Friday, March 24, 2006

America's Northern Ireland Redux

Commentary by Martin Kelly
February 22, 2005

There is now no doubt that George W. Bush is the worst President in the history of the United States.

The final nail in his credibility’s coffin was the result of the Iraqi elections, announced on February 13. The materialisation of the Shia parties’ expected majority means that the future of Iraq could very possibly be the illiberal, murderous Sharia law practiced in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and northern Nigeria – unless other, even more dreadful conditions await round the corner.

The neoconservatives have complained that for decades the Americans have been the janissaries of the Saudis Wahhabis– Bush has made them the janissaries of the Iraqi Shia. Ayatollah al-Sistani could never have hoped for a better and more faithful servant, because Bush has become the first president to make Islamotheocratic oppression the official consequence of American foreign policy.

But at the same time, the Ulsterfication of Iraq is now almost complete.

Congratulations, Mr. President.

The idea that Iraq is now to the USA what Northern Ireland has been to the United Kingdom was originally put into the public domain by John Farmer in 2003, and the development of the synergy between the political and security situations in Iraq more than bears out the analysis.

What the elections have done is manifest in Iraq the root problem of Northern Ireland politics, a dominant political majority with common religious beliefs that brook no compromise with those of the minority.

This situation has two inevitable outcomes; civil war and the suspension of government.

When whatever Iraqi government that can be formed comes into being, it is likely that one of the first things to happen is that a Sunni minority party will walk out because of an issue on which they say there can be no compromise. This will happen because of the failure of the Coalition to manage the peoples’ expectations of how democracy works.

Consensual government will then collapse.

The USA and UK will require to intervene in the resulting civil war, and will find that the loss of blood and treasure incurred to get the country to the stage of elections will be nothing as to the losses to come when the Shia and Sunni start shooting each other in a sectarian conflict, and not ‘just’ within four provinces.

After thousands more deaths, the civil war will eventually be ended by a peace conference, probably in Vienna or Paris, at which all factions will be photographed signing resplendently-bound documents with great flourishes and kissing each others’ cheeks.

The resulting government will last approximately one year. After that time, one party will be caught spying on another, or in other counter-democratic activities. The government will be suspended and the USA will have to assume direct control, which will continue indefinitely.

And all the while the ghastly neck-smiters will be terrorising the people in order to chase the infidel from Arab lands.

The very fact that the elections have produced the outcome they have gives a very telling insight into how the Iraqi people are beginning to perceive themselves and each other. They now see themselves as Shia or Sunni first and Iraqi second, and countries where elections are prayers have no meaningful future, because if an election’s outcome is the will of God, who is Man to question it? Or to seek re-affirmation of His will at a later date?

The die was cast for Iraq when Sharia law was permitted as a source for the constitution. The failure of the Coalition to demand a complete separation of church and state was utterly shameful, and probably a cack-handed multicultural compromise designed to ensure that the Coalition was being ‘inclusive’.

But the sectarianism that informs the democratic process in Northern Ireland is as nothing to the sectarianism of Sunni and Shia. After all, the Reformation is only 500 years old; Islamic sectarian enmity dates back 1,300 years. Historic hatreds will bubble to the surface very quickly, making the country ungovernable.

Instead of making Iraq a beacon for democracy for the Middle East, it may be on its way to becoming one of the fabled ‘failed states’.

If anybody thinks this is impossible, look at Northern Ireland now, a country with a strong democratic but sectarian tradition. Its civil war was fought in the shadows, masquerading as terrorism, but it was civil war nonetheless. The Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved in 2002 on the direct orders of Tony Blair, because of the bad faith of Sinn Fein/IRA. Elections have since been held for a new assembly, with both groups gravitating towards the extreme electoral choices.

Even after elections, there is no prospect of devolved rule returning to Northern Ireland in the foreseeable future. And if that can happen in a country with a democratic tradition, why shouldn’t we expect it to happen in Iraq?