Thursday, May 01, 2008

A new approach ?

We have it on the excellent authority of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq itself (ISCI, formerly SCIRI, aka just the "Supreme Council") that its leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim took a phone call from President Bush yesterday afternoon, after receiving a visit from ambassador Crocker and special ambassador Satterfield. And following the meeting and the phone call he convened a meeting of United Iraqi Alliance (the Shiite bloc that once included Sadrists and Fadhila, but now includes only the Supreme Council and the Dawa Party), which he also heads. (As RoadstoIraq, which first called attention to these events, noted: "Bush-Hakim are up to something").

Then this morning the New York Times reports that a delegation of senior Dawa and Supreme Council people was sent yesterday to Tehran for talks. The delegation included Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Supreme council. (Interestingly, the NYT didn't identify Hadi al-Ameri as head of the Badr Organization, merely calling him a "senior member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite party in Mr Maliki's coalition.")

So: Bush calls Hakim; Hakim convenes the Shiite coalition; and a delegation including the Badr Organization head is sent to Tehran. And the NYT this morning, leaving out the Bush phone-call and the resulting UIA meeting, spins the events like this: "American officials supported the trip, but portrayed it as the brainchild of Mr Maliki."

The purpose of this obviously Bush-instigated delegation?

Naturally it would be hard to say, but here's the context. Recall yesterday's stunning press-conference remarks by Maliki (see previous post) about fighting the Mahdi Army until it is exterminated; and threatening the members of the multi-party opposition group--"whether they are members of Parliament or even members of the government"-- with charges of inciting to violence if they don't shut up about this, reported verbatim by AlJazeera and passed over in silence by the NYT this morning. It is as if Maliki had decided he was able to run his government without being too concerned about broad-based political support, relying rather on some other, perhaps more authoritarian, basis.

Then this morning, the pan-Arab paper AlHayat reports:
Informed sources that are not parties to the fight between Maliki and Sadr told AlHayat that "secret units attached to a well-known political party are launching a campaign that is parallel to the campaign of the government. And it [the parallel unit] is carrying out kidnappings and executions of members of the Mahdi Army, and pursues its leaders in Baghdad neighborhoods."
This is sandwiched between reports about the disappearing prospects of any peaceful solution. Later in the piece, the reporter comes back to this "parallel campaign", writing:
Observers expect that the coming stage will witness a broad security escalation, given the removal of the opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the crisis between the Sadr trend and the government. And informed sources referred yesterday to the implementation by a "an unknown armed unit having important capabilities, of a security campaign in parallel with the campaign being carried out by the government and the American forces against the Mahdi Army".

But a high-level security source [in the government] said the government is unaware of any other militia activities against the Mahdi Army.
The government security source reminded the reporter that Maliki is against any extra-legal militias, and if there was such a group as the reporter was asking about, it would be dealt with firmly.

It could be that Sadr spokesperson Saleh al-Obeidi has the overall picture right. He said a couple of days ago that Iran appears to be working hand in glove with the Americans for a "division of influence" in Iraq, and he said one proof of that is that Iran has declined to come out in opposition to the proposed US-Iraq long-term security agreement.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Lysander said...

Badger, I just posted this comment over at moon of alabama. I'm curious what you think. Thanx.

It is possible to overestimate Iran's influence in Iraq. If the U.S. and Maliki decide to eliminate Sadr, Iran can't dissuade them. With the U.S. now blaming Iran for every IED, the Iranians can't openly support Sadr.

Thus, public statements are a poor guide for understanding what's going on.

Best to base any interpretation of events with these tenets in mind;

1) Iran will always need leverage against the U.S. in Iraq. They are unlikely to give up valuable leverage without a real return.

2) While Iran would like an eventual U.S. withdrawl, it is probably not eager for the U.S. to leave right away...that would mean loss of leverage and an America free to redirect its ire at them.

3) The U.S. needs a fall guy. Someone has to be blamed for Iraq going to hell in a hand basket and it ain't gonna be them. Iran fits the role to a tee. Also, they can't admit there is local resistance to the glorious project of democracy. There has to be outside agitators. AQI is all used up; again, enter Iran.

4) The U.S. does not share. Period. Influence is theirs alone. If they will go to great lengths to block Russian influence in Georgia and Ukraine, what chance of amity is there with Iran in Iraq where the U.S. has invested so much? Temporary tactical agreements are possible, but in the end, there can only be one.

