Saturday, May 31, 2008

Two different kinds of "rejection"

AlHayat, which has the most comprehensive account of the treaty story this morning, begins its story, headed "Shiia-Sunni unity in rejection of the treaty..." this way:
Political and religious currents came together yesterday in rejection of the proposed Iraq-US treaty, considering it "an infringement on sovereignty" and "binding future generations"; and observers stressed that the latest version includes text relating to the establishment of 400 locations and bases [for the American forces], exemption [from Iraqi legal process] for American soldiers and citizens, and elimination of any responsibility [on the American side] for participation in the rebuilding of Iraq.
In the course of the article, the journalist goes on to underline the difference between two types of "rejection": Absolute rejection of any treaty being arrived at under the US occupation--in other words, linkage of treaty-rejection to a demand for actual troop-withdrawal--by the Sadrists and the Sunni resistance (he quotes from a statement by the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance which describes the proposal as "a gift of something by those who do not own it, to those who do not deserve it") on the one side, and the conditional rejection of particular points by the GreenZone politicians on the other.

The journalist stresses that the objections attributed to the Supreme Council, and likewise to the Islamic Party of Iraq, are objections to particular clauses only, and he notes: "These protests [by Hakim and Hashemi respectively] have not stopped the Iraqi Foreign Ministry from announcing that the negotiations will be continued; and informed sources said Crocker has informed the Iraqi politicians that the US rejects holding a general referendum on the clauses of the agreement adding that it would be bad if Iraq were unable to exit from Clause 7" (of the UN charter, which governs the current status of US forces in the country).

It is worth noting that both the Sunni politician Hashemi and the Shiite politician Hakim are on the same page in this, both saying they reject certain terms proposed by the Americans, but both part of the government that is willing to continue the negotiations. This is contrary to the suggestion that the NYT is still trying to convey, namely that there is a sectarian division involved in this:
But there are many Iraqi politicians who support the negotiations, including Sunni leaders who view an American military presence as a bulwark against what they fear could be an attempt by Shiite leaders backed by Iran to renew a sectarian grab for Baghdad and the mixed areas around the capital.
Failing to note at the same time that Shiite leaders like Hakim and Maliki also support the negotiations, and the decisive point is not Sunni versus Shiia, but rather that if the US forces were to leave, the result would be to threaten the toppling of the current ruling group--Sunni and Shiia alike--by nationalists--also Sunni and Shiia alike.

The other potentially misleading part of today's news is the idea that Sistani is determined that there should be a national referendum on any such treaty or agreement, and since a referendum would certainly lose, that he is in effect against any such agreement. AlHayat, which has staked out a position in this by reporting previously that sources close to Sistani said he was bound and determined there will have to be a referendum, today acknowledges that Sistani's representative in Karbala didn't mention the referendum idea in his Friday-sermon comments on the issue:
[Sistani's] representative in Karbala didn't touch on the issue of a referendum in his Friday sermon yesterday, but he stressed that the marja'iyya is "attentive to what is being planned," and he said it is "desirous of getting Iraq out of Chapter 7, which it has been in since the beginning of the decade of the 90s..."
which is about as ambiguous as you can get.

Moreover, according to a SupremeCouncil website, another cleric in the Sistani group, Sheikh Sadreddin Qubanji, said in his Friday sermon at a major Najaf place of worship that the people reject any agreement that doesn't protect the complete sovereignty and interests of Iraq.
However, he stressed that this rejection does not go to the root of the agreement, as is being propagated in channels of communication outside of Iraq to the effect that this is the selling of Iraq to America....The Imam urged those in authority in Iraq and outside of Iraq to study the agreement carefully, and to respect the views of Iraqis, and not to launch emotional images and generalities against them, and to be objective in disussions of this matter.
And later on he said any agreement would have to respect certain basic principles:
and these are: national sovereignty and avoiding any infringement of it; participation of all political entities in the writing of the clauses; that it be clear and transparent; that it respect the will of the Iraqi people; and the need to expose it to Parliament, to the people, and to the religious marja'iyya."
To me this does not read like a radical insistence on submitting any agreement to a national referendum. Moreover, the reference to foreign media exaggerations, and the need to be calm and objective, suggests a degree of concern about being railroaded. (Which does not, of course, alter the fact that close scrutiny by Sistani's circle certainly adds to the problems the Americans are going to have in trying to carry out what was originally supposed to be a quiet wink-and-a-nod perpetuation of their control over the country).

Another point that calls out for comment this morning is that the Bush administration and the right generally do not appear to have a strategy for dealing with the problem of having this in the spotlight. For instance, last Tuesday it was reported that US officials were telling Iraqi authorities to hurry up and reply to charges (in Nasrullah's speech) that the GZ politcal process is a sham, and to assert that it is purely Iraqi and that the politicians are completely autonomous. Finally, yesterday, President of the Republic Talabani went ahead and enunciated this as a reply to Nasrullah, at a time when people are no longer focused not on Nasrullah but on the US-Iraq treaty.

And it appears the US info-ops machine has nothing substantive to say about the broad Iraqi opposition to the treaty, except to split hairs by saying it isn't a treaty, only a "status of forces agreement" and a "strategic framework agreement", and to insist there isn't any demand for "permanent" bases (without saying what "permanent" means) or fixed troop-levels (in other words, without touching on the issue of uncontrolled troop-presence, troop-movements, powers of "arrest" without reference to Iraqi legal proceedings, exemption of Americans from Iraqi law, and so on).

The reason for this info-ops failure is plain to see. The argument they are mobilized to make has always been that without a US troop-presence there would be civil war (and as noted above, the NYT took a half-hearted stab at keeping this theme alive), but the Sunni-Shiia politial unanimity in opposition to the treaty makes this a harder argument to make. So they are stuck.

Americans, for their part, are trained at being kept in the dark on any kind of "national security" topics like this, so that the theme of absolute secrecy surrounding the talks, a key point for the Iraqis, doesn't even seem to be an issue in the English-language media.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sunni resistance spokesman: Let us all stand against this, each in his own way

The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, headed by Harith al-Dhari, the most important single spokesman for the Sunni resistance, issued a statement today that it introduced as follows: "The long-term agreement with the American occupation will have no weight with the Iraqi people, and the nationalist forces will take it upon themselves to reply to those responsible, and to hold to account those who are involved in it, and without a doubt there will be a new price to pay in the blood of pious martyrs"--but that ends with a call to every anti-occupation segment of Iraqi society to participate in resisting this move, each in whatever way they can.

The statement opens with a description of those who are negotiating this agreement as "the five-party pact", referring to the two main Kurdish parties, the Supreme Council, Dawa, and the Islamic Party of Iraq--
whom the occupation has polished and presented to the world as the representatives of Iraq, but they represent no one but themselves, and that small group that is with them and with the occupation, pressing ever forward to carry out these agreements, to the extent that the ambassador Crocker goes to Najaf and boasts, announcing in his sly and scummy way, that it is the government of Iraq that is requesting the forming of this agreement. But their efforts are already exposed and widely understood, as a presentation of Iraq to the enemy on a plate of gold, just so that they can retain their positions and their privileges...

The two sides have put up a cordon of secrecy and silence around these talks, so that they can arrive at the document they want without any particular effort.
With that as factual background--the narrowness of the group that is involved in this, the secrecy, and the lack of any popular input or support--the statement turns to the question of legitimacy.
Now everyone knows that Iraq in its current condition is not able to be a counterparty capable of negotiating with any other country in the world, and so it is natural that this will be to the benefit of the United States of America, and that Iraq will lose much of its sovereignty, and its independence, and its wealth.

This agreement, inevitably, will mean the military, economic, and cultural hegemony of the American occupation, which it aims to impose through a long remaining period of occupying the land of the two rivers, under a variety of names, and using a various phony legal pretexts, taking the appearance of this long-term agreement between two countries, but whose essence is: American protectorate over Iraq.

But in any event this agreement will have no weight [or importance] for the people of Iraq, and the nationalist forces will see to the reply delivered to the owners of this process, and will hold to account those who are implicated in it. This will undoubtedly involve a new price in the blood of pious martyrs. And those who sign this agreement will bear their burden, and they will pay their price.
Clearly the uncompromising argument and the menacing tone are a little different from what Sadr's statements convey by way of demonstrations, explanations and softer force. But this AMSI statement concludes with a unifying call:
Our Iraqi people, and all of the political and social and tribal forces that stand up to the occupation and resist its presence--all are urged--today-- to express their anger and their disgust in all the ways that are available to them, and to send messages of denunciation and clear statements of opposition and refusal of the taking such a step, because "the arrow does not return to the bow", and "oppression is the worst pasture (?)"

