Iraq

Russian Rice

Posted by Cutler on December 08, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Someone powerful in Washington is pushing back against the Baker plan and there is a bit of a scramble to figure out who is leading the rejectionist faction. In a previous post, I pointed to Cheney as a key factor. William Kristol told Newsweek he thinks that Bush himself is the last Neocon.

David Sanger of the New York Times tries out a new theory today: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the quiet leader of the rejectionist faction.

According to Sanger, the issues at the heart of Rice’s rebuke the Iraq Study Group recommendations regarding diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.

I’m not sure Sanger has the goods to make this idea stick, although it is certainly interesting to reflect on Rice’s role.

On Syria, Sanger offers up a key Baker quote that currently appears only in the Times:

At a midday meeting with reporters on Thursday, Mr. Baker insisted… [the US] should try to “flip the Syrians”…

If you can flip the Syrians you will cure Israel’s Hezbollah problem,” Mr. Baker said Thursday, noting that Syria is the transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah. He said Syrian officials told him “that they do have the ability to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist,” and added, “If we accomplish that, that would give the Ehud Olmert a negotiating partner.”

The idea–also popular with some Israeli politicians–is to pry Syria away from its regional alliance with Iran and return Damascus to the Arab fold.

Sanger doesn’t exactly have Rice taking shots at this idea, but he does report some muttering from Rice aides:

Ms. Rice remained publicly silent, sitting across town in the office that Mr. Baker gave up 14 years ago. She has yet to say anything about the public tutorial being… delivered in a tone that drips with isn’t-this-obvious…

Aides to the 52-year-old Ms. Rice say she is acutely aware that there is little percentage in getting into a public argument with Mr. Baker, the 76-year-old architect of the first Bush administration’s Middle East policy. But Thursday, as President Bush gently pushed back against some of Mr. Baker’s recommendations, Ms. Rice’s aides and allies were offering a private defense, saying that she already has a coherent, effective strategy for the region.

She has advocated “deepening the isolation of Syria,” because she believes much of the rest of the Arab world condemns its efforts to topple Lebanon’s government, they said…

The Rice quote about the isolation of Syria is from October 2005 (“Despite Warnings, U.S. Leans on Syria,” Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2005; no on-line link available).  Plenty has happened since then, not all of which points toward the isolation of Syria.  Nevertheless, the recent assassination of Pierre Gemayal certainly might have revived tensions between Washington and Syria, to the detriment of Baker’s diplomatic track.

On Iran, Sanger’s attempt to discern a split between Rice and Baker seems even weaker.

[I]n seeking to isolate Iran, [Rice aides] said, she hopes to capitalize on the fears of nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan that Iran seeks to dominate the region, with the option of wielding a nuclear weapon.

How different is this from Baker’s own approach toward Iran?  Is Baker above capitalizing on Arab fears?  Aren’t these fears a primary motivation for Baker’s diplomatic initiative regarding Iran?

And, how far is Rice from Baker on Iran?  Sanger doesn’t mention that Rice led the way what was billed as a major “opening” toward dialogue with Iran.

Nevertheless, I think Sanger might be on to something.

Baker and Rice are hardly carbon copies.  Perhaps the best way to trace the difference is to recall that the key figure who recruited Rice into the Bush administration was not Baker or even Brent Scowcroft, but George Shultz who worked with Rice at his Stanford University “Hoover Institution.”

Leading figures at the Hoover Institution and Baker’s public policy shop at Rice University differ on many issues, including Israel and Iran.  In terms of Condoleezza Rice, however, perhaps the most important differences between Baker and Shultz concern Russia–Condoleezza’s area of expertise.

Shultz’s Hoover Institution is quite hawkish about Russia.  And, as I noted in a previous post, this may have considerable importance when teasing out differences between Rice and Baker, not to mention Cheney and Baker.

A Realist Manifesto

Posted by Cutler on December 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

The Iraq Study Group Report has been released. I’m not at all convinced that it represents the advent of a Realist (Right Arabist) coup in Washington, as initially predicted. There seems to be plenty of “push back” against it from some quarters within the Bush administration.

Even if none of it fails to become official policy, the Report does represent what Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Thomas Ricks call “The Realist Manifesto” and so deserves to be read and archived for what it reveals about Right Arabist positions on US policy in the Gulf.

There are a few key sections that represent key consitutive elements of Right Arabist views on the proper domestic contours of Iraqi politics. There is no “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Solution” in this report.

National reconciliation is essential to reduce further violence and maintain the unity of Iraq.

U.S. forces can help provide stability for a time to enable Iraqi leaders to negotiate political solutions, but they cannot stop the violence—or even contain it—if there is no underlying political agreement among Iraqis about the future of their country.

The Iraqi government must send a clear signal to Sunnis that there is a place for them in national life. The government needs to act now, to give a signal of hope. Unless Sunnis believe they can get a fair deal in Iraq through the political process, there is no prospect that the insurgency will end.

To strike this fair deal, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people must address several issues that are critical to the success of national reconciliation and thus to the future of Iraq.

Steps for Iraq to Take on Behalf of National Reconciliation

RECOMMENDATION 26: Constitution review. Review of the constitution is essential to national reconciliation and should be pursued on an urgent basis. The United Nations has expertise in this field, and should play a role in this process.

RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.

The report provides some detailed discussion of oil politics in Iraqi “national reconciliation.” As I indicated in a previous post, Right Arabists favor Iraqi unity and centralized control over new oil field development.

Here is a section entitled, “The Politics of Oil,” that lays out the specific political link between sectarian tensions and the domestic battle for future control of Iraqi oil.

The politics of oil has the potential to further damage the country’s already fragile efforts to create a unified central government.

The Iraqi Constitution leaves the door open for regions to take the lead in developing new oil resources. Article 108 states that “oil and gas are the ownership of all the peoples of Iraq in all the regions and governorates,” while Article 109 tasks the federal government with “the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields.”

This language has led to contention over what constitutes a “new” or an “existing” resource, a question that has profound ramifications for the ultimate control of future oil revenue. Senior members of Iraq’s oil industry argue that a national oil company could reduce political tensions by centralizing revenues and reducing regional or local claims to a percentage of the revenue derived from production.

However, regional leaders are suspicious and resist this proposal, affirming the rights of local communities to have direct access to the inflow of oil revenue. Kurdish leaders have been particularly aggressive in asserting independent control of their oil assets, signing and implementing investment deals with foreign oil companies in northern Iraq. Shia politicians are also reported to be negotiating oil investment contracts with foreign companies.

On this issue, the Iraq Study Group has taken a clear stand:

RECOMMENDATION 28: Oil revenue sharing. Oil revenues should accrue to the central government and be shared on the basis of population. No formula that gives control over revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is compatible with national reconciliation.

Headlines about the Report tend to be focused on the call for international diplomacy. But all of this international efforts are, in essence, geared toward achieving the domestic “reconciliation” goals articulated above. Because these goals are meant to curb Shiite and Kurdish ambitions, relative to the Sunni population, the international diplomatic proposals have already met with considerable opposition from Shiite and Kurdish political leaders, even as they have been welcomed by Sunnis and ex-Baathists.

In many respects, this manifesto could have been written before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is nothing particularly new about the Right Arabist line adopted in the Report. The “news” would have been that this line was now uncontested official policy.

On that front, it was–at best–a slow news day.

The Gates

Posted by Cutler on December 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

The Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Robert Gates provided an interesting insight into the mind of a Right Arabist who supported the US invasion of Iraq:

I certainly supported the decision to go into Iraq in 2003, and not just because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction… It was clear that the sanctions were weakening, and I had no doubt in my mind that once the sanctions were removed by the U.N. — and it looked like the French and the Russians and others were moving in that direction — that Saddam, if he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, would move quickly to try and obtain them…

And so once the sanctions were lifted, there was no doubt in my mind that he would strive to get a nuclear weapon. He clearly hadn’t changed his spots in the slightest, and so that’s the reason that I supported the decision to go in…

As clear a statement on the Great Power Rivalry explanation for war in Iraq as I’ve seen.

Why call Gates a Right Arabist? Because of his critique of de-Baathification:

[In terms of] problems that I think were created — the first was the demobilization of the Iraqi army…

I think if we had widely advertised the fact that soldiers who returned to their barracks would continue to be paid, they would have a way to take care of their families, that we wouldn’t have had several hundred thousand people who knew how to use weapons, had weapons and were unemployed, out on the streets.

A third example, I think, was the extreme de-Ba’athification policy, frankly, looking at it from a distance… [We] didn’t really appreciate the fact that every schoolteacher and power plant operator, for the most part in Iraq, had to be a member of the Ba’ath Party to get the job, and that they, in terms of being a threat to our interests or a threat to a democratic Iraq — they weren’t necessarily that, but it was the people at the top of the pyramid that were the problem. And so a few more hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of work, people who actually knew how to make some things work and who might have had a stake in keeping things together.

No notion here of a regional tilt in the balance of power toward the Iraqi Shia.

Who, then, invited Abdel Aziz al-Hakim to the White House?

Who supports the so-called “80 percent solution“?

Who is tamping down expectations for Wednesday’s Baker-Hamilton report?

With Bolton out, the only Right Zionist is Elliott Abrams. And Abrams doesn’t manage the Iraq portfolio.

Who is left?

Cheney.

As one Wall Street Journal essay inquired, “At a Pivotal Moment, Where is Mr. Cheney?

[A]bsent from nearly all public discussion… is Mr. Cheney, though he is as closely associated with White House policy on Iraq, the Pentagon, intelligence and other headline post-9/11 security topics as Mr. Bush himself. Since the elections that shifted Washington’s balance of power to responsibility shared with the Democrats, Mr. Cheney has taken a low profile. He joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday to meet with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, as Reuters reports, and made it to the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony Sunday night. His mission to Riyadh last week came at the request of Saudi King Abdullah, who wished to discuss how Iraq was destabilizing the region, the Journal reported. But there was nothing public on Mr. Cheney’s itinerary before, during or after the trip, and that has been his recent MO. He hasn’t withdrawn a pre-election vow that the administration would move “full speed ahead” with its Iraq policy whatever the outcome at the polls. And Mr. Bush doesn’t appear to have publicly addressed Mr. Cheney’s responsibilities since a terse affirmation at a post-election news conference that the vice president would indeed stay on.

It would be difficult to imagine otherwise. Some serious internal administration disputes have come out amid the reams of reportage and dozens of books over the past six years, but Messrs. Bush and Cheney have largely appeared to speak and think as one. Now, as Washington and the rest of the world ponder just how much Mr. Bush is willing to modify his strategy for Iraq, the most illustrative telltale may be Mr. Cheney.

So, what are the telltale signs?

Michael Ledeen is as excited as he has been since 2003.

Any connection?

There Goes the Neighborhood

Posted by Cutler on December 04, 2006
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

When Democrats look around for a way to criticize the Bush administration on the war in Iraq without taking a stand on some of the tougher political issues involved, they have often adopted a page from the standard Right Arabist playbook: bring in Iraq’s neighbors.

Outgoing UN General Secretary Kofi Annan has recently adopted and promoted the idea of an international conference.The idea of dialogue seems so innocuous that liberals in the US might have been a bit surprised to learn that several Iraq politicians have rejected the idea.

The “latent” meaning of the international conference idea is rendered clear by the partisan responses emerging in Iraq.

The key political opponents of the international conference are Shiite leaders, including SCIRI’s Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and–allegedly–Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They are joined by leading Kurdish figures, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

These political forces represent the “80 percent solution” that originally animated Right Zionist policy in Iraq.

The International Conference represents one element in a long-term Right Arabist push back against the 80 percent solution.

Hence, it has won the support of Iyad Allawi–the ex-Baathist long favored by Bush administration Right Arabists and the figure appointed as first Iraqi Prime Minister by the US and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi–along with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

These Iraqi battle lines have been at the core of US policy since the end of Operation Desert Storm.

The central question right now is balance of power within the Bush administration regarding these competing forces.

How do you read the tea leaves?

Where does Iran fit in all this?

Annan and James Baker endorse a dialogue that includes not only Saudis and Jordanians, but also Iran and Syria. Does an international conference represent a tilt toward Iran? Or an instrument designed to contain Iran?

Likewise, does the 80 percent solution represent a tilt toward Iran? Or is it a major step toward a US policy of regime change in Iran?

What does it mean that Hakim rejects the international conference and presumably welcomes the 80 percent solution?

Does Hakim represent a tilt toward the incumbent Iranian regime? Or does Hakim serve Sistani and represent an in independent Iraqi Shiite position that shifts the center of gravity from away from the Iranian city of Qom and toward the Iraqi city of Najaf?

[Update: a bunch of sources–Informed Comment, Missing Links, and Robert Dreyfuss at TomPaine.com–are all reporting that another prominent ex-Baathist, Saleh Mutlaq, is joining Iyad Allawi in supporting Annan’s international conference.

No surprise here.  The bigger news is that all three sources are also saying that Mutlaq (also Salih al-Mutlak) and Moqtada al-Sadr have agreed to join together in a new nationalist parliamentary front on the basis of common opposition to the US military occupation and to the breakup of Iraq into relatively autonomous regions with control of new oil field development.  All of the sectarian violence has functioned to shift the axis from an anti-US nationalist insurgency toward a sectarian axis that pits Shiiites and Sunnis against each other.  Sadr and Mutlak represent an effort to restore the nationalist, anti-occupation axis.
Finally, a word on Robert Dreyfuss.  Notwithstanding his impressive “progressive” credentials (The Nation, Mother Jones, The American Prospect), I am more convinced than ever that his writing about the war in Iraq is fundamentally flawed because it adopts the perspective of Right Arabist imperialists.

In the past, he has articulated what appeared to be a particularly “amoral” perspective on the regime of Saddam Hussein, as when he celebrated the idea that the US would “Bring Back the Baath.”

Now, however, he adopts a shrill and deeply moralistic tone as the Bush administration once again flirts with Iraqi Shiites, describing the upcoming Washington  visit of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim as “Bush’s Meeting with a Murderer.”

The Left can either be moralistic and idealistic about foreign policy or it can be cynical, amoralistic and “realistic” about foreign policy.  But to deploy these discourses so unevenly, however, smacks of rank hypocrisy.  Dreyfuss has become nothing more than a pawn for one side of an intra-imperialist factional game.]

Iraq: The 80 Percent Solution

Posted by Cutler on December 02, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

Bush administration factionalism seems to have returned, although media coverage thus far makes it very difficult to discern the contours of the debate and the key factional players.

On November 13, 2006, the Washington Post published an Op-Ed by a relatively unknown figure, Monica Duffy Toft, who argued that the US should pick a winner in the Iraqi civil war and–at least as I interpreted the article–US money should be on the Shia.

I also noted at the time that there were still many anti-Shiite voices arguing the opposite, including an author named Tim Greene, identified as Chief of the Anti-terrorism training section under the U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) at Camp Muwaqqar, Amman–currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.

At the same time, this Op-Ed “civil war” between Monica Duffy Toft and Tim Greene was also playing out at a much higher level in Washington.

The locus of at least some of the new factionalism seems to surround a series of “secret” Veteran’s Day meetings, first reported by Robin Wright on November 15, 2006 in the Washington Post. The meetings resulted in the launch of a formal “Iraq Policy Review,” distinct from James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and a military review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On November 16th, Laura Rozen published an Op-Ed in Los Angeles Times that cited unnamed sources suggesting that one option under consideration was a “tilt toward the Shiites,” and–implicitly, at least–an abandonment of efforts to court the Sunni insurgency. Rozen reported that the “Shiite option” was one proposed in a paper authored by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Although Rozen does not identify her sources, it is interesting that she does appear to have talked to Monica Duffy Toft who is quoted in Rozen’s article.

On November 17th, Charles Krauthammer published a Washington Post column that I interpreted as part of a new “tilt” toward Shiites.

That same day, there was also news from Iraq that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Interior Ministry had issued an arrest warrant for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and one of the central figures linked to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

About ten days later, on November 27, 2006 came news that another key insurgency figure–Izzat Ibrahim, Saddam’s former deputy–had publicly urged insurgents to reject US reconciliation efforts.

It was also at this time that the first signs began to emerge of a Bush administration split over James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and its call for direct dialogue with the incumbent regime in Iran.

Exhibit A in the sniper attacks on Baker’s Group was an extraordinary November 27, 2006 New York Times article that featured an unnamed “intelligence official” linking Iraq’s Sadrist Mahdi Army to Iran via Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Exhibit B was offered up in a November 28, 2006 Washington Post article by Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks:

[I]n a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead “pick a winner” in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. “That’s the price you’re going to have to pay,” he said…

And, this same intelligence official appears to have also talked to David Ignatius about the “pick a winner” approach and seems to be the same figure making allegations about the Sadr-Hezbollah-Iran link. This from the Wright and Ricks Post article:

The intelligence official said that he “never saw any evidence” that Sadr’s organization sent personnel to Lebanon this summer to fight against Israel, but said he had heard talk that some were sent there to be trained by Lebanese members of Hezbollah, an organization funded by Iran’s Shiite government.

He said there was evidence that the Iranian government this year had escalated its efforts inside Iraq.

“The whole year, yes, it has stepped up,” he said. “More training in and out of Iraq. More coordination with Hezbollah. More advisers.”

So, the key point here is that the so-called “Shiite option” is decidedly not a pro-Iranian option in the mind of the faction that wants the US to pick a Shiite winner.

The option of backing Iraqi Shiites against Iran is not a new plan for Iraq. This is not Plan B or Plan C. This is Plan A. It is the original Right Zionist plan for dual rollback in Iraq and Iran.

If this plan is on the table again, it marks one more flip-flop on Iraq that seems to move to the rhythm of domestic US politics and confirms my pre-mid-term election sense that the final two years of the Bush administration might be the most dangerous of all.

David Ignatius named the so-called “80 percent option” back in November 2004, just after the Presidential election. What followed was the year of the Shiite–US-backed Iraqi elections in January 2005, a constitutional referendum in October 2005, and another election in December 2005, all of which enhanced the political power of Iraqi Shiites.

All of this took place over the objections of Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft who warned against elections in Iraq.

Today, however, there are complications and confusing signs regarding the factional politics of the 80 percent option.

Zelikow the Zelig

On the one hand, there is the November 28, 2006 abrupt resignation of Philip Zelikow, a top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a figure touted in the media as a Scowcroft-style Realist, i.e., a Right Arabist.

His resignation could easily be read as a protest against the Shiite option.

On the other hand, in a December 1, 2006 Washington Post article, Robin Wright–the Washington Post reporter most closely associated with the entire story of the Iraq Policy Review, the Shiite option, and the decision to back away from negotiations with Sunni insurgents–says that Zelikow is the author of the Shiite option plan and, presumably the leader of the faction championing such a plan.

The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.

The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed…

Some insiders call the proposal the “80 percent” solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people…

State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow, author of the proposal, argued that the United States has compromised its prospects of success by reaching too far, according to the sources.

At the same time, Wright reports that the “Zelikow” proposal has met with fierce resistance from all of the other Right Arabist, “Realist” factional players:

The proposal has met serious resistance from both U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders in Iraq, who believe that intensive diplomatic efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process are pivotal to stabilizing the war-ravaged country, the sources said…

Khalilzad, who has spearheaded U.S. outreach to the Sunni leadership, has developed a long list of steps to accommodate Sunni concerns, from a possible amnesty to changes in the hydrocarbon law that distributes oil wealth, which is located mainly in Shiite and Kurdish regions.

No surprise in Khalilzad’s position. But it is strange that Wright reports it is against Zelikow–a fellow traveling “Realist” that Khalilzad allegedly battles.

And Wright never mentions that Zelikow–presumably the “victor” in any move toward the 80 percent solution–has resigned!

So did Zelikow resign in protest against the 80 percent solution or does his resignation signal defeat for the 80 percent option that he allegedly sponsored?

Is it possible Wright simply has the facts wrong when she links Zelikow to the 80 percent option?

Finally, there is reference in the Wright article to the hydrocarbons law. As I have previously argued (here, here, and here), the hydrocarbons law is central to ongoing battles over Shiite (and Kurdish) demands for regional autonomy. Any new Shiite option would attempt to shift the balance of power in Iraq from Moqtada al-Sadr–the leading Shiite opponent of regional autonomy–toward SCIRI’s Ayatollah Hakim–he leading proponent of Shiite regional autonomy–who is scheduled to visit Washington this week.

One of Zelikow’s primary responsibilities has been the management–with Robert Kimmitt of the Treasury Department–of ongoing negotiations over a so-called “Compact for Iraq” that centers on the hydrocarbons law.

So, what does Zelikow’s resignation say about the hydrocarbons law?

Regarding the extremely contentious issue of control over the development of all new oil fields, were Zelikow and Kimmitt pressing for centralized Iraqi authority rather than regional autonomy, as favored by SCIRI and Hakim?

Did Zelikow resign in protest over a decision in Washington to allow regional, Shiite control over new oil fields?

What did the Saudis have to say about the 80 percent option when Cheney was in town?

Wright suggests an answer to that final:

A decision to step back from reconciliation efforts would… be highly controversial among America’s closest allies in the region, which are all Sunni governments. Sunni leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been pressuring the United States to ensure that their brethren are included in Iraq’s power structure and economy.

So, what is the relationship between Cheney and the “intelligence official” who has been talking to the press about the 80 percent solution?

Right Arabists Split on Iran

Posted by Cutler on November 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

If Right Zionists have any chance of salvaging a role for themselves in the Bush administration, they will do so by exploiting to the full factional tensions among Right Arabists.

As “luck” would have it, there are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.

Right Zionists are clearly aligned with Cheney in this dispute. The personification of this alliance remains David Wurmser, the key Middle East aide in the Office of the Vice President.

The Baker position is represented not only by Baker’s own pronouncements in favor of dialogue with Iran but by several of his key allies including Richard Haass–Baker’s former deputy in the administration of Bush Sr and currently the president of the Council on Foreign Relations–and Ray Takeyh, also at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Takeyh has suggested himself, at least some elements of the House of Saud aim to appease and contain the Iranians.

[T]he Gulf monarchies are eager to accommodate—as opposed to confront—Iran’s power.

Not so Cheney. Cheney may be somewhat isolated within the administration at times, but he remains untouchable. And he has a number of important Right Arabist allies who have long favored a more confrontational approach toward Iran. This include some diplomatic figures with very close ties to the House of Saud–including former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins–and much of the military brass, including former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni, who appeared to be “dovish” on Iraq because they opposed an invasion that set out to establish Iraqi Shiite rule but are more than anything, very hawkish on Iran.

Anti-Iranian Right Arabists–the ones who are most adamently opposed to engagement with the incumbent Iranian regime–are also adamently opposed to any withdrawal of US forces that would strenghten Shiite power in Iraq.

The Cheney, anti-Iranian Right Arabist line was on full display in Nawaf Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping into Iraq.”

One hopes [Bush] won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis…

There is reason to believe that the Bush administration, despite domestic pressure, will heed Saudi Arabia’s advice. Vice President Cheney’s visit to Riyadh last week to discuss the situation (there were no other stops on his marathon journey) underlines the preeminence of Saudi Arabia in the region and its importance to U.S. strategy in Iraq. But if a phased troop withdrawal does begin, the violence will escalate dramatically.

This is Op-Ed is not a Saudi warning to the Bush administration. I agree with those (including Bernhard at Moon of Alabama) who think Nawaf Obaid’s Op-Ed was a warning to the Democrats–although perhaps an unnecessary warning because most members of the Democratic leadership are bluffing in their “redeployment” banter and because many are quite hawkish on Iran.

But the Nawaf Obaid Op-Ed was also part of a Cheney campaign against Baker. That campaign was also on display earlier in the week when an unnamed official leaked word that Iranian-backed Hezbollah was training Sadrists in Iraq.

Ultimately, the split between Right Arabists has less to do with the House of Saud or Iran, as such, than it does with different approaches to Great Power Rivalry.

The Russians

There are signs that the key split over Iran turns on competing approaches to Russia. In this scenario, Cheney considers Iran (and Iraq) the venue for US rivalry with Russia (if not also China). Same goes for Cheney’s approach to the Caspian generally. Cheney is a Russia hawk and the big problem with the incumbent regime in Iran is not its hostility toward Israel but its strategic alliance with Russia.

Baker and Co. favor ongoing cooperation with Russia. Hence, they do not fear engagement with an Iranian regime allied with Russia. The same was true in their approach to Saddam after 1995, when he sought and received strategic support from Russia. For Cheney and Co. the crisis of Iraq was the crumbling of containment brought on by Saddam’s effective courting of the Russians (and the French) in the middle of the Clinton administration.
One urgent question that follows from this scenario: where to position incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates on this score?

One clue might be to trace the position of his mentor and booster, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the company he keeps.

Memo: Stephen Hadley on Maliki

Posted by Cutler on November 29, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

The New York Times is serving as an outlet for some powerful Bush administration messages on Iraq.

First, someone in the intelligence community leaked word to the Times of links between Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.  Did that one come from Right Arabist anti-Iran hawks at the CIA or DIA?  Or did it come from Cheney’s office?  In either event, it was arguably a clear shot at James Baker’s idea of direct dialogue with Iran.

Now, an “administration official” has provided the Times with the full text of an extraordinary Memo by Bush’s National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, reviewing the “political front” of US policy in Iraq and US relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.

Was this memo “leaked” against the wishes of the administration?  Or was it released?  It makes a difference.  As an accurate indicator of administration views, I would give far more weight to a leaked memo than one “approved” for public consumption as part of an initiative of some kind–especially on the eve of Bush’s meeting with Prime Minister Maliki.

Either way, read the full text of the Memo.  It is an incredibly clear, concise discussion of some very big issues.

Here is the stand out section on domestic Iraqi politics (aside from an equally important but passing reference to “the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad”:

Maliki should:…

Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM [Jaish al-Mahdi’s, the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] actors that do not eschew violence…

Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq

[W]e could help [Maliki] form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind…

[S]upport Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists…

If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base:

Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki

Engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.

All of this assumes that Maliki is the guy to do the deed.  The Memo doesn’t really focus on that issue.  But the US policy of seeking a political realignment is the news, whether it proceeds with Maliki or without him.

This political realignment matches on advocated by Charles Krauthammer in a recent column, discussed in a previous post.

Note that Hadley does not think that Sistani has become irrelevant.

Much of the political realignment turns on the idea of splitting the Shia, dumping Sadr, and replacing his bloc with Sunni forces in parliament.

What does this do to the question of regional autonomy in the Shiite south?  Sadr and his bloc oppose SCIRI plans for southern autonomy.  Does this political realignment aim to free Hakim to pursue such a plan?  Or is Hadley convinced that Hakim was bluffing about autonomy and the issue is a dead letter?

Bob Herbert’s War

Posted by Cutler on November 28, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 4 Comments

“We eat and drink while tomorrow they die.” — U2

Bob Herbert’s recent essay, “While Iraq Burns,” deserves comment on this blog for two reasons.

First, because he reiterates a favorite New York Times theme: the War in Iraq requires that Americans renounce unbridled desire and embrace mature responsiblity. I have discussed this theme in previous posts, here and here.

Second, because he invokes the voice of a student at Wesleyan University, the historically “progressive” elite liberal arts college where I am a professor. [A student who called my attention to the Herbert article also noticed that the University, which usually celebrates media attention linked to Wesleyan on its homepage, has thus far opted to skip this prominent depiction of Wesleyan campus sentiment.]

Here is a taste of Herbert’s prophetic jeremiad:

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns…

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war…

With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don’t even think about the war. They’re more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday’s test”…

This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name…

In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…

[T]he burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed…

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support…

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

One could argue that Herbert’s primary concern is the differential sacrifice being made by the “small cadre of volunteers.” Indeed, one might also note that many of these “volunteers” aren’t exactly swimming in disposable income and could use a massive pay hike so that they could join in the shopping fun.

But Herbert doesn’t seem interested in universal shopping as the antidote to inequality. Instead, the real “liberal” aim is universal sacrifice.

This is odd since Herbert sometimes seems to think that US soldiers in Iraq are dying “pointlessly.”

But is Herbert simply demanding that Wesleyan students “care” enough to demand the immediate withdrawal of US troops?

Why, then, invoke the classic “liberal” basis for intervention: the helpless women of Afghanistan Iraq who are increasingly victimized by… the US war machine? No. By “religious extremists” who force “non-Muslim women” to “wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Here is the liberal interventionist call that was always missing in a campaign to oust the secular Baathist government of Iraq! Now Iraq is our kind of mission. We’ll take it from here, Mr. President.

From now on it will be “collective sacrifice” and a “shared burden of responsibility.” Bring back the draft. Let’s fight this war like we fought World War II. Herbert hits all the common themes that Democrats use to prepare the cultural ground for fighting this war better than Bush.

On that basis, I prefer the culture described (accurately, I would argue) by the Wesleyan student quoted by Herbert.

This is a culture of “indifference” that serves as the basis for a new isolationism.

What is the relationship between indifference and an anti-war movement?

As the student says, “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq.” Or die in Iraq.

Herbert tries to suggest that “the Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…” This is the only thing Herbert wrote where I hope (and believe) he is wrong.

The “threshold of tolerance” for US deaths in Iraq is low by historical standards and anti-war activists can only hope it gets lower still. A New York Times inspired “culture of sacrifice,” by contrast, will only raise that threshold.

Impatience is a virtue for the anti-war movement. The advocates of greater US involvement in Iraq are the ones who would have to plead that “so far” US deaths and injuries in Iraq are low by historical standards.
The problem, for Herbert, seems to be that students are thinking only of themselves and do not go “beyond that.”

But what is beyond indifference? No government can fight and win a war on the basis of indifference. It is war that demands something “beyond” indifference: a willingness to fight, die, and accept paternalistic responsibility for the global “Other.”

Herbert focuses his paternalistic spotlight on particular “Others”: “innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies.”

Notice that Herbert doesn’t talk about Iraqis who are blasting the US out of Iraq. No wonder. It would hardly make sense to ask Wesleyan students to “adopt” these rather well armed insurgents as their paternalistic “responsibility.”

