The Moscow Effect

The Battle for Baghdad rages on.  Some of the indices of coalition progress are positive: 

  • Civilian casualties fell 16% from July to August.
  • The areas “cleared and held” by coalition forces, including some of Baghdad’s toughest neighborhoods, witnessed a substantial decrease in terrorist attacks and sectarian violence.
  • The revival of neighborhood advisory councils provided a valuable interface between citizens and their security forces.
  • The revival of basic services – water, sewage, trash removal – stimulated economic activities in the “cleared” neighborhoods.

Other indices were poor.

  • Violence increased outside the “protected” areas – particularly revenge killings by militias.
  • Attacks on coalition troops, particularly Americans, increased, on direct order from Abu Ayyub al Masri, head of al Qaida in Iraq.

In his September 20th press briefing, Maj. General Joseph Peterson, in charge of coalition police operations in the Baghdad sector, remained optimistic.  In his view, the coalition effort to stand up a professional national police force is succeeding.  He pointed to several metrics:

  • successful recruitment, to supply the numbers of Iraqi police necessary to secure “cleared” areas;
  • officer training, to increase the corps’ professional competence;
  • enhanced equipment and logistic capabilities;
  • integration of militia members into the national police as individuals loyal to the state, not their parties (i.e., a professional esprit de corps.)

Maj. Gen. Peterson opined that Jawad al-Bulani, the Minister of the Interior, is competent and honest.  “We have worked for this last year,” he said, “… to improve the capabilities of the Ministry of Interior and its forces… And the ministry continues to grow in its ability.  Minister Bulani is certainly the right man for the right time.  I believe he is a man of integrity, a man of his word… He’s doing a great job to put in place the forces, and the leadership of those forces, that are needed to carry Iraq into its future.”

This is high praise coming from a coalition officer whose mission depends on the competence of his Iraqi counterpart.

The coalition’s slow success in Baghdad, so evident to the officers in charge, so obscure to the eyes of the casual observer, reflects certain basic facts about the Third World that are not apparent to “First World” news readers. 

When a Third World dictatorship is overthrown, the command-and-control system of patronage that it sustained collapses.  We call this “the Moscow effect.” 

In Saddam’s Iraq, 95%  of government revenue came from oil.  None of that was produced in Baghdad governate.  The dictator’s capital was the administrative center for the entire economy.  The nation’s electrical grid was compromised to provide power for Baghdad.  Subsidized state construction was centered in Baghdad.  Multiple overlapping security apparatuses were run out of Baghdad.  The provinces were starved so that Baghdad could live.

In many respects, the post-war situation in Baghdad resembles that of post-Soviet Moscow.  Every ministry had been controlled from the Soviet capital.  Every financial transaction of import required bureaucratic oversight. The end of state control meant massive unemployment at the state’s center.  The new government, lacking the coercive resources of its predecessor, could not maintain order.

In post-Soviet Russia, the resurgent rump of the Communist Party re-emerged in Moscow, while the pro-Democracy forces were centered in the states where extractive mineral industries were located.  The same migration of power can be seen in contemporary Iraq.  Order is being maintained in the oil-rich provinces: the Kurdish north and the Shi’ite south. While Baghdad bleeds, Suleimanyah holds trade fairs; Norweigan investors drill for new oil in Kirkuk; Wasit farmers harvest record crops of wheat and barley, and the Basra government increases the petroleum export capacity of its port.
The “center” cannot hold.  But in a federal system, it doesn’t have to.   The partial depopulation of the recidivist center of the old regime is a painful step in the establishment of the new. Labor and industry migrate on a competitive basis.  The oil provinces benefit from oil.  The ag provinces benefit from fertile soil.  And the provinces with effective security attract labor, capital and industry. 

Baghdad benefits from none of this.  It has an abundant population of trained retainers of the old regime, convinced that they’ve been robbed.  It has an abundant population of slum dwellers, underemployed and powerless.  And it has one thing Moscow never had: jihadi fanatics willing to die, and to kill, to vindicate their status as “victims”.

Throughout the Third World, impoverished slums are terrorized by gangland mobs – men who commit violence with one hand, while providing protection for cash with the other.  With growing prosperity, some mobs evolve into first into patronage rackets, then into governments.  Criminals unable to adjust are eventually exterminated like wild beasts.
Re-civilizing Baghdad will take time. Everything that strengthens the institutions of democratic capitalism will shorten that time.  Everything that weakens the new institutions will prolong the violence.

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