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Anbar Handover: Hell Is Other People’s Domestic Politics

The New York Times has a good piece about how an inter-Anbar Province domestic political struggle between the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Anbar Awakening forces has delayed the U.S. from handing over the province to local officials. It’s complicated, but for a flavor of this, consider:

The chairman of the Provincial Council, Abdul Salam al-Ani, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the delay was needed because Iraqi forces had not yet been able to fully control the province’s borders, which touch Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. He said the delay should last until after provincial elections, which aren’t expected until the end of the year at the earliest.

“Iraqi forces are not ready to take over security responsibilities,” he said.

That comment appeared to be a swipe at the Anbar provincial police chief, Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Youssef, who has the robust support of the Anbar Awakening movement and a strong relationship with American marines in the province.

Dr. iRack, a member of the Abu Muqawama counterinsurgency all-star team, comments:

Given that nobody trusts anybody else, it might not be a bad idea to delay the handover of so the provincial election results have more credibility on all sides (as long as we also play an active role in trying to prevent this delay from causing yet more trouble by providing an opportunity for the IIP to play its games). If we instead rush the handover to create optics for our domestic political consumption and election cycle, we risk increasing the prospects of violent clashes between the “powers that be” and the “powers that aren’t” in the lead up to, or immediate aftermath of, election cycle.

Wait, it’s our domestic politics that’s the problem here? Because it really appears that the problem is the competition for power in the province. I take Dr. iRack’s point that our actions have consequences for that power struggle, but so do our inactions. If I was a member of the Awakening, for instance, I’d view the handover delay as the U.S. putting its thumb on the scale on behalf of the IIP. And if I was a member of the IIP, I’d view the U.S. acquiescence to my desired delay as a sign that I can get the U.S. to do what I want, so why stop now?

The longer we stay in Iraq, the more this happens. Far better to set a totally arbitrary date for handing over security to the province’s political leadership, whomever it may be, and stick to it. Now that the handover has slipped, of course, that’s admittedly problematic, since the Awakening will consider any post-election handover to be American support for the IIP, and the IIP will consider any pre-election handover to be American support for the Awakening. But that’s the world we live in, so it’s better to just hand the province over already. The last thing the U.S. should be influencing is who wins an election in Anbar province.

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