Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What do the elections mean?`

Here's my guess: In the short run, iraqis generally will see the new government as their government. So they'll be less tolerant of attacks on it. However, if they later see that the iraqi administration is not actually controlled by the elected representatives, then they'll have more support for insurgents attacking government workers.

So the foreign suicide bombers etc will continue as before, no change. Some of them might get stopped or turned in by iraqis who would have tolerated them before.

The local resistance will tend to target assassinations against high-level police and army officers etc who look particularly competent. They don't want splashy unpopular attacks, so pinpoint assassinations will be better. Also they might make more attacks on US forces since they'll be making fewer attacks on iraqi government troops. US forces are harder to hit and they hit back harder, but they'll be more popular targets.

In the longer run there's the question whether we act to make the new government look irrelevant. Immediately after the highly-publicised "handover" seven months ago, Allawi announced an amnesty for insurgents. But Bremer then announced that there could be no amnesty for insurgents who had attacked US troops (which at that point was probably the large majority of them) and Allawi had to back down. Allawi announced he'd be buying tanks and planes, and Bremer announced that the budget was frozen and Allawi had no money for tanks or planes. At that point Allawi's credibility was shot. The handover was revealed as a farce and it hardly mattered when Allawi then approved airstrikes on iraqi cities and the total destruction of Fallujah. The elections have given us at least a credibility moment, and the longer we can go without destroying the impression that the elected government has power, the better.

Why did the iraqi elections happen?

There were predictions of widespread violence. It didn't happen, the elections went smoothly with essentially no violence -- less violence than on a typical day in iraq. Why was that? Why were the predictions wrong?

It probably wasn't because of our security. We were stretched way too thin. Unless the ban on cars did it. Say there was a significant attack, and afterward the insurgents tried to scatter. If they moved by vehicle they could be blasted from the air, and if they didn't move by vehicle they couldn't get real far. We could cordon off an area and find them. Maybe? There are bound to be some tactical consequences of that if it's true.

But there weren't many attempts to disrupt the elections. Why not? The media had predicted there would be.

A second factor is that in the places where there was a consensus against elections, the elections did not happen. No polling places = no violence. But that was a minority of sites.

Here's what makes sense to me. I can't claim a whole lot of evidence for it, though it's compatible with all the evidence I've seen.

I claim that the iraqi insurgency is divided into four components. Those are:

1. Foreign fighters and their supporters. These are few and weak, but they know how to get media attention. Presumably some of them are led by someone or something with the label Zarqawi. Their primary purpose is to fight americans and they don't care how many iraqis die in the process. They like having US troops pinned down in iraq. An estimated 5000 foreign fighters are keeping130,000+ americans stuck like flypaper. They don't like shias and shias don't like them. So if US troops left and a shia-dominated government took over iraq that would be bad for them.

2. Iraqi resistance. These are iraqis who choose to fight americans. Most of them are sunnis at present, the shias are conserving their strength and training but not doing much fighting. Their shared goal is to get the occupation troops out. They may disagree on lots of other things but they can try not to discuss that until later.

3. Gangsters. These are iraqis who choose to rob people. They can pretend to be the resistance or not. Sometimes they are the resistance; underfunded groups may get funds that way.

4. Fake iraqi resistance. These are people who pretend to be the resistance for purposes other than theft. Followers of one politician might kill another politician and blame it on the resistance. Foreign hit teams might kill anybody they think would help iraq get strong later. Etc.

Groups 1 & 4 might want the elections not to happen because they don't want iraq to improve.

Group 2 might want the elections not to happen because they think it's another scam to make the puppet government look more legitimate.

Group 3 wouldn't care.

The obvious approach for group 2 is to argue the case with iraqis. But if iraqis do choose to vote, would they kill random citizens for it? That would be stupid. They need support from those citizens. They might bomb a polling station before it opens to kill puppet-government employees and the troops guarding them, but what good is it to kill random people who simply disagree about voting? That would mean admitting that they think the random citizens are their enemies. And there's always a chance the elected puppet government will show some spine and tell the americans to go away. It would be *unpopular* for them to kill people who vote.

In the end it's only group 1 who'd attack the polls, and they're weak. They would make a big fuss in the media ahead of time, but then they couldn't do a whole lot.

And I think that's what happened.