Options in Fallujah and about those elections…

My friend George over at Warblogging has a post today on the proposed ID system for Falujahns when they return to their shattered city. George is not amused. Here’s why he’s wrong.

My friend George over at _Warblogging_ has a post today on the proposed ID system for Fallujans when they return to their shattered city. George is not amused.
In short, the plan — as reported in “various media”:http://www.boston.com/news/world/articles/2004/12/05/returning_fallujans_will_face_clampdown/ — will mean that

troops would funnel Fallujans to so-called citizen processing centers on the outskirts of the city to compile a database of their identities through DNA testing and retina scans. Residents would receive badges displaying their home addresses that they must wear at all times. Buses would ferry them into the city, where cars, the deadliest tool of suicide bombers, would be banned.

George, and others, compare this to the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II, along with all the Nazi imagery you can imagine.
I’m not so sure I buy this. While I think the solution proposed is distasteful and highly unlikely to improve Americans’ rock-bottom standing in Iraq, I fail to see any realistic alternative. The problem is this: Fallujah was a nerve center of an insurgency that has killed U.S. soldiers and thousands of innocent Iraqis. (It wasn’t the brain or the hub, but it was an important staging area.) How do you let the citizens back while keeping the insurgents out while keeping it a free and open city? Well, after some thought, I think that you just can’t let it be a free and open city.
Is this a violation of Fallujans’ rights? Or course. But does the good it _might_ do for the rest of the country outweigh the bad that is done in Fallujah? That’s the question. I’m not sure what the equation is, but allowing insurgents back into Fallujah is not really an option.
The real crime here is not the requirement for Fallujans to wear ID badges or even to make the men work at reconstruction. The real crime is that poor planning and wishful thinking regarding the future of 25 million people has narrowed the universe of available options to a series of iron-fisted tactics that range from horrible to truly catastrophic.
The straitjacket election schedule isn’t helping matters either. Again, all the options are bad. Holding elections on Jan. 30 means that the Sunnis — about 20 percent of the country — will be excluded from a process that will result in a permanent constitution. This is not a scenario that suggests stability, even if Sunni members of the new 275-seat national parliament are somehow appointed. If the elections aren’t seen as legitimate by the Sunnis, they won’t see the resulting Constitution as legitimate, either. Can you say continued insurgency?
But postponing the elections is a non-starter, too, because the Shi’a will be royally pissed off. Sistani and the rest of the _merjariya_, the Shi’a religious leadership, have been working on elections for months. Dawa, SCIRI and Bayt al-Shi’a have been organizing and getting their lists together. They are fully expecting to win the elections and take the majority of seats in Parliament and form a new government.
But the stability in the Shi’a areas is tenuous. There are signs the Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army may be moving into positions to cause trouble again. Any moves to postpone what the Shi’a regard as their rightful opportunity to finally assert their control over Iraq as the majority party could be the trigger that starts a new insurgency. And with the rumors that Shi’a militia have formed to exact revenge on Sunni militia, you have yet another seed for sectarian conflict. There are real reasons for concern.
(Aside: The newly formed Shi’a militia, it is said, has a wicked cool name: The Fury Brigade.)
Sistani was only reluctantly persuaded to drop the idea of direct elections in June this year after U.N. special representative Lakdar Brahimi convinced him it wasn’t possible. Could he be persuaded a second time? I don’t know. I have hope that he could be, as he’s not completely unreasonable and the prospect of an election day carnage with Shi’a as the bulk of the victims might be too much for him to take.
Brahimi has said the country is in no shape for elections and many Sunni groups are pleading for postponement. But Dr. Farid Ayar, the spokesman for the Independent Election Commission in Iraq, told me that elections would not be postponed for “any” reason. Well, he allowed, maybe if an earthquake destroyed every city in Iraq, “including this convention center,” then maybe they would delay the elections. Or if all the planes carrying the ballots crashed and burned, they might delay the vote for five days to print new ones.
That Farid sure is a jokester.
[UPDATE: One commenter said the U.S. should just pull out, which is the same position that “George holds”:http://www.warblogging.com/archives/000991.php. I disagree and the spectre of civil is “why.”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000807.php#000807 (Read down a bit.) In short, civil war on top of a major source of the world’s oil supply would mean astronomical oil prices, possible collapse of the U.S. — and world — economy and regional conflict that could lead to Turkish and Iranian interventions. Does that sound fun? I didn’t think so. And that’s not even considering the human cost.]
For what it’s worth, I think the elections will be postponed a while — and I even have $5 riding on the decision — even though there’s no legal framework to postpone them. That may just be my still-intact naïveté that with an insecure situation that would see 20 percent or so of the country disenfranchised and the fears of a high body-count, the U.S. and its allies in Iraq won’t be so obstinate to force flawed elections down Iraqis’ throats. I’m fully prepared to be wrong and pay that $5. I just hope the Iraqis and the Americans are prepared to pay a much higher price.
So you see why I’m not up in arms over the plight of the poor Fallujans. The problems of Iraq are so huge that forced name badges in one town are just the symbols of a much greater problem — which is poor planning, sectarian tensions and unrealistic expectations from a country that may be ungovernable except under a dictatorship. Don’t diminish the horrors of the Nazis by such facile comparisons. The Holocaust was policy; the Tragedy of Iraq is a series of horrific blunders.