Iraqi State of Emergency: The Parliamentary Occupation

Yesterday a large number of Iraqi Shi’a stormed into the Green Zone in protest and occupied the Iraqi Parliament. The immediate driver of this activity was a call by Muqtada al Sadr for the Iraqi Parliament to actually convene and take a vote on pending legislation to force Iraqi Prime Minister al Abadi to replace ministers with non-partisan technocrats. The real cause of the unrest is with the way power is currently portioned out within the Iraqi government, which is partially done by sectarian allotment among Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, and Kurds. When the current Iraqi government’s institutions and structures were being rebuilt one of the reforms was a very, very soft form of consociational (confessional) representation. Perhaps the best known example of this type of system is in Lebanon where certain numbers of seats in the Lebanese Parliament and certain ministerial and military positions are reserved for members of specific Lebanese sects in order to force power sharing, compromise, and the creation of a functional civil space among the often hostile and antagonistic Lebanese sects.

Iraq’s system isn’t a full consociational system as the elections to Parliament are based on party lists, not sectarian quotas regarding seats. Though in practice the party lists have produced a Shi’a majority bloc, with both Kurdish, Sunni, and mixed sectarian minority blocs within the Iraqi Parliament. Iraq’s consociational system instead focuses on having some ministerial positions allotted in a consociational manner to force power sharing and compromise. It has, unfortunately, not always worked effectively, and has been a source of serious contention, and a conduit for corruption. One of Prime Minister al Abadi’s goals has been the reform of this system by transitioning it away from consociationalism based on sectarian confession (Shi’a and Sunni) and ethnicity (Kurd) and towards a technocratic form of government. Unfortunately this has been stalled out; largely because those currently benefiting from the consociational system don’t want to give up those benefits so the legislation is stalled and a quorum cannot be produced in Parliament. The longer it drags on, the more the frustration grows. And today a lot of that boiled over. The good news is that the Iraqi Security Forces are not treating this as a type of activity that requires a counterterrorism response. This is a very good sign and watching the response of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Interior Ministry will provide us with important information going forward.

Baghdad is itself currently in a state of emergency. Al Sadr has called for his followers to leave Parliament and instead sit in and occupy Grand Festivities Square. Earlier today the angry occupiers ran many of the Iraqi Parliamentarians out of the building and chased them through the streets, while others took shelter until it was safe to leave. It is important to remember that because of the security measures put into place under the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Interim Iraqi Government, this is the first time since 2003 that any Iraqi not part of the government and having business within the parliament building has actually been inside the Iraqi Parliament. While that in and of itself is truly revolutionary it is not clear whether the al Abadi government will be able to survive the crisis, which adds one more layer of complexity to Iraqi and American attempts to reduce and attrit the Islamic State and manage Iraqi Sectarian divisions to prevent a full fledged civil war.

It is unclear where things go from here. The Iraqi electoral process has always been held together with willpower, baling wire, and duct tape. As a result Iraq’s Parliament and government have never had full or widespread legitimacy. It is possible that cooler heads will prevail now that a scare has been put into the Iraqi Members of Parliament and progress will be made. It is also possible that the al Abadi government could fall or, even worse, the current Iraqi government structure could fail. Holding elections among the current Sectarian unrest and the challenges posed by the Islamic State would be hard enough to successfully complete. Having to reconceptualize and rebuild the Iraqi governmental structure would be something unprecedented, if it could even be done, under these conditions. As has too often been the case in Iraq over the past thirteen years, things are likely to get worse before they get better.

(Full disclosure: I know several elected members of Iraq’s national parliament who I met when deployed to Iraq in 2008. Two of them were classified as terrorists by the previous Prime Minister, al Maliki, in 2010 in order to flip the election results in his favor as they were on Ayad Allawi’s party list.)

129 replies
  1. 1
    Karen says:

    I can’t believe I’m asking you but it seems so complicated. Is there a Reader’s Digest version?

  2. 2
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Adam, why would you post something this dense this late on a weekend night?

  3. 3
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: It was in my head and wanted out. And this was the first chance I had to do it this evening.

  4. 4
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Karen: This is the Reader’s Digest version!

  5. 5
    redshirt says:

    Just let Iran take over Baghdad and areas South. Create Kurdistan in the North. Let the Sunnis join Syria. Done.

    Next problem?

  6. 6
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    What this country needs is a secular Sunni strongman to restore order and force a cutting out of the bullshit.


  7. 7
    NotMax says:

    Haven’t seen anything about it yet if occurred; waiting for al-Sistani to weigh in.

    The ramifications of U.S. forces breaking into, shutting down and destroying the ability to publish of al-Sadr’s newspaper during our illegal occupation continue to ripple. al-Sadr, though, does have a demonstrated history of taking things right to the edge and then pulling back (remember when he retired to Qoms to study?) and has carefully nurtured and maintained the clout to call for and enforce a stand down.

  8. 8
    Dr.McCoy says:

    IDK, it’s their country. WTF.
    Cheerleading for involvement?
    They were, what they were, for a millenia, till we needed their oil.
    Nation building, not a U.S. strongpoint.

  9. 9
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: I expect al Sistani to likely stay silent. As for al Sadr – he’s not actually wrong about this issue, but whether he gets reigned in or not will be up to Ayatullah Khameini. He seems to be the only one who has the ability to jerk the leash.

  10. 10
    NotMax says:

    Oh, BTW, baling wire, not bailing wire. As in wire used to wrap bales of hay.


  11. 11
    Kay (not the front-pager) says:

    I’ve been wondering what is going on in Iraq. I read earlier that the protest was for more competent technocrats in government, but that seemed like to simple an answer. This helps me understand the situation better.

  12. 12
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Thanks, fixed.

