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[casi-analysis] Charles Tripp

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Dear list,

On Thursday I heard talk on Iraq by Charles Tripp (a middle east historian
at SOAS). Since much of what he said was extremely interesting and
insightful, I'm posting here some of my notes (missing out the historical
section of his talk, and unfortunately also many of the nuances and
details). If anyone has the chance to hear Tripp speak in future, I'd
strongly recommend it. He really is very sharp and well-informed.

Regional politics:

Iraqi leaders are (somewhat justifiably) paranoid about foreign relations:
Iraq is an artificially-created state, which could be destroyed by
external actors. Water and oil dependency on Turkey, Syria, Iran. External
relations not always bad, but Iraqi politicians are aware that their
neighbours have a number of big sticks. Many iraqis can be seen as 5th
columnists by their enemies: pro-Iranian Shiites (note Sadr's rhetoric
against Persian clerical establishment), pan-Arabist Sunnis, Kurds for


 New Iraqi army is very small, 50-60,000 troops. Partly result of
recruitment problems, but also perhaps to keep Iraq dependent on foreign
military aid. Aimed at keeping internal order, following a bad pattern for
Iraq. [compare a recent draft of the interim constitution: «the first task
of the army is to preserve the integrity of the lands of the country. It
may not intervene in politics» - Dan].
Re-recruitment of police has left many old networks unchanged; Nuri
al-Badran, minister of the interior, is scary. New semi-military forces
(civil defense corps, Facilities Protection Service, Department of Border
enforcement) are uncomfortably well-placed to become repressive powers.
CPA is either turning a blind eye to, or even encouraging, various
party/ethnic militias: PUK, KDP, Badr Brigade, Mahdi's army. Members of
most of these groups have been recruited for anti-terrorist batallions,
and CPA has at times relied on Mahdi's Army to keep order in
beyond-the-pale areas. INC is encouraging its members to join the oil
protection corps, presumably jockeying for control. All this is very
dangerous, both security-wise and in encouraging sectarianism. Religious
leaders Shia clerics are extremely aware of the past. Aware that 1920
rebellion was shia-fuelled, but other groups got the benefits. Feel they
need to make sure numbers count, hence Sistani's large demonstrations and
support for democratic elections. Sistani's view of democracy seems naive:
he sees it as easily controlled, and hence may be in for a shock when
elections come and he can't control the votes of all shiites. Division of
clerics between activist (al-Hakim, Sadr) and quietist (Sistani). Sistani
is aware of the situation in Iran, where clerics have been tarnished and
corrupted by their involvement in politics. He is now at the peak of his
influence, able to pronounce on the big issues (elections, UN, occupation)
without getting bogged down in politics.  Refusing to deal directly with
the US helps here . he won't be able to use that tactic when the
government is Iraqi. After transfer of power, Sistani will either get
involved in politics, in which case he loses much of the respect he
currently has, or he will keep the respect and stay out of politics.
Compare the rôle of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (Muqtada's father) in the 90s:
was a quietist, but respected and could speak for a community, and drew
60,000-strong crowds. So was perceived as a threat and murdered by Saddam.

Dual State
All countries have a 'shadow state' of informal networks of power. This is
particularly true of Iraq, for historical reasons (esp. Rôle of sanctions
in forcing people to rely on shadow state networks, or suffer dire
personal hardship). State machinery is being built up in the centre (under
pressure from US election timetable) and at a local level (from a
practical need to keep order). This leaves a vacuum of power at a medium
level. Hence . in accordance with historical patterns . the centre sees
provincial autonomy, worries about loss of control or disintegration of
the country, loses its nerve, and uses oppressive, forceful tactics to
subdue the provinces. Because of this, anyone wanting power is forced to
seek the patronage of the centre, exacerbating problems of patronage and
the shadow state. Look at the distribution of infrastructure projects
(dams, etc.): CPA is often unaware of the rivalries underlying requests.
According to a recent newspaper article Colonel Alan King, in charge of
liaison with tribes, is relying on a 1918 British report on the tribes,
given to him by a tribal sheikh [Glen, the author of the article, finds
this amusing]

The international political constituency for forced democratisation of
Iraq is weak. The Metropolis tends to have little stamina . compare to the
history of British imperialism, where grand visions of reform and
modernisation are whittled down to keeping order. Similarly US politics
(ironically, especially among neocons) has little tolerance for the
long-term hands-off democratisation process: short-term practical needs
will triumph.  Officials on the ground are likely to rely on whatever
means is available to keep order and achieve other objectives, even if
this involves building up the shadow state. The British in Basra are
particularly prone to this. Foreign officials are ineffective and
uncommitted when it comes to building up state institutions . tendency to
rely on 'people like us'. e.g. Iraqis who've been living in the West for
many years.

[These notes are rough and probably pretty inaccurate at places. If any of
the above seems ridiculous, it's almost certainly my fault rather than
Charles Tripp's]

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