Between Herbert’s call for “collective sacrifice” and universal shopping, I’ll take shopping any day of the week.

Arlo Guthrie deserves the last word on the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving:

[T]here’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into
the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out. You know, if
one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.

And that’s what it is , the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and
all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come’s around on the
guitar…

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud…

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

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?

A Shiite Option?

Posted by Cutler on November 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “era of elections” in Iraq, which began in January 2005, may well be remembered as the time when the US was loosely aligned with Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

The Jaafari and Maliki governments (led by the Shiite “Dawa” party) that have ruled Iraq during the era of elections have been dependent on Sadrist political forces.

A change might be in the works. Not an anti-Shiite coup, exactly. But a move against Maliki and Sadr–led by SCIRI, Dawa’s major Shiite political party rival.

If so, such a simple government re-shuffle would potentially also represent an enormous change in US policy because SCIRI strongly supports the break up of Iraq into three highly autonomous zones each with independent control of oil resources.

[Joseph Biden–incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–is also a strong supporter of the break up of Iraq. Did the mid-term election results help generate a change in US policy relative to the idea of partition?]
Partition would mark the “end of Iraq” as an Arab nation and would dramatically tilt the regional balance of power away from a Sunni Arab Gulf and toward a Shia Gulf.

Right Zionist Charles Krauthammer advocates such an Iraqi government re-shuffle in a November 17, 2006 Washington Post column, “Why Iraq is Crumbling.”

Last month American soldiers captured a Mahdi Army death squad leader in Baghdad — only to be forced to turn him loose on order of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Two weeks ago, we were ordered, again by Maliki, to take down the barricades we had established around Sadr City in search of another notorious death squad leader and a missing American soldier.

This is no way to conduct a war. The Maliki government is a failure

Fortunately, however, the ruling Shiites do not have much internal cohesion. Just last month two of the major Shiite religious parties that underpin the Maliki government engaged in savage combat against each other in Amarah.

There is a glimmer of hope in this breakdown of the Shiite front. The unitary Shiite government having been proved such a failure, we should be encouraging the full breakup of the Shiite front in pursuit of a new coalition based on cross-sectarian alliances: the more moderate Shiite elements (secular and religious but excluding the poisonous Sadr), the Kurds and those Sunnis who recognize their minority status but are willing to accept an important, generously offered place at the table.

Such a coalition was almost created after the latest Iraqi elections. It needs to be attempted again.

The clashes in Amarah mentioned by Krauthammer were between two Shiite militias, Sadr’s Mahdi Army and SCIRI’s Badr Brigades.

And the coalition that was “almost created” after the last Iraqi elections was the one that the US pushed at the time: a government run by SCIRI with Abdil al-Mahdi (also Adel Abdel Mahdi, Abdel Mahdi, or Adil Abdul Mahdi) as Prime Minister.

A February 19, 2006 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “The Shiite Choice,” seemed mystified by the US preference for al-Mahdi:

U.S. diplomats seemed to favor Mr. Mahdi for some reason. But unlike Sciri, Mr. Jaafari and his Dawa Party don’t seem dependent on Tehran and are unquestionably indigenous Iraqi patriots.

The Dawa Party–especially in alliance with Sadr–represented a vote of confidence in Iraqi nationalism. Mahdi and Sciri, by contrast, raises the specter of a tilt toward Tehran.

The Journal editorial also notes that Mahdi lost “the permanent nod by a single vote” within the council of the ruling Shiite alliance.

Krauthammer has now offered an unambiguous endorsement of a SCIRI-led Shiite government.

It would be an enormous surprise if the Bush administration actually embraced the idea.

Why? Because the “SCIRI Option” is, in essence, “Plan A” for Iraq, as originally outlined by the Neoconservatives.

With Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, out at the Pentagon and Robert Gates and the Baker Commission preparing for power, it would seem easy enough to dismiss Krauthammer’s call for a new government as revealing about the Neocons, but irrelevant for a Bush administration replete with Right Arabists.

But then comes a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed by Laura Rozen entitled “Unleash the Shiites?” (thanks b) that claims some support for this option within the Bush administration:

This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward…

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option…

[T]he strategy could drive Iraq’s Sunni tribes to align themselves more closely with Al Qaeda. And it seems certain to further alienate Iraq’s Sunni neighbors and erstwhile U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan — while strengthening Iran’s hand in Iraq.

Combine this speculation with the Monica Duffy Toft Washington Post Op-Ed on the “Shiite option,” discussed in a previous post, and one begins to reconsider the death of the Right Zionist plans for Iraq.

On the assumption that personnel is politics, Right Zionists have been quite demoralized by the appointment of Robert Gates.

If Right Zionists are losing influence in Washington, however, it is possible that their favored “proxies” in Baghdad will render the Right Zionists victors in absentia.

If so, then the recent victories began with the extraordinary Iraqi parliamentary vote which established the framework for the creation of a massive, autonomous Shiite region in the oil-rich south of Iraq.

During the session, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani — the parliament speaker, a Sunni Arab belonging to one of the boycotting parties — announced that quorum had been reached and called for a vote. He then left the chambers to join the walkout, handing over his duties to his Shiite deputy, Khaled al-Attiya.

Did al-Mashhadani defy the Right Arabist US Ambassador? If so, was he not implicitly doing the bidding of Right Zionists?

At the time, the vote was taken by some observers to represent a loss for the Bush administration.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

A frontal rebuke to Right Arabists, yes.

A frontal rebuke to Right Zionists? Maybe not.

[Add to this the following potentially huge news:

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani declared on state television late Thursday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most outspoken defenders of Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs after the U.S.-led invasion.

This would represent an extraordinary break with prior US attempts to court the Sunni minority.

Bolani’s roots are not with SCIRI, but they are with Shiites who favor regional autonomy and who have backed efforts to help the Badr Brigades win control away from rival militias in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

More signs of a reinvigorated SCIRI-led Shiite option?]

Our Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

When was the last time that competing US foreign policy factions backed different sides in a civil war? (Not a rhetorical question). What are the consequences?These questions are sparked by two somewhat obscure Op-Eds.

The more pominent of the two was published by Harvard’s Monica Duffy Toft in the Washington Post and entitled “Iraq is Gone. Now What?

Toft, whose website notes that her research is funded by the conservative Smith Richardson Foundation, argues that it is too late to hope for political reconciliation in Iraq. Civil war being what it is, it is now time to ask, “Which side are you on?” Which side within that civil war?

Some 3 1/2 years after the U.S. invasion, most scholars and policy analysts accept that Iraq is now in a civil war…

A negotiated settlement is what the United States has attempted to implement for the past two years in Iraq, and it is failing

Military victories, by contrast, historically result in the most stable outcomes.

[T]he United States is now faced with an awful choice: leave and allow events to run their course or lend its dwindling support to one or more of the emerging states.

If it supports the Kurds and Shiites — the two peoples most abused under Hussein, most betrayed by the United States since 1990 and, as a result, the two most worthy of our support on moral grounds — it risks alienating important regional allies: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. On the other hand, doing the right thing (supporting the Shiites) also means doing the most practical thing, which is ensuring a stable peace and establishing long-term prospects for democracy and economic development. As a bonus, it is possible that U.S. support of the Shiite majority might pay diplomatic dividends as regards Iran’s impending nuclearization.

If the United States supports the Sunnis, it will be in a position very close to its Vietnam experience: struggling to underwrite the survival of a militarily untenable, corrupt and formerly brutal minority regime with no hope of gaining broader legitimacy in the territory of the former Iraq.

Moreover, even if successful, supporting the Sunnis — in effect the incumbents in what was until recently a brutal dictatorship — will result in a much greater likelihood of future war and regional instability (not to mention authoritarianism), even with a formidable U.S. military presence (and the less-than-formidable U.S. presence has already become politically untenable in the United States).

I may be going out on an interpretive limb here, but I read Toft to be signing on in support of the Shiites in the Iraqi civil war. Yes?

I’m not sure how much Toft’s vote matters, but I find it interesting that she is picking sides.

On the flip side of the American civil war over Iraq is an Op-ed whose status seems a bit shakey. It is an essay entitled “Why We Must Embrace the Sunnis.” Allegedly authored by “Tim Greene” it first appeared on the website of “Global Politician.” It appears to have been withdrawn from the site, although the cache is available and it was picked up on third party sites before it disappeared from Global Politician.

Why track down such an obscure publication?

First, because the author, “Tim Greene,” is identified in the following way:

Tim Greene is Chief of the Anti-terrorism training section under the U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) at Camp Muwaqqar, Amman. Tim is currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.

A very interesting job. ICITAP is an interesting shop, to say the least.

Anyway, Tim Greene has written a rabidly anti-Shiite tract, even as he apparently sits in Jordan where some of the obvious potential leaders of a would-be anti-Shiite coup are in waiting.

It is evident – from this man on the ground – that the Shiites cannot govern, the militias are in revenge mode and will never be disarmed or disbanded by a Shiite leader, and they are spreading their chaos more and more throughout the country. Iran meanwhile is loving each and every minute of it and even supporting Shiites financially, with training and with weapons (helpfully smuggled across the border).

With this continued ruling of the country by Shiite parties and militias we will see the entire Middle East region destabilize more and more. In my opinion it is the beginning of an ethnic war… a holy war that has to be controlled now by whatever force and relationships are necessary to control it…

Shiite religious clerics, starting with the top Ayatollah Ali Khomeini of Iran and down to Ali Sistani, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim and Moqtada Al-Sadr could control the Shiite militias and death squads if they wanted to. All that has to happen is for Khomeini to order a cessation – ordering Sistani who will then hand the order down to Hakim and Sadr.
(The Shiites are after all extremely loyal to their religious clerics. Whatever they say is the truth, regardless of reality, fact or fiction.)

Alas, that order will never come, because they don’t want it to come. They will issue a fatwa (death order) and jihad (holy war) against the US and Coalition Forces and the Sunni ethnic population before they ever help us get control through Shiite religious ties.

So yes, the Shiites should expect the US and Coalition governments to shift their support and now is the time to do that. Although it will prove difficult to change positions, to take down the militias and get back peace and security in Iraq, the Sunnis are the group to lead us to the required balance for that “victory”, I am confident.

So, there you have it. A civil war. Or two civil wars: one in Iraq; one in Washington.

Which Side Are You On?

The Democrats and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on November 13, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

New York Times headline: “Democrats Push for Troop Cuts Within Months.” Reuters: “U.S. Democrats say will push for Iraq withdrawal

So, were the Republicans right all along? Do leading Democratics really want to “cut and run” after all?

Would that it were so.

The most prominent voice cited by the Times is that of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee. What is Levin actually saying?

“We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months,” Mr. Levin said in an appearance on the ABC News program “This Week.” In a telephone interview later, Mr. Levin added, “The point of this is to signal to the Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over and that they are going to have to solve their own problems.”

Levin’s approach is fundamentally tactical. There is no retreat here. Levin proposes to threaten the Iraqi government with US military withdrawal in order to maximize US political leverage in Iraq.

Set aside, for the moment, the bizarre spectacle of an occupying army threatening to withdrawal from a country in which the vast majority of the population allegedly favors a US withdrawal.

As the New York Times article makes clear, Levin is bluffing:

In the interview after his television appearance today, Mr. Levin said that any resolution about troop reductions in the next session of Congress would not include detailed benchmarks mandating how many troops should be withdrawn by specific dates.

And, now that the mid-term election campaigning is over, the White House is perfectly willing to acknowledge that Levin isn’t really saying anything they do not support.

The White House signaled a willingness to listen to the Democrats’ proposals, with Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, saying in two television appearances that the president was open to “fresh ideas” and a “fresh look.”…

“You know, we’re willing to talk about anything,” he said on “This Week.” “I don’t think we’re going to be receptive to the notion there’s a fixed timetable at which we automatically pull out, because that could be a true disaster for the Iraqi people. But what we’ve always been prepared to do, and remain prepared to do, is indeed what Senators Levin and Biden were talking about, is put pressure on the Iraqi government to take over themselves.”

What does Levin aim to accomplish with all this “pressure” on the Iraqi government?

The position was most clearly articulated in Levin’s June 19, 2006 “sense of the Congress” amendment regarding Iraq policy, the full text of which is available here.

Sectarian violence has surpassed the insurgency and terrorism as the main security threat in Iraq, increasing the prospects of a broader civil war which could draw in Iraq’s neighbors…

Iraq’s security forces are heavily infiltrated by sectarian militia…

The current open-ended commitment of United States forces in Iraq is… a deterrent to the Iraqis making the political compromises and personnel and resource commitments that are needed for the stability and security of Iraq…

[T]he Iraq Government should promptly and decisively disarm the militias and remove those members of the Iraqi security forces whose loyalty to the Iraq Government is in doubt…

As John McCain understands, there is a simpler way of saying all that.

Appearing on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” Mr. McCain said that “the present situation is unacceptable,”…

Emphasizing the importance of breaking the back of the Mahdi Army, the militia allied with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. McCain said the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, “has to understand that we need to put down Sadr, and we need to take care of the Mahdi Army, and we need to stop the sectarian violence that is on the increase in a non-acceptable level.”

Or, as McCain said last week: “al-Sadr has to be taken out.”

Thank heavens. The “moderates” have taken control in Washington.

Here is the blood thirsty war cry of Vice President Cheney from a pre-election, October 30, 2006 interview:

Q: …And I also want to ask you, in that same vain of American toughness in winning the war, this guy al Sadr is still out there. There’s been a warrant for his arrest for three years. His death squads, his militias, they’re killing rival Shias, they’re killing Sunnis. They tried to plot to take over the interior department in Baghdad. Why is he still on the loose? A lot of people say, why don’t we rub out al Sadr? Why don’t we take him into custody? That would be a sign of winning.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we’ve moved — obviously, we took the chief bad guy in Saddam Hussein, and he’s on trial now…

Q But al Sadr stays out there —

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well —

Q — capture.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: He is — obviously speaks for a significant number of Iraqis, has a strong following.

Is it me, or do the “moderates” seem a little trigger happy now that the election has passed?

Maybe that is because they aren’t really “moderate” about Iraq. They are simply bi-partisan in their radical approach to the war in Iraq.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Right Arabists to bring the troops home.  If they are going to try to put the Shiite “genie” back in the bottle with an anti-Shiite coup, they are going to have a lot of killing to do.
Here is a recent Brent Scowcroft interview from Turkey:

Question: You were opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Do you feel vindicated now that we see chaos there? How do you see the situation as it is today and what do you see for the future?

Scowcroft: No, I don’t have any feeling of satisfaction. Regardless of how we got there, we are there, and it is a difficult situation. Far more difficult than the administration expected. And it will be increasingly hard to stay in because it has become an unusually important issue in domestic U.S. politics. But I think we have to stay and try and manage the situation to get some kind of a resolution where we can have an Iraq that is relatively stable.

The Right Arabists will not withdraw from Iraq.

And, just for the record, they will not embrace Biden’s partition plan (no surprise here):

Question: The notion of dividing Iraq along Ottoman lines is being voiced by some in Washington. Do you think this idea will capture the imagination of the U.S. people who clearly want to see a way out of what is evidently a growing mess?…

Scowcroft: There are serious people that have advocated this. For me it is inconceivable.

It is depressing to acknowledge, but one possible scenario is that Rumsfeld was dumped to make way for someone willing to forget about “military transformation” and “force protection” and do the dirty deed that Rumsfeld refused to do: send more troops.

A pity that this has the look of a concession to “critics” who demanded nothing less.

Against the War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 09, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 1 Comment

In a previous post, I proposed that the Financial Times might provide interesting coverage of the election:

[V]otes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Here is Ed Luce from the Financial Times on Wednesday, in an article entitled “Iraq War Decimates Republican Vote“:

Whether they were representing districts in America’s traditionally liberal north-east, in the more embattled swing states of the Midwest, along the ideologically pragmatic states of the west or even in conservative districts south of the Mason-Dixon line, Republican incumbents were punished for their association with President George W. Bush’s unpopular war in Iraq…

The principal story of the 2006 mid-term elections is that voters were driven by their opposition to the war in Iraq,” said Charlie Cook, whose Cook political report is widely read among pundits in Washington. “This was not a vote for the Democrats so much as against President Bush and against the war in Iraq.”

Financial Times, old faithful.

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.

Israel, Iraq and the Elections

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

Were the midterm elections a referendum on the Right Zionist (aka “neocon”) war in Iraq?

Maybe. But as I’ve previously noted, the Democrats not particularly reliable opponents of Right Zionist policies in Iraq. The most strident critics of Right Zionist war aims in Iraq continue to be Republicans–specifically, the folks I call Right Arabists.

How will the midterm elections influence these battles?

With the control of the Senate still unclear at this writing, the broad contours of power have yet to be determined. Nevertheless, some of the details are clear.

Matthew E. Berger of the Jerusalem Post has written two articles that help map the terrain. The first report is an October 26, 2006 article entitled, “Is there an ally in the House?” and the second is from November 2, 2006 entitled, “Who’s good for the Jews?”

The October article makes some important points about areas to watch, given Democratic leadership in the House:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader who would become speaker of the House, is a strong pro-Israel supporter…

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, is in line to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee if the Democrats win. But some rumblings suggest other lawmakers – namely Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) – may bypass him because of Lantos’ support for the Iraq war. Privately, congressional aides say Lantos has been reassured by Pelosi that he will get the chairmanship; both men are considered strong backers of the Jewish state.

The more intriguing scenario rests on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) is in line to chair it. He has been an occasional critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and their influence over Middle East policy. But at the same time, pro-Israel advocates say he has been more than willing to cede issues to his subcommittee leaders, and the new foreign operations subcommittee chair would be Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a strong, proactive Israel backer.

Among House Democrats, most of the policy differences are measured within a broad, pro-Israel consensus. I guess one might keep an eye on David Obey.

If there is real “news” from the Senate race, it requires a little digging.

The headline story is that in places like Rhode Island, Democratic challengers defeated Republican incumbents. It looks, on the surface at least, like a rejection of Bush, Cheney and the “neocon” war.

Look more closely.

Incumbent Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee was a Right Arabist critic of the Neocons.

Just to get a flavor for his views, have a look at a Providence Journal Op-Ed he published on January 20, 2004 entitled, “Foes of ‘land for peace’ Put Mideast Peace at Risk” (registration required):

IN OCTOBER, I traveled with a delegation to Iraq. While in Mosul and Baghdad, I asked about Arabic graffiti we saw scrawled here and there. The answer from our escort was “Oh, a lot of it is crazy stuff about Israel — such as ‘Israel is taking over Iraq.’ The extremists use the Palestinian cause a lot in their propaganda.”…

[I]t is logical to conclude that the “global jihad” is intensified greatly by the dispute over this land... [T]he peace process has been at a dead stop. Why is that?

Two recent events have been especially perplexing. Vice President Dick Cheney just hired as his Mideast adviser a fervent foe of “land for peace,” David Wurmser. His selection is a staggering disappointment to those of us who support the road map.

Second, there was barely a whisper of repudiation from anyone in the Bush administration when Gen. William G. Boykin was found to have appeared publicly in uniform making inflammatory statements disparaging the Islamic religion.

Back in 2002 when the Republicans took control of the Senate, Chafee also grabbed the chairmanship of a key Senate Foreign Relations committee, the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs responsible for oversight of Iraq, Iran, etc, displacing the Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, an Iraq hawk and the ranking Republican who was then in line for the gavel.

Here is the Roll Call report from January 29, 2003 entitled “Chafee Gets Key Gavel” (no online link):

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), the only Senate Republican to have voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, is poised to take the gavel of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Middle East policy.

The Rhode Island moderate’s selection to helm the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs came as a surprise to some panel observers, who had thought as recently as last Thursday that the gavel would go to Sen. Sam Brownback (R).

It would be a mistake to overstate the importance of such a subcomittee chairmanship. But every little bit counts and the defeat of Lincoln Chafee can hardly be interpreted as a defeat for Right Zionists like David Wurmser.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. We’ll see if she gets the gavel.

Where does Boxer stand on Israel?

Chalabi and Re-Baathification

Posted by Cutler on November 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

Gideon Rachman, the “official” blogger of the Financial Times, recently ran into Ahmed Chalabi in London and it prompted a recollection of Chalabi’s role in the US invasion of Iraq.

Rachman notes a change in Chalabi’s “program” these days:

[I]n one significant respect, Chalabi’s message now differs markedly from that of his original neo-con sponsors. While they are clearly itching to take on Iran, Chalabi is urging reconciliation. He argues that the Iranians would be willing to play a positive role in stabilising Iraq, if Iran could be assured that the new Iraq would not then be used as base to attack them. Chalabi wants to convene a regional peace conference and worries that – “Iraq is being turned into a battleground between Iran and the United States.” But even though a respectable crowd turned out to see Chalabi today, I have the feeling that the man’s audience is dwindling away.

Chalabi has reinvented himself any number of different times, including one recent incarnation as an ally of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Perhaps feeling his audience “dwindling away,” Chalabi may be reinventing himself in an even more dramatic way as a champion of re-Baathification!

A Washington Post article–“Proposal Would Rehire Members of Hussein’s Party“–reports the following:

A high-ranking commission of Iraq’s Shiite-led government said Monday it had prepared a draft law that could return tens of thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to their government jobs…

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, said in an interview that the commission had drafted a law for parliament that would give 1.5 million former Baathists who “excommunicate” themselves from the party the option of returning to their former government jobs or drawing a pension for their past employment…

Lami said 3,000 or so top former Baathists would be given their pensions but would not be allowed to resume government employment. And about 1,500 high-level former Baathists would be barred from ever resuming their jobs or drawing a pension.

This has all the markings of a Chalabi move.  Chalabi has always been the most ardent supporter of the “Commission for de-Baathification.”  And who is Lami? An article in Al Hayat from February 23, 2005, republished by the BBC on February 24, 2005 (no on-line link) identifies Lami in this way:

“Ali Faysal al-Lami [is a] member of the Shi’i Political Bureau and the political coordinator of the group in the United Iraqi Alliance that supports the nomination of Iraqi National Congress Leader Ahmad al-Chalabi to the post of prime minister.”

It would appear that Chalabi is now courting the Baathist insurgency.  Presumably, he has the strong support of US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in this regard.

One wonders, however, if his Right Zionist friends are similarly prepared to adopt such a conciliatory approach to the “old guard” Sunni Arab Baathist ruling elite.   If so, this would be far more significant that all the pseudo-self-criticism that has been making news of late.

Iraq, Vietnam and Democrats

Posted by Cutler on November 06, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I have been pretty relentlessly negative (here, here, here, here and here, for example) about the significance of any Democrat mid-term victories, at least in terms of the war in Iraq.

I stand by that analysis. As some Neocons themselves appear to understand, the Democratic party is not fundamentally opposed to the Neocon war in Iraq.

There are, however, a few additional points to consider.

First, votes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Will the mainstream media emphasis focus on the anti-war “No” vote or the Democrat victory?

In Connecticut, for example, the Democrat Senate primary several months ago was a clear referendum on the war and Ned Lamont won as an anti-war candidate. While Lamont will probably hold all the votes he won in the primary, Joe Lieberman, running as an “independent Democrat” will probably trounce Lamont in the general election, if only because Republicans gagged their own candidate and backed Lieberman, even as the Democrats party hedged its bets by promising to preserve Lieberman’s seniority if elected. Lieberman then made his seniority a bread-and-butter campaign issue.

In this instance, the story will correctly focus on a Democrat, pro-war victory.

In other cases, however, the spin may focus on the implicit, popular, anti-war “No,” rather than the highly ambiguous Democrat “Yes.”

If so, then a media feedback loop might help make the election an occasion to reinforce popular anti-war sentiment.

I take some comfort in the fact that Marshall Wittmann is worried about his newly adopted party. Wittmann, a Kristol/McCain Neocon who ostensibly “left the GOP” for the right wing of the Democratic Party, predicted that something like what I’m calling a “productive misunderstanding” might emerge from the mid-term elections.

Speaking to Byron York of the National Review for a September 11, 2006 article (full text available online from a third party) written in the aftermath of the Lamont primary victory, Wittmann seemed to fear the worst.

“It’s going to drive the Democratic presidential primaries to the left on national security and the Iraq War,” says Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, “and it’s going to make it difficult for anyone to stand by their decision to vote to authorize the war.” The rise of netroots anger, Wittmann adds, will “send the message that centrist hawks are unwelcome in the Democratic party,” which could affect the party for years to come…

“While the Republicans may be forced to reform themselves after the ’06 elections, the Democrats will be emboldened and not inclined to change, so the weaknesses that were evident in the ’04 campaign will never be addressed,” says Marshall Wittmann. “The paradox of ’06 is that the Republicans could be forced to get their act together while the Democratic Left will be completely reinforced by the results.”

We’ll see. I’m not sure that the Democratic Left, such as it is, will manage to run Wittmann and the Democratic Leadership Council out of the party. It isn’t even clear that Wittman really believes this. His professed “fears” about the Democratic party may simply be Wittmann preparing the way for his inevitable decision to return to the Republican party in time for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Finally, I have a question for those who know more about Vietnam and the Democratic Party:

What prepared the way for an anti-war challenge to a Democrat war in Vietnam back in the Johnson years?

My fear, today, is that the Democrats will be more effective than the Republicans at mobilizing popular support for the war.

The Johnson years tell a different story, don’t they?

As the Democrats return to positions of power, we need to review the history of the progressive de-legitimation of Johnson’s war.

How to prepare the way for a critique of “our” war (the one inherited by “competent” Democrats who presumably don’t allow for easy but narrow critiques of Halliburton/Bechtel cronyism and corruption, etc.)?

My hunch is that “Anybody But Bush” isn’t going to cut it.

Be Afraid

Posted by Cutler on November 05, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 4 Comments

Some important dynamics of the war in Iraq have been influenced, if not driven, by Washington politics. The mid-term elections and the coming Democratic victories will mark another turning point.

But do not expect cut and run. The next two years are likely to mark a major intensification of the war in Iraq and a renewal of the Neocon project.

Here is a time line that helps explain why:

2002 Midterms: Prior to the 2002 mid-term elections, the Bush administration sends lots of mixed signals about policy in the Middle East and alienates Right Zionists with Cheney’s tour of the Arab world.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2002 elections out of the way, the Bush administration moves toward its most strident Right Zionist policies with the invasion of Iraq and a radical program of de-Baathification in Iraq.

2004 Presidential Elections: Ahead of the 2004 elections, Rove allegedly demands “no war in ’04” and the Bush administration appears to moderate its policy in Iraq, appointing an ex-Baathist as its first Prime Minister, reversing previous de-Baathification orders, and handing Fallujah to a Baathist military officer. Brent Scowcroft predicts that a second term will see diminished Neocon power.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2004 elections out of the way, the Bush administration reverses course and reinvigorates the Neocon project, launching a massive assault on Fallujah and sponsoring three major votes–elections in January and December 2005 and the constitutional referendum in October 2005–that alienate Sunni Arabs and empower the Shiite and Kurdish populations.

2006 Midterms: The Bush administration welcomes the formation of an Iraq Study Group led by Realist/Right Arabist James Baker and suggests that it is willing to consider all kinds of tactical changes, including quiet chatter about an anti-Shiite coup.

Neocon Aftermath: It is too early to fill in the blanks regarding the Neocon Aftermath of the 2006 midterms. But one can imagine the basic outlines: hang Saddam, further alienate Sunni Arabs through US support for Shiite regional autonomy via a new hydrocarbons law, renew push toward regime change in Iran, etc?).

The general pattern of pre-election hesitancy and post-election audacity looks set to continue.

Exhibit A: Dick Cheney vows “full speed ahead” in Iraq:

It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue what we think is right,” Cheney said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not running for office. We’re doing what we think is right.”

“I think it’ll have some effect perhaps in the Congress,” he said of the election’s outcome, “but the president’s made clear what his objective is. It’s victory in Iraq. And it’s full speed ahead on that basis. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Won’t 2006 be different? After all, one might argue, the other elections resulted in Republican victories and this time the Democrats are going to win.

Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the Dems win both the House and Senate.

What will the Democrats do?

The Los Angeles Times quotes Marshall Wittmann, the figure who perfectly embodies the common ground that unites John McCain/Bill Kristol Neocons and Dem Zionists:

“It will be a new day,” said Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who is now with the moderate Democratic Leadership Council. “The real factor [Bush] has to fear is a collapse of support among Republicans, as well as Democrats.”

Some analysts, including Wittmann, expect that Democrats would use any new leverage to push Bush to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; his ouster has been demanded by a growing list of Republicans as well as Democrats.

I do not think they will manage to get Bush to dump Rumsfeld. No matter. The real issue is that Congressional pressure from some leading Democrats will be based on a bi-partisan McCain-inspired critique of Rumsfeld for not sending enough troops to win. The Democrat “critique” will function as a demand for more trooops.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol recently suggested that after the mid-terms, everything would be possible. Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

Neocons: Abandon Ship!

Posted by Cutler on November 04, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

On the eve of the mid-term elections, an impressive gaggle of Neocons have finally jumped ship.

The news comes in the form of a widely discussed, partially published Vanity Fair article where they collectively pile on with criticism of the war in Iraq.

This is big news, but there are two issues that will almost certainly get lost in the media frenzy.

First, this is not a Neocon (aka Right Zionist) apology. The Vanity Fair article is entitled, “Neo Culpa,” but that is highly misleading. Richard Perle and others interviewed for the article are conceding defeat in the factional battle with Right Arabists. They are not accepting responsibility for defeat or chaos in Iraq.

Here is Perle:

“The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.… At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.”

That is a slap at Right Arabists, plain and simple.

Michael Rubin is even more explicit about the critique of the Right Arabist position:

The president’s actions, Mr Rubin said, had been “not much different from what his father did on February 15 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up and then had second thoughts and didn’t do anything once they did.”

The second issue is that the Neocons have long been frustrated with the execution of the war and have long known that they faced serious opposition within the administration.