  13. 13
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    The BBC reporting on this that I saw on the TV left me with the impression that al Sadr was actually on the side of the good guys – the frustrated Iraqis who are sick of 2 hours a day of electricity, sick of the corruption, etc., etc. I’m sure there’s more going on behind the scenes than that, of course he wants more power too, but it’s quite a change from the early post-invasion days when he was portrayed as little more than a warlord who just wanted to kill Americans.

    Here’s hoping that it’s not the first sign of renewed chaos there and it is instead the impetus for actual reforms.

    Any thoughts on whether similar boiling-over of frustrations could happen in Kabul in the near future?

    Thanks for your perspectives on this stuff.


  14. 14
    Kay (not the front-pager) says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: You can always read it tomorrow morning. That’s when I usually would have read it.

  15. 15
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: He’s correct in regard to this issue. As for Kabul – I have no idea. The real problem with Afghanistan is that outside of Kabul, Kandahar, and a couple of other locales no one in Afghanistan cares about the national government, unless they’re trying to take over the country.

  16. 16
    Redshift says:

    I heard about this on the news earlier, and was wondering what to make of it. Thanks for making it somewhat clearer.

  17. 17
    Dr.McCoy says:

    I’m going to start calling you, (Adam Silverman), Major Anthony Nelson.

  18. 18
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Dr.McCoy: Why?

  19. 19
    Dr.McCoy says:

    @Adam L Silverman: –What Genie are you waiting for?

  20. 20
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Dr.McCoy: Not waiting for any genie.

  21. 21
    NotMax says:

    Unmentioned but another spoon stirring the stew is the reservation of a percentage of seats not by sectarian or ethic alignment but specifically for women, which adds another layer of complexity to the hobbledehoy that is the current set-up of the Iraqi Parliament.

    Sort of OT but related little known factoid:

    There are seats (can’t remember off the top of the noggin if it is 1 or 2 seats) reserved in the Iranian legislature for Jews.

  22. 22
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Yes, but its really not germane to the current crisis. This is really about the President being from one group, the two VPs from two other groups, several ministry heads from specific groups.

    As for Iran, if I’m recalling correctly they have 1 Jewish Iranian member of the Majlis.

  23. 23
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @NotMax: Thanks for that.

    I’m sure (heh) that any changes will have lots of consequences, and many of them will be unpleasant. But it seems that their government is just short of dysfunctional now. Here’s hoping that the changes don’t make things worse…


  24. 24
    Dr.McCoy says:

    Al Sadr is calling for a Government made up of “Technocrats”, that sounds familiar.

  25. 25
    redshirt says:

    @redshirt: And when Turkey bitches about Kurdistan we offer them guaranteed EU membership.

    And for that we offer Germany most of Africa. The Chinese influenced parts especially.,

  26. 26
    Dr.McCoy says:

    What do you think Biden was there for? The sandstorms? Christ.

  27. 27
    Mary G says:

    Thanks for your excellent explanation of this. I am a bit less confused about this. I imagined another Syria where nobody’s really in charge.

  28. 28
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: You’ll never get Turkey into the EU because of France. Its a good chunk of the reason that Erdogan has been able to stay in power – by playing on anti EU resentment caused by France coming up with a new qualifying hoop for Turkey to jump through every time they successfully completed the last requirement.

  29. 29
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I’m solving world problems here. I don’t got time for France.

    Edit: Fine. France also gets some of Africa back.

  30. 30
    NotMax says:

    @Adam L. Silverman

    Maliki, as well, has been restive about his string pulling behind the throne status.

    Darn interesting topic, but must head out for the weekly dinner and gathering. Shall catch up later on.

  31. 31
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Enjoy! Have you considered eating dinner every day instead of only once a week?

  32. 32
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Ergodon seems to me (who admittedly hasn’t kept close watch on him) to be dangerous for Turkey’s future. He basically restarted a war to get moderate Kurdish parties thrown out of parliament because he wants to force changes to the constitution. He funneled hundreds of thousands of Syrians into the EU to pressure the governments there to give him what he wants. He’s come close to picking a fight with Putin over the war in Syria. And he’s come close to double-crossing the US on participating in the war against Daesh by using it as an opportunity to beat up on the Kurds in Syria instead. He has turned strongly authoritarian in his dealings with the press (invading newspaper offices on trumped up charges, replacing the management, etc.) in an attempt to control news stories about battles in the Kurdish areas in the east.

    He’s dangerous. I hope Merkel and the rest understand who they’re dealing with and don’t reward his behavior. The short-term good of reduced flows of refugees isn’t worth the price of rewarding a wanna-be tyrant.

    My $0.02.


  33. 33
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: When he first started making needed constitutional reforms I thought he was both going to be good for Turkey and demonstrate that an Islamic political party could and would respect the process. He blew right through that and we are through the looking glass.

  34. 34
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Fundamentalism is a disease that spreads via ideas and I fear we, the US, have played a big part in spreading it.

    I once naively thought religion would play an ever decreasing role in our world, and yet I watch in horror as the opposite occurs.

  35. 35
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: It took almost 2,000 years and a lot of violence and blood before it was even possible to try to (partially) separate religion and the state. And that was just in the West. Expecting everyone to achieve the same thing, given different contexts, without working through all the things that have to be worked through first is a mistake we make all too often.

  36. 36
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: You mean in the Islamic nations?

  37. 37
    max says:

    @Adam L Silverman: When he first started making needed constitutional reforms I thought he was both going to be good for Turkey and demonstrate that an Islamic political party could and would respect the process. He blew right through that and we are through the looking glass.

    It’s been increasingly obvious for three years (and I tried to ignore it) that Erdogan is Putin without the good sense.

    As for al-Sadr, well, he’s demonstrating the problem with Washington deciding on acceptable Prime Ministers. Even if you’re right, you’re wrong.

    [‘Also, Larry Wilmore was awesome. He just took the title from Stephen Colbert.’]

