- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

The Bush administration’s four-fold political benchmarks for quelling Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic convulsions and mayhem are implausible. Their achievements would require trust and magnanimity unprecedented not only in annals of the Middle East but in struggles for political power generally. The administration’s fashioning of its Iraq war policy premised on political miracles is the very definition of frightful folly.

The administration is hectoring Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to orchestrate through a splintered Parliament a law that would assign primary control over Iraq’s current and future oil fields to the national government. The fields lie predominantly in the Kurdish-controlled north and the Shi’ite-controlled south. The contemplated law, however, would distribute revenue per capita. That would mean a dramatic redistribution of wealth from the Kurds and Shi’ites to Sunnis, who generally occupy oil-starved geography. It is hoped that the Sunni insurgency would be suppressed by the oil bribe.

Kurdish and Shi’ite leaders are predictably balking. Revenue is the lifeblood of any government. The Kurdistan regional government would become a slave to the Shi’ite-dominated national government if control over its oil resources were yielded. The Kurdish ambition for independent statehood would be arrested. Further, Kurds scoff at sympathizing with Sunnis, who attempted a Kurdish genocide featuring chemical weapons under Saddam Hussein. Would United States President Abraham Lincoln have preached charity for all and malice towards none if the Confederacy had attempted a racial genocide with the rack and screw?

Shi’ites echo the Kurdish execrations of Sunnis for comparable reasons. They were repressed by Sunnis from the birth of Iraq: and, they were brutalized by Saddam after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In addition, many covet a Shi’ite-led regional government in the south with de facto independence underwritten by gushing oil revenues that would be siphoned off to Baghdad with a national oil law.

Even if the latter were enacted, Sunnis would not trust its enforcement. They would remain a slender minority in a government dominated by Shi’ites, who honor the rule of law more in the breach than in the observance, for example, the constitution’s prohibition of private militias.

The administration is also championing a rollback of the purge of Saddam’s reviled Ba’ath party members to entice Sunnis into peaceful politics. But relaxing the purge is not politically viable. Shi’ites adamantly oppose permitting their former oppressors back into government. The United States, nevertheless, is pleading with them to display greater magnanimity and trust towards their bitter sectarian and political enemy than the North did towards the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. But Shi’ites will never voluntarily surrender power to Sunnis, whom they believe would be fifth columnists.

Prime Minister al-Maliki’s dismantling of private militias is a third utopian administration benchmark. The militias thrive because the government is dysfunctional. The former provide protection and social services to their respective sectarian or ethnic constituencies. They are cohesive and strong because militia members are willing to die for the group. The national government commands no comparable loyalty among the armed forces or police. Few if any will risk that last full measure of devotion to save the prime minister’s decrepit government. From its inception in 1920, Iraq has been an artificial nation born from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire for the convenience of Great Britain. Its inhabitants feel far more devotion to their religious or ethnic cohorts than towards the national government. National symbols enjoy less respect than their parochial counterparts. In the north, for instance, the Kurdish flag waves while the national flag is unseen. Saddam’s overthrow did not change the centrifugal cultural and political dynamics of Iraq. Mr. al-Maliki is thus no more capable of disarming the militias than King Canute was capable of making the waves go back. Mr. al-Maliki’s orders to that effect would be ignored.

The Bush administration’s fourth prayer is for an amendment to Iraq’s constitution to propitiate Sunni ultimatums for more power and revenue. Sunnis are insisting on an amendment that would prohibit the establishment of a Shi’ite regional government in the south with Kurdish-like autonomy. Sunnis fear that if regional governments blossomed, they would lose economically and politically. They occupy a homeland in central Iraq with spare resources.

Political power is a zero sum game. Every gain by one faction means a loss for another. Shi’ites have no incentive to confer power on Sunnis at their own expense. Shi’ites have militias, numbers, weapons, organization and Iran on their side. And even if Shi’ites accommodated the Sunni demand for greater constitutional protection, no Sunni leader could deliver the insurgents at the peace table. Accordingly, amending the Iraqi constitution to advantage Sunnis is no more likely than Republicans voting to enable the District of Columbia to elect two United States senators.

The Bush administration’s benchmarks represent another of its signature triumphs of delusion over reality.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and The Lichfield Group. He is also chairman of the American Freedom Agenda, an organization dedicated to restoring checks and balances and protections against government abuses.

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