Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sadr and Hashemi both edging toward the door

Talk about volatility. IraqSlogger this morning headlines "AlQaeda on the run?", while CNN trumpets "Sunni demand could unravel Iraqi government." What a day for news!

Naturally these are exaggerations, but the point is that these "collapse" and "on the run" stories are part and parcel of the media fixation on finding a US "exit"-strategy, and soon. If AlQaeda is on the run, then maybe there would be one less argument for "staying". If the current Shiia government is on the verge of collapse, perhaps the next one will be more inclusive and somehow break the quagmire deadlock. Easy enough to debunk both ideas, but the point is this is what we are being fed.

Along with the fixation on US exit-strategy, we have also been fed a steady diet of self-cleansing blame. According to the NYT editorial yesterday, the whole Iraq problem is the result of the do-nothing attitude of the Maliki administration. And the "progressive" blog-jihadis have been at the forefront of this interpretation, dismissing internal UIA political tensions as "theater", describing Sadr as a thug and Sistani as a Mafia figure, all of them driven by narrow self-interest only, and together engaged in deceiving the Americans about the prospects for reconciliation. As if the sole purpose of the Americans in Iraq was to establish peace and tranquillity, like missionaries in a way, so as to be able to "leave" with a clear conscience. Given this, the Qaeda-on-the-run and the government-collapse stories fit in quite nicely. Perhaps enlightenment and inclusiveness will prevail after all! Or all-out civil war! Either way, it will be a good argument for "withdrawal".

Meanwhile, closer to the real world, Sadrists are telling Al-Hayat that Sadr is making efforts to regain his nationalist and resistance credentials, having emissaries talk with Sunni groups outside of Iraq, and trying to engineer a purge of lawless elements in the Mahdi Army. The Sadrist sources say the current is seriously considering exiting from the UIA, as a result of the ongoing dispute over demands for a US withdrawal timetable, and more immediately as a result of disputes over how to replace the Sadrist cabinet ministers who have been pulled from the government by the movement. Sadrists say it now appears SCIRI will be trying to have those positions filled, not with competent and politically neutral technocrats, which was the original idea, but instead with SCIRI partisans. As reported, there have been Badr-Mahdi Army military clashes in the south, probably not unrelated to these political disputes.

The Tariq al-Hashemi interview with CNN is a reflection of the same trend. Hashemi too is bent on trying to salvage some degree of nationalist credibility, saying his decision to participate in this government will have been the "mistake of my life" (if the constitution is not amended, he added). What both Sadr and Hashemi are trying to do is distance themselves from the existing political arrangements, Sadr from the UIA, Hashemi from the Maliki administration. Naturally, the integrity, self-esteem and continued existence of the groups they lead is uppermost, but also, and as part and parcel of that, the preservation of their own reputations and that of their groups as proponents of national unity. And both of them seem to have decided that this has to lie in some other direction than continuing to hope for a government-led reconciliation. That would be the resistance.

Hashemi's Islamic Party is a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, and the recent report by the AlJazeera bureau chief in Amman (in his Al-Ghad column) referred to the original MB directive that led to this kind of participation in the American-sponsored government as "catastrophic". Hashemi seems to be getting ready to concede that point.

15 Comments:

Blogger Swopa said...

Meanwhile, closer to the real world, Sadrists are telling Al-Hayat that Sadr is making efforts to regain his nationalist and resistance credentials...

Kind of funny that you consider obviously self-serving spin to be "closer to real world."

Naive, but funny.

(I do appreciate, however, the tidbit about SCIRI seeking to screw over the Sadr-Maliki deal regarding the Sadrist ministries, which seems quite plausible.)

Incidentally, when you suggest that posts of mine "fit in quite nicely" with the notions that the US is seeking "peace and tranquillity," Al Qaeda is on the run, and the Maliki government is on the verge of collapse... do you have any evidence that I've ever endorsed any of these notions, or are you just, well, making shit up? (To give you the benefit of the doubt, the paragraph in question is so incoherently written that I'm not sure what you're trying to say.)

