Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Saudi version of what's happening in Iraq, with interesting historical references: Safavids versus Arabs

I don't really know anything about the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazirah, available at (no relation to the satellite TV channel), except for the fact that there is generally a photo of a member of the royal family on the front page, and that the "International" page from time to time offers some pretty hair-raising perspectives. Here for instance is a summary of what writer Jasar Abdulaziz Jasar had to say in a pair of feature pieces on Sept 6 and Sept 7 on the Iraqi situation.

Here's Part I: Prime Minister Maliki, he wrote, as part of his National Reconciliation project, has the particularly difficult task of trying to thwart an effort to fragment the country. Not to split it in three parts, but to break it up, starting with the South and the Middle Euphrates regions, into "Sheikhdoms", meaning de facto citi-states. In his task, Malaki is supported by three important groups: National-minded Iraqis and Iraqi groups; neighboring countries; and the US occupation forces. Neighbouring countries support him because of the principle of national integrity; the occupation forces support him for a "special reason, namely so that the occupation doesn't end up endorsing the interests of one particular power in the region [meaning Iran]".

Maliki has gone all over the country wherever this has flared up, trying to promote National Reconciliation and to ease the security situation, but one major milestone in the process was his visit to the Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf [in August]. The purpose of his visit was to ask Sistani to use his good offices to advise those who listen to him to restore calm and not to aggravate the situation. Leaving the meeting, Malaki was optimistic. [Here the account definitely takes on the fly-on-the-wall characteristic indicative either of a vivid imagination or a reliance on one of the national intelligence services]. He was optimistic, but "to the surprise of observers of the Iraqi situation", Sistani's office followed up on the meeting by issuing a statement warning that if the government didn't establish security, "other parties" would do so. "To Iraqis," this writer explains, "the expression 'other parties' meant Shiite militias. And more particularly, he says, observers saw in this the start of what he calls an "Iraqi version of the Pasdaran", or paramilitary. That's Part I.

In Part II of his series, the writer reviews some of the specifics he says are part of the movement by the "Safavids" (I believe Safavid is to Persian as Zionist is to Israeli) to establish "Sheikhdoms" or de facto city-states in the South and Middle Euphrates regions. Najaf will be the center or capital of this grouping of Sheikhdoms, and it will be run by the Hakim family. The city, he says, is mostly populated by people of Persian extraction, the result of centuries of pilgrimages, in many cases where the pilgrims decided to stay and settle, to be close to their holy sites. The children naturally have Iraqi citizenship, but racially they are still Persians. The surrounding areas are populated by Arab tribes, he says, but that doesn't alter the "Safavid" racial makeup of the city proper, or the loyalty of its citizens to the religious authorities that are based there. Signs that the city is being groomed for its new status are work on a new civilian airport, and an urban renewal project for the city center, where an initial contract, this writer says, has already been signed with a UK firm.

His next point is that the area around the ancient site of Ctesiphon (modern town of Salman Pak or Madain) has been ethnically cleansed for the introduction of "Safavid" residents from the surrounding area, a major aim here being the restoration to its former glory of "their pagan site" (referring to the famous arch of Ctesiphon). In the Baghdad area proper, he says the Shiites failed to conquer the whole municipality, and there was a tradeoff, with certain areas, including Karkh, Adhamiya and Al-Dawra being left to "Sunni parties that cooperate with the occupation forces", in exchange for their closing their eyes to the Shiite takeover of Al-Rasafa, Al-Thawra and Al-Shala. Moreover, the parceling out process included, he says, assignment of the different Shiite areas to different sect leaders, Al-Thawra and Kufa to Sadr, for instance, Al-Shala to one of the Daawa party leaders, Najaf to the Hakim family, and so on. The writer ends with a summary and a warning. Via the formation of these Sheikhdoms, he says, the Safavids think they can go on to create a regional federation in the South and Middle Euphrates, "in spite of the fact that this region is full of Arab Shiite tribesmen who although they are Shiites, they will reject the Safavid hegemony, because they are Arabs first".

The writer adds extra color to his account, when he accuses the Iraqi national security advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubiae of having supervised the ethnic cleansing of the Madaen area, calling him "Shahpur," probably referring to one of the ancient Persian kings who defended Ctesiphon in an actual military battle.


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