Sunday, December 31, 2006

Islamic Army in Iraq: The US is talking to the wrong people

London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat calls attention to a statement by the leader of the Islamic Army in Iraq "On the Safavid Iranian Project", posted on the IAI website. (Text version here; voice version here). Although the statement is dated December 28, the paper says it was published on the website yesterday (Saturday December 30).

The main point appears to be that as the focus of the battle shifts from the Americans to the Iranians, the Americans in their search for an exit are making the mistake of talking to "opportunists", including Baathists, who say they represent the Iraqi resistance but don't.

The newspaper's summary begins with this: The Islamic ummah should prepare for the coming fateful battle for Baghdad, against the Americans and the agents of Iran. And it warns against what it calls the "opportunists" among the Baathists, who go around saying they represent the resistance and enter into talks (on that basis) with Arab and Western countries.

The summary continues: Iraq is exposed to a double, American-Iranian, occupation, and of the two the more vile is what the statement describes as the Safavid, extirpating Iranian occupation. It is now necessary for all the mujahideen to be steadfast against the Iranian occupation as they were steadfast against the Americans. It is self-evident that the Americans are staggering in Iraq, having been coooperators with the Iranian gangs that have ignited sectarian war in Iraq...and now the Americans have realized that they were led into a trap by the Iranians, who stand to take over Iraq with all its riches as unearned booty.

The Americans, the statement said, so far do not seem to have grasped their errors, even in part. Addressing Iraqi Shiites, the statement says: Iran does not concern itself with any Shiites unless they are Persian, and all of the evidence points to that.

The statement warns the "opportunists" to desist from suggesting to Arab and Islamic and Western countries that they represent the Iraqi resistance, and this includes Baathists, who fishing in troubled waters convince the unaware that they are the leadership of the resistance, and that the Islamic Army in Iraq is affiliated with them, which is a downright lie, adding "we know their names, and we will name them by their names if they don't desist from their lying."

America, the statement said, is panting after a mirage by talking to these people, and is thus losing additional opportunities for extricating itself from the quagmire of Iraq. The statement asks Arabs and Muslims to support the people of Iraq verbally and with money and with pertinent information.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Saudi view: Saddam execution signals Iranian hegemony in Iraq

The Riyadh-based Elaph news agency has published a report that cites political analysts who see the execution of Saddam and its timing as a major, negative, event in Saudi-Iranian relations. These analysts, says the reporter think that "a new chapter in the sporatic Iran-Saudi battle has opened today (Saturday December 30) with the execution of Saddam in the early hours of the Eid al-Adha, in the face of Iraqi law that prohibits the carrying out of executions during the Eid, while the Shiite Eid al-Adha starts tomorrow (Sunday December 31), something that leads these analysts to see a "sectarian thread" in the timing of the execution".
(Eid al-Adha begins on the tenth day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijja, and for some reason the official Sunni and Shiite determinations of this are a day apart this year).

In addition to the timing, the journalist cites at the end of this piece an Iraq expert in London who pointed out that the location also has Iranian overtones, because the execution took place at a former military-intelligence branch that was responsible in particular for dealing with Iran and Iranians.

Saudi Arabia, says the journalist, is particularly offended because this also coincides with the time of the Hajj, for which Saudi Arabia is responsible.

An official government statement referred "political murkiness (or fog or mist) affecting the deliberateness and independence of the proceedings (against Saddam)", and to the expectations of Muslims everywhere that the holy times would be respected and not insulted.

Clearly responding to direction from senior government people, the journalist offers this interpretation of the Saudi attitude: This is the second time this year, he says, that Riyadh has led the way in Arab response to a crisis, the first being the Saudi criticism of Hizbullah at the beginning of the Israel-Lebanon war. At that time the Saudi criticism was echoed by Egypt and Jordan, "in a case of political agreement that is rarely seen". And in the current case, the journalist says, the Saudi criticism has already been echoed by Tunis and Egypt, with statements by other Arab states "expected in the coming hours". (In other words, Saudi Arabia has led the way twice this year, and in both cases the "crisis" had to do with criticism of Shiites).

The journalist also cites a person he calls a "Gulf commentator" speaking from Dubai, who put the case this way: "The Iranian-American agenda probably came together in a way that is unlikely to be repeated in coming years", in the sense that Bush is hoping the execution of Saddam will somehow turn things around for him, while Iran, for its part, "deepened its control over internal Iraqi affairs via these "sectarian bonds". And the Gulf commentator went on to elaborate in this way: "If Iranian hegemony is really implanted [in Iraq]-- and that phase has begun to be evident--then it is incumbent on all the political activists in the country [to realize] that we will be facing a 'Sunni holocaust' (the journalist's quotation marks), and any whiff of civil war will mean assured Sunni victims".

And the journalist recalls the op-ed piece by Nawaf Obeid, later officially repudiated by the Saudi government, to the effect Saudi Arabia will intervene to protect Iraqi Sunnis should the need arise.

2006: The year secular nationalism handed the anti-colonialism torch to jihadi Islam

Syrian writer Hakam al-Baba writes in Al-Quds al-Arabi:

If 1996 was the year of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist regimes that depended on it, 2006 deserves to go down in history as the year secular Arab nationalism finally passed away, after a lengthy struggle with illness, overcome by Islamist ideology which during the year cemented its control over the whole region, and was finally joined by the remnants of the Communist and the Arabist movements that had earlier been competing ideologies in this matter of opposing Western colonialism.

The collapse began a long time ago, with the 1967 defeat, and the process continued with the Egyptian recognition of Israel, the Jordanian expulsion of the Palestinian leadership, the creation of substitutes for the Arab League including a North African organization, one for the Gulf states, and so on, the various forms of support for the US in its attack on Iraq, and many events in between. There continued to be efforts to breathe life into the Arab secular-nationalist idea, including the [1972-77] Federation of Arab Republics [Libya, Egypt, Syria], the attempted union of Syria with Iraq, various treaties and so on, none of them successful.

All the while, Islam was silently at work, both in its "wilaya al faqih" version and its "caliphate" version [I am not exactly sure what he is getting at with this pairing; he suggests one is like a "government" party, the other like an "opposition" one]*, within Arab societies, distributing earthly and heavenly rewards and bribes, particularly after the definitive losses of the Iran-Iraq war and the various Arab-regime confrontations with fundamentalist jihadi groups. And it was finally in the year just past, 2006, that Islam was able to declare its final victory over that type of Arab nationalism that had been based on civil or secular concepts and projects, and the remnants of these earlier movements incorporated themselves into this new dominant form of anti-Western anti-colonialism, with for example the AlQaeda emirate in Iraq, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine.

[*Commenters helped out here. What this probably means is that both Shiite and Sunni Islam ("rule of the jurisprudent" of Iranian origin; and "califate" of Arab origin) generated jihadi movements that took over the ideas of anti-colonialism from the secular predecessors. An example of the first would be Hizbullah; and an example of the second would be Hamas. See the comments.]

Certainly, part of the reason for the triumph of jihadi Islam in the Arab world has to do with the ground having been prepared by the centuries-old wilaya al faqih and caliphate traditions, but another very important reason was that jihadi Islam offered to Arab populations a sense of confidence that they have been much in need of. The secular movements had limited themselves to "wars" in the radio-and-television sense. By contrast, the jihadi Islam movement was responsible for the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and later on the steadfastness of Hizbullah in the recent war; for the 9/11 attack on the America in its stronghold; for the serious losses inflicted on the American armed forces by AlQaeda in Iraq; Hamas has been able to show it can undermine the Israeli prestige; and so on. In these ways the jihadi organizations have been able to consolidate their control of the Arab street, and turn it (the Arab street) into an important power in the region for many years to come. And in the process, they have turned the earlier secular movements into so many museum exhibits, objects of no more than sympathy and pity.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Another newspaper report on potential criminal cases against Iraqi government officials

According to the London pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, a spokesman for Saleh al-Mutlak's National Dialogue Front (Sunni) said officials in the current and former Iraqi governments should be brought before international courts for prosecution for crimes against humanity worse than those of Saddam Hussein. The spokesman, Mohamed Dayani, said the parliamentary opposition alliance has presented more than 600 supporting documents as evidence to war-crimes courts, and has sent many files which confirm the commiting of these crimes by officials of the various governments under the occupation, including the "governing council", the "transitional" and the "interim" governments, up to and including the present government.

He said the targets include a group of important political and military persons involved in creation of death-squads, and genocide (ibada jamaiya: group extermination) against Iraqis, and the persons include Abdulaziz al-Hakim, head of SCIRI and leader of the UIA parliamentary group; Ibrahim Jaafari, the former Prime Minister; Abu Hassan al-Amari, head of the Badr Corps; Baqr Jabbar Solargh, Interior Minister under Jaafari and currently Finance Minister; Muwaffaq al-Rubaie current national security adviser; along with a group of senior Iraqi army officers.

Dayani added that there has been formed a judicial council made up of Arabs, Americans and Europeans, to study these documents and files that have been presented by the parliamentary opposition to the special court for war crimes.