1:34 PM  
Blogger badger said...

the only implicit reference to your posts was the part about "dismissing internal UIA political tensions as 'theater', describing Sadr as a thug and Sistani as a Mafia figure, all of them driven by narrow self-interest only, and together engaged in deceiving the Americans about the prospects for reconciliation". The rest was my interpretation ("just making this shit up" as you so charmingly put it) of where this fits in the whole blame-the-iraqis picture. I'm sorry this was not up to your standards of sophistication.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

FWIW, I responded substantively to your critique at AmFoot.

http://americanfootprints.com/drupal/node/3440

-Eric Martin
The Last Action Blogger/Progressive Jihadi

3:04 PM  
Blogger Swopa said...

The rest was my interpretation ("just making this shit up" as you so charmingly put it) of where this fits in the whole blame-the-iraqis picture...

Okay, well, let's simplify matters then: Do you have any evidence that I believe (as you rather explicitly claim) that "the whole Iraq problem is the result of the do-nothing attitude of the Maliki administration"?

Because it seems to me that you made that up, too.

3:34 PM  
Blogger badger said...

"It is now essential that the revised version [of the timetable bill] not back away from demanding that Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, finally deliver on the crucial national reconciliation measures he has spent the last year dodging. And it must make clear that American support for his failures — and Mr. Bush’s — is fast waning". NYT May 7

"Allow me to explain what is happening [with respect to the "benchmarks" issue]....[T]he Shiite-dominated government doesn't want to share power, or give the U.S. an inside track to its oil, etc. So, much like Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army during the current would-be crackdown, the government is lying low and hoping to wait us out..." Swopa April 26

The point is the creation of a climate of opinion or interpretation that sees Iraq through (a) the lens of internal tensions centering on Iraqi good-for-nothings, rather than (b) through the lens of military occupation with its controlled government on the one side, versus resistance on the other side.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Swopa said...

Both (a) and (b) are overly simplistic views.

The gist of my April 26th post (which you quote above) is that the Maliki government isn't failing to meet U.S. demands because they're dithering "good-for-nothings" -- it's because they genuinely don't want what Bush/Cheney want. That has been the common thread of my analyses of Iraqi post-invasion politics from November 2003 onward (which have generally proven quite accurate).

Thus, "the whole Iraq problem" isn't the fault of the Maliki government (just as it wasn't the fault of the Jaafari government). Rather, it's the result of three major forces (the U.S., the UIA, and the Sunni resistance -- leaving aside for the moment the latter two's internal divisions) that have mutually exclusive goals for the country and are (1) strong enough to deny the others success while (2) not being strong enough to impose their own will.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Adding my two cents: the notion that there is a "military occupation with its controlled government on the one side, versus resistance on the other side" belies the complex dynamic at play.

For example, is Sadr a part of the US controlled government - or only when he was a full participant? When was the cutoff date - or has it not yet fully arrived?

How about SCIRI? Dawa? All those groups with strong ties to Iran and Iraqi focused interests are just US pawns?

The government is largely comprised, after all, of the UIA list that Sistani organized and massaged to a unified position. Then, should one conclude that Sistani himself is US controlled?

Rather, the Shiite/Kurdish government has been more than willing to use "democracy" and US assistance when it has suited their interests, but not more. Maliki and the UIA will only go so far in appeasing US interests. Ditto the Kurds. When push comes to shove, or there is a threat of giving away what one or the other views as vital, they balk. Or use some plausible excuse for why they are "powerless" to act as requested. Again, Sadr has been useful as such a foil - at least for the UIA.

The "resistance" (if by that you mean Sunni groups and, occassionally Sadr), on the other hand, has had little to nothing to gain from US assistance, and so stands largely opposed. If the US turned on the UIA, you would see the same "principled" resistance from the UIA (that date may be approaching actually).

But if the US threw in its lot with the Sunnis in order to gain an advantage vis-a-vis the Shiite bloc, do you suppose the Sunnis would reject such help?

Didn't you recently write a post about how the US was courting certain Sunni factions and that, in turn, those Sunni factions were evangelicizing on behalf of the occupation?

Doesn't that seem to suggest that the alliances, oppositions and various maneuvering is much more fluid and based more on self interest than on lofty ideals and other sentimentalities?

5:51 PM  
Blogger Swopa said...

Incidentally, just to underline how the above framework differs from your depiction of "self-cleansing blame," I'll note that the U.S. is doubly to blame for the current morass -- first for having set it in motion to begin with by invading, and second for entrenching ourselves in the pursuit of goals (permanent military bases, oil, etc.) that aren't acceptable to any significant Shiite or Sunni faction, thereby exacerbating the antagonism on all sides.

