Friday, February 16, 2007

Al-Hayat: Chalabi and Hashemi's group are put in charge of the "popular committees"

Al-Hayat reports very briefly on a number of Iraqi political developments. Two of them have to to with the Islamic Party of Iraq (Sunni) headed by Tareq al-Hashemi. The first is that Hashemi (who is also one of the two vice-presidents of Iraq) has made a statement critical of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, to the effect that they have stopped being a religious body and having become more of a political entity, "and this is a big reproach to them". And the second is that a leader of Hashemi's Islamic Party of Iraq is being described as one of the three persons appointed to supervise the system of "popular committees" in Baghdad that are supposed to cooperate in implementing the "new security plan". The other two are Ahmed Chalabi, who is still described as head of De-Baathification Council, and another person who is also a member of that Council.

(Tareq al-Hashemi is the one Sunni leader who was invited to Washington for meetings with Bush following the Bush-Hakim meeting. At that time there was a lot of speculation (based on a passage in the famous "Hadley memo") about an attempt to form a US-friendly "alternate political base" for Maliki, including SCIRI and the Islamic Party, partly to marginalize the Sadrists.)

What today's Al-Hayat report boils down to is that Hashemi and presumably his party have taken a couple of steps in the US-friendly direction, by first of all criticising the Association of Muslim Scholars, and secondly by participating, along with Chalabi, in actual implementation of the "new security plan." The idea of having the de-Baathification chief head a system of local councils in what is supposed to be a non-partisan project seems bizarre, but the Al-Hayat reporter doesn't comment on that. His first sentence gives you the flavor:
Sunni political elements took pains to distance themselves from the "extremist" position of the Association of Muslim Scholars, particularly with respect to the new security plan, in its efforts to rein in armed [persons] and militias, in the area of organizing popular committees, which the head of the de-Baathification Council Ahmad Chalabi has been assigned to set up, along with a member of that [de-Baathification] Council Ali al-Lamy, and a leader of the Islamic Party, Nassir al-Aani.
The journalist notes that the whole popular committees idea has been suggested before, but was rejected "on many levels", because of the risk that the committees themselves could become armed groups in a way that could make problems worse instead of solving them.

(On Chalabi, there was this Al-Quds Al-Arabi report in October (pdf, bottom of the page, I thought I summarized that somewhere) that said he was planning to resign from the De-Baathification position and start up a new political party; and there was this NYT puff-piece that didn't even mention his De-Baathification role.)

On another point, the reporter also says good sources told him Sadr and leaders of the Mahdi Army have taken refuge in the marsh country near the Iranian border, an area, he notes, where the opposition used to take refuge during the Saddam era.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cole also commented briefly on the Al-Hashimi statement. Those who have been discussing, on this blog and Cobban’s, Cole’s ideology embedded in his ‘scholarship’, will find his masterful use of nuance to affect opinion is once again exemplified.

He writes “Al-Hashimi praised the Sunni Arab guerrillas as "honorable" and "sincere" … [he] also slammed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for not cracking down on Shiite militiamen (who, I [Cole] guess, are not in his [Al-Hashimi] view either honorable or sincere).”

The implication is that Al-Hashimi is biased – pro Sunni militia, anti Shia. However, recently, Cole has written extensively in regards to the ‘surge’ and ‘Iranian arms’ that the vast majority of American casualties are at the hands of the Sunnis – not from the Shias. If this is true, then it is reasonable, not bias, that an Iraqi nationalist would call the Sunni militias honorable and not find honorable militias that do not fight Americans.

I would emphasize that I have no opinion on either side; rather, just an historian’s interest in discovering social reality based on the analysis of documents. To my mind, Cole’s documents indicate that he has been trying to affect public opinion against the Sunnis towards the Shia. However, he does not do so as a politician who explicitly argues his opinion; rather as a scholar who appears objective; nevertheless, tacitly posits opinion. Further, given the magnitude of Cole opinion affecting ability on blogs, radio, television, congressional testimony, publications, and (most importantly) teaching; it is important to continually draw out his opinion expressed in the guise of objective scholarship.

6:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually his studies focus on Shia Islam and on Bahaisim ( who aren't considered by the Organization of Islamic Conferences ) so as a scholar I think his field of study is religion not politics and to me that explains his bias, not for the reasons you presented; but because his view on history is mainly religious.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. That is an interesting observation. However, while his field of study is religion, he nevertheless is very political. He continually writes about the politics of the middle east and American politics visa vis the middle east. Understandably so! Seemingly one cannot divorce religion from politics in the Middle East. To support a religions position, it seems, implies support for a political position.

Cole, to my mind, supports the Shia religious positions (indeed, I have a vague recollection that his wife is Shia – I may be wrong). Nevertheless, his Shia leanings have obvious political implications. Which is my point. He presents scholarly religious positions to his audiences with tacit political implications.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He presents scholarly religious positions to his audiences with tacit political implications."

I think that should read:

He presents biased scholarly religious positions to his audiences with biased tacit political implications.

Which what everyone here is complaining about even though I get the feeling I'm the only one who is muslim, so I don't think my view of his bias is unfound.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a non Muslim or Muslim scholar, I cannot speak to his religious bias. However, as a close student of American politics with a fair amount of (non-professional) knowledge of Middle East history, I feel confident about the bias of Cole’s politics.

I do not have a problem with a political bias per se. Presumably, that is what democratic processes are about – people with different views (biases) working together in a political process (e.g. Hamas and Fatah). However, I have a real problem with bias presented as objective scholarship – especially from a teacher – with a mind towards affecting the political views of students and other non-scholars. This is what so called ‘think-tanks’ are about - Cole is a think tank unto himself.

4:55 AM  

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