A radical Sunni argument against the treaty

A Sunni member of parliament by the name of Omar al-Jabburi (described as a member of the Arab Bloc for National Dialog*) said he opposes the proposed treaty with the United States because in order to be sound and binding, an agreement would have to be between two parties each with an independent will, and as long as the American occupation continues, that cannot be said of any Iraqi government. The remarks are reported as follows by Aswat al-Iraq:
"Iraq is still a country under occupation, and consequently it is one of those countries that lacks political stability and security, and consequently any pact arrived at in these difficult circumstances will be deemed to be not agreed to. We fear that [any such pact] would have negative effects on the future and on the independence of Iraq." He added, "For us to be sure of the soundness of the security agreement, it would have to be arrived at between two independent wills, and we are convinced that the Iraqi will, under the continuation of the occupation, is not present. And therefore we fear for the good relations [of Iraq] with its Arab and regional environment, as long as such an agreement were to continue".
This is a fairly radical rejection of the treaty proposal, because it says no matter how the approval-process is handled in a technical sense, no Iraqi agreement can be considered authentic as long as the country is occupied by a foreign army. (This echoes in a partial way the earlier Sunni-resistance argument that no political structures set up under the occupation are valid, and the whole political process should start over one the occupiers have left). Naturally, it remains to be seen how widely this line of argument will be taken up by the various Sunni organizations.


* I am not sure if this is Alyan's group or that of Saleh al-Mutlaq. They were originally one group, their names are very similar and often confused, and I'm not sure there is a lot of policy-difference between them. Mutlaq led the Sunni parties at the negotiations on the 2005 constitution, and he opposed its ratification, arguing that the federalism provisions represented a threat to national unity.

Basra paper: Secrecy about the contents of the treaty reminds us of 1948

The Basra newspaper AlMannara, reporting on news earlier this week that said the government intends to continue these negotiations, had this to say:
It is worth mentioning that the Iraqi people, up to now, know nothing about the course of these negotiations on an important agreement that could bind Iraq forever, because Iraqi politicians don't think it necessary to inform people about the details of these negotiations, in spite of the fact that this agreement relates exclusively to the land of Iraq, and to the future of the people of Iraq, and not to the future of the political parties and blocs, or to the personalities, that are currently in charge of this matter. Those that are negotiating with the United States are obliged, legally and also morally, to give people the details of what they are doing behind the scenes, so that there isn't a repeat of the famous story of Portsmouth, which was one of the causes of the aggravation of popular resentment against the regime of the monarchy.
The Portsmouth Agreement of 1948 was basically an extension of the treaty of 1930 that had made Iraq a de facto appendage of the British Empire "under the guise of revising it" (says Hanna Batatu in "The old Social Classes...", his big book on Iraqi history), and he adds that the rulers at the time "could and did foresee trouble, even though the scale and intensity, when it came, took them completely by surprise". One of the measures they took was to install a Shiite as Prime Minister, for the first time since the start of the monarchy, on the idea that having a member of the majority sect in that position would "blunt the edge" of the expected popular opposition, but it didn't help. The uprising triggered by the Portsmouth Agreement, led by the Communist Party, was ultimately put down, but it remains a symbol of popular opposition to just this kind of back-room "negotiations" between a foreign power and its local puppets.

It should be noted that one of the clauses in Moqtada's call for a campaign against this is described in his first point: "Inform the people about each clause of the agreement, and the extent of the damage that it will cause." The fact this list leads off with this simple demand for information hasn't been reported at all by the English-language media or the big pundits. Which is significant because it isn't only the Iraqi people, but also the American people, who haven't been told anything specific about what is in this proposed agreement, and what exactly is being negotiated.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bush's long-term Iraq treaty hits choppy waters

(1) Sistani reportedly already on board with the referendum idea

AlHayat this morning (Thursday May 29) says one element of Sadr's call for a campaign against the proposed long-term US-Iraq agreement is in conformity with a measure the Najaf marja'iyya is said to be already in favor of:
Sadr insisted on the need for holding a general referendum before approving this treaty, and that is something that is in step with the Najaf marja'iyya, which supports the idea of a referendum, according to leaks from people close to it. Sadr had said in his statement, "How pleased and glad I am by the issue of fatwas, one written and another oral, barring the treaty..." He was likely referring to a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri in Qom. And sources close to the Shiite authority Ali al-Sistani told AlHayat that Sistani had urged Prime Minister al-Maliki during his recent visit to Najaf to be circumspect in his dealings with the treaty, and he urged him to organize a referendum with respect to it.

(2) Government people saying the July deadline won't be met, citing "unfavorable circumstances"

Moreover, AlHayat also says that Sadr's call for a campaign against the treaty is already causing backtracking and new expressions of caution by government spokespeople, who are now saying the negotiations will take longer than the earlier-indicated end-July deadline. The journalist writes:
Apprehension about American pressure on Iraqis to accelerate negotiations ahead of the aforementioned deadline [end of July] became apparent, and it extended to government circles, where Ali al-Adeeb, a leader of the Dawa Party said: "All of the Iraqi political blocs have reservations about the treaty, just as all Iraqi citizens are against the idea of passing such a treaty without exposing it to the people via their representatives in Parliament". He stressed the need to study the treaty and discuss the clauses, and if there is benefit in it for Iraqis, then it can be signed.

Al-Adeeb's explanations were in response to the call by Moqtada al-Sadr for organization of "popular and parliamentary and Hausa-based" activities against the treaty...
and the journalist outlines some of the points, including demonstrations, organization of delegations to other countries for international solidarity against the treaty, and so on.

Specifically on the point about extending the talks past the end of July, the reporter says this:
Sources said Iraq has informed the American delegation of its intention to extend the talks to the end of the year, on account of unfavorable domestic conditions, and [they informed the Americans also of the need for] deep study of the form of the American military presence in Iraq, and of the proposals for ending [that presence] in case it is no longer necessary.

(3) The meaning of the July deadline

And the journalist explains:
The earlier-defined deadline of announcing the treaty before the end of July was connected with the approaching end of the era of president Bush, and the advent of a new administration which might change the direction of the negotiations and more generally the attitude to the war in Iraq.

Correction re the Provincial-elections debate

In an earlier post on the debate over the provincial-elections law, through ignorance I left out an important point. In reference to the question of "open lists" versus "closed lists", I took at face value the remarks of the head of the electoral commission, one Faraj al-Hadayri, who said open lists would be too difficult to manage. What I left out has to do with (1) "who is this guy" and (2) "why did he say that." Today Reidar Visser has posted a little essay on current policy, and included in that he writes:
Today, the latest phase in the forced ethno-federalisation of Iraq is being played out as the Kurdish–ISCI ruling minority tries to fashion a provincial elections law that can suit its strategy of minimising popular impact on the elections results. Open lists that would give voters the opportunity of overruling party elites in their choice of candidates have been discussed in Iraq recently, but the KDP-appointed president of the “independent” electoral commission, Faraj al-Haydari, has already deemed this “impracticable”. Similarly, the idea of smaller electoral districts is being dismissed because of Kurdish concerns over Kirkuk. This all echoes the December 2005 parliamentary elections, in which no less than one third of ISCI’s members of parliament were “elected” not on the basis of the popular vote but rather were promoted as a result of party manipulations of the list after the ballots had been cast. But then again it is only two months since the Kurds and ISCI fought tooth and nail to avoid any timeline for elections; it would be naïve to expect a sudden change of priorities just because the provincial powers law has been adopted by parliament.
In other words, Faraj al-Haydari is the nominee of one of the Kurdish-separatist parties, and his views are in line with the whole Kurd-SupremeCouncil strategy of minimizing popular influence in the provincial elections (if and when they get to be held at all).

The rest of Visser's essay has to do with calls at the current Stockholm conference this week by the GZ government and the US for unconditional support for the Maliki administration via debt-relief, opening of embassies, and so on. The effect of this would be merely to strengthen the Maliki administration in its current sectarian policies. Visser says "the picture of US policy-making in this area is depressing. Despite a declared intention of pursuing a unifying policy, through its peculiar choice of Iraqi allies, the US is in fact contributing to fragmentation...." And he adds: "The current machinations by the [Maliki's] government to influence this autumn's provincial elections could serve as a forewarning of what kind of methods it may choose to employ in the federalisation process later on."

Now that I know who Faraj al-Haydari is, I'll be able to follow that story a little better.

