Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Squaring the circle

Let's try and sort this out. There are three groups that are, among other things, anti-SCIRI and anti-Dawa (let's call them anti-establishment) involved on the receiving end of the massive military action outside Najaf on Sunday, namely the millenarian group, the Hawatim tribe, and the local tribe.

Abdulhuseyn Abtan, who is vice-governor of SCIRI-controlled Najaf and has been a de facto SCIRI spokesman in this, says the millenarian group was run and manipulated by foreign fighters, with the aim of taking over first Najaf, then killing the Najaf authorities, then taking over the whole province, then other provinces. They used fake slogans and they weren't even themselves Shiites. This was the danger, very AlQaeda-like, so naturally any use of force was justified. This is in justification of the actions of the Najaf authorities in handling this the way they did. Abtan's riff in its fullest form can be found here, on the SCIRI news-agency website.

The account of this at the other end of the Iraqi political spectrum is that the fighting was triggered by and centered on the Hawatim tribe, who were anti-Iranian, hence would be regarded as persona non grata by the Iranian-oriented Najaf authorities. (The millenarians of course were also persona non grata), but the point would be that this was more of a settling of accounts with undesirable elements than a reponse to a threat. This is by way of criticising the Najaf authorities for wiping out groups they didn't like. There is a version of this in Azzaman this morning.

Those are the two poles of the debate in Iraqi-political terms.

In American terms, the debate has one, obvious side, namely that whatever the situation between the Iraqi parties to this, the Americans haven't even been able to explain who are the upwards of 200 people killed by their bombs and rockets, in what the Al-Hayat reporter today notes was the most intense such air attack since Falluja II at the end of 2004. At best, the Americans seem to have been lured into this blindly.

The other side of the US debate, which supposedly would be that the threat justified this response, hasn't materialized. In fact as the Al-Hayat reporter notes, the US military authorities haven't made any announcement about what happened, except to say that the operation was led by the Iraqis. And the NYT and others seem to have let the matter drop.

So that's the picture: On the Iraqi side the Najaf-good party adopts all or parts of the frightening story told by vice-governor Abtan, up to and sometimes including the AlQaeda-like coloration and the whole story of the plot to take over Najaf and other provinces. And on the other hand the Najaf-bad party, which points out that the victims were all "politically" opponents of the Najaf regime, and that was the main reason for the fierceness of the attacks against them.

On the US side, there is a Bush-bad interpretation of this, but so far no Bush-good side of it has been developed.

Enter Dr Cole. In an unusually detailed argument this morning, he develops a self-contradictory Bush-bad/but-Najaf-good argument. Bush-bad because he hasn't recognized the incompetence of the Iraqi forces, who were overwhelmed by "a few hundred cultists", something either he wasn't told, or if he was he lied about it. But Najaf-good because there really was a very major threat after all, and for this he hypothesizes that the Hawatim had actually come to back up the millenarian group in their Najaf-takeover scheme.

It is an argument full of ad-hominems (an extremist Sunni site also takes the Najaf-bad position, so it must be wrong), non-sequiturs ("SCIRI, which controls Najaf, is Bush's major ally in Iraq even though it is close to Iran. Those fighting the Najaf government and Iraqi army forces were anti-Iranian. Rightwing bloggers seem confused on these points"), and those little errors that can mean so much. (For instance, Cole says Al-Hayat interviewed residents in the area who said the cult leader was Diya' Kazim Abd al-Zahra from Diwaniya, a point central to his speculation that the Hawatim tribe had come to back up the millenarians, the tribe being also from Diwaniya; but in fact the ID of the dead cult leader as from Diwaniya comes from the SCIRI spokesman and the SCIRI news-site. Others identified him with a different name and no reference to Diwaniya).

But the main point is this: Cole goes through all this because he is trying to square the circle. There is his crowd-pleasing attack on Bush for not recognizing the incompetence of the Iraqi military, alongside a defence of the Najaf establishment based on the frightening seriousness of the threat. Bush bad, Najaf good. It is vintage stuff.

To get away from all this kind of tendentious argumentation, the best thing is the series of recent reports by Reidar Visser available here. He has an update today.


Blogger JHM said...

The War on Juan is great fun, to be sure, and I have my mental reservations also, but are we really to suppose that THE missing link is to be unearthed somewhere out back behind the Ann Arbor Faculty Club?

11:56 AM  
Blogger JHM said...

The War on Juan is great fun, to be sure, and I have my mental reservations also, but are we really to suppose that THE missing link is to be unearthed somewhere out back behind the Ann Arbor Faculty Club?

11:57 AM  
Blogger badger said...

It's not that much fun actually, but I think it's occasionally worthwhile

3:50 PM  
Anonymous e cigarettes said...

I don't it's funny too.I hate any kinds of wars.

12:33 AM  

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