Following a recitation of attacks on the legality of the judgment against Saddam, the journalist continues with this:

Ali al-Jabburi, assistant secretary of the Iraqi National Founding Congress, which is headed by Jawad al-Khalasi, and which includes parties, groups and movements that resist the occupation including the Muslim Scholars Association, the Sadrist current, and a group of nationalist forces, said the execution of Saddam won't affect the alignment of forces on the street, but on the other hand it will be exploited by some to try and fan the flames of sectarian violence. He added in remarks to Al-Hayat that crime doesn't lapse with the passage of time, and it is the responsibility of the government to turn over to the court those politicians responsible for crimes against Iraqis, and also to turn over those responsible officials in the American armed forces who have been responsible for major crimes against Iraqis. (Jawad al-Khalasi is a Shiite cleric, described as close to Sistani, apparently radicalized by the US siege of Falluja in spring 2004 where he worked with his Sunni counterparts and with Sadr. I don't know anything about the Iraqi National Founding congress. NOTE: I don't really know anything about al-Khalasi either; a commenter objects to the above description and says there wasn't sweetness and light between the sects in the Falluja story. But the main thing I'd still like to know something about is the Iraqi National Founding Congress.)

(Earlier this month, on December 4, there was a piece in Azzaman that said Talabani and Hakim were thought to be opposed to the idea of an international conference on Iraq partly because of the risk this might lead to international court proceedings against Iraqi government officials and politicians. No alleged targets were named. I don't think there was any followup at that time).

To add to the mystery, Azzaman (London edition) this morning (December 30) prefaces its Saddam-execution story with this: "An official in the US State Department said yesterday there is a tendency in Washington to do away with the excuses for not holding to account current Iraqi officials who are involved in crimes against humanity, once the obstacle of having Saddam alive is eliminated, and meanwhile...(the journalist goes on to talk about the Saddam execution and doesn't return to this topic with any elaboration).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why there's no meaningful debate about the "troop-surge"

The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia occurred because both sides had concluded that the United States supported the idea of a military solution, rather than negotiated power-sharing between the Islamic Courts organization and the so-called interim federal government (IFG). You don't have to take my word for it, it is the well-supported view of John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group (Brussels-based). Unfortunately, the only web-accessible venue for his remarks seems to be Al-Quds al-Arabi, the pan-Arab newspaper published in London.

Of course if you prefer the other approach, you could read the accounts in the NYT over the last few days, where they tell a story of exciting military strategy and with a clear-cut victory for the "government", no mention there of any negotiating option whatsoever.

It is a familiar situation: News of an exciting military victory for our side against the dangerous Islamists, touted by the readily-available NYT, and a less-exciting account, often not circulated at all in America, having to do with the actual alignment of political forces, which you really have to hunt for. Only if you put the two accounts together can you grasp the way in which the Bush administration is confirming and strengthening the anti-American, pan-Arab view, which is that Somalia is being added as the fifth Arab nation to be attacked in this way, after Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, and Sudan, just for being Arab and Islamic. Ali Muhammed Fakhro, writing on the Al-Quds al-Arabi opinion page yesterday, warned people in other Arab states not to be complacent in 2007: this could happen to your country too. (It's a pdf link; it is the column at the left).

What else is new? What else is new is that the Bush administration is about to order an increase in troop levels in Iraq, and not only does nobody know why, but nobody in the American media asks why, either.

Norwegian historian and Shiite-scholar Reidar Visser yesterday sent to his e-mail subscribers (a free service) a draft op-ed piece, aimed at the American press, setting out what would be really the only rational basis for a troop-surge , and the argument goes like this: Any improvement in Iraqi security would be a boon to all, including all the Iraqi political parties. If the US is able to offer any such improvement, it should be conditioned on a commitment by the political class (particularly the leadership of SCIRI and the two big Kurdish parties) to do what they have so far failed to do, namely make the necessary serious concessions to reconcile Sunni groups to the political process (including points having to do with federalism, de-Baathification, and so on). Doing this publicly would put "pressure from below" on the party leaders, who otherwise feel no such pressure. Without such serious political restructuring, any troop-increase will only mean more of the same (at best).

The logic is impeccable. Visser says he has submitted this to American newspapers but he isn't optimistic about publication. It makes you wonder, but then again, this is the same question, with the same answer, re Somalia. There is an exciting military story about defeat of the Islamic enemy (or in this Iraqi case an imagined futuristic or Bushistic "victory"). And there is an account of the actual alignment of the political forces and the possibilities for negotiated solutions. The latter isn't talked about in America.

The problem isn't really the military excitement, although it certainly helps circulation. The problem is the predetermined outcome: Details in these media stories have to be arranged and/or suppressed in order to show the way to a predetermined outcome. There is no point introducing other alternatives, because that would only leave readers confused, and take away from the authority of the explainer. While the corporate media do this in a sophisticated way, Juan Cole, the big retail purveyor of Iraq news, does it in a less sophisticated way. Here is part of his December 05 Iraq summary:
In Iraq, both the Jan. 30 [2005] election and that of Dec. 15 [also 2005] cemented Shiite fundamentalist political control of the country. The United Iraqi Alliance, now a coalition of all three major religious and political currents among Iraqi Shiites, had 140 seats (a simple majority) in the Jan. 30 elections, and will likely have 130 seats in the new parliament, such that it can easily form a government that can survive votes of confidence requiring 51 percent support for the prime minister. The fundamentalist Shiites got the constitution they wanted on October 15, enshrining strong elements of Islamic law and ensuring that the southern Shiite provinces will control all future petroleum finds in the oil-rich south.
So as of December 2005, the Shiites had "cemented...political control of the country". As for the Sunnis, here is Cole (Dec 4 2006) following the Hakim meeting with Bush earlier this month in Washington: "Despite his ecumenical speeches in Sunni Jordan last summer, al-Hakim frequently urges a hard line against the 'neo-Baathists' and militant Salafi revivalists,i.e., the Sunni Arabs of Iraq." "The Sunni Arabs of Iraq" = neo-Baathists and militant Salafi revivalists, not a very attractive picture. In the last few days, Cole has somewhat relented, and now admits (now that it is US government policy) that the Sunnis have to be negotiated with, because they are what he calls "spoilers". Here is his reasoning (Dec 27): "The guerrilla war is hotter now than at any time since the US invasion. It is more widely supported by more Sunni Arabs than ever before. It is producing more violent attacks than ever before. Since we cannot defeat them short of genocide, we have to negotiate with them." Now he is making some "ecumenical speeches" of his own, educating his readers about the need for a "win-win situation", even if it involves Sunnis. This is several years late, and his very influential sectarian approach has already done its damage.

Gullible readers who have been exposed for years to this sort of thing are naturally going to be very hard-boiled about any concept of cross-sect Iraqi nationalism. So when I quoted Harith al-Dhari (Sunni head of the Muslim Scholars Association) in Istanbul recently on the subject of Sunni-Shiite cooperation, and a commenter expressed consternation, asking if it isn't the case that the "Muslim Scholars have been blowing up Shiites in Sadr City", the commenter then admitted she was a regular Juan Cole reader.

Whether the predetermined outcome is thought of as US-compliant, or Shiite-controlled, the point is that any such approach drains the content out of the story, leaving the reader with cartoon stick-figures and authoritarian assurances of "Informed Comment".

And so it is that when the country is faced with a president, either delusional or malicious, about to order a troop-increase, the country is unable to mount any kind of a rational discussion about the political underpinnings of it. There are only two available organizing ideas: US-compliant regime (NYT); Shiite-controlled regime with Sunni spoiler-status (Informed Comment). The former seems to imply more troops until the desired US-compliant status is reached; the latter suggests troop-withdrawal, but only because that is a demand of the spoiler-group. Neither one of them starts from an even-handed account of the actual alignment of the relevant political forces. It would only confuse readers. And it would take away from the authority and the authoritarianism of whoever is doing the talking.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Off for a few days, then days will start getting longer

The solstice is upon us. Badger, in keeping with his woodland heritage, will be offline for a few days, returning probably the middle of next week, or thereabouts. Things will start to turn better then, anger and stupidity will dissipate, understanding will prevail. I promise.

American readers finally hear about the Istanbul conference

Aswat al-Iraq says the statements of Adnan al-Dulaimi (head of the Iraqi Accord Front) and others at the Istanbul conference last week triggered a storm of criticism at a parliamentary session yesterday, adding this was only a consultative session with 85 members present, lacking the quorum of half the full membership (which is 275) plus one. Vice-speaker Khalid al-Ateya, referred in particular to a reported statement by Dulaimi about Sunnis being wiped out in Iraq and asking for the intervention of neighboring countries. He said unless Dulaimi apologizes to the people of Iraq for this shameful statement, steps should be taken to revoke his parliamentary immunity. Another member proposed a committee of inquiry to find out what his views are.

The reporter reminds readers that already last week, the official government spokesman Ali al-Dabagh had criticised Turkey for hosting this conference, because statements like these translate into further violence within Iraq.

Salim Abdullah, an Accord Front member who was present at the session yesterday, said Dulaimi's statements at Istanbul were his own personal opinion and not those of the party, whose charter expressly forbids making provocative statements. A member from the UIA (the main Shiite coalition) said you can't make that kind of excuse in th case of the leader of a party. Outside the session a Kurdish member told the reporter members of parliament should be careful not to make the kinds of statements that would highlight internal struggles. A member representing SCIRI (the biggest parliamentary component of the UAI) spoke about the need to restore balance in the institutions of the state. And so it went.

