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Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on November 26, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Uncategorized / No Comments

In a June 2006 post, I argued that some Right Arabists are quite hawkish toward Iran.  I also noted that some Right Zionists are quite wary of the motivations and methods of Right Arabists who support regime change in Iran.

The primary Right Arabist venue for regime change in Iraq is the Mujaheddin-e Khalq [MEK, but sometimes called MKO; also the People’s Mojahedin of Iran; also National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)] with support from the Iran Policy Committee.

Just to connect the dots: MEK has support within Iraq, but not from the favorite clients of the Right Zionists.  Instead, the biggest fans of the MEK are ex-Baathists.

No surprise here, since the MEK was very close with the old Baathist regime.

But a recent MEK press release makes the link quite explicit:

NCRI – A meeting initiated by the U.S. Congressmen Bob Filner (D-CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Ed Towns (D-NY) took place during a three-day symposium on Iran and Iraq at the U.S. Congress.

The purpose of this meeting was to examine the negative consequences of the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq and to determine how to support the Iranian opposition – the People’s Mojahedin – based in Ashraf City, Iraq, as the main impediment to the expansion of fundamentalism in this country.

In her message, Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, called on Congress to take the initiative for a firm policy towards Tehran’s regime and to expel it from Iraq.

Dr Saleh Mutlaq, Chairman of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, made a speech by telephone from Iraq, denouncing the mullahs’ efforts to prevent the establishment of a democratic, independent government in Iraq. He also announced his support for the People’s Mojahedin and paid tribute to their actions

Dick Armey, former republican House Majority Leader and chairman of the think-tank FreedomWorks, introduced his 250-page report about Iran, the foreign policy challenges, the solutions and the democratic opposition, in which he collected the positions of American political and legal experts….

Its introduction underlines, as many in the United States and in the world believe, that a regime change in Iran is feasible by supporting the democratic organizations of this country, notably the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

Consequently, following detailed research, the report urges the removal of the PMOI and the National Council of Resistance of Iran from the US State Department terrorism list in order to make this change possible in Iran.

When Right Arabists court ex-Baathists in Iraq, Saleh Mutlaq (also, Saleh Mutlak) is one of the key go to guys.

If the cry is “bring back the Baath,” does this not also imply regime change in Iran?

Coopting Sadr

Posted by Cutler on November 25, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized / No Comments

In the past, I have argued that all US foreign policy factions seem to hate Sadr.  But somebody in the US foreign policy elite thinks Sadr can serve some purpose.

Amidst all the recent attacks on Sadrists and the reprisals, Ed Wong includes this small, cryptic remark in his New York Times reporting:

Some American officials also argue that Mr. Sadr’s engagement in politics is necessary for any hope of a peaceful disarmament of his thousands-strong militia, which has twice rebelled against the American military.

Which American officials make this argument?  Wouldn’t that be interesting to know?  And why would Sadr’s engagement in politics help bring about the disarmament of his militia?

Isn’t this remark a reference to “some” American officials who believe that Sadr might serve as a bulwark against “foreign” influence within his own rank and file?

At least one July 7, 2006 Associated Press report suggested that the US may be trying to distinguish between Sadr and breakaway Shiite militia forces.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants in a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad early Friday, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said…

The U.S. military said the raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum was launched to apprehend “an insurgent leader responsible for numerous deaths of Iraqi citizens.” He was arrested after a gunbattle between Iraqi forces and insurgents, the U.S. said…

U.S. officials did not identify the insurgent leader but residents of the Shiite neighborhood said he was Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The U.S. statement said the militant leader was involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

An Iraqi army officer said the Americans had provided them with a list of names of people to be arrested in Sadr City.

As I commented in a post in early August, Sadr may be willing to preside over the disarming of those elements of his Mahdi Army engaged in sectarian violence.

Reporting in the Financial Times tends to support this analysis:

In a Friday sermon, Mr Sadr challenged Hareth al-Dhari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is probably Iraq’s most influential Sunni institution, to condemn the attacks and forbid his followers from joining organisations such as al-Qaeda that target Shia civilians.