  38. 38
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: Yes, but in other places as well. India is struggling with their own version with the Hindu Nationalists. There have even been issues in places/countries with Buddhist majorities with similar types of fundamentalist, religious driven violence and intolerance. And the ultra, ultra devout Jews of Israel show that its not limited to Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism.

  39. 39
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Sad. I thought we’d progress to ever greater unions, but it seems we are devolving back into smaller tribes.

    Maybe nationalism only existed under the umbrella of imperialism.

    I can’t help but feel some genie has escaped the bottle, and was never meant to escape. But now we’re living it.

  40. 40
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @max: The biggest problem we’ve had with the Sadrists is that because we officially labeled them as a terrorist group it tied our hands. There are really three components to the Sadrist movement: the political party, the Office of the Martyr Sadr (charitable/social services), and Jaish al Mahdi. What we should be doing is piling the responsibility on the first two, telling them that you want to do this work, fine, you’re gonna do it. And if your militia blows something up or even thinks about it, we’re going to make sure everyone knows that they’re getting their supplemental food allotments or housing or education from a bunch of rank murderers. The idea should be building up the political and social movement portions of the Sadrists and getting them reconciled with the normative aspects of Iraqi politics and society while forcing them to marginalize the militant aspect.

  41. 41
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: Some of these things are cyclical. The US has always had, in addition to a crime cycle and an economic cycle, a religiosity cycle. We’re in one now. Though in this one there is a reactionary minority that are determined to overturn everything in the attempt to get to an idealized future by returning to an imaginary past.

  42. 42
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Dr.McCoy: Say goodbye. You’re taking a nice timeout.

  43. 43
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: While I agree I don’t think our religiosity cycle ever shaped the world before. I feel like the current rise of our fundamentalists has caused the rise of fundamentalists in the Islamic world, in Israel, and across the rest of the world.

  44. 44
    Anya says:

    I’ve been avoiding the Iraq situation because of my fear that it will descend into an incredible violence and lawlessness. One hopes these corrupt politicians learn a lesson from this. I want the people of Iraq to have a voice and for all the different voices to be represented but that’s going to take a lot of effort and time.

  45. 45
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: I don’t think that argument is sustainable. It seems, though we only have an N of 3, so kind of hard to draw any real conclusions, that monotheisms have a life course. We’ve seen Christianity’s over a long course of time. Islam’s cycle began in the late 19th Century, but really got going in the early 20th. Judaism’s is only kicking in now because Israel is the only place the Jews have been in power (other than a generation and a half when the Khuzaris all converted).

  46. 46
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: You have the rise of modern American Fundamentalism as encoded in the Republican Party roughly simultaneously with the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism. 1970’s onward.

  47. 47
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: Islamic fundamentalism began its rise much sooner. No one outside of Muslim countries paid any attention to it until the Iranian Revolution.

  48. 48
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: What were the key events/dates? Fall of the Ottomans? Rise of the house of Saud?

  49. 49
    Ruckus says:

    I believe that relatively that’s considered a rather short time frame for the religious cycle. Now it may be that the cycles are getting shorter but the only thing I see as a reason for that is the weaponry, which is more abundant and deadly.

  50. 50
    redshirt says:

    @Ruckus: And communication methods, which allow a few individuals to influence many.

  51. 51
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: There’s two things here: 1) No one in the US paid any attention to religion and politics, fundamentalist or not, until the Iranian Revolution. My political science dissertation chair is considered to be the father of the study of religion and politics and he did his dissertation on 19th Century Christian interactions with politics in England. 2) The initial break was in Egypt in the late 1890s in an attempt to separate Islam from being part of the official structure of the Ottoman Empire. The idea was if Islam could be separated from the Sultan/Caliph, then both the religion could be reinvigorated for what was then the modern time period and it would undermine the Ottoman Empire and work in favor of Egyptian national aspirations.

  52. 52
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Interesting. Is it fair to say “The Great Game” geopolitics of the Europeans of the time sped this process on?

  53. 53
    Ruckus says:

    Possibly true, but that changes the numbers, which are growing anyway. The weaponry changes how brutal and strong any one faction can be and how fast they can take power. And yes the communications can help with that. As they achieve power the weaponry allows another fraction to strike earlier and harder, also allows real terrorism rather than just small time attacks. This could allow the cycle to advance at a faster pace, with less risk.

  54. 54
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: To an extent. The British were playing their part of the game to maneuver against the Ottomans. So they were advising the Egyptians, make promises to the Hashimites, and to both Jews and the Arabs of Palestine. I’ve never seen anything indicating that they were in contact with the early Islamic reformers in Egypt, but its not impossible that they were.

  55. 55
    Ruckus says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    What I’m hearing is that empire building hasn’t worked out very well for the world. Ever.

  56. 56
    redshirt says:

    @Ruckus: Based on nothing but my gut, I think the information networks are far more important than the weapons. The ability to communicate anonymously worldwide is far more powerful then a bomb or a gun.

  57. 57
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Ruckus: Any form of state and societal formation is going to be ugly. Who gets included versus who gets excluded. Who gets to be elite and notable and who doesn’t. Who gets full access and who gets scraps. This doesn’t happen cleanly and it doesn’t happen pleasantly. And it takes a long time to consolidate and there is often backsliding involved.

  58. 58
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: It is very hard to kill an idea or to stop the signal.

  59. 59
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Is that a Serenity reference?

  60. 60
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: It wasn’t intended to be, but I suppose it is. Its also why its hard to resolve troll problems.

  61. 61
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: LOL. You’ve seen that movie?

    If so, your nerd-cred is impressive.

  62. 62
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: I saw it, then went back and watched the 13 episodes in the original order. I’d never seen them and the Science Network ran a marathon one weekend, so I DVRed them. I thought it was good, probably would have gotten better had Fox not pulled the plug on Whedon. I think Ron Glass’s stuff was the best part. I especially liked his line about the good book being a little vague on shooting knee caps.