Americans got their first report about the Istanbul conference this morning, via Juan Cole, who (1) called statements of Dulaimi "incendiary", but failed to mention the more enlightened comments that Harith al-Dhari made in rebuttal; (2) quotes a Shiite website that reported allegations about an arrest-warrant against Dulaimi, without telling readers that this was false; (3) failed to pay any attention to the more balanced Al-Jazeera summary of the Istanbul proceedings (mentioned here in a prior post). Cole presents a one-sided account, followed up with something equally incendiary (and false to boot). It is a case study in how to go about taking a contentious event, and instead of explaining the dynamics in an even-handed way, using it instead in a partisan way to fan the flames higher.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The debate you don't hear a word about in America

Al-Jazeera hosted a televised discussion recently following the windup of the Istanbul Conference (Dec 13 and 14), including Adnan al-Dulaimi (head of one of the biggest Sunni political parties), Harith al-Dhari (head of the Muslim Scholars Association) and others. It has posted a brief summary on its site (flagged by Abu Aardvark on his website), and the summary goes like this:

First of all, judging from the banners in the background, the recommended English version for the name of the group that organized this is "Global Anti-Agression Campaign", and the AlJazeera summary notes this was really the first-ever meeting bringing together representatives of the Sunni people of Iraqi with representatives of the Sunni populations of surrounding countries. And there was unanimous agreement on the concluding recommendations (see this prior post), but the there was also one major point of disagreement: Is the Iraqi conflict sectarian or is it political?

Dulaimi is quoted as a proponent of the former view, as follows: He said (according to this summary): "[There is a] Shiite Safavid Persian Majousi threat originating in Iran and aiming to consume all of Iraq, and after that neighboring countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, by way of reviving the dream of a new Persian empire."

Harith al-Dari disagreed and said this is "a political struggle plain and simple". He said (according to this summary): "There are both Shiites and Sunnis on the one side under a single banner, and on the other side, arrayed against them, is the Occupation along with its Iraqi agents, aiming at the realization of its colonialist aims. [And this is the case] whether or not those [agents] connive with the Iraqi government and its institutions, or with the death-squads and the militias that are supported from outside".

There was a full debate between the two men and their respective supporters. One common agreed point, however, was that the threat that the Iraqi people are facing comes from beyond their borders, whether from over the horizon (America) or from next door. The person writing the summary doesn't take sides explicitly, but it is significant what his next sentence says. It goes like this: "The conference included the directing of a message to the United States of America, to the effect it is inevitably failing in its efforts to uncover fitna between the two groups of believers in Iraq [Sunni and Shiia], and as Harith al-Dhari insisted, the organization of Shiite clerics is the brother of the Sunni [organnization], and they both proscribe the shedding of blood for whatever reason". And he adds that Dhari called on the Shiite clerics to make a corresponding statement of position, with respect to the sectarian militias.

That is the extent of this summary. Clearly the AlJazeera presentation of this gives the last word to AlDhari, and to the view that this is a political struggle, that can't be allowed to turn into a sectarian struggle, and that the primary enemy is the American occupation, whatever may be the nature of the various parties, whether government or sectarian militia, that are in collusion with it.

It is worth considering the nature of this debate, alongside the comparable "debate" in America, on whether the Iraqi situation is "civil war, yes or no". The trick here is that if you can pin the "civil war" label on Iraq (meaning essentially "sectarian conflict"), then in Dhari's terms, this would be seen as no longer a political struggle at all, but a religious war. America would supposedly become a non-combattant, supposedly turning into a humanitarian assistant and peacekeeper. And America's continued involvement would thus be justified. So while there are huge stakes for the Iraqis in correctly understanding what is going on, there are also stakes for Americans. Which is why I repeat: I am spooked by the fact that there is not a word about this conference, or the issues it raises, in any of the American media, or in any of the big, supposedly enlightening blogs either.

This AlJazeera item concludes with some remarks on the mechanics of the Istanbul conference. It is worth highlighting this: The meeting was held in Istanbul, Turkey, because Turkey is a country that enjoys the benefits of democracy, and allows for the free expression of a wide range of opinions. Food for thought.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sadr thanks Sunni authorities for their statement

On Tuesday of last week, car-bombers killed 70 laborers who were waiting for the chance for day-work, in Tarayan Square, in a Shiite part of Baghdad. As an expression of their outrage over this, a Sunni group including religious authorities issued a statement, described as a fatwa, in which they proscribed killing of Muslims and killing of Shiites in particular. The authorities included people connected with the Islamic Party, with the Muslim Scholars Association, and with something called the League of Islamic Unity, and apparently they were Basra-based. I don't think there was any widespread notice of this at the time, but this morning Al-Hayat says Moqtada al-Sadr sent a delegation to Basra for the purpose of thanking the officials for their statement.

Apparently referring to the same statement, Al-Hayat explains that group of Basra Sunnis, composed not only of religious authorities but of tribal leaders as well, issued a statement in which they denounced "the terrorism to which the Iraqi people are being subjected", and expressed support for the unity or Iraq geographically and with respect to its people. Signatories of this statement included named people representing the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Sunni Waqf (religious endowments agency), the Islamic Party, and a number of others from the Sunni community of Basra.

A spopkesman for the Sunni group warned of the spread of killings in Basra, but said Basra is different from other Iraqi cities, and what has happened in Baghdad won't be transferred here.

A report on this same exchange between the Sadr delegation and the Sunni group was carried by Aswat al-Iraq yesterday, and it said: The (above-mentioned) spokesman for the Sunni group added that there was a meeting between the Sadr representatives and the Sunni group, at which "a spirit of understanding and cooperation prevailed". He said they agreed on the need to support Iraqi unity, and to denounce terrorist operations and "anything that detracts from the unity and the fabric of Iraqi society".

I would like to underline his mention of "the fabric of Iraqi society", because it is the same phrase Al-Dhari used in his rebuttal of the Islamist at the Istanbul conference, when he warned him against turning the meeting into an anti-Shiite event. Shiites, he reminded the Islamist, are "part of the fabric of Iraqi society". (Quoted in this prior post, the last block-quote section at the bottom).

I think it is a good rule of thumb: If there is any reference to "the fabric of Iraqi society", readers of English-language newspapers and readers of the big blogs won't see it reported. I don't know why. We use "fabric" in exactly the same way. What could the reason be?

Too little too late

The most straightforward summary of the "National Reconciliation" meetings on the weekend is in al-Quds al-Arabi this morning. First of all, this wasn't what the name implies, because "reconciliation" means dealing with all aggrieved parties, and in this case very important groups weren't even there. He names: Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq; the Allawi coalition; the Sadrists; the Baath party; and most important of all, none of the factions involved in the resistance were represented, even though these are the groups that have brought to its knees "the occupation project and the political process that [the occupation] gave rise to".

These absences really point up the powerlessness of the Maliki government and of the parties that support it, and their failure to take up genuine ideas and approaches that could in fact lead Iraq out of its current tribulations. [The ecitorialist is talking about true negotiation with the resistance, which would of course involve a commitment to US withdrawal]. Instead, he says, the main practical result of these meetings is to provide pension support for over 350,000 members of the former army, and really what this amounts to is a bribe and an attempt to get them to lean toward support for the government, or at the very least to neutralize them.

This was definitely not a brainstorm of Maliki's or of the governing coalition. They have been consistent opponents of any accomodation to the Baathists, and among the most fired-up proponents of rooting them out, root and branch.

Most likely, says the editorialist, it was the Bush administration, faced with the crisis of its occupation forces, that told Maliki and Hakim to do this, in hopes that it would at least in some measure serve to cut down the size of the reserve army of the resistance. He says probably Baath party leadership didn't oppose this move, after all the money in question is the people's money, and these families are entitled to it. But naturally they will rigorously oppose any cooperation with the government that might suggest itself as a result of this.

IN any event, this pension deal, and the fact that the whole discussion of de-Baathification was left open, are a clear admission of the failure of the whole occupation program, which was led off, immediately after the 2003 invasion, by the dissolution of the army and of the other institutions of the state, the extirpation of the Baath party membes, and the cutting off of the livlihood of millions of Iraqis, a policy, the editorialist adds, that was recommended by Dr Ahmad Chalabi, by Nuri al-Maliki, and by Abdulaziz al-Hakim.

With the weekend measures, the government has admitted the failure of that policy, but the least we can say (the editorialist concludes) is that this is an admission that comes very late.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Anyone missed this?

In case anyone missed it, please take the time to read this, which was posted earlier today, and which a lot of people have found extremely helpful. It's modern Iraqi history washed clean of the American propaganda, without being argumentative about it, and it's essential background for seeing where the current political movements fit.

Year-end summary

It's easy to get confused, and it's important not to. Here is an attempt to help sort through the recent series of events.


First of all, there is the story of "political realignment" aka "giving Maliki an alternate political base", freeing him from the Sadrists and enabling him to use the state institutions to attack the Mehdi Army, which is the new Public Enemy # 1 of the Bush arministration. The concept of an "alternate political base" was laid out in the famous Hadley memo, which prepared Bush for his Amman meeting with Maliki.

