All Politics Is Local


A new variation on the Good News From Iraq story comes from Nicolas Rothwell of The Weekend Australian, who reports that, even as the nation's political factions struggle to form a central government, much of the country is getting by without one:

Although the "good news" blogs that compile instances of Iraq's progress tend to present an over-rosy picture, the consistent progress being achieved on the ground, away from the headlines, highlights one of the stranger truths about post-Saddam Iraq: the country has devolved into a set of local fiefs, each effectively administering itself.

The lack of a central government with democratic legitimacy since the election result was announced has been an inconvenience rather than a disaster….It is common, in the Shia southern part of the country and even in the poorer districts of Baghdad, to find the preacher at a small mosque regarded as a political and moral authority, decider of disputes and dispenser of advice.

A similar role is played in Sunni regions by the heads of large, interconnected tribal groups that run businesses, dispense charity and provide a political lead for the entire community.

In the Kurdish north, a different system has developed over the past 12 years since full autonomy from Iraqi central control was achieved by a successful rebellion.

Local governmental structures, based on tribal lines of authority, have become the key to the success of the Kurdish region.

These local structures illustrate "two critical points about the new Iraq," Rothwell writes:

First, the interim administration presided over by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, for all its determination to restore Iraqi unity, lacked the sole persuasive argument Saddam Hussein relied upon: fear.

Second, the US occupying forces, despite their obtrusive presence, have had relatively little impact on the structures of Iraqi society, and the local politicians linked with them have not benefited from the association.