Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The debate you don't hear a word about in America

Al-Jazeera hosted a televised discussion recently following the windup of the Istanbul Conference (Dec 13 and 14), including Adnan al-Dulaimi (head of one of the biggest Sunni political parties), Harith al-Dhari (head of the Muslim Scholars Association) and others. It has posted a brief summary on its Aljazeeratalk.net site (flagged by Abu Aardvark on his website), and the summary goes like this:

First of all, judging from the banners in the background, the recommended English version for the name of the group that organized this is "Global Anti-Agression Campaign", and the AlJazeera summary notes this was really the first-ever meeting bringing together representatives of the Sunni people of Iraqi with representatives of the Sunni populations of surrounding countries. And there was unanimous agreement on the concluding recommendations (see this prior post), but the there was also one major point of disagreement: Is the Iraqi conflict sectarian or is it political?

Dulaimi is quoted as a proponent of the former view, as follows: He said (according to this summary): "[There is a] Shiite Safavid Persian Majousi threat originating in Iran and aiming to consume all of Iraq, and after that neighboring countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, by way of reviving the dream of a new Persian empire."

Harith al-Dari disagreed and said this is "a political struggle plain and simple". He said (according to this summary): "There are both Shiites and Sunnis on the one side under a single banner, and on the other side, arrayed against them, is the Occupation along with its Iraqi agents, aiming at the realization of its colonialist aims. [And this is the case] whether or not those [agents] connive with the Iraqi government and its institutions, or with the death-squads and the militias that are supported from outside".

There was a full debate between the two men and their respective supporters. One common agreed point, however, was that the threat that the Iraqi people are facing comes from beyond their borders, whether from over the horizon (America) or from next door. The person writing the summary doesn't take sides explicitly, but it is significant what his next sentence says. It goes like this: "The conference included the directing of a message to the United States of America, to the effect it is inevitably failing in its efforts to uncover fitna between the two groups of believers in Iraq [Sunni and Shiia], and as Harith al-Dhari insisted, the organization of Shiite clerics is the brother of the Sunni [organnization], and they both proscribe the shedding of blood for whatever reason". And he adds that Dhari called on the Shiite clerics to make a corresponding statement of position, with respect to the sectarian militias.

That is the extent of this summary. Clearly the AlJazeera presentation of this gives the last word to AlDhari, and to the view that this is a political struggle, that can't be allowed to turn into a sectarian struggle, and that the primary enemy is the American occupation, whatever may be the nature of the various parties, whether government or sectarian militia, that are in collusion with it.

It is worth considering the nature of this debate, alongside the comparable "debate" in America, on whether the Iraqi situation is "civil war, yes or no". The trick here is that if you can pin the "civil war" label on Iraq (meaning essentially "sectarian conflict"), then in Dhari's terms, this would be seen as no longer a political struggle at all, but a religious war. America would supposedly become a non-combattant, supposedly turning into a humanitarian assistant and peacekeeper. And America's continued involvement would thus be justified. So while there are huge stakes for the Iraqis in correctly understanding what is going on, there are also stakes for Americans. Which is why I repeat: I am spooked by the fact that there is not a word about this conference, or the issues it raises, in any of the American media, or in any of the big, supposedly enlightening blogs either.

This AlJazeera item concludes with some remarks on the mechanics of the Istanbul conference. It is worth highlighting this: The meeting was held in Istanbul, Turkey, because Turkey is a country that enjoys the benefits of democracy, and allows for the free expression of a wide range of opinions. Food for thought.

12 Comments:

Anonymous GJ said...

"Shiites and Sunnis on the one side under a common banner?" To which Shiites is al-Dhari referring? The Mahdi army?

I'm always perplexed when I read stuff like this. Aren't al-Dahari's Muslim Scholars one of the groups regularly blowing up civilians in Sadr City? Isn't it the Mahdi army that rounds up the followers of the Muslim Scholars et al and tortures and executes them in revenge?

And this has been going on for three years now. If they have these noble common interests as al-Dhari implies, why have his Muslim Scholars been making war against the Sadr City Shiites?

1:56 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Naturally you're perplexed. You have been reading the same stuff for too long, and now you're convinced the Muslim Scholars blow up civilians in Sadr City. I'd be perplexed too.

2:55 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Don't take this the wrong way, GJ, but I have a serious question for you: Are you a regular Juan Cole reader ?

3:28 PM  
Anonymous GJ said...

Absolutely yes. Well spotted. It's the best/sanest Left wing site I've been able to find dealing with the Iraq issues and Juan Coles illuminating knowledge of the Shiites is the bonus. I think it was via there that I discovered your site, only recently. Like yours, it's the translations of the Arab viewpoint that make it so good. I post there occasionally but under a different name to here. My preferred sites on the military perspective are the Belmont Club and WestHawk. Reading them all helps to give a good overview on this mess. My own position could be roughly described as pro war Left ( or perhaps more accurately pro -removal Saddam and instatement of democracy-not-strongman in Iraq) - eg the Harry's Place position.

