Friday, May 23, 2008

"Eventually, but not right now"

Moqtada al-Sadr's spiritual authority Kazem al-Haeri (or Hae'ri or other spellings) issued a statement from his office in Iran (where he has been since the 1970s) on Wednesday May 21, taking as the occasion a commemoration of the birth of Zainab, daughter of Imam Ali and granddaughter of the prophet Mohammed. The actual purpose of the statement was to denounce the long-term bilateral security agreement that is being negotiated by the Americans and the GreenZone authorities (read on and you'll see the connection), and in particular to bluntly center out the Najaf authorities (Sistani in particular, without naming him) for failing to take a position on this. (RoadstoIraq blogger Ladybird calls attention to this statement, posted on Haeri's website, and says the recent byplay over Sistani is best understood as a game played out in religious terms between the Sadrists and Maliki over where Sistani stands). Let's see where that takes us.

Haeri denounces the proposed agreement as an attempt by the occupation to perpetuate their control and wasting of the resources, culture and people of Iraq, and he says in any event such an agreement would be binding on no one except the persons who sign it. He concludes:
And I say to the occupation in the words of our lady Zeinab: "Carry out any treachery that you can; make every attempt that you can; exert all of your efforts. For you will not be able to erase our memory [from the minds of the people], and you cannot suppress our inspiration."*

I say to you my dear sons: The blessed clerical Hausa of Iraq is stronger, more pure and blameless, higher and more noble, than to recognize the legality of any agreement of this kind.
This obviously constitutes an in-your-face challenge to Sistani and the rest of the Najaf authorities, who have so far made only vague remarks about the proposed bilateral agreement. RTI thinks the information leaked to AP about the right to armed resistance was the same kind of a challenge, putting Sistani and the other Najaf authorities on the spot in another way, by making them deny the news.

And she cites an Iraqi news-site (which is new to me) called Iraq Alaan (Iraq now), which runs a picture of Sistani and a brief item that says Sistani's office does in fact deny the news, but in an interesting way.
[A source close to the office of Sistani in Najaf] denied on Friday what was reported on a number of sites to the effect the authority Sistani is preparing to issue a fatwa inviting armed resistance to the occupation.

[The source said] there is no truth to the report in general or in particular, adding that the attitude of the authorities from the beginning has been that "Iraq is not ready for jihad or military confrontation at the present time, after the damage and destruction that is left after the wars of the prior regime".

The source added: Sistani supports resistance to the occupation, but not by military means, at the present time.

(The authority Sistani is the most prominent religious authority of the imami Shiites in Iraq and the world, and the spiritual leader of the clerical Hausa in Najaf).
It is the "eventually, but not right now" defense. According to this account, Sistani's office says he is in fact for "resistance" but not "by military means at the present time" citing national weakness. If this this "all in good time" argument sounds familiar, it is because it is also the position Juan Cole takes. This morning he wrote: "I have all along believed that Sistani would ultimately issue a fatwa saying that it was illegitimate for there to continue to be foreign troops on Iraqi soil." And in this connection he vouches for the good faith of Hakim and the Dawa party: "When al-Maliki and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim feel strong enough domestically, their first order of business will be to vastly reduce American military influence. They represent the Islamic Mission (Da`wa) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (founded by Ayatollah Khomeini), after all. There is likely a limit to this marriage of convenience."

I don't know how Juan arrived at that surprising view, so closely aligned with the Sistani "not right now" defense. What I do think is that it would help raise the quality of the discussion if Juan would be a little less modest about his relationship with the Supreme Council, Najaf-Hakim-Maliki axis. For instance, it might help explain his silence about the Sadr City bombings when they were going on, and his showy denunciation of them now as "brutal", even though they were conducted under the authority of this same Maliki and his group, who, he assures us, are the type of people that will eventually do the right thing.

In any event, focusing on Haeri's in-your-face challenge to Sistani over the bilateral agreement gives us another way of understanding why Maliki paid his surprise visit to Najaf the next day (in addition to the "investor-confidence" issue discussed in a prior post).