Big changes

AlQuds al-Arabi, in its lead editorial yesterday (Tuesday May 27), said Nasrullah's Liberation Day speech has region-wide importance, and in that respect they focus on his remarks about Iraq. The editorialist, after discussion domestic Lebanese implications of the speech, writes:
His remarks on Iraq were perhaps the most surprising and noteworthy in his speeh, because when he calls on Iraqis--government and people, Sunni and Shiite--to resort to resistance to liberate their country, and when he stresses the failure of the political process which emerged from the womb of the occupation--when he does that he is also replying in a very direct way to all the criticism that has been directed against him and against the resistance which he leads, for leaning in favor of the sectarian government [in Baghdad] and in favor of the Shiite parties that are involved in it, and for failing to support the resistance to that government and to the American occupation.

The instigation to resistance in Iraq on the part of the leader of Hizbullah, and with this unprecedented clarity, represents the taking of a strong position against the ruling group, in the name of Shiia Islam, and [in the name of] all who participate in this project from among the Sunni parties. And it also represents the taking of a strong position against the religious leaders and the marja'iyya who had issued fatwas requiring participation in the political process under the occupation, and who have refrained from supporting the resistance, and from announcing jihad against the occupation and its aggressions.

Sayyed Nasrullah, as it was made clear in his speech, has put his weight behind the Sadrist trend, and the other armed groups--Sunni and Shiite, religious and secular--that are fighting against the occupation, and he doesn't leave out of his speech any fighting group.

This represents a a major change in his position, and perhaps this will be reflected in a strong way on the Iraqi scene in the weeks and the months to come.
Actually two things are happening here: One is the change the editorialist refers to in the position of Nasrullah--namely the embracing of all Iraqis under the aegis of resistance, and the abandonment of any apparent or alleged sectarian bias in favor of the GreenZone parties. The other change is in the attitude of AlQuds al-Arabi itself, which has been the strongest pan-Arab voice in support of the Sunni armed resistance in Iraq, and which seems now prepared to give up any apparent or alleged sectarian pride of place for the Sunni resistance, in favor of likewise embracing all Iraqis under the aegis of resistance to the occupation. It is as if the one change immediately triggered the other in a kind of anti-sectarian logic, which, as the editorialist notes, could soon start manifesting itself on the Iraqi scene.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Text of Sadr's statement on mobilizing against the Iraq-US security agreement

Moqtada al-Sadr published the following statement on Sadrist websites:

How pleased I am and gladdened, with the issue of two fatwas, one written and the other oral, ruling out the agreement or security treaty between the oppressive power, and I mean by that the occupation, and the current government of Iraq. Because now it is incumbent on me not to stand with my arms folded, as I was before the issue of these their blessed fatwas, and I am obliged to do what I can to support them via the people, to the extent I am able, and to the extent I have earned any esteem among the beloved people of Iraq, who do not exhaust me, nor do they exhaust the marja'iyya; rather we propose to issue directives and orders, some to the people, and some to the specialists. To wit:

1--Inform the people about each clause of the agreement, and the extent of the damage it will cause

2--Unified parliamentary and political movement to bring together all of the blocs and the other political party trends against this agreement

3--Information escalation to be organized by a group that specializes in just that

4--Demonstrations after Friday prayers each Friday, in all areas of Iraq, each [to participate] in his own area, until further notice, or until such time as the government puts an end to the [idea of the] agreement

5--Undertaking a referendum if the government agrees to that, and if they do not, then an announcement by the Offices of the Martyr Sadr within and outside Iraq, in coordination with the other movements against the agreement of a million-signature petition

6--Organization of Iraqi delegations to be sent to:
(a) Countries of the region, and particularly neighboring countries, for support for the people of Iraq, and standing with them against the agreement;
(b) Some western countries along with the UN, the Organization of the Islamic Council, the EU, and so on, as long as they are not participants in the occupation

7--Renewal of the popular, political--indeed religious--demand for the departure of the occupation forces, or for a schedule for their withdrawal.

8--Warning the government not to sign the agreement because it is against the interests of the Iraqi people; and informing the government that signing the agreement is not in its own interests either

9--Activating the role of the clerical Hauza and asking it to stand against this agreement in whatever way they deem appropriate
It seems that the initial reference to two fatwas, one written and one oral, refer to the statement of Ayatollah Haeri (summarized and linked to here), and to the reported oral statement(s) by Sistani in opposition to the agreement. This seems to have been a minimum requirement Sadr felt had to be met before he could mobilize people as agent of the Marja'iyya, giving this religious weight, rather than acting on his own. The ninth point, however, suggests that although Sistani may have orally given the go-ahead, there aren't current plans for any specific ongoing role for the Marja'iyya in this. It seems clear the timing, coming one day after Nasrullah's liberation-day speech in Beirut, has some significance too.

Washington to GZ officials: Come on, assert your autonomy !

Never a dull moment. US Embassy employees (says, citing high-level sources) have been told to contact senior GZ government officials, including some 20 Maliki "advisers" to make sure they respond to the remarks of Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrullah with the appropriate talking points, inluding this one: Nasrullah should be criticized for meddling in Iraqi affairs ! Moreover, one of the things he said is that the GZ political process is a creation of the Americans, and not an accomplishment of the Iraqis themselves. The US embassy employees' task is also to make sure that the Iraqi officials insist that the political process is purely Iraqi ! Here's the lede:
The American administration was severely irritated by the speech of Hizbullah general secretary Hasan Nasrullah in which he called on Iraqis to turn to resistance to save Iraq from the occupation. High-level sources asserted that US Embassy employees received instructions from Washington to raise this issue with the Iraqi government, in order to motivate them to criticize that call, and to assert that it constituted an intervention in internal Iraqi affairs.!


Speaking of resistance, the DVD of the film "Meeting Resistance" by Steve Conners and Molly Bingham is out in DVD, which you can find out about at their website It will be shown on AlJazeera (Arabic) this afternoon (Tuesday May 27) at 5:00 GMT, and there's a list of other showings and events on their site (including a session with Siun at Firedoglake on Thursday June 5 at 4:30 Eastern Time). I think the film is going to end up being an important historic document, because it captures various Iraqis' own various explanations why there was no alternative for them, and it isn't something anyone could venture to film any more. So you'll want the DVD even if you can arrange to see it elsewhere.

"Wonderful progress in national reconciliation"

Whether it is oil-management, football, or musical chairs in the Green Zone, the Maliki administration continues in its no-accomodation style, while Maliki's office issues a fine statement of "progress in national reconciliation", no doubt to be circulated at the Stockholm international donor's conference that starts this week.

(1) Oil Minister tries to fire the head of the Southern Oil Company

Basra provincial council, controlled by the Fadhila party, has rejected a demand from the national oil ministry that it replace the director of the Southern Oil Company, and AlHayat puts this in the context of the ongoing struggle between Fadhila (headed locally by Basra governor Wa'ili) to retain local control, in the face of a takeover attempt by the GreenZone government, in this case represented by Oil Minister Shahristani.
People close to the relationship between the local Basra administration and the latest [Baghdad] decisions locate this within the struggle between the major parties in Basra [referring to Fadhila on the one side and the Supreme Council on the other], and between the governor of Basra Mohammed al-Wa'ili who belongs to the Fadhila party, and the Oil Minister Husein Shahristani concerning charges of [Wa'ili] being involved in oil-smuggling.
(For the latest on the Fadhila charges against the other side, see this recent post in which Wa'ili's brother says the oil ministry is controlled by the son of Ayatollah Sistani, and accuses Maliki and Shahristani of corruption).

The news of the local council's rejection of the demand to replace the Southern Oil director came in a press onference by the vice-president of the local council, who said the council also rejected a demand that they replace the head of the local security agency. (The latest demands from Baghdad have something to do with a Basra council decision to ban importing of alcoholic drinks into the province, but it isn't clear to me what the connection is supposed to be).

(2) Sports Minister threatens "enemies of the new Iraq"

FIFA, the world football federation, announced the suspension of the Iraqi team from World Cup playoffs in retaliation for the Maliki government's decision to fire the Iraqi Olympic Committee and replace it with another to be named by his Minister of Youth and Sports, and this has heated things up even further, with vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi going so far as to write a letter to president Talabani about the issue, and the government blaming this escalation on "enemies of the new Iraq". AlHayat writes as follows:
Yesterday the Iraqi government, through the Minister of Youth and Sports, Jasim Mohammed Jaafar, renewed its insistence that it will not change its decision, even if the decision to freeze the Olympic Commttee results of the Iraqi football team being banned from the World Cup playoffs, adding that there are political individuals in the Olympic Committee, whom he did not name, "who are working to internationalize this Iraqi sports crisis, in order to achieve political aims". He said, "These parties will face punishment for their actions against the Iraqi government," and he added, "there has been recruitment for the team over the last three years by trends that are opposed to the new Iraq".

