Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dollar-dipomacy to split the Shiites: Will it work this time?

There has been an outpouring of statements by various Baghdad politicians announcing their agreement to join together in a new alliance described as non-sectarian and for the good of the country and so on. In fact, by my count, someone from everywhere on the parliamentary spectrum except the Sadrists has expressed support for this, including people in SCIRI, Kurdish parties (the two big ones), Dawa (Maliki's party), the Islamic Party (big Sunni party), Iraqi List (Allawi's party), and Iraqi National Alliance (the umbrella parliamentary alliance of the Sunni parties).

Associated Press, which is a wonderfully reliable indicator of covert Washington spin in cases like this, said this is an attempt to "oust Maliki". Others have said it is merely an attempt to provide him with an alternative political base so that he can get tough with the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army. What's actually happening ?

We have a couple of unusually helpful clues to work with.

First let's take another look at the Hadley memo. (Hadley to Bush, just ahead of his Amman meeting with Maliki). Hadley wrote: "We could help him [Maliki] form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni Shia Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base could constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free him from him current narrow reliance on Shia actors."

Hadley also wrote: "We would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki's new political bloc".

And among the other possible US support efforts, Hadley mentioned this:
Consider monetary support to moderate groups that have been seeking to break with larger, more sectarian parties, as well as support Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of the bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists.
This morning Al-Hayat quotes remarks by Hakim in London (on his way back to Baghdad from his talks in Washington with Bush) that included an assurance that the current inter-party discussions are "a natural thing to try and deal with the escalating threats", and not an attempt to replace Maliki. Someone asked him about the implication that the United Iraqi Alliance (the pan-Shiite parliamentary coalition, including SCIRI and the Sadrists among others) could end up being split over this. Hakim replied:
[SCIRI] is dedicated to the unity of the United Iraqi Alliance. ...Many efforts have been undertaken to split the UIA, involving the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars [but this has been] without success.
Lest we forget, or more likely lest we were never made aware of it in the first place, this isn't the first Washingon attempt to ally itself with SCIRI (and the Kurds) and ditch the Sadrists at the same time.

Following the general elections of December 2005, the UIA picked Jaafari (Dawa, and incumbent Prime Minister, supported by Sadr) to be its candidate for Prime Minister in the new government. Khalilzad was furious, and he threatened the UIA with dire consequences if they named anyone but the SCIRI candidate for this: Here is what the Elaph reporter said at the time (early February 2006):
[Informed Iraqi sources] added that the ambassador [Khalilzad] sent a message to the UIA leadership to the effect that in the event they nominated anyone other than Adel Abdul Mehdi of the four candidates [i.e., the four UIA candidates for PM]...he would work for the establishment of an opposition front in Parliament [that would be able to outvote the UIA].
Moreover, the journalist went on, still citing his Iraqi sources:
The sources explained that in the event they [the UIA] nominated someone other than Mehdi, Khalilzad was issuing indirect threats to the effect he would create a number of problems and put down obstacles in the way of such a government, thwarting its aims, and forcing it to resign, [and this would be followed by creation of a non-UIA government based on the coalition Khalilzad was threatening to create].
Why Mehdi?

The journalist said this move by Khalilzad was based on the "Western and regional agenda" aimed at thwarting "Shiite hegemony" in Iraq, adding that in the case of Mahdi, there was an "unwritten agreement to diminish the Iranian influence" in Iraqi affairs. This point wasn't elaborated on.

The eventual choice, Maliki, represented a compromise between Jaafari, who was seen as too close to Sadr, and Mehdi, who is pure SCIRI. This was the best Washington could do at the time.
According to the NYT, the Washington favorite is still Mehdi. And needless to say, we still don't really know the the true nature of the love that unites Washington with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

(We do know something about the love that unites Washington with Mehdi personally, and a commenter provides a link to this useful summary of his economic-policy "credentials"-- aggressive on oil-sector legislation, foreign-investment policy, and so on. But SCIRI is an Iranian creature, so where does Iran fit in. That we don't know).


