Saturday, April 12, 2008

Some recent history

Following the December 2005 parliamentary elections, there was a battle over who would be the new Prime Minister, and the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) caucused and selected Ibrahim Jaafari, who was the incumbent. The Sadrist bloc was the swing vote in Jaafari's favor.

US Ambassador Khalilzad wanted to see the business-oriented Shiite Adel AbdulMehdi selected as the next Prime Minister, and according to a published report at the time, he indirectly threatened Iraqi politicians that he would see that any government that wasn't headed by Mehdi would not last. (Others said the issue for Khalilzad was more ramified, and it was, but the crucial parting of the ways for Khalilzad was no to Jaafari, yes to Mehdi. This was the strike issue).

Khalilzad was more circumspect in his use of threatening language in an interview on the PBS NewsHour on February 21 2006, when he talked about this as a question of a "national unity government" versus a "sectarian" government. He said the US was urging creation of a "moderate" government, with ministers "that are not tied to militias, and will govern Iraq from the center, and if they don't make the right choices then we in turn will look at what we do, and people cannot assume that we will continue to provide the support that we have financially and otherwise if they don't make the right choice." "That sounds like a threat," observed interviewer Gwen Ifill.

As it happened, the next day, February 22, 2006, the golden dome was blown off the Askariya shrine in Samara, and the country was in turmoil.

The "compromise" Prime Minister was Nuri alMaliki. Originally his cabinet included Sunni and Sadrist ministers, but as time went on, all but the Kurdish and the Supreme Council ministers quit. So although he was apparently amenable in most ways, and Bush reportedly feels "comfortable" with him, his base of support shrank instead of broadening. And he was reluctant to take any action against the Mahdi Army.

By fall 2006, President Bush decided it was time for another push for a "government of national unity", and in his Amman meeting with Maliki he presumably followed the points in the famous Hadley memo, which essentially called for pressure to dissolve the "militias" (understood to mean the Mahdi Army) and for providing an "alternate base of support"--including Sunni support--for Maliki to compensate for the expected loss of support from the Sadrists. Pressure in that direction continued, including "surge"-related attacks on the Sadrists, as a way of trying to marginalize them, and creation of the Sunni "Awakenings" as a way of trying to give Sunni groups clout with the government.

But Maliki's cabinet continued to shrink, and the Sadrists were not deterred or weakened. Finally, by way of trying (in Hadley's words) to "bring closure to" the process with the Sadrists, there was the military adventure in Basra, which soon spread to other cities in the south, accomplishing nothing by way of weaking the Sadrist movement. On the contrary. So neither the military aims (weakening the Mahdi Army) nor the political aims (progress on re-constituting a broad-based cabinet) were making any progress. Again US policy was at a dead end, and this time there was the added problem that in the fall local elections the Supreme Council could end up losing control of many areas to none other than the anti-occupation Sadrists.

And sure enough, the language of veiled and indirect threats from the US starts to sound familiar. US Defense Secretary Gates said on Friday: "I think those who are prepared to work within the political process in Iraq, and peacefully, are not enemies of the United States," and on that very afternoon, Riyadh Nuri, Sadr's brother-in-law and the top Sadrist official in Najaf, is assassinated.

Moreover, by evening the US tanks were reportedly trying to push into Sadr City, and once again, in an atmosphere eerily similarly to late February 2006, people were bracing for the possibility that once again the country could explode in violence.

When the history of this era is written, if someone is around to write it, people will have to try and figure out whether fitna and the threat of fitna regularly accompany US policy-failure in Iraq just by coincidence, or whether there is more to it.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many indicators point to the conclusion you draw at the end of this piece. Unfortunately. This is the sad state of American hegemony applied to the Arab countries: fitna.

It strangely resembles Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. Some neo-con genius refers to "the order of controlled chaos." According to Bush family values, though, it is referred to in more imperial terms as the "new world order."

Isn't this what the prophet of Islam warned Muslims about when they deal with those not accepting the original and true faith?

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a great blog. keep up the good work.

9:51 PM  
Blogger annie said...

soul wrenching

9:54 PM  
Anonymous gj said...

Some additional information:

Under the Iraqi constitution the Prime Minister and his cabinent have to be approved by an absolute majority of the Council of Representatives.

In the case of Jafaari, the Kurdish and the Sunni blocs would not accept him and held out for for several months until Jafaari agreed to stand aside and Maliki was approved by the Kurds and Sunnis.

Without the support of these two blocs SIIC and Dawa did not command an absolute majority.

Jafaari and Maliki were both from Dawa and suppported by the Sadrists.

As I recall it the complaints about Jafaari were that, although he was a nice man he was dithering, indecisive and paralysingly verbose. He had also run a pretty terrible government, although not as terrible and corrupt as Allawis had been.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent commentary, badger. about as good as we've seen on these issues. some of this could have provided the mostly confused democrats a basis of better questions than they managed to ask at the Petraeus/Crocker hearing.

it has been apparent for some time that bushco would prefer a "pro-business" govt in iraq allied strongly with iran, than a populist govt hostile to iran. (and us.) the bushies' preference for the maliki/badr camp is based on their corruptability as business partners, and their weakness, which requires US continuance in iraq to prop them up. IF... the US led the maliki govt to attack basra knowing they would fail, the lesson the US would have them learn is there for all to see. if by some chance the ISF was triumphant in basra, then US has made progress in getting their corrupt "partners" in business more strongly entrenched in power.

it is hard to see through the fog of propaganda coming from the US, the various iraqi sides, and the iranians, whether the iranians truly prefer the maliki camp to the sadrists. they've covered all bets just in case. they obviously hold the strongest hand. the fact that the badr corp fought with the iranians during the iran/iraq war has to give them important honor-based standing with iran.

6:01 PM  

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