Friday, March 07, 2008

Separatists on the ropes?

You probably thought Iranian president Ahmedinejad visited Najaf and Karbala while he was in Iraq earlier this week, but actually he didn't. A Iraqi government spokesman said it was because he was pressed for time, but a journalist writing in the Kuwaiti newspaper AlQabas, in a post-visit roundup, says real reason is that Ayatollah Sistani and other Najaf authorities didn't want to meet with him (and a visit without such a meeting would have been embarrassing).

In fact, says the reporter, if you look at the Iraqi politicians who participated in the visit, you will see that apart from the Kurdish coalition, it was only a small handful (baqiiya al baaqiya: leftover of the leftovers) of Shiites, some from the Dawa party and some from the Hakim's Supreme Council. Other branches of the Dawa party, including that of former prime minister Jaafari, boycotted the festivities. So did the Sadrists and the Fadhila and other groups supposed to be part of the broad Shiite alliance. Moreover, he notes, security for the Iranian president wasn't provided by the Iraqi security forces, but rather by the Peshmerga, the reason being that there are substantial doubts about the loyalty of the security forces themselves.

The important point in all of this, the journalist says, is that it points up the weakness of the "federalist" (meaning separatist) movement in the South, which is being promoted by Hakim in alliance with Kurdish separatism in the North.
There is a lot of ambiguity [or obscurity] surrounding the relationship of Iraqi Shiites to Iran (he writes, addressing his Kuwaiti readers, Kuwait being a country with 30% or more Shiite population). Contrary to what many people think, there are substantial sectors of the Iraqi Shiite population who grasp the importance of independence--political, doctrinal and national--from Iran, and the importance of an approach that keeps its distance from the extreme Iranian political program of promoting export of the Iranian revolution with all that implies of violence and defiance. And [who also grasp the importance of] finding strong political and military centers outside of Iran.

The impetus for this approach comes not only from the Arab nature of the people of Iraq and of the Iraqi Arab tribes, on which the influence of the marjaiya in the Center and South of Iraq is based, but also from a number of other factors, including the conviction on the part of a number of the Shiite authorities, including Sistani, Al-Najafi, Shirazi, Khalasi and others, that Iran is not the country that represents Shiites in the world, and that the Iranians need to come to terms with that.
So his first point is that the reason Ahmedinejad didn't visit Najaf and Karbala is that the authorities there were reluctant to meet with him, and the reason for that is that the weight of cultural, religious and political opinion among Shiites in the Center and the South is not pro-Iranian, but on the contrary is wary of Iranian influence.

And by the same token, the weight of Shiite opinion in the Center and South is not, as a lot of people think, pro-federalism. He writes:
And from this standpoint we can understand why it is that the Shiite [religious] authorities, and the tribes and the political parties, in all the provinces of the Center and the South have reservations about the project for establishing a separate Shiite region under the pretext of federalism--the project being marketed by the Supreme Council led by Hakim. The reason for the reservations is that the region would come under Iranian influence.
There are growing expressions of discontent from the Sadrists and now from the Fadhila, along with a branch of Maliki's own Dawa party, with respect to Adel AbdulMehdi's veto of the Provincial Powers bill, because this veto was clearly intended to obstruct the scheduling of provincial elections. The Sadrists and Fadhila are both confident elections will oust Hakim's people from control of a number of provinces in the Center and South. These expressions of bullishness on the part of Sadrists and Fadhila tend to confirm what the AlQabas reporter is talking about when he explains why Ahmedinejad decided to stay away from Najaf.

The representation of the Ahmedinejad visit as triumphal and as symbolic of some kind of an Iranian takeover of Iraq was a big hit because because people like to read "Bush is a jerk" stories. That is of course understandable, but I think we should at length accept the fact that Bush is a jerk, and concentrate more on what is actually happening in Iraq.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dream on, Badger. Next you'll be demanding an exploration of intra-Shi'a violence, the Sadr contradiction and even calling into question the saintliness of ISCI.


10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story Badger, thanks. Some of the newswire reports made rather strained attempts to construe semi-polite and bland statements by Fadila and Sadrist leaders as “enthusiasm” over the visit, all in an attempt to back up the sectarian, pan-Shiite narrative which supposedly “liberal” and “progressive” audiences in the US just can’t seem to get enough of. Those writers do not realise that publicly, at least, Shiite leaders who are opposed to Iran must try to maintain a minimum of courtesy, otherwise their lives would be at great risk. Even Mahmud al-Hasani can sometimes be surprisingly circumspect in his public statements on Iran.

4:21 AM  

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