The technical points in this are the following: (1) The core of the new alliance will be the same as the core of the old, namely SCIRI in the south and the two big Kurdish parties in the north, both proponents of their own autonomous regions, and both staunch US allies since day one of 2003. (2) The keys to success will be to attract other Parliamentary groups to the "new base". But to attract other Shiite groups (including Maliki's Dawa party, headed by former PM Jaafari), you would have to overcome Ayatollah Sistani's rule against splitting the Shiites. The ruse there would be to call the new base "extra-parliamentary", so as to avoid having an "official" split in Parliament. But even at that the Dawa party has said no (following a meeting between party head Jaarafi and Syrian vp Sharaa in Damascus last week). (3) In fact the only apparent "success" has been that Tareq al-Hashemi, following his meeting in Washington with Bush, has said he is willing to join a SCIRI-Kurd alliance (for no apparent reason except having bought into the Bush position that the Mehdi Army is in fact Public Enemy # 1. See the comments to a prior post by Reidar Visser, who follows Baghdad politics in some detail; he says the Hashemi move is puzzling at the least).

The tentative conclusion is that "political re-alignment" or the "new base" idea doesn't seem to be working too sell.


Following the two earlier meetings in this series (for tribes and NGOs respectively) yesterday they finally convened the third and most important of these, for political parties and groups.

The most important point here is who didn't come. Of course the Sadrists didn't come. But here is the other point: The biggest Sunni coalition in Parliament is the Iraqi National Accord (INA), and it is made up of three main parts: Iraqi Peoples Congress, headed by Adnan Dulaimi (who is also head of the INA as a whole); National Dialogue Front, headed by Saleh al-Mutlak; and Iraqi Islamic Party, headed by Tareq al-Hashemi. The first two groups (Dulaimi's Peoples Congress and al-Mutlak's Dialogue Front) boycotted the reconciliation meeting (according to this morning's account in Al-Hayat. So the only major component of the INA that is still playing the game is Hashemi's group (or Hashimi personally, depending on how you look at his relationship to his group).

Armed resistance groups weren't represented, because the US has refused their demand for a commitment to unconditional withdrawal. And the Baath party, which is outlawed as a party, wasn't there, and moreover it said Maliki welshed on a prior commitment to use his presidential powers to roll back de-Baathification. So naturally there wasn't any progress getting any of the resistance groups into the political process. Which wasn't expected anyway. Rather, the news is that the same groups that are staying out of the "new political base" (Sadrists and major Sunni groups) also stayed away from the "reconciliation" meeting.

To put it another way, the parties that boycotted the "reconciliation" meeting are those that have been reported to be working on a nationalist, cross-sect coalition to demand US withdrawal from within Parliament, in opposition to the proposed SCIRI/Kurd-based "new base for Maliki" idea. It is the same alignment of forces. And to put it another way, the "reconciliation" process isn't working too well either.


See the prior post. This was a meeting that appears to have been spearheaded by Harith al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association (subject of the recent arrest-warrant episode), and it brought together Adnan Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi National Accord (see above) and also (via messages) representatives of three mainly domestic armed resistance groups (Islamic Army of Iraq, Revolution of 1920 Brigades, and Army of Mohammed) and of course al-Dhari, all from the Iraqi side, and representatives of Islamist activism from Saudi Arabia and other countries on the non-Iraqi side.

There are two initial points. One is the nature of the English-language coverage of this meeting. Here is the English-language version on the website of Turkish newspaper Hurriyet: Title: Fear of Taliban Presence at meeting on Iraq. Text:
The presence of Sheikh Haris Ed Dari, the leader of the Iraqi Sunni Ulema Committee, at a meeting in [word missing in the text] caused discomfort to Iraqis, religious Sunni leaders and United States officials at a meeting in Istanbul.

The meeting was organized by the "Global Initiative for the Struggle against Militancy", in order to help the people. A number of religious Sunni leaders attended from Iraq, Qatar, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The central Iraqi government and the United States government were concerned that Ed Dari was present because he is believed to have ties with both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Iraqi Shiites and Kurds also hold Ed Dari responsible for the civil war.

In other words, the US disinformation people were working the phones. In the more sophisticated US press, there has been not a single word about the Istanbul meeting. In the main US retail outlets, the approach is not to mention it at all. The coverage of the Istanbul meeting has worked out like this: NYT zero; WaPo zero; "Informed Comment" zero; and so on down the line.

There could be many reasons for the silence, but I would like to focus on just one point: There was an anti-Shiite declaration earlier in the week by a group of 38 Saudis published on a website called The director of that website was at the Istanbul meeting, and he said his anti-Shiite piece, and this was followed by a rebuttal by AlDhari. Here's how that went: Nasr al-Amr, the website director, said it is important to treat the Shiites "fairly", explaining that a lot of Shiites don't understand what is at stake, and don't understand the root nature of the Iranian threat, so it is necessary to explain this Shiism to the Shiites themselves (as well as to Sunnis). In other words, it is the fundamentalist Christian very graciously offering to convert the Jews. Here's what al-Dhari had to say about that in rebuttal (from the text of the Azzaman account):
Al-Dhari replied to this, warning against turning this conference into a field for stoking jingoist sectarian arrogance via aggressive statements against the Shiites, who are a part of the fabric of Iraqi society. And Dhari called for letting reason and wisdom prevail in discussion this type of issue. And he added: The original crime was the American occupation, and the agents who came with them are from all the sects....[And conversely] many of the tribal leaders in the South are Shiites, and they fight against the government and against the occupation, and the prisons in the North are filled with opponents of the colonial project [meaning Kurds]...
Dhari is saying: No, this is a political issue, not a sectarian one. No wonder there isn't any English language coverage of it.

This is the inexorable US policy. Marginalize Sadr. Marginalize Dhari. Where a reasonable person would encourage the cross-sect opening indicated by both of them, US policy is instead to continue pushing the situation to a conflagration. It will look inevitable. But it will have been the result of US policy, by commission and omission.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Istanbul Conference

Azzaman devotes a lot of space this morning to coverage of the Istanbul conference of Wednesday and Thursday (December 13 and 14), with a picture of the group. There were around 100 attendees, including politicians, clerics, intellectuals and activists, the reporter says, from Iraq and from outside of Iraq. Following an exibition of photos and videos to indicate the realities of what is occuring in Iraq, the meeting was convened by Abdulrahman bin Amir al-Nuaimi. He said the purpose of the meeting was to link up Sunnis in Iraq and outside of Iraq and to present a clear idea to those outside of conditions that Iraqi Sunnis are facing. He then read a letter from Safr al-Hawali, who is one of the big names among Saudi clerical activists, described by Nuaimi as the original proponent of this type of conference, but prevented from coming to Istanbul for health reasons. The Hawali letter made three points: Necessity for unity of the Iraqi resistance to the occupation; need for organized assistance to Iraqi Sunnis from the Sunni community world-wide; and political efforts to build a new Iraq for all its groups.
Lead-off speaker was Harith al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association of Iraq. His main point was that the nature of the current conflict in Iraq is not sectarian but political. The agents who came to Iraq with the Americans belong to different sects, and the problem it is not their sectarian beliefs, but their collusion with the occupation.

He was followed by Salman al-Awda, another of the big names in Saudi Islamist activism, whose main point was the need for Sunni solidarity with the Iraqi Sunnis, and he made a special point of congratulating Turkey for its efforts in this regard, and also for hosting the conference.

Next up was Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi National Accord, biggest of the Sunni coalitions in the Iraqi parliament. He demurred from Dhari's analysis, and said the current conflict in Iraq is at least partly sectarian, and he said Iran is using this sectarian conflict as a way of extending its influence.

The first day concluded with the playing of a taped audio message from a spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq. The Azzaman reporter focuses on the tactical side of what he had to say, for instance noting that he said many Sunni strongholds in the south have fallen, and the Safavid threat is now faced by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Azzaman reporter leaves out the more colorful parts highlighted yesterday in Al-Quds al-Arabi about Ibn al-Alqami and so on.

On Thursday participants heard from Nasar bin Suleiman al-Amr, described as the director of a website called (which is the site that hosted the anti-Shiite declaration of the 38 Saudi clerics last week), and his main point was more clearly sectarian than any of the other participants. He couched it this way: Sunnis should treat Shiites fairly, because some of them don't realize the root nature of the Iranian scheme. Sunnis need to explain Shiism not only to other Sunnis, but to the Shiites themselves.

This was countered by Harith al-Dhari, who spoke next in rebuttal. It is very important, said Dhari, that what we say here not serve in any way to stoke the flames of conflict. And he elaborated on his point that the issues are essentially political ones, having their main origin in the American occupation, and secondarily in the Iranian interference. The Azzaman reporter gives this the longest treatment of any of his summaries.

The conference adopted a list of conclusions and recommendations.

(1) Iraq is of central importance, and throughout its history has been subject to occupation and so on, but a loyal population has always resisted that.

(2) Sunnis elsewhere cannot tolerate what the Iraqis are going through in terms of violation of their territory, sovereignty and rights, at the hands of the occupation, without taking concrete steps to provide Iraq with assistance.

