Saturday, October 21, 2006


(Please Note: At the end of this there is a link to an excellent essay on the meaning and background of the current SCIRI-Sadr situation. "Nonarab-Arab" agrees with me on the negative role of the US in this, he spells it out better than I do, and he offers useful historical background. He's interested in critique, so please offer him your views on it. --Badger)

Azzaman is the Iraqi newspaper that has been threatened with penalties and possible closure on account of its forthright coverage of the disputed federalism-procedures vote of October 11. (See earlier post "Azzaman stands tall").

The New York Times reported the federalism-procedures vote as non-problematic, and a victory for SCIRI leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim, with a big picture of him. (See the earlier post "Iraqi federalism vote: Behind the disputed numbers...") Hakim is the leading proponent of a big SCIRI-controlled nine-province federal unit in the south and center of Iraq. This is opposed by other powerful Shiite groups including the Sadrists and the Fadhila party. (And of course also by the Sunni nationalists).

One result of this disputed vote has been the exit of Sunni political leaders from the Baghdad political process, exemplified by the Al-Anbar Salvation Council (see previous post).

But another result of this disputed vote is a sudden rise in tensions in the South, as groups jockey for position ahead of actual implementation of the federalism procedures. Here is a paragraph from today's Azzaman account of the Amarah fighting:

Sources said Baghdad has been isolated from the South, with traffic stopped on the main road connecting the capital with the provinces of the South. And they said Basra has witnessed an unprecedented wave of weapons smuggling across the Iranian border. They said weapons prices have multiplied to unprecedented levels. [And at the end of the piece, the journalist quotes specific examples by type of weapon]. And they said these developments come in the wake of passage of the law respecting regions [the federalism-procedures law], with the religious parties attempting to re-divide [their areas of influence within the South] ahead of application of [the eventually expected] implementation laws.

For the New York Times, not only was the October 11 federalism vote non-problematic, but the resulting escalation in violence in the South naturally has nothing to do with it either. What the NYT piece tells us this morning is this: "...[this exposed] deep fissures in the country's Shiite leadership...[including] a dynastic rivalry between families, dating back decades". Adding that "[Sadr's] role in the assault remained murky". Culminating with a quote from Rumsfeld: "It's their country, he said at a news conference, they're going to have to govern it. They're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later."

The trick here is to intimate, by leaving key things out, that the US has had no role in the political evolution of this: it is all a question of innate Iraqi violence. It is a commonplace and a cliche among Iraqi nationalists and others that the US aim is to split the country up. Instead of taking this up and reporting the key events in the political process, the official US press instead resorts to this filthy story about innate Iraqi violence.

Here's the link to the excellent essay I referred to above: It's at
He has lots of other very thoughtful posts. Take a look. I think he has a patient but clear style, a nice change from the brittle harshness of the Badger. What do you think?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Badger, I wrote this on a related list inspired by your post and would welcome any critiques:

A couple reminders are in order: the Sadrist movement is composed heavily of “easterners”, country-folks from the regions to the Southeast of Baghdad who began moving in droves to the big city (Baghdad in this case) back in the 50s in particular. They retained strong ties to the countryside and their tribes and were the main folks who moved into Madinat ath-Thawra (Revolution City), now redubbed Madinat as-Sadr (Sadr City). They contrast sharply to the Iranian-exile-led and shrine-city shrine-city based clerical-political leadership represented by SCIRI. Those are the two biggest “trends” in the south, though numerous other local interests and splinters from these main groups are also key players. The two main “trends” exhibit very different outlooks on national politics as well. SCIRI again represents the commercial interests of the shrine cities (Najaf and Karbala) broadly speaking, Najaf having for example after the British invaded in WW1 and lawlessness was rampant having set up its own local constitution to govern itself – i.e., this is a place with a strong economy of its own based on pilgrimage and other aspects and with a strong local identity. These places feel they can go it alone without Baghdad, and SCIRI has enlarged this notion geographically to cover most of the south which ultimately for them amounts to a powergrab for control of the south at the expense of the Sadrist/nationalist trend. The Sadrists in contrast are largely Arab nationalist in their outlook, seeing the desire of outsiders to rip Iraq apart at the seams as the greatest threat (where SCIRI would point to Saddam and say decentralization is necessary in order to justify their power grab). The Sadrists are also very rurally connected especially in towns like Amarah where – don’t kid yourself – it has basically been Sadr controlled and dominated from day one of the US occupation, the latest flare up just being a more overt expression of it.

