(A post by See-Dubya)
There’s a long piece by a father and son team at Opinionjournal about the implementation of the Patriquin Plan (they don’t call it that) in Anbar province, Iraq. That’s the plan, of course, where the sheiks get involved on behalf of the US against the insurgents, leveraging one of the few solid civil-society networks still functioning there. The sheiks provide information about al-Qaeda infiltrators, and the U.S. scoops ’em up. Patterico’s been pushing this plan quite a while, as has Teflon Don.
I’m not sure whether this is the story of same sheik and the same incidents being told yet again, but even if it is, his success is ongoing and it’s a cause for optimism. It’s hard, for example, to argue with an endorsement like this:
In recent weeks, al Qaeda has struck back with suicide bombers, blowing up a Sunni mosque in the young sheik’s area, killing 40 worshipers, and then detonating a series of chlorine truck bombs in residential neighborhoods outside Fallujah. They hope that if they murder random groups of women and children, the tribes will fall back in line. These tactics have locked AQI in a fight to the death against the tribal leaders. It reflects an enemy who has lost popular support for his jihad, clinging to fear alone. Had any American analyst predicted AQI would attack local Sunnis with weaponized chemicals nine months ago, he would have been laughed at.
If that’s an accurate assessment, it explains a lot about those mysterious chlorine attacks. Why would AQI risk alienating the populace it seeks shelter and support from by such hideous attacks?
If I’m reading this article right, it’s like two big puzzle pieces clicking together. Answer, according to West and West, is that the Patriquin plan is working too well and united the people against AQI already. Al Qaeda had no goodwill left to lose, so they are trying intimidation instead.
I hope this continues to work, but I’m going to say something in the CPA’s defense. Major Patriquin said that initially, they were banned from working with the sheikhs in this way due to CPA orders, written by “25 year olds from Texas, and Paul Bremer”, and it insisted on working with elected officials only.
I completely understand their caution. From a military and counterinsurgency standpoint, relying on the sheikhs makes all kindsa sense. From a long-term political standpoint it’s dicey. Not all Arab sheikhs are so accommodating to US interests as this fine fellow in Al-Anbar. What’s more, sheikhdom is an anti-democratic force. Sheikhs aren’t elected, they aren’t accountable, and their power is based on tradition and not on merit or loyalty to the country. They are, in effect, a hereditary aristocracy…which is something meritocratic democracy is opposed to. (I can imagine Christopher Hitchens pitching a real hissy-fit about this sort of thing.)
If we are trying to make Iraq a democracy, the CPA was right to be concerned about political involvement by sheikhs, and giving them real permanent political and quasi-military powers seemed like a dangerous gamble. In 2004, it made sense not to do this and their reticence was prudent.
Now things have changed. The security situation is paramount; for any decent government to succeed there the bombs need to stop going off and the heads need to stay on shoulders. While I don’t go so far as the James Baker/ Iraq Study Group contention that we need to run blubbering to Iran and Syria crying make it stop! make it stop!, it is way past time to cut deals with anyone who can help us get the insurgency under control.
And the political situation might benefit as well. These aristocratic sheikhs may frustrate populist and sectarian putschs and machinations of Sadr and the like. Whereas before the thinking was, “oh no, the sheiks will act as a counterweight to Iraqi democracy!”, perhaps now the proper reaction is “hooray! the sheikhs will act as a counterweight to Iraqi democracy!”
It sounds like they could use a few checks and balances over there; while a politically empowered nobility of sheikhs is certainly not what I had in mind for Iraq, it’s pretty obvious that we could do much, much worse.
Cross-posted at Junkyard Blog.