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