(3) Cabinet talks near collapse: IAF

Also on the national political level, the (Sunni) Iraqi Accord Front "expressed doubts about the seriousness" of Maliki in bring the issue of the return of IAF to the government to a conclusion, "and [the IAF] accused him of procrastination and playing for time, and of turning this into a farcical 'return' of the Sunni parties to the government, in spite of his insistence that he will announce the filling of the vacant cabinet position within a few days."

The journalist notes that Maliki's office yesterday issued a grandiose statement about the significant success his government has had in effecting national reconciliation and bringing other parties into the government, with an specific announcement to come in a few days. (Yesterday's press release from Maliki's office said: "National reconciliation has achieved its objectives, and this has become clear from advances in the political process and security improvements, and agreements beween political blocs...") But the IAF, the journalist writes, says it presented its final list two weeks ago and has heard nothing, and doesn't expect any early resolution of this. A spokesman said the bloc will make one last attempt to see if it can prevent the total collapse of this. In the course of this article, the journalist reviews differences between the Hashemi of the Islamic party, who is vice-president, and Khalaf al-Alyan of the National Dialog Front (who, as noted earlier, has a history to taking more anti-occupation positions).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Nasrullah to Iraqis: Now is your testing time

Hasan Nasrullah, following the swearing-in of the new Lebanese president, congratulated Lebanese on the agreements reached at Doha last week, reaffirmed the role of Hizbullah as an armed group in defense of the nation, and he also talked in his speech about armed resistance and politics elsewhere in the region. Here is what he said on the subject of Iraq:
To summarize very briefly about Iraq, where the American occupation controls the land and its assets, they have been playing in recent years the game of occupation and democracy, and today we are starting to see what are the aims of the American democracy in Iraq, and what are they? To go back to the period right after the occupation, the Iraqi people, who had been one entire people before that, split into two parts, those that believe in the political process, and those who believe in resistance, especially armed resistance. We in Hizbullah naturally lean in favor of the resistance, from the point of view of our beliefs and our convictions, and from the point of view of our political and real experience also. At a certain point they provisionally supported the political process, but now they have arrived at the difficult and decisive testing-point, namely the stance vis-a-vis the treaties and agreements that America wants to impose on Iraq and its people, and America is demanding that the government and the parliament sign them.

The aim of the American game of democracy now stands exposed. They have opened up the case in front of everyone, Islamists and nationalists, so that they now know who are their friends, and who are their allies. They have shown what the game is, setting up a "parliament" and deriving from that an "elected government" so that everyone says "parliament" and "elected government", and now the day comes when they demand of this government and of this parliament that they legalize the occupation, by agreements that will give America sovereign authority over Iraq, putting security, political decisions, oil, and all the assets of Iraq at the disposal of the Americans--this is the Americans, and this is where the believers in the political process, whether Shiite Islamists, or Sunni Islamists, or nationalists of any kind, will face their test: You say you participated in the political process to minimize damage; and you say you participated in the political process to deter the occupation. But now comes the test: Will you hand over Iraq to the Americans forever and forever? Or will you take up the position that is demanded of you by your religion and your Islam, and your Arab nature and your morality, and your humanity?

Today in the name of all those that are assembled here, and in the name of all free people in the Arab and Islamic world, I call on all Iraqis, and all their religious and political leaders, to take up the strong and historic position and prevent the ultimate fall of Iraq into the hands of the occupation. Like the Lebanese resistance, and the Palestinian resistance also, the Iraqi resistance in its many factions has been able to inflict loss after loss on the American army, and now it is time to adopt the strategy of liberation by resistance, just as the Lebanon and Palestine have done. This strategy is the only means available for the recovery of the wounded Iraq, wealthy and strong in its people and its ummah.

Commission head warns provinial elections could be delayed (Also: Kurd-UIA split over Kirkuk)

Leaders of the parliamentary blocs failed to reach agreement yesterday on important points relating to the provincial-council elections expected for this coming fall. They will be meeting again in the coming week, but AlHayat (Monday May 26) says it is now generally expected that parliamentary passage of the necessary election-procedures law "will be delayed", considering that in the month that has passed since the date (Oct 1) was announced, the parties have failed to agree on important points.

Among the main points are the following: (1) The nature of the party-lists that will be presented to electors at the polling-stations, particularly whether they will be "closed lists" (voter only gets to vote for the party's list as it stands, winning candidates to be named according to the priorities in that list) or "open lists" (voter also gets a chance to indicate individual preferences within the list); and connected with that, if there are open lists, then what to do about quotas in provincial councils for women, and minority representation. (2) A question relating to "number of constituencies" (not explained here); and (3) Whether to hold the elections all on the same day, or on different days.

Head of the Iraqi High Commission on Elections, Farj Al-Haydari said in the event the legislators decide on either or both of open lists and/or elections on different days, his organization will need additional time to prepare, and the result will be a delay in the elections. (Haydari has called the idea of local elections on different days "unreasonable" and dangerous, because from a security point of view, the Iraqi security forces would have to be on call for emergencies on all of those days, neglecting other tasks; and from technical points of view because of the increased possibilities for manipulation). So there are two uncertainties: One is how long it will take the parties to agree on the electoral-procedure, and the other the length of any resulting delays in preparation required by the Commission.

The AlHayat journalist notes that delays in organizing this are nothing new, considering that the constitution calls for provincial elections to have been held immediately after the end-2005 national-parliament elections.

The journalist doesn't mention this specifically, but given the complexity of these issues, and particularly in switching to open lists, and/or to sequential elections, there is plenty of room for foot-dragging by those so inclined.


Azzaman on Tuesday May 27 highlights another unresolved problem in election-planning. The Kurdish parties (allies of Maliki and the UIA in the government) are asking that the elections in Kirkuk be postponed until after there is a clause 140 referendum on the status of Kirkuk (which there probably won't ever be: The constitutional deadline for holding it is past, and the UN commission and a lot of politicians recommend a political-compromise solution instead. For instance, the paper says, 110 parliamentary deputies (including the UIA) delegation presented to parliament a proposal to break Kirkuk into four electoral districts, with 32% representation for each of the Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen districts, with 4% for the other minorities. The journalist notes more and more politicians are warning the elections might not end up being held on time.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Now playing

The Nahrainnet article referred to in the prior post ends like this:
And people of religion asked the Sistani office and the other authorities to intervene to prevent American intelligence from controlling the city of Hussein, peace be upon him,
in effect making this another direct challenge to Sistani and his Najaf colleagues, on the lines of the Haeri statement of last Wednesday which challenged them to take a clear stand against the proposed bilateral security agreement. In fact, one view is that these events, and the AP story about armed resistance to the occupation, are part of a continuing series of challenges to Sistani and and the other Najaf authorities, the AP story being in effect a similar challenge, in that case to either confirm or deny support for armed resistance.

If we step back, we an see that there are really two main families of theories about the AP story and the surrounding Sistani news:

(1) The above-mentioned "challenge to Sistani" theory, according to which these represent pressure on Sistani on behalf of the Sadrists and like-minded people who want to see the Najaf authorities take a stronger and clearer line against continued American military involvement in the country, and they are challenging the authorities to do so.

(2) Another theory is that the AP story (and a supporting item Juan Cole dug up this morning in Farsi, to the effect Sistani has banned sale of food to the American forces) represent first and foremost a move by Sistani and his circle to start hinting at a tougher position against the Americans, in implicit support of the Sadrist position. This might represent "real" toughening, or merely "image improvement," but the main point of this family of theories is that the stories are mostly being initiated by the Najaf side, not by the challengers.

The first point to notice is that the two theories are not mutually exclusive. Both of these moves could be going on at the same time. The second point is if there is any toughening or image-improvement by the Sistani group in Iraq, it is completely invisible. No attempt was made to put the implications of the AP story into the Iraqi news system. And as far as the Karbala office-opening is concerned, there isn't any suggestion of any "hinting at a tougher position" on the part of Sistani there either. In fact the brazenness of the Americans' idea of having their first big provincial ribbon-cutting right in the religious heart of Iraq suggests the Americans, for their part, don't think there's any such thing as a Sistani tightening, implicit or otherwise.

On the other hand, the "challenge to Sistani" theory finds support not only in this type of story, but also in such things as a re-reporting of the Wai'li/Fadhila attack on the Supreme Council and the Najaf authorities today in the Jordanian paper Al-Ghad (pretty much verbatim from the report last Tuesday, May 20 in Akhbar al-Khaleej, summarized in this earlier post). (Although this is an outright attack, it fits the "challenge" theory in the sense that it is added pressure on Sistani to do something to re-establish popular credibility). And in the report from an Iranian news agency about Sistani's alleged opposition to the the proposed bilateral agreement (the point again being: why doesn't he announce this).