  63. 63
    redshirt says:

    @Adam L Silverman: By my pretty little bonnet, you continue to impress.

    I’m a full on Whedonite so I look out for these things.

    I still think they (Mal and gang) were actually the bad guys, and the entire show was thus a bad guys show.

  64. 64
    Ruckus says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    True but my point was that humans are messy and don’t play all that well together under the best of circumstances, let alone with religion and power involved. And someone coming in and stirring up the mix with the idea to get a piece for themselves has never helped.

    @redshirt: Not saying that communications is unimportant. Saying that the best communications network connects like minded people but it’s the weaponry that allows the communications to be valuable in this context. And not just the power of the weaponry but the availability of it.
    Think about it this way, how many morons walking down the street with AK-47s does it take to create unrest? How many machine guns on top of police riot trucks does it take to do the same? How many road side IEDs would it take to get your attention?
    Try living where this is common.

  65. 65
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: I never saw it in its original run. And never saw the movie till it showed up on cable. Not sure why I missed it, other than I really never watched anything on the Fox network other than the X Files and Millennium. And since the last couple of seasons of both of those were horrible, I’d probably stopped watching Fox when Firefly was just starting and didn’t even know it was on at the time.

  66. 66
    Ruckus says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    Seems to have worked tonight.

  67. 67
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Ruckus: No argument from me on either point.

  68. 68
    Anya says:

    @Adam L Silverman: My grandfather who is a retired diplomat said that the cold war was a major reason for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. He said that many Muslim countries were either gaining their independence or were ruled by totalitarian governments dealing with opposition movements. These movements were often led by secular socialists. Americans fought those movements & supported despotic regimes because they feared alliances developing between these secular movements and USSR. In order for these governments to turn the people against the democratic forces they formed an alliance with religious groups. The alliance of convinience between the west (using these countries in a proxy war against the Soviet Union), these governments and the religious groups defeated the forces of democracy and modernity. In a way this us reaping what we sow.

  69. 69
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Ruckus: It is what it is.

  70. 70
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Anya: Your grandfather is correct. These things were accelerated by what we, and in some cases what the Soviets, did during the Cold War. In the case of Hamas, for instance, the Israelis actually helped build that organization and its leader Sheikh Yassin out of the nascent Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. They thought it would give them an alternative to dealing with Arafat and the PLO. They were very, very wrong!

  71. 71
    redshirt says:

    @Ruckus: Obviously weapons are important, but ideas create revolutions. Guns don’t. And communications allow those ideas to spread far more quickly and pervasively. But also, you can share weapons and tactics via these same communication networks. There’s not even a debate to me. With the telegraph to the telephone to the internet, ideas and conflicts went from extremely localized issues to global issues.

  72. 72
    Ruckus says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    Best FB post from a friend of mine was a picture titled, “The Story of Life” of 3 very large, very thick, leather bound volumes, all labeled in what looked like gold leaf, “It Is What It Is.”

  73. 73
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Ruckus: I also have seen one entitled People I Want to Punch in the Face; VOL 15.

  74. 74
    Ruckus says:

    We are talking past each other. My point is that while communications is important and vital, it is the power and availability of modern weapons that allow the cycle of power to change far faster than it has in any earlier time in history. Yes you can get more people involved, yes coordination is/can be much better, but what changes the power struggle is the weaponry that can be unleashed. If only one side had modern communication then it would be a powerful weapon on it’s own. But communications is not just one sided, nor is the weaponry. Imagine modern communications with bows/arrows, blades/axes. Mel Gibson with a cell phone.

  75. 75
    Ruckus says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    That’s a lot of anger, that is.

  76. 76
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    You’ll never get Turkey into the EU because of France.

    Greece has maintained an absolute veto on Turkish accession to the EU for the past thirty years. There have been attempts to modify the accession process to make it qualified majority or some other way that would prevent a single or a few states in opposition to block a candidate but at the moment the EU requires all member states to agree for accession to go ahead. Given the animosity between Greece and Turkey I don’t expect their accession any time soon even if Erdogan was replaced by a more popular and less divisive figure.

    There’s also the little problem of the generals, Ataturk’s backstop against Islamism in nominally secular Turkey. The EU doesn’t let military dictatorships in, even part-time dictatorships hence the delay in Greece, Portugal and Spain joining in the early days.

  77. 77
    NotMax says:


    At the least. back to the inception of the Wahhabist school of Islam in the 18th century.

    @Adam L Silverman

    Firefly was enjoyable on a surface level, but on a conceptual level was irrational. Humans (more particlularly those with knowledge of spacefaring and advanced technology and how to create same) just don’t abandon that to live by candles and lamplight as was shown in too may of the outer colonies.

    @Adam L. Silverman

    Not all that far from reality. Have eaten only one meal a day since 1964, and that only 5 or 6 times a week. Follow what I refer to as the vampire diet – never eat while it is light out. Purely personal choice.

  78. 78
  79. 79

    There is only one way to make anything better in Iraq and that is to go back to 1921 and give Winston Churchill a better toy.

    …and I am a Churchill fan, for the most part.

  80. 80
    sharl says:

    In the wee hours of this morning I’ve heard – on both BBC World and NPR – the name Radical Cleric Muqtadā al-Ṣadr. This is also how I heard it in the bad worse old days, otherwise known as the time of our Glorious Iraq Adventure.™

    I’m sure these august news institutions would never let editorial bias leak into their basic news reporting; there is, after all, plenty of time reserved for clearly labeled editorializing by these operations. So the only logical conclusion I can draw is that this man was named Radical Cleric by his parents.

    Is this a common compound name in the Arabic world, or at least among Shia Iraqis? Is it like Joe Bob or Wilma June in this country? Inquiring minds want to know!