So in a nutshell we have SCIRI which is connected to the “civilized” (in their view) shrine cities and by extension much more tied to Iran (both because of the huge numbers of pilgrims and clerical connections to Iran and because the SCIRI leadership and many rank and file spend such a long period in exile in Iran) hoping to grab control of the entire south, being aided by the Americans who don’t understand jack about Iraq and have plugged SCIRI’s power-grab into a narrative of a black and white Kurd-Sunni-Shia narrative of the country that badly misunderstands what is going on. And on the other side we have the Sadrist trend groups who broadly represent the rural countryside, are looked down upon by the SCIRI city-and-exile types, who stayed put in Iraq throughout the Saddam era (Sadr’s revered cleric father having been killed by Saddam for his even subtle resistance to Saddam’s domination), who believe in the unity of Iraq, who have a huge power base both in large swathes of the rural and chunks of the urban south and especially in east Baghdad, but who are also highly disorganized, splintering, and violent in fighting turf wars and anti-Salafi Jihadist types who are killing Shi’a just for being Shi’a. The Sadrists once might have been natural allies of Iraqi nationalists (carrying a very Hizbullah-style Arab Nationalist banner for Iraq as Nasrallah and co do in Lebanon), but the Jaysh al-Mahdi is nowhere even remotely as disciplined, nor has their political leadership (being led as it is by young hotheads not afraid to rule by the gun) shown anywhere near the maturity and deep efforts at sectarian reconciliation as Hizbullah’s leadership has. There were brief flashes (Sadrist aid convoys to Fallujah when the Marines were assaulting it), but these were brief, and quickly undermined by Sectarian attacks and political disorganization/immaturity from all sides. As a result, it looks to me like we are increasingly talking about a SCIRI which has a reasonably strong central leadership grabbing power in as many institutions as possible while using its Badr Brigade and other stormtroopers to fight its battles, while an increasingly disorganized but no less willing to fight grouping of Sadrists fight back at a more and more local level to prevent a SCIRI takeover of their regions. Both in the meanwhile fight increasingly nastily in the now overtly sectarian Sunni-Shi’a war ignited by the American empowerment of sectarian thinking (especially that of SCIRI who saw in emphasizing sectarian identity an opportunity from early to claim itself as the sole leader of all Iraqi Shi’a and hence enhance its power grab over the Sadrist and other elements of the south) and the Salafi Jihadis and now all the local characters who have slipped into the International Relations 101 Security Dilemma – 1 feels threatened and acts to defend themself, 2 sees 1s defense as offense and defends itself, 1 sees 2s defense as proof of their offense, before long everyone is killing everyone in the name of self defense and everyone has tons of now very real grievances and very real bad intentions on the other side which perpetuates the cycle of violence.

Not as simple as the US papers would make one think, eh? Of course, if anyone has any beef with my interpretation, this is just my best guess and would love to hear critiques.

9:15 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Anonymous, I think that whole thing is excellent. Your account of the US "plugged the SCIRI power-grab into [their] narrative" puts it much better than I have been able to do. And the history you outline should be required reading ...

And the whole thing is clearly expressed. Except that at the very end, I followed the thread up to where you refer to "the American empowerment of sectarian thinking (especially that of SCIRI... and so on, through the end of the parentheses). Its the part that follows where I guess your point is that by now the situation is compounded by the fact that both Shiite groups also have to fight off the various Salafi Jahadi groups and others who have been caught up in this tit-for-tat "you're the aggressor, no you're the aggressor" dynamic. "And before long everyone is killing everyone in the name of self-defence...and the rest of it is clear. Its just that little patch to make it clear that the widespread violence we're seeing is really just the compounding of the underlying SCIRI/Sadr problem, which was at the root of this.

If you'd let me, I'd like to post the whole thing as a separate posting here, so it would be accessible to people.

9:54 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Or if you would prefer, I could just link to wherever else you have posted this. It's just that I's like to do something to see it widely read.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feel free to re-post it here. I know it was written kind of messy, no reviewing or editing, but if you feel like putting it up, that's totally fine.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Badger, I take it back, could you link to it here:


10:44 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Good idea, I've done that.

(You got me too, I took you for an Arab. How do you do that ? )

11:58 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

Good catch badger. I've been bellowing about the Jaishi/SCIRI situation in the south for ages. That's an excellent posting on a good site.

1:21 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

PS: I'll be out of touch for a week.

1:24 AM  

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