June 03, 2004

Iraqi New Deal, part 2.

How prescient. Right after endorsing Hassan Fattah's plan for an Iraqi New Deal, I find out that the US army is planning to try just that, scaling back military operations and focusing on building up infrastructure. Question: if CENTCOM's hyping the idea, can we really be sure it's wise?

Well, maybe. I'd prefer not to be as pessimistic as Spencer Ackerman, who, in addition to being grossly more informed than I, writes that 'restricting our security activities around the country cuts the legs right out from under that "base of support."' But honestly, what other choice do we have? Does Ackerman really have the stomach for endless shootouts in Kufa and Najaf? In the past few months, no tactic has proven less effective than large-scale violence. Maybe it's time to cut deals, make unsavory handshakes, and start focusing on the poverty and unemployment problems, in whatever chaotic manner is possible.

If The Washington Post's reporters can be believed, the latter strategy might have more legs than Ackerman thinks. Ali Abdul Kareem Madani, a senior Shiite Muslim cleric, chimes in with more 'poverty as a root cause' talk:
U.S. authorities in Baghdad have mainly blamed the violent insurgency for delays in rebuilding. Civilian contractors have retreated from the field, and often from the country, they note, and civilian U.S. officials have been hobbled by stringent security restrictions.

But for Madani, the converse is true: The delays in rebuilding have been a big reason for the violence. Thousands of young men, having been told their country would be swiftly rebuilt, have not found jobs, he said. And Baqubah's merchants, having heard of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts, still have not seen the money flow or the return of municipal services.
And meanwhile, the Post's Daniel Williams notes that Moqtada Sadr is drawing much of his support from—surprise!—the poor and unemployed:
Sadr City is far from unanimous in its support of Sadr. It is a jumbled neighborhood that has decayed and grown ever more cramped with the influx of Iraqis looking for work in the capital. On the south end of the enclave, where better-off Shiites live, there are posters extolling Sadr's virtues. But deeper into the slum, the posters of Sadr, his fingers thrust aggressively into the air, grow in number. At the northern fringes, hardly a wall does not bear his portrait.

Nassiri, the sociologist, said Sadr's main support lies among rural migrants who came to Baghdad and other cities over the past several decades to better their lives -- only to find cramped housing, overflowing sewers, an inadequate water supply and no jobs. The elder Sadr cultivated Iraq's rural Shiite poor. By contrast, the core followers of Sistani and other mainstream leaders include the Shiite merchant class, which is uncomfortable with Sadr's populist message.
It's certainly a catch-22 at this point. Allowing the militias to roam wild will alienate the middle class technocrats who are being shot and abducted daily. But large-scale violence will detract from the reconstruction efforts and allow Sadr to whisk away more impressionable youths. We've tried brute force; why not give the New Deal a chance?
-- Brad Plumer 8:36 PM || ||