Re the Muslim Scholars - as far as I'm aware they are strongly associated with the Baath insurgency and are the closest thing to insurgents spokespeople? So while not actually doing the blowing up of the Shiites themselves I assume they fully support the tactics and are part of the strategy?

My perpexity actually arises from this: if the Baathists and Moqtader were running a common front against the occupation, as they briefly did in 2004, then al-Dhari's comment would make more sense to me.

But clearly they are not. Which going by past history of these kinds of conflicts indicates to me the Baath and the Sadrs have as their individual end goals the takeover of power in Iraq - and that their plans do not include sharing it with each other?

But I am old and cynical!

GJ (aka Barbara)

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently, as per the NYT, Sistani is now - or has been - giving under-the-table backing to the new US/Maliki strategy, as long as it occurs "outside the context" of breaking up the Shi'ite bloc.

I'm not sure what this will amount to. On the surface, its the first piece of good news the US effort has received in a while. Yet. According to the Times, Dawa is skeptical. I still don't see how many seats this alliance brings, even with Dawa - it won't give enough to create a government. Another thing is that Sistani is hated in the Sunni community - he has a favorability rating -according to a PIPA poll from September - of 5%. Finally, I don't really know what Sistani's clout is - he is widely regarded in the Shi'ite community - but what pull on the street does he have?

Either way, it doesn't solve the problem of the insurgency. Or, for that matter, Sadr's rise.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I just read the above article more carefully. Its more qualified than the headline suggests (surprise). Its more like Sistani would accept a sort of extra-Parliamentary coalition if certain conditions were met. In other words, he doesn't proactively endorse the gambit, but more to the point, he won't use his power to stop it.

I often find the NYT reporting on Iraq a bit credulous to their main sources, which are US officials and (in this case) SCIRI insiders who met 2 weeks ago with Sistani (from what I could tell).

Anyway, I just wanted to get this story out there as sort of a useful "counterpoint" to the stories being followed in the Arab press (but ignored in the US), which is this site's focurs.

8:44 PM  
Blogger annie said...

anonymous, apparently you don't wear the same bs meter i do when reading the nyt

i read a lot of 'wishful thinking' and not a lot of support for the headline. for example

Perhaps resigned to the frailties of Shiite politics, Ayatollah Sistani has not made any recent public statements urging Shiite unity,

or perhaps not! on the other hand "A principal demand, Mr. Hamoudi said, was that any political realignment “preserve the unity” of the 130-member Shiite parliamentary bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance.
then some blub about 'some officials' (??) stipulate that 'can' be interpreted broadly!!

or, maybe it can't. what is clear is that they are tryig to get sistani to alter his position. what is not clear is that he has. this next sentence is classic....

Shiite lawmakers met with him recently in his home to try to resolve an issue within the Shiite bloc. The ayatollah wanted nothing to do with the matter, she said. “He said, ‘It’s up to you,

it's up to you could very well mean, it is up to you how you deal with my position (which is fixed).

this is spin ala nyt

oh yea.. gj, there is no pro war left in america. if you aren't anti war, you ain't left!

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sun Tzu in the Art of War basically said that if you know your enemy and know yourself, you will be victorious. Yet if you know yourself but not your enemy, you'll win half the time. But if you know not your enemy or yourself, you'll certainly lose.

The Bush Admin won't face reality of what is going on with the insurgency in Iraq. The Bush Admin won't listen to its own military leaders about what needs to be done. The American forces will certainly lose under Bush leadership.

In Vietnam, the same was true. A bunch of WWII glory hounds were in command, but didn't even know the hearts of the US soldiers they were drafting. Nor did they know their enemy, who after several generations of occupation were simply willing to fight to the last man for their own independence, and the NVA would have done that against Soviets or Americans. Naturally we lost.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

our invasion of Iraq cleared the way for these factions to go at it... it's like destroying the police force of a city like LA; the gangs would go at it and take over... lots of bloodshed on both sides, and in between... we have unleashed a gang war on a massive scale...

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

our invasion of Iraq cleared the way for these factions to go at it

that is very generous of you. some might stipulate that the installation of negroponte/salvadoran option into the equasion instigated rather than 'cleared the way'

11:27 AM  
Anonymous gj said...

Annie - have noticed that. But even in the Vietnam days (which was my era) the US Left didn't seem too intellectually orientated into Marx as was significant section of Left here (Australia) and in UK.

If anybody is interested in where they are coming from, which is a serious Marxist derived intellectual position, they can be found by googling Harry's Place (UK) or LastSuperpower (Australia).

2:40 AM  
Anonymous Boulos said...

Those Shiite Majousis... a dangerous crowd!

1:41 PM  

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