Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bush's Shiite relationship on the rocks; Who will be his next partner?

There's broad agreement Bush is threatening to topple the government he himself created in Baghdad, but the unanswered question is: What will his next creation look like?

One immediate reaction to the recent threat is to welcome the boost this gives the opponents of the occupation generally. An editorial in the Egyptian opposition daily Al-Gomhuria says the latest developments are evidence not only of the failures on the military and security levels, but more importantly the failure of the effort in Baghdad to stigmatize all opponents of the occupation as terrorists. This is a great victory for the national resistance, the editorialist says it is also an incentive for the Iraqi population to continue "with all strength and defiance" on the road of resistance, taking care to prioritize national unity at the same time, "lest the occupation be forced out the door of nationalism, only to return by the window of factionalism."

But from the other side, the follow-up question has to be: Bush will replace Maliki with what? The Al-Quds al-Arabi editorial today is titled "The days of the Maliki government are numbered" and it says Bush is looking for new interlocutors on the Iraqi scene, now that the honeymoon with the Shiites is over. The editorialist says the "political and possibly military coup" that will oust Maliki is just a matter of "time and timing", adding this could come faster than most people in and outside of Iraq think, because the "situation is has gone beyond what is tolerable for the US, not to mention the Iraqis". But the editorialist doesn't say much about who the new local allies will be, except to note recent intermittent reports about US meetings with armed Sunni resistance groups, leaving that puzzle really unanswered.

A columnist in Al-Hayat today (link gone missing) poses an interesting and relevant question in a piece called "Why is the resistance in Iraq limited to the Sunni Triangle?" (by Hasham al-Dajani, Thursday October 26, on the opinion page). He notes that the traditional type of "national resistance" groups, focused on fighting the occupier, are pretty much limited to central Iraq, aka "the Sunni triangle". And he calls attention to what he says is the non-ideological nature of a lot of the Sunni resistance, which he links primarily with the disasterous decision to disband the Iraqi army at the same time that the general security situation was deteriorating, and families were struggling economically. What the Americans did was to create a whole class of people with their backs to the wall economically, and who possessed weapons, knew how to use them, had military training, and had ample reason to hate the occupation. While the Americans tarred all of these groups with the Baathist-Saddamist stigma, this writer cites one group that specifically denied it had any Saddam loyalties. If anything, the writer says, these groups had more Islamists than Saddamists.

(With respect to the Shiite south, this writer says immediately after the American invasion, there were signs of Shiite resistance, but this suddenly went silent, and the Shiites under Sistani's leadership devoted themselves to the democratic process. The writer speculates: This could be partly an Iranian strategy to ward off real American pressure on their nuclear program. Putting the matter the other way, he says the fact the US is keeping the Iran-sanctions issue alive could be to make Iran think twice before unleashing Shiite resistance in Iraq.)

In any event, his main point is that heart of the resistance is in Sunni territory, and a lot of it is non-ideological. It could be just coincidence, but this does look like an effort by a Saudi intellectual to highlight a potential answer to the question: Bush to replace Maliki with what? How about non-ideological resistance groups in the Sunni heartland?

This would answer another question, about the nature of the mistakes that have been intimated, both in Bush's own statements, and also in the subsequently-repudiated statements in Arabic on Al-Jazeera by State Department official Fernandez ("there has been stupidity and arrogance"). The specific reference, on the above hypothesis, would be to the Bremer decision to disband the Iraqi army, and the aim would be to ingratiate the Bush administration with some of these Sunni groups.


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