5:55 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I am talking about the creation of a climate of public opinion, not a seminar debate, so naturally (a) and (b) are simplistic. But when you describe the Iraqi situation as a logjam or three-way stalemate, you illustrate my point in another way. Resistance to foreign occupation is one thing, and UIA-Sunni differences are a completely different type of thing. To say that the three of them (US, UIA, Sunni resistance) have "mutually exclusive goals for the country..." is of course quite a euphemism, but mainly it indicates you are thinking of the US occupation as another competing force along side the UIA and the Sunnis, implying that if the US were strong enough to impose its own will, this logjam problem would be solved. But the problem isn't that there is a logjam, the problem is that there is an occupation.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

...implying that if the US were strong enough to impose its own will, this logjam problem would be solved. But the problem isn't that there is a logjam, the problem is that there is an occupation.

Of course if the US was strong enough to impose its will, the logjam would be solved. Same would be true if the Shiites, Sunnis or Kurds were strong enough to achieve such control.

But why do you assume that just because someone describes that rather obvious dynamic (actually, it's probably a tautology), that the person therefore endorses the occupation? Why are you inserting a normative element in what is really just an observation.

Can't someone both discuss the reality of the inter- and intra- ethnic/sectarian conficts and also oppose the continuation of the occupation?

Because that's my position.

I just think that maybe you aren't giving either Swopa or I the benefit of the doubt that is warranted.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Amer said...

Dear Badger,
Again, I have to say that I enjoy your posts and analysis.

Of course, I cannot prevent you from ascribing to me intentions and beliefs that I do not hold, but I have to point out that the 'discourse-analysis' you've applied to my al-Qa`ida on the run piece is not very accurate.

I do believe that al-Qa`ida is being marginalized and defeated, their "islamic state" project was an utter failure, and has brought about much popular opposition.

However, people who trumpet that this signals a victory for the government or US occupation are simply misled.

The tribes in Anbar battle with al-Qa`ida not out of support for the political process and the government, but because they want militias that are "effective" (Badr-style) and believe that al-Qa`ida prevents them from having that.

Of course, the pro-government media is trying to paint the "tribes" as their ally, while in fact, they are simply one militia replacing another.

Moreover, al-Qa`ida's main enemy in Anbar are not the tribes, but resistance factions who deplore al-Qa`ida's tactics and find them to be detrimental to their cause.

In other terms, the defeat of al-Qa`ida will most probably mean more attacks against US forces, not less.

Of course, people can spin the news in any way they want, especially when they know very little about the topic. And my posts can be used by the right -which I sometimes see on some blogs- but then again, you cannot control how people think about what you write.

I can see why you would link the "al-qa`ida on the run" title with the "blame the iraqis" discourse, as you correctly call it, but that was not my intention. To believe in such garbage requires a colonial mindset that I do not have.

Of course, the American political elite can come up with any "line" they want to avoid being self-reflective and self-critical (by shifting agency to the "backward natives"), this would not be the first time. But the way I see it, the war is largely over in Iraq, and I am not very interested in domestic US debates regarding how to 'spin' defeat.

11:02 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Amer, It's nice to hear from you. The truth is I've found a lot of your posts quite helpful and a good read too. I'll try and be more conscientious, when I comment, about sorting out between what you do from some of the more corporate-editorial stuff that happens over there.

Your phrase about spinning defeat neatly sums up what I was getting at. But it is something that for me is still interesting and important. Because even if the "war" is largely over, the question of how to continue control of Iraq is going to be a big issue for the Democrats, and how the defeat is being spun is laying the groundwork for that.

That's why I might sometimes seem a little fanatical about the issue...

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Rosemary said...

This has been a useful discussion. I appreciate all of you.

I hope you all continue to share and critique each other's observations. We all learn from it.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Nell said...

Any comment or analysis of the announcement that a majority of Iraqi legislators back a bill for occupation troop withdrawal (and requiring legislative approval for any request for renewal of the UN blessing of the occupation)?

8:37 AM  
Anonymous A said...

Nell, this newspiece is typical, something appears in the Arab media, then three weeks later, becomes "hot news" in the western press.
The "bill" (which is more of a petition, since it has no legal power: the government will never put it up for a vote) was reported over 10 days ago, and the Sadrists have discussed it in several Arab media outlets.
The WaPo discovers it today, and presents is as the "latest" in Iraq.

12:19 PM  

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