiite leader more committed to the breakup of the country into autonomous provinces—something that could create a lot of chaos down the road. The Sunnis presumably don’t like Jaafari because he backs Shiite death squads, but his preferred replacement, Abdel Mahdi, is a member of SCIRI, the party running the death squads.

So it’s hard to imagine that a change of face will alter any of the fundamental dynamics driving the ongoing civil war in Iraq, or that the U.S. can prevent a crack-up by engineering the ouster of this or that individual. Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni politician, recently said of the various Shiite candidates for prime minister, “All of them are the same. They are not qualified to run the country. But nobody listens to us.” That’s not a good sign.

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