I noted an Op-Ed last week that pinned the blame on the recent ban of 5oo or so candidates on Ahmed Chalabi. (Of interest: the writers, Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon, demanded that Vice President Biden intervene. Five days later, Vice President Biden personally intervened.)
Anyhow. The NYT published a letter today from Francis Brooke, an adviser to Chalabi, responding to the op-ed(and, in a broader sense, the narrative that has taken shape claiming that Chalabi is the driving force behind the bans. A narrative that I have discussed in this very space on the Internet!)
Brooke, who has been working with Chalabi for nearly two decades, writes:
It is always amusing to those of us active in Iraqi politics to see the superhuman powers attributed to Ahmad Chalabi by his detractors in the American punditocracy. In the Jan. 18 Op-Ed article by Kenneth M. Pollack and Michael E. O’Hanlon (“Iraq’s Ban on Democracy”), the inside-the-Beltway fear of a lone Iraqi politician reaches new levels of hysteria.
Brooke goes on for two more short paragraphs, justifying De-Baathification and suggesting that it’s popularly supported by the Iraqi people and government, and explaining why:”A visit to the torture chambers and mass graves left behind by the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein or a meeting with the Baath Party’s victims would make clear why.”
What’s interesting about this–Biden’s intervention, Chalabi’s role, the U.S. panic–is that its gets to this American notion of an Iraq that must be governed by “the rule of law.” The rule of law is the current favorite talking point among U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Baghdad.
The Americans have said that the move to bar the 500 politicians is “illegal;” Chalabi and the Accountability and Justice Commission, along with PM Maliki, have countered that, actually, they are following the law–a law that the Americans put in place under Paul Bremer in 2003, and which was later passed again by the Iraqi parliament in 2008.
So how are the Americans responding to this? With extra-legal means–having Biden come to Iraq to put pressure on Iraqi leaders so they can put pressure on Iraq’s Supreme Court to deliver the outcome that the Americans want.
I’ll have more to say on this in the days ahead–riveting to everyone, I’m sure–but it gets to one of the main issues that Iraq is facing. The “rule of law” assumes, or hopes for, as the Americans see it, a legal system that is held up by independent institutions that can enforce the law more or less objectively.
In reality, though, Iraqi politics is not about institutions, it’s about personalities and power. And, per usual, the U.S. had to confront the reality of Iraq versus their rhetoric–to make up for the lack of actual institutions, the Americans had to enlist their own personality, Biden(and, the U.S. mouthpiece in this case, President Talabani) to lobby for what they consider is a “legal” solution.
What’s actually legal? I’ve heard a convincing case from a knowledgeable expert saying that what the commission has done is in fact legal; it’s also been signed off on by the Independent High Electoral Commission, and supported by the Prime Minister’s office, and, I believe, already has been passed on by the courts. (It seems like it will go to the courts again, though.) The Americans contend that there isn’t actually a law to ban the candidates from running–that the Accountability and Justice Committee doesn’t have legal authority to do so. But they’ve done it, and all we have is the U.S. interpretation of the law, versus the Iraqi goverment’s interpretation of the law.
But, again, it doesn’t matter–and has never really mattered in this case–what is technically legal or illegal. What matters is who can marshal the power, using legality and the pretense of legitimate government institutions as cover, to achieve the the outcome they desire.