Previously, however, most held their tongues.

As Barbara Lerner wrote in May 2006,

In 2006, as the bloodshed in Iraq persisted and the regional situation deteriorated, I stopped criticizing our policies in Iraq for the same reason many other conservatives have lately been reluctant to do so: for fear of adding weight to a Leftist alternative that is even worse. Of course we can’t just cut and run in Iraq.

So, what has changed? Are they now prepared to cut and run?

Not a chance.

The timing of this story–rather than its content–provides the real news here. The Neocon critique of the Bush administration is, in essence, a very late prediction about the mid-term elections. The Neocons understand that the Bush administration is going down and they are already positioning themselves to help write the Dem Zionist script.

The issue is not whether the Neocons will influence the election, as Steve Clemons suggests they might. The Neocons have decided the election is over.
The point is that they are building the case for a Democrat position that argues Rumsfeld never sent enough troops, etc.

The key missive here comes from Robert Kagan, who argues that the Dems will perform well as the part of war in Iraq.

The Neocons are “neo” because some of them were once Democrats from the hawish, Zionist, “Scoop” Jackson wing of the party.  Kagan is surely correct.  The Democrats will “take it from here” Mr. President.

Gerecht vs. Galbraith

Posted by Cutler on November 03, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

As noted in a previous post, the New Republic Online has sponored a debate between Peter Galbraith, the leading advocate of Iraqi partition, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading Right Zionist at AEI.

Galbraith made his case and now Gerecht has offered his response.

The importance of this debate is that Zionists are split between those like Galbraith whose primary political “investment” in Iraq has always been with the Kurds and those like Gerecht for whom the Iraqi Shia constitute the political foundation for the US project in Iraq.

On the Kurdish question, Gerecht offers Galbraith his sympathy but little more.

It would be enormously unwise for Iraq’s Kurds to exchange de facto independence with an explicit declaration of national sovereignty… But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that the Kurds… can pull this off and sustain their de facto Kurdish republic. That’s as far as you go, Peter.

In truth, Kurdistan is probably as far as Peter wants to go.  Readers of Galbraith’s book, The End of Iraq, will find that aside from his passionate attachment ot the Kurds, Galbraith is otherwise quite sympathetic to the Right Arabist critique of US policies that empower the Iraqi Shia.

Gerecht essentially notes as much in his response to Galbraith:

You… regularly err in your association of the Iraqi and Iranian Shia, implying a growing subservience of the former to the latter. In all probability, the distance between the two–even with Iran’s closest Shia allies in Iraq–is going the other way as the Arab Shia gain more self-confidence and fear the Sunni Arabs less.

Gerecht is surely right about Galbraith, who never acknowledges the Right Zionist hope of facilitating and exploiting divisions between Najaf–the home of Iraqi Shiite clerical authority–and Qom–home to the Iranian clerical establishment.

It is also interesting to note that in November 2006, Gerecht remains committed to the dream of Iraqi Shiite power as something distinct from Iranian power, if not as a potential challenge to Iranian power.

The most interesting part of Gerecht’s debate with Galbraith has nothing to do with his critique of Galbraith and the Kurds, however.  It turns on Gerecht’s view of Shiite moves to establish an autonomous region in Southern Iraq, including the oil-rich city of Basra.

It is a dubious proposition to suggest that the efforts of Abdul Aziz Al Hakim and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) for a large autonomous region in the south means that Hakim, SCIRI, and others who have backed this plan have given up on the idea of one Iraq, particularly one Arab Iraq. They haven’t. Hakim is after a power base. Such an entity doesn’t represent for him–or for any other Shia that I can find–a geographic expression of a serious religious or regional affection. The autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas are not quite in this camp, but that’s a completely different issue from what Hakim has advanced. Many Shia, both religious and secular, have liked the autonomy idea, since it gives them a redoubt where the Arab Sunnis can no longer interfere….

It’s important to remember that this idea of a Shia zone was developed in 2004, at a time when the Shia were still fearful of the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors. They had not yet thrown off the Saddam-era fear of a Sunni return to power or of the possibility that the Arab Sunnis–through their greater martial virtue and communal discipline–could slaughter their way back to power. When Hakim first met with President Bush in Washington after the liberation, he stressed the need for the United States to stay the course in Iraq.

Today, the statements of Hakim to pay attention to are those that depict the United States as an obstacle to an effective counterinsurgency. (Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki has made similar allusions.) It’s a good bet that Hakim and others in SCIRI now believe that they can more effectively handle the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors on their own, since they are not restrained by America’s humane rules of engagement. For what the Sunnis have done, these Shia, who now perhaps represent a majority of the community, intend a horrific vengeance.

From this point on in the Gerecht essay, his focus turns away from the partition question and toward a vision of full-blown civil war that would consume Iraq and the entire Gulf if the United States withdraws.  This is amounts to a concise restatement of Gerecht’s previously published, longer response to the idea of US withdrawal from Iraq.

At least two questions emerge from Gerecht’s discussion of the SCIRI bid for autonomy.

First, the idea of Shiite autonomy in the south may originate in 2004, but it was only beginning in August 2006 that Hakim made a largely successful push for legislatition that would authorize the formation of such a region.  Why the 2006 push?

Maybe Hakim still fears “a Sunni return to power,” in the form of a US-backed anti-Shiite coup.

Second, what to make of Gerecht’s reference to the “autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas” as a “completely different issue” from what Hakim has advanced.

Gerecht is silent about his own opinions regarding the autonomy-loving people of Basra.  My hunch is that these are not “his” people–his money continues to be on Hakim, Sistani, etc., whom he considers Iraqi nationalists.

In terms of the larger issue of partition, it might be worth noting that it was in Basra that big oil was presumably supposed to find common cause with Right Zionist plans for the breakup of Iraq.

This was central issue in previous posts on the political contours of Basra.

The dream of Shiite autonomy in Basra was most clearly–and favorably–sketched in a February 27, 2005 James Glanz article in New York Times entitled “Iraq’s Serene South Asks, Who Needs Baghdad?

[I]f no inconsiderable number of people here have their way, the provinces of the south, home to rich oil reserves but kept poor by Saddam Hussein, will soon become a separate country, or at least a semi-autonomous region in a loosely federal Iraq. The clear southern preference for profit over politics could make it a place where foreign companies willing to invest hard cash are able to do business.

‘’Quite a few people prefer to be separated, because they are disappointed,’’ said Sadek A. Hussein, a Basra native who is a professor in the college of agriculture at the University of Basra, and who speaks with the mildness characteristic of southern Iraq. The trait is refreshing in itself, in a country better known for its firebrands, chatterboxes and just plain loudmouths

And Zuhair Kubba, a board member of the Basra Chamber of Commerce, said that, in contrast to the xenophobia dogging other regions of Iraq, Basra’s history made it likely to welcome foreign investment.

‘’They have a port, and being a port, they have experience with foreigners,’’ said Mr. Kubba, a follower of the largely pacifist and apolitical Sheikhi branch of Shiite Islam, whose holiest cleric, Sayyed Ali Al-Mousawi, is based in a Basra mosque.

Some foreign companies, including Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that is repairing parts of Iraq’s oil industry under American government contracts, are already listening. The company is moving its center of operations from the insurgency-ridden streets of Baghdad to the south, said Ray Villegas, a general manager for the company, and not just to be closer to its field work, which is mainly in the south.

‘’This is the place you want to be,’’ Mr. Villegas said. ‘’It’s much different down here. You have flat open land, so you have a lot of visibility. We don’t have the day-to-day traffic problems that you experience up in Baghdad, so the opportunity is much less for insurgents to act.’’

Most of all, he said, ‘’we’ve found that the Iraqis here are much more willing and accommodating to approach the Americans.’’

All of this was a dream that subsequently devolved into Shiite factional warfare.

Gerecht suggests that Hakim’s talk of Shiite autonomy is a completely different issue than the old dream of autonomy for Basra.  It is not Hakim’s dream.  It is not Gerecht’s dream.

How about Kellogg, Brown & Root?

I suggested in a previous post that international oil companies were most likely uninterested in the breakup of Iraq, except insofar as the threat of partition could be used to leverage more lucrative oil deals from Sunni and Shiite nationalists in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
The only exception would be a pact between the oil majors and the “autonomy-loving people of Basra.”

If such a pact is in the works, however, it isn’t getting a lot of public attention–apart from that provocative James Glanz New York Times article of February 2005.

Is everyone sure that dream is dead and buried?

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Posted by Cutler on November 02, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a previous post, I suggested that the primary function of high-profile proposals to facilitate the breakup of Iraq was to leverage attractive terms for international oil companies in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
Be that as it may, it may be helpful to recall where various foreign policy factions stand on the “partition” question.

Right Arabists

Right Arabists have never supported the breakup of Iraq.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft had to choose between the “breakup” of Iraq and the restoration of Saddam Hussein.

They chose Saddam Hussein over “breakup.”

As Bush and Scowcroft noted in their 1998 memoir, A World Transformed (p.489):

[N]either the United States nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Breaking up the Iraqi state would pose its own destabilizing problems.

Today, Right Arabists like Anthony Cordesman remain unalterably opposed to the breakup of Iraq.

Right Zionists

In making the case for toppling Saddam, Right Zionists were inevitably drawn into a debate with Right Arabists over the probability and desirability of the breakup of Iraq.

William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan, writing in their 2003 book The War Over Iraq (p.97), hedge on the issue of Iraqi unity:

[Secretary of State Colin] Powell and others have argued that if the United States alienates central Iraq’s Sunnis… Iraq could be plunged into chaos… But predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are… questionable…

If anything, one could argue that the aim of Iraqi unity may run counter to the aim of Iraqi stability… [M]ake Iraq a federation… A central government in Baghdad would still control most of the levers of Iraqi power, but each ethnic community would be granted limited powers of self-government…

AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht also hedges in a June 2004 essay, “Democratic Revolution in Iraq?“:

Given the regular pummeling of the Kurds by Sunni Arabs in modern Iraq, the Kurdish desire for considerable autonomy is sensible and morally compelling. There has been no bad blood between Arab Shiites and the Kurds, but the latter are well aware that a centralized Iraqi state will empower Arabs. And the Shiites have probably been the staunchest defenders of Iraqi nationalism. Sistani will not allow the Kurds to retain the authority that the Transitional Administrative Law, the interim constitution, would give them.

There is no easy answer to this. Ultimately, the Kurds have to weigh the risks and gains of independence. Washington ought not to abandon them. But it should encourage them to seek political compromises and constitutional protections that circumscribe but do not nullify the principle of one-man, one-vote. The Kurds are unlikely to find a more thoughtful Shiite Arab counterpart than Ayatollah Sistani, who in the history of Shiism can only be called a democratic revolutionary.

Others at AEI, however, are more sympathetic to the breakup of Iraq. John Yoo, for example, penned a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed in August 2005 entitled, “A United Iraq–What’s the Point?

[C]an Iraq really exist as one nation?

The Kurds and Shiites negotiated the draft charter, the Sunnis are left to take it or leave it, and the whole affair has literally papered over deep divisions about regional autonomy, oil revenues, Islamic law and more.

By demanding one new Iraqi state, the U.S. and its allies are… spending blood and treasure to preserve a country that no longer makes sense as a state, and to keep together people who only want to be separate. Iraqis might get closer to democracy, and the U.S. might get closer to its goals in the Middle East, if everyone would jettison the fiction of a unified, single Iraq.

Dem Zionists

Traditionally, liberal Democrats are the most prominent defenders of the breakup of Iraq.

I noted as much in a May 2006 post.

Senator Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb have published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:

America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.

There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:

“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (”U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)

Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.

The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.

His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.

Right Zionists vs. Dem Zionists

Notwithstanding some obvious affinities between Right Zionist and Dem Zionist proposals for US policy in Iraq, there appears to be an escalating war of words between Right Zionists and Dem Zionists on the issue of partition.

At one recent United States Institute of Peace panel discussion on Iraq (available online in a C-Span video recording of the event, at 1:07:21), AEI’s Michael Rubin questioned the motivations of partition advocates like Galbraith, suggesting that it is “easy to argue for the breakup of Iraq, especially if you are paid by the Kurdistan Regional Government” or “if you have significant interests in some Norwegian oil companies” that have signed oil development agreements with the Kurds. Rubin sugggest that it was important to “look a little bit more into motivations of some of these breakup theories.”

So, too, Reuel Marc Gerecht is poised take on the Dem Zionists. The New Republic Online is hosting an online debate between Peter Galbraith and Gerecht. The Galbraith contribution to the debate was posted November 1, 2006 and the Gerecht reply is set to be posted November 2, 2006. Should be interesting!

The White House

In the factional battles over the breakup of Iraq, George W. Bush has weighed in on the question. In an October 20, 2006 Fox News interview, Bush made the case against partition, although he hedged on the more general question of federalism.

O’REILLY: How about dividing it into three? Kurds autonomous region, Sunni autonomous, Shia autonomous and pay them oil revenues to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I strongly — I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I think that will increase sectarian violence. I think that will make it more dangerous — and so does Prime Minister Maliki with whom I spoke today… on the point you brought up about dividing the country in three, he rejected that strongly. He thought that was a bad idea, and I agree with him. I think — federalism is one thing, in other words, giving a balance between regional government and central government, but dividing is basically saying there will be three autonomous regions will create, Bill, a situation where Sunnis and Sunni nations and Sunni radicals will be competing against Shia radicals and the Kurds will then create problems for Turkey and Syria and you have got a bigger mess than we have at this point in time which I believe is going to be solved.

If the Bush administration is actually seeking to preserve Iraqi unity, then the recent parliamentary vote on a measure elaborating procedures for the establishment of autonomous regions–supported by the Kurds and some Shiites–was a major slap in the face of a Right Arabist White House.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

The SCIRI push for a Shiite “super-region” in the South may be a frontal rebuke to President Bush, insofar as he has assumed the mantle of the Right Arabist faction.

It cannot, for all that, be scored a “loss” for those Right Zionists and/or Dem Zionists who find reason to celebrate the termination of Sunni Arab hegemony in Iraq, if not yet the whole of the Middle East.

Crude Benchmarks

Posted by Cutler on October 31, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

Liberally sprinkled amidst the news about Iraq is ongoing talk of “partitioning” the country. An article in the New York Times today includes a rather prominent discussion of support for such a policy among Democrats like Senator Joseph Biden and adivsors like Peter Galbraith.

Are there any signs that the Bush administration is seriously considering such an option?

Perhaps Saudi resistance to such an idea is enough to give credence to the fact that it is actually an option under consideration.

I tend to think that the function of the partition chatter has little to do with real options on the table and much more to do with ongoing negotiations over the Iraqi hydrocarbons law that will govern relations with the oil industry.

The US is firmly committed to centralized national control over the development of new oil fields. In this, they have the support of Sunni Arab political forces along with nationalist Shiite forces in Southern Iraq, including those loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.

The threat of partition, however, is being used to pressure these Sunni and Shiite forces to embrace particular oil policies that will be very unpopular with Iraqi nationalists, even as they are sought after by international oil majors.

The oil majors and the US are pressing for generous contract terms for foreign oil investment and use the threat of extremely generous regional contract terms on offer in the Kurdish north to extract similar concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

US pressure has not been subtle. An October 24, 2006 report in the Petroleum Review entitled “Iraqi Nadir” explains:

At the request of the US State Department, the USAID Agency has provided an advisor from consultancy firm BearingPoint INC (the former consulting arm of KPMG) to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki, to help in the drafting of a new petroleum law. Oil Minster Shahristani expects the new law to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament this year. This expectation might be somewhat premature, however, given that the economic policies pursued by the current government, influenced by the US, are not popular with the general public…

Most observers believe that the involvement of BearingPoint, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – as a condition of cancelling 30% of Iraq’s $39bn debt to the Paris Club of creditors – in drafting of the petroleum law is likely to result in handing over control of the development of Iraq’s oil fields to foreign oil companies. This policy, although supported by many in the government – namely Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi and Oil Minister Shahristani, who see a major role for foreign oil companies in Iraq’s oil industry – is understood to be strongly opposed by the majority of Iraqi people and by the oil industry trade unions. It could be seen as confirming the belief that the war was about oil after all.

It is in the context of these negotiations that the US–with the help of Joe Biden and the Kurdish Regional Government, if not the autonomy-minded Shiites of SCIRI–uses the threat of partition to leverage concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

This is a game of chicken that Shiite and Sunni nationalists are playing as well as the oil majors.

The question is this: who will blink?

There is no way that the oil majors would support the actual partition of Iraq. This is a bluff. And they will have to weigh the popular backlash–in the context of ongoing insurgencies–to an oil regime that appears to strip Iraqis of national treasure.

A June 2, 2004 analysis from the World Market Research Centre captures the idea:

[The] most important task… is the establishment of a new state-owned Iraqi national oil company (NOC) to oversee the existing functional companies (without ruffling too many oil industry feathers) and to set in place a framework by which INOC can most effectively co-operate with private investors, without antagonising the Iraqi nationalist constituency. This will be the issue on which [the Oil] ministry performance will be assessed and the one that will be most integral to shaping Iraq’s oil and gas future in the coming years.

How much more will the US and the oil majors risk further antagonising the Iraqi nationalist constituency in the hope of leveraging more lucrative oil deals?

[Update: in the post above, I wrote: “There is no way that the oil majors would support the actual partition of Iraq. This is a bluff.”  I want to register my own doubts about this assertion.

I have seen no evidence to support the idea that the international oil majors favor partition.  Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to rule out the idea that at least some oil majors might be looking for favorable “rules of the road,” even if the rules apply only to regional roads, rather than national highways.

The issue is not Kirkuk oil.  The question is Basra oil.  Do any of the oil majors think they can get favorable terms from Hakim and SCIRI’s proposed autonomous southern Shiite region, even amidst resistance from Sadrists and Basra’s Fadhila party, to say nothing of Sunni Arab insurgency?

For now, this remains a question…]

Petro-Democracy

Posted by Cutler on October 27, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

There are two events that sparked the recent clash between Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

The first is a recent round of US raids on Sadr City. As with at least one previous instance, Maliki denied any prior knowledge of the raid, even though Iraqi forces were involved.

The second event is the October 24, 2006 press briefing by Ambassador Khalilzad.

Khalilzad’s remarks are worth a closer look, if only because the Ambassador was unusually candid about several issues:

Iraq is strategically vital, due to its location and resources.

When was the last time anyone in the Bush administration even acknowledged that Iraqi “resources” were a “strategically vital” consideration for the US?

Khalilzad also does a little sabre rattling about Iran and Syria.

Those forces that constitute the extremist’s camp, including not only al Qaeda, but Iran and Syria, are at work to keep us and the Iraqis from succeeding…

The enemies of Iraq — Al Qaida, Iraq’s historic rivals and the local clients — concentrate their efforts on tearing the Iraqi people apart along sectarian lines.

Tragically, these efforts have had an effect. Now the primary source of violence is not simply an insurgency but also sectarian killings involving Al Qaida terrorists, insurgents, militias and death squads. Iran and Syria are providing support to the groups involved.

Khalilzad also reviews US strategy for dealing with the Sunni Arab insurgency:

[Another element in US strategy] is persuading Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and accept national reconciliation. We are reaching out to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan to help by encouraging these groups to end the violence and work for a united and independent Iraq, and to work against al Qaeda. These countries have promised to be helpful.

I cannot recall the last time a US official publicly noted that there may be a “regional angle” to the Sunni Arab insurgency, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan in key roles.

Presumably, the portion of the briefing that sparked the clash with Maliki concerned benchmarks and timetables.

We are helping Iraqi leaders to complete a national compact. Key political forces must make difficult decisions in the coming weeks to reach agreements on a number of outstanding issues on which Iraqis differ: enacting an oil law that will share the profits of Iraq’s resources in a way that unites the country – this is of critical importance; amending the constitution to make all Iraqis understand that their children will be guaranteed democratic rights and equality; reforming the De-Baathification Commission to transform it into an accountability and reconciliation program; implementing a plan to address militias and death squads; setting a date for provincial elections; and increasing the credibility and capability of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi leaders have agreed to a timeline for making the hard decisions needed to resolve these issues.

President Talabani has made these commitments public. The United States and its coalition partners will support Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in their effort to meet these benchmarks.

While most of the talk of “benchmarks” have been suspiciously vague, Khalilzad’s list is relatively specific.

Military Action Against Sadr

During the briefing, there was a question (the transcript on this site identifies the reporter as Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post) about Maliki and militias that anticipates the current impasse:

QUESTION: General Casey has repeatedly said that resolving the militia issue will take a military and political approach, but Prime Minister Maliki has made clear that he doesn’t want any kind of U.S. military action against the militias. He’s said that specifically (inaudible) Sadr City.

So when the question comes to it’s up to the Iraqi government to show resolve against the militias, they’ve already made clear that they’re not going to take a tough approach like the U.S. wants. And Muqtada al-Sadr has already said that his militia is not a militia per se and that he’s not going to disband it.

So absent any kind of military force against these militias and these death squads, who are the main component of violence right now, how are you going to stop the militias?

KHALILZAD: I don’t agree with your characterization.

I believe that the Prime Minister has said to me and to George that he believes in an integrated approach — political, yes. That’s the best approach if you can convince those that control militias to cooperate with the decommissioning, demobilization and integration plan. But he has said he does not rule out the use of force.

And we will see what happens, but I believe right now we are in the phase of developing a plan for how to move forward with a demobilization and decommissioning and reintegration plan. Our people, both from the military and civilian side, are working with a team that has been designated by the Prime Minister to develop such a program.

“We will see what happens.” What seems to have happened, for now, is that Maliki ruled out the use of force. But it ain’t over until its over. So, we will see what happens.

On a Hydrocarbons Law

Khalilzad makes clear that, for the US, the truly “critical” benchmark involves the passage of a new oil law, usually referred to as a hydrocarbons law.

The hydrocarbon law has been at the center of all the talk of a new Iraqi “Compact.”

Back in September 2006, the US and UN sponsored an International Compact for Iraq conference, held in Abu Dhabi.

“The bargain being struck here is economic reform by Iraq in return for financial support,” said U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, President George W. Bush’s special envoy on the talks. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad also attended the meeting…

The most urgent reforms sought by the international donors are a hydrocarbons law that would outline ownership and foreign investment in Iraq’s oil reserves and a reduction of government’s subsidies.

An Iraqi parliamentary committee has been working on the hydrocarbons law. An August 31, 2006 article published in International Oil Daily entitled, “Iraqi Panel Hammers Away at Draft Oil Law” (no online link, sorry) provides some details:

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, who heads the committee, said it has already resolved the issue of sharing oil revenues between the different regions of Iraq, but many other matters are still outstanding. These include the roles of the central and regional governments in managing reserves and production from fields that are currently not producing and the question of who will award lucrative oil contracts to foreign firms…

But leaders of the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority have voiced concern that the constitution, ratified in a referendum last year, could hand control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves to powerful new regional governments in the Shiite south and Kurdish north leaving their oil-poor areas in central Iraq with nothing…

The composition of the committee preparing the draft hydrocarbon law suggests that Sunni grievances and interests will not get much of a hearing, even though the issues under consideration are at the heart of power struggles between the different sectarian and ethnic groups in Iraq.

Two members of the committee have stood out so far: the Kurdistan regional government’s minister of natural resources Ashti Hawrami and Jabar Luaibi, the director general of South Oil Co.

Hawrami has been very active since his appointment earlier this year in drawing up an oil bill for the northern Kurdish region which gives the regional government extensive control over oil and gas fields independently of the central government in Baghdad…

Luaibi, a member of the majority Shiite community, has been instrumental in improving security in Shiite southern Iraq and ensuring uninterrupted exports from the region’s vast oil fields.

Salih, an influential figure in Kurdish politics, said the aim is to submit the draft law to parliament by the end of this year. Iraqi analysts expect to see clashes in parliament based on different interpretations of the constitution, especially on the vital issue of how to develop Iraq’s huge untapped oil reserves, most of which are located in southern Iraq.

According to an Associated Press report from September 10, 2006, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih (aka Barham Saleh) envisions the birth of what he calls a “Petro-Democracy” in Iraq.

Baghdad’s best hope for boosting its moribund oil output is working with major international companies in production-sharing deals, Iraq’s deputy prime minister said Sunday…

He spoke of Iraq emerging as a “secure petro-democracy”…

The deputy prime minister said he expected the law setting ground rules for managing Iraq’s huge petroleum reserves would be approved in parliament by year’s end.

“This will open Iraq’s oil sector for investment,” Saleh said. “We know what it takes. It takes partnerships with international oil companies.”

Big oil companies have told the U.S. government they are willing to send crews to Iraq to explore and pump oil — regardless of the violence — as long as there are legal ground rules for their participation, said U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt.

“The oil companies have told us they need to know what the rules of the road are,” said Kimmitt, President George W. Bush’s special envoy for the Iraq donor talks…

“Iraq needs investment. Iraq needs to send a strong signal to the international community about investment in oil,” the deputy prime minister said. “We need to push liberalization and open our markets.”

Asked about the most appropriate model of foreign investment for Iraq, Saleh advocated production-sharing agreements — known as PSAs. Under such arrangements, oil companies are typically granted a share of the crude they produce to offset their investments.

“I’m personally in favor of PSA agreements,” Saleh said.

For US officials and international oil companies, Saleh is sounding all the right notes when he speaks about PSA agreements, liberalization, etc.

But the crucial question regarding what Bush envoy Robert Kimmitt calls the “rules of the road” for oil investment concerns the explosive question of regional autonomy.

The committee drafting the hydrocarbons law is dominated by Shiite and Kurdish figures committed to regional control over the agreements dealing with the vast undeveloped fields that are currently not producing.

Is the US still committed to pushing for centralized national control over such agreements?

The Iraqi parliament recently voted to grant increased autonomy to regional federations. Kurds and the pro-autonomy Shiite coalition that dominates Parliament won a little help from some Sunni political figures to win passage of the plan.

“This is the beginning of the plan to divide Iraq,” said Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni National Accordance Front, which boycotted the vote along with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada Sadr’s party and the Shiite Fadila party. “We had hoped that the problems of sectarian violence would be resolved…”

If the Bush administration is still committed to “national unity”–including centralized control over the development of new oil fields–then this once again puts the US in an “objective” alliance with Moqtada Sadr and Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi, the religious leader of the Fadhila or Virtue party, based in the oil-rich southern Shiite city of Basra.

A US Alliance with Sadr and Yacoubi Against Regional Autonomy?

Given the enormous tensions between the US and the Shiite radicals among Sadrist and Fadhila forces, it hardly seems plausible to mention a US alliance with these figures.

Nevertheless, if the US wants to resist moves toward regional autonomy, then they will find allies in Sadr and Yacoubi.

Are there any signs of such an alliance?

The only such sign concerns Khalilzad’s press briefing reference to the urgency of setting a date for provincial elections.

In many provincial elections in the south, Sadr and Yacoubi will do very well. Khalilzad knows this; so do the Shiites.

Recent clashes in southern Iraq have pitted anti-autonomy Sadrist forces against the pro-autonomy SCIRI forces.

Is it possible that US pressure for provincial elections aims to empower the Sadrist forces as a bulwark against SCIRI’s autonomy moves?

The Sadrists certainly appear to be headed in that direction. An October 25 Associated Press report on the Shiite militia clashes in southern Iraq includes the following:

“There is a huge conspiracy supervised by the U.S. occupation to target the Sadrists,” said lawmaker Hassan Shanshal, a supporter of al-Sadr…

Looming ahead, however, is a battle the two sides will certainly fight–a contest over nationwide local elections for provincial councils.

The last vote in 2005… allowed SCIRI to take control of almost all of southern Iraq’s provincial councils as well as those in Baghdad. The Sadrists are eager to wrest away political hold on local government…

Al-Sadr, who has often derided his SCIRI rivals for their close ties to Iran, also is opposed to federalism…

“We will not be dragged into a fight,” said Nasser al-Saadi, a Sadrist lawmaker. “Instead, we will prepare for the elections and, when we take control of local governments, we will not allow federalism.”

The key question, then, is not how various Iraqi factions position themselves on the question of regional autonomy.

The most critical question is this: how do US factions position themselves on the question of regional autonomy and who is navigating the US ship of state?

Does the US support centralized control of Iraq, or regional autonomy?

Raids on Sadr City: Maliki Strikes Back

Posted by Cutler on October 25, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

It looks to me like Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has decided that his bread is buttered in Baghdad, not Washington.

More specifically, he has affirmed his allegiance to Moqtada al-Sadr, rather than US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Now that his bread is buttered, we’ll find out if his days are numbered.

Here is the latest news from the Guardian on Maliki’s strident news conference:

The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today denounced a US raid against a Shia militia position and denied that his government had agreed to a timetable to crack down on violence.

Mr al-Maliki said he had not been consulted about the operation to snatch a militia commander from inside Sadr City and insisted, “It will not be repeated”. He also hit out at an announcement yesterday by the most senior US general in Iraq, General George Casey, and the US ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, stating that the Iraqi government had agreed to a timetable to curb violence in the country.

I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it,” he told a news conference…

The timeline plan outlined yesterday by Mr Khalilzad was believed to have grown out of recent Washington meetings at which the Bush administration sought to reshape its Iraq policy amid mounting US deaths and declining domestic support for the 44-month-old war.

The fact of the Raids on Sadr City surely reflects pressure from the US military brass for a crackdown on Sadrist forces, if not Moqtada al-Sadr himself.

Maliki has denounced such raids before and recently demanded that US forces release a leading Sadrist.

In this instance, it appears that the US was looking for the “Keyser Söze” of Sadr City, Abu Dera (aka, Abu Dereh). According to the New York Times:

Iraqi forces and American advisers entered the far northern tip of the [Sadr City] district, the domain of an infamous Shiite guerilla leader known by his Iraqi nickname, Abu Dera, and immediately came under fire…

Residents said that Abu Dera, whose real name is Ismail al-Zerjawi, was not among those captured, though his son was wounded and his cousin killed. Once loyal to Mr. Sadr, Abu Dera broke away in 2004 and now runs his own influential crime ring. He is famous among Shiites, who put his image on their cellphones and refer to him as the Zarqawi of the Shiites, a reference to the former Al Qaeda leader who exhorted Sunni Arabs to kill Shiites.