Mr Dhari must “issue a fatwa prohibiting the killing of Shia so as to preserve Muslim blood and must prohibit membership of al- Qaeda or any other organisation that has made [the Shia] their enemies”, Mr Sadr said. If the senior Sunni cleric did so, Mr Sadr said, he would support the revocation of the arrest warrant against him.

Mr Dhari, currently outside Iraq after the government issued a warrant against him for incitement to violence, has said that al-Qaeda practises legitimate “resistance”.

Politicians from the Sadrist movement threatened to pull out of the government if Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, were to go through with a meeting with President George W. Bush scheduled for next week in Jordan.

The Sadrists accuse Washington of putting pressure on Mr Maliki’s government to disarm Shia militias, which they say inhibits their ability to defend themselves against Sunni extremists. The boycott threats may be an attempt to deflect Shia anger away from the Sunni and towards the Americans, a strategy that has been surprisingly effective since the 2003 invasion in limiting reprisals for attacks such as the Thursday blasts.

The attacks appeared to have heightened internal tensions within the movement, whose leadership has consistently called for Iraqi unity but whose rank and file are blamed for a significant proportion, if not the majority, of the thousands of sectarian killings that have taken place over the past nine months.

Mr Sadr issued a statement immediately after the attack calling for restraint and ordering his followers not to carry out any action without consulting the Shia clerical hierarchy. But a significant proportion of his followers believe that their only safety lies in militias such as the Mahdi Army taking the fight to the Wahhabis, or anti-Shia puritans, a category into which an increasing number of Sunnis appear to be lumped.

Who in the US would be most likely to be willing or able to see Sadr as a force for Iraqi unity against sectarian civil war?

Ellen Willis, 1941-2006

Posted by Cutler on November 10, 2006
Uncategorized / 3 Comments

Ellen WillisEllen Willis died on Thursday, November 9, 2006.

Parents may not always want to proudly claim their children and it is only right that children often rebel. But if I were to name my intellectual and political parents, they would be Stanley Aronowitz and Ellen Willis.

Ellen’s Left

One simple, if simplistic, way of mapping divisions in the political world is to picture a two-by-two table with four cells representing different political tendancies: along one “economic” axis exists a spectrum that runs from “Capital” to “Labor.” A second “cultural” axis runs along a spectrum from “Communitarian” to “Libertarian.”

It is pretty easy to fill in the cells on the Right:

Capital/Libertarian: the radical, free market, anti-regulatory Right. Fill in with Cato Institute, etc.

Capital/Communitarian: the pro-business and culturally conservative Right. Think of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

The Left is more difficult.

Isn’t it tempting to put the entire Left into the Labor/Communitarian cell? After all, the “Left” has been, for the most part, defined by its Communitarian and/or Collectivist impulses. Leftists are, almost by definition, critics of Capital and its culture of decadence, perversity, and sin. No?

When I try to draw this map on the board in a classroom, students are often stumped by the final empty space, unable to name anyone who belongs in the Labor/Libertarian terrain.

Since the culturally conservative backlash of the 1980s, that space has been occupied and preserved almost single-handedly by Ellen Willis.

Nobody was better at exposing authoritarianism on the Left or tracing hidden utopianism on the Right.

If you haven’t read anything written by Ellen Willis, you might start with her critique of Thomas Frank or her essay, “The Mass Psychology of Terrorism.”

At some point, though, you have got to read “Towards a Feminist Sexual Revolution” (originally published in Social Text, Vol. 11, No. 3, Fall 1982, pp. 3-21.) It is an extraordinary manifesto for a gender politics that embraces sexual freedom and cultural radicalism.

The obituary published in the New York Times quotes Ellen saying that her “deepest impulses are optimistic.” The political and intellectual roots of that optimism is in Ellen’s axiomatic commitments to the socio-psychological insights of Wilhelm Reich. Ellen was the rightful heir to the legacy of Reich and his deeply anti-fascist political views on pleasure, culture and freedom.

In Ellen Willis, I have lost a mentor and a friend.

I fear that the Left has lost something more: its greatest champion of freedom and pleasure.