So in terms of Arabic coverage, there are these "challenges", and if there is any response indicating to Iraqis any "tougher position" from Najaf, it is completely invisible.

However, there is another point, so obvious to English-language readers that they might overlook it entirely. The Sistani image-enhancement that appears to be so lacking in Arabic-language coverage is abundantly overflowing in the coverage by the big-circulation IC blog.

--Friday, after swallowing the AP story whole, Cole writes: "the risk that his silence would produce a backlash against him in favor of Muqtada al-Sadr, may have helped impel Sistani toward this militancy." --Saturday, having found only two lines in a Sharq al-Awsat story in support: "The phone conversation that Al-Sharq al-Awsat had with the aide in Najaf suggests that if Sistani hasn't already started authorizing attacks on foreign soldiers in Iraq, he may not be far from it." --Sunday, having dug up the don't-sell-food-to-Americans fatwa in Farsi: "But if Sistani is laying the grounds for a Gandhi-style non-cooperation movement, he certainly could put a crimp in the American military's style in Iraq." In short, this is a picture of an activist/militant Sistani, not yet out of the closet perhaps, but getting there, methodically.

I think it is obviously speculative to say what Sistani has in mind with respect to image or strategy in Iraq. What is not at all speculative is to understand that if American opinion (which is in favor of withdrawal) were to turn against Maliki/Hakim and their Najaf support-team, the result could be to threaten the continuation of US military support for them in the coming administration. Maliki/Hakim and their Najaf support-team need to be presented to the American people as closet supporters of the "withdraw-the-troops" movement, in order to keep the ball in motion. It is of course a tough sell. But when it comes to info-ops, experience should have told us by now that no job is too tough.

The result is that we are being treated to a double-feature: First, investment-promotion and the touting of Iraq as the biggest developing-country market in the world, secure and politically stable to boot. And secondly, the best part about it is that the ruling bloc with their support-team can't wait to join up with the "American-troop-withdrawal" movement. You couldn't fool Iraqis with this kind of thing, but the Americans?

Crocker to world business leaders: I have come to Karbala, you should too. (Updated with a critique: "When pigs can fly")

Ambassador Crocker, in a rare excursion outside the Green Zone, visited Karbala and Najaf on Saturday. In Najaf, his reported remarks were mostly argle-bargle on the proposed bilateral US-Iraq security agreement, but in Karbala, where he helped inaugurate a "joint American-Iraqi coordination office" for development projects, the press-conference remarks as reported by Aswat al Iraq were a mine of useful and interesting information. (The version as it was intended to reach Western readers, with the heroics and the pixie-dust, is here.)

(1) This is a US-Governate joint venture, not US-Baghdad

The center is actually joint venture between the US government and the local government of Karbala, not the government of Iraq (according to the reported remarks by the head of the Karbala Governate Council's development committee).

(2) An ambiguous "message"

Crocker said the his visit to Karbala "sends a message to all of the global corporations, that they should invest here" in Karbala, and also a message to the Arab states that they should open embassies in Baghdad, (although actually, considering that the Karbala project involves the Governate, not the national government, the "message" to the Arab states could be read the other way, as a sign of Shiite go-it-alone ambitions in the Center/South, not of national unity in Baghdad).

(3) Crocker mum on funding

Crocker didn't want to talk about financial allocations for the new center, or for projects. In answer to a question about that, he said: "The important thing is not the financial allocations, because the possibilities exist, rather the important thing is what we can accomplish". He mentioned a sum in Iraqi dinars, which the VOI reporter points out to readers amounts to less that $17,000 US. The governor of Karbala was not sidetracked by that. He said: "America will get involved [using the same term often translated as "meddling" or "intervention"] because it is one of the donor countries, as a party assisting Iraqis in the financial allocations that are assembled for the implementation of projects. And that is what we are hoping for from this joint coordination office."

(4) Because the $8 million pump-priming is not from Baghdad, naturally, but from the US

Nothing was said about particular projects or their financing during the press conference, but the VOI reporter followed up afterwards, and he writes:
[The head of the local-council's developent committee] told VOI after the press-conference that the Americans "have offered $8 million as a first payment for the implementation of a number of projects in the health sector" within the governate. He didn't offer any other details about these projects, but he said: "We're holding meetings right now to define these projects, and what we are hoping for is that this visit [of Crocker's] will hopefully bring global corporations to carry out investment projects in Karbala."
Given the Iraqis-should-pay mood in Congress, it isn't surprising that Crocker didn't want to highlight this $8 million initial American contribution to Karbala development. First of all because it isn't Iraqi money, but also because this is a project that doesn't involve the central government in the first place, the "coordination" office being a joint venture between the US and Karbala, not the US and Baghdad.

So the actual "message to global corporations" could well be not to worry about Baghdad, but rather to hurry up and get in on the ground floor in the Shiite heartland, with American sponsorship and support. And not to worry too much about the contrast between investment-promotion in the Najaf/Karbala Center on the one hand, and military operations against dissident regions like Basra, Sadr City and Mosul on the other.


(5) Moreover, this is a particular red flag to the Sadrists and others in the clerical establishment

The Sadrist news-site Nahrainnet, for its part, wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the project. They write:
The holy city of Karala witnessed on Saturday a visit from Ambassador Ryan Crocker, to open a Consulate, which they have named a "development office", in order to camouflage its real security, intelligence, and military purposes.
The site is in an agricultural area southeast of the city, and a broad expanse of this land has been appropriated to isolate this office for security purposes, the writer says. He adds:
Several religious persons from the clerical Hausa commented that this constitutes an American attack and a contamination of the holy land of Karbala, and calling it a development office is a lie and a falsehood, because the aim is the realization of American security and intelligence control over the city, which is one of the most important of our holy cities.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


(1) Sources think Maliki is working on dividing the IAF

A couple of posts back, I noted one of the roadblocks in the way of the Iraqi Accord Front (IAF) rejoining the government--namely the rejection by the Maliki government of the nominees of Khalaf al-Alyan, reviewing who he was and what that rejection meant. Today, AlHayat has some additional remarks by an IAF person that point in the same direction, only more bluntly.
The issue of the IAF rejoining the still suspended, waiting for the position of [Maliki] on the list of candidates the IAF has presented. High-level sources said accusations of "belonging to the Baath" or "close to a banned party" have pursued lists that have been proposed [earlier] by the IAF, and sources in the IAF are convinced this represents an attempt to obstruct the return of the IAF to the government, ahead of [trying to] split its ranks, dismantle it. An Islamic Party official by the name of Omar AbdulSattar said he doesn't understand the reasons for the current delay by the government in approving the latest list.
(2) Meanwhile, Maliki will be touting "political progress" next week in Stockholm

Maliki leaves tomorrow or the next day for Stockholm, for a regular annual meeting of the 50 or so countries that are signatory to the "international covenant" that was signed May 2007 in Sharm-el-Sheikh. If you want to be reminded what that covenant consisted of, you'll have to ask someone else. In any event, the GreenZone paper AlSabaah says one of the points Maliki will be touting in his address to the meeting will be the political progress that he has made in the recent period of time! It is possible we have here another motive for last Thursday's visit to Najaf to try for some good PR from Sistani.

(3) No sign of Sistani image-refurbishment in Iraq

Speaking of Sistani, the evidence so far is that there isn't any basis at all for thinking that the Najaf authorities were responding to domestic pressure and trying to distance themselves from the oppressive policies represented by the Sadr City campaign. On the contrary, they seem to have made no meaningful effort to have any part of the AP story reflected in Iraqi news accounts. On the official website, the only reference to the meeting is a few lines from the AFP story, which merely quoted Maliki on the theme of Sistani's "support for the government in general". And Aswat al Iraq, which would be the natural place to launch something into the Iraqi media, dismisses the whole dustup this way:
A source close to [Sistani] denied reports circulated by global [meaning foreign] news agencies about Sistani having issued a fatwa permitting the use of arms to oust the foreign forces from Iraq, stressing that [Sistani] has been calling for peaceful resistance since the fall of the prior regime.
The "not at the present time" phrase, so far, seems to have occurred only in a couple of lines at the end of a story in AlSharq al-Awsat this morning; and on the obscure website I cited yesterday.

(By contrast, the big proponent of refurbishing his image, and holding out the prospect of an eventual turn against the foreign forces by Najaf (and by Maliki and Hakim too!) was none other than Juan Cole himself. Whether refurbishment of the Najaf/Maliki image in America via Cole was in any way behind the whole AP kerfuffle or not, of course one cannot say. But the fact it didn't have that effect at all in Iraq does make one wonder...)