  81. 81
    debbie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    As soon as I heard the word “Sadr” in the news report, I figured this would be a bad business.

  82. 82
    NotMax says:


    Very, very rarely. Unsweetened black coffee and also water during the day, primarily.

  83. 83
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Greece has a long memory about Cyprus, also too.

    It seems like the only leverage the west has over Erdogon is the carrot of better relations with the EU. They need to keep it out of reach until he changes substantially.


  84. 84
    D58826 says:

    Earlier today the angry occupiers ran many of the Iraqi Parliamentarians out of the building and chased them through the streets, while others took shelter until it was safe to leave.

    Is Al Sadr taking lessons from Trump or the other way around? (sigh) . May W’s memory live long in infamy.

  85. 85
    D58826 says:

    @Frank Wilhoit: Well he did say that occupying Iraq was like ‘sitting atop an ungrateful volcano and paying 8 million pounds a year for the privilege’. So I guess he knew it was a mess in 1921. Maybe ‘W’ should have consulted that notorous bust in the Oval Office before listening to President Chaney.

  86. 86
    Chris says:


    Basically… although it wasn’t entirely as simple as “regimes ally with right wing religious fanatical nutjobs to crush secular left-wing populism” (hey, why does that have such a familiar ring to it?) There were many countries – Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq – where the left-wing populists (Arab Nationalism was the most common version) actually managed to seize power and hold it, and for a while it actually looked like the wave of the future. The Arab Nationalist bubble burst for two reasons – in foreign policy, the inability to destroy Israel, and in domestic policy, the inability to handle rising economic and social problems.

    Those regimes all over North Africa that were overthrown by the Arab Spring? They all started out life half a century ago as left-wing revolutionary movements. They just happened to fossilize into exactly the kind of regimes they originally overthrow (old story). So it’s not simply that these movements were suppressed and that’s why the islamists were able to rise. Oftentimes, those movements succeeded. They were then weighed and found wanting, so people turned to the next movement.

    As far as the Cold War goes, it’s also a familiar story – the region was divided between Soviet and American proxies, each supporting terrorist and insurgent movements in the other. Broadly speaking, the Soviets supported the modernist, secularizing, Arab Nationalist regimes, and the Americans supported the conservative traditional or “traditional” monarchies like those in the Persian Gulf or Jordan or Morocco (though the lines eventually got blurrier). That contributes to the rise of islamism in at least two ways – one, part of the conservatives’ shtick, as you noted, was the promotion of Islam as an alternate ideology and identity to modernist movements, not only domestically but throughout the region. (The Saudis’ exporting of Wahhabism is legendary by now). But two, a lot of people in the region became tired of being a pawn of either the Americans or the Soviets, and Islam was there as a sort of “third way” alternate identity. Khomeini was big on “neither East nor West but Islam,” and Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts’ shtick after 1989 was basically “all right, we’ve forced one superpower to back down, now let’s take on the other!”

  87. 87
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Chris: Well said. Thanks.


  88. 88
    D58826 says:

    OT is there a crowdsource fund to help Texas leave the union? A middle schooler in Texas tried to buy her lunch with a 2 dollar bill. She was sent to the principal’s office for trying to cash a counterfeit bill. The cops were called, who then traced the bill to her grandmother and then to the store where the grandmother got it. They finally went to a bank which determined that surprise surprise the bill was legit. Why not just have the principal call the bank in the first place if you don’t know that there really are two dollar bills. (sigh)

  89. 89
    Miss Bianca says:

    Damn. Dead thread, but…damn. *This* was the discussion I would have been up for, last night. Lots of stuff to unpack here. May I just say that there is an amazing set of minds here at BJ, from front-pagers to commentariat, and it’s threads like this one that I want to bookmark and read over and over again.

  90. 90
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @D58826: This is clearly a problem created by Common Core and Agenda 21 as part of Jade Helm 2016!

  91. 91
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: We were here, where we you? The Godots

  92. 92
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Ha, ha, very funny. In bed with a sick headache and distracted by my dog picking up FLEAS somewhere in the middle of a snowstorm.

    But since you’re here…may I ask what a “government of independent technocrats” even *means*, in this context?

    ETA: Just to shoe-horn in a random Firefly reference, I would growl and say that I was “in my bunk”, but that has an entirely *different* context…

  93. 93
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: I don’t really know what it means. Given the context I think it means appointing people to run things that aren’t beholden to either the party blocs or the sectarian groups. I’m really not sure how you’d do that without creating either an internal Mandarin class type civil service the way the Chinese did for generations or importing non-Iraqis.

  94. 94
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Someone made reference to people being tired of electricity only being on for two hours a day, etc. Is that type of infrastructure SNAFU still a problem in Baghdad? After all these years? I know it was a huge problem in the aftermath of Desert Shield but I had hoped that things would be better for people outside the Green Zone by now.

    ETA: Should have followed the second link before I asked. Yup, still a problem. : (

  95. 95
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: Yes for several reasons. First we destroyed a whole lot of infrastructure, especially power grid related infrastructure, in the initial air strike phase of entering the country. To be honest this wasn’t very hard to do because the Iraqi infrastructure was in really bad shape. Before anyone starts, this isn’t victim blaming. Rather it was an effect of our sanctions and embargo. What money Saddam Hussein had coming in was not going to maintain the infrastructure so it didn’t take a whole lot to really reduce it. The second issue became the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The CPA was created to try every ideologically driven idea about how to establish and run a state and society. Basically it was going to be the experiment and when it all worked the Bush 43 Administration was planning on turning around, using it as a showcase to Americans, and then trying it here. This is why you had Grover Norquist and his people go over and set up the tax code and system. Or Bernie Kerik hired to establish law enforcement/criminal justice. Or the Heritage Foundation summer interns, including one lovely young woman whose last name is Kristol, running around over there in the Summer of 2003 establishing an Iraqi stock exchange.

