Sunday, December 02, 2007

Dhari to the Iraqi tribes (with two comments)

This is from the open letter of Harith al-Dhari to the tribes of Iraq, posted on the AMSI site Saturday December 1.
First of all the occupation has to leave in order that we can manage our own affairs, because it is the occupation that places barriers among us so that we can't come together, talk, or agree among ourselves, and it is the occupation that sets off from time to time these outbursts of fitna among us, and sets up the many problems relating to sect, race, social groups, the economy, and so on. And regrettably they have some of our own flesh and blood to carry out their aims; and also very regrettably they have some neighboring [countries] who share their aims and assist in carrying out their policies, which come down to continuing in our country the state of violent upheaval, and [so as to foster a] feeling among us that we need the occupation, and that if it were to exit, then things would be worse, based on this argument: If problems aren't solved with the presence of their hundreds of thousands of fighters, then how can they be solved if they leave?

This they assert, and those who depend on them, and in fact many have fallen for this specious argument. For instance we now hear politicians who used to be for withdrawal, who are now for [having the foreign troops] staying, arguing that their staying will be a guarantee against the country sliding into internal war.

But this is a fiction, because the occupation is the source of the problems, and under it the crises grew worse and new problems arose. In the period of the occupation we have seen fighting and crimes such as Iraqis have never before seen, of a kind that were unknown to Iraqi history. And do you know why? It is because the occupation itself is behind that [fighting and crimes], and do you not see that each time we have succeeded in solving a problem and been on the verge of plucking out the root of it, another has been put in our path, so as to keep us in this cycle of occupation and fitna. ...But on the day that the occupation leaves, we will be able to isolate our problems, and solve them one after the other.

We Iraqis do not have great problems, because our land is broad and can hold double our present numbers, and it is fertile by the grace of God from the north to the south, its water is plentiful, and its resources are sufficient for us and for tens of generations to come, and in fact that is the reason the enemy has designs on us. So let us agree to throw them out, and to thwart them in their ambitions and the ambitions of the others....
More specifically in terms of the parallel history or "cycle" of occupation and sectarian troubles, Dhari notes among other things, first that already the initial acts of Bremer, in setting up an Interim Governing Council based on sectarian allocations (in addition to the dissolution of the army and the outlawing of the Baath party as a whole) laid the groundwork for a sectarian political system, and Dhari includes in this letter a lengthy explanation how the Lebanese system of sectarian allocations, which seems to have been the model for this, works to perpetuate and worsen the pattern of tit-for-tat antagonism in that country, and his point is that it is this same system that the occupation deliberately set up in Iraq.

Most recently--and this was the immediate motive for this letter--there has been a new manifestation of this same policy of sowing the seeds of fitna. Dhari puts it this way: Having accused the occupation of having set out to create a "second Lebanon", via the sect-allocation system, federalism, Biden and the rest of it, he writes:
And now the occupation is intent on a new technique in support of these plans, namely fragmentation--fragmenting of a single sect, of a single tribe, of a single region--and then the setting up of cantons, with armed regions fighting one another, and competing warlords, firing up in this way fitna in our beloved country in order to tear apart its limbs and leave the country weak, so that he [the occupier] will be the master, and those of the powers of evil who came with him, bringing the country in the final analysis to a civil war that will burn in every corner of the land.

And there is no doubt that tribespeople will be an important [target], on which they will spend a lot of effort and money, in order to create centers of polarization within a single tribe, and they will nourish this polarization with their money and their weapons, and naturally with the money of Iraq also, so as to go on from there to create bloody internal battles. And in fact they have already begun with this type of thing in the center and south of Iraq.