Bush to Neocons: Game Over

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Uncategorized / 3 Comments

So, Rumsfeld is out. Robert Gates is in.

I have a few quick thoughts, just for starters.

On Gates

Notwithstanding some interesting and complicated questions about his relationship to the mysterious William Casey, CIA director during the Reagan Administration, Gates is mostly known as a “pure and simple” Right Arabist. (Of course, the same might once have been said about Rumsfeld and Cheney).

As a member of the Baker Iraq Study Group, Gates has already come under fire from Right Zionists like Michael Rubin for favoring engagement with–rather than regime change in–Iran.

[Update: for a sense of Gates on Iran, see his work as co-chair (with Zbigniew Brzezinski) of a Council on Foreign Relations task force, including a July 2004 report entitled “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Perhaps the best place to start reading is the section on “Additional and Dissenting Views” toward the end of the report.  If Gates is a “moderate” on Iran, it is because the report disappoints Iran hawks and doves.  A figure like Shaul Bakhash fears that the call for engagement may be perceived as a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.  For an old Chevron executive like Richard Matzke–always eager to do business with the Iranian regime–the report is overly alarmist in its depiction of the incumbent regime.]

When he was nominated by Bush Sr. to be Director of Central Intelligence in 1991, the Guardian had the following profile of him (Simon Tisdall, “The CIA’s New Chameleon,” May 16, 1991):

[H]is nomination is not without paradox, and certainly not without controversy. According to a former, senior CIA agent who maintains close links with the organisation, the selection has caused nothing short of “gloom” in the operations branch… “He is viewed by people as a bureaucratic back-stabber, a Casey man. He rose through the ranks by staying in Washington and playing games.”

His more public image is indeed that of the consummate Washington insider. After 25 years with the CIA and the National Security Council, Gates, now 47, rose to become deputy national security adviser, Gen Brent Scowcroft’s right-hand man

According to Washington sources, Gates owes much to Casey, who elevated him to deputy director in 1986. Subsequently he is said to have become the protege of General Scowcroft, who strongly supported his nomination.

In Iraq, Scowcroft and the Right Arabists are hardly sympathetic to the idea of Shiite rule. Does the Gates nomination mark a restoration for Right Arabist policies in Iraq? A harsh crackdown on Sadr? An anti-Shiite coup?

I was far from certain that Bush’s flirtation’s with James Baker’s Iraq Study Group were genuine. I would say that the Gates nomination tends to suggest that these overtures to the Right Arabists were genuine.

Game over for the Bush administration Neocons.

And Cheney?

So, where does all this leave Cheney? I can think of three different pathways for the Vice President in all this:

1, Cheney is about to resign. He will find a reason (health, etc.) and make way for a Vice President (McCain?) who will then use the next to years to prepare for a 2008 run for the White House.

2. Cheney continues to support the Right Zionist position in Iraq, Iran, etc. and will now function as an extremely powerful dissident, sniping at the President for betraying the “freedom agenda,” etc. I find this highly unlikely.

3. Cheney has returned to his former life as a Right Arabist. Rumsfeld was “allowed” to resign in order to pave the way for a decisive policy shift toward re-Baathification, “stability” in Iraq, a government of national salvation, etc. The former policies will forever be linked to Rumsfeld who will take the fall, providing cover for his “young” Padawan, Richard B. Cheney.

I think the third pathway is the one upon which we have now embarked.

On the Democrats

Prior to the election, I emphasized the likely continuities between Bush administration Right Zionist policies in Iraq and Dem Zionist inclinations.

If, however, the Bush administration is returning to the policies of the administration of George H.W. Bush, then Dem Zionists may actually play the role of a true “opposition” movement, much as they did when they battled Right Arabists at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

At this point, many on the Left will feel compelled to decide between backing the Bush administration and rediscovering their own affinities with the Right Zionists.

Better to stay clear of what remains an intra-imperialist factional battle.

Bring the troops home. Now.

Rumsfeld & Cheney: The Untouchables

Posted by Cutler on September 30, 2006
Uncategorized / No Comments

As I noted in a previous post, Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, reports that former White House chief of staff Andy Card tried–twice–to oust Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Why did Card fail?