    What this got the Iraqis was a CPA rule that the Iraqis would 1) take the lead in fixing their own power generation and transmission problems, 2) that they had ten years to do so, and 3) it was to be done largely through privatization. If you’ll recall separating generation from transmission, privatizing at least one if not both of those, and introducing competition into the system has been a really popular state level libertarian, movement conservative, and GOP idea in the US since the 90s. It usually doesn’t work too well becomes the generation folks no longer have any incentive to keep up the transmission lines, the transmission folks have no incentive to do anything about generation, no one on either side wants to spend any money to upgrade anything, and we’re left with a power grid that barely meets code for the 1950s/early 1960s and can be taken down by two squirrels and pigeon.

    When the CPA transitioned out and turned things over to Embassy Baghdad and Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), the transition rules enshrined all of the CPA rulings. So even though a priority in the Phase IV/Counterinsurgency strategy for MNF-I under the build phase of operations was to get the power plants all back up and running and the transmission grid fixed so that 1) people had power and 2) that power could also be used to pump the water through Iraq’s irrigation canal system (think acequias) to get the agriculture going again, they were ordered not to do anything by the State Department folks who were technically in charge because of a Memorandum of Agreement between State and Defense over who was in charge of what. As a result, and despite the requirement in International Law that resulted from the US seeking and being officially recognized by the UN as the official occupying power in Iraq (along with its allies) to fix the power generation and transmission grid, nothing was done. Because a decision had been made, based on ideological grounds sometime between MAY 2003 and late 2004, that the Iraqis would do it themselves and do it through privatization.

    I could go on from first hand experience and frustrations. As in one of my teammates had found an Iraqi-American with a doctorate in engineering and knowledge of the grid and how it interacting with the agricultural water irrigation system from working on it in a leadership capacity for Saddam Hussein before fleeing the country with his family for safety in the US; he agreed to meet with us and explain what needed to be done before we left the US to link up with our brigade in Germany for the deployment; we took his information and worked up a plan for and with the brigade’s engineering battalion on what needed to be done in our Operating Environment South and East of Baghdad (also a major agricultural area if the water had been flowing); vetted it with the outgoing Civil Affairs company when we got to Iraq; and everything was ready to go until the Foreign Service Officer running our embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (ePRT) informed the brigade commander about the decision to let the Iraqis do it, take ten years to do it, and do it largely through privatization.

    Or how when I briefed the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works and the incoming Director of the Office of Provincial Affairs (the office that oversees the PRTs) in 2009 on this, neither were amused, but neither could find a way around the problems that the CPA regulations had caused.

    We (the US) had a responsibility – both a moral one just because and a legal one because we officially sought and were recognized as an occupying power – and we failed on both counts. And it wasn’t failure because we tried and came up short with the resources we had to work with. It was failure because we allowed ideologues to decide it wasn’t our responsibility – morally or legally – and that proving non-sensical on their face ideological assertions about how utility markets should work was more important than fulfilling our responsibilities and doing the right thing.

  96. 96
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Basically it was going to be the experiment and when it all worked the Bush 43 Administration was planning on turning around, using it as a showcase to Americans, and then trying it here.

    Zooks! I hadn’t ever connected the dots like that before, but you’re right. That’s a fabulous distillation. They really did think that they were special snowflakes that could do whatever they wanted…


    The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He continued “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    His hubris, and that of those who believed that dangerous nonsense, was mind-blowing.


  97. 97
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Fuck. Fuck. FUCK. I am actually clawing my own head as I re-read this. (but thanks for responding at this level).

    Normally, I agree with LAO that it’s too simplistic to call people “evil”. But this? The architects/architecture of this CPA? This is evil. Evil in its effects, if not its intent, and even its intent can be called evil, because this shit doesn’t work. Has never worked. It’s not *designed* to *work* – it’s designed to rob what’s left of the state and put money into people’s pockets – people who can’t – or won’t, makes no difference – do the work.

    Anyone familiar with how infrastructure and power grids got built in the rural US should know that government *had* to step in, that non-profit coops are what make things drive out here. Anyone who has had to deal with getting reliable internet or cell phone service out here understands the effects if they have two brain cells to rub together. But this ideological privileging of “private sector” and “government is the problem” is at work even out here – we have country commissioners who say “no” to any government expenditure except raising their own salaries.

    The US, in the persons of the 43rd Administration, has done its level best to destroy a country, a civilization, and a people. (And understand, you are not to take any of this personally – I know there are good people working with the military and state to mitigate the damage and try to stem further damage. But it’s literally nauseating to begin to grasp the *full* amount of damage we have done, thru’ hubris and misunderstanding, if not actual malice aforethought.)

    It sounds like this damned CPA must be done away with. Can’t it? Or might that happen if the Green Zone has truly been breached and shit really goes sideways? Or would that create an even bigger shitstorm at this point?

    Sorry if I’m pestering. it’s just…fuck.

  98. 98
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Sorry, I know you said the CPA transitioned out. What I meant was the ideological underpinnings that remain.

  99. 99

    Adam, I recall Joe Biden’s plan before 2008 to allow for a soft partition between the Kurds, Shia, and Sunni. It was dismissed at the time, but it’s hard to imagine his plan being worse that the status quo.

    I suppose it’s too late for that now, or that it will just naturally (d)evolve that way on its own, especially with the likelihood of the Kurds breaking away in the north.

    Any thoughts on the alternate reality in which the US pushed the Iraqis push Biden’s idea?

  100. 100
    Chris says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    The CPA as an attempt to implement conservative ideology that failed completely because that ideology doesn’t work in the real world is one of the biggest untold stories of the Iraq War, IMO.

