Day: January 8, 2011

Repeating the allegations doesn’t make them true

Chuck Sudetic, whom I know and respect, in his Washington Post op/ed Saturday repeats Dick Marty’s allegations about high-level criminal activity in Kosovo in 1999-2000, this time without the important reservation that no forensic investigation has been conducted and no claims of guilt or innocence can be made.  This is pretty rich, coming from the co-author of Carla Del Ponte’s memoir.  Carla was the Hague Tribunal prosecutor who failed herself to mount a serious investigation of these allegations but nevertheless saw fit to include them, briefly, in the memoir.

Marty’s report, Chuck says, does not attack Kosovo’s legitimacy, but as is now well known Marty himself took a strong stand against Kosovo independence, on legal grounds that have now been vitiated in their entirety by the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  Are we to believe, as Chuck claims, that the Marty report “draws upon Albanian eyewitnesses and insiders as well as Western intelligence and police agencies, and not upon the Albanians’ foe, the government of Serbia”?  There are clear signs in the Marty report of information coming from Serbia, whether directly or through those Western intelligence and police agencies.

I repeat what I have said previously:  I do not know the truth or falsity of the allegations, precisely because no serious forensic investigation has been conducted.  That is what is needed, complete with the latest scientific techniques as well as witness protection, which Chuck rightly calls for.

He is also correct in one other important respect:  these allegations, even if true, are no grounds for calling into question Kosovo’s legitimacy as an independent state.  Does anyone think Croatia less legitimate as a state because its former prime minister now stands accused of corruption?  Or that Serbia should not be independent because it was led for many years by a president accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity?  Those who have tried to open up this line of attack are doing their own cause a serious disservice, and making it difficult for both Pristina and Tirana to do what they should, namely cooperate fully with a serious investigation.

Chuck exaggerates American responsibility in this matter, referring repeatedly to the United States and its diplomats as if only what they say goes.  But Washington and Brussels together can and should exert the pressure needed to get a serious investigation under way, with full cooperation from Pristina, Tirana and Belgrade.

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Better inside the tent

The return this week of firebrand political/religious/militia leader Moqtada al Sadr to Baghdad is a major event for Iraqi politics.  Matt Duss offers a fine summary of Sadr’s significance at the Wonk Room.   To make a long story short, Sadr left Iraq more than three years ago for religious studies in Qom (and likely also Tehran) in order to gain at least a minimal claim as heir to his father’s and father-in-law’s religious prestige, as well as the title of ayatollah.  During his time away, Iraq’s frighteningly violent Shia/Sunni violence ended, in part because Prime Minister Maliki ordered Iraqi security forces into action against Sadr’s militia, the Mehdi Army, in both Basra and Baghdad.

But enmity is not forever.  Sadr’s political movement won 40 seats in the Iraqi parliament last March, threw its political support behind a second mandate for Maliki at a critical moment in the fall, and now occupies eight ministerial posts in the recently confirmed second Maliki government.  Sadr has played his political cards well.

He is a notoriously erratic person, but so far his return seems clearly targeted on maintaining and increasing his political weight, rather than returning to any kind of violent insurgency. He and his people are talking up Iraqi nationalism and the Iraqi state, talking down the occupation and the Americans (and insisting they leave Iraq by the agreed deadline of December 31) and warning that they will be watching the government’s performance in delivering services to the poor, who in the Shia parts of Iraq are enthusiasts for Sadr. The fondest hope of those of us who watch Iraq is that disputes will be settled nonviolently in the parliament and provincial councils as well as the courts, not to mention our hope that the people of Iraq will get better services.  If Sadr remains on his current path, the news is definitively good.

But what, you may ask, of the charges against Sadr for the murder of his archrival Abdul Majid al Khoei in 2003?  No one should forget it, that is for sure, and the Khoei family won’t allow us to. This is one of those difficult cases where justice and peace diverge:  accountability would require an arrest and trial; peace requires restraint.  Until sufficient evidence can be brought before an Iraqi court, and a trial conducted in an atmosphere conducive to finding the truth and acting on it, I am afraid accountability will have to wait.  Surely Maliki has had to guarantee that Sadr would not be arrested on his return to Baghdad, and the fact that the Americans can no longer arrest anyone without Iraqi government cooperation gives that guarantee credibility.  And it is still possible that Maliki will find it necessary to give the Sadrists one of the security portfolios in his new government–several key positions remain in caretaker status.

