Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Iraqization of Lebanon

Some of the most coveted ministries in Iraq are those that have a military or security element attached to them. Why these security portfolios are in such high demand is no big secret. Parties like the Islamic Dawaa, SICRI and others seek to legitimize their militias by dressing them up as police, border guards, or army personnel without having to give up any authority over them.

Consequently, rather than a state, Iraqis are left with a police force that pays allegiance to at least one za3im or cleric, army platoons, companies, and commanders who pay homage to similar characters.... And the list goes on.

For a painfully detailed description of exactly what is transpiring in that country, I recommend that you read Dexter Filkins' Armed Groups Propel Iraq into Chaos, which was published in the NY Times today.

The reason for bringing this topic up is because of the implications these developments may have on Lebanon and its struggle with regards to Hizballah. True, all the other militias were incorporated into the state security services; but at least Lebanese Army units are mixed... and whereas individual soldiers and officers may have allegiances to non-state actors, you hardly have entire units that are cohesive to the extent that they are able to pay allegiance to one za3im.

Unfortunately though, the proposals to incorporate Hizballah into the Lebanese Army, differ significantly from what took place in the immediate aftermath of the civil war. Hizballah's military elements will not be disbanded, shuffled and incorporated into the Lebanese Army. It's Command and Control structure, for all I know, will remain in tact. The only difference between Hizballah today, and Hizballah (as a unit of the Lebanese Army) will be that it parades alongside the Army on our Independence Day. The militia already wears uniforms that resemble the Army's and, relatively recently, began carrying the Lebanese flag.

There is another element of the Iraqi situation that may have implications on the situation in Lebanon with regards to Hizballah. This element stems from the fact that there are several active militias in Iraq, as compared to only two or three ministries that traditionally control security agencies. In response, and with assistance from the (hapless???) Americans, several security apparatuses have been created for different ministries.

For example, a heavily armed "highway patrol" has been created, that reports to the minister of transportation. The Facilities Protection Service reports to several ministries and none simultaneously. It is even unclear which ministry controls Iraq's Border Guards.

So what does all this have to do with Lebanon? Well... think. Think about the most contentious issue the country faces and the solutions that have been proposed. If the Iraqi precedent can be used to foretell Lebanon's future, it would tell us that Hizballah's "integration" into the Lebanese Armed Forces would mean nothing but cosmetic changes.

However, the more likely outcome is that Hizballah's leadership will only accept such a proposal if it is guaranteed a ministerial portfolio that its military wing will fomally report to. This portfolio will either be the Defense, or an entirely new concoction, such as the Resistance Portfolio. The benefit of a "Resistance" portfolio could be that Hizballah would not even have to go through the motions of integration with the Army - however superficial such motions may be. Ultimately, Hizballah will retain both the integrity and cohesiveness of its armed wing. It would also retain complete control at both the military and political levels.

When I look back at the early days of the Iraqi quagmire, and recall how academics and journalists alike kept referring to the "the Lebanonization of Iraq," I smile. It now appears that there is a simultaneous process that we can label: the Iraqization of Lebanon! Hizballah may be the grandaddy of Shi'a militias in the Arab world, but it definitely appears to be learning a few lessons from its counterparts in what used to be Iraq. And what makes the situation even worse is that the entire Lebanese political elite (especially the March 14 bunch) is complicit in this process - this reversal in the integrity of what is left of the Lebanese state.


Abu Kais said...

Merging Hizbullah with the Lebanese army is an unrealistic proposal. Hizbullah members only follow orders from their Shura council and supreme leader. They cannot and will not recognize the authority of a state institution. Even Hizbullah MPs answer to their leadership first. Their participation in government never meant they would pursue anything other than their own agendas. The only solution is to disarm/dismantle them. Bala integration into army bala water melon.

Doha said...

Thanks Raja for a grounded analysis.

hummbumm said...

I like the bala watermelon! sounds so funny in english. How do you spell battikh?

JoseyWales said...

Interesting points Raja.

But I think the broader problem is not details of arms. It's the very notion of subordinating ALL issues, and I mean ALL, to their agenda.

Their opponents are not doing a good job of spelling out that agenda, though HA's been very candid about it.

Also, they just said NO to intgrating in the ramy and disarming Fatah-Intifada who's shooting at the army.

Their position should be very easy to shoot down (besides saying they are Iranian).

Raja said...

josey, I guess the tragedy that I am pointing to through my post is that the proposed "solution" is hardly any better than the current situation (or, one could argue, Hizballah's desired outcome)!

JoseyWales said...

I understand and agree Raja,

But HA's framing the question: who's best to defend the country? Answer HA, not the army.

When it should be a given that the job is the army's. Then we can argue about a defense policy for the country, THROUGH the army's posture and rules of engagement.