(3) The occupation bears the reponsibility for the slaughter that is occurring in Iraq, in practical terms because it is providing the political umbrella under which this is going on, and in legal terms because the occupation forces' continuing attacks give Iraqis the right to prosecute them under international law.

(4) The Safavid political parties share in the responsibility, both because of their connivance with the occupation generally, and more particularly because of the activities of their militias.

(5) The current political process in Iraq, under the aegis of the occupation, is without legal right.

(6) Criticism of Arab and Islamic governments for their silence about this, their lack of aid to Iraqis, and particularly to Sunnis. These regimes are doing nothing about the aggressive steps of both America and Iran.

(7) Praise for the management of the Iraqi resistance which is the force that has stymied the occupation plans.

This is followed by a list of points for specific action:

(1) Demand that the American occupation forces get out of Iraq, and end any "form or appearance of military presence" in Iraq, and that this be done with appropriate international guarantees.
(2) Demand that Iran end its interference in Iraq, and in particular that it end its support for specific political parties in Iraq.
(3) End the current political process which has been imposed on Iraq by the occupation, and allow the country to return to a political process that is supported by the Iraqis themselves, without foreign interference.
(4) Disarming and disbanding of the militias,
(5) Affirmation of the Arab and Islamic character of Iraq.
(6) Invite the Arab and Islamic regimes to end their policy of thwarting involvement in the affairs of Iraq, and instead adopt consistent policies permitting popular and non-governmental organizations to provide what assistance they can to the people of Iraq.
(7) Set up follow-up committees, with particular reference to the following:

(1) Pressure and negotiate with neighboring regimes to support the Iraqi Sunnis in the danger that they are facing, release prisoners, and work toward the laying of charges under international law against the violations that Iraqis have faced, and bringing those responsible to court.
(2) Material and humanitarian support.
(3) Support for families.
(4) Publicity for what is happening in the country.

The above is the Azzaman summary.

Al-Hayat publishes a much shorter account of the meeting, with the following additional information that isn't in the Azzaman piece:

Al-Hayat says there was talk about a need for solidarity against American-Iranian aggression that is pushing Sunnis out of Baghdad.

Among the armed opposition groups, in addition to the taped message from the IAI, there was also a tape from the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, and a faxed message from the Army of the Mujahideen.

Among foreign participants, there were presonalities and representatives of parties and groups from Saudi Arabia, Qatar (where convener al-Nuaimi is from), Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey, along with representation from the Syrian "Justice and Growth" party.

Al-Nuaimi, from Qatar, is the person responsible for the convening group, which is called World Campaign for Resistance to Agression. He said the purpose of the conference, planned as the first of a series, isn't to ignite sectarian fitna, but rather to appeal to reasonable Shiites for dialogue to help rescue the country from the foreign plans.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Jaafari visits Damascus; Dawa says no to new coalition idea

Here is the latest news for those following the attempt to create an "alternative political base" for Maliki, in order to exclude the Sadrists and get tough with them. (The basic idea came from the Hadley memo, and it has been confirmed in various ways by those who have since met with Bush. So far there are four parties on board: SCIRI, the two big Kurdish parties, and the Islamic Party (Sunni) of Tareq al-Hashemi). To make the Shiite-split part of this palatable, the idea was or is to call the new alliance "extra-parliamentary".

The latest news is that the Dawa party, which would have had to be an important part of any such restructuring, has said no. Party chief and former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has been in Damascus since Tuesday, where he has met with the foreign minister Moallem and also with Vice President Sharaa, who made remarks about Syria offering all possible support for the unity and stability of Iraq. The Al-Quds al-Arabi account of the visit doesn't offer any particular reason for the head of the Iraqi Dawa party to be spending a few days in Damascus right now, but on the same page the newspaper reports the party's decision not to go along with the [Washington sponsored] "alternative political base" idea. The paper quotes Haider al-Abadi, a Dawa Party leader who said the party decided an extra-parliamentary group like this isn't necessary, because all of the relevant parties are in Parliament in the first place.

Moqtada expresses support for the Istanbul meeting

Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement Friday December 15 on the "Assistance for the People of Iraq" conference that was held in Istanbul the 13th and 14th (see this post). Sadr said he is in favor of the conference, "which supports our brothers [the Sunnis], and my whole concern is for the success of meetings like this, [of people] aiming to extricate themselves from the clutches of the occupation and the Baathists...I am ready to attend conferences in support of the Sunnis, those in support of the Shiites, or those in support of Iraq as a whole or indeed of any Islamic country".

Aswat al-Iraq reminds readers of the statements yesterday by government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh expressing regret that Turkey would host such a conference, which he described anti-Iraq.

The reporter offers another excerpt from the Sadr statement: "If I were a scholar qualified to issue fatwas, I would without hesitation ban the killing of our brothers [the Sunnis] in Iraq or outside of Iraq... Whoever does that (Shiite killing Sunni or Sunni killing Shiite) is an enemy of God ...until the day of judgment."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Iraq protests a Sunni gathering in Istanbul, including Dulaimi, Dhari, the IAI, and Saudi and Pakistani clerics

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh said today (Thursday December 14) that the Iraqi government is getting ready to lodge a formal complaint with Ankara over the hosting of a conference called "Help for the People of Iraq" currently going on in Istanbul., which is the only place I have seen any report of this*, says representation includes the following: From the political sphere, Adnan Dulaimi of the Iraqi National Accord, along with representative(s) Islamic Party (which is headed by Tariq al-Hashemi). From the Iraqi non-political sphere, Harith al-Dhari of the Muslim Scholars Association, along with representative(s) of the Islamic Army of Iraq. And from outside Iraq, "religious persons" from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan and elsewhere. Dabagh said this meeting sends a "wrong, sectarian message to Iraqis, aimed at drenching the country in blood". Dabagh added this meeting is anti-Iraq, and any neighboring country should avoid holding in on their soil, because by so doing they are taking a position inimical to the people of Iraq. He said it is unfortunate Turkey has permitted this to be held on its soil, and he reminded neighboring countries that the continuation of violence in Iraq will spread to them and will cause them damage.

The Elaph reporter notes that in spite of the Iraqi government's criticism of this conference, it was praised by the Islamic Party, whose head, Tareq al-Hashemi is vice president of Iraq. The Islamic Party statement said this conference is a cry for help in the face of slaughter at the hands of the militias.

The reporter notes that the official government National Reconciliation meeting (the third in the series, this one for political parties and groups) is still scheduled to be held in two days time. A government spokesman repeated hopes for good attendance from those both within and outside the political process. He said Prime Minister Maliki will attend personally, and will present a proposal for carrying out reconciliation measures, but the official didn't elaborate.

Friday, December 15 there was also this report on the meeting in AlQuds al-Arabi, described here as a meeting aimed at sending a public message concerning the condition of the Sunnis in Iraq.

AlQuds says the Islamic Army of Iraq participated via a taped message from its official spokesman Ibrahim al-Shamari, and the message included a list of proposals: Creation of an international popular Sunni alliance to confront the Safavid criminals; all-out political activities to help the Iraqi Sunni condition; more efforts to publicize the Safavid atrocities; greater efforts to educate the Sunni masses about their creed and the danger represented by Safavid Iran; work on discourse for gatherings and posters and demonstrations and so on; material assistance.

The IAI statement included this: "Ibn al-Alqami [a 13th century Shiite minister in the court of the Sunni caliph of Baghdad, said to have facilitated the invasion of Hulagu Khan] has been reborn in the form of Hakim and Sadr and al-Rubaie [national security adviser] and Jaafari, and Maliki, from among the Magi and the traitors". And the IAI statement criticized Sunnis everywhere for their delay in helping the Sunnis of Iraq, who are being slaughtered day and night by the three-headed daggar of the Crusaders, the Safavids and the Jews.

The AlQuds al-Arabi account includes the remarks, reported above, by the official Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh criticising the meeting as anti-Iraq.

Saudi Mufti issues lukewarm statement distancing Saudi officialdom from the anti-Shiite statement

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh issued a statement that was printed in the Baghdad newspaper Al-Sabah, in which he invited Iraqis to adhere to unity and renounce violence and sectarianism, and his assistant assured the newspaper's reporter by phone that the anti-Shiite statement of the 38 Saudi Sheikhs issued earlier this week doesn't represent position of the Saudi religious hierarchy, but only their personal opinions. The assistant said the Grand Mufti is always calling for unity, and rejects any statements that will cause any more spilling of blood. But the text doesn't indicate any actual criticism of this particular statement of the 38 by the Mufti or his assistant.

The newspaper couples this with a lengthier statement by the head of the Shia Religious Endownments (Waqf) Agency in Iraq, Saleh al-Hidari which actually criticized the statement of the 38, and in no uncertain terms. He said Iraqis of all persuasions and nationalities and religions reject this kind of thing, which springs from the same distorted concepts that form the basis of terrorism in the Arab and Islamic world and everywhere else, adding that these lying and tyrannical ideas were previously unknown in Iraq.

SCIRI's argument against Baker, and its connection with National Reconciliation

The Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada publishes today a lenthy critique by Adel Abdul Mehdi of the Baker report. And since Mehdi (a vice president of the republic, and senior SCIRI official) is thought to be the US favorite for Prime Minister in the next government, it is worth studying.

