Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Wa'ilis and the Hakims (Updated)

Here is the latest set of charges in an ongoing war of words between leaders of two of the main power centers in Basra, the Shiite nationalist Fadhila party, headed locally by the Basra governor Mohamed Musbih al-Wa'ili, and the Iran-oriented axis of Hakim and/or Maliki. Naturally there is no way of assessing the actual content of any of the following charges, or how much of it is merely personal, but I think the story is interesting anyway, as an indication of the bitterness of the continuing war of words (and interesting too for the fact that AMSI republishes the accusations against the Hakim axis). [UPDATE: For an assessment, see the remarks of Reidar Visser in the comments]

Here is the story:

Ismael Musbih al-Wa'ili, a leader of the Fadhila party and brother of the governor of Basra, told the newspaper Al-Akhbar al-Khaleej that control of the Iraqi oil ministry is in the hands of Mohamed Radha al-Sistani, son of the famous Najaf Ayatollah, to such an extent that no decisions respecting oil operations can be taken without his approval! This brief report doesn't explain how that allegedly came about, but Ismael Musbih al-Wa'ili also said Maliki and his oil minister Shahristani have received large sums of money for permitting the Iranians to infiltrate into the Majnoon oilfields and two other districts, all in Iraqi territory.

Ismael Musbih al-Wa'ili also told the newspaper that he was recently visited in Kuwait by Maliki's office-director who came to him with a proposal for settling the differences between the two sides, and among the demands in connection with that was that the Wa'ili family would use their good offices with the Saudi authorities to arrange for an invitation for an official visit by Maliki to Saudi Arabia, something he declined to do. He admitted his family has good relations with the Saudi authorities, but he said such a request would be contrary to the principle of national sovereignty.

He also said he had been arrested, tortured and held for five years in an Iranian prison in the late 90s for transmitting the sermons of Mohamed Sadiq al-Sadr (the Iraqi nationalist "Sadr II", Moqtada's father) to Iraqis living in Iran. He declined to name the person responsible for that, but the paper says he was clearly referring to Abdulaziz al-Hakim.

Reflecting the interest of this kind of story to Iraqi nationalists generally, the story was picked up and run verbatim on the website of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (AMSI), the main Sunni-nationalist authority in Iraq, without comment.


Anonymous Steve said...

I try not to say this but, well, Wow.

Interesting tie in with part of Reider Visser's latest about the Sadrists of the south and the "widespread clampdowns on Sadrists among the Iraqi refugees in Iran."


6:51 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

I neglected to pose a question in the last comment.

What on earth is a good Shi'a boy from the Fadhila party doing having "good offices" with the Saudi authorities? Are they not Wahabi-ist, Sunni fundamentalist, Shi'a hating extremists? Or am I missing something here?

Perhaps, politics in the 21st century Middle East?


7:48 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Good question.

Here's my stab in the dark: I believe the Wa'ili family is originally in the oil-trading business. I can't find the link right now, but I believe one of the family-members said that in an interview. I guess that could conceivably bring them into contact with the Saudi establishment. And probably their common allergy to the Hakim axis could give them another common interest...

8:18 PM  
Blogger annie said...

wow is right. this is certainly more interesting than 'Days Of Our Lives'.

What on earth is a good Shi'a boy from the Fadhila party doing having "good offices" with the Saudi authorities?

aren't the fadhila party the ones who are primarily responsible for the oil logistics/ security in basra? what exactly does 'good offices' mean anyway? (sorry for being so daft.)

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Reidar said...

Interesting story. The Waili family and Fadila used to be influential in the oil protection services in Basra, but towards the end of last year, an attempt was made by the central government to reassert the control through a new "national"/"federal" protection agency. So far, there has not been much public discussion about this, and I have been unsure about how far there had actually been changes to the situation on the ground. This story clearly suggests that the changes have indeed occurred, even if some of it (like the link to Muhammad Rida al-Sistani) may be a little over the top. It is not accidental that Waili is seen as a potential negotiator with the Arab states; he has always been known for having good relations with the Gulf regimes. The story of Ismail having been in Iranian jail has been reported earlier by several sources, and is seen by many Sadrists as an example of Iran trying to obstruct the evolution of an independent Iraqi Shiite current.

But, amazingly, those in the West who say they are concerned about Iran's influence in Iraq seem totally uninterested in talking to Fadila...

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Klaus said...

I was under the impression that Fadhila was a Basra-centric grouping with separatist leanings, in contrast to the main Sadr trend. Not nationalists, that is.

4:42 AM  
Blogger badger said...

annie: "Use your good offices with..." is upscale badger-talk for "use your influence with the higher-ups to get me out of this pickle..."

Klaus: They're strongest in Basra, but they're "Iraqi nationalist" in at least two senses: Their original authority, "Sadr II", was for locating the top Shiite authority in Najaf, not somewhere in Iran, and Reidar noes their ongoing anti-Iranian-influence position; and in national politics, they have sided with the "nationist" (anti SCIRI and more particularly anti-mega-region) position on such issues as federalism policy and early local-elections. I could be wrong, but I don't think there's anything "Basra-separatist" about them.

Reidar: Thank you as usual for sorting that out and putting the thing in real-world context for us.

btw: Akhbar al-Khaleej is a Bahrein paper, serious, not given to the funny stuff, as far as I know.

btw2: It is an old story, but the fact the Americans, while pretending to worry about Iranian influence, have neglected to talk to Fadila, is perhaps explainable by the fact that Iranian influence is secondary to them, the main point being to not get themselves thrown out of Iraq by the Iraqi nationalists...

5:53 AM  
Blogger William deB. Mills said...

Yes, it is an old story. In the Vietnam War (which of course has absolutely nothing to do with anything), there were also nationalists (Bhuddists and aligned secular democrats). Needless to say, they did not get the time of day from the big boys and got flattened. Patrons don't like (uppity) nationalists.

7:25 AM  

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