_________
* Here is a bigger excerpt from that sermon of Zeinab's in a translation appearing on a Shiite website, just to make sure you get the message:
“What you consider today as spoils of war will become ruins for you tomorrow and on that day you will find what you have sent from before. Allah does not oppress his servants. I express my complaint only to Allah and have trust in Him. You may therefore do any treachery that you have, make all your attempts, and try all you can. By Allah, you cannot remove us from the minds (of people), and you cannot fade our message. You will never reach our glory and can never wash the stain of this crime from your hands. Your decisions will not be stable, your period of ruling will be short, and your population will scatter. In that day, a voice will shout: “Indeed may the curse of Allah be upon the oppressors….”

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would seem that the "why now" can be interpreted as a move by Sistani against the Maliki/Hakim/Iranian trending potentially toward a security state. That would not only cut out nationalist Sadr but would also diminish Sistani's position. Recent operations against Sadr, with outcomes determined/negotiated via Iran, coupled with Maliki's exclusive negotiations with the U.S. on long term issues, and its hedging on election timetables all make this a most significant time for him to speak out for Iraqi nationalism.

anna missed

8:10 PM  
Blogger badger said...

meaning: "a most significant time for him (Sistani) to speak out for Iraqi nationalism". That's a good point, anna missed. Maliki has been pushing on a number of different fronts in the direction that you mention, and this does seem like a significant time for Sistani to speak out. But did/will he?

1:59 AM  
Anonymous too ridiculous said...

Haeri- Muqtada's spiritual father issuing anti occupation statements from Iran. Surely no one can take this jerk seriously, Iraqis don't.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous too ridiculous said...

what this sectarian charlatans really want is to hand over the south and the center solely to Iran. And badger as usual is too blind of a bat to see that.

1:21 PM  
Blogger badger said...

is that your last word on the subject, ma'am?

1:47 PM  
Blogger Nell said...

it would help raise the quality of the discussion if Juan would be a little less modest about his relationship with the Supreme Council, Najaf-Hakim-Maliki axis. For instance, it might help explain his silence about the Sadr City bombings when they were going on, and his showy denunciation of them now as "brutal"

Now that they're finally getting news coverage in the U.S., you mean?

What is the nature of Cole's relationship with ISCI, or with the Najaf religious authorities that you're claiming?

2:07 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Nell, I'm not sure I understand your first question. My point was that while the Sadr City campaign was going on not only the corporate media, but also people like Juan and Marc, were saying nothing, when there should have been an outcry. I complained about it several times in posts here, which was all I could do. Now that it's over, we have the red-meat prose from Juan about brutality, hunger and so on. Why not then, when it could have made a difference?

On your second question, I'm drawing an inference from the fact that on the important issues he is consistently aligned with the SupremeCouncil position. (In earlier times that took the form of denigrating the Sunni resistance and associating it with AQ; more recently it has taken the form of looking the other way during the persecution of the Sadrists. Now he is telling us apparently on his own authority that:

"When al-Maliki and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim feel strong enough domestically, their first order of business will be to vastly reduce American military influence. They represent the Islamic Mission (Da`wa) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (founded by Ayatollah Khomeini), after all. There is likely a limit to this marriage of convenience."

He is clearly speaking on their behalf. What I am saying is that it muddies the waters when you have someone that influential taking sides, in a way that makes everyone think it is disinterested analysis. I think he should clear that up.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Nell said...

Thanks for responding, Badger. My first question was in the way of a clarifying question. Rephrased: Are you saying that you think Cole might never have criticized the missile and other military attacks on Sadr City had there not been coverage of the aftermath in the U.S. press (making it more difficult to pass over the assault in silence)?

I don't agree that Cole is "clearly speaking on [ISCI's] behalf" in his statements about the limits of the ISCI-Da'wa-U.S. marriage of convenience. It's a straightforward analysis, based on the parties' ties to Iran, not on their being "the kind of people that will eventually do the right thing".

Your view is that ISCI-Maliki are intending to be a permanent comprador/puppet "government", one that will never seriously challenge the U.S. presence, despite their ties to Iran.

Cole's analysis might prove to be incorrect, and yours correct; I'm inclined to go with yours. But to read him as taking sides is to take a step further.

To assert that he has an undisclosed relationship with ISCI and/or the Najaf establishment is a still further step, one that
requires more evidence than Cole's commentary alone.