At one level, the answer seems simple enough: Rumsfeld retains the support of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Let us speculate wildly for a moment.

Imagine a scenario where Bush advisors move to dump Rumsfeld. Cheney threatens, “You touch Rumsfeld (my mentor, the man who gave me my start in life during the Nixon and Ford administrations) and you lose my cooperation.”

Now imagine that Bush advisors respond by saying to Cheney, “Nobody threatens the President. You are fired.”

End of story, right?

I have a civics question: Can the President of the United States fire the Vice President?

My uneducated sense of the Constitution: No.

The Vice President is elected. The Vice President does not serve at the pleasure of the President.

The best Bush could do is alienate the VP, not remove him.
Does anyone–including Bush advisors–think the President could survive a direct confrontation with a rebellious Vice President sniping at him?

Bush moved toward a confrontation with Rumsfeld in May of ’04 during the height of the Abu Ghraib revelations.

That lasted about two or three days. Then Cheney issued a statement calling Rumsfeld the best Secretary of Defense that the US has had. And that was that.

The last chance Bush advisors had to dump Rumsfeld and Cheney was in ’04 when they could have dropped him from the ’04 ticket. Didn’t happen.

End of story.

ZNet: The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 19, 2006
Uncategorized / 2 Comments

FYI:

ZNet has published an extended version of my post, “The Devil Wears Persian.” You can find it HERE.

Can the Sadr Hold?

Posted by Cutler on July 11, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized / 4 Comments

Remember the abduction of Sunni MP Tayseer al-Mashhadani that provided the immediate rationale for US-backed raids in Sadr City and arguably sparked the latest convulsion of sectarian violence in Iraq? (For a refresher, see this previous post).

Remember how Sunni political leaders reported that the allegedly Shiite kidnappers had threatened to “cut off her head” unless there was a halt to attacks on Shiite mosques, etc.?

Remember how the Sunni-led “Iraqi Accordance Front” boycotted parliament and threatened to withdraw its ministers from the Maliki government?

Remember when Omar al-Jubouri, a member of Mashhadani’s Iraqi Islamic Party, demanded US intervention in an interview with the New York Times:

“The Iraqi people ask the Americans for an iron fist to crush the Sadr militia in Baghdad,” Mr. Jubouri said in an interview, referring to the volatile militia commanded by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Never mind.

The Associated Press is reporting an abrupt reversal.

The largest Sunni bloc in parliament said Tuesday it will end its legislative boycott following a call for calm and unity by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and a promise that a kidnapped Sunni legislator will be released…

Noureddine al-Hyali, a member of the bloc that holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament, said that contacts had been made with the kidnappers and “we have received promises . . . that Tayseer al-Mashhadani will be released within days.” He quoted the kidnappers as saying “she is our guest,” indicating that she was being well treated.

Two of al-Mashhadani’s guards were released last week

Al-Sadr has called for unity amid rising sectarian tension here and another Sunni politician said the bloc was responding.

We have decided to attend the meetings as of tomorrow in response to the call by Muqtada al-Sadr,” Adnan al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

An impressive turn of events. How fortuitous that Mashhadani’s abductors–last week, allegedly on the verge of chopping off her head–now welcomed her as a guest!

Perhaps it was Omar al-Jubouri who lost his head when he demanded that US forces use an “iron fist” to crush Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Cooler heads now seem to prevail, at least among the Sunni political elite closest to the US administration.

Somebody has blinked.

Perhaps it was the US, sensing that a sectarian civil war might actually help Sadr more than hurt him. As I suggested in a previous post, full-blown sectarian civil war acturally has the potential to reunite Sadr with the rest of the Shiite political establishment, thwarting US attempts to isolate Sadr with the help of the Shiite-led Maliki government.

Although Right Zionists like Charles Krauthammer once welcomed sectarian civil war (see previous post), Bush administration Right Zionists are not necessarily running the show in Iraq these days.

It is also possible that the real issue in all this involves tension and factionalism within the Sadrist camp. According to this scenario, there are some Sadrist elements that reject cooperation with the US-backed government and favor a more militant response to US and Sunni forces.

