UA professors agreed that Iraq is a mess, and the U.S. government cannot change it. The Middle Eastern Affairs Forum met yesterday to analyze the problems with the U.S.-led Iraqi occupation and its effect on the rest of the Middle East.
Anthropology professor Ted Swendenburg and history professor Joel Gordon, led the discussion about the results of the Iraqi elections, coalition building in Iraq and the political context of the situation in Iraq.
Gordon said two candidates have been put forth for prime minister_Jaffari and Akmed Chalabi. Jaffari leads the United Iraqi Alliance, which won 140 seats in the Iraqi parliament. The prime minister needs a two-thirds majority to be elected.
"Once he gets that somehow, two vice presidents form a presidential council which will then officially appoint the prime minister," Gordon said. "Then the prime minister and the presidential council will appoint a cabinet, and that cabinet then needs a 51 percent vote of confidence from parliament. Jaffari is being put forth as a kind of cleric in civilian clothing. He represents the Dawa party which has a religious agenda and murky ties to Iran."
Akmed Chalabi is the secular Shia choice and is described as "crooked and secular, yet there was a feeling that might get him over the top, but he pulled out," Gordon said. Chalabi is pulling out in a "spirit of national unity" but is looking for a deal where the government can avoid questions about its legitimacy because Chalabi has strong ties to the United States, and Chalabi can avoid prosecution for supposed wrongdoings in post-Saddam Iraq, Gordon said.
The current prime minister Ayed Allawi, whose party constitutes 14.5 percent of the total parliament, has put himself forth as the secular candidate, Gordon said.
The central question is what is going to be the role of the Baath party, which includes many former members of Saddam's regime. Allawi believes that the U.S. policy of "debaathification" was a mistake, Gordon said.
Allawi has emerged as the voice of reason, reaching out to Sunnis and Shia in forming a coalition, Gordon said.
Swendenburg and Gordon discussed Iraq's history since its formation after World War I and the emergence of the Baath party as a nationalist alternative to the British supported monarchy. The professors also discussed how Hussein began to control the Baath party.
The competing ideologies of Pan-Arabism and Islamic Jihad have been the salient features of the Iraqi political landscape through the last part of the 20th century, Gordon said.
The effects of the Iran-Iraq war, the suppression of the Kurds and Shia under Saddam and the presence of the Turks in Kirkuk all contribute to the fragility of Iraq, Gordon said. Swedenburg said that if the Kurds fall into a civil war, then Turkey would intervene, which would cause a NATO ally to attack another ally, possibly Turkey and the United States.
"All of the elements are there for the war to reach beyond the Middle East," Swedenburg said.
Putting the questions of Turkish intervention and Kurdish stability aside, Gordon said that a good test to see if the United States is succeeding in Iraq is whether the elections will be successful. "Many of the signs point to no," Gordon said. "The bloodiest period since the fall of Saddam has occurred in the period after the elections. Things are very much up in the air."