It is important before condemning Maliki’s political pragmatism to realize that Sadr is not just an individual.  Scion of a leading religious family, he leads a substantial political movement with deep roots in Iraqi Shia-dom (not to mention those 40 seats in parliament).  I’d be the last to excuse murder because of that, but the Iraqi state and justice system will have to be far stronger than it is today before it reckons with Sadr’s alleged accountability in the murder of Khoei, not to mention the many less well known Iraqis who died at the hands of the Mehdi Army.  If ever Sadr presents a real threat to Maliki, I have no doubt what the pragmatic prime minister is capable of.  But for the moment, even from an American perspective it is better to have Moqtada inside the tent peeing out.

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A woolen, not a velvet, divorce

Tomorrow is the first voting day of the South Sudan independence referendum, which ends on January 15.  Registration seems to have gone reasonably well, people are returning in substantial numbers to the South to vote, and Sudanese President Bashir has visited Juba, the South’s capital, and said the right things about accepting the results.  It is universally anticipated that the vote will go heavily for independence, which will occur six months hence in accordance with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

But this will be no “velvet” divorce between consenting and cooperating capitals.  There are still many issues to be resolved:  demarcation of the north/south border, holding of the Abyei region referendum, division of oil and oil revenue as well as debts  and water rights, citizenship rights for northerners in the South and southerners in the North, traditional grazing rights for nomadic pastoralists…the list goes on.  There are also problems that are likely to arise within the South, rife with local disputes, and within the North, some of whose politicians will see separation of the Christian and traditionalist South as allowing the mostly Muslim North to take a distinctly more Islamist direction.

So this is likely to be a bit rougher than Czechoslovakia, but nowhere near as rough as Serbia/Kosovo, where more than two years after independence Belgrade is unwilling to recognize the breakaway state.  Belgrade and Pristina haven’t even begun to deal with the many practical issues they need to resolve–at least Khartoum and Juba have begun discussions under the aegis of former South African President Mbeki.  A woolen divorce, at best, not a velvet one.

Of course a lot more could still go wrong.  The most likely problems seem to be South/South violence, violence against southerners in the North or northerners in the South, conflict over Abyei and other border areas, or failure to agree on oil, which has to flow from the South through the North in order to get to market.  The South by any standard is a weak state with little real control over its territory or capacity to delivery even rudimentary services to its population.  The North is significantly stronger, but its writ does not run much outside the Nile riverine population, it faces an active insurgency in Darfur, and its president has been indicted by the International Criminal Court.

Let’s give credit, however, to those who have at least avoided a crisis in the past few months.  The U.S. Government laid out a clear menu of carrots for the North and has also restrained its southern allies, who have patiently sat out abuse and air attacks in Abyei so as not to upset the referendum process.  The Chinese appear to have used their long-standing influence with the North and their new-found clout with the South to convince both that getting the oil investments they need requires maintaining stability.  The UN has redeployed its forces in the South towards the new country’s northern border, and the U.S.–working closely with other countries and international organizations–is amping up its assistance throughout the South.

Credit, if stability holds for the next week and beyond, above all should go to the leaderships in Khartoum and Juba, but not because they are good guys.  While neither has been willing or able in the last six years to “make unity attractive,” both seem to understand that peace will serve their purposes better than renewed war.  The South will gain the independence President Salva Kiir has always wanted, with ample dollops of foreign aid to ease the transition.  The North will lose a part of the country it hasn’t really controlled for decades and gain a good deal more leeway to pursue its Islamic vocation.  Bashir may well also imagine that behaving well will gain him some measure of immunity from the ICC indictment, as well as some relief from U.S. and other sanctions.

One note for those who believe the U.S. can only influence world events with military intervention, a category that includes many who favor it as well as many who oppose it.  Look ma:  no troops.  It is too early to declare success, but if success is to be declared it will have been achieved without the instrument that too many people think is the only effective one.  Diplomacy is messy–who wants to see Bashir continue in power and gain credit simply for avoiding creation of a crisis?  It is also risky–things could easily come apart before independence.  But if a crisis has been postponed for six, or twelve, or eighteen months, that is a big plus, one we should all applaud and try to sustain.

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