His overall debating point is that the report appears to have seized on a few superficial points expressive of Sunni concerns about breakup of the country, Iranian influence, and so on, and made that the basis of recommendations, leaving out any broader considerations, and in particular leaving out important historical background. The whole approach, Mehdi says, reminds him of the shortsightedness of the US administration at the time of the Shiite "intifada" of 1991 following the expulsion of Saddam's army from Kuwait, in effect permitting Saddam to suppress it, based on short-term calculations of US interests.

And he says the report's anecdotal remarks about finding an Iranian under every stone, or the risk of Kurdish separation, are indicative of a facile attitude focusing on the danger of national breakup. But while much of the piece is polemical (he notes how few Arabic-speakers there are in the American embassy as another indication of the report's superficiality), there is one specific point that seems to be central.

He says recommendations 26 through 31, on National Reconciliation, are one-sided, meaning they deal only with Sunni concerns. And he says it is a mistake to make those kinds of concessions (for instance on de-Baathification and federalism) as a way of getting groups to put down their arms.
A balanced solution has to be something that aims at the attainment by all groups of their legitimate rights, without encroachment by this group or that...and without letting it come about that the laying down of arms--on whatever side--becomes a reason for imposing a solution or for the attainment [of a particular group] of rights that are not legitimate, under whatever aspect, or for whatever group, whether Shia, Sunni, Kurd or any other.
Here Mehdi is talking about the report's assumption that negotiation with the armed resistance would require concessions in areas like de-Baathification and a toning down or slowing down of federalism. But Mehdi seems to be most particularly concerned with countering any Baker-inspired move to slow down federalism.

Al-Mada concludes its front-page summary of the Mehdi statement as follows:
There is a general orientation in the report aiming at strengthening the central regime (which is recommended by some Arab states and some domestic groups) at the expense of the decentralized and federal regime, which [latter] the Iraqi people have [already] decided on.
Mehdi is referring to the October 11 Parliamentary vote on the law relating to procedures for estalishing federal regions. He says this "general orientation" is dangerous, because:
You cannot play with political and constitutional issues for tactical political purposes, and to please some, without constitutional procedures or a broad national agreement. In this way the report, in trying to correct errors, itself falls into administrative and constitutional and political errors.
The statement in its full version covers almost all of p 12 of the newspaper today, but the central point seems to be: Opposition to any structural concessions to the Sunni resistance as a way of ending their insurgency, and in particular opposition to any tinkering with the results of the October 11 federalism vote.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Fatfatism and its limits

Everyone familiar with the Angry Arab News Service? I mention this because the Angry Arab has coined a term that is going to be quite useful in understanding coming developments in Baghdad politics: Fatfatism, named after Ahmad Fatfat, the Lebanese Interior Minister, associated in the popular mind with an incident of an Lebanese officer serving tea to Israeli officers during the recent war, giving rise to one of the popular chants in the current Beirut demonstrations: "Fatfat, you tough guy, one coffee and one tea", and with the idea of supporting any number of contradictory positions, depending on the moment and the calculation of one's own interests. The Wikipedia discussion page includes remarks to the effect Fatfatism isn't something limited to Lebanon, but is a leading characteristic of a lot of politicians in other Mideast countries too (hence should not be deleted as a Wikipedia entry).

I think we need this concept to understand what the Bush administration is aiming for in Baghdad. It is to be a government with SCIRI and the two big Kurdish parties as the base, but supplemented with Sunni-fatfatist and secular-fatfatist alliances. The exact size and shape of the fatfatist groups remains to be defined (that is of course true by definition), and certainly the reference in the Hadley memo to paying people off with money is not irrelevant here. The concept of fatfatism is particularly useful, because there are groups that will be with the US for structural reasons (Kurdish parties and SCIRI to promote autonomous regions in the north and the south respectively); and there groups that will be with the US for fatfatist reasons, best known to themselves. While on the other side, there will be nationalists who are determined to see the US withdraw its troops, but probably this will not be a magnet for the fatfatists, at least until it becomes clear that the nationalists will win.

You can see right away what the biggest problem is. The ultimate US aim for the south is to split US-friendly SCIRI from the US-enemy Sadrists, but fatfatism will not work here, and the reason is that there is a higher obligation on Shiites (which Ayatollah Sistani periodically reminds them of) not to become divided. And this is all the more of an urgent priority now that a group of Saudi clerics has called for popular anti-Shiite mobilization. So it is hard to see how any government with SCIRI as a key element won't also involve the Sadrists. We could call this "the limits of fatfatism".

Another point. It is easy to forget, but the next (third) meeting in the National Reconciliation process is to be held in a few days (this one for political parties and groups), and Al-Hayat today quotes the head of that process reminding us that resistance groups, opposition Sunni figures still in exile, and others, have been invited, and the government has signaled a positive attitude to things like revising de-Baathification, revising the Constitution, re-hiring Saddam-era law-enforcement people, and so on. The problem here is that if the government was going to revise de-Baathification and so on, it could go ahead and do so. But what it has found out is that this won't make any difference to the armed resistance movements, or to their sympathizers, without a clear US commitment to unconditional withdrawal. And "no withdrawal" is to Bush as "Shiite unity" is to Sistani. It is another example of "the limits of fatfatism".

Perhaps I am abusing the term, but I find it useful.

(Regular readers please note I have made changes and an addition to the prior post, on the anti-Shiite statement of the 38 Saudi authorities, maybe worth another read).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Saudi clerics call for group action against the "US-Persian backed" Iraqi Shiites

A group of 38 Saudi bigshots, including preachers, present and former university professors, and government officials, all of them is some way or other considered to be religious authorities of some description, issued a statement Monday on a Saudi website, which depending on how you read it, either calls for pogroms against Iraqi Shiites, or perhaps stops a short step short of that. And the Najaf authorities have replied angrily that Riyadh should take a resolute position against this.

A Reuters reporter did a summary of sorts in Arabic, and there is an AP version, but both of them left out important parts, perhaps understandably. A commenter kindly sent the link to the original statement. Here is one excerpt I originally saw in Elaph:
After almost four years of the occupation of Iraq, it has become apparent that the aim is the seizure of Iraq jointly by the crusaders and Safavid rafida ("rejectionists", referring to Shiites as heretics), enabling their ambitions in the region, protecting the Jewish occupiers; the elimination of Sunni influence in it [in Iraq]; the deterrence of the Sunna in the region generally; and the creation of a Shiite crescent, the idea and the execution of which they do not conceal. It has come about that Iraq, by virtue of its Islamic and Arab character, and by virtue of its geography, its history and its [natural-resource] wealth is something they wish to dissipate and plunder. Its official division has become a public [plan], and it can be expected to occur at any moment. [Already] the rafida have the south and the main provinces of the center; the Kurds have the north; the Sunnis have what remains in the center.
Here is an another excerpt:
[Sunnis should not stand idly by as their brother Sunnis are killed, tortured and displaced in Iraq, but should] expose the practices of the rafida at every level and every position of every pulpit and gathering and opportunity--more than that, you should call special meetings on this subject, and you should besiege those who toy with Iraq and its people informationally and legally, and you should arouse the concern of the Islamic population to do their duty with respect to them.
On the specific question of jihad:
[The statement says jihad is unquestionably one of the basic ideas in religion] and what has been taken by force can only be recovered by force, and praise God there are among the mujahideen of Iraq wonderful examples of sacrifice and effort in the path of God, who have terrified the enemy and cut down their strength, and we value them for that and may God be pleased with them. However, there have been recent and novel events in the field that have emerged from our struggle, and they [the novelties] are in need of a legal grounding that cannot be found out except by those [clerics] of the divine science, who are more knowledgable, and have longer experience, and have a more fundamental understanding of these novelties, and who understand the reality of the struggle between ourselves and our enemy. And therefore we implore all the mujahideen to put their hands in the hands of the clerics, and not undertake anything without them...
The enemy have the US and Iran and the finances of Iraq behind them, the statements says in another place, and we (Sunnis everywhere) must not let them down. The gist of the whole statement seems to be a call to consciousness-raising about the dangers and the need for action. "What has been taken by force can only be recovered by force," but the ultimate question of jihad or not should be left to local religious authorities. But the underlying threat of spontaneous popular action is there.

In any event (according to the above-linked Elaph account today) that is the way the Shiite leadership in Najaf read the statement. Acting collectively, they issued a statement accusing these 38 Saudi sheikhs of "legitimizing the taking of blood and property and money of the Shiites". And the Najaf statement called on the Saudi authorities to take a "resolute position against the statement."

Al-Quds al-Arabi points out that the 38 do not include the popular preachers that have regular programs on Saudi state TV. So this is not yet a national cause. On the other hand, it remains to be seen how the Saudi government reacts to the call to take a resolute stand against the 38.

While it is understandable if Arab media turn away from publishing a statement like that of the 38, you do have to wonder how much of what is going on in the region is getting through to the US "policy makers". The NYT this morning buries a reference to this deep inside a story about Washington diplomacy, something they really like to write about.

Dollar-dipomacy to split the Shiites: Will it work this time?