  101. 101
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: @Miss Bianca: I understood what you meant. Some has been undone by the Iraqis themselves. The CPA did try to make it permanent as part of the transition agreement by passing a final CPA regulation that all CPA regulations existed in perpetuity… But the larger problem has always been not that the Iraqis cannot learn to do this stuff for themselves or that they aren’t educated enough to do so (they had one of the most highly educated populations in the Middle East until we broke the educational system in the invasion and aftermath). Rather, as with so many things that were done during OIF, someone way upstream at Embassy Baghdad or in DC decided that X would happen. So X was made to happen. The problem is that no one bothered to really set anything up to teach the Iraqis how to make X happen within the new context of not having a state, economy, and society controlled from the top down by Saddam Hussein’s government. So the fact that the development experts brought in didn’t understand that the Iraqi Central Bank wasn’t set up to make microloans to farmers, because central banks don’t do those kind of things, the bigger issues were that if you want the Iraqis to have a free market, you can’t show up on Tuesday and wreck the top down, government controlled economy, finish up your work on a Wednesday, tell the Iraqis on Thursday that they now have to do everything within a free market, and on Friday everything will be fine. Unfortunately that was too often the plan. And that’s partially why we’re in the mess we’re in now.

  102. 102
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @the chair highly frowns: At least two countries – a Kurdish one and an Arab one – are, in my professional opinion a fait accompli now. Where the Iraqi Kurds were able to push their lines to maximum expansion in late 2014/early 2015 is where they’ll try to declare their defacto borders. But once IS is dealt with they aren’t going to go back into a Federated Iraq. Whether the Sunni and Shi’a Arabs split the rest up is possible, but may or may not happen.

  103. 103
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chris: I tell it every chance I get.

  104. 104
    Chris says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Unfortunately, in the general public, it’s still untold. The story of how Iraq got so fucked up in the popular mind is either “the fucking hajjis couldn’t make it work” (which the right loves, although they’re Not Racist) or “Bush and his cronies fucked it up by being incompetent and/or corrupt” (which isn’t entirely wrong, but misses the deeper problems inherent in the movement conservative worldview).

  105. 105
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Oh, that’s right…shit gets broken and then boom…it’s all supposed to be great again instantly. Complete paradigm shift? NO PROBLEM. And then…oh, look, squirrel over here! Well, we gotta run, you guys can figure it out!

    We’re so fucked up. And we fuck up everyone else on our way thru’. The US government…the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of the world stage.

    @Chris: Oh, I get it. Believe me, I get it. And when that worldview has been shown to be a bankrupt failure, over and over again, and yet it still gets pushed, still gets defended, still hasn’t been retired to the dustbin of history…what does that mean?

  106. 106
    Anya says:

    @Chris: True. But we propped those despotic regimes. We did the same thing in Africa. All of these failed states are a result of dictators benefiting from our obsession with the cold war.

  107. 107
    Bob In Portland says:

    @Anya: Western intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, Saudi intelligence all worked backing extreme Wahhabism. Bin Laden was our ally in Afghanistan. Then he became our favorite bad guy. This same group, called “the Safari Club”, backed the two Salafist rebellions in Chechnya, and is the basis for arming and training of the ISIS & al-Nusrah forces in Syria. That is, the West created ISIS as a means of destabilizing Assad.

    The quickest way of reducing terrorism would be to cut off the supply lines to the terrorists. Unfortunately, we are the supply lines.

    Enjoy the wars. There’s more on the way.

  108. 108
    Ruckus says:

    If you think it through a bit farther that really isn’t all that far off topic.

  109. 109
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: I actually had almost the exact discussion I laid out in abstract with our ePRT. They had set up a micro loan to obtain seeds and rental of equipment program. Aside from the fact that they put two brothers in charge who no one in any tribe, including their own, trusted I laid out the problem this way:
    Before we got here, lets call this Monday, someone would show up from the government a couple of times a year with seeds and equipment and fuel and then come back and collect the crops after the harvest (this oversimplifies the Iraqi economic system a bit, but stay with me here). On Tuesday we arrived and destroyed this system. On Wednesday we set up this new system of micro loans and equipment rentals and told the Iraqis they were now free and were part of a free market. And now on Thursday we’re sitting around complaining that the Iraqis don’t understand how to use this wonderful new gift we gave them. Does anyone see what’s missing from our week? No one? Okay, what’s missing is we never bothered to give the Iraqis a bridge from the old system to the new one. All we did was set them up to fail.

  110. 110
    Bob In Portland says:

    @the chair highly frowns: The US’ problem with a Kurdistan in Iraq (and presumably parts of Syria) is that it would ensure an eventual expansion into Turkey. Erdogan keeps tilting rightward and keeps up the war against his own Kurds. He attacks the Kurds in Syria.

  111. 111
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chris: I know what you meant. But since no publisher will touch a book that deals with that – hell, I couldn’t get a publisher for the tribal and social history I did and I’ve got almost 200 pages of transcribed, translated notes of the Iraqis telling their stories for themselves. Initial interest quickly turned to: we don’t want to touch this or no one here is sure which section should be publishing it. The closest I got was a publication of the four basic findings as an article in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs. This information isn’t told because no on wants to hear it, so no one wants it to be told.

  112. 112
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Anya: We call this the “Our Bastard” system. You’re “our bastard” until you aren’t. See Hussein, S, Qhaddafi, M, etc…

  113. 113
    Chris says:

    @Adam L Silverman: @Adam L Silverman:

    Oh yeah. I wasn’t blaming you – I totally believe that no one wants to hear that.

  114. 114
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chris: I know. Its frustrating all around.

  115. 115
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: And that’s where I see the “evil”, Adam. We blow shit up, and then we don’t build the bridge. And whether that’s because of our inability to see that the bridge needs to be built, or our disrespect for the systems that were already in place, or both – or some other cause – it doesn’t matter. We broke it, we throw down some tools, say “fix this”, and then, as you point out, we bitch.