It's just as possible to read your analysis as "taking Sadr's side" in the issues dividing Iraqi and Shi'a political figures. How would you respond to another blogger demanding that for the sake of improving the quality of discussion you should disclose your relationship with the Sadrist current?

I think Juan Cole's abundant failures of principle, courage, and intellectual honesty can be explained by something far more likely: his unwillingness to risk losing his position as "respectable", "credible", and "sound" commentator by challenging the U.S. imperial project in Iraq.

He initially supported the invasion, then for years he denigrated calls for U.S. withdrawal on the basis that "it would unleash a civil war that would be worse" (while that civil war raged and U.S.troops did nothing to stop it, even supposing that they could have). He overlooked for a very long time on the intra-Shiite conflicts in the south (so much so that he was actually surprised by the murder of Stephen Vincent). Now he remains silent while U.S. planes and mortars assault a densely
populated urban neighborhood -- killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians -- until after the damage is done.

I find it far more believable that Cole's commentary is based on what he thinks will preserve his own position as an influential commentator in the U.S. than that it's based on his relationship, of whatever sort, with the "Supreme
Council-Najaf-Hakim-Maliki axis".

This has been true for some time, but is even more of a factor as the time approaches when Democratic Party elites take over foreign policy.

(On the other hand, there's his position on Israel/Palestine, which puts him beyond the pale of elite respectability. So I can't
entirely dismiss your theory of what makes Cole tick.)

11:34 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I actually think we're both right. Since the SupremeCouncil/Dawa axis is Washington's ally, advocating for their cause is also the correct line in Washington.

(Btw, If someone asked me the kind of a question you mention about the Sadrists, my answer would be simple, that I haven't met any or spoken to any. If I had any kind of relationships like that, I would outline them for people, and that's what I think he should do in this case).

I can see where you might argue that passage I cited is "analysis", but I just can't see it that way; it seems to me the whole thing is sheer advocacy. However, instead of harping on that point, since we seem to agree about his character, I'd like to ask instead: Why is it, for instance, that so one else has seen fit to criticize him for keeping silent about the Sadr City operation until it was over? Etcetera. (If I said why I think that is, it might trigger another discussion, so I merely ask: Why?)

12:17 PM  
Blogger Nell said...

Why is it, for instance, that [n]o one else has seen fit to criticize him for keeping silent about the Sadr City operation until it was over?

It's hard to answer that without some agreement on who is in the universe of "someones" that might be expected to do so. These days, very few general-topic liberal/leftish bloggers are focusing on Iraq much at all these days. Missing Links doesn't have a blogroll, so no help there.

In an environment where the U.S. assault on Sadr City is barely mentioned -- much less analyzed and discussed, much less routinely treated as the indiscriminate and criminal massacre it was/is -- it's hard to read much into bloggers' failure to criticize Juan Cole for failing to condemn the operation.

The commentators who did condemn the operation while it was going on focused most of their outrage on the perpetrators and the mass-media enablers and ignorers rather than on other bloggers or commentators.

Who would you have expected to do so? Eric Martin? Tom Engelhardt? Matthew Yglesias? Jonathan Schwarz? Chris Floyd?

3:03 PM  
Blogger Nell said...

If I said why I think that is, it might trigger another discussion.

Sorry, I didn't realize discussion in your comment section is unwanted.

But you're making fairly strong claims here, and you did ask a question that I tried to answer. Would you be willing to continue it at least so far as to answer the questions I asked in my last comment?

I'd also be interested in your answer to your own 'why' question, and promise not to prolong this conversation if you choose to provide it.

1:54 AM  
Blogger badger said...

sorry, I didn't mean to sound that way. My last question, about why "nobody" criticized Juan (or Marc Lynch for that matter) for not speaking out about the Sadr City attack, was meant in a sort of rhetorical way, the idea being that the way things are, if one of the two of them raises something, then it becomes an issue that big-traffic blogs link to and discuss and so on, and if they don't, then not. So they have a particular responsibility, being at the top of the food-chain in that way, and it's worth paying attention to what they do with that. With my reference to "another discussion", I was merely thinking that this raises a whole different problem-area.

I don't follow all those people you mentioned, and I thought maybe your point was a bit rhetorical too, along the lines of "well what do you expect"?

3:32 AM  

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