Global Policy Forum

Enter a Unifier and a Healer


By Ehsan Ahrari*

Asia Times
February 24, 2005

Ibrahim Jaafari is the United Iraqi Alliance' (UIA's) unanimous choice for the premiership of Iraq. He is not a novice, in the sense that he was long in opposition to Saddam Hussein's rule. He served as vice president in the interim Iraqi government. His Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party has long advocated an Islamic government; however, that aspiration is either tempered or even abandoned when faced with the awesome responsibility of governing Iraq. Whatever the reason, Jaafari has an enormous task ahead of him if he emerges as the ultimate candidate. And the chances of that are quite good as he should easily see off a challenge from interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

The United States has been clearly disappointed by the fact that its hand-picked choice, Allawi, made a poor showing in the elections. Then Washington went back to the Pentagon's former golden boy, Ahmad Chalabi. However, considering the baggage that Chalabi carries with him, there was no chance that he was going to be anyone else's choice for premier, save the Bush administration's. Iraqis in general hated him, and even in the Shi'ite community he was not popular.

Jaafari has demonstrated his sophistication as a candidate for the job for several days, if not weeks. Indeed, if one had any doubts regarding the potential emergence of the UIA as a viable ruling party in Iraq, those doubts should have been dispelled right after the elections. The party has made it known its readiness to be all-inclusive and shunned from all manifestations of parochialism. The all-inclusive aspect of its characteristic was clear by its readiness to go out of its way in actively seeking the cooperation of the Sunni minority, a group that boycotted the election and then showed deep resentment about the possibility of the emergence of Shi'ite dominance in the next government.

The UIA acted as if the Sunni resentment was not even there. It has made it clear that it has every intention of making the Sunnis a real partner in the next government. The UIA's spurning of parochialism will be further demonstrated in its refusal to entertain any ideas that would jeopardize the unity of Iraq. The Kurdish groups had better re-examine all their aspirations that even remotely resemble the weakening the integrity of Iraq.

The administration of US President George W Bush has been besieged by a number of questions related to Jaafari, his Da'wa Party and the UIA. The question that is uppermost in Washington now is whether the UIA's commitment to avoid establishing an Islamic government in Iraq is real. Jaafari has shown special sensitivity to this issue. In fact, he recently made quite a revealing comment in this regard. He said, "Every country has its own character. Not all Iraqis are Muslims. Not all Muslims are Shi'ite. Not all Shi'ites are Islamic. We have to have a system that is open to all components of society."

The next significant question in Washington is how close Iraq will get to Iran. In the Pollyannaish world of the neo-conservatives there is no room for any nuanced approach toward Iran. Either a country can be a friend of the US and enemy of Iran, or vice-versa. There is no way any country can be a friend of Iran and remain close to the US. It is a sort of rehashing of what the world looked like when seen from inside Washington during the early phase of the Cold War. No country could be a friend of both the US and the USSR. The Non-Aligned Movement was envisaged as something immoral. John Foster Dulles, US president Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of state, was more blunt about that depiction than other secretaries of state. However, that frame of reference prevailed throughout the Cold War years. Now the Bush administration is applying a similar type of litmus test to any country that wishes to befriend Iran.

To Jaafari, such a frame of reference is not likely to be too pertinent, germane or relevant. He has shown every desire to maintain a distance with Iran, yet not becoming unfriendly or hostile to it. After all, the Shi'ite bondage between the two neighboring states has centuries of history behind it. It is not likely to be abandoned just to please the Bush administration.

The third question that is bothering the US administration is how cooperative Jaafari is likely to be regarding approving the military actions of US forces inside Iraq. It is a well-known fact that on the issue of cooperating with the Americans, Allawi never allowed any room for second-guessing. In fact, his poor showing in the elections had a lot to do with the fact that he could never shed the public perception that he was a US puppet. Jaafari has witnessed first-hand what mistakes Allawi made in this regard, and he will do everything to avoid them. What that means is that US military actions in Iraq will not be granted automatic approval a la Allawi.

The fourth question that is troubling Washington is how soon the new government under the premiership of Jaafari will demand an ouster of Western forces. On this issue, the US might not have to worry too much. Given the intense activities of the Iraqi insurgents, no Iraqi government in its right mind would want the Western forces to leave. Besides, what forces are going to replace them? No one expects the military forces from Arab countries to play that role. In the coming weeks and months, some new understanding between the Jaafari government and the Bush administration has to emerge, even some sort of a timetable. However, one cannot realistically talk about any such timetable unless the Iraqi forces are militarily sophisticated enough to defend themselves against the domestic insurgency. That reality might not emerge for at least next five years. Thus Jaafari has to decide how realistically his potential demand for any timetable for the ouster of Western forces is likely to be.

In an ironic way, the Iraqi insurgents might be the reason any new Iraqi government would be forced to accept the presence of Western forces in their country for quite a while. But even by allowing the Western forces to remain and defend Iraqi sovereignty, the next government has to ensure that its own legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens is not blemished. And Jaafari might turn out to be the prime minister to perform that balancing act in the coming months.

About the Author: Ehsan Ahrari, PhD, is an Alexandria, Virginia, US-based independent strategic analyst.

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