With that in mind, my guess is Iran will covertly aid Sadr as best it can while publicly siding with Maliki...with pro forma reservations about civilian casualties.

9:58 AM  
Blogger annie said...

secret units attached to a well-known political party .....an unknown armed unit having important capabilities, of a security campaign in parallel with the campaign being carried out by the government and the American forces against the Mahdi Army".

hmm

10:37 AM  
Blogger badger said...

lysander, I think those are all good general principles, and an excellent caution against putting more meaning into specific events than we're really able to.

My philosophy is to try and understand the Iraqi side of this, without making assumptions about Iran (I don't read Farsi, etc). And in Iraq, there seems to have been a shift from "national reconciliation" rhetoric, to more of a spirit of "l'etat c'est moi"--"no negotiations with evil"-- sort of Bush-imitation approach by Maliki.

To cut to the chase, here's what throws me. Bush needs a bilateral security agreement by year-end. He needs it to be as credible as possible under the circumstances, so it would be nice to have a broad-based cabinet to sign on to it. Instead Maliki's base is shrinking and he doesn't seem to care. And we have the Badr et al delegation to Tehran. So what's the new strategy for a bilateral agreement and does Iran fit in somewhere? And where does Iran fit in the War on Sadr?

Maybe nobody knows. But as a general principle, I agree with you that Iran can be on everyone's side making tactical agreements here and there, because it is ultimately the strong neighbor in any event. So it's dubious talking about any final slicing of the pie (even though that's the way it may look from one day to the next to Obeidi...)

What I was trying to point out in the post today was mainly that (1) Bush in a player in all of this, even if we don't have the transcript of the phone calls, and even if the NYT, Cole, and the info-ops people try and draw a curtain over that; (2) the process he's involved in is one of shrinking the Iraqi participatory process, not expanding it.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

The way I look at it Lysander, both Iran and the Bush administration want ISCI/Dawa to outperform the Sadrists in the upcoming elections.

Sadr's politica agenda is of less use to the Iranians than his role as anti-occupation bulwark, whereas there is little distinguishing ISCI's political agenda and Iran's.

So I don't expect Iran to go along with a strategy of annihilation, but they might be open to working with the US in terms of weakening the Sadrist trend ahead of upcoming elections.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Lysander said...

Thanks Badger and Eric.

Iran might very well sell out Sadr if it had to, but I don't see Iran going along with a successful long term U.S. presence. A slow, bleeding occupation fine, but not a legitimated 100 year military bastion which would certainly be turned on Iran as soon as possible.

To avoid that, somebody has to be the insurgents. It was great (for Iran) when the Sunnis were doing all the work, but if that winds down, then it only leaves Sadr...I just don't see Badr doing that sort of thing.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

Agree.

3:05 PM  
Blogger annie said...

a legitimated 100 year military bastion which would certainly be turned on Iran as soon as possible.

as soon as possible would be a very long time if anyone expects the hakim crowd to turn on iran vs the occuation.

I just don't see Badr doing that sort of thing.

what sort of thing? being thugs? the only way badr could be 'insurgents' is if they were no longer the militia de jure of the ruling puppets. if nationalists ruled the gov..badr would be insurgents for sure. people don't identify themselves as insurgents, their advisories do. if i am not mistaken. sadrists are not all that different than they were in the last few years. maliki wasn't calling them insurgents when he needed them.

7:59 PM  
Blogger William A. Sigler said...

So, let me get this straight. While "evidence" suddenly emerges of a nascent Syrian nuclear weapons factory, Israel is suddenly willing to release the Golan Heights. While the US has moved to saying Iran is actually killing US soldiers, the final nail in the rhetorical coffin before commencing war (perhaps nuclear) against them, it is making secret deals with Iran to together bring even more genocide to the Iraq dual occupation. Even by the standards of the middle east and the Bush administration, this whole thing is mighty puzzling. But I thank you, Badger, for bringing to light the stuff that doesn't fit in the neat boxes, like those Russian toys that open up smaller and smaller into nothing.

10:07 PM  
Blogger dancewater said...

I don't believe the US politicians are planning to attack Iran anytime soon - they are in the "weaken them until they are nothing" stage - just like they did to Iraq during the sanction.

All this talk is just to prepare the American people five or ten years down the road for the bombing of Iran.

Clinton is in a nearby town tomorrow, I wish I had time to make a sign saying "it is wrong to threaten other countries"

10:51 PM  

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