[By the way: this is a far more detailed profile of Abu Dera than I’ve seen elsewhere. Type “Zerjawi” into Google News and so far the search engine returns only a question: “Did you mean Zarqawi?”]

US pressure on Maliki to crack down on the Sadrists is essentially a demand that he abandon and betray a significant element of his own political base in exchange for continuing US “support.”

Maliki has refused that exchange. He now risks losing US support.

For the record, AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–a leading Right Zionist–probably isn’t going to shed any tears for Maliki. In his latest missive, he wrote:

We should expect a few Iraqi governments to collapse before we start seeing real progress. Yet our presence in Iraq is the key to ensuring that Shiite-led governments don’t collapse into a radical hard core.

Gerecht is still standing by the Right Zionist idea of an alliance between the US and moderate Iraqi Shiites.

He is simply having trouble finding the moderate Iraqi Shiites.

Baker and the Baath

Posted by Cutler on October 23, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

All the signs these days are pointing in one direction: a triumphant return of Right Arabist influence in Washington and a corresponding return of Baathist influence in Bagdhad.

Just like the old days of Operation Desert Storm and its most cynical aftermath: Right Zionist encouragement of Shiite/Kurdish forces, followed by a Right Arabist pact with Saddam’s Baathist party.

In Washington, the Right Arabists at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs are so eager for the dawn of a new day that they have gotten a bit ahead of themselves. As the Washington Post reports in an October 23, 2006 article entitled, “Fernandez Apologizes for Iraq Remarks“:

The State Department official in charge of public diplomacy for the Middle East apologized Sunday for telling the Arabic language Al-Jazeera television station that the U.S. had displayed “arrogance and stupidity” in Iraq.

Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, made the remarks in an interview that aired Saturday on the Qatar-based channel, which is carried by satellite and is closely watched in the Arab world.

Speaking in Arabic, Fernandez discussed topics such as the United States’ willingness to talk with insurgent groups in an effort to advance national reconciliation in Iraq.

“We tried to do our best,” he said during the interview, which aired late Saturday. “But I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq.”

As wire service accounts of his remarks began to appear, the state department initially said that Fernandez had been misquoted.

On Sunday, the agency posted a comment from Fernandez on its Web site apologizing for the remarks.

“Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase ‘there has been arrogance and stupidity’ by the U.S. in Iraq,” Fernandez said in the statement. “This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize.”

In truth, Right Arabists have been saying this all along. Most, however, have either done so anonymously or have waited until after leaving the service of the Bush administration.

The loose talk from Fernandez might indicate that he anticipates that Right Arabist criticism of the war will soon become official policy, presumably after the mid-term elections when James Baker’s Iraq Study Group issues its recommendations.

The other major sign of a major shift comes from the Baathist insurgents themselves.

According to an Associated Press report (via the International Herald Tribune), the US has been reaching out to Baathist insurgents:

A man claiming to be a member of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party told a television interviewer the United States was seeking a face-saving exodus from Iraq and that insurgents were ready to negotiate but won’t lay down arms.

The interview with “Abu Mohammed”, a pseudonym, was taped several days ago in Beirut, Lebanon, according to Ghassan Ben Jeddou, the network’s bureau chief in the Lebanese capital….

“The [Baathist] party and other insurgency factions are ready to negotiate with the Americans,” said the man, whose face was concealed.

The occupier has started to search for a face-saving way out. The resistance, with all its factions, is determined to continue fighting until the enemy is brought down to his knees and sits on the negotiating table or is dealt, with God’s help, a humiliating defeat.”

So, all of this points to a politics of Restoration.

These are not insignificant signs. Nevertheless, I reiterate here a few words of caution from a previous post

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

News of the death of the Right Zionists might be greatly exaggerated. Rumors of a nod toward the Right Arabists could be nothing more than a head fake for domestic political consumption.

Cheney and the Israel Lobby

Posted by Cutler on October 22, 2006
Iran, Iraq, libya, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

A new musing on some old news.

How and why did Cheney go from being a business dove–a leading US Oil Industry figure lobbying for an end to US sanctions against Iran and Libya (and perhaps Iraq)–to become the leading hawk on Iraq and Iran (but, presumably, not Libya)?

Back on July 26, 2001, Carola Hoyos and Guy Dinmore published an article in the Financial Times entitled “US Senate backs renewed sanctions on Iran and Libya” (can’t find it on-line, sorry).

Oil executives from companies such as Conoco and Chevron had high hopes that the energy sector background of Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney would prompt a resumption of US business ties with Iran, which has the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves. Mr Cheney was an especially vocal opponent of sanctions against Iran during the five years he headed Halliburton, an oil services company.

But in their new role, two factors in particular have limited their willingness to soften their stance on Iran: Russia and Israel.

The Russia angle may prove to be the more decisive factor. More on that soon.

For now, though, amidst all the debate over the “Israel Lobby” (the original essay seems to have been pulled from LRB website…) it is worth noting the following from a May 24, 2001 Financial Times article by Edward Alden, “US Congress Moves to Extend Sanctions” (available on-line through a third party here):

The US is set to renew its economic sanctions on Iran and Libya, perhaps for up to five years, despite the Bush administration’s promise of a thorough review of US sanctions policy.

The pre-emptive move by the US Congress will seriously complicate both the administration’s effort to re-think US sanctions, and its desire to expand US access to new oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea region.

Representative Benjamin Gilman and Howard Berman yesterday introduced legislation to extend the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) for five years. The bill has more than 180 co-sponsors in the House, and could be pushed to a vote as early as next month, well in advance of the August 5 expiry of ILSA.

On the Senate side, a companion bill has more than 60 co-sponsors, a solid majority

The Bush administration had been expected to push for an easing of the Iran and Libya sanctions. US oil companies with close ties to top Bush officials, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, are eager to resume operations in oil-rich Iran.

Also, the administration immediately launched a review of sanctions policy, and has been working to ease the embargo on Iraq.

But congressional proponents of the sanctions regime, backed by the powerful pro-Israel lobby, have moved aggressively to head off any debate over ILSA.

William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a business group that opposes sanctions, admits it will be “an uphill battle” to block extension of ILSA.

If I were the Israel Lobby (i.e., AIPAC) looking to publicize its power, I would cite this Financial Times analysis everywhere I could.

The Israel Lobby delivered up a surprise veto-proof majority in Congress against Cheney.

What’s a vice president to do?

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

The pre-emptive strike in Congress that may have prompted a pre-emptive strike in Iraq–and perhaps Iran.

Questions abound, among them, how/why did the Israel Lobby either drop the ball or simply lose more recently on the Libya issue?

And then there is the whole Russia question.

Still, I thought this bit of history might be worth remembering.

Amara Clashes

Posted by Cutler on October 20, 2006
Iraq / 3 Comments

There are confusing and conflicting reports coming out of Amara (sometimes Amarah), scene of recent violence involving Sadrist forces and local police.

A little background context might be helpful here.

Amara is home to Abdel-Karim al-Mohammedawi, widely known as the ‘Prince of the Marshes.

The current Interior Minister of Iraq, Jawad al-Bolani was formerly an aide to Mohammedawi. According to a June 10, 2006 report in the New York Times Bolani began his contemporary political career working with Moktada al-Sadr.

When the British abandoned (or, more accurately, fled) Amara two months ago, Mohammedawi complained that they left the city in corrupt hands.

An August 26, 2006 New York Times report included the following from Mohammedawi:

”[Amara] was handed over to a corrupt authority…” said Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent tribal leader in Amara. ”What do you think the attitude of an ordinary citizen would be….”

Who was this “corrupt authority” of which Muhammadawi was complaining?

The answer seems to the SCIRI and its Badr Brigades.

An Associated Press report from October 19th seems have captured the details of the current conflict:

Clashes erupted Thursday between Mahdi Army fighters and policemen defending their headquarters in the southern city of Amarah after the family of a senior police officer struck back against his suspected killers, kidnapping the teenage brother of the Shiite militia’s commander, police said.

The family of Ali Qassim al-Tamimi, the chief of police intelligence in Maysan, the province of which Amarah is the capital, said they would not release 19-year-old Hussein al-Bahadli until the culprits in al-Tamimi’s death were surrendered

Al-Tamimi was killed Wednesday by a bomb planted on the highway between Amarah and the city of Basra farther south. He was killed along with four of his bodyguards…

Tamimi is known to be a member of the Badr Brigade, a militia linked to Iraq’s largest religious Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. The family maintains that the rival Mahdi Army of radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was behind his murder

The Mahdi Army commander in Amarah is sheik Fadel al-Bahadli…

A Call to Arms Against Sadr/Maliki

Posted by Cutler on October 20, 2006
Iraq, Military Brass / 1 Comment

Throughout the past year, the US has repeatedly gone to the brink of a direct clash with Sadr and then retreated.

The latest provocative spark comes from the Shiite city of Amara. Reuters has the following report:

The violence in Amara, in Maysan province where militias and tribes exert huge influence, started after the disappearance of the brother of a senior Mehdi Army leader. Suspecting he had been detained by police, militias attacked police stations with rocket-propelled grenades and and rifle fire, [a security] source said.

The British formally tranferred control of Amara to Iraqi security two months ago. Now, the BBC is reporting that British troops are poised to move back into the city.

Will this latest clash be the start of something big? Or, will various envoys arrive on the scene to negotiate another retreat from the brink?

Time will tell.

But one thing is quite clear: there are some forces spoiling for a fight with Sadr.

CNN’s military analyst, General David Grange, was just on the air (no transcript available yet [Update: here is the link to the CNN transcript; thanks TR) and he was totally adament: this is a potential turning point and the US has no choice but to launch a ruthless assault on the city of Amara.

[Y]ou have to be ruthless like Grant during the Civil War. And right now they cannot let the militia get away with taking over a city. Right now, it’s a test. And if they let this go, it will definitely be — definitely be — not maybe — a turning point for the results of what will happen in Iraq.

The only thing right now, in a situation like this, that those that are violating the law of Iraq understand is ruthless pursuit. That’s all they understand. And I would seal off the complete city. And I would go in, hopefully not do a lot of collateral damage, but if it happens, so be it.

If Grange represents anything close to the rage of the military brass in Baghdad then Amara may, indeed, become a test case of sorts, not only a battleground for clashes between US/UK forces and Sadr, but also a battleground between the military brass in Iraq and the political forces that have repeatedly retreated from the brink of a direct confrontation with Sadr.

Grange’s rage may be quite indicative of a larger frustration within the military. How else to explain yesterday’s the extraodinarily gloomy vote of no-confidence articulated by the top US military spokesman in Iraq, General William Caldwell.

As the Financial Times reports, Caldwell barely contained his frustration at Iraq political pressure to retreat from a confrontation with Sadrist forces:

The US military wants Mr Maliki to stop protecting radical Shia groups such as the Mahdi Army militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In a virtually unprecedented criticism of the Iraqi leadership, Gen Caldwell said US forces had been forced to release Sadrist organiser Mazin al-Sa’edi on Wednesday, one day after his arrest on suspicion of involvement in violence, at the prime minister’s request.

Bush may think Maliki is doing a “heck of a job,” but Caldwell and the rest of the military brass seem to have run out of patience.

Can Bush resist military pressure for a new deal–one that might include the “collapse” of the Maliki government and risk a direct, bloody and costly clash between US troops and Sadrist forces–until after the November mid-term elections?

Military Brass vs. Rove. Place your bets.

US & Sadr: Brink and Back

Posted by Cutler on October 18, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

I can’t help thinking that US foreign policy factionalism is playing a role in recent flip-flops over US policy toward Sadr.

As Swopa was quick to note, the US moved against a key Sadr aide yesterday. An “eruption” seemed plausible.

Well, somebody seems to have thought better of that idea.

Today, Muwaffaq Al Rubaie–Iraq’s national security advisor and a figure with “close ties” to some in the US–announced that Prime Minister Maliki had “ordered” the US to release the Sadrist figure, Sheikh Mazen Al Saedi. According to one news report, Saedi has, in fact, been released.

Questions of the day:

Who was behind the move to clash with Sadr?

Who was behind the decision to retreat from the brink?

Not easy questions, especially since everybody hates Sadr.”

Baker’s Coup

Posted by Cutler on October 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is increasingly high-profile chatter these days about James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and the idea of a pro-Sunni Arab coup in Iraq.

After a flurry of speculation that Baker would embrace the breakup of Iraq, I think that idea has been put to rest.

In his October 9, 2006 appearance on The Daily Show, Baker was asked by Jon Stewart (Part 2 at 2:16), “You Gonna Split it Up?”

BAKER: “No, no, I don’t think we can do that.”

But then Baker quickly recovered and provided the formal response:

BAKER: “Although, we haven’t ruled anything out, Jon… That’s still one of the things we are looking at.”

Notwithstanding Baker’s back pedaling, the Right Arabist consiglieri spoke his mind and no one should be surprised by his opposition to a Right Zionist/Dem Zionist plan for the breakup of Iraq.

It should also be obvious that Baker will be praised by many as a voice of reason, but Right Zionists will protest if Baker’s Right Arabist position becomes policy.

The Eli Lake at the Right Zionist New York Sun has already published one sign (among others) of Right Zionist dissent, almost surely from one of the token Right Zionists (like Reuel Marc Gerecht) who have been part of the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups.”

Here is the New York Sun article, which includes leaked details of the Study Group’s work:

On PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show,” Mr. Baker… hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was “democratic” and one that was merely “representative.”

“If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success,” he said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. “Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative,” the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

There are at least two significant questions swirling around all the talk about impending Right Arabist coups in Washington and Baghdad.

1. Is it Real or is it Rove?

Robert Dreyfuss thinks his Right Arabist friends are on the verge of seizing control of the ship of state.

The realists may not be in charge, yet, but they’re getting there. John Warner is the muscle behind Frank Wolf, who created the ISG, and Warner isn’t happy. The military, behind Warner, ain’t happy, either.

Dreyfuss is right about Frank Wolf. And about the military brass.

But is Dreyfuss right that their campaign against Right Zionist influence in the Bush administration is actually “getting there”?

His pal Laura Rozen isn’t buying it.

So how coordinated is [Baker’s] book roll out (Comedy Central, Meet the Press, NPR this morning) with the White House in advance of the November election? My sense: totally coordinated. Is it not a very deliberately timed reach out and wink and nod to GOP realists — see, we are listening to you? The adults are in the house?… Seems Baker is a witting campaign prop being coordinated by the White House to communicate the message, the realists will be in charge of foreign policy the next two years. Without the White House having to say it, or it necessarily being true.

There is important precedent for this interpretation.

A Rozen reader (“JR”) suggests from 1972.

James Baker ploy is a subtler version of Kissinger’s Oct 1972 appearance at which he touched the breast pocket of his suit and said, about Vietnam, that the Nixon Admin had a plan for peace (‘…peace is at hand.’). Shortly after the election, the Paris peace talks broke down and two months later, the Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong began.”

As I noted in a September post, there is another, more recent example: the 2004 Presidential election.

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

2007 could be another year of living dangerously.

2. “Can we do it? Yes we Can!”

Robert Dreyfuss–aka, Bob the Baathist–is certainly keen to see the US return power to the Baathists, presumably as a way of getting US troops home.

Would it actually work? Would it turn out that way?

Swopa, for one, has long warned that such a move would likely generate a massive Shiite uprising.

The madness of contemplating a coup, though, is that the same Shiite religious hierarchy which swept Allawi out of power through general elections in January 2005 has feared such a coup as their nightmare scenario all along, and so would almost instantly call for a popular uprising that would put the U.S. in helicopters-on-rooftops departure mode.

The Shiite popular uprising is one problem. And then there are the Sunni insurgents who don’t want to align themselves with the US, even in exchange for a role in governance.

So, it would be a bloody mess (expect a media blackout, though; only the discredited Right Zionists will be complaining about the slaughter… the Right Arabist establishment that has been so happy to be featured on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” while Right Zionists rule will suddenly stop taking her phone calls. Perle and Wolfowitz might call, but will Amy Goodman welcome them? We’ll see).

But will it lead to “helicopters-on-rooftops” departure mode for the US?

I don’t know. That may be one scenario. But the other scenario is a replay of the Shiite uprising of February/March 1991.

In that scenario, US troops align themselves with the old Iraqi military. Who will stand up for the Iraqi Shiites?

Not Iran. Iran stood by in 1991. And Baker wants to “talk” to Iran because he is going to make sure they will stand by this time, in exchange for a security guarantee.

Not the Saudis, Egyptians, or Jordanians who have been complaining about a Shiite Crescent.

And not the British.

Indeed, if the Baker coup is coming then it may be time to dig up the old files on British campaigns to crush a Shiite rebellion and re-install Sunni Arab minority dominance when they inherited/”invented” Iraq from the Ottomans after World War I.

Clinton’s Neocons

Posted by Cutler on October 11, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In his recent “outburst” on Fox news, President Clinton talked about “All of President Bush’s neo-cons.”

Clinton had less to say, on Fox, about his own neo-cons.

But Clinton–and “Dem Zionists“–are not quite always so hostile to neo-cons.

The politics of the war in Iraq do not really divide on partisan lines.

That is one reason to suspect that Democrats who have refused to embrace a populist anti-war position during the Bush administration are likely to renew major elements of the Right Zionist project in the Gulf if they are empowered to do so in upcoming elections.

De-fending De-Baathification

Take, for example, the crucial question of dismantling the Iraqi army in May 2003.

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni has called the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army the Bush administration’s “worst mistake” in postwar Iraq.

That, at least, was his sense of things back in November 2003, according to a Washington Post article from that time–“Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?

The old article worth reviewing again because the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and de-Baathify the Iraqi state is back in the news with the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq that Cheney and Rumsfeld were the driving forces behind that decision.

Today, Zinni’s criticism has become the “common sense” regarding the war. Almost everybody agrees with Zinni; if there are major disagreements they involve ways to fix the problem now that the damage has been done.

Almost everybody agrees with Zinni.

But even after the rise of the Iraqi insurgency there were two US foreign policy figures who continued to explain and defend the rationale for de-Baathification.

Feith Leads the Way

The first figure is now quite infamous: Douglas J. Feith.

Feith served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and is the Bush administration Right Zionist most closely identified with the manipulation of pre-war intelligence and the failures of post-war planning.

His infamy was probably secured when General Tommy Franks–who commanded US forces in the invasion of Iraq–referred to Feith as the “dumbest [expletive] guy on the planet.”

In a May 28, 2003 press conference, Feith defended the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

Q My name is Saeb Erekat from al Quds Newspaper. Mr. Feith, in the last few days, we have witnessed increased attacks on American forces in Iraq. Do you attribute this to the dissolution of the Iraqi armed forces? And was that wise to do? And in retrospect, do you think that the policy — not in retrospect, in effect, the policy of applying de-Ba’athification to the entire bureaucratic infrastructure in Iraq is really wise in terms of getting Iraq back on its feet since you would need a lot of this talent and ability and technical capabilities and so on? Thank you.

MR. FEITH: We view the de-Ba’athification policy not only as wise but as indispensable to the effort to create a free Iraq… There was — we got a lot of Iraqis coming forward and saying that people would not feel comfortable cooperating with us, talking to us, working with us, if they felt that they were going to remain subject to retaliation by the Ba’ath Party elements. And it is — it is clear that the future of Iraq as a free country depends on people in the country believing and seeing that the Ba’ath Party is gone and that it’s not going to come back, and that the remnants of the Ba’ath Party are not going to be in a position to control the administration of the country or to physically attack the people who are going to be creating a free Iraq…

Apart from Feith defense of the policy–which came in the very early days after the decision was announced–is there anyone else who defended the policy?

Feith’s Fellow Traveler: Walter Slocombe

During the Clinton administration, Walter Slocombe occupied the exact same post that Feith would later occupy during the Bush administration.

Slocombe served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1994 to 2001.

But Slocombe is far less famous/infamous than Feith. To date, the poor fellow doesn’t even have his own wikipedia entry.

Nevertheless, he is a crucial figure for understanding the partisan contours of Iraq war politics.

According to that old Washington Post article, “Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?,” from November 20, 2003, Slocombe played a major role in the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces.

Of course, all the “other” Right Zionists players were involved. And nobody should try to pin the deal on Slocombe as a way of deflecting blame from the Bush administration.

However, it is also worth noting: long after Slocombe had left the service of Paul Bremer, whose Coalition Provisional Authority was in full retreat from its earlier policy and was now re-Baathifying as quickly as it could–Slocombe continued to make the case for de-Baathification.

And Slocombe’s explanation for the policy is far more candid about the geopolitical stakes than Feith’s. Slocombe emphasizes that his focus was on the contours of Sunni-Shiite political power in Iraq.

Slocombe’s line was the same during his service as it was later.

As a government official, Slocombe explained the policy–and warned against a tilt toward re-Baathification–in a November 5, 2003 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “To Build an Army.”

[I]t’s being argued by some that… the United States could and should have relied on Saddam Hussein’s old army and saved itself the trouble of creating a new one. Some even say we should try to do that now by recalling the old army to service some six months after its defeat.

It’s an argument that doesn’t add up. Given our objective of replacing Hussein’s regime, and not just its leader, it would have been a mistake, I think, to try to convert an army that was a principal tool of his oppressive system into the armed guardian of a new democracy…

Some observers… say that we should have called the departed soldiers back. Hussein’s army, however, consisted entirely of conscripts below officer level, most of them Shiites, who were badly mistreated by the overwhelmingly Sunni officers. Those conscripts were delighted at the opportunity to escape the abuse, corruption and misery of the old army. They certainly weren’t going to heed the call of their officers to return, and we were not about to send press gangs out to round them up.

Thus any recalled “army” would have consisted almost entirely of officers from the absurdly top-heavy senior ranks.

Slocombe supported dismantling the Iraqi army as one element of a larger campaign to depose the Sunni governing elite.

In April 1, 2004 remarks entitled “Inside Iraq” delivered to the Commonwealth Club after he had left the Coalition Provisional Authority, Slocombe continued to emphasize the Sunni-Shiite political dynamic.

[The Iraqi army] was a conscript army. Most of the officers – well over 80 percent – were Sunni; most of the enlisted – probably 80 percent, higher than the population percentages – were Shia. And the conscripts went home. They liked the idea that they were formally excused from their obligations. They were not paid, so they hardly became unemployed. They were a lot more useful for the society home with their families. There was no question of getting them to come back.

We could have gotten a lot of officers. The Iraqi army had 11,000 general officers… The sensible thing to do was to start from the bottom and build up.

As Slocombe explained in the November 2003 Washington Post article “Wrong Turn at a Postwar Crossroads?“:

“This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute and done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad. It was discussed,” Slocombe said.

For Slocombe, disbanding the Iraqi army was a political decision. It didn’t “mistakenly” alienate the Sunni officers. It did so intentionally, as part of a larger project of transforming the regional balance of power.

My hunch is that Dem Zionists will join Slocombe in defending this project long after the Republican party has returned to its Right Arabist roots.

Baker’s Iraq Study Group

Posted by Cutler on October 10, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / 2 Comments

In a previous post I suggested that it would be very peculiar if Jame A. Baker, III–one of the leading Right Arabists in the foreign policy Establishment–embraced plans for a decentralized Iraq, as reported by the London Times.

I did not know, at that time, that Baker had appeared on ABC’s “This Week” the day before, talking about Iraq. I still have not seen an on-line transcript of the interview. But the Associated Press (via the International Herald Tribune) has offered up some quotes that only add to my sense that Baker is likely to favor an anti-Shiite coup, rather than regional autonomy for Shiites and Kurds.

Baker said, “if we picked up and left right now” Iraq would be plunged into “the biggest civil war you’ve ever seen,” with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved…

“[At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991,…] [a]s much as Saddam’s neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in ways that would play into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran,” Baker said.

Today in Iraq, “The risk is certainly there, the same risk,” Baker said.

Same risk. Same neighbors. Same Baker.

From De-Baathification to Decentralization

Posted by Cutler on October 09, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Two items in the news–both discussed in a Sunday post by Juan Cole–warrant some additional attention.

The first item–quite plausible and very interesting–concerns a Reuters report that Cheney and Rumsfeld led the campaign for the fateful May 2003 decision to support Iraqi de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi army.

The second item–totally implausible and quite startling–concerns a London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group “may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions.”

Cheney/Rumsfeld: No Likudniks, They

The report on Cheney and Rumsfeld arises from the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq. The Blunkett “revelations” accompany the release of his new memoir, The Blunkett Tapes: My Life in the Bearpit.

Reuters reports:

David Blunkett, Home Secretary at the time of the invasion, told newspapers that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could not diverted from their goal of dismantling the Iraqi Ba’athist government system.

“We dismantled the structure of a functioning state,” he said, adding that the British view was: “Change them by all means, decapitate them even, but very quickly get the arms and legs moving.”

Blunkett’s account is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the idea that the British opposed de-Baathification, favoring some form military decapitation that would allow for Saddamism without Saddam in post-invasion Iraq.

Second, it suggests that the policy of de-Baathification had the support of Bush administration principals, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Here is Cole on the Blunkett story:

Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed that the idea of dismantling the Baath-dominated Iraqi army and bureaucracy in May of 2003 came from US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (It is often blamed on proconsul Paul Bremer, but it has all along been obvious that he was ordered to do it by higher-ups). A precise timeline for the development of this policy (which had been ruled out at the Pentagon as late as March 15) and a precise account of where it came from has never been published.

It would be important to know what the role of the Likudniks was in this regard: Irv Lewis Libby and John Hannah in Dick Cheney’s office, and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and the neo-plumbers of the “Office of Special Plans“– i.e. Abram Shulsky, David Wurmser, Michael Rubin and others at the Pentagon. The decision was clearly against US interests, but an Iraq without an army may well have had a special appeal to Rightwing Zionists and their Chalabist allies among the Iraqi expatriates.

I think it has been clear for some time that the policy did have considerable appeal to Right Zionists. No surprise there.

Prior to the Blunkett claims, one might have even suspected that de-Baathification was championed exclusively by Right Zionist deputies who snuck one past distracted principals like Cheney and Rumsfeld.

This has never seemed particularly persuasive or plausible.

But Blunkett’s assertions move the spotlight off the role of the deputies and onto the role of Cheney and Rumsfeld.

As I have argued in a previous post entitled “Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney,” both of these figures had long-established records as Right Arabists, not Right Zionists.

So what were Cheney and Rumsfeld doing supporting de-Baathification?

Blunkett has made some news. But his claims only provoke more questions. On this, I completely agree with Cole: we need a precise timeline and a precise account. None have been written.

The Baker Boys

The London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group favors decentralization in Iraq simply defies all logic. Given the surprising turns of this administration, however, that may not be enough to render it false.

Nevertheless, I’ll eat my hat if this one turns out to be true.

James Baker one of the towering figures of the Right Arabist Establishment and was the principal most clearly identified with the decision to keep Saddam Hussein in power at the end of “Operation Desert Storm” rather than support rebellions by Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in search of autonomy.

Like de-Baathification, the defenders of decentralization tend to be Neocons and Zionists (Likudniks and Dem Zionists) who favor US alliances with Shiites and Kurds.

Right Arabists in Washington who favor Sunni Arab regional dominance–along with Sunni Arab regimes and most Iraqi Sunni Arabs–have vehemently opposed all policies that would compromise the “Arab” unity of Iraq.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is one of the four “participating groups” that formally constitute the Iraq Study Group. Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is the most prominent and vocal opponent of plans that support the decentralization of Iraq.

A look at the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups” does little to point toward support for decentralization of Iraq. Right Arabists are well represented (Amy Myers Jaffe, Chas W. Freeman, etc.).

The most prominent Right Zionist involved–AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–favors Shiite power in Iraq but has also looked hopefully to Shiite nationalists like Sadr to hold Iraq together. In a January 2006 Weekly Standard essay entitled “Devout Democracies,” Gerecht argued:

[T]here remains the huge fact of the Shiite population in Baghdad, which would be excluded from any Shiite semi–autonomous zone in the south. Baghdad is a majority Shiite city. And it simply cannot be compared to any other city in Iraq-certainly not impoverished and broken Basra, the other possible pole of Shiite urban influence. (The impoverished Shiite south of Iraq actually reminds one of Afghanistan.) For the foreseeable future, the centripetal power of Baghdad will remain. The exclusionary, defensive, federalist impulses of the Iraqi Shiite community… can go only so far before they provoke real, paralyzing Shiite resistance from Baghdad. If for no other reason, the Baghdad Shiite factor will likely guarantee sufficient tolerance toward the Sunnis for democratic progress to continue.

If Baker–and his Iraq Study Group–has flipped on this issue, it would represent an immense earthquake within the factional fault lines of the Republican foreign policy Establishment.

The only comparable Right Arabist defection?

Cheney and Rumsfeld’s support for De-Baathification.

Iran Plan?

Posted by Cutler on October 07, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The “Iran Question” makes my head hurt.

The reason has been pretty clear since the ’06 Lebanon War. You can see early signs of turbulence in my ZNet essay “The Devil Wears Persian.”

“Dual rollback” is a two act play:

Act One: Target Iraqi regional power, with the acquiescence of Iran.

Act Two is just beginning….

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran. Arab officials are cast in a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran…

Right Zionists will find that they have powerful allies… in Washington (Right Arabists) — the very folks who worked most diligently against them during Act One.

[T]he emergence of a new Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis against Iran will almost certainly mean that dissent — facilitated by Right Arabists during Act One — will prove far more difficult during Act Two.

Dissent may prove more difficult. So, too, analysis.

Act II?

Any “Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis” against Iran (“Act II”) would muddy all the factional lines from Act I that have served as guideposts for understanding the contours of the Bush administration.

A case in point of potentially muddied factional lines: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s most recent trip to the Middle East.