After the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite Askariya Shrine on the outskirts of Samarra, Sadr had his hands full trying to keep his own base from sectarian vengeance.

At that time, the New York Times reported that armed Shiite militiamen pulled 47 Iraqis off buses at a “fake checkpoint” and executed them.

According to that same report, Sadr moved quickly to shift the axis from sectarianism to anti-occupation nationalism:

Though Shiite leaders, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, condemned the anti-Sunni violence on Thursday, there were no open condemnations of the Mahdi Army, Sadr’s militia that is thought to have led many of the violent protests.

Sadr’s office issued a statement calling on the Mahdi Army to protect holy sites in Samarra and elsewhere, and demanding that the new Iraqi Parliament issue a schedule for the withdrawal of U.S. troops so that Iraq could operate as a sovereign country, responsible for its own security.

This situation is mostly because of the existence of the occupation,” Sadr said in the statement. “We charge the occupation forces with all the responsibility.”

A new International Crisis Group report on Sadr gets to the heart of this issue:

Seen by many as a spoiler, his political positioning and legitimacy in the eyes of a restless, disenfranchised population have made Muqtada a key to Iraq’s stability, and he must be treated as such. But Muqtada must do more to exercise responsible leadership himself. As sectarian tensions have grown, so too has his movement’s involvement in the dirty war that pits Sunnis against Shiites. Muqtada has maintained his calls for national unity, even in the wake of particularly vicious attacks against Shiite civilians, yet the February 2006 attack against a Shiite shrine in Samarra appears to have been a turning point. Since then, the violence has reached alarming proportions as Sadrists have indiscriminately attacked presumed Baathists and Wahhabis. Controlling his forces and putting an end to their killings is Muqtada’s principal challenge. Should he fail to meet it, he will be partly responsible for two things he ardently claims he wishes to avoid: the country’s fragmentation and an Islamic civil war.

The report also specifically recommends “initiatives… aimed at increasing discipline among Sadrist militants.”

It is possible that the US and Sunni politicians like Adnan al-Dulaimi now see the advantages of helping Sadr control his own forces.

Throughout the recent crackdown in Sadr City and the wave of sectarian violence, the US has refused to point a finger directly at Sadr.

According the Associated Press, US officials declared that the largest US raid last week was undertaken to capture a Shiite militia leader–identified in the press as Abu Diraa–accused of trying to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

Similarly, today’s Washington Post article, “Violence Flares in Divided Baghdad,” quotes the same US military official, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, playing down the number of Sunni killed in the recent ambush and avoiding direct attacks on Sadr:

U.S. troops found 14 dead Iraqis in the neighborhood but not the “30 or 40 or more that was in the reporting that we heard going on,” Caldwell said. An Iraqi police officer said that 57 corpses, plus those of three policemen, were taken to Yarmouk Hospital after the violence. Caldwell did not place blame for the killings on the Mahdi Army, but he acknowledged the problem of what he called “illegal armed groups.

Back in 2004, it appeared that the US was leading a crackdown on Sadr in order to insulate Sistani from Shiite radicalism. Is the US now leading a crackdown on breakaway Sadrists in order to insulate Sadr from his own militant base?

Or does Sadr himself remain public enemy number one?

The end of the Sunni parliamentary boycott certainly suggests that at least some political elites within the Green Zone want to give Sadr a chance to help restore order.

US Raids in Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on July 07, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized / No Comments

There may be trouble brewing again between the US and Moqtada al-Sadr. The BBC and the Washington Post are reporting on clashes between US troops and Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

When news first broke on July 1 that a Sunni MP–Taiseer Najah al-Mashhadani of the Iraqi Islamic Party headed by Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi–had been kidnapped, the political implications were pretty muted.

On July 3rd, however, Mashhadani’s political allies asserted that she had been abducted by Shiite militias linked to Moqtada al-Sadr. According to a July 3, 2006 Associated Press report:

A member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in the 275-member legislature, suggested that Tayseer al-Mashhadani was kidnapped by Shiite militias and said the legislative boycott would continue until she is released.