There has been an outpouring of statements by various Baghdad politicians announcing their agreement to join together in a new alliance described as non-sectarian and for the good of the country and so on. In fact, by my count, someone from everywhere on the parliamentary spectrum except the Sadrists has expressed support for this, including people in SCIRI, Kurdish parties (the two big ones), Dawa (Maliki's party), the Islamic Party (big Sunni party), Iraqi List (Allawi's party), and Iraqi National Alliance (the umbrella parliamentary alliance of the Sunni parties).

Associated Press, which is a wonderfully reliable indicator of covert Washington spin in cases like this, said this is an attempt to "oust Maliki". Others have said it is merely an attempt to provide him with an alternative political base so that he can get tough with the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army. What's actually happening ?

We have a couple of unusually helpful clues to work with.

First let's take another look at the Hadley memo. (Hadley to Bush, just ahead of his Amman meeting with Maliki). Hadley wrote: "We could help him [Maliki] form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni Shia Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base could constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free him from him current narrow reliance on Shia actors."

Hadley also wrote: "We would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki's new political bloc".

And among the other possible US support efforts, Hadley mentioned this:
Consider monetary support to moderate groups that have been seeking to break with larger, more sectarian parties, as well as support Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of the bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists.
This morning Al-Hayat quotes remarks by Hakim in London (on his way back to Baghdad from his talks in Washington with Bush) that included an assurance that the current inter-party discussions are "a natural thing to try and deal with the escalating threats", and not an attempt to replace Maliki. Someone asked him about the implication that the United Iraqi Alliance (the pan-Shiite parliamentary coalition, including SCIRI and the Sadrists among others) could end up being split over this. Hakim replied:
[SCIRI] is dedicated to the unity of the United Iraqi Alliance. ...Many efforts have been undertaken to split the UIA, involving the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars [but this has been] without success.
Lest we forget, or more likely lest we were never made aware of it in the first place, this isn't the first Washingon attempt to ally itself with SCIRI (and the Kurds) and ditch the Sadrists at the same time.

Following the general elections of December 2005, the UIA picked Jaafari (Dawa, and incumbent Prime Minister, supported by Sadr) to be its candidate for Prime Minister in the new government. Khalilzad was furious, and he threatened the UIA with dire consequences if they named anyone but the SCIRI candidate for this: Here is what the Elaph reporter said at the time (early February 2006):
[Informed Iraqi sources] added that the ambassador [Khalilzad] sent a message to the UIA leadership to the effect that in the event they nominated anyone other than Adel Abdul Mehdi of the four candidates [i.e., the four UIA candidates for PM]...he would work for the establishment of an opposition front in Parliament [that would be able to outvote the UIA].
Moreover, the journalist went on, still citing his Iraqi sources:
The sources explained that in the event they [the UIA] nominated someone other than Mehdi, Khalilzad was issuing indirect threats to the effect he would create a number of problems and put down obstacles in the way of such a government, thwarting its aims, and forcing it to resign, [and this would be followed by creation of a non-UIA government based on the coalition Khalilzad was threatening to create].
Why Mehdi?

The journalist said this move by Khalilzad was based on the "Western and regional agenda" aimed at thwarting "Shiite hegemony" in Iraq, adding that in the case of Mahdi, there was an "unwritten agreement to diminish the Iranian influence" in Iraqi affairs. This point wasn't elaborated on.

The eventual choice, Maliki, represented a compromise between Jaafari, who was seen as too close to Sadr, and Mehdi, who is pure SCIRI. This was the best Washington could do at the time.
According to the NYT, the Washington favorite is still Mehdi. And needless to say, we still don't really know the the true nature of the love that unites Washington with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

(We do know something about the love that unites Washington with Mehdi personally, and a commenter provides a link to this useful summary of his economic-policy "credentials"-- aggressive on oil-sector legislation, foreign-investment policy, and so on. But SCIRI is an Iranian creature, so where does Iran fit in. That we don't know).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Familiar music

Saudi mover and shaker Mamoun Fandy disappointed his some of his fans this morning by putting off analysis of the Baker-Hamilton report, but probably he pleased others with a Saudi re-mixing of the racism story: The problems in Iraq and the region are the combined fault of dictatorship and race. Not Saudi dictatorship, Saddam dictatorship; and not Arab race, but, well, he's a little vague on that today. Baker-Hamilton showed laudable self-criticism, he says, but with he Mideast region "under the dark clouds that will rain death upon us", what do we hear, he asks, except some of the people singing that they are the scions of the Pharaohs, others that they are Babylonians, still others that they are sons of the Phoenecians, or of the Caananites. What an irony! (Fandy writes). What a contrast between a miserable and hateful present and a supposedly proud past! Fandy does not tell us in so many words, but clearly it is those Babylonians you have to keep your eye on.

If we are really the offspring of these proud races, says Fandy, whence the Iraqis that are killing each other whence the Lebanese that are insulting one another on television? Resorting to his famous wit, he says: They did not come from outer space! Nor did the Americans bring them with them when they came.

No, says Fandy. "The Americans let the spirits out of the bottle, but it did not create them."

In Iraq, these evil spirits of hatred and intolerance both pre-existed and even flourished under the concealing blanket of the Saddam dictatorship. That they burst out into the open when America removed the blanket is no surprise. It was the removal of the blanket that was America's only "unforgivable error". This is followed by quite a nice riff on "dictatorships and totalitarian concepts", referring to Communism and to Saddam, regimes that cover racial problems over, but don't end them. In Iraq, the problem was that Saddam tried to relocate Shiite Arabs to the Kurdish north, and northerners to the south, which is "different racially and by sect", so when Saddam was removed, people wanted to move back. There is a brief excursus on the dictatorial mind, "fictive and deceptive", then this: "The scandals we face now are the direct result of this deceptive mind". And if the people in Lebanon want to know what is in store for them all they have to do is look south to Palestine (where Fandy's Saud-family patrons are leading supporters of the Fatah faction); and if Hamas wants to know where their "rejection of the reasonably possible" will lead them, they have only to look to Iraq (where race and the prior Saddam dictatorship are apparently to blame). It is almost as if Fandy wasn't expecting anyone to actually read this, or perhaps more to the point it is as if what matters is the music of the language and the authoritative key-signature, and the vague and sometimes not-so-vague racism, perhaps the kind of thing you can get in America by reading a days' worth of Matt Yglesias Iraq blog-postings or... You can take your pick, I guess. It is not as if Fandy is actually harping in this particular column on the issue race. His aim here is to merely exonerate America by the tautological method. "Bin Laden and Saddam and Moqtada al-Sadr are us, " he says, launching into a whole series of these "they are us!" clauses. He exclaims in conclusion: "Our future is linked to our past!" It is not as if power-politics had anything to do with it.

Anyway it is a very popular way of looking at things these days. Matt and Mamoun should form a Saudi American friendship committee and organize conferences on this. Maybe somebody already has.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Two versions of the struggle, post-Baker

Post-Baker statements were issued this weekend by the Islamic Emirate of Iraq, and by the Baath party, both of which statements focus on defining their respective movements from the point of view of ultimate political aims, a trans-national "project" on the model of the caliphate on the one side, and traditional Iraqi national unity on the other. Each group is concerned that it not be deprived of the fruits of its struggle, by those who don't share in these ultimate aims.

The Islamic Emirate media office issued a statement on the Baker-Hamilton report, calling it an admission of defeat in Iraq. But the issue now, says the statement, is who is to reap the fruits of this. Baker-Hamilton, with its call for regional involvement, is the modern version of the Sykes-Picot agreement of almost a century ago, and the point is to limit the extent of any Islamic entity to within fixed and limited national limits. It doesn't even occur to many Muslims, this statement says, to think of an Islamic political organization that extends beyond that, "from China to Spain".

The statement says:
This conceptual shortcoming isn't found only among ordinary Muslims, but extends even to some of the groups that raise the banner of jihad, and in fact that is what the American administration is now betting on, because in the past the colonial crusader-regimes have succeeded in making sure that it is the nationalists that reap the fruits of the jihadi islamist revolutions, as in the cases of Lybia, and Algeria, and other cases. When will the ummah learn that lesson, and when will it finally learn to benefit from the experiences of history?
The statement concludes that the US administration has failed in its attempt to form a government of "Safavids, some traitors from among the tribes, and some Sunni claimants to the political process". But it warns of the next US manoeuver, which will be to rely on "those of limited understanding, to thwart any experience of an Islamic state project in Iraq on the model of the Caliphate." In other words, in a nutshell, they think the Americans are going to try to come to some agreement with the nationalists, in order to thwart the islamists. The trick now will be to make sure the the fruits of the struggle aren't taken away from the mujahideen by "the climbers and the opportunists". (This follows by a few days a specific call by the Islamic Emirate for Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dhari to desist from his negotiating tours in the Arab world which included talks with the Jordanian king at the time of the Bush-Maliki meeting).

The Arab Socialist Baath Party, which issued a statement Saturday on what comes after Baker-Hamilton, makes three main specific points: The first is that there should be no negotiation with the occupation authorities until they agree to the conditions that have been laid down previously, the main one being commitment by the US to complete and unconditional withdrawal. The statement refers to unnamed persons who have had discussions with the US, as unauthorized persons "on the margin, and isolated" within the broad area of the resistance, stressing that the resistance won't even define who is the authorized bargaining agent until the US has first agreed to the prior conditions. So that is the first point: No negotiations until complete and unconditional withdrawal is agreed on.

