Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Grand Finale

Well, we're coming down to the Iraqi election wire. And there are some interesting developments. As many of you know, one of the key factors that unites all of Iraq together is the desire to see the US leave. The problem, of course, is that is about the only thing that unites Iraq, and the odds of the central government being strong enough to contain those divisions is slim. So basically, if US troops leave, then the country collapses into civil war with no way to stabilize it. On the other hand, if US troops don't leave, the new government is automatically discredited and the country collapses into civil war anyway. Lovely options.

However, today Iraq'd reports that while establishment candidate Iyad Allawi has now jumped on the US withdrawal bandwagon, the front-running United Iraqi Alliance has begun to dilute its calls for a withdrawal. As the UIA gets closer to victory, it is starting to realize that immediate withdrawal of US troops would be catastrophic. However, if it is seen as breaking from the anti-occupation line, its support amongst the population could collapse.

Now here's where it gets interesting. The head of the UIA is Ayatollah Ali Sistani, probably the most respected and influential man in Iraq. If anybody can hold the country together while negotiating a reasonable US departure time, it is him. However, as Iraq'd notes, firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stands ready to exploit any mistakes made by Sistani. Al-Sadr also has significant support, especially in the slums, and he will certainly gain some at Sistani's expense if Sistani is seen as not sufficiently anti-occupation. So the stage is set for a royal rumble between two of Iraq's biggest players. Can Sistani hold off al-Sadr for long enough to get the US out? It will be a battle for the epics, with Iraq's future on the line. Count me as a Sistani supporter.

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