Noureddine al-Hyali said the political group had information that al-Mashhadani was being held somewhere near eastern Baghdad’s Ur neighborhood — a predominantly Shiite area that is controlled by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army militia.

“We got this information from Iraqi security forces as well as the Americans,” al-Hyali said.

According to a July 4, 2006 Washington Post report, the Sadrists deny any role in the kidnapping.

A spokesman for Sadr, Abdul Daragi, denied that the Mahdi Army had kidnapped Mashhadani and declined to comment on any discussions with the government.

The US has been pressuring Maliki to crack down on Shiite militias, however, and the abduction of Mashhadani now threatens to become the spark that ignites a broader confrontation between the US and the Mahdi Army.

According to a July 5, 2006 Reuters report, US forces were quickly mobilized to participate in the hunt for Mashhadani.

U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said a major aerial and ground operation involving U.S. and Iraqi troops had been launched to find her.

“They conducted several operations last night but they did not produce results,” he told a news briefing in Baghdad. “This is an attempt to thwart the road toward democracy and the rule of law. We will continue to collect intelligence to ensure her safe return and those with her.”

It is interesting to note that Mashhadani’s political allies have alleged that her abductors contacted them on her cell phone and made several demands. The Associated Press reports:

Kidnappers of a Sunni woman lawmaker have demanded a timetable for withdrawing coalition troops, release of all detainees and a halt to attacks on Shiite mosques, an Iraqi vice president said Wednesday…

Another Sunni lawmaker, Omar Abdul-Sattar, said the kidnappers used al-Mashhadani’s personal cell phone to contact a local office of the Iraqi Islamic Party and set a three-day deadline for authorities to meet their demands.

Otherwise, “we will cut off her head,” Abdul-Sattar said, quoting the kidnappers.

Hmm. Had me right up to the “cut off her head” part. The demands–especially the one related to an end to attacks on Shiite mosques–certainly seem constructed in such a way to leave no doubt that Mashhadani is being held by Shiites, rather than al-Qaeda in Iraq, etc. But the “cut off her head” line seems contrived. We’ll see, I guess.

At least one July 7 Associated Press report suggests that the US may be trying to distinguish between Sadr and breakaway Shiite militia forces.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants in a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad early Friday, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said…

The U.S. military said the raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum was launched to apprehend “an insurgent leader responsible for numerous deaths of Iraqi citizens.” He was arrested after a gunbattle between Iraqi forces and insurgents, the U.S. said…

U.S. officials did not identify the insurgent leader but residents of the Shiite neighborhood said he was Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The U.S. statement said the militant leader was involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

An Iraqi army officer said the Americans had provided them with a list of names of people to be arrested in Sadr City.

A July 7 BBC report also provides a name for the Mahdi Army leader allegedly sought by the Americans, but that report says the US failed to arrest the man.

US officials said they had captured a senior insurgent responsible for several militant cells across Baghdad.

But a senior official in Moqtada Sadr’s office said the intended target of the operation was Abu Dera, a senior figure in the Mehdi Army, who is still at liberty.

The US claim that Abu Diraa was trying to break away from his “current insurgent organization” may prove crucial. Is this intended as a signal from the US that the raids are actually aimed at Sadrist splinter groups rather than loyal followers of Moqtada al-Sadr?

After all, hasn’t Sadr been pretty quiet recently? The Washington Post report quotes a Sadrist who acknowledges as much:

Qais Shawkat, 56, who said he is a neighborhood Mahdi Army commander in Sadr City, said… the Mahdi Army was under orders not to fight U.S. forces.

“We have orders from Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr not to fight the Americans now,” he said. “So, we didn’t. We were surprised. We did not expect the Americans to come and attack us.”

Either this will become a replay of Bremer’s infamous 2004 crackdown on Sadrists in Baghdad–a move that sparked a massive uprising by the Mahdi Army–or it signals that Sadr standing down while US and Iraqi forces crack down on Sadrists dissidents upset with his collaboration with a US-backed Iraqi government.

Will Sadrists rise up in response to the US raids?