The second point in the Baath declaration is that a careful reading of Baker-Hamilton shows that its main aim is to gain time so as to come up with a new military and political strategy for continuing US occupation of Iraq, via an undetermined period of time when the forces would be withdrawn out of cities and into bases in non-urban areas. In other words the armed struggle will continue until either the US agrees to the terms, or is driven out, so there should be no letting up militarily.

The third point focuses on the combination of threats from the US and Iran. The general description of the situation refers to a type of US-Iranian "agreement" under which for instance the US turned over the central government to Iranian-oriented groups, and refers tacitly to US-Iranian agreement to try and undermine the Arab nature of Iraq, each for its own ends. There is a long list of "in the light of..." clauses, including reference to US-Iranian forced relocation campaigns and so on, and also this: "In the light of the possibility of the US and Iran agreeing to organize a mass-destruction military campaign against Arabs of Iraq, particularly in the liberated areas, which American newspapers have published some information about", there is a bigger need than ever for unity and preparedness for greater battles ahead. In other words, for the Baathists, the US-Iranian collusion so far has been limited to domestic-political arrangements in Iraq, but there is a danger that this could be upgraded to a military attack on those areas of Iraq that aren't controlled by either the US or Iran.

For the Baath party, the ultimate US-Iranian purpose is to "dissolve the Arab character of Iraq, and convert it into dwarf city-states that would be clients of the one side or the other (US or Iranian). The resistance aim is the national unity and Arab character of Iraq. Moreover the Iraqi struggle is the decisive one for the whole Arab world, because if the US loses in Iraq, then its power elsewhere in the region will be destroyed. The statement describes the current Lebanon crisis, for instance, as an artificial crisis designed to boost Iran's popularity in the Arab world.

The Baath party statement is available here. English language version here.

The Emirate also issued a version of its statement in English, such as it is, here. For the Arabic version, I used this summary in Al-Quds al-Arabi.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The 2003 generation seems to be planning a comeback

For some reason, the Allawi-Chalabi era US-allied would-be political leaders are again running themselves up the flagpole, or whatever that expression is.

Yesterday there was the Elaph report on Faisal al-Kaoud, supposedly the leading candidate for new Defence Minister. He was in exile from 1971 to 2003.

As for Allawi himself, Marc Lynch notes that he has been burnishing a nationalist anti-US image lately, giving interviews, and appearing frequently on Arab TV, suggestive of a candidacy for something, in the context of the decline of general confidence in the Maliki administration.

Then there's another name, this one almost as unfamiliar as al-Kaoud's, that surfaced yesterday. And since it is a small world, this additional name belongs to an Allawi-ally/Chalabi rival.

We all remember Chalabi, but there was Janabi too. Saad Assim Abboud al-Janabi, scion of an Iraqi tribal and business family, exiled in California for eight years, returning to Iraq with the Americans. US News printed a profile of Janabi in June 2003, noting he was setting up a political party, and suggesting he could be a rival to Chalabi for top spot in the new political order under the Defence Department's Iraq coordinator Jay Garner. But Chalabi was given control of the de-Baathification process, and that apparently disqualified Janabi, who had ties to Saddam's son-in-law Hussein Kamel. (Janabi was also outed by Judy Miller as someone who had worked with the CIA, but that is another story). The point is that the two, Chalabi and Janabi were rivals then.

And it appears they are coming out of the woodwork to fight again. Janabi, it seems, has been using a pair of offices in Zawiyya district of Baghdad that actually belong to the Iraqi Finance Ministry. His occupancy was authorized for a year back in 2003 by Paul Bremer, but the authorization has long expired, and apparently Janabi is still there.

Yesterday the office of the Presidency of the Republic (Talabani's office) issued a statement to the effect it is planning to move into those offices soon, and reciting the history of its unsuccessful attempts to evict Janabi. Apparently former president Iyad Allawi (with whom Janabi is close) had complained about last-resort police attempts to evict Janabi, and Talabani replied with a recital of all of his efforts to do this legally. This is obviously a potential embarassment to Janabi.

Here's where it gets kind of interesting. Chalabi's former research director, Nibras Kazimi (see the thumbnail bio under "scholars" on the Hudson Institute website, not only draws attention to this squabble on his web-site, (Dec 9, "Would-be Iraqi Intelligence Chief...") but suggests this could harm Janabi in some specific ways, citing in a very Chalibi-esque way a supposedly lucrative contract between a California-based firm with which Janabi is associated and the government of Iraq, and suggesting that this dust-up over the eviction proceedings could harm Janabi's and this company's credibility. And there is this:

Janabi, says Kazimi, has been going around saying he will be next director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. This eviction-scuffle could hurt that ambition too, Kazimi says.

Recall the exciting story last month of the current director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, al-Shehwani, being airlifted to Amman by the Americans for his own safety, following an assassination threat. At about that same time, there was a report in the Baghdad newspaper Azzaman that said US intelligence chief Negroponte suggested to Maliki the creation of a whole new intelligence service, and suggested also there would be no objection to including officers from the Saddam-era intelligence service in the new outfit. The reporter says people in the Shiite UIA opposed that idea. So this might or might not just be a Chalabi-Janabi personal squabble.

There you have it. At least four candidates so far for high position in an Iraqi government of some description, all of them US-allied 2003-returnees: Al-Kaoud, Allawi, Janabi--and Chalabi himself.

Because here we have the answer to another puzzle. I complained when the NYT printed its Chalabi profile last month that the paper forgot to mention anything about Chalabi's lead role in de-Baathification, or about his plans (reported in Al-Quds al-Arabi), to start up a new "liberal-type" political party. He's keeping a low profile.

UIA described as wary of coup-possibilities if a leading candidate is named new Defence Minister

Elaph, citing unnamed Iraqi sources, says a former governor of Al-Anbar province and a tribal leader, Faisal al-Kaoud, is the leading candidate to become Minister of Defence in the cabinet shuffle Prime Minister has promised. This is not necessarily to be taken at face value, but it is interesting as the first specific prediction. The Elaph reporter reminds us that the whole Iraqi-military issue was the top item in the recent Bush-Maliki talks in Amman so naturally this will be closely watched.

Elaph says Faisal al-Kaoud, 60, a Sunni Iraqi, fled Iraq in 1971 after a relative was executed by Saddam for allegedly plotting a coup, and returned to Iraq following the US invasion. Elaph's first comment is that al-Kaoud is accepted by many Iraqi groups, "and by the multinational forces, which he has criticized for their handling of [Iraqi] security, and the criticism included a promise that he [al-Kaoud] would be able to restore security to Anbar province in the space of six months if he were to assume the Ministry of Defence, and if he were permitted weaponry superior or at least equal to what Al-Qaeda has, and what is in the possession of the armed organizations that oppose the political process in Iraq, (meaning the resistance).

Just to make sure you know where Elaph stands, the reporter adds that its sources said al-Kaoud is possessed of a bold personality that isn't sectarian, and that his political group, something called Council of Iraqi Solidarity, is a group that includes Sunnis and Shiites too, adding that al-Kaoud was a founding member of the Anbar Rebirth Council, which gave rise recently to the Anbar Salvation Council. The reporter says the latter group has participated in the killing and arrest of a large number of AlQaeda fighters in Anbar, and controls a lot of territory in Anbar, hoping to eventually control the whole province. The group has the support of the Iraqi government, but as far as weaponry is concerned, this reporter says the following: Sheikh Sattar Bazigh abu-Rashia says the US forces have barred the group from using anything but light weapons in its operations.

Al-Kaoud, who is 60, served as governor of Anbar until summer of 2005 (no information on when or how his term started), and in late 2005 he presented his name as a candidate for presidency of the republic (a post that doesn't necessarily require status as a member of parliament), but this was quixotic. He had also been a candidate for Minister of Defence in the prior Jaafari administration, before this post went to Saadoun Dulaimi.

Getting down to the politics of any eventual appointment, the Elaph reporter says this: People in the governing United Iraqi Alliance would prefer that the Ministry of Defence not go to "someone with ambitions or who has popular or tribal bases of support, fearing later use of this in overthrowing the government". On the other side of the aisle, people in the Iraqi National Accord, the biggest Sunni political coalition, would prefer (this reporter says) someone whose views are closer to their own. In any event, says this reporter, both sides (UIA and INA) want the two ministries of Defence and Interior to be alloted according to the sectarian division.

Finally, the reporter says his sources admitted there are other candidates too for Defence Minister, and they mentioned Wafiq al-Samarae, security adviser to Talabani and a former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service [I believe under Saddam]; and Mithal Alousi head of something called the Iraqi Nation Party. But the source said al-Kaoud is the most likely of the three.

The reporter says Maliki hasn't yet indicated which ministries will be involved in the changes, and there is still the question whether or not this will continue to be on a sectarian-allocation basis. In terms of timing, the reporter observers expect the changes to be announced after the National Reconciliation meeting, now scheduled for December 17. This meeting, the reporter notes, is expected to include some of the "opponents of the political process that have been invited by government delegations [in meetings with them] in Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates".