Sunday, December 17, 2006

Year-end summary

It's easy to get confused, and it's important not to. Here is an attempt to help sort through the recent series of events.


First of all, there is the story of "political realignment" aka "giving Maliki an alternate political base", freeing him from the Sadrists and enabling him to use the state institutions to attack the Mehdi Army, which is the new Public Enemy # 1 of the Bush arministration. The concept of an "alternate political base" was laid out in the famous Hadley memo, which prepared Bush for his Amman meeting with Maliki.

The technical points in this are the following: (1) The core of the new alliance will be the same as the core of the old, namely SCIRI in the south and the two big Kurdish parties in the north, both proponents of their own autonomous regions, and both staunch US allies since day one of 2003. (2) The keys to success will be to attract other Parliamentary groups to the "new base". But to attract other Shiite groups (including Maliki's Dawa party, headed by former PM Jaafari), you would have to overcome Ayatollah Sistani's rule against splitting the Shiites. The ruse there would be to call the new base "extra-parliamentary", so as to avoid having an "official" split in Parliament. But even at that the Dawa party has said no (following a meeting between party head Jaarafi and Syrian vp Sharaa in Damascus last week). (3) In fact the only apparent "success" has been that Tareq al-Hashemi, following his meeting in Washington with Bush, has said he is willing to join a SCIRI-Kurd alliance (for no apparent reason except having bought into the Bush position that the Mehdi Army is in fact Public Enemy # 1. See the comments to a prior post by Reidar Visser, who follows Baghdad politics in some detail; he says the Hashemi move is puzzling at the least).

The tentative conclusion is that "political re-alignment" or the "new base" idea doesn't seem to be working too sell.


Following the two earlier meetings in this series (for tribes and NGOs respectively) yesterday they finally convened the third and most important of these, for political parties and groups.

The most important point here is who didn't come. Of course the Sadrists didn't come. But here is the other point: The biggest Sunni coalition in Parliament is the Iraqi National Accord (INA), and it is made up of three main parts: Iraqi Peoples Congress, headed by Adnan Dulaimi (who is also head of the INA as a whole); National Dialogue Front, headed by Saleh al-Mutlak; and Iraqi Islamic Party, headed by Tareq al-Hashemi. The first two groups (Dulaimi's Peoples Congress and al-Mutlak's Dialogue Front) boycotted the reconciliation meeting (according to this morning's account in Al-Hayat. So the only major component of the INA that is still playing the game is Hashemi's group (or Hashimi personally, depending on how you look at his relationship to his group).

Armed resistance groups weren't represented, because the US has refused their demand for a commitment to unconditional withdrawal. And the Baath party, which is outlawed as a party, wasn't there, and moreover it said Maliki welshed on a prior commitment to use his presidential powers to roll back de-Baathification. So naturally there wasn't any progress getting any of the resistance groups into the political process. Which wasn't expected anyway. Rather, the news is that the same groups that are staying out of the "new political base" (Sadrists and major Sunni groups) also stayed away from the "reconciliation" meeting.

To put it another way, the parties that boycotted the "reconciliation" meeting are those that have been reported to be working on a nationalist, cross-sect coalition to demand US withdrawal from within Parliament, in opposition to the proposed SCIRI/Kurd-based "new base for Maliki" idea. It is the same alignment of forces. And to put it another way, the "reconciliation" process isn't working too well either.


See the prior post. This was a meeting that appears to have been spearheaded by Harith al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association (subject of the recent arrest-warrant episode), and it brought together Adnan Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi National Accord (see above) and also (via messages) representatives of three mainly domestic armed resistance groups (Islamic Army of Iraq, Revolution of 1920 Brigades, and Army of Mohammed) and of course al-Dhari, all from the Iraqi side, and representatives of Islamist activism from Saudi Arabia and other countries on the non-Iraqi side.

There are two initial points. One is the nature of the English-language coverage of this meeting. Here is the English-language version on the website of Turkish newspaper Hurriyet: Title: Fear of Taliban Presence at meeting on Iraq. Text:
The presence of Sheikh Haris Ed Dari, the leader of the Iraqi Sunni Ulema Committee, at a meeting in [word missing in the text] caused discomfort to Iraqis, religious Sunni leaders and United States officials at a meeting in Istanbul.