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Eventually, but not right now"

Moqtada al-Sadr's spiritual authority Kazem al-Haeri (or Hae'ri or other spellings) issued a statement from his office in Iran (where he has been since the 1970s) on Wednesday May 21, taking as the occasion a commemoration of the birth of Zainab, daughter of Imam Ali and granddaughter of the prophet Mohammed. The actual purpose of the statement was to denounce the long-term bilateral security agreement that is being negotiated by the Americans and the GreenZone authorities (read on and you'll see the connection), and in particular to bluntly center out the Najaf authorities (Sistani in particular, without naming him) for failing to take a position on this. (RoadstoIraq blogger Ladybird calls attention to this statement, posted on Haeri's website, and says the recent byplay over Sistani is best understood as a game played out in religious terms between the Sadrists and Maliki over where Sistani stands). Let's see where that takes us.

Haeri denounces the proposed agreement as an attempt by the occupation to perpetuate their control and wasting of the resources, culture and people of Iraq, and he says in any event such an agreement would be binding on no one except the persons who sign it. He concludes:
And I say to the occupation in the words of our lady Zeinab: "Carry out any treachery that you can; make every attempt that you can; exert all of your efforts. For you will not be able to erase our memory [from the minds of the people], and you cannot suppress our inspiration."*

I say to you my dear sons: The blessed clerical Hausa of Iraq is stronger, more pure and blameless, higher and more noble, than to recognize the legality of any agreement of this kind.
This obviously constitutes an in-your-face challenge to Sistani and the rest of the Najaf authorities, who have so far made only vague remarks about the proposed bilateral agreement. RTI thinks the information leaked to AP about the right to armed resistance was the same kind of a challenge, putting Sistani and the other Najaf authorities on the spot in another way, by making them deny the news.

And she cites an Iraqi news-site (which is new to me) called Iraq Alaan (Iraq now), which runs a picture of Sistani and a brief item that says Sistani's office does in fact deny the news, but in an interesting way.
[A source close to the office of Sistani in Najaf] denied on Friday what was reported on a number of sites to the effect the authority Sistani is preparing to issue a fatwa inviting armed resistance to the occupation.

[The source said] there is no truth to the report in general or in particular, adding that the attitude of the authorities from the beginning has been that "Iraq is not ready for jihad or military confrontation at the present time, after the damage and destruction that is left after the wars of the prior regime".

The source added: Sistani supports resistance to the occupation, but not by military means, at the present time.

(The authority Sistani is the most prominent religious authority of the imami Shiites in Iraq and the world, and the spiritual leader of the clerical Hausa in Najaf).
It is the "eventually, but not right now" defense. According to this account, Sistani's office says he is in fact for "resistance" but not "by military means at the present time" citing national weakness. If this this "all in good time" argument sounds familiar, it is because it is also the position Juan Cole takes. This morning he wrote: "I have all along believed that Sistani would ultimately issue a fatwa saying that it was illegitimate for there to continue to be foreign troops on Iraqi soil." And in this connection he vouches for the good faith of Hakim and the Dawa party: "When al-Maliki and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim feel strong enough domestically, their first order of business will be to vastly reduce American military influence. They represent the Islamic Mission (Da`wa) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (founded by Ayatollah Khomeini), after all. There is likely a limit to this marriage of convenience."

I don't know how Juan arrived at that surprising view, so closely aligned with the Sistani "not right now" defense. What I do think is that it would help raise the quality of the discussion if Juan would be a little less modest about his relationship with the Supreme Council, Najaf-Hakim-Maliki axis. For instance, it might help explain his silence about the Sadr City bombings when they were going on, and his showy denunciation of them now as "brutal", even though they were conducted under the authority of this same Maliki and his group, who, he assures us, are the type of people that will eventually do the right thing.

In any event, focusing on Haeri's in-your-face challenge to Sistani over the bilateral agreement gives us another way of understanding why Maliki paid his surprise visit to Najaf the next day (in addition to the "investor-confidence" issue discussed in a prior post).

* Here is a bigger excerpt from that sermon of Zeinab's in a translation appearing on a Shiite website, just to make sure you get the message:
“What you consider today as spoils of war will become ruins for you tomorrow and on that day you will find what you have sent from before. Allah does not oppress his servants. I express my complaint only to Allah and have trust in Him. You may therefore do any treachery that you have, make all your attempts, and try all you can. By Allah, you cannot remove us from the minds (of people), and you cannot fade our message. You will never reach our glory and can never wash the stain of this crime from your hands. Your decisions will not be stable, your period of ruling will be short, and your population will scatter. In that day, a voice will shout: “Indeed may the curse of Allah be upon the oppressors….”

Alleged plan to activate 2005 bilateral agreements that combine economic and military advantages for the US

The semi-official Syrian paper Al-Watan published a story on Monday May 19, citing "journalistic sources in Baghdad" on the subject of Iraqi-government plans to implement four bilateral US-Iraqi agreements signed in 2005 by then State Dept official Robert Zoellick and the then Iraqi finance minister Ali Adbul Amir Alawi. The signing, in July 2005, took place only 10 weeks after his appointment as finance minister by the incoming Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari (May 2005). Although they had first and second reading in the Iraqi parliament in early 2007, they were never approved by parliament. I did not see the Al-Watan article at the time. It was dug up and translated yesterday by an outfit called Global Policy Forum, which among other things monitors UN policies.

The four agreements in question are the following:

The US-Iraq Investment Incentive Agreement
The US-Iraq Trade and Investment Framework Agreement
The US-Iraq Agreement for Economic and Technical Cooperation
Memorandum of Understanding on Agricultural Cooperation

There is a lot in this short article, and the translation is good, so you should read it. Two points immediately stand out:

(1) Plan to circumvent legislative approval

The sources told Al-Watan that the plan is to implement these agreements before the end of 2008 without parliamentary approval. Although the explanation isn't 100% clear, it appears the justification would be that when they were signed, there was a provision in place that permitted entering into international agreements by representatives assigned by Cabinet with the approval of the Presidential Council. (I haven't found any such provision in the Coalition Provisional Authority acts, but who knows?)

(2) "Economic" agreements including important military concessions

A second point worth underlining is that the sources' description of the agreements included this, according to the paper:
"The sources continued: "These pacts are closer to commandments imposed on Iraq than agreements between two independent states. They grant the American side immunity, all the traveling prerogatives from and into Iraq and the right to protect the undefined American missions with American military troops that can roam the country without any restraints"
In other words, these agreements with "economic development" titles incorporated important military components as well.

The Al-Watan story unfortunately doesn't include the text of the agreements, but according to the description they included a broad plan for privatizations:
"Moreover, [the sources continued],the agreements exempted all the American companies and individuals from taxes and customs in what contradicted even the controversial Iraqi investment law... The pacts also proposed a transitory plan through which the remains of the Iraqi public sector are to be privatized and destroyed.
There is a lot that isn't completely clear in this, and the other caution is that the story doesn't appear to have been picked up anywhere, so corroboration is a problem. However, it stands to reason that in the current climate the Maliki/Bush team would be on the hunt for any available means--plausible or otherwise--to lock in the colonial relationship over the long term, while minimizing disclosure.

Morever: It does seem too much of a coincidence that this should have surfaced just at the time that the Maliki administration is rolling out its "Iraq--Foreign investment paradise" campaign. The fact this surfaced in Syria suggests the point here could be "Paradise--for whom exactly?"

What happened in Najaf

Prime Minister Maliki paid a surprise visit to Najaf on Thursday, where the two big events were: first, a speech to members of the provincial council, including the governor and other local officials, and secondly his interview with Ayatollah Sistani and the subsequent spin.

(1) What Maliki said to the Najaf council

In his speech, Maliki could not have been more clear on the theme that Iraq is on the brink of a boom in foreign investment. Aswat al Iraq begins its summary of the visit this way:
[Maliki] stressed, on Thursday, that all the energies of the state have been exhausted for the purpose of bringing about security over the past several years, at the expense of investment and construction, and he indicated that Iraq needs big global corporations for investment and the improvement of services, and it was this that he promised to focus on in the coming period of time.
And Maliki went on to say that security will continue to be the top priority and the top challenge for his government, assuring his Najaf audience that his government will not take their eyes off this issue for even an instant. The reporter says Maliki continued:
"And we are not suffering from any shortage of finance for electricity or water or other services. Rather, this [lack of progress in these areas] is owing to the fact that foreign governments have barred their corporations from coming into Iraq on account of the lack of security, and the lack of financial guarantees. Now, however, a flood of global corporations in a variety of sectors is starting to pour into the country for the purpose of construction and investment in the country."
On the issue of financial guarantees and the need to satisfy the requirements of the foreign corporations, Maliki was quite clear, according to this account, adding:
He explained that "the government has decided to deposit money to the account of a number of large global corporations, to guarantee their work in a number of service projects in the country which they are undertaking", indicating that "Iraq is in need of big foreign global corporations for development [projects]."
This was not the first indication that Maliki and his people are beating the drum for foreign investment (see for instance this grandiose speech by deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh at Sharm-el-Sheikh last week), but so far as I know it was the first explicit reference to this idea of a division of tasks: Namely that the government will continue to focus on security, a task which has been "exhausting all of the energy of the state", while using its financial resources to attract foreign corporations to undertake "development and investment" projects, including "services".