There has been considerable media speculation that Rice went to the region in an effort to build support for a united front against Iran.

Take, for example, Jon Leyne’s BBC news analysis, “Iran Behind Rice’s Mid-East Tour.”

Why did Condoleezza Rice come to Israel and the West Bank earlier this week?

Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran.
[S]tate department counsellor Philip Zelikow seemed to give the game away in an address to a Washington think tank on 15 September.

“For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to co-operate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.”

No mention of Iran, but the implication is clear.

See similar speculation by Ehsan Ahrari here.

As I noted in a previous post, speculation of this type has increased dramatically with news of a secret Saudi-Israeli summit to discuss Iran.

As Eli noted in a comment to a previous post, this scenario has generated considerable enthusiasm among “Dem Zionists” like MJ Rosenberg at the Huffington Post.

Or, Act I?

My head starts hurting right about here. The cognitive dissonance I am feeling probably has its source in a comparable dissonance I detect in Right Zionist circles.

Take, for example, Michael Ledeen’s recent essay, “Cognitive Dissonance: The Bush Administration on Iran.” It is an elaborate critique of Condoleezza Rice and her most recent statements on Iran from an interview with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal.

[Condoleezza Rice] hopes sanctions will have an effect on Iranian officials who “do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they’re headed toward.” Stephens, shocked that Rice apparently thinks there are legitimate interlocutors in power in Tehran, presses her, and she responds, “I do not believe we’re going to find Iranian moderates… The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?”

As Stephens dryly remarks, there are lots of Iranian “reasonables.” They comprise upwards of 80 percent of the population. But we are not supporting them; instead we are dithering around in negotiations designed by Europeans whose greatest fear is not Iranian terrorism, but American action in the Middle East. And when Secretary Rice starts talking about diplomacy, there is a change in focus. She’s no longer talking about the war, she’s talking about the nuclear program.

In short, she has no serious intention of challenging the Tehran regime…

It is impossible not to be struck by the cognitive dissonance between this interview and the many speeches by the president in which he has all but called for regime change in Iran.

If this be “Act II,” then Ledeen does not appear to be on board.

One reason Ledeen is not on board is that Rice is “talking about the nuclear program” while he wants to talk about regime change.

Iranian nukes and Iranian regime change are potentially very different questions. They are mostly unrelated (Right Zionists who favor regime change wouldn’t much mind a nuclear Iran once it is pro-Western).

The nuke and regime change issues may also be at odds with one another if all the talk about Iranian nukes helps the Iranian regime consolidate its popularity among Iranian nationalists.

This difference–between nukes and regime change–not only marks a division between Right Zionists and Right Arabists, but between Right Zionists and Neocon Unipolarists.

Like Ledeen, Michael Rubin also seems unimpressed by the direction of US policy. He has had nothing good to say about Rice’s visit to the Middle East. Writing on the NRO blog, Rubin complained that Rice sold out Egyptian dissidents and the whole “Bush Doctrine.”

Rubin doesn’t seem to think that Rice’s attempts to curry favor with Arab regimes is part of some Right Zionist game plan for a united front against Iran.

Indeed, at this point, one is hard pressed to find Right Zionists discussing recent Bush administration Middle East policy in the same enthusiastic tone that marked the Lebanon War.

At the time of the Lebanon War in July 2006, Right Zionists like Dore Gold wrote about an “Opening Round” in a battle between Iran and the West.

But that “Gold” opportunity–to the extent that it ever existed–was slammed shut by the failure of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon.

Where does that leave Act II?

If the Rice trip to the Middle East was a “second round” in Act II, somebody forgot to tell the Right Zionists.

Where is the evidence of Neocon enthusiasm?

This is not a rhetorical question. I am asking: has anyone seen any signs?

If the Right Zionists are disgruntled, are the “Unipolarists” more hopeful?

Or is it just Dem Zionists?

As Michael Rubin says,

It’s almost as if Kerry won and named Nicholas Burns is Undersecretary of State.

Dem Zionists” and Right Arabists.

[LATER: If “Act II” requires Right Zionists to court “Arab moderates” in search of a united front against Iran, would this actually extend so far as to tolerate an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

Or is all the talk of a coup in Iraq simply an older story: the denouement of “Act I,” the eclipse of Right Zionist influence, and the triumph of the old Right Arabist establishment.]

A Really Lame Duck

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

There is talk these days of a Republican “perfect storm” that threatens to drown the reckless rightwing crew that have been steering the ship of state since 9/11.

If so, then the mid-term elections should result in huge losses for the Republicans and set the course for a great reversal in 2008. Hence the clocks counting down the days of the Bush Presidency.

Maybe this is a perfect storm.

But we may be in for a rough ride. And the Democrat’s GPS is on the blink.

Cheney Gone Wild

One of the frightening things about Cheney is that he seems live as though his heart [sic] might go at any minute. No future political plans. No aspirations beyond the current administration.

Cheney’s permanent lame duck status has given him an unusual level of insulation from the kind of “political” accountability that derives from the commodification of politics–polling, the next election cycle, etc.

The result has been an unusually high level of “ideological” and ambitious foreign policy, to say the least.

Thus far, however, one might imagine that these tendencies have been qualified, to some extent, by Karl Rove and the Republican party Congressional leadership who do have an eye on the next election.

This, at least, is the conclusion of the ideologues. See, for example, Norman Podhoretz on the role of “politics” in slowing the pace of the Bush revolution.

At least until the mid-term elections.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol offers hope to the so-called “ideologues”: after the mid-terms, everything is possible.

Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

More US casualties.

(During the interview, Kristol does begin to say that he would “support” an increase in US casualties. This should come as no real surprise given his devotion to the cultural politics of “sacrifice”).

This may be wishful thinking on Kristol’s part.

But what if Kristol is right?

What if Rove is restraining the Neocons because of his long-standing recognition of the powerful, “new isolationism” that runs through US political culture?

Will the passing of the mid-term elections release the Neocons from Rove’s shackles?

If so, then this is actually the calm before the storm.

What if the gathering storm includes a dramatic move to finish out the administration with “rollback” in Iran?

Would it be an enormously risky move that would almost certainly generate extraordinary instability?

Yes.

But “with any luck,” the Democrats will be left holding that bag.

And they will finally deliver the political culture of sacrifice for which Kristol has been pining but which Rove has been unwilling to deliver.

Rubaie Coup

Posted by Cutler on September 28, 2006
China, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “security news” from Iraq continues to be very, very grim. According to a recent–if generic–AP report:

The bodies of 40 men who were shot and had their hands and feet bound have been found in the capital over the past 24 hours, police said Thursday.

All the victims showed signs of torture, police Lt. Thayer Mahmoud said. They were dumped in several neighborhoods in both eastern and western Baghdad, he said….

The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell… said murders and executions are currently the No. 1 cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad.

I continue to be amazed, however, that these stories run–day after day–without any real attempt to put them in a political context.

There is some talk that this violence is not actually “political” or even “sectarian” but simply the work of rogue gangs who thrive on kidnapping and murder amidst the chaotic lawlessness of a city and country that the US refuses to govern.

I’ve got no basis for understanding much about criiminal gang activity, but why all the torture? Surplus brutality for its own sake? Simple sadism, notwithstanding, I tend to think of torture as linked to threats and demands. Are there criminal bandits making demands for ransom? If so, I’ve never seen a single report about such demands.

If the violence is “political” or “sectarian”–the work of politicized death squads–then where is the attempt to situate the deaths on a political axis. Who were the victims? Shiites? Sunnis?

It almost feels like the daily drumbeat of news of “random” violence is accompanied by a news blackout on context. Such reporting only adds to the notion that someone–anyone–should put an end to this anarchy and madness.

Speaking of a Coup

The classic formula for ending “anarchy and madness” is a military coup. I cannot help thinking that the US continues to threaten a coup in Iraq.

The latest nod in that direction comes from a September 28, 2006 New York Times article, “Military Officials Add to U.S. Criticism of Iraq’s Government,” in which unnamed senior U.S. military officials slam the Maliki government on a variety of charges:

Referring to the problem of militias, he added, “There is going to come a time when I would argue we are going to have to force this issue.”

The official said political parties who were plundering ministries were squandering chances to make progress that could reduce sectarian violence.

“I can tell you in every single ministry how they are using that ministry to fill the coffers of the political parties,” the official said. “They are doing that because that is exactly what Saddam Hussein did”…

In recent weeks American and Iraqi officials have privately voiced concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki might not have the will or the political dexterity to bring the country together and avoid a full-scale civil war. Mr. Maliki, they say, is hamstrung and beholden to rival political parties with their own large militias.

Comments offered by senior United States military officials in the last few days have been even more pointed and take in not only the Maliki administration but also the whole of the Iraqi government bureaucracy. The senior military officials agreed to speak only without being identified, because of the delicate nature of the issue.

So, who will “bring the country together” if Maliki cannot do it?

I have no idea. But I do note that there is one Iraqi official who the Times quotes along with the US military officials: Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

A Newsweek profile from December 2004 referred to Rubaie as “Mr. Cellophane” because he is everywhere in the “New” Iraq, but remains largely invisible.

Amidst several political changes–from the US-appointed government of Iyad Allawi to the elected Maliki government, Rubaie has served as “National Security” advisor without interruption.

The Times quotes Rubaie on the current government:

The situation is really serious,” Mr. Rubaie said. “There is no cohesion in the government to help him. There are so many circles he needs to take into consideration when he wants to make a decision. There is a lack of will to stop the violence among the politicians.”

Maybe Rubaie could… “help.” (Some are already predicting he will…)

The meaning of a Rubaie coup would depend on what he does and his base of support (aside from the US).

The Newsweek profile claimed that Rubaie is close to Sistani. And back in 2004 it was Rubaie who pressed for various “deals” with Sadr during his uprisings–only to have his deals undermined by Iyad Allawi. Rubaie is from the Shiite Dawa party–the same as Prime Minister Maliki.
It is, therefore, hardly clear that a Rubaie coup would make sense: he would hardly represent a radical break with Shiite rule.

Unless he was prepared to rely on a very different constituency for his support in a coup. If so, his Shiite credentials would tend to add an aura of “legitimacy” to what would, in effect, be an anti-Shiite coup.

I have no basis for thinking that Rubaie would make such a break.

I do note, however, that in Washington factional politics, Right Zionists seem surprisingly critical of Rubaie.

In a May 2004 article, Michael Rubin of AEI went out of his way to criticize Rubaie–although the charges against him were rather vague and confused:

On April 10, Bremer appointed Mowaffaq al-Rubaie to be Iraq’s National Security Advisor. Iraqis were flabbergasted. Rubaie was the butt of Iraqi jokes. Several different Iraqis say he charged Iraqi businessmen for introductions to CPA officials and access to the Green Zone. Iraqis ridiculed his lack of Iraqi support and his frequent appearances on television. “Mowaffaq’s constituency is CNN, BBC, and [the Arabic satellite network] al-Jazeera,” one Najaf businessman joked…

While State Department officials insisted that Rubaie was an important aide to Grand Ayatollah ‘Ali Sistani (Powell even dined with Rubaie during his September 2003 visit to Baghdad), Iraqis called Rubaie a fraud…

[M]any Iraqis remember… Rubaie’s time as spokesman for the Iranian-backed Islamist al-Da’wa party. Al-Dawa is suspected the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait.

Rubin charges Rubaie with being too close to Iran–a charge that would presumably apply to every other Dawa leader, including Prime Minister Maliki. This hardly makes him the obvious choice to lead an anti-Shiite coup.

But the real issue–for Rubin–would likely be the “dinner” with Colin Powell and his support from within the State Department.

This would make Rubaie a likely candidate to lead an anti-Shiite coup.

Right Zionists Ready to Move On?

There are news reports that Iraqi oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, will travel to China to discuss going forward with oil development contracts awarded under Saddam Hussein.

[Oil ministry spokesman] Asim Jihad told Reuters… “The minister will discuss with Chinese companies fulfilling previous contracts signed with the former regime.”

Iraqi oil officials have previously said they believe China will agree to develop the 90,000-barrel per day (bpd) Ahdab field in south central Iraq as the first project since the war.

The field, with an estimated development cost of $700 million, was awarded to China National Petroleum Corp and Chinese state arms manufacturer Norinco by Saddam.

The deal, like others signed by Saddam, was effectively frozen by international sanctions and then Saddam’s overthrow.

It is too early to get any reaction from Right Zionists. But this much is clear: Right Zionists like Richard Perle were quite clear, on the eve of the US invasion, that the collapse of the sanctions regime in the late 1990s forced the US to act: crumbling sanctions would mean that US rivals and competitors would get access to the oil.

For Right Zionists, China is a rival, not an ally.

If a Shiite Iraqi oil deal with China is not enough to tip the Right Zionists toward support for an anti-Shiite coup, I do not know what would.

Maybe a strategic reconciliation with Saudi Arabia on the basis of mutual animosity toward Iran?

Forget the Democrats

Posted by Cutler on September 27, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists / 5 Comments

As mid-term elections approach, it is reasonable to expect political partisans to try to make Iraq and terror into issues that divide Democrats and Republicans.

William Kristol is certainly correct to point out that Clinton’s red meat slap at Fox and the “right-wingers” behind ABC’s “The Path to 9/11″ was a calculated piece of political theater. And Kristol is candid enough to acknowledge the flip side:

Republican efforts (engineered by the dastardly Karl Rove) to paint Democrats as unreliable in the war on terror… Bush and Rove have had a few good weeks on this issue.

The crux of Rove’s strategy is to transform all discussions of Iraq into discussions of terror. And Democrats will surely be tempted to try to claim this turf for themselves by suggesting that Iraq is now about terror because of Bush’s misguided war (good luck with that!).

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal seems to rejoice in all this.

When the New York Times published elements of a classified National Intelligence Estimate report suggesting that the war in Iraq had fueled terrorist activity, the Journal essentially begged for more. They published an editorial entitled, “Declassify the Terrorism NIE” (subscription only):

So here’s our suggestion for President Bush: Declassify the entire NIE…

As for the substance of the 2006 NIE’s alleged claims, does anyone doubt that many jihadis are rallying against the American presence in Iraq? The newspapers tell us that much every day. Whether the war in Iraq has produced more terrorist hatred than would otherwise exist, however, is a matter of opinion and strategic judgment.

The White House promptly adopted this strategy. More recently, in an editorial entitled “The Decision to Declassify,” the Journal‘s editorial page focuses on the response from Democrats:

The one policymaker who appears to have been swept away on the basis of the leak is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. After Mr. Bush made his announcement, Ms. Pelosi called for the House to go into a “closed” session — the first since 1983 — to discuss the NIE. We’ll set aside the manifest absurdity of the House going into “secret session” to discuss a classified document being made public. The point of Ms. Pelosi’s stunt is to gain traction for the Democratic campaign strategy of telescoping the national-security debate down to her party’s proposal to withdraw from Iraq, thereby neutralizing the GOP’s advantage when the debate is on the broader war on terror

We will hold an election in this country in six weeks and a bigger one in 2008. The war on terror — with or without Iraq — will be central to those votes. If declassifying this national intelligence estimate helps voters in that decision, so much the better.

Hmmm. Hardly shaking in their boots.

The weakness in the Pelosi’s position is not her “proposal” to withdraw from Iraq. The key problem there is that the rest of the Democratic Party refuses to embrace a populist anti-war position.

Instead, the weakness in Pelosi’s position is the effort to try to link Iraq and terror–to use Iraq to say that the war on terror is more serious than the administration acknowledges.

I believe that is what is called an own goal. “So much the better,” as the Journal says.

An “Establishment” Insurgency

On the war in Iraq, the Bush administration does actually face a political insurgency on the home front.

The base of that insurgency, however, arises from within the [Right Arabist] Foreign Policy Estabisment itself–the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass.

This, at least, is the common complaint among Right Zionists.  In a May 3, 2004 article at the National Review Online Michael Rubin of AEI lamented:

The State Department, CENTCOM, and CIA [argue] that only a strongman or benign autocrat can govern Iraq…

Who leaked the NIE to the New York Times? Was it a partisan democrat loyal to Pelosi? Not a chance.

Forget the Democrats.

All the likely suspects come from within the “Republican Establishment.”

The “Establishment” war against the Right Zionists began with the earliest factional fights over Afghanistan and Iraq. The insurgency has been relentless and it has all been “friendly fire” from within a divided Republican administration.

Who argued against toppling Saddam before the war, while most Democrats were preparing to vote for the war? Brent Scowcroft. No Democrat, he.

Who leaked Major General Antonio M. Taguba’s fifty-three-page report on Abu Ghraib to Seymour Hersh at The New Yorker?

Who published Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror? (Answer: Michael Scheuer, CIA.)

Who published Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror? (Answer: Richard Clarke, NSC).

Who has repeatedly slammed the administration for “De-Baathifying” and “Disbanding the army” in Iraq? Retired General Anthony Zinni.

Who went public with charges against a Neocon “cabal” within the Bush administration? Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Who continually calls for the head of Donald Rumsfeld? The military brass, most recently a group of retired officers including Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste.

Are these folks in a marriage of convenience with Democrats? Yes.

Are they anti-war pacifists or isolationists? Hell no.

The point was made by Dana Milbank in his Washington Post column, “For Democrats, Welcome Words on Rumsfeld–If Not the War.”

“Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader,” said Batiste, wearing a pinstripe suit, calling himself a “lifelong Republican” and bearing a slight resemblance to Oliver North…

“Our world is much less safe today than it was on September 11,” Batiste said, echoing the administration’s newly leaked intelligence estimate.

Batiste, who retired in protest rather than accept a three-star promotion, was a persuasive witness — and Democrats were joyous…

But Democrats, while celebrating Batiste’s criticism of the administration, exercised some selective listening at the hearing when Batiste and his colleagues offered their solution: more troops, more money and more time in Iraq.

The “real” domestic insurgency is led by Right Arabists who lost control of the ship of state after 9/11. For better or worse, the “real” domestic insurgency is not led by Democrats. It is led by Republicans.

Specifically, Right Arabists.

Right Arabist Republicans like George H.W. Bush.

Iraqi Partition: A Test of Iranian Influence?

Posted by Cutler on September 25, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Iraqi political elites have been wrangling over the issue of “regional autonomy” since early September when SCIRI introduced its push for the recognition of an autonomous southern Shiite region.

If the SCIRI move is viewed as part of an Iranian bid for power, then the battle lines that have formed over this issue may say something about the future of Iranian influence in Iraq.

An Iranian Push for Iraqi Shiite Autonomy?

Is Hakim acting as an agent of Iranian influence in this instance? I have no independent basis, at this time, for evaluating the “accusation.”

I do note, however, that Stratfor‘s September 6, 2006 report–“Iraq: Tehran’s Shiite Autonomy Solution” (subscription required)–does not hesistate to level the charge:

Combining existing provinces into federal zones would allow Tehran and its Shiite allies in Iraq to wield greater power over the Iraqi state by creating an additional layer of government…

SCIRI — led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who also heads the UIA — is the most powerful and pro-Iranian component of the UIA…

By rearranging the provinces into autonomous federal zones along the lines of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, the pro-Iranian Shia have found a way to consolidate their gains over power and the oil resources in the south. The Iraqi Shia and their Iranian patrons are trying to make regional autonomy the rule rather than an exception limited to the Kurds.

Iraq: America’s Gift to Iran? (Beats a Cake and a Bible)

Ever since the US “helped” Iraqi Shiites win political control of Iraq (formally, at least), critics have been accusing the Bush administration of essentially turning Iraq over to Iran.

The charge of aiding Iran is one of the chief arguments behind the notion of Bush administration “incompetence.” After all, the Bush administration is clearly hawkish on Iran. So the enhancement of Iranian influence would have to be an unintended consequence of foolish “democratization” dreams.

Right Zionists were ready with a response: Iraqi Shiites are no friends of the Iranian regime. Michael Ledeen, for example, predicted in the New York Sun at the start of the war:

If we understand this war correctly, the Iraqi Shi’ites will fight alongside us against the Iranian terrorists, for the Iraqis want freedom, and they know they will not get any from the mullahs in Tehran.

I have previously written about the Right Zionist idea of a so-called Najaf-Qom rivalry (especially here). The notion prompted Swopa at Needlenose to comment on Cutler’s Blog:

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true.Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Given what he has said elsewhere about the vacuity of Iraqi sovereignty, I doubt that Swopa would say that the “Shiite parties” have now “cemented their control over Iraq.”

Nevertheless, with the current impasse over the issue of “partition,” we may now be at a moment when Sistani and the Iranians may have to settle their differences, one way or the other.

Needless to say, the Sunni political establishment is extremely hostile to any partition schemes. But, as the Washington Post and other media outlets have been reporting, several key Shiite forces have joined Sunni politicians in opposing an autonomous southern Shiite (let alone a Kurdish region in the north, based in Kirkuk).

Sadr is opposed. And, according to a Gulf News report, both the Shiite Fadhila/Virtue party and the Karbala-based forces of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani are also opposed. None of this is shocking: each of these groups include militias that have clashed with SCIRI’s “Badr Brigades” militia.

So, in some respects, the key “swing” factor may turn out to be Sistani.

Where is Sistani?

The big, recent headline is that Sistani has essentially “retired.” We’ll see. I have my doubts.

The key partisans in the debate over partition certainly still seem to think Sistani matters.

The Kurds–who favor autonomy for Shiites as a way of enhancing their own autonomy leverage–were quick to suggest that Sistani supports partition. According to a Kurdish press report,

A representative of the revered Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah al-Sistani has told Muslims attending Friday prayers in the southern city of Nasiriya that the Islamic faith sanctions federalism, and that it is the correct system of government for Iraq.

“Federalism is a form of governance that has had a place in the history of Islam and which it allows,” said Mohammed Baqir al-Nasiri.

But the Sunni opposition also claimed to have Sistani on its side. According to a September 13, 2006 report in the Washington Post,

[Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mahmoud] Mashhadani said Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, had ordered Shiite politicians to back off from the plan in order to prevent bitter infighting.

So, which is it?

Maybe it is too soon to say. The most recent news–a Washington Post article entitled, “Iraqi Parties Reach Deal Postponing Federalism“–is that the legislature may vote later this week on a resolution, but even an affirmative vote would essentially delay any actual autonomy moves until 2008.

Maybe this goes to Swopa’s point that any differences between Sistani and Iran will be settled later.

It may be worth noting, however, that Sistani’s key ally in the government–Hussein al-Shahristani, the Oil Minister–has been pushing back against autonomy moves.

Most recently, he questioned the validity at Kurdish oil deals. According to the Financial Times,

Hussein al-Shahristani, the oil minister, was quoted by the state-run al-Sabaah newspaper as saying: “The ministry isn’t committed to oil investment contracts signed in the past . . . by officials of the government of the Kurdistan region which were announced as contracts for investment and the development of oil fields”…

The latest dispute comes as Iraq’s parliamentarians on Sunday agreed to begin debate on the issue of federalism, but said they would delay the creation of any new autonomous areas for at least 18 months.

Can Shahristani’s move against the Kurds be taken as indicative of Sistani’s view of partition, more generally?

Is the delay of Hakim’s autonomy move a sign that Iraqi Shiites–along with Sunnis–will, in fact, resist Iranian influence in Iraq?

How will Hakim and Iran respond to the failure of the autonomy push?

Everybody Hates Sadr

Posted by Cutler on September 14, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Moqtada al-Sadr plays an unusual role on the chess board of US factional politics in Iraq.

As a radical Shiite–one who allegedly favors direct clerical rule and orthodox governance of everyday life–his ascendance is presumably a crisis for Right Arabists in the US foreign policy establishment who fear that the war in Iraq has facilitated the rise of a Shiite crescent in the Middle East.

As a radical Shiite–one who has consistently challenged the “moderate” leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani–he becomes a target for Right Zionists. As William Kristol and Rich Lowry suggested in their September 12, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Reinforce Baghdad,”

[T]he violence perpetrated by the Shiite militias is directly related to politics. It is part of a power play by the likes of Moqtada al-Sadr to marginalize moderate figures such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Sistani’s recent statement of disgust with Iraqi politics suggests that Sadr’s gambit may be working. Sending more American troops at this juncture would not be a simple-minded and clumsy substitution of military force for political finesse. It would be an attempt to influence Iraq’s political situation in our favor.

It should come as no surprise, then, that foreign policy factional players in the US who disagree about most things in Iraq seem to agree on one thing: everybody loves hates Raymond Sadr.

There are those–including elements of the US military–who fear that a direct assault on Sadr is simply too dangerous, politically and militarily, because everybody (in Sadr City) loves Sadr. But this is simply a tactical issue. Even these folks would like to target Sadr if they thought they could get away with it.

But this map of Sadrist political contours, viewed through the lens of US factionalism, doesn’t tell the whole story.

On the crucial question of regional autonomy/partition–where most Right Zionists support Shiite and Kurdish pressure for the breakup of Iraq and most Right Arabists stand firmly with those who favor the old unity maintained under Sunni Arab rule–Sadr stands with Sunni Arabs against the sectarian breakup of Iraq.

This was made clear, in recent days, as other elements of the Shiite governing coalition pressed for regional autonomy. According to the Washington Post article “Sadr Holds Out Against Plan to Divide Iraq,”

Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, remains adamantly opposed to a controversial plan to partition Iraq into a federation of three largely independent regions, a top Sadr aide said Monday.

Sadr’s objection to the plan remains steadfast despite a meeting Sunday night in Najaf between Sadr and his intermittent rival Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the prominent Shiite political party that is leading the push for federalism.

Sadr’s bloc broke with Hakim’s party to support the Sunni boycott on Sunday. That move prompted Hakim to meet later in the day with Sadr and then with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, although he declined to describe their conversations.

On this question, then, Sadr stands with Sunni political elites and their Right Arabist allies in Washington. And, for what it is worth, Sadr apparently has an ally in George W. Bush on this question.

I argued some time ago that this made Sadr’s position on partition was best explained by pragmatic politics relating to his unique situation as a leader of poor Shiites in Sunni-dominated Central Iraq. And I also argued that on this issue Sadr is a natural ally of Right Arabists.

Insofar as partition is the issue, the real split in Iraq is between Sunni Arabs and Sadrists, on the one hand, and the “mainstream” Shiites and Kurds, on the other.

Nowhere has the evidence of such an alliance been more visible than in recent debates over partition.  A Washington Post article entitled “Federalism Plan Dead, Says Iraqi Speaker” tells the story:

[Parliamentary Speaker] Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said in an interview that legislation to implement a concept known as federalism, which threatened to collapse the country’s fragile multi-sect government, would likely be postponed indefinitely after a meeting of political leaders on Wednesday….

“It is not possible to venture or to start the application of federalism now.”

“Look, Iraqi blood is more important than federalism,” he said.

So, in light of the alliance between Sunni Arab politicians like Mashhadani and Shiites aligned with Sadr, why don’t Right Arabists in the US embrace Sadr?

The answer may be that for Right Arabists opposition to partition–important as it is–is still less important than one other issue: an ongoing, forceful US military presence in Iraq.

The problem with Sadr, for Right Arabists (and, to be sure, Right Zionists) is not that Sadr is too close to Iran (he is arguable less close than the defenders of Shiite autonomy). It is not his vision of everyday life (do Right Arabists even care?).

The problem with Sadr is that he continues to demand US withdrawal from Iraq.

According to a September 13, 2006 Associated Press report (via the Guardian), Sadr made has once again made a push for US withdrawal.

A group of lawmakers tried to take advantage Tuesday of the unpopularity of U.S. troops among many Shiite and Sunni legislators to seek approval of a resolution setting a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops – which the mainstream Shiite-dominated government has so far refused to do.

Sponsored by supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and some Sunni Arabs, the resolution managed to get 104 signatures in the 275-member parliament before was effectively shelved by being sent to a committee for review.

The Associated Press report suggests that the Shiite-dominated government has refused to support a demand for US withdrawal. True enough. But according to some reports, it was Sadr’s erstwhile ally on partition–the Sunni Arab Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud Al Mashhadani–that scuttled the resolution.

Wasn’t Sadr’s participation in the government–a government formed under the watchful eyes of US military occupation–a sign that he was moderating his line on US withdrawal?

Sadr looks increasingly “Leninist” in his approach to participation in government. Here is one of his key aides, Mustafa Yaqoubi, in an interview for another Ellen Knickmeyer Washington Post profile by Sudarsan Raqhavan and Ellen Knickmeyer on Sadr entitled, “Sadr, A Question Mark in Black.”

“We have entered a political game,” said Yaqoubi, who wore a black turban signifying his descent from the prophet Muhammad. “We entered this government to use it as a weapon to make pressure on the occupiers.”

Maybe it is too obvious to have to say, but the “problem” with Sadr–apart from any of his complex relations with sectarian factionalism–is that he and his movement appears to be relentlessly opposed to the US occupation as a matter of…dare I say it?…principle.

If so, his nationalist principles–and credentials–are even more intense than those of Sunni Arab policians like Parliamentary speaker Mahmud Al Mashhadani.

Afghanistan: The Salad Days

Posted by Cutler on September 07, 2006
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

It will be tempting for critics of the Bush administration to read news of a new peace treaty between Taliban forces and the Pakistani government as one more way to criticize the war in Iraq.

“See?… We were supposed to be fighting the actual war on terror. But we didn’t. Instead we were distracted by a cabal of Neoconservatives into fighting the wrong war in Iraq. Now, our real enemies are on the rise again in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

(Has somebody already said all this? Probably. The “quote” above is hypothetical, but I would welcome any links).

There are both dangers and errors in this tempting line of criticism.

Danger, Will Robinson…

The danger, for the Left, is in trying to hit the Bush administration from its Right.

File this under “Careful What you Wish” (CWW for the IM crowd?).

Do you really want to be more hawkish than this administration? Or is this simply about demonstrating Bush administration hypocrisy?

Do you really prefer a consistent Bush administration that actually stays the course in its Global War on Terror?

Some may very well answer, Yes. Such hawks should not hide behind the softer charge of hypocrisy so they can “hang” with the groovy anti-war crowd.