The Associate Press reports one Sadrist response:

An al-Sadr aide, Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, denounced the Baghdad raid, saying 11 civilians were killed and dozens wounded as U.S. jets fired on the area as people were sleeping on their roofs because of the searing summer temperatures and electricity shortages.

This is a big escalation from the American side,” he said. “I condemn all the silence toward such violations and I call for the withdrawal of the American forces.”

If the US is spoiling for a fight with Sadr–and gets it–then it will be most interesting to see how Sistani reacts. The last time the US clashed with Sadr, Sistani left for London to avoid getting his hands dirty (and meet with his cardiologist). We’ll see if a similar hush falls over Najaf this time, should the US make a serious move against Sadr.

Discerning Victories: Who is Up/Down in the new Iraqi Government

Posted by Cutler on May 17, 2006
Uncategorized / No Comments

According to the Washington Post and other media outlets, Iraqi Prime Minister designate Nouri al-Maliki will present his government list to the Iraqi parliament on Saturday. The negotiations appear to be over.

Knight-Ridder has details of top candidates (all quoted text below is from the Knight-Ridder report). For those keeping score at home, here are some provisional guideposts for making sense of the upcoming announcment:

Interior Ministry

The outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, has been accused by Sunni politicians of exploiting the Interior ministry for sectarian Shiite ends and of allowing Shiite “death squads” to proliferate on his watch.

The top candidates for the Interior Ministry post, to be filled by a Shiite, are Ahmad Chalabi, the outgoing deputy prime minister who has ties to Iran, and Qassim Dawoud, an independent Shiite politician.

The language here is less than totally neutral. The description of Chalabi as a figure with “ties to Iran” is probably accurate, but also probably intended to be frightening (given all the talk about how the Shiites are preparing to hand Iraq to Iran). One could say something frightening about Qassim Dawoud–that he has been allied with ex-Baathists like Iyad Allawi and has only recently become formally aligned with the Shiite Alliance. In the run up to war, Chalabi was the lead “exile” figure associated with Right Zionists (aka neocons); Allawi was the lead “exile” figure associated with Right Arabists.

Score “Chalabi” at Interior as a victory for Right Zionists in the US. Score “Dawoud” as a victory for Allawi and Right Arabists in the US.

Defense Ministry

The top candidate for minister of defense is Hajim al Hassani, a Sunni Arab affiliated with the secular political slate led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, according to legislators involved in the negotiations.

Score “Hassani” at Defense as a victory for Allawi and Right Arabists in the US.

Finance Ministry

Bayan Jabr, the current interior minister and a member of the powerful Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is slated to become the finance minister. Jabr, a controversial figure, has been accused of failing to rein in Shiite militias and death squads that target Sunni Arabs from within his ministry.

This one is a shocker, of sorts. Jabr was the target of an enormous amount of very public US criticism during the Jaafari government of last year and during the US campaign to bar a second government in the period since the December 2005 election. So what does it mean?

One view would be that this a an ENORMOUS defeat for the US. According to this view, the US went to Iraq largely to introduce neo-liberal economic reforms, championed by a reform-oriented Finance Ministry. See Naomi Klein. If Jabr is not a friend of the US and the Finance Ministry is key to economic shock therapy and privatization, then this is a huge loss for the US.

Trouble is, all the talk about Jabr as a very bad man was never really about Jabr or death squads. Jabr, like former Finance Minister Abdel Mahdi, are from SCIRI–the most “cooperative” Shiite political party. I think Klein overstates the US interest in neo-liberal reform of the Iraqi economy; it is hardly the primary agenda item or motivation. Jabr, however, doesn’t represent a particularly strong challenge to this interest.

Oil Ministry

The oil ministry is expected to go to nuclear physicist Hussein Shahristani, an independent Shiite legislator.

Shahristani is very close with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Score this as a victory for Right Zionists who love Sistani.

Don’t take my word for any of this. These are provisional hunches. The best way to score the politics of these government appointments is to listen carefully for Iraqi criticism and to identify the factional position of the critic. Such criticism speaks volumes about the stakes for the players on the ground and their allies in Washington. Know them by their enemies…