The meeting was organized by the "Global Initiative for the Struggle against Militancy", in order to help the people. A number of religious Sunni leaders attended from Iraq, Qatar, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The central Iraqi government and the United States government were concerned that Ed Dari was present because he is believed to have ties with both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Iraqi Shiites and Kurds also hold Ed Dari responsible for the civil war.

In other words, the US disinformation people were working the phones. In the more sophisticated US press, there has been not a single word about the Istanbul meeting. In the main US retail outlets, the approach is not to mention it at all. The coverage of the Istanbul meeting has worked out like this: NYT zero; WaPo zero; "Informed Comment" zero; and so on down the line.

There could be many reasons for the silence, but I would like to focus on just one point: There was an anti-Shiite declaration earlier in the week by a group of 38 Saudis published on a website called The director of that website was at the Istanbul meeting, and he said his anti-Shiite piece, and this was followed by a rebuttal by AlDhari. Here's how that went: Nasr al-Amr, the website director, said it is important to treat the Shiites "fairly", explaining that a lot of Shiites don't understand what is at stake, and don't understand the root nature of the Iranian threat, so it is necessary to explain this Shiism to the Shiites themselves (as well as to Sunnis). In other words, it is the fundamentalist Christian very graciously offering to convert the Jews. Here's what al-Dhari had to say about that in rebuttal (from the text of the Azzaman account):
Al-Dhari replied to this, warning against turning this conference into a field for stoking jingoist sectarian arrogance via aggressive statements against the Shiites, who are a part of the fabric of Iraqi society. And Dhari called for letting reason and wisdom prevail in discussion this type of issue. And he added: The original crime was the American occupation, and the agents who came with them are from all the sects....[And conversely] many of the tribal leaders in the South are Shiites, and they fight against the government and against the occupation, and the prisons in the North are filled with opponents of the colonial project [meaning Kurds]...
Dhari is saying: No, this is a political issue, not a sectarian one. No wonder there isn't any English language coverage of it.

This is the inexorable US policy. Marginalize Sadr. Marginalize Dhari. Where a reasonable person would encourage the cross-sect opening indicated by both of them, US policy is instead to continue pushing the situation to a conflagration. It will look inevitable. But it will have been the result of US policy, by commission and omission.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

US policy seems to be to support those parties who's ascendency will only mean a weak Iraqi state. The prospect of an al Sadr led Iraq would mean an Iraqi regime which will be more independent than the alternatives and base its legitimacy on nationalism which effectively could mean an active even aggressive anti-American actor in the region an unpredictable factor in the regional system. The weak but stable state led by the Shia Arab/Sunni Kurd parties with a docile Sunni Arab partner as the ultimate goal could also be part of an Iranian-Saudi comprimise regarding Iraq.

3:41 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I think we're getting warm.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous GJ said...

Muqtada has consistently proclaimed his belief that Iraq must be a Shiite Islamic Republic, not a democracy, (presumably led by him). However to achieve this now he would have to militarily overthrow the current coalition majority fellow Shiite Govt and the constitution voted upon in 2004. This is because the Kurds and Sunnis will not agree to a Shiite Islamic State and they all have a vote which between them can stymie it. The constitution, as I understand it, requires a two thirds majority to be amended. So even if the Shiites were united it is unlikely they could summon the numbers: for eg they do not have anywhere near a two thirds majority in the Iraqi Parliament even now as a small but significant portion of their vote goes to secular or other parties.

The other major grouping in Iraq opposed to the constitution and voting system seem to be Sunni/Baath insurgency seeking at very least the restoration of a privileged position not warrented by their numbers under proportional representation or, at most, resumption of their absolute power over 80% of Iraq population..

On the face of it they and Sadr have a common aim to overthrow Govt and Constitution. So why have they not been fighting as a united front? If they had been, as they did briefly in 2004, then the US occupation would have been in crisis long before this.

Surely this indicates that Sadr is playing Baath opportunistically and, however much he flirts, always ends up throwing in his lot with Sistani Shiite establishment when forced to the choice.

Seems to me the Baath leaders know this from experience which is probably why Sadr City has been a consistent object of their attentions in recent times just as it was under Baath minority rule until 2003.

12:32 AM  

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