For those who answer, No, it might make more sense to understand why the Bush administration has let Afghanistan slip.

Remembering Factionalism: The Salad Days

With the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, let’s take a stroll down memory lane back to the early days of the War on Terror.

There is a tendency to think of Afghanistan as the “consensus” war and Iraq as the source of discord. Not so within the Bush administration.

Factionalism after 9/11 did not start because some in the administration wanted to talk about Iraq. It started with Afghanistan.

Recall, for example, a Willliam Kristol Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “Bush vs. Powell,” archived on the website of the Project for a New American Century.

It is a great opening salvo in the factional war between Right Zionists like Kristol and Right Arabists like Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The president devoted a good chunk of his speech to an indictment of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan: “In Afghanistan we see al Qaeda’s vision for the world. Afghanistan’s people have been brutalized . . . we condemn the Taliban regime.” Further: “By aiding and abetting murder the Taliban regime is committing murder.”…

On Sunday, by contrast, the secretary of state drew a distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban, and more or less dismissed concerns about the Taliban: “With respect to the nature of the regime in Afghanistan, that is not uppermost in our minds right now. . . . I’m not going to say that it has become one of the objectives of the United States government to either remove or put in place a different regime.”

At the time, it might have seemed like Powell was simply playing the anti-war dove. Maybe. But there were also regional strategic issues involved.

The Taliban was a product of the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis were closely aligned with the Saudis. Right Arabists were not prepared to break any of these ties.

By contrast the “Northern Alliance” (remember them?) were aligned with Iran and India. And India was closely aligned with Israel. And Iran was once Israel’s best friend in the region. Right Zionists wanted to topple the Taliban as the first step in a regional re-alignment that would ultimately break the alliance between the US and the Saudis.

Kristol (with Robert Kagan) wrote a follow-up on the factional battle over Afghanistan in a November 26, 2001 Weekly Standard article entitled “A Winning Strategy.”

The original strategy, promoted especially by State Department officials under Secretary of State Colin Powell, in cooperation with the CIA, was unenthusiastic about too rapid a military advance by the Northern Alliance against Taliban positions in the north and around Kabul, and was therefore not designed to aid such an advance.

From the very outset, even before the bombing began on October 7, there was a fundamental disagreement between the Pentagon and the State Department over how to manage the situation in Afghanistan. On September 26, the Washington Post reported an “ongoing debate” between the State Department and the Pentagon over the objective. Pentagon officials wanted to “ensure that the campaign ends with the ouster of the Taliban.” But State Department officials argued the administration should “be cautious and focus on bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.” Secretary Powell was reluctant to make the overthrow of the Taliban the stated objective of the war.

The State Department’s position reflected concern for the sensitivities of the Pakistani government and its nervous president, General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan had long supported the Taliban, and the government wanted a guarantee that some Taliban elements would have a share in any postwar government. The Pakistanis were also acutely hostile to the Northern Alliance and wanted to make sure that it would be kept out of a new government or would have at most a minimal role…

[T]he State Department pursued what became known as the “southern strategy.” State Department and CIA officials worked arduously to put together a Pashtun coalition acceptable to Pakistan. In the process, attempting to sweeten the pot, the State Department made a significant compromise regarding the future role of the Taliban. Secretary Powell, meeting with President Musharraf in the second week of October, agreed with the Pakistani president that “moderate” Taliban members might be able “to participate in developing a new Afghanistan.”

This is the background story of factionalism that led us to the current moment in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Those who want to use the fact of a resurgent Taliban to whip the neocons for their war in Iraq should be very clear: you are playing on their home turf.

The Right Zionists would be the first–indeed, they were the first–to criticize Right Arabist compromises with Musharraf and the Taliban.

Iraq: Back to Square One

Posted by Cutler on September 06, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “political” scene in Iraq has been muddling through for some time now, not least because of major inconsistencies in US policy.

At the start of the war, the US made different–and largely incompatible–promises to different sectors of Iraqi society.

Iraq’s Sunni military officers were told that the US was interested in nothing more than “Saddamism without Saddam.”

Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds were told to prepare for a social revolution in Iraq: de-Baathification and the end of Sunni minority rule in Iraq.

Since those days, the Bush administration has flip-flopped on this question, twisting and turning with dramatic but totally inconsistent policies, each favored by rival Bush administration factions (for the latest salvo in that factional war, see Right Zionist Frank Gaffney‘s most recent attack on Right Arabist influence at the State Department).

Paul Bremer’s May 2003 de-Baathification order–hailed by Right Zionists–was immediately followed by Bremer’s own efforts to take it all back, culminating in the US appointment of ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi as the Iraqi Prime Minister in June 2004–a victory for Right Arabists.

Then the US sponsored elections in 2005–celebrated by Right Zionists–but continued, under Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, to seek reconciliation with various elements of the Sunni resistance, as suggested by Right Arabists.

After all this wavering and waffling, it was beginning to look like the US might simply stall indefinitely on these questions, keeping all parties in Iraq “on their toes” through policies designed to keep everyone guessing about US intentions.

That trend may continue, but there have been some signs in recent days that the US may be pressed to come clean on the old, central political issue of Sunni minority rule.

Bring Back the Baath

On the Sunni side, there was the extraordinarily clear and simple statement by a group of Sunni tribal leaders: Bring Back Saddam Hussein.

The news came in a September 3, 2006 Washington Post article entitled, “A Demand for Hussein’s Release,”

A coalition of 300 Iraqi tribal leaders on Saturday demanded the release of Saddam Hussein so he could reclaim the presidency and also called for armed resistance against U.S.-led forces.

The clan chieftains, most of them Sunni Arabs, included the head of the 1.5 million-member al-Obeidi tribe, said they planned to hold rallies in Sunni cities throughout the country to insist that Hussein be freed and that the charges against him and his co-defendants be dropped.

These are hardly the first signs of Sunni Arab resistance to US policy. That is not the novelty. What is striking about the statement is the simplicity of the demand: let’s go right back to SQUARE ONE.

Nothing subtle here like support for an ex-Baathist like Allawi. Not Saddamism without Saddam. Nope. Saddam Hussein himself.

Sistani: Can You Hear Me Now?

At roughly the same time, there have been some rumblings from Grand Ayatollah Sistani–the most senior Shiite cleric in Iraq.

On the one hand, there is the widely circulated September 3, 2006 report in the Telegraph that Sistani is essentially quitting the political front.

I will not be a political leader any more,” he told aides. “I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters.”…

Asked whether Ayatollah al-Sistani could prevent a civil war, Mr al-Jaberi replied: “Honestly, I think not. He is very angry, very disappointed.”

He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani’s decision. “He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him,” he said. “After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad.”

The guilt-tripping about how nobody comes to visit anymore seems to have worked wonders: the same Washington Post article that reported on the “Free Saddam” confab also reported that Sistani had a special visitor:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to the southern city of Najaf on Saturday to discuss the deteriorating security situation with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite leader in Iraq. Sistani’s office said in a statement after the meeting that he supported Maliki’s 28-step national reconciliation plan and called on the government to quickly reduce violence in the country before other groups, such as armed militias, fill the void.

If folks at the Telegraph thought that Sistani’s complaint that nobody comes to visit made him sound like he was settling in for life as a retired grandparent, Sunni political leaders in Iraq were not so sure.

According to an Associated Press report, Maliki’s visit to Sistani prompted complaints from Sunni MP Saleh al-Mutlaq:

Al-Mutlaq… unleashed a barrage of criticism against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national unity government, saying it should not be taking its cue from the top Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

“…I say we don’t need to visit anyone as a government, an independent government that should be making its decisions on its own, not based on (directions) from a religious authority.”

Maliki went to see the Ayatollah with recent “coup” rumors on his mind.

Back in late July 2006, reports of such a coup hit the US media. An article in the Washington Post quoted concerned Shiite politicians:

Hadi al-Amiri, a member of parliament from Iraq’s most powerful political party, said in a speech in the holy city of Najaf that “some tongues” were talking about toppling Maliki’s Shiite-led government and replacing it with a “national salvation government, which we call a military coup government”

A new government would mean “canceling the constitution, canceling the results of the elections and going back to square one . . . and we will not accept that,” he said.

Amiri is also a top official in the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the leading member of a coalition of Shiite political parties governing Iraq.

At that time, bloggers in the US (including Praktike and Swopa) wondered how Sistani would respond to such a coup?

So, it seems, did Prime Minister Maliki.

According to at least one report on Arab media coverage of the meeting, Maliki got nod he was looking for from Sistani:

In a press conference following the meeting, Maliki told journalists that ‘Sistani stands as a support for the government,’ emphasizing that the government was able to solve the problems in the country and not ‘a salvation government’ which ‘enemies of the political process’ call for.

And, not coincidentally, Sistani got confirmation that Maliki would resist calls to dump Sistani’s closest ally in the government, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani.

Far from stepping back from the “political front,” Sistani may actually be stepping up.

Amidst all the political alternation of Bush administration policy and the recent chatter about US support for a coup, Sistani seems ready to press the Bush administration for some clarity, especially with reports in the news that James Baker–Secretary of State during the administration of George HW Bush and a leading Right Arabist critic of Shiite empowerment–was in Iraq meeting with Sunni leaders.

Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s Shiite Deputy President, made a “private visit” to Washington to meet with administration figures including Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

According to a Jackson Diehl column in the Washington Post–“Not Wanted: An Exit Strategy“–Mahdi was sent to Washington on behalf of Sistani to ask, amidst all the factionalism and waffling in the Bush administration, if the US was prepared to back Shiite rule or support an anti-Shiite coup:

[Mahdi] was here to deliver a message, and ask a question, on behalf of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who remains Iraq’s single most influential figure — and the linchpin of the past 40 months of political reconstruction. Sistani’s message to Bush, Mahdi told a group of reporters I joined last week, was that “Iraqis are sticking to the principles of the constitution and democracy.” But the ayatollah wanted to know if the United States is still on board as well.

“It’s a critical moment. We want to be sure that we understand perfectly what’s going on, and what is the real strategy of the United States in Iraq,” Mahdi said. “We read in the press about different perspectives and attitudes. That’s why we want to be clear — whether there is a Plan B.”

According to a report in the Financial Times (Guy Dinmore, “Bush Holds to Rhetoric of No Appeasement As Critics Fred Over Failures,” September 4, 2006; subscribers only), Mahdi got something like an answer from Washington:

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s vice-president, said he came to Washington last week to ask Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, the vice-president, what their “real strategy” was in Iraq, whether there really was a “plan B” as talked about in the media – all in the context of US domestic politics and the election build-up. In reply, he was told the Bush team would hold “steady”.

Mr Abdul-Mahdi also carried an unusual verbal message to the White House from Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shia Muslim cleric. The spiritual leader expressed Iraqis’ commitment to democracy and their constitution and called on “others” to stick to those principles.

A regional expert who advises the White House said Mr Abdul-Mahdi came to Washington because the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, was losing its trust in Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to Baghdad.

Was Sistani comforted to know that the Bush administration would hold “steady”? In the context of all the administation’s zigzag approach to Iraqi politics, what would it even mean to hold “steady”?

How long can the Bush administration delay the day of political reckoning with a “steady” policy of oscillation and vacillation?

Sistani, for one, seems ready for a reckoning.

Sistani & Iraqi Oil

Posted by Cutler on August 29, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

The “so-called Iraqi government” must have got wind of blogosphere accusations from folks like Swopa and Michael Schwartz that the various Iraqi ministers, etc. represented nothing so much as an empty shell of a so-called “state.”

In response, the “government” seems to be making a bid for relevance with a new effort to resolve the minor issue of Iraqi oil.  It may be a failed bid, but even as an attempt it seems interesting and a bit surprising.

After all, there are many serious, outstanding, potentially explosive political issues on the horizon in Iraq, but it seemed like most of that contentious stuff was on hold.  Who really wants to make waves when the ship of state is sinking and the whole country is going down the drain?

Answer: the Maliki government.

The Financial Times offers up the basic story and some important analysis:

Iraq’s main political factions have hammered out an agreement on the sharing of oil and gas revenues but other contentious issues need to be resolved before a draft hydrocarbon law is completed, a senior Iraqi official said on Tuesday.

Barham Salih, deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, told reporters in Washington by video link from Baghdad that the revenue sharing dispute had been settled during three days of intense talks at a “retreat” last week.

That contentious issue is out,” he said. The cabinet hopes to present the draft law to parliament by the end of the year, he added.

Oil and gas revenues would be shared out at the federal level and redistributed to the regions according to population and “needs”, he said. This would still provide an incentive to regional oil companies to maximise output, he added.

Mr Salih, the most senior Kurd in the cabinet, did not elaborate on the negotiating process but the agreement would appear to be a compromise by the Kurdistan regional government.

Under its own regional draft oil law published this month, Kurdistan – which has already started signing contracts with foreign companies – would have received directly the revenues from “future fields”.

Hussain al-Shahristani, the oil minister from the main Shia alliance, has insisted that the federal government control all of Iraq’s resources. The formerly ruling Sunni minority fears the new constitution, which could yet be amended, would hand control of future oil development to the Shia and Kurdish dominated regions.

The key line seems to be this: “the agreement would appear to be a compromise by the Kurdistan regional government.”

We’ll see how this goes down with the Kurds.  Kurdish politicians have been trying to “manage discontent” within their own ranks since the US invasion in 2003.  We’ll see how this compromise affects Salih’s popularity among Kurds.

It would also appear that this dose of tough love was delivered to the Kurds courtesy of oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani who the politician thought to be most closely identified with Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Shahristani also talks a very good game when it comes to dealing with major international oil companies.  One recent Reuters article described him as “hell-bent on moving swiftly to lure foreign cash to rebuild and power the country’s economy.”

[Still think Right Zionists have been disappointed by Sistani?]

Does the move also represent something of a snub for Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), also at the hands of Sistani?

In a recent Associated Press interview, Hakim once again reiterated his commitment to regional autonomy for southern Iraqi Shiites:

Al-Hakim also said parliament should forge ahead with the establishment of a federal system in Iraq that would include a southern Shiite province.

“We need to legislate the mechanism and the rules inside in the parliament and that is supposed to take place in the coming few weeks.

Establishing such a Shiite federal region will entail an amendment to the constitution and approval in a referendum.

That province would resemble the northern Kurdish region. Sunni Arabs could wind up squeezed into Baghdad and Iraq’s western provinces. Many Sunnis fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of the country.

True enough, centralized control of oil and gas resources might mollify some Sunnis.  But it also threatens to anger Shiites like Hakim and independence-minded Kurds.

For what it is worth, Sadr will be pleased if parliament ultimately approves a centralizing hydrocarbon law.  As I discussed some time ago, Sadr is adamantly opposed to regional autonomy.  Nevertheless, recent reports suggest that Maliki may use an upcoming “cabinet reshuffle” to distance himself from Sadr.

If there is an Iraqi government, it would seem to be run by Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Sadr and the Coming Coup in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on August 27, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

The media is full of Moqtada al-Sadr these days. In fact, even Sadr City’s own Keyser Söze–the mythical Abu Dera (or, Abu Dereh, or most recently, Abu Diri)–has made it to the big time.

Ellen Knickmeyer has a big profile of “Abu Diri” in today’s Washington Post entitledDisavowed by Mahdi Army, Shadowy ‘Butcher’ Still Targets Sadr’s Foes.” And Newsweek asks, “Iraq: Is Moqtada Losing His Grip?” in an article about alleged divisions within Sadr’s ranks. For some background, see my previous posts (especially, here and here).

The Knickmeyer article on Abu Diri is part of a larger series of reports on Sadr and the Mahdi army, including a front-page August 24, 2006 report entitled “‘Shiite Giant’ Extends Its Reach” and front-page August 25, 2006 report entitled “Sadr’s Militia and the Slaughter in the Streets.”

It is interesting to note that even in Knickmeyer’s Abu Diri article, the lead quote goes to a US military official who asserts an ongling link to Sadr, not tension with Sadr.

U.S. military officials, distrustful of Sadr after battling his Mahdi Army in the first two years of the war, believe Abu Diri is linked to the militia.

He’s the enforcer,” said 1st Lt. Zeroy Lawson, the intelligence officer with a small U.S. Army unit that works in Sadr City and is responsible for helping train the Iraqi army there. “He goes after specific targets” of Sadr and the Mahdi Army.

Lawson called him Sadr City’s agent “for external affairs,” going across Baghdad in pursuit of Sunnis or any others seen as enemies.

The strange thing about some of this high-profile Sadr chatter is that it doesn’t directly emerge out of “news” events. These are more like feature stories.

So, one is tempted to ask: why all the attention to Sadr?

One answer is that there is a battle going on within US policy circles about how to deal with Sadr and/or splits among the Sadrists. Is Sadr still a force for “nationalist, anti-occupation” energy, potentially aligned with Sunni insurgents? Or is Sadr losing control of his base precisely because his nationalist focus looks weak in the climate of sectarian violence? Perhaps his base wants to fight back against and/or avenge anti-Shiite attacks, unwilling to blame such attacks on the “occupier.”

Are Sadrists more dangerous as one wing of a nationalist, anti-occupation insurgency? Or as a violent Shiite sectarian force that fans the flames of civil war?

If there is US factionalism in the response to these questions, I am not yet able to trace the lines of that dispute (e.g., Right Arabists fear him more/less than Right Zionists do as a sectarian Shiite force than as a “nationalist” insurgent?)

The Cry of Anarchy

In a previous post from June 2006, I discussed a big “pronouncement” from Thomas Friedman in the New York Times entitled Insurgency Out, Anarchy In (subscription required). This article seemed to signal a political turning point for US policy toward Iraq.

You see, the insurgency in Iraq is in its “last throes” just like Dick Cheney said. Unfortunately, its being replaced by anarchy in many neighborhoods not democracy

Indeed, there has been a subtle but important change in the violence in Iraq. The main enemy in many places is no longer the Sunni insurgency. It is anarchy.

We are not losing Iraq to the Iraqi Vietcong–traditional nationalists. Iraq has a freely elected nationalist government. No, we are losing in Iraq to sectarian theocrats, Islamo-fascists and local and regional tyrants.

Of course, I thought then and still think now that the whole “last throes” thing is way off the mark. However, I think it is interesting that Friedman adopted the line that the “main enemy” in his view is “no longer the Sunni insurgency.” In other words, even as they fight on, he seems confident that they can be coopted.

Instead, the main enemy now is Sadr, his Mahdi Army, and various splinter groups of “local and regional tyrants.”

The cry of “anarchy” is, often enough, the prelude to a coup. Someone–perhaps an ex-Baathist like Allawi declares a state of emergency to restore order and save the nation with a group of military officers who call themselves a “National Salvation Front” or some such thing.

And there has been chatter about a coup. Count on Robert Dreyfuss (who I have criticized here) to both notice–and celebrate–signs that the US is preparing to support a coup in Iraq.

Those who scoff at the mainstream media will have trouble explaining the page 1 story in the Times today, a blockbuster expose. And, it saves its biggest punch for the end. I wont do that. Here it is:

Some outside experts who have recently visited the White House said Bush administration officials were beginning to plan for the possibility that Iraqs democratically elected government might not survive.Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy, said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

Get that? Considering alternatives other than democracy. That can mean a lot of things, and Id like to see some fairly intensive follow-up. Does that mean that the United States is thinking about a coup detat in Iraq? If so, by whom? There has been a lot of chatter in Baghdad over the past several months about a coup, usually said to be plotted by disaffected Sunnis. There has also been talk of a national unity-type government by fiat, sort of a collective coup, but who knows what that might mean. One thing for sure: the title of the piece I wrote for TomPaine.com recently (Maliki: Dead Man Walking) could not be more appropriate. Hes history.

In some respects, the US has been walking away from “democracy”–i.e., rule by a Shiite majority–for some time, under pressure from Right Arabists long opposed to the US tilt away from dependence on minority rule by Sunni authoritarianism. A coup would just be a final step in this direction and one mainly designed to dump Maliki on account of his dependence on Sadr.

There are big questions here.

For example, would Sistani back such a coup (not because he supports a restoration of Sunni authoritarianism, but only insofar as he may see Sadr as his greatest/nearest foe at the moment)?

But I am even more haunted by a more general question: does the Maliki government even matter? Is it necessary to have a coup against an empty shell of a government?

These questions come, most directly, from Swopa at Needlenose:

But can they really be fantasizing about an anti-Shiite coup? Aside from the fact that it would multiply the U.S. occupation’s enemies well past the ability of our military to handle them, what would be the point?

Since nearly all of the relevant power in the country is essentially outside of government control already, or at best only paying lip service to it, staging a coup in Iraq would be like trying to steal a car that’s already been stripped for parts and is sitting on wooden blocks. Or maybe like trying to hijack a flight-simulator game in an arcade.

Funny. But also potentially accurate?

Michael Schwartz has often argued–if I understand his argument correctly–that the US essentially gave up on the idea of empowering an Iraqi state some time ago, probably around the battle over Jaafari that gave us his aide, Maliki. In a recent post at Tomdispatch entitled “7 Facts You Might Not Know about the Iraq War,” Schwartz hammers away at this point in Fact #1:

1. The Iraqi Government Is Little More Than a Group of “Talking Heads”

A minimally viable central government is built on at least three foundations: the coercive capacity to maintain order, an administrative apparatus that can deliver government services and directives to society, and the resources to manage these functions. The Iraqi government has none of these attributes — and no prospect of developing them.

Indeed, this argument goes quite a distance toward explaining what I noted at the time: the formation of the Maliki government avoided the kind of bitter battles that met all prior US efforts to form a government.

Why?

Because nobody cared about the balance of sectarian forces for a government that was not destined to be viable.

I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by this argument. And I think it is a very different thing to imply that nobody in the region or in Washington now cares whether Iraq tilts toward Iran or toward Saudi Arabia. Or to imply that the US doesn’t care about Iraqi politics.

But I think it is worth pondering. Thoughts?

The Eyes of Alusi

Posted by Cutler on August 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

As a reporter, Nancy Youssef has a peculiar approach to covering Iraq. She seems, at times, to view Iraq through the eyes of Iraq’s most pro-Israel Sunni Arab politician (only pro-Israel Sunni Arab politician?) MP Mithal al Alusi.

According to an Associated Press report, Alusi was part of Ahmed Chalabi’s inner circle until he made a 2004 trip to Israel that caused a firestorm in Iraqi political circles.

In an June 2006 post, I commented on a peculiar article by Nancy Youssef under the headline “Iran now enemy No. 1, Sunnis say: Fears fhift from Israel to Shi’ite nation next door“:

Sunni Muslims have begun to ask: Is Israel really Iraq’s enemy or is it neighboring Iran?

Sunnis are often not comfortable talking openly about Israel, especially in a region where most Arabs won’t refer to it by name and blame Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians. But privately, many have said Israel has not done anything lately to harm them, but Iran has…

While campaigning for a seat in the new parliament, Mithal al Alusi called for stronger ties between Israel and Iraq, and he appears to have won. He said some Iraqis are warming to a stronger relationship with Israel, in part because they are frightened of Iran’s influence. “They are afraid of Iran’s extremist political system,” he said.

Swopa at Needlenose subsequently mentioned this article in a very important post entitled “Switching sides on the Sunni-Shiite Seesaw.” In a ZNet article called “The Devil Wears Persian” I also discussed the ways in which Right Zionists who courted Shiite moderates in Iraq during “Act One” of the Bush Revolution might be attempting to cultivate a “marriage of convenience” between Sunni Arabs and Israel as “Act Two” of the Bush Revolution. The idea of such a “marriage” continues to have implications for political developments in Lebanon (discussed in recent posts here and here).

More recently, Youssef has been reporting on Prime Minister Maliki and his “security crackdowns” in Basra and Baghdad.

What is interesting about the Youssef reporting is not really what it tells about recent battles between rival Shiite factions–including the followers of Mahmoud al-Hassani in Basra and Karbala and the “Fadilla/Virtue Party” followers of Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi in Basra (for this, see the August 17, 2006 Washington Post article, “Rival Shiite Militias Clash in Southern Iraq“).

Youssef’s earlier report on the prospect of pro-Israeli, anti-Iranian sentiment among Iraqi Sunni Arabs was drawn from thin air; Alusi was her only real source, apart from one random “Sunni on the street” quote. Nevertheless, it was surprisingly “prescient” about emergent Right Zionist projects in the region. Perhaps her current reporting may be similarly indicative of things to come.

If so, then Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and his ally Moqtada al-Sadr might be in for a rough ride if Right Zionists have their way.

Back on July 4, 2006, Youssef reported that Maliki’s security crackdown in Basra had “failed.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s first major security initiative, a 30-day state of emergency intended to restore peace to Basra… appears to have failed, residents there report.

The state of emergency ended Saturday, but residents said that little had changed: Shiite militias and tribes still control the city’s streets, political factions still fight for control of the city, and Shiite Muslim militias still threaten Sunni Muslims with death

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq’s interior minister, who was named to the post seven days into the Basra plan, acknowledged that the initiative had not worked.

Even though Bolani seems to be the lead source on the “failed” crackdown, Youssef doesn’t deliver a quote from Bolani that makes the point.

Still–giving Youssef the benefit of the doubt, for the sake of argument–let’s say that Bolani did declare the Maliki crackdown a failure.

Youssef also reports that not everyone considered the crackdown a failure:

Basra’s governor, Mohammed al-Waili, a member of the Fadhila Party, one of the groups fighting to control the city, said he believed the plan had been successful

But there is a political dimension to these different perspectives. As I discussed in a previous post, Bolani was also from “one of the groups fighting for control of the city”–but from a group battling against Basra governmor Waili and the Fadhilla party.

So, it looks to me that the Maliki security crackdown in Basra ended in a victory for Waili and the Fadhilla party and a loss for Bolani and his patrons, Sheik Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi (“Prince of the Marsh Arabs”) and Ahmad Chalabi (for explanation of the Bolani-Muhammadawi-Chalabi alliance, see previous post).

Needless to say, Youssef writes of “failure” from the perspective of the Bolani-Muhammadawi-Chalabi alliance.

More recently Youssef filed a report entitled “Al-Maliki May Doom Baghdad Security Plan.”

The Baghdad security plan, which some cast as the last chance to avert a civil war, will be thwarted by Iraq’s prime minister because he is unwilling to tackle the country’s biggest security threat, many residents and politicians fear.

The plan calls for U.S. forces to sweep neighborhoods and help restore services, eventually leaving the capital under Iraqi military and police control. If that happens, U.S. troops could begin to withdraw

[M]any Iraqis fear the plan is doomed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s willingness to attack Sunni insurgents but not the Shiite militias that support his Dawa political party

He must change. This is not his private office. He should represent all Iraqis,” said Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Shiite member of parliament. The Baghdad security plan “is the last chance for al-Maliki.”

Ok, ok. Wait just a second. Alusi is here described as a “Shiite.” But the whole fuss about Alusi has always been that he is Sunni. That, at least, is what seemed to impressive to Thomas Friedman and others who sing his praises…

And please… spare me the RNC midterm election slogan that if only Maliki would crack down on Shiite militias, then”U.S. troops could begin to withdraw… ” Please. Bush has been clear: “”as long as he’s president, we’re in Iraq.”

The crucial information, however, is that folks like Alusi are on the verge of breaking with Maliki over his refusal to crackdown on Sadr.

But the frustration–and, presumably, the blame–is not simply with Maliki. Youssef writes:

U.S. officials have been hesitant to criticize the Mahdi army publicly, out of fear that doing so would spark more violence

In other words, “U.S. officials”–like Maliki–are also to blame. More Right Zionist frustrations, to be sure.

Khalilzad on Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on August 12, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The New York Times includes an article today entitled “U.S. Ambassador Says Iran is Inciting Attacks.” I bring it up primarily because it relates directly to my recent post–“Keyser Söze in Sadr City“–and the notion that recent US raids in Sadr city are aimed at a “splinter” group of Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The Times reports:

The Shiite guerrillas behind the recent attacks are members of splinter groups of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia created by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalilzad said.

The splinter groups have ties to Iran, which is governed by Shiite Persians, and to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Arab militia in Lebanon that has been battling Israel for a month, the ambassador added.

There is evidence that Iran is pushing for more attacks, he said, without offering any specifics. But he acknowledged that there was no proof that Iran was directing any particular operations by militias here

Despite the recent attacks by the splinter groups, Mr. Khalilzad insisted that the most powerful Shiite leaders in Iraq had not yet pushed for more violence against the Americans, even though Iran would like them to. That includes Mr. Sadr, he said.

“Generally the Shia leadership here have behaved more as Iraqi patriots and have not reacted in the way that perhaps the Iranians and Hezbollah might want them to,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

All of which goes to my prior speculation about “Sadr’s own complicity in a purge of more radical, anti-US Sadrist factional players.

It should also be noted that Khalilzad has frequently tried to advance “Right Arabist” goals during his tenure as US Ambassador in Iraq. I would note that his desire to pin US troubles in Sadr City directly to Iran–even as he acknowledged that there was “no proof” of this–certainly does little to challenge my argument–in a previos post–that in the current context, many Right Arabists are as “hawkish” on Iran as Right Zionists.

As the Times article suggests,

Mr. Khalilzad’s comments also reinforce the observations of some analysts that the rise of the majority Shiites in Iraq, long oppressed by Sunni Arab rulers, is fueling the creation of a “Shiite crescent” across the Middle East, with groups in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon working together against common enemies, whether they be the United States, Israel or Sunni Arab nations.

Just to be clear: that is the whole ball of wax–Act Two of the Bush Revolution–in a nutshell.  The “United States, Israel [and] Sunni Arab nations” fighting against “common enemies” of a “Shiite crescent.”

Keyser Söze in Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on August 08, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

The US seems to be once again spoiling for a fight in Sadr City. According to a report in the Washington Post (“US-Backed Operation Targets Shiite Slum“), the raid took place in the predawn hours of Monday morning.

US forces led a raid in March 2006, and a set of raids again in early July. I offered an alaysis of the July raids in a previous post.