Beware, beware, you sons of our people, sons of our tribes, and all the sons of the two rivers, beware of these traps...which will turn the nation and its people into a pawn in the hands of the occupation. But our confidence in you is high, you Arab tribes and Kurdish tribes and Turkmen tribes and the tribes of all of Iraq, and the hopes of the ummah are focused on you and on your alertness and your efforts and on your jihad.
Two comments:

I would like to call attention to a couple of points out of many. First: The critique of the awakening-councils movement is only superficially similar to the Washington critique. The Washington debate goes like this: "Great way to kill AlQaeda". "Maybe, but in the absence of a national agreement, sooner or later those weapons could be turned against others (Shiites for instance, in the case of Sunni groups)". Dhari doesn't mention AlQaeda or Shiites or Sunnis. For him, that way of looking at it is part of the cycle of occupation and fitna that started with Bremer and is now being continued and escalated. Rather, his focus is on the method. At any given time in the process, the Americans are interested in finding new ways to drive wedges into what was originally an organic whole. And this is now down to the level of the individual sect, region, and even the individual tribe. It is a question of who you are and what you do: You can try to put the social fabric back together (which is what Dhari says Iraqis will do once the occupation is gone), or you can carry on trying to rip it into ever-smaller parts, which is what he says the Americans are doing.

Another point I would like to underline is the place of Lebanon in his argument, as an example of how a sectarian-allocation system works to perpetuate tit-for-tat fitna. The example had obviously been there for a long time prior to 2003 as a cautionary example of what happens with a sectarian approach. Personally I think this is a point that stands in the way of any arguments emphasizing ignorance over malice in the formation of US policy. They thought Iraq was located in some other part of the world, or of the cosmos?


Anonymous JoeC said...

I would still not throw out the "ignorance" argument. The Bush administration has been desperate for some signs of success and it seems pretty clear that some of the more thoughtful military units recognized that working pro-actively with tribes could reduce the immediate levels of violence.

Some experts had been suggesting the "tribal option" for some time, to include Pat Lang - who was commissioned to produce a rather lengthy report on this topic a while back.

It seems quite likely that military units who have pursued this "tactical" opportunity would not be well informed about the pitfalls of the Lebanon experience and it is quite possible that such units had license to move in any direction that reduced short-term violence.

One only has to see how much less violence on the nightly news has removed the Iraq war from "the" central issue that it is quite plausible that what we are seeing remains improvisation.

Keep up the good work!

2:28 PM  
Blogger badger said...

fair enough, point taken.

3:06 PM  
Blogger dancewater said...

I don't buy the "ignorance" model at all.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

You are of course right in your condemnation of Biden and the knee-jerk, Balkans-happy, three-color press who have a simplistic sectarian understanding of Iraq. But claiming sectarianism in Iraq merely a product of the U.S. occupation is way, way too far in the opposite direction. You certainly want to counter the exaggerated sectarian narrative, but it makes your arguments harder to take seriously when they are in such stark contradiction to history and to what people currently see on the ground.

Specifically, saying Iraq "was once an organic whole"is patently absurd. Not only is the last half century of Iraq, which is riven by coups, social unrest, and authoritarian governments, the definition of a divided society, the best Iraq observers have long cited factionalism as a defining characteristic of Iraqi society. Read your Ali al-Wardi! Sure, the most important tensions have often not been sectarian, but tribal, geographic, and, especially in modern times, ideological. And while there is definitely an "Iraq" and "Iraqness," and has been for much longer than many historians are willing to acknowledge, there is and always has been a multitude of competing identities. I have no doubt that you go farther than Hareth al-Dhari himself would!

Overall, your posts are very sharp, and you have a very good eye for what's significant in the Iraqi scene. But in your trenchant critiques of others' prejudices you don't realize that you're falling victim to some of your own.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It seems quite likely that military units who have pursued this "tactical" opportunity would not be well informed about the pitfalls of the Lebanon experience and it is quite possible that such units had license to move in any direction that reduced short-term violence.

possible, but not 'quite likely'.