    And we are apparently uninterested or unable, as a society, to come to terms with our modus operandi. Or the fact that our rhetoric is so hollow. If only we honestly *embraced* the “our bastard” theory of government, rather than mouth these platitudes about “building democracy” – that would be a start. Still deplorable, as a worldview, but why add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of empire-building?

  116. 116
    Ruckus says:

    @Miss Bianca:
    A lot of people look for simple ways to accomplish complex tasks. That’s not in itself all that bad, if at least you chip away at the problem from the beginning to the end in some sort of logical manner. That’s how a lot of progress is made. The problem is when you look at the complex task and have not one fucking clue that it is even complex and that you make up a stunningly stupid and simple answers to suit your ill conceived concept of a not at all simple process, all the while ignoring all historical (and current) evidence that your process and ideas suck. And never achieve the end goals purported.

  117. 117
    Renie says:

    I’m very very late to this thread (as I am in most) but I want to thank Adam for posting this type of information. It is a fascinating (and pathetic) situation in Iraq but the opportunity to learn about this from such a professional source like Adam is fantastic. Thank you Adam. Every time I see your name listed as a FP author I know I’m in for a great opportunity to learn something. My only wish is that this info was able to be distributed to the greater public and that they were interested in it.

  118. 118
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Ruckus: I’d say that was a fair summation of the problem, Ruckus!

  119. 119
    PJ says:

    @Adam L Silverman: This utility deregulation ideology is what gave us Enron and the California electricity crisis of 2000 and 2001 , and a general increase in consumer cost of electricity in many areas. Whenever I hear government officials arguing for deregulation, I’m pretty sure a colossal scam is on the way.

  120. 120
    PJ says:

    @Anya: Or with our desire to implement Israeli foreign policy. We bought off Egypt (Sadat and Mubarak) with billions (second in foreign aid recipients after Israel).

  121. 121
    PJ says:

    @Adam L Silverman: There is a market for this kind of book. Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among The Living, which tells the story of the US occupation of Afghanistan from the standpoint of Afghanis, does an incredible job of showing how destructive US policies (and general ignorance and apathy) have been. I don’t know what the sales figures were, but it got published and it got a fair amount of press when it came out.

  122. 122
    PJ says:

    @Renie: I am also grateful for this information and analysis, Adam.

  123. 123
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @PJ: If there is, I’ve yet to find a publisher – academic, for profit academic, or for profit press with any interest in it.

  124. 124
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I’m actually kind of surprized that not even an academic press would be willing to touch it.

  125. 125
    sharl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Adam, as always, your insight on these matters is invaluable and welcome. The fact that folks like you aren’t big names in that part of our popular media which specializes in our Middle Eastern policy is a condemnation of our media and our national culture that props up that media.

    I have no insights or expertise in the business of book publishing, but I think PJ at #123 might be right. There are also mechanisms that enable both the (crowd-sourced) funding and actual do-it-yourself publication of a book. Unfortunately this may not be an option for you, at least not as long as you want to keep open the option of working with the government as an advisor: I would assume that the same reasons that make the government reluctant to let you publish on this stuff might also make you too hot to handle as a contractor, in the event you published it independently (assuming even that would not be subject to review and approval).

    I do have a minor question on one thing you said:

    …Or the Heritage Foundation summer interns, including one lovely young woman whose last name is Kristol, running around over there in the Summer of 2003 establishing an Iraqi stock exchange.

    Are you thinking of SImone Ledeen, daughter of one of the major architects and promoters of U.S. neocon policy? The last time she was seen via online databases (FEC records of political contributors), she had burrowed in as a Federal employee (Treasury Dept.), presumably using her connections and Iraq CPA experience to get the job.
    (FWIW, Bill Kristol’s son Joseph did at least one tour as a USMC platoon leader in Afghanistan.)

  126. 126
    Gimlet says:


    Occupied Iraq was just as Simone Ledeen had imagined — ornate mosques, soldiers in formation, sand blowing everywhere, “just like on TV.” The 28-year-old daughter of neoconservative pundit Michael Ledeen and a recently minted MBA, she had arrived on a military transport plane with the others and was eager to get to work.

    They had been hired to perform a low-level task: collecting and organizing statistics, surveys and wish lists from the Iraqi ministries for a report that would be presented to potential donors at the end of the month.

    The CPA was designed to be a grand experiment in nation-building, a body of experts who would be Iraq’s guide for transforming itself into a model for democracy in the Middle East. Unlike previous reconstruction efforts, it was to be manned by civilians — advisers on politics, law, medicine, transportation, agronomy and other key areas. They were supposed to be experts, but many of the younger hires who filled the CPA’s hallways were longer on enthusiasm than on expertise.

    L. Paul Bremer, Iraq’s top civil administrator, may have been the public face of the CPA, but it is these rank-and-file workers who defined the occupation at the ground level. This account of the budget team’s time in Baghdad is drawn from direct observation and interviews with more than three dozen civilian and military members of the occupation government.

    For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.

  127. 127
    sharl says:

    @Gimlet: …Le Sigh…

  128. 128
    NotMax says:

    Very, very late to the thread, but a couple of expansions on recent stuff above.

    Regarding the electricity situation, the U.S. also brought over for installation some turbine generators which either were incompatible or required specific fuel which was for all intents and purposes unavailable and were essentially abandoned to deteriorate unused. Biggest culprit in that fiasco, IIRC, was (surprise, surprise) Halliburton.

    Regarding Kurdish territory, until such time as some detente is reached regarding Kirkuk, it will remain an open sore. The Kurds want it, the rest of the Iraqis will do all they can to not relinquish it.

  129. 129
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: Yep, I swapped a Ledeen with a Kristol. You are correct. Can’t keep the third generation straight.

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