Swopa has been minding the “Sadr City Volcano” (here and here) waiting for it to blow, especially in light of Sadrist anger over US-backed Israeli attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon and a new intensification of US forces in Baghdad. The Associated Press reported that “hundreds of thousands” of Shiites marched through Sadr City on Friday (August 4th) chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”

By some measures, the Monday morning raids might be interpreted as either US “punishment” for Friday’s Sadr City march and/or as the force that finally blew the lid off the Sadrist volcano. The Post article suggests that US and Iraqi forces met considerable resistance:

The Iraqi troops who conducted the raid, along with their U.S. advisers, came under fire at the outset, the statement said, and “the fire lasted for the duration of the operation and continued as they left the neighborhood.”

The raid prompted Prime Minister Maliki to disavow and condemn the action of the US and his own armed forces. According to South Africa’s 24.com:

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he had not authorised what he called Sunday’s “unjustified” night time assault by Iraqi troops and US advisers on a target in the impoverished east Baghdad suburb of Sadr City…

Speaking on state television, Maliki said such raids “should not happen again in order to protect the reconciliation process.

“I reiterate my rejection to such an operation and it should not be executed without my consent. This particular operation did not have my approval.”

So, is this the beginning of a major eruption?

Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. An Associated Press report by Robert H. Reid in the Washington Post (“Firebrand Critic More Cautious“) notes the “failure to launch.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces strike the Baghdad base of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr–but his gunmen hold their fire. U.S. soldiers kill 15 of al-Sadr’s followers, drawing little more than a few perfunctory complaints.

That’s a dramatic departure in style for the youthful firebrand, who launched two major uprisings against the American-led coalition two years ago when U.S. authorities closed his newspaper and pushed an Iraqi judge into issuing an arrest warrant against him.

An article in the Boston Globe quotes an anonymous US official in Baghdad:

“It’s true that we are targeting death squads, but we are not going after the Madhi Army in particular,” said a US official based in Baghdad, speaking in a telephone interview on condition of anonymity. “If we were, it would be much more violent here. It would be a very big fight.”

The attempt to distinguish between “death squads” and the “Madhi Army” may sound like a self-serving qualification (like the distinction between terrorists and insurgents, I suppose). But the interesting part of the quote is the frank acknowledgement that any move on the Madhi Army as such would be “a very big fight”–bigger than the current level of resistance to US raids. In other words, the official is downplaying the extent of the current level of resistance.

If so, it may be because there may be more than a merely semantic difference between the “death squads” in question and the Madhi Army. Consider, as I did in my previous post on US raids in Sadr City, that the Sadrist “movement” is split and that Sadr is essentially acquiescing in US attempts to crush a “rogue” Sadrist faction.

Who is Abu Dereh?

Back in the July raids on Sadr city, the US claimed that its true target was a militant leader involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

Local residents in Sadr City suggested that the intended target of the operation was a figure named “Abu Dera.”

In mid-July, Phillip Robertson filed a three-part article (here, here, and here) for Salon.com in which he provided a profile of Abu Dera (or, Abu Dereh in Robertson’s spelling) that paints a portrait that resembling the portrait of Keyser Söze painted by Roger “Verbal” Kint (played by Kevin Spacey) in the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects.

All sorts of rumors and myths circulate about Abu Dereh. One myth has him driving deep into Sunni-held territory in Anbar province and burning entire villages, while another says that he was a refugee of the great marshes in the south, and when Saddam drained them as punishment for the uprisings after the first gulf war, he fled to Sadr City, or Thawra as it was called. Abu Dereh, which means “father of shield” (“shield” is a proper noun in Arabic), is not his real name, it is a nom de guerre. Whenever it was uttered, the Baghdadi who hears it becomes serious and drops his voice so he could not be overheard.

Robertson doesn’t give much credence to the idea of any kind of split between Abu Dereh and Sadr:

Dereh is a shadowy figure who has deep connections with the Mahdi Army. A spokesman for the group, Abdel Hadi Al Darragi, has stated that Abu Dereh is not part of the Mahdi Army, but this is implausible. Anyone operating openly in Sadr City would almost certainly have at least tacit support from Sadr’s men. Sadr City is tightly controlled by the Mahdi Army and other groups are not allowed to operate there.

Sadr has plenty of reason, like the character in The Usual Suspects, to invent such a figure and then to deny any responsibility or connection in order to disguise his own complicity. I get that.

Sometimes, however, there are real splits for real reasons. I have in mind chiefly the possibility of movement factionalism over Sadr’s decision to participate in government prior to the complete withdrawal of US forces.

When factional fissures do develop, the “nearest” enemy is often enemy number one despite–or, better, because of–broad areas of overlapping political agendas and/or geographic proximity.

Sadr’s top aides condemned the US raids, but seemed quite satisfied by Maliki’s apologetic televised comments. Indeed, according to an Associated Press report in the Guardian, the Sadr forces have called for restraint and a bit of house cleaning:

In a statement read out at all Mahdi Army offices, al-Sadr urged his militiamen to be “calm and patient, and avoid being drawn into civil war,” said the cleric’s aide, Mohammed al-Fartousi.He said al-Sadr urged the militiamen to purge all those who bring the Mahdi Army into disrepute. They should also “denounce the kidnapping of Iraqis, denounce destruction of mosques and denounce killing of innocent people,” said his aide, Mohammed al-Fartousi.

See, now, to me that sounds pretty much like the Sadrists are not so unhappy with US assistance in the dirty business of an internal purge aimed at insulating Sadr from some of his more unruly ranks as he marches toward the political incorporation within a US-backed regime.

Maybe Sadr’s call for a purge is simply a smoke screen to disguise his own complicity in kidnapping, death squads, sectarian violence, etc.

Or maybe Maliki’s “outrage” at the US raid is the smoke screen–to disguise his and Sadr’s own complicity in a purge of more radical, anti-US Sadrist factional players.

Got a hunch?

Cutler’s Blog: Back August 7th

Posted by Cutler on July 21, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon / 4 Comments

As I prepare for a two-week hiatus, I have to wonder how things will look by August 7th when Cutler’s Blog returns.

Israeli Ground troops in Lebanon: As I write, Israel appears to be preparing to send ground troops into Lebanon.  Apparently, the idea is to create a 20-mile “buffer” between Hezbollah and the Israeli border, although I just saw John Bolton on Fox News saying that 20-miles isn’t nearly enough given the reach of Hezbollah rockets.  Oh boy.

International/UN force in Lebanon: It looks like there will be an international force of some kind but it will come only after the US thinks Israel has “done all it can do” unilaterally.  I see no reason to believe, however, that such an international force will actually have a different mandate than Israeli ground troops.  The key point is that there are no major international players (apart from Syria and Iran; and possibly the Sadrist-backed government of Iraq!) who actually oppose the disarming, dismantling, and/or destruction of Hezbollah.  The French and the Saudis, in particular, want this no less than the Israelis.  There are only two reasons why the current offensive would turn from an Israeli action into a multinational force: either because Israel has completed its mission or, more likely, because the Israeli mission becomes politically unsustainable and requires the cover of multinational legitimacy.

Syria: I would not be stunned to return August 7th to a new regime in Syria.  This could happen in one of two ways: either President Bashar Al-Asad does a “Qaddafi” and switches sides (“get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” as our President says; very unlikely, but not impossible) or he is unseated in a US-backed coup.  Let us be clear, the parties to that coup are totally in place and would essentially represent a return of the “old guard” that was marginalized in the transition from Hafez to Bashar.  The key figure in this coup would be former Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim KhaddamThe coup option is in such plain view to all that this may, in fact, be sufficient to move Bashar.

Iran: I expect the Iranian regime will be in power when I return (not really a daring bet).  But the Iranian regime will be on the front burner and in the hot seat for some time.  A military option–by the US or Israel–remains a low probability, but I wouldn’t be so foolish as to rule it out as a possibility with the current folks running the show in Washington and Jerusalem.  In the longer term, I continue to think that the long-term agenda–especially among Right Zionists in Washington, but also within Right Arabist circles–is regime change in Iran.  But it will take some time before anyone in the US foreign policy establishment is ready to make a serious drive in that direction.

I look forward to comparing notes August 7th… Until then, hold onto your seats!

Iraqi Shiites and Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on July 20, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The New York Times reports the big news of the Shia Crescent (or the Shia Croissant, preferred by French Canadians) that connects Iraqi politics with the crisis in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush’s position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

So, the loss of the Iraqi Shia would surely be among the most dangerous geo-political consequence of what I have described as “Act Two” of the Bush Revolution in which the US “unites” Israeli and Arab client regimes against a common enemy, Iran.

The risk is implicit in the very idea of “dual rollback” in Iran and Iraq. The US-led attack on Iraq won Iranian acquiescence, but risked alienating Sunni Arab clients worried about an emergent “Shia Crescent” in the region.
Now, any move on Iran–and/or its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah–may win Sunni Arab acquiescence but threatens to alienate Shiites in Iraq.

Or, at least, the most pro-Iranian Shiites in Iraq.

Right Zionist strategists who favored Shiite power in Iraq–including majority-rule elections, etc.–have repeatedly suggested that intra-Shiite rivalry between the Iraqi clerical tradition of Najaf and the revolutionary Iranian clerics in Qom would allow the US to retain an alliance with Najaf, even as it worked to undermine the Qom-backed Iranian regime.

For one example among many, see Michael Ledeen’s recent article “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid” in which he suggests:

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Some analysts I respect quite a bit–including Swopa in a comment on this blog–have suggested that the notion of intra-Shiite rivalry is highly overrated.

This much seems clear: Maliki isn’t going to help Right Zionists exploit any intra-Shiite rivalry. How far will he go in his dissent? Would he actually try to call Iraqi Shiites onto the streets? Unclear. But his statement calling on the Arab League to step up to the plate seems to have more to do with embarrassing Arab officials than actually using his own leverage (such as it is) with Iraqi Shiites.

What about other Shiite leaders?

Sadr is an obvious candidate. He has played the anti-US insurgent before. He has aligned himself in the past with the Lebanese leadership of Hezbollah. And, as the New York Times notes, his father was very close to a revolutionary cleric in Qom, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri.

The New York Times article reports:

An Iraq-born cleric now living in the Iranian holy city of Qum, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri called in an Internet posting for Muslim warriors to support the “mujahedeen of Lebanon,” saying that “the battle is all of Islam against all of the nonbelievers,” according to a translation by the SITE Institute, which tracks Internet postings by Islamic militants.

But the affinity between Haeri and Sadr should not be overstated. Back in April of 2004 when Sadr was in full revolt, Haeri allegedly pressured him to end his uprising. He may have cut Sadr’s funding. In any event, Sadr seems to have been angered by the attempt to make him a pawn in an Iranian geostrategic game designed to curry favor with the US at that moment. The Sadrist movement in Iraq appears to have been steering his own ship since that time.

The New York Times article does mention that Sadr has had some harsh words about the Israeli attack on Lebanon:

The militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose followers play a crucial role in the government, said last Friday that Iraqis would not “sit by with folded hands” while the violence in Lebanon raged.

No uprising yet. (Indeed, given US raids on his Mahdi army, the lack of an anti-US Sadrist uprising is quite surprising). Keep an eye on this one.

Finally, there is the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. It is to Sistani that Right Zionists have always looked. He may not go out of his way to help the US strike out against Iran and Iranian proxies, but he may also try to sit out any protest.

The New York Times says Sistani has so far remained silent. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In the city of Najaf, Sadruddin Qubanchi, an influential Shiite cleric loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, declared Israel’s actions unacceptable and unjustified.

Israel is conducting an armed invasion of Lebanon in every sense of the word,” Qubanchi told worshipers. “This cannot be ignored by the international community.”

Not yet a call to arms. But much will depend on Israeli action in Lebanon.

A case could be made–and Right Zionist David Wurmser has tried to make it–that Sistani would have an interest in anything that might pry Lebanese Shiites from Iranian influence.

It seems difficult to believe, however, that there is anything Israel is doing in Lebanon right now that will pry Lebanese Shiites away from Hezbollah and/or Iranian influence. [This is a somewhat different question than whether Israel will also alienate Lebanese Christians and Sunnis… also a real possibility.] Whatever else one might say about the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, it hardly looks like a war for the “hearts and minds” of Lebanese Shiites.

Place your bets…

The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 17, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I noted that the Hezbollah raid on Israel seemed to anger Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak almost as much as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In subsequent days, the depth of “official” Arab hostility toward Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran has become big news.

The New York Times (“Militia Rebuked by Some Arab Countries“) and the Washington Post (“Strikes Are Called Part of a Broad Strategy“) take note of official Arab reaction to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah.

The possibility of Arab-Iranian rivalry has not escaped the notice of Israeli officials, either. Shimon Peres had this to say on CNN’s Larry King Live as King was concluding an interview:

KING: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, always good to see you. We’ve had…

PERES: I want to say one thing, Larry. Even the Arabs, this time — thank you.

KING: Go ahead. Whatever you wanted to add.

PERES: Yes, I wanted to add that, for the first time, the Arab countries, many of them, if not most of them, are calling for Hezbollah to stop it. The Lebanese government is asking for the same. It never happened before. And we feel that we’re doing the right thing, and we shall not permit the devil to govern our destinies or our region.

KING: Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, now Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Wonder of wonders, the “devil” is not Arab. The “devil” is Persian.

Swopa over at Needlenose goes so far as to link the idea of a new Arab/Zionist axis against Iran to the pro-Sunni Arab tilt of US policy in Iraq.

I am not sure that Right Zionists have abandoned the hope of a regional alliance with the “Najaf” Shiites aligned with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. But that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to try to simultaneously exploit both sides of any Arab/Iranian rivalry they can find.

The Bush Revolution, Part II: A Little Something for the Arabs

In my reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally, as a kind of Right Zionist playbook, I noted that Wurmser wrote about “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. One way of looking at this “dual rollback” plan is to think of it as a two act play:

The invasion of Iraq is Act One of the Bush Revolution: Sunni Arab rule in Iraq is destroyed and the US turns to the country’s Shiite majority as a new “client.” Arab regimes are nervous and angry.

Act Two may is just beginning (please return to your seats and ignore Time magazine which seems to have mistaken the “intermission” for the end of the show).

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran and in this scene Arab officials presumably play a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran.

On Lebanon:

The drama unfolding in Lebanon centers on the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia. There has been long-standing tension between Saudi Arabia and Syria over control of Lebanon. In many respects, the Saudis perceived the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a Syrian attack on their interests in Lebanon. Hariri–like Israel and the US–wanted Syria out of Lebanon.

Today, Hariri’s son continues in his father’s footsteps. Stratfor reports:

Saad al-Hariri, current leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community, is headed to Riyadh on July 16 for talks on the building conflict between Israel and the militant Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s actions, which have led to the verge of a major war with Israel, threaten the interests of the al-Hariris. Saudi Arabia, as a principal behind the al-Hariri clan, is concerned about Iran’s advances deeper into the region.

The Saudis and Hariri will have to weigh the risks and advantages of allowing Israel to wage war against their common enemy, Hezbollah. Will Hariri return from Riyahd with instructions to back Hezbollah’s uprising against Israel, or to keep his mouth shut, let Israel do its work, and prepare to inherit Lebanon?

So far, he has been critical of Israel, although his language has been somewhat ambiguous. The Daily Star reports:

A clear Arab stand should be taken on this Israeli aggression against Lebanon,” [Hariri]… said Saturday. “Lebanon should not be left as a battlefield for everyone, and Israel must know that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but in fact a resisting state and that Israel is the enemy.”

The key line is that Lebanon “should not be left as a battlefield for everyone,which presumably includes Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah as much as it does Israel.

Gilbert Achcar makes the point quite well:

Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel’s calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah

To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel’s diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel’s determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society — Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanonto crush Israel’s main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves.

We’ll see. There is an obvious risk for Israel that its aggression will inflame the “Arab street” and force Arab “officials”–including anti-Syrian Lebanese Christians and Sunnis–to rally around Hezbollah, etc.

On Palestine (aka Jordan):

The drama unfolding in Gaza may not really have much to do with Gaza. Right Zionists may not have a particularly complex plan for Gaza. The only real plan is to divide Gaza and the West Bank and help deliver the latter to King Abdullah in Jordan.

Right Zionists are reviving the old plan–last championed by George Shultz in the late 1980s–for Jordan to take over the West Bank.

The most prominent champion of such a plan is Meyrav Wurmser–whose husband is David Wurmser (see above). Wurmser announced a “Paradigm Shift” in the New York Sun today:

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process. That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests...

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition.

This plan has been circulating in Right Zionist circles. See, for example, the March 2003 Middle East Quarterly article, “Re-energizing a West Bank-Jordan Alliance.”

Hamas’s landslide victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is the latest sign of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) failure. The collapse of the West Bank into civil chaos and jihadist control would pose a security dilemma not only for Israel but also for Jordan. It is a scenario that increasingly occupies the Jordanian government’s strategic thinking…

King Abdullah has signaled a willingness to reengage in West Bank affairs. In the most significant Jordanian intervention in the West Bank since July 1988, Abdullah began in March 2005 to enlist new recruits for the Jordan-based and influenced Badr security forces (also known as the Palestinian Liberation Army) for possible deployment to parts of the West Bank…

Marouf al-Bakhit, at the time Jordan’s ambassador to Israel and, subsequently, the kingdom’s prime minister, elaborated that the Jordanian government hoped to play a more active role in the West Bank.[25] On the eve of Zarqawi’s attack, former prime minister Adnan Badran told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Jordan could no longer sit idle “with its arms crossed and watch what transpires in Palestine because it influences what happens in Jordan for better or worse”[26]

In March 2005, the Jordanian government made clear its willingness to alter the traditional peace process paradigm. On the eve of the March 2005 Arab League summit in Algiers, Jordanian foreign minister Hani al-Mulki called for a “regional approach” to Middle East peacemaking along the lines of the 1991 Madrid peace conference. This set the stage for King Abdullah’s proposal at the summit, in which he called for a broader and more creative approach.[27]

The Jordanian leadership appears increasingly willing to play a direct role…

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But not unimportant to know just what kind of “thinking” Right Zionists are doing these days…

Beirut to Baghdad

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The big news story of the day is the Israeli strikes against Lebanon. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Israel bombed Beirut’s airport early today and sent troops and tanks deep into Lebanon after guerrillas from the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a meticulously planned border raid.

It was Israel’s first major offensive in Lebanon in six years

Many in the US will join the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, in criticizing Israel for “a disproportionate act of war” against Lebanon, especially in light of Israel’s massive, 2-week-old, ongoing offensive in Gaza sparked by a June 25 raid by Hamas.

Hamas, however, seems less focused on or surprised by Israel’s disproportionate reprisals than Hezbollah’s “heroic” border raid. According to the Kuwait Times

Hamas political bureau member Mohammad Nazzal told Reuters the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was a “heroic operation” and would help a campaign to free 1,000 Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, Israelis are also focused on Hezbollah’s border raid and they are outraged.

More surprising, however, the raid also seems to have upset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to press reports,

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also indirectly criticized Syria, suggesting it disrupted his country’s attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release. Hamas was subjected to “counter-pressures by other parties, which I don’t want to name but which cut the road in front of the Egyptian mediation and led to the failure of the deal after it was about to be concluded,” Mubarak said in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Massai newspaper published yesterday.

Egyptian “attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release” were undertaken at the behest of the Bush administration, specifically David Welch. Welch is the former US ambassador to Egypt and currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Near Eastern Affairs is traditionally the center of Right Arabist influence in the foreign policy establishment.

In return for his cooperation, Mubarak may have looked forward to easier relations with the US and a green light from the US to position his son, Gamal, as his successor.

Welch’s deal had been rumored in Israel, but it was not popular there. According to The Forward:

[P]rior to the abduction of two more soldiers near the Lebanon border… one of Olmert’s closest allies in the Cabinet suggested that a kind of retroactive prisoner swap could be in the works.

“The release of the kidnapped soldier will be a must. The moment that Qassam rocket fire also stops, we will enter a period of quiet, at the end of which it will be possible to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture,” Israel’s internal security minister, Avi Dichter, said at a conference in Tel Aviv. “This is something that Israel has done in the past and that can serve it in the future as well.”

The remarks were relayed internationally, prompting Dichter to say he had been misunderstood and Olmert’s office to deny a deal was in the offing.

But the Welch deal was undermined by the “counter pressures” on Hamas by the “other parties” that “cut the road” out from under Welch and Mubarak.

According to Bloomberg News, Dennis Ross—a Clinton administration Middle East envoy—faulted Welch for his reliance on Mubarak.

Ross said the U.S. has put too much faith in Egypt’s ability to mediate Shalit’s release…

Rather, the U.S. needs to talk most urgently to Syria, which hosts Hamas’s leadership and facilitates Hezbollah operations. Hezbollah’s attack yesterday “is obviously part of a coordinated effort to help Hamas,” Ross said. “And now there’s a risk of a wider escalation, and the address for all of this goes back to Damascus.”

The Welch initiative in Egypt was, in essence, an “Arab” response to the end of the Hamas ceasefire and the massive Israeli response.

The opening of a second front—sparked by the Hezbollah raid—has consequences in the Middle East and in the US.

In the Middle East, it has allowed Iran and Syria to undermine Arab control of the Palestinian resistance. As luck would have it, Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa and Iranian top nuclear diplomat Ali Larijani were together in Damascus for a press conference. Kuwait Times reports:

“When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people resistance is necessary,” Larijani said.

The Hezbollah raid also allows Iran to display some of its regional leverage amidst US attempts to isolate the Iranian regime at the UN.

In the US, the opening of a Hezbollah front shifts the factional center of gravity within the Bush administration where Welch shares the Israel/Palestine portfolio with Elliott Abrams, the Right Zionist White House as Deputy National Security Adviser.

The shift of focus toward Hezbollah moves the spotlight from Welch and his Egyptian allies to Elliott Abrams and his Israeli allies.

A spokesman for Elliott Abrams and the National Security Council put the blame squarely on Iran and Syria, gave Israel a “green light” for intervention, and made an appeal for Lebanon to cut its ties to Iran and Syria.

Reuters reports:

“We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hezbollah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence,” Jones added…”Hezbollah terrorism is not in Lebanon’s interests,” Jones said…
“This attack demonstrates that Hezbollah’s continued impunity to arm itself and carry out operations from Lebanese territory is a direct threat to the security of the Lebanese people and the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.”

As Juan Cole has suggested, Israeli intervention in Lebanon has the potential of spilling over into Iraq.

[H]ard line Shiites like the Sadr Movement and the Mahdi Army are close to Hizbullah. Israel’s wars could tip Iraq over into an unstoppable downward spiral.

A Sadrist uprising already seemed likely after US-backed raids in Sadr City last week and Israeli brutality toward the Shiites of southern Lebanon could certainly generate a response among the Shiites of southern Iraq.

If Right Zionists in the US support Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas and terrorize the population of Gaza, it does not follow that they favor a parallel track amongst the Shiites of southern Lebanon.

David Wurmser—the Right Zionist who presumably still serves as Cheney’s Middle East expert on his national security staff—had quite a bit to say about the Shiites of southern Lebanon in his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally:

“[A] shift of the Shi’ite center of gravity [from Iran] toward Iraq has larger, regional implications. Through intermarriage, history, and social relations, the Shi’ites of Lebanon have traditionally maintained close ties with the Shi’ites of Iraq. The Lebanese Shi’ite clerical establishment has customarily been politically quiescent, like the Iraqi Shi’ites. The Lebanese looked to Najaf’s clerics for spiritual models [until it was transformed into a regional outpost for Iranian influence]. Prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shi’ite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balance and to whittle away at Syria’s power” (TA, p.107, 110).

Do Right Zionists still hold out the hope of “prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away” from Iran?

If so (I have my doubts), much will depend on the nature of Israeli retaliation. If Israel tries to slaughter the Lebanese Shiite population, it won’t have much hope of “prying them” away from Iran or Syria.

News reports thus far (morning, July 13) are mixed. The New York Sun reported:

[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] immediately called up 6,000 reservists yesterday and put into effect plans for an extended incursion into southern Lebanon, which has long hosted Hezbollah terrorists. The intention appeared to be to dismantle the extensive network of terrorist bases and persuade the Beirut government to meet international calls to disarm the group once and for all.

Israeli forces went on the attack, targeting bridges, communication towers, military bunkers, and other facilities. At least two Lebanese civilians were reported to have been killed in the attacks.

On the other hand, there are reports that the most high-profile Israeli retaliation in Lebanon includes a naval blockade and a bombing campaign against Beirut’s airport, both of which serve to cut the ties that link Lebanon with Iran and Syria.

An attempt to pry Lebanese Shiites from Iran?

Good luck with that…

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.

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back?

Posted by Cutler on July 10, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Two of the best Iraq news bloggers–Juan Cole at Informed Comment and “Swopa” at Needlenose–have assembled details on the news reports of explicitly sectarian, Shiite-led executions of Sunni Arabs in Baghdad.

Juan Cole offers the following details about the cycle of vengeance:

Shaikh Abd al-Samad al-`Ubaydi, the prayer leader at the Fakhri Shanshal Mosque in the al-Jihad district, accused the Mahdi Army of committing this crime. “Everything is clear, now,” he said. He added, “When I left the mosque after the crime had been committed, I saw ten bodies of ten men, all of them killed with a bullet to the head, and all of them bearing signs of torture.” He said many of the early-morning killings were carried out in front of the Husayniyah of Fatimah al-Zahra, a Shiite mourning center.

The prayer leader at the Fatimah al-Zahra Husayniyah, Shaikh Hamud al-Sudani, for his part told the AFP that the attacks were carried out by relatives of victims killed in the quarter during recent months. He said, “During the past 5 months, Shiites have been the victims of killings in and expulsion from the al-Jihad district.” Guerrillas, presumably Sunni Arabs, had set off a bomb near the Fatimah al-Zahra center on Satuday evening, wounding 4, which Shaikh al-Sudani said was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Reuters also mentions the bombing of the Fatimah al-Zahra center Saturday evening in its summary of the violence.

Most news sources carry reports that Sadr and his camp deny any involvement in the ambush and execution of Sunn Arabs. The Washington Post:

Other officials in Sadr’s organization condemned the killings in al-Jihad and denied that the Mahdi Army was involved.

“We regret the statements made by some Sunni Arabs who said that the Mahdi Army militia had conducted the raid at Jihad and killed the innocent people there,” said Riyadh al-Nouri, a top aide to Sadr and his brother-in-law. “If the Mahdi Army wanted to enter into a fight, Iraq would become a blood bath.”

I find it interesting, however, that Juan Cole’s post includes a citation of an AFP report that has a local Shiite prayer leader–Shaikh Hamud al-Sudani at the Fatimah al-Zahra Husayniyah prayer center–explaining rather than denying Shiite (if not Mahdi Army) involvement in the ambush and executions.

A similar statement–by an unnamed “senior Shiite politician” of unknown political loyalty–appears in the International Herald Tribune coverage:

A senior Shiite politician said the Mahdi Army fighters from eastern Baghdad had moved into Jihad on Sunday but insisted they were only taking on Sunni militants responsible for killing Shiites. “There are many terrorist groups in Jihad who are killing Shiite families so they went to fight them,” he said.

Which Axis: Nationalist or Sectarian?

Although the Saturday night bombing of the Shiite prayer center may have been the final “straw,” it was certainly not the heaviest–not even the heaviest of the past week, which included a car bomb that killed Shiite pilgrims in Kufa.

All of this seems so plainly “sectarian”–a local cycle of vengeance in a mixed Baghdad neighborhood–that one could almost forget that the final “straw” just happened to coincide with US raids on Sadr City.

The Washington Post article, “Scores of Sunnis Killed in Baghdad,” situates the ambush in the context of US policy toward Sadr:

Iraqi officials and residents of the neighborhood identified the gunmen as members of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia controlled by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In the past three days, Iraqi troops, with the support of U.S.-led forces, have raided the homes of militiamen and detained some of their leaders.

U.S. commanders and diplomats say Sadr and his militia constitute one of the gravest threats to Iraq’s security.

In a previous post, I suggested that these US raids in Sadr city could inaugurate a new round of violence between the US foreces and the Mahdi Army. And, to be sure, the US-Sadr axis of violence–which is a battle over the future of the US occupation– is alive and well.

The Washington Post reports (“Troops Raid Iraqi Mosque with Ties to Shiite Cleric“) that on Saturday, amidst all the “sectarian” strife, US forces moved against a Sadrist mosque:

Following a tip from a local resident, Iraqi security forces cordoned off the Sadrain Mosque in Zafraniya, southeast of Baghdad, at 5:45 p.m., the U.S. military said in a statement. Four hours later, national police searched the mosque, detained 20 people and seized six AK-47s.

Among those detained were mosque guards, two servants and a librarian, said Col. Abdul Razzak Mahmoud of the ministry’s operations room.

The military did not mention any involvement by U.S. troops, but Mahmoud said the raid was conducted by American forces. U.S. troops frequently provide air or ground support for Iraqi military operations.

The reason for the raid remained unclear Saturday evening.

Last week’s US raids in Sadr city seemed likely to be the final “straw” that broke the camel’s back of Sadr’s cooperation with the current US-backed government.

Certainly some US commanders and diplomats seem to have been spoiling for this fight–a direct confrontation between the “national unity government” and Sadr. In this scenario, Sadr would be isolated and targeted by Prime Minister Maliki and the major governing Shiite political parties.

Why, then, have the Sadrist seemingly responded to a new US offensive with an explicitly sectarian act of vengeance?

The sectarian axis of violence–the cycle of Sunni-Shiite retaliation described by Shaikh Hamud al-Sudani at the Fatimah al-Zahra Husayniyah prayer center–seems far more likely to provoke a very different scenario: civil war.

In its article on the US-backed raid on the Shiite mosque in Zafraniya, the Washington Post reports:

Riyadh al-Nouri, Sadr’s brother-in-law and a top official in his organization, criticized U.S. involvement in the recent raids against Sadr.