Blogger erdla said...

Associated Press, which is a wonderfully reliable source for the covert Washington spin in cases like this, said this is an attempt to "oust Maliki". Others have said it is merely an attempt to provide him with an alternative political base so that he can get tough with the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army. What's actually happening ?

should that not read:

Associated Press, which is a wonderfully reliable source of the covert Washington spin in cases like this, said this is an attempt to "oust Maliki". Others have said it is merely an attempt to provide him with an alternative political base so that he can get tough with the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army. What's actually happening ?

10:24 AM  
Blogger badger said...

good point. I edited that to "indicator of..." to make sure nobody gets confused. Thanks

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'd rethink the bit about the "Sunnis" a bit here. What it seems like, from reading around, is that it ONE Sunni leader, Hajim al-Hasani, who is on board. It should be that this is the same al-Hasani who backed the Iraqi Constitution (generally hated by the Sunnis as a "Persian/American" effort to destroy Iraq and its Arab idenity). He was also in exile for 24 years before the invasion. He's sort of the Joe Lieberman of Iraqi bipartisanship, in other words.

I know you don't like the NYTimes's reporting, but if you read between the lines of yesterday's Ed Wong story, this is clear - where it says many Sunnis - even in his own party - were apopletic with the announcement.

Basically, you have two competing blocs right now, with perhaps unknowable numbers - but I'm guessing neither is close to 2/3. A pro-occupation bloc consisting of SCIRI, the Kurds, a few renegade Sunnis (who might have been bought off in some way?), and maybe the Allawi group (although I'm not certain about this) against the Sadrists, Fadhilla, maybe Dawa and the Sunnis, who are anti-occupation.

12:43 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

So to counter the so-called Shiite crescent emerging from Persia, they'll back SCIRI over (Arab, nationalist, violent) Sadr.

Oh, brilliant.

1:37 PM  
Blogger badger said...

anonymous, I hope I didn't leave the wrong impression. The new "alternate base for Maliki" is supposed to be basically SCIRI and the Kurds, with any Sunni window-dressing they can buy (how much or how little of that really remains to be seen, I guess). My main point was this is the same SCIRI-Kurd concept that Khalilzad was pushing back in the Feb-spring period, and for the same reason: to try and pry SCIRI loose from the nationalist Sadr so they can try and form a clearly pro-occupation government.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


than we are in agreement. I look forward to reading more about the developments in the days to come.

My sense is that SCIRI, the Kurds, some Sunni window dressing and Allawi isn't enough - that only adds up to about 130 or so seats.

My guess is that if Maaliki is being schemed against, Dawa, Fadhilla and the Sadrists (although Fadhilla are also Sadrists) would add up to at least 2/3 of the UIA. I'd also guess most of the Sunnis won't back Madini - indeed, they despise SCIRI the most of any of the Shi'ite factions. I'm not sure about Allawi, although I'd imagine he'd ultimately go along with the pro-US (pro-Iran?) coalition

2:35 PM  
Blogger badger said...


2:47 PM  
Blogger annie said...

Why Mehdi?

antonia juhasz on Adel Abdul Mahdi Bush's Ace in the Hole in Iraq?

3:28 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Thank you. I put a link to that at the end of the post.

7:35 PM  
Blogger annie said...

my pleasure. you may find her website helpful.

antonia @Veterans for Peace 2006 National Convention in Seattle. "Structural Causes of War"

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do hope Allawi joins this unsavoury bunch - it will serve as a timely reminder that he is a die-hard US stooge and not a nationalist, let alone a potential ally of the Resistance.

As for Hakim, undoubtedly the most ruthless operator on the current Iraqi political scene, his stance reflects the covert deal between the US and Iran. A SCIRI type apparently told Christopher Dickey of Newsweek that "the U.S. doesn't need to tackle [Sadr]. They don't need to do the dirty work. We will do the dirty work. They should stay over the horizon." See:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16072946/site/newsweek/

7:56 AM  

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