(2) What Sistani said to Maliki, and the spin

Naturally we do not know that was said in the meeting between Maliki and the Ayatollah Sistani, but we do know how this was spun by Maliki's people to make it appear that Sistani agreement with extending the rule of law implied specific approval for what the Maliki government has been doing by way of security operations. Here's how Aswat al Iraq described the spin:
[Maliki] said on Thursday that [Sistani] and the Najaf authorities in general expressed support for the government's measures to extend the rule of law, and limiting weapons to the hands of the state, and the efforts to make the political process in Iraq succeed.
And he quotes from the Maliki press-release:
"The religious authorities generally support the government in the extension of the rule of law", and the statement added that his conversation with Sistani "focused on topics which serve Iraq".
So while Maliki's account of the talks was in the most general terms possible, still as far as possible he tried to highlight the theme of "weapons only in the hands of the state" as if this was an endorsement of his recent campaigns.

Nahrainnet spells out the implication, first quoting Maliki, then indicating what "observers" think:
[Maliki said] "Our conversation focused on issues that serve Iraq, and the religious authority in general supports the government in extending the rule of law." Observers think this support is tantamount to support for the military operations that the government has been carrying out with the support of the coalition forces in Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul.
In other words, it almost seemed possible to spin Sistani's position as being in favor of weapons exclusively in the hands of the government and in the hands of the foreign military forces that it relies on for support. So there was a need to reply to that (see the remarks below on the AP story).

As noted here earlier, the Maliki government is in the process of trying to announce the inauguration of a new phase in Iraqi development: Following supposed improvements in security, and in the political process, the theme now is that while the government continues to focus on these two themes, it is time to inaugurate the new phase, which will be characterized by Iraq using its financial clout to attract foreign corporations to carry out the tasks connected with economic development.

And the key point is that the promise of this brave new world of foreign investment is being rolled out against a background of continuing reliance on foreign military power in the country. A "bold vision", you might say.

There is a lot that could be said about the AP yesterday that said:
Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad....So far, al-Sistani's fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.
Most likely the "edicts" themselves were not that controversial, having apparently been issued to members of his protective agency and thus not outside of his own circle. The news is in the touting of them by AP and their sources. And the disclosures were made to an English-language news agency, not to an Arabic-language one, suggesting the message, it that is what this is, is to the Americans.

And that is where the context comes in. Maliki, with his speech on the new era of foreign investment, and then his implication at the same time that Sistani agrees with continued foreign military involvement, was very boldly outlining a vision for the future of Iraq that went beyond anything that had been made public up to then, and obviously it was a vision not acceptable to the Ayatollah. Or, some would say, to any decent Iraqi for that matter. And I think that is the point of all of this: Not that the Ayatollah is against the occupation, something everyone already knew, but rather that Maliki and his American sponsors have for some reason made a point of touting a foreign-investment-first policy, against a background of foreign military involvement, that they would have been better off continuing to keep under wraps. (And probably, if you had to come up with a reason for rolling out the foreign-investment-first policy at this particular time, the answer would be that this was seen as necessary in order to foster an atmosphere of "investor confidence").

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The latest chapter in "political reconciliation"--Updated

The Maliki/Bush script at the moment has three parts: Improved security; improved political situation; incipient investment boom; a chicken in every Iraqi pot, vote Republican. Not much attention has been paid to the "political improvements" part of the story, which as far as anyone can tell is limited to the fact that the Iraqi Accord Front (IAF, biggest Sunni parliamentary bloc) have proposed names of their respective party members to re-fill the cabinet positions that the IAF resigned from last August. The more meaningful idea of naming competent people without exclusive reference to their political affiliation, and shrinking and rationalizing the number of cabinet posts, has been scrapped, reflecting the GreenZone clubhouse dynamics. But even at that, there seems to have been an unexplained problem with some of the names.

AlHayat this morning gives us an important clue. There are three main components of the IAF: the Islamic Party headed by Tareq al-Hashemi; the Peoples Assembly headed by Adnan Dulaimi and the National Dialog Council headed by Khalaf al-Alyan (or 'Ulyan). Maliki is said to have rejected the nominees of the latter, the group headed by Alyan.

The quick way to understand the meaning of this, if you have a few moments, is to type "Alyan" into the search-box at the upper left of this page, and you will be reminded of what he has stood for over the past couple of years. For instance:

(1) In October 2006, at startup of the Salvation Council boom, Alyan was against the idea of any of these groups accepting aid from either the US forces or the sectarian GreenZone government, since in his view both AQ and the American occupation were for the breakup of the country. This is from the above-linked post, referring to Abu Risha's plans for an alliance with the US to fight AlQaeda:
But Abu Risha's viewpoint isn't the only one. This Al-Hayat piece also cites remarks by Khalif Alyan, a leader in the Iraqi Accord Front, which is the biggest of the Sunni coalitions in parliament. Alyan's remarks are particularly interesting as an expression of the new Sunni rejection of the Maliki government. Alyan said the followers of his group would object to joining in the Anbar Salvation Council if any of the tribes were to accept Iraqi government support or US support. And he said he was skeptical of the ability to Abu Risha to actually bring the tribes together in the way that he claims to be able to do. Alyan added that the clan leaders in Ramadi and other cities in Anbar that he has spoken to object to the idea of any group "based on Abu Risha". And to drive the point home, he said if the Salvation Council ends up accepting Iraqi government or US government support, the result will be fitna or all-out civil war in Anbar.

On the question of overall strategy, Alyan said the creation of a balanced security force, and a political process "open to all resistance groups" both require the elimination of AlQaeda from the province, and the reason is that the AlQaeda aim of setting up an Emirate ultimately supports the US aim of breaking up the country.
(2) At the time of the political blowup over the start of the wall-building campaign with the Adhamiya wall in April 2007, Alyan's Baghdad home was ransacked by government forces and his security detail arrested, while he was in Amman. The following is from a post here at that time:
Khalaf al-Alyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accord Front, the biggest bloc in Parliament, was quoted last week from Amman predicting announcement soon of a multi-bloc coalition to oppose Maliki, is quoted this morning in several Iraqi papers as calling on the rest of the IAF leadership to issue a clear warning to Maliki that they will leave the government if the Adhamiya wall policy is continued, but in the current statements, he appears to have dropped the multi-bloc aspect of this, talking only about the IAF itself. (See this summary of Iraqi papers by Aswat al-Iraq).
So no doubt what is going on is the process of sifting the Iraqi Accord Front so as to accept the "reconcilables" while at the same time rejecting the likes of Alyan with their Iraqi-nationalist ideas. It is the same principle that that outlined in the famous Hadley memo and continued through the Sadr City campaign, of sifting the Shiite trends, accepting those that are "reconcilable" and setting up the others targeting by the US military.

To say the least, you could say this is the opposite of a policy of allowing creation of a meaningful two-party system, unless by that you mean one party in power, and the other to be targeted militarily as the "bad guys".

Still, Azzaman this morning says the idea of a GreenZone coalition of non-reconcilables, including Sadrists and Alyan's group along with others, is still under discussion. Unfortunately their website is unavailable this morning, so I can't give you the link or details.


Azzaman is back. The item in question focuses on the refusal of the Iraqi List to rejoin the government, in spite of invitations by Maliki, and the explanation given by their spokesman Osama al-Najaifi, namely that Maliki hasn't been "serious" in his offers in this regard, but also because of the following:
He explained that the Iraqi list is working on discussions and agreements with leaders of the Fadhila party and the Sadrist trend, along with the Dialog Council led by Khalaf al-Alyan, and the Arab Dialog Front of Saleh al-Mutlaq, the aim being a unification of our positions. He said "the results of our discussions with these political blocs encourages us to continue, and what we are trying for is the creation of some kind of parliamentary coordination."
It will be recalled that efforts to form a roughly similar group have been reported from time to time in recent months, culminating in this January 13, 2008 announcement of a so-called "12-party agreement" (including the Sadrists, the Iraqi List, and some Sunni groups including Alyan's and Mutlaq's, with Fadhila first reported in, then out) and that among their common "nationalist" aims were opposition to privatization of the oil sector, and opposition any further Clause 140 procedures as demanded by the Kurds on Kirkuk.

