Finished Alan Moore's ABC comic Terra Obscura vol 2. Much better than Tomorrow Stories: had a continuing storyline to keep things interesting. Not amazing, but a good solid read.
Too much RSS surfing?
Had a minor panic when Google Reader stopped updating for most of Monday morning. Had to hastily export/import the feeds to Bloglines to get my content fix.
Looked at the stats page, and wondering if I might be going a little over the top on the feeds lately:
From your 85 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 12,149 items, starred 1 items, and shared 0 items.Slightly worried by the "Time of Day" graph, which seems to have me surfing the web for about 18 hours per day. Might need to unsubscribe from a few feeds.
What I'm Reading 2
Finally finished The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace by Ali A. Allawi, who was a minister in the interim government.
It's a tricky subject to put into context. Firstly, whenever you look in detail at the planning and execution of either a war or politics, it always appears more chaotic, haphazard and improvised from the inside than the outside. on a case like Iraq where there is a great deal of frantic blame-placing, it's particularly hard to distinguish normal chaos from chaos due to incompetence.
Secondly, everyone involved in such an enterprise, from government officials to senior army officers to civil servants, has mastered at least basic ass-covering, and will never make a decision without having a caveat safely on record, or a scapegoat ready to blame.
Allawi seems to aggrandizing his own achievements somewhat, and playing up the excuses for the interim governments problems more than some of the other actors. In general though, he seems pretty even-handed and honest about the situation.
Overall, he doesn't say much here that's brand new, but as an insider he is able to put together a very detailed and comprehensive account of the occupation of Iraq. Allawi starts off with descriptions of the situation in Iraq before the invasion, what was known about it and what was not, and the status of the various exiles movements. It's clear now that Western intelligence was scanty and inaccurate about all aspects of the situation. Both Shia and Sunni religious movements were much stronger than expected. The Shia al-Sadr movement seems to have been to strong for even Saddam Hussein to take on directly, and was reluctantly tolerated. Sunni fundamentalism was encouraged by Saddam as a counterbalance in the sanctions period. The physical infrastructure of the state was barely functional. Corruption existed but was checked by Mukhabarat secret police. The middle class had been badly diminished by emigration and by economic hardship.
The Western intelligence failures thus extended far beyond the weapons of mass destruction. Overall, Iraq was believed to be a far more stable and functional state than it was, as if the official Ba'athist propaganda was close to the truth.
The war itself is not covered in great detail. Allawi moves swiftly on to the initial occupation under the Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA is damned with detailed analysis of all its actions and failures. The overall picture is one of incompetence, arrogance and denial of reality. Under both Jay Garner and Paul Bremner it worked at cross-purposes with other organizations from the Iraqi representatives to the UN and US military. The biggest failures are pretty well known. The biggest mistake seems to have been disbanding the Iraqi army. While the Bremner explanation is that the army "disbanded itself", it could almost certainly have been restructured without too much difficulty. The army contained both Shia and Sunni units, so would not have been an intrinsically partisan force. Given the relatively small US presence, and the failure to attract large numbers of other coalition troops, the Iraqi army was the only organization left big enough to maintain order.
Other mistakes were with the rapid privatisation and opening up of the Iraqi economy. Private enterprise failed to create the same level of employment as the large state-owned enterprises. Iraqi business interests were alienated as they found themselves unable to compete with foreign competition.
De-ba'athification is counted as a failure by Allawi but seems to me to have been a trickier issue. It's not clear to me whether it went too far in shutting competent and useful officials out of the state, or not far enough in permitting corrupt or insurgent Ba'athist networks to flourish.
The other chief mistake was not taking the insurgency seriously enough at an early stage. Militias and insurgents were allowed to take root early.
Allawi then moves on to the interim government and elected government. By his account, the damage done by the CPA in the early stages was too great for the interim government to repair. The breakdown in law and order was too great, the forces available insufficient, the communal tensions increased too much.
In spite of the title, Allawi leaves open the big question: whether a more effective CPA could have created a stable Iraq, or whether the inherent tensions in Iraqi society would always have boiled over when the Ba'athist security state was removed.
Overall, the book is very dry read, choked with acronyms. If you want a serious, detailed account of what actually happened in Iraq though, it's hard to beat.
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