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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Iraq, corruption, and the stability of the new government.

Just a quick throw out here. One of new Iraqi Prime Minister's stated goals is to reduce corruption, but take just a second to think about what that means.

Iraqis just barely agreed to a partial government apportioning the various ministry seats among the factions. Is he going to look into corruption in the Shia controlled oil ministry as closely as he looks into corruption in other ministries controlled by other factions?

And just exactly what is he going to do about it, sack a Kurdish or Sunni minister? Which means that al Maliki's choices are to either accept the corruption or break apart the fragile new government structure.

And, the real kicker is where will the money from that largely unchecked corruption go? Certainly a portion goes to enriching the minister, his friends, family, and clan, but at the same time, I would guess that a fair portion of it would be directed, almost as protection money, to the various faction's paramilitary forces.

Do you think that an Sunni politician would dare say no to an extortative demand for funds from the Sunni armed groups? What about a Kurdish minister who refused to support the Peshmerga, or a Shia leader who refuses to support the militias?

My point is this. In this fragile government structure, the argument over ministries will have a real effect on the amounts of government monies that are channelled to the various armed groups. Certainly this isn't the biggest problem in Iraq right now, but it is a structural flaw that will continue unchecked to provide fuel for the fire of civil war.

Also: Two Iraq articles that caught my eye. Number One: Patrick Cockburn in the Independent(anti-Iraq war all the way, it must be said) points out the sad irony that as the violence in Iraq gets worse, Western leaders can more easily say things are going well because the increased violence limits reporting. (Later: it's gotten so bad that Voice of America has closed its bureau.)

And, Newsweek has what might be a very significant article talking about a shift in US military strategy in Iraq towards superbases and the implications this as there is a lower US presence around the country. (If this grabs your eye, I would highly recommend the William Lind piece from a couple of days ago discussing the strategy of these "superbases" vs. the more traditional "inkspot" strategy for ombating insurgencies.)
The U.S. military is already gearing up for this outcome, but not for “victory” any longer. It is consolidating to several “superbases” in hopes that its continued presence will prevent Iraq from succumbing to full-flown civil war and turning into a failed state. Pentagon strategists admit they have not figured out how to move to superbases, as a way of reducing the pressure—and casualties—inflicted on the U.S. Army, while at the same time remaining embedded with Iraqi police and military units. It is a circle no one has squared. But consolidation plans are moving ahead as a default position, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has talked frankly about containing the spillover from Iraq’s chaos in the region.

(And, no, I'm not going to write about the NYTimes's big piece on the Clinton's marriage today, although I did enjoy Atrios' response.)


  • There is no accountablility for the money we send over there what so ever. It's what is fueling nearly every problem over there.

    By Blogger Left of Center, at 7:25 AM  

  • to reduce corruption... Good observation. The country was born out of corruption, not just the Bathist variety, but Chalabi and the collective 'liberators'.
    Honestly, given the ubiquitous nature of corruption, I would have thougght it should be way down the agenda.
    Stability must be the first priority. Once they have a reasonable, workable system of government in place they can begin looking at niceties like ethics.
    If the so called ‘developed’ countries can’t get a handle on corruption I don’t see were the priority would be possible or relevant to a chaotic emerging economy.
    This is not an endorsement for corruption, by the way, simply a realistic appraisal.

    By Blogger Cartledge, at 10:08 AM  

  • LOC, that's kinda what I was after. And, on top of that, we've set up a system that will encourage it.

    Cartledge, I agree. I tried to include a line stating this was way down the priorities right now, but in the long term, that money will fuel the fire.

    I think your implication is right that security comes before corruption.

    (Honestly, it was just a slow blogging morning and nothing else really jumped out at me to post. I thry to put something new up several times a day and I already had skipped last night.)


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 12:06 PM  

  • Mike, don't take that as a crit. Covering corrupion so much I tend to see it in a slightly different light in the overall scheme.
    It is the Iraqi leadership who need to sort their priorities.
    And you were quite right in your comment about handling corruption in that splintered coalition.

    By Blogger Cartledge, at 12:21 PM  

  • I love this self deprecating "no you're right" argument so I'm going to continue.

    Corruption in a second or third world government is endemic, and again, not the biggest problem that the Iraqis are facing, but I think it's kind of symptomatic of the challenges facing this fragile coalition government. Any action they take will be seen though a factional lens.

    In the area of security, which armed groups get cracked down on will have splintering effects. In education, where do the new schools go, what about the presentation of history? The statistics out of the oil ministry will decide which regional governments get how much. etc etc.

    Any actions the government takes will be seen as favoring one group or the other.

    As you said, corruption is a minor problem compared to security, but both suffer the same root cause and I don't see how this government is going to deal with that.


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 1:56 PM  

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