What today's reports seem to indicate is that this idea of a "nationalist"-oriented parliamentary opposition is still alive, in some form. And the fact that one of its proponents, Khalaf al-Alyan, is also a leader in the IAF has been a roadblock (or one of the roadblocks) to an agreement on IAF rejoining the government.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Iraqi investment boom just around the corner ? (Updated with the latest from Najaf)

The GreenZone newspaper AlSabaah reports from Cairo, where an "investment conference" has been going on, that Iraq has signed contracts worth over $63 billion with a number of global investment corporations, for startup of a number big construction projects. "These include," says the headline, "construction of the big port in Basra, the Baghdad International Airport, gigantic projects in Najaf, and the construction of what will be the largest residential city in the Middle East". The journalist explains:
Major projects, according to Dr Ahmed Radha, president of the Iraqi National Investment Agency, include the big Basra port, rebuilding of the Baghdad Airport, and also construction of housing units and a complete residential city that will count as one of the biggest modern cities in the Middle East...He explained that the value of these projects is: $12 billion for Basra port-construction; $17 billion for construction of the Baghdad Airport along with a commercial city and hotels; 200,000 housing units and hotels [in a] tourist city at the corniche (?) in Kufa in Najaf province, with a value of $34 billion; and construction of a new city of Kut for $650 million.
And it is downhill from there as far as the values are concerned. With the exception of the Baghdad airport, these mega-projects are all in the center and the south of Iraq.

(Presumably the contract arrangements for construction of the US mega-bases elsewhere in the country are just as big or bigger, only not as widely-publicized).

And naturally, there aren't any actual contract details or even names of the corporations involved.

On the same theme, Aswat Al-Iraq says Maliki met with the Australian ambassador on Wednesday and urged him to get in on the ground floor of the coming Iraqi investment boom, suggesting agriculture and construction sectors might appeal to him. He said "the political situation has never been better or stronger," following the recent security improvements in Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul.


And as if to underline the fact that this is mainly a south-central theme, AlHayat (Thursday morning May 22) reports remarks by the governor of Najaf province, urging Arab and Islamic countries in particular to open consulates in Najaf because:
Najaf is witnessing an important construction and investment upswing, particularly considering it is characterized by peace and security, so that Islamic and Arab countries can open consulates there in order to serve its thousands of visitors.
He didn't specifically mention the alleged $34 billion Kufa construction project mentioned above (Kufa being also in Najaf province), but he expressed similar promotional fervor in other ways: The opening this year of the new Najaf airport will enhance the world standing of Najaf in the domains of science, politics and culture, and they are hoping for designation as the "Capital of Islamic Culture" in the year 2012.

Also, the Najaf governor, sounding just a little like a head of state, "renewed calls for cooperation from Saudi Arabia in opening up a land-route for the annual Hajj pilgrimage; and for the signing of a bilateral investment and commercial agreement".

Doha success: Among other things, a defeat for Saudi prestige

The announcement in Doha, Qatar of the Lebanese agreement came too late for the Wednesday Arab papers, but for the moment it seems worth noting that the Syrian semi-official paper Al-Watan anticipated the success of these talks in an editorial on Sunday May 18, taking it as the sign of the end of the era of real or imagined Saudi leadership in the region. Already the Lebanese authorities had ordered the rollback of the provocative decisions on Hizbullah's communications network and airport-security, and all the parties had agreed to undertake settlement-talks in Qatar. Given that Saudi Arabia had been the sponsor of the Taif Accord that set up the current political framework in Lebanon, the editorialist said, these events (backdown of the March 14 parties, and recourse to Saudi-rival Qatar for talks) already signaled "the end of the Saudi era, and the beginning of a new era..." starting with Qatar representing the start of a "new Taif agreement".

The editorialist talked about the history of Saudi political failures in the region: failure of the "Mecca agreement" that was supposed to bridge the differences between Fatah and Hamas, and likewise the failure of Saudi efforts to mediate a Lebanese agreement, attributing all of these failures to Saudi one-sidedness, summed up in their latest ridiculous proposal:
Following establishment of a new balance of power by the Lebanese opposition on the ground with the events of May 7...the Saudi kingdom issued an alarm and called for the dispatch of Arab troops to Lebanon to "rescue" the loyalist forces. This in spite of the fact that during the July Israeli war on Lebanon, the Saudi authorities did not budge, nor did they propose the sending of a single Arab soldier for the defense of that country..."
The editorialist says Syria distinguished itself not only by not intervening in the recent events, but also by supporting the Qatar negotiations, implying that their success would constitute a historic defeat for the Saudi political pretensions in the region.

Over and above the fact that the Qatar talks succeeded, I think it is interesting that the Syrians knew that they would be successful, given the whole trend of recent events, and I think this can be seen as part of the general feeling of a new direction in regional events, reflected in the recent indications in Egypt and especially in Jordan of a need to get re-oriented away from the recent lock-step alliance with America and its Saudi allies. (Taking into account, however, the caution about habitual Arab-regime behaviour that Abdulbari Atwan continually warns us about).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Wa'ilis and the Hakims (Updated)

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

Here is the story:

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

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

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

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

Jordan could be the first to step away from the "madmen of the White House"

Among the members of the "axis of moderate Arab states", it is Jordan that seems most highly motivated to move away from a complete submission American policy. This follows the setbacks in Lebanon and Palestine, and the insulting Bush speech on the weekend, but more importantly it is the result of a build-up number of factors, the main one being the dead-end in the Palestinian talks and the fear that Jordan could end up bearing the brunt.

Employing a combination of kremlinology and personal contacts, the Amman correspondent of Al Quds al-Arabi outlined in detail yesterday (pdf: scroll down to p. 6) the signs of this shift in Jordanian thinking. These range from the fact that the Religious Endowments Ministry has been permitting much more blunt criticism of America and Bush in the Friday sermons in the mosques, to consternation in government circles over the recent rejection by US allies Kuwait, Saudi, and the UAE of Jordanian requests for financial assistance in the face of rising oil prices, the fact that Bush has skipped Amman on his two recent "ill-omened" trips to the region, and most ominously the lack of any concern about the vulnerability of Jordan as part of a last-resort arrangement in Palestine. The journalist says the Jordanians have concluded that it is not just the Palestinians that are at risk in this, but Jordanian interests as well. He says this has led to decisions at the highest levels in Amman as follows:
"We will not permit any political or non-political solution (in Palestine) that is at the expense of Jordan and Jordanians, and we will stand against any "alternate" options and oppose any attempts at forcible migration to Jordanian lands, by any means available to us, including military force."
And the journalist continues:
The question now is: What has motivated the "moderate" Jordanian administration to bring up this idea of the "Jordanian option" [mass relocation of Palestinians to Jordanian territory], while there is still uncertainty surrounding the peace process and its trajectory? The answer lies in the persistence of sure signs that the Jordan-American relationship is going through an extraordinary period of actual crisis, [which has led to] Jordanian anxiety about the possibility that there exists a dark scenario in the minds of those who are called in political circles in Amman "the madmen of the White House". What this says is that the American indifference to the interests of Jordan is no longer a secret, and can no longer be hidden or dissembled under any cover....
Any requests made in Washington for increased economic assistance are met with the demand to send an ambassador to Baghdad. And the journalist says the Jordanian authorities have been made aware of the fact that the biggest instigator against them in Washington is Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. This is reflected in the absence of any kind of assistance in respect to oil, and instead harrassment by the Iraqi authorities of Jordanian goods and merchants. In fact, says the journalist,
[Maliki] refuses to acknowledge that the approximately one million Iraqis who live in Jordan are in fact citizens [of Iraq] belonging under the protection of his government, clearly pushing [instead] the idea that these are Sunnis hostile to the current regime in Baghdad, and that their elite enjoys Jordanian protection, connected with Saddam Hussein.
Those are three of the broad reasons why the Jordanian authorities are said to be looking to realign themselves politically in the region: (1) Fear of Bush driving the Palestinian problem over the cliff leaving Jordan holding the bag; (2) The undeniable lack of any inter-Arab solidarity on the economic front, particularly from the oil-rich US allies in the Gulf; (3) Sectarian attitude from Bush's friend Maliki in Baghdad, who insists the failure to open an embassy amounts to a hostile act, and considers the one-million Iraqis living in Jordan not as Iraqis but as sectarian enemies.

The same Al-Quds al-Arabi journalist writes today about an interview with a senior person in the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, the point of which is entirely summed up in the headline: "The Islamist opposition in Jordan warns against [an attempt to] put through a substitute for peace, at the expense of Jordan: On account of the weak Jordanian role in the region, and a frivolous foreign policy".