INC Kremlinology


In an operation titled "Crescent Rising," 1,000 troops with the Iraqi National Congress have been airlifted into southern Iraq. There are any number of reasons why this move makes sense. (The Times of London has a useful overview of the mission and its history.) But the interesting thing is that INC leader Ahmed Chalabi is reportedly with the mission, raising the question of whether Chalabi has won the contest to be our man in Iraq. It's unlikely Chalabi, reportedly not well known in Iraq, would be a good candidate to march through Baghdad like De Gaulle once it's secured, but consider some points.

On the one hand, this is a win for Chalabi's civilian backers in the Defense Department. I think Richard Perle was among Chalabi's patrons, though I could be wrong about that, but he is a favorite of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. That may not mean a whole lot—Chalabi also has considerable support within the U.S. Congress. However, his ascension has been opposed by the State Department and the CIA. Notably, the favorite candidate of both the State Department and the Financial Times, 80-year-old Adnan Pachachi, has not been doing much lately. As noted in a great story in The Scotsman, Rummy's faction has also rejected Secretary of State Powell's entire slate of postwar American civilian administrators. The CIA's alleged favorite, Nizar Khazraji, has made news lately, but mostly in a "Where's Waldo" capacity.

Chalabi is also being groomed for an advisory role in the planned postwar regime headed by General Jay Garner. His entry into Iraq suggests the Garner plan may be a done deal.

One big question: What of the non-U.S.-backed opposition? The followers of Ayatollah Bakr al Hakim are still cooling their heels in Iran, but at some point they're going to want to get in on the fun. Hakim's entry into the uprisings in 1991 was one of the factors in President GHW Bush's decision to let Saddam crush the rebellion. The problem is that Hakim would be a likely candidate to do the De Gaulle march, at least in some parts of the country. Can the U.S. keep him at a distance and still keep any credibility for its postwar administration?

And a bigger thing to wonder about: Why is it generally assumed that the U.S. must repeat past strategy by placing a minority Sunni Muslim administration in place in Iraq? (Chalabi is a Shi'a, but has gotten where he is by downplaying sectarianism.) That's not a rhetorical question: It seems like there could be at least a few reasons why rebuilding Iraq under the Shi'ite majority might be strategically adantageous. I don't understand why that's considered impracticable (and if anybody has any explanations, I'd be interested to hear them).