Local psychological operations are given a fair amount of flexibility to operate as they please. But their primary messages are handed down from much further up the chain of command. Major Brian Yarbrough, who, until recently headed up all pysops work in Anbar province, told me, "We operate within psyops objectives determined in Washington. Baghdad draws up the supporting objectives. Then we work out specific themes and actions."

one would have to assume washington wasn't thinking long term, highly unlikely.


note the source link update.. from weekly standard's weblog here

"Sectarian hate" predated the American invasion of Iraq, and we'd be foolish not to exploit it, when possible, to further our own ends. This is how empires effectively managed unruly provinces for centuries. Noah's not all wrong, it's certainly a dangerous game. But it seems that the strategy, for now, is showing obvious signs of success. Down the road it may cause problems, but back in January, everyone expected down the road to be all out civil war--so this seems like a good problem to have.

Sam, as for your 'patently absurd allegations the best Iraq observers have long cited factionalism as a defining characteristic of Iraqi society.

all the more reason not to believe 'whoops so sorry we were in mistake mode'. iraq was one of the most, if not the most secular countries in the middle east prior to our 'liberation' which fueled sectarian division. to think it wasn't by design and a long series of 'mistakes' is what is patently absurd.


7:37 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I certainly agree with you that "claiming sectarianism in Iraq is merely a product of the US occupation is way to far in the opposite direction". I don't think that at all, and in any event I'm not trying to summarize centuries of Iraqi history in the first place. I'm trying to point out the contrast between these two opposing ways of looking at what the Americans are trying to do, in order to point up the difference, in Dhari's view: Namely that the common feature of American strategy at every stage is to driving wedges, in order to frustrate efforts to put the pieces back together. Which is important to understand because it is the opposite of the corporate-media view.

I was thinking more of Dhari's point about the tribes when I wrote the word "organic", but I guess there will always be room for the straw-man Garden of Eden argument for those so inclined.

7:53 AM  
Blogger badger said...

the above is in reply to Sam.

7:55 AM  
Blogger badger said...

And for those not yet convinced that Dhari's view is the correct one, please take a few minutes and read the two links cited by annie, above.

8:03 AM  
Blogger annie said...

i would like to highlight something steve pointed out in the last comment section:

I found it very interesting that during the testimony to Congress in September, while Gen P was talking about creating a space for reconciliation and unity, his Ambassador made much of the progress toward de-centralisation and was positively effusive in his claims that the Anbar tribes had come to see the benefits of the policy. Two men sitting at the same table and contradicting each other on the goals of the United States efforts in Iraq and not a single representative, journalist or commentator noticed the blindingly obvious.

there has been a lot of trumping of the efforts at 'unity' lately, but when pressed the only 'evidence' available are claims is on sites like this.

Their loyalties lie with the immediate family and then the tribe, but Coalition Forces are trying to spread a greater
sense of national unity among the Iraqi people to encourage them to pull together as a stronger nation rather than subdividing themselves.

yawn. what community programs? how can you claim to be promoting unity when our congress is passing legislation to divide iraq. i'm sure i'm not the only one that noticed the news of this legislation appeared the day before the vote. this 'unity' talk is all lip service. the only unity i am seeing is the US unifying w/shiite, the US unifying w/sunni, the US unifying w/kurds, setting them up against eachother w/the US being the 'honest broker' between them. hence, we are 'needed' for a long long time because those damn arabs just can't get along.

yeah right. what we need now, what we have always needed, is a moral justification for our occupation. the lies gave us the 'moral justification' initially. the tactics used are designed to push iraqis into a position of permanent dependence. and if for some reason pray tell they all started getting along, we certainly have plenty of special ops/blackwater to rattle the nests. they are going to try to get what they came for hell or high water. if it takes lies, so be it. if it takes clandestine operations, so be it. if it takes gutting the fed budget and robbing us of health care or any and every benefit of our taxes so be it.

sorry for being so 'negative'. you just can't fool all the people all the time. very very few people need to be in on this con for it to work, but you can't pull the wool over everyone's eyes forever, even if you have the gop/neocon minions as your mouthpieces 'merely' relying on strawmen for their arguments.

12:51 PM  

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