Nouri said in an interview that the council of top Shiite religious leaders in Iraq could lose patience with attacks against Shiites and call for an uprising.

It depends on the people. If they are angry, they will fight,” said Nouri. “Until now the Shiite giant has not begun to move.”

What I find most surprising and potentially significant in this quote is that Nouri responds to a US raid in explicitly sectarian–rather than nationalist–terms. A “Shiite” uprising, not a “nationalist” uprising.

In the past, Sadrists responded to US offensives with appeals to Iraqi nationalism, including joint action with Sunni insurgents. Here, Nouri responds to a US raid with an appeal to “the council of top Shiite religious leaders in Iraq” and to “the Shiite giant.”

In other words, if Sadrists once sought an end to political isolation through a nationalist alliance, they seem to think that their present isolation demands a sectarian alliance. The reference to “the council of top Shiite religious leaders” is an appeal to Sistani for help.

Sistani, as Nouri suggests, “has not begun to move” against either Sunni or US provocation.

Nouri is not the only one who has noted that “the Shiite giant has not begun to move.”

Back on November 24, 2004, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer made a similar observation in his essay, “A Fight For Shiites.”

People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side is fighting it

This is the Shiites’ and Kurds’ fight…

Seven months ago I wrote in this space that while our “goal has been to build a united, pluralistic, democratic Iraq in which the factions negotiate their differences the way we do in the West” that “may be, in the short run, a bridge too far. . . . [W]e should lower our ambitions and see Iraqi factionalization as a useful tool.”…

Where are the Shiites?… It is their civil war.

Well, now it may finally be.

According to Reuters, Sadr himself is calling for restraint.

“I urge all government and popular forces to exercise restraint and take responsibility in front of God first and society secondly,” cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters are part of the national unity government, said in a statement…

Sadr, whose supporters have waged two rebellions against U.S. forces in Iraq, has made repeated calls for an end to the U.S. occupation. He blamed Sunday’s violence on a “Western plan aimed at sponsoring a civil and sectarian war between brothers”.

The problem, for Sadr, may be that his only chance to avoid political isolation in the face of a US-backed crackdown by Maliki’s “national unity” government may be to unleash the sectarian forces that would bring Sistani and the “Shiite giant” to his side.

Either way, Sadr now risks acquiescing to one or another “Western plan.”

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.

Arabists and Iran

Posted by Cutler on July 06, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

Robert Kaplan is surely a strange bird–ideologically, at least.  In truth, I cannot really make heads or tales of his politics.  It is only tempting to care about his politics because he was one of the “critics” that Bush recently brought in for a discussion about the war.

Kaplan takes an extreme form of the Right Arabist preference for status-quo strongmen and has done so repeatedly since September 11th.  On October 14, 2001, he penned a Wall Street Journal Op-ed entitled, “Don’t Impose Our Values: Stability is more important than democracy in the Mideast.”

When [Iraq] is decapitated, it will leave a vacuum that could unleash a regional war. In countries such as Iraq… entire intellectual classes have been wiped out over the decades, leaving only Islamists and sectarian nationalists to inherit the void. That is why the surest path toward more open societies in these countries is not some overnight experiment in democracy… but moderate military regimes representing the interests of merchant communities that span sectarian lines…

Status quo monarchies and enlightened dictatorships may serve our purposes better than weak and unstable democratic regimes. 

Similarly, March 2, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “We Can’t Force Democracy.”

Imperfect these rulers clearly are, but to think that who would follow them would necessarily be as stable, or as enlightened, is to engage in the kind of speculation that leads to irresponsible foreign policy. Recall that those who cheered in 1979 at the demise of the shah of Iran got something worse in return. The Saudi Arabian royal family may be the most reactionary group to run that country, except for any other that might replace it. It is unclear what, if anything, besides the monarchy could hold such a geographically ill-defined country together.

Nevertheless, in an April 17, 2006 Los Angeles Times Op-ed, “Haunted by Hussein, Humbled by Events,” Kaplan describes himself as having been “an early supporter of the invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

What was that all about?  Hard to say.  It almost seems to have been personal.  In his most hawkish, pre-invasion, pro-invasion article, “Slave State: Why Saddam is Worse Than Slobo,” he mentions:

I had my passport taken away from me for ten days by the Iraqi security police in 1986.

As he acknowledges in his “Haunted by Hussein” article,

[M]y earlier support [for the war]… was…based on firsthand experiences in Iraq.

Must have really pissed him off to have his passport taken away.

In any event, he has this little rhetorical bridge he uses to reconcile his pro-war position and his otherwise principled appreciation for enlightened dictatorship.  In his “We Can’t Force Democracy” Op-ed, he writes:

In the case of Iraq, the state under Saddam Hussein was so cruel and oppressive it bore little relationship to all these other dictatorships. Because under Hussein anybody could and in fact did disappear in the middle of the night and was tortured in the most horrific manner, the Baathist state constituted a form of anarchy masquerading as tyranny.

Everybody got that?

Forgive me this long, tortured discussion of a figure I think is somewhere between totally ridiculous and incredibly frightening (I hear he and the President got on quite well during their recent confab).

My point is to say that in 1993, just before he became famous for his book on the Balkans (Clinton was seen holding a copy) he published a book entitled, “The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite.”  I find the politics of the book inconsistent when not simply inscrutable, but when looking for a label to give the Bush administration faction that so vehemently opposed the idea of terminating Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq, Kaplan’s “Arabists” seemed to fit.

Although I tend to be somewhat dubious about giving too much explanatory weight to the “romance”–relative to say, the “geo-politics” or the alleged “lucre”–in accounting for Arabist commitments, the committments seem real and enduring.

The feature I find most intriguing–for the current “Iranian” moment–is the perspective of Arabists on the future of Iran.

In his book, Kaplan recalls a phrase: “Scratch an Arabist and you’ll find an anti-Iranian.”

I think there is plenty of evidence for this in contemporary foreign policy discussions about the Gulf.

In an October 14, 2005 Middle East Policy Council symposium entitled, “A Shia Crescent: What Fallout for the U.S.?,” Council President Charles Freeman–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a Right Arabist if there has ever been one–opened with the following remarks:

[T]he Saudis… are concerned about… the possibility of Iranian domination of a weak and divided Shi’a-dominated Iraq. In a recent visit to the region, in fact, I found a dominant concern in the Gulf countries to be the possibility that the United States, by intervening as we did in Iraq, may inadvertently be creating a Shi’a crescent in the northern tier of the Arab world, which could offer Iran unique opportunities that it has not had for many years, to exercise a dominant role, and to exercise that role in ways that may be destabilizing to others.

The question is: What policy toward Iran follows from this Right Arabist concern?  How best to marginalize the regional power of Iran?

In Iraq, the answer seems relatively simple: restoration (in various forms and by various means) of Sunni Arab power.

In Iran itself, however, the answer seems less clear.

As I noted in a previous post, at least one significant Right Arabist–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins–thinks regime change is the preferred path.

Akins may be a bit far out on a limb, however.  Although I have found no Right Arabists critical of Akins, I have also found little evidence of comparable hawkishness among other prominent Right Arabists (including Charles Freeman).

Many of the published comments–old and new–tend to support diplomatic engagement with the current regime.  For example, Richard Murphy–another former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia–took a moderate tone in a May 28, 2003 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Richard Murphy: [T]here’s certainly disagreements between some of the neo-conservatives who have been quite prominent in the Pentagon ranks, and the… I would call it the mainstream in State that is uncomfortable, uneasy about this talk of confronting Iran now that they have watched what happened in Iraq, they will learn the lesson of Iraq…

I don’t see any interest in Washington in launching a military attack on Iran – in discouraging Iran from a nuclear weapons program, in bringing Iran to turn over any Qaeda operatives who may be getting sanctuary in Iran – that is the interest, but not in doing it by means of a military attack…

It is certainly not Government policy to destabilise Iran, but there are elements in Washington who wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see the end of the regime there.

And they point to the evidence of the dissatisfaction with the Iranian regime, on the part of the youth of the unemployed, of the women of Iran, and some of them seem to be calculating that it is so unstable that a bit of rhetoric now and then might turn things around.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: But it is still a high-risk strategy? It could have unintended consequences?

RICHARD MURRAY: Absolutely, absolutely, and sober voices are stating that very clearly, and I repeat it is not policy to move frontally against Iran, but it is still on the President’s list of the Axis of Evil states, as you know.

Is it possible that Akins regime change agenda represents more of a hedge against Right Zionists than anything else?

If the Bush administration is going to support the Right Zionist goal of regime change in Iran, then Right Arabists had better be prepared to influence the process of change and the profile of any new regime.

And yet, wouldn’t a Right Arabist be even more content to have Iran contained, weakened, under a permanent cloud of suspicion, and relatively isolated–as the current regime would be under a UN inspection program, for example–than to have Iran serve as an “American project” that might ultimately provide a real alternative to US reliance on incumbent Arab regimes?

Qom-ic Relief

Posted by Cutler on July 03, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

One of the things that first grabbed my attention about Right Zionist policy toward Iraq was their plan for exploiting various rivalries, splits, and fissures within the Gulf for the purpose of achieving a broad re-alignment of alliances in the region, especially in relation to the region’s Shiites.

By many measures, the Right Zionists are now pretty marginal players in the Bush administration Iraq policy machine (the same cannot be said of the Israel/Palestine portfolio where Elliott Abrams still serves as Deputy National Security Advisor). However, there has been–to my knowledge–no purge in the Office of the Vice President where David Wurmser presumably still serves as a top Middle East aide.

During his time at the American Enterprise Institute, Wurmser was the most articulate advocate for exploiting Sunni-Shiite rivalries (i.e., Iraqi civil war) and intra-Shiite factionalism to achieve “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s successor at AEI, Reuel Gerecht, contintued to publish on this theme after Wurmser entered the Bush administration.

Now, Michael Ledeen has once again raised the issue in his latest article, “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid.”

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Ledeen continues to write as an embattled outsider frustrated that Right Zionist views are ignored within the intelligence community and among policymakers. Is this merely a convenient cover for Right Zionist influence? Maybe. But a case could also be made that there are Iraq policy folks–Right Arabists–who care not one bit about intra-Shiite factionalism.

Right Arabists are far more upset about any “Shiite cresent” in the Gulf than they are about which Shiites bloc is the emergent regional force. Right Arabists in the US have long shared Saudi misgivings about rising Shiite power. This fear pre-dates the Iranian revolution.

Any distinction between Qom and Najaf (if there is one) only matters to Right Zionists who want to use Iraq’s “Najaf” Shiism to undermine Iran’s “Qom”-based Shiism and restore a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran as a strategic pillar to offset US reliance on Arab regimes.

For Ledeen (and for many fearful Right Arabists) Iranian influence in Iraq is undeniable. In this view, Iran is already fighting that intra-Shiite civil war by undermining the stability of the US-backed, Najaf-Shiite Iraqi government.

For Right Zionists, however, the key is Iraqi influence in Iran. Wurmser, Gerecht, and others have been counting on Najaf to wage war on Qom. If Ledeen sees any signs of this, he isn’t sharing them. There is only the wish for such a two-sided civil war:

[W]e are involved in a regional war that cannot be won by playing defense in Iraq alone.

Faster, please.

In other words, it is time for Sistani to take the battle to the Iranians. We’ll see, I guess.

I have mentioned in previous posts (also here) that I don’t think the Right Zionists are really all that excited about using the Nuke issue to whip up a war frenzy.

First, unlike Right Arabists who fear nukes in the hands of any Iranian regime, Right Zionists only fear nukes in the hands of an Iran that is hostile to the US.

Second, Right Zionists are primaily interested in regime change in Iran and there isn’t much about a nuke stand-off that favors regime change. If anything, it allows the Iranian regime to use “nuclear nationalism” as an anti-imperialist populist credo to consolidate domestic legitimacy.

Now, Ledeen has come right out and said it (I love it when they do that…):

We are wrongly focused on the Iranian nuclear threat, which is obviously worth worrying about, but this excessively narrow focus has distracted us from the main threat, which is terrorism. The mullahs are not going to nuke our fighters in Iraq; they are going to kill as many as they can on the ground with IEDs, suicide terrorists, and assassins. And we have given them a free hand in this murderous campaign instead of unleashing political war against them in their own country. We hear lots of talk from the president and the secretary of state, but there is no sign of the sort of aggressive support we should be giving to the forces of freedom inside Iran.

Ledeen sees “no sign” of such a campaign. Maybe there is no such US campaign. Maybe it is covert. Either way, Ledeen’s own analysis would imply that such a campaign would depend at least as much on Iraqi Shiite forces–like a fatwa from Sistani. There is, as yet, no sign of that campaign.

“Who are the Good Guys?”

Posted by Cutler on June 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In a recent dispatch, Robert Dreyfuss writes:

[I]t’s at least worth asking: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Iraq? Are the good guys the U.S. troops fighting to impose American hegemony in the Gulf? Are the good guys the American forces who have installed a murderous Shiite theocracy in Baghdad?…

Dreyfuss goes on to answer his own question:

[T]here’s at least as much good on their side as on ours, if not more.

Note, however, that “their side” does not simply mean the “Iraqi” side. The Iraqi side, after all, includes a “murdersous Shiite theocracy.” These, it would seem, are “not” the folks with “as much… if not more” good on their side. No, the folks with more good on their side, according to Dreyfuss, are the Baathists and former military leaders of Iraq.

That raises, once again, the question of a dialogue with the Iraqi insurgents. For the past year, off and on, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has conducted secret talks with the resistance and has openly made a distinction between Zarqawi-style jihadists and former Baathists and military men…

Still, whether one thinks the resistance fighters are good guys, or bad guys that we need to talk to, the left, the antiwar movement, and progressives don’t have to wait for Zal Khalilzad. The time for talking to Iraq’s Baath, former military leaders, and Sunni resistance forces is here.

It is commonplace to favor talks with the Baathist resistance. Even some Right Zionist have embraced the idea. See, for example a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Amnesty for Insurgents? Yes” by Charles Krauthammer.

Insurgencies can be undone by being co-opted. And that is precisely the strategy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given that his life is literally on the line in making such judgments, one should give his view some weight.

Dreyfuss, meanwhile says nothing about the “murderous” record of the Baathists, but goes out of his way to take the moral high ground in relation to “murderous” Shiites.

Why the double standard? Why so soft on Baathists and hard on Shiites?

It is a perspective that matches perfectly with the anti-Shiite outlook of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Right Arabists like James Akins–a regular Dreyfuss informant–are extremely hawkish about Iran.

Where is Dreyfuss on Iran? Funny you should ask. He has a new article about US policy toward Iran–“Next We Take Tehran“–in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.

Unlike his erstwhile ally James Akins, Dreyfuss remains–at present–dovish on Iran. And, in a refreshing acknowledgement that Neocons are not the only folks who make US foreign policy, Dreyfuss takes a broad brush in criticizing US policy toward Iran.

Of course, the idea of the Persian Gulf as an American lake is not exactly new. Neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, “realists” typified by Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker, and liberal internationalists in the mold of President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, mostly agree that the Gulf ought to be owned and operated by the United States, and the idea has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy under presidents both Republican and Democratic.

At least in spirit (if not historical particulars), this is probably the best Dreyfuss line I’ve read because it represents a great break with his otherwise overly narrow focus on the Neocons. In the very next paragraph, however, Dreyfuss walks right back into that political corner of his:

But if the administration’s goals are congruent with past U.S. policy, its methods represent a radical departure. Previous administrations relied on alliances, proxy relationships with local rulers, a military presence that stayed mostly behind the scenes, and over-the-horizon forces ready to intervene in a crisis. President Bush has directly occupied two countries in the region and threatened a third. And by claiming a sweeping regional war without end against what he has referred to as “Islamofascism,” combined with an announced goal to impose U.S.-style free-market democracy in southwest Asia, he has adopted a utopian approach much closer to imperialism than to traditional balance-of-power politics.

This paragraph is a train wreck.

Are “traditional balance-of-power politics” actually so different from “imperialism”? At best, one could argue that there are tactical differences between an imperialism that operates through direct occupation and one that relies on alliances and proxy relationships with local rulers.

If this distinction actually matters to Dreyfuss, then he should be prepared to acknowledge that in the factional battles over Iraq, at least, Right Zionists always advocated–and have been criticized for advocating–reliance on indirect rule by Shiite proxy forces with a relatively “light” military presence over the horizon. By contrast, Right Arabists have always insisted that any regime change effort in Iraq would require at least 500,000 US troops and an occupation that would last years or decades.

Here, for example, is a leading Right Arabist, General Anthony Zinni, talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

We made a mistake in not understanding that after our invasion there would have to be a period of occupation. As a matter of fact, friends of mine who were planners in the workup were told not to use that word. But that’s denying reality. We had to have a period, much like we had in Japan and Germany at the end of World War II, where we controlled things

But we believed that the Iraqi people could take this upon themselves right away. We did it without the kind of, again, law and order and control in there.

The “we” that made that made that alleged “mistake” were the Right Zionists. Right Zionists like Douglas Feith, however, speak of the opposite “mistake”–the one made by Right Arabists. Feith told the Washington Post:

First, the United States missed the opportunity before the war to train enough Kurds and other Iraqi exiles to assist the U.S. military, he said. “That didn’t happen in the numbers we had hoped,” he said…

Even more important, Feith said, was the reluctance among some U.S. officials to transfer power early on to an Iraqi government and dismantle the U.S. occupation authority, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer.

Whatever the merits, for US empire, of direct occupation v. indirect rule through local proxies and/or the mistakes made, it is clear which imperial faction advocated which strategy in Iraq: Right Arabists favored US rule through direct, long-term occupation; Right Zionists favored US rule through local (Shiite and Kurdish) proxies.

Meanwhile, in the case of Iran, nobody within the foreign policy establishment has advocated direct military occupation. All of the big fights have been about three different options: peaceful diplomacy, military air strikes, or regime change led by proxy forces.

Bush administration Iran policy–like its policy toward Iraq–is based on “balance of power” politics. There is nothing new or utopian about it. What is new–and Dreyfuss won’t acknowledge–is that his old Right Arabist friends don’t talk like peaceniks about Iran.

There is a ton of unacknowledged history of Right Arabist/Right Zionist factionalism in all this. It was, after all, the Eisenhower administration–perhaps the US administration most clearly dominated by Right Arabists–that rejected the joint UK-French-Israel effort to topple an Arab nationlist leader, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Peaceniks, to be sure. But it was that same administration that gave the green light for a US-led covert operation for a coup against a Persian nationalist leader, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Who are the “bad” buys on Iran policy? Do Right Zionists support regime change in Iran? You bet. Is there at least “as much” bad “if not more” on the Right Arabist side when it comes to Iran? Ask former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins.

Right Arabists as Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on June 28, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Pop Quiz:

An article from the Associated Press reports the following:

A group of former senior government officials called on the Bush administration Thursday to adopt an official policy of regime change” in Iran on the grounds that the country poses a threat to U.S. security.

The Iran Policy Committee, formed a month ago in an effort to influence government policy toward Iran , said in a statement that Tehran’s Islamic government “is not likely to be turned from its threatening behavior by policies that emphasize negotiations.”…

The 30-page committee statement, released at a news conference, said that unless working with the Iranian people leads to regime change in Tehran, “the pace of nuclear weapons development might leave Washington with what the committee believes is the least desirable option of waging military strikes against Iran.”

Question: who is behind this group?
Not sure? Let me give another hint.

The “Iran Policy Committee” supports an Iranian exile-led opposition group called the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK, but sometimes called MKO). Here is a recent depiction of the group by one of its many critics:

Within the United States, MKO members tell Congressmen, their staffs, and other policymakers what they want to hear: That the MKO is the only opposition movement capable of ousting the unpopular and repressive Islamic Republic. They are slickWell-dressed and well-spoken representatives of MKO front organizations approach American writers, politicians, and pundits who are critical of the regime.

Has to be the Neocons, right? Sounds just like the Right Zionists. And the critic sounds just like a Right Arabist–could be General Zinni again, who famously slammed Chalabi and his Iraqi exile group as silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London.”

Guess again.

First, the critic quoted above is none other than Right Zionist Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

Second, the founding co-chairman of the “Iran Policy Committee”–James Akins–is about as far as you can get from a Right Zionist. James Akins is the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and one of the deans of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

What is a guy like Akins doing leading a group of Iran hawks?

In previous posts (here and here), I have noted the fact that Right Zionists are hostile to the current incumbent Iranian regime (so-called “official Iran”) but are very committed to the regional power of Iran (“eternal Iran”) as a country able to balance the power of Arab nationalism in the Gulf. More to the point, in terms of James Akins, Right Arabists are hostile to both “official Iran” and to “eteneral Iran”–that is, they are hostile to the regional power of Iran–precisely because they support Arab hegemony in the Gulf.

In the 1970s when Iran was allied with the US, it was pretty easy to distinguish between Right Arabists and Right Zionists. Right Zionists were delighted by growing Iranian regional power and the emergent triangle of US, Israeli, and Iranian relations. Right Arabists made no secret of their opposition to Iran’s growing regional power under the Shah.

Henry Kissinger was as responsible as any one person could be for the US tilt toward Iran in the early 1970s. It is over Iran and Saudi Arabia that James Akins clashed so famously with Kissinger. In an interview with 60 Minutes (discussed in Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1980), Akins claimed that Kissinger supported oil price hikes that benefited Iran over the objections of Saudi Arabia. Akins also claims (Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2004) that Kissinger gave him the boot when Akins spoke out against US plans to seize Saudi oil fields.

In April 1975, America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, sent a confidential cable to Washington denouncing as “criminally insane” an idea then being floated in the media: America should seize Saudi oil fields to break an Arab oil cartel and ensure a supply of cheap energy to fuel the U.S. economy.

Scoffing at the bravado of what he called America’s “New Hawks,” he warned that any attempt to take Arab oil by force would lead to world-wide fury and a protracted guerrilla war. This “could bring only disaster to the United States and to the world,” he wrote.

His 34-page cable, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, did not go down well in Washington. The idea of invading Saudi Arabia wasn’t the work of cranks but of senior policy makers. Discussion of a military strike never got beyond the preliminary planning stage, but the idea terrified the Saudis, who laid plans to booby-trap oil wells.

A few months after sending his cable, Mr. Akins was out of a job. He believes that his memo, which stoutly defended the Saudis’ right to control their oil, “was basically the cause of my being fired.”

This story has also been recounted by Robert Dreyfuss in his essay “The Thirty-Year Itch” in which Akins describes the invasion of Iraq as essentially part of this old battle:

“It’s the Kissinger plan,” says James Akins, a former U.S. diplomat. “I thought it had been killed, but it’s back.”

On the question of Iraq, Akins has been an outspoken critic of Right Zionists. No surprise here. The Saudis opposed Right Zionist plans for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraqi Shiites; so did Akins.

It is on this basis that a Right Arabist establishment figure like Akins also found common ground with Left anti-war writers like Robert Dreyfuss, a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Interviews with Akins provided Dreyfuss with lots of juicy quotes for his extended attacks on Right Zionist policy in Iraq and Akins puffed Devil’s Game on the back jack of the book.

In “Beyond Incompetence,” I criticized Dreyfuss:

because all of his political firepower is directed at the “neocon-dominated” United States, his critique is completely neutralized in those instances where Right Arabists have managed to regain some influence over Iraq policy. Dreyfuss pins everything on the idea that Right Zionists are dominating US policy. It legitimizes his uncritical embrace of Right Arabist perspectives on Iraq.

In a December 2004 comment, for example, Dreyfuss finds evidence of considerable Right Zionist panic, expressed by “leading neocon strategist” Max Singer, that Right Arabists were winning greater influence over Iraq policy. “What world is Singer living in?” asks Dreyfuss. “The United States is supporting the Sunnis and Baathists? Course not.”

More recently, Dreyfuss has acknowledged that the balance in US policy might have shifted back toward the Right Arabists. In an article sub-titled “Bring Back the Baath,” Dreyfuss reports on “U.S.-Baath Talks.”

“What the United States ought to have done two years ago — namely, make a deal with the resistance and its core Baathist leadership — might, after all, be happening. It is unclear how far up the food chain in the Bush administration this effort goes, but it appears that a desperate Ambassador Khalilzad has realized the importance of forging ties to the Baath party… That’s all good….”

If Dreyfuss feels awkward about declaring the increasingly Right Arabist inclinations of a Republican administration “all good,” he certainly hides it well.

Dreyfuss is disarmed by his adoption of Right Arabist talking points. Nowhere is this more evident that in his coverage of Iran.

In a Nation article entitled “Still Dreaming of Tehran,” (written with Laura Rozen), Dreyfuss once again turns to his Right Arabist friends–this time, “Chas Freeman, who served as US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War and a leading foe of the neocons”–to expose Right Zionist hawkish plans for Iran.

In a way, the neocons’ Iran project is very similar to the early phase of their Iraq one. It includes a steady drumbeat of threats and warnings, Washington lobbying, a media offensive and support for exile groups–in Iran’s case a mishmash that combines supporters of Khomeini’s grandson; Reza Pahlavi, the son of the fallen Shah, and the Iranian monarchists; and the Mujaheddin e-Khalq (MEK), a 3,800-strong exile force based in Iraq.

Dreyfuss seems unaware or unconcerned that at least one of his Right Arabist friends–James Akins–is the one leading support for the Iranian MEK exile force.

Why do Right Arabists favor a group like MEK and why do Right Zionists attack the group?

A June 25, 2006 Washington Post “guide to the leading Iranian activists in town” entitled “Iran on the Potomac,” and written by Dreyfuss co-author Laura Rozen describes the MEK:

[T]he National Council of the Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, an anti-regime militant group supported for years by Saddam Hussein.

With the advent of the Iran-Iraq war, the MEK alligned itself with Iraq and integrated itself into the broader regional Arab resistance to Iranian power. In other words, the MEK is an Arab-aligned force for regime change in Iran.

Right Zionists desperately want regime change in Iran, but they oppose two hawkish Right Arabist options for achieving that change. One is the attempt–profiled in a previous post–to cultivate Arab Iranian secessionist impulses in the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzistan (previously known as “Arabistan”). The other is Right Arabist sponsorship of MEK.

Dreyfuss likes to counterpose the Neocon hawks to “the realists’ more conciliatory strategy” that favors ” a quiet dialogue with Tehran.” Quiet and conciliatory. Yep, that must be the nearly-pacifist “realists.”

The essential point, beyond assembling a map of Washington policy positions regarding Iran, is that Right Arabists can be hawks, too. Listen to the Akins group:

Iran is emerging as the primary threat against the United States and its allies: Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, continuing support for and involvement with terrorist networks, publicly-stated opposition to the Arab-Israel peace process, disruptive role in Iraq, expansionist radical ideology, and its denial of basic human rights to its own population are challenges confronting U.S. policymakers.

James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee bang war drums, champion regime change, and sponsor democracy missions just like the Right Zionists when such things serve in the interest of Right Arabist goals. They may talk like doves in debates over Iraq, but Iran is a different matter.

Right Zionists and Right Arabists are merely two rival imperialist factions within the foreign policy establishment. Those who take sides within that intra-imperialist battle are playing a “devil’s game.”

Iran: Perle of Wisdom

Posted by Cutler on June 26, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq / 3 Comments

Richard Perle has once again entered the fray over US policy toward Iran. His June 25, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)” makes for interesting reading for several reasons.

Perle’s essay confirms that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) consider themselves increasingly marginal within the Bush administration, at least in terms of foreign policy in the Gulf. Perle insists that the “diplomatic establishment” over at the State Department is once again driving the ship of state.

[O]n May 31, the administration offered to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

How is it that Bush, who vowed that on his watch “the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands,” has chosen to beat such an ignominious retreat?…

[In 2003] Bush blinked and authorized the E.U.-3 to approach Tehran with proposals to reward the mullahs if they promised to end their nuclear weapons program.

During these three years, the Iranians have advanced steadily toward acquiring nuclear weapons, defiantly announcing milestones along the way. At the end of May, with Ahmadinejad stridently reiterating Iran’s “right” to enrich the uranium necessary for nuclear weapons, the administration blinked again.

Perle also suggests that one can trace the balance of power within the Administration by watching Condoleezza Rice. As a disciple of Brent Scowcroft–Perle’s ideological nemesis–Rice was always an unlikely ally for Right Zionists. During her time in the White House, however, the Right Zionists were delighted to discover in Rice a fellow traveler.

Now, Rice seems lost to Right Zionists like Perle. She has been recaptured by the foreign policy establishment.

Proximity is critical in politics and policy. And the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice’s influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of — and increasingly represents — a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.

None of this is really news–and there are some signs that on Iraq, for example, Rice started to retreat by September 2003 when she brought in Robert Blackwill to run a White House Iraq Stabilization Group, well before she moved to the State Department. Nevertheless, it confirms the basic outlines of administration factionalism.

If Perle thinks he has allies in the administration, he isn’t naming names. Obviously, Cheney and Rumsfeld loom large here. The New York Times account of the Iran policy reversal suggests that Cheney blinked, too.

There was strong opposition from the White House, particularly from Vice President Dick Cheney, according to several former officials.

Cheney was dead set against it,” said one former official who sat in many of those meetings. “At its heart, this was an argument about whether you could isolate the Iranians enough to force some kind of regime change.” But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside

Any other interpretation has Rice handing the Vice President a defeat. I find that unlikely, if only because Cheney would have little reason to remain silent about his opposition to a policy if the Bush sided with Rice against Cheney. Perle says if you want to know why the President blinked, “Ask Condi.” Better still, “Ask Cheney.”

Perle is upset that the Bush administration has taken a step toward a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear impasse. However, it is important to note that Perle does not advocate a military solution. In fact, after criticizing the Bush administration for blinking on the nuclear issue, he–like many other Right Zionists–drops the bomb (as an issue…) and takes up regime change. Right Zionists like Perle don’t want to talk about Nukes. The real issue, for Right Zionists, is regime change.

Here is the section of the Op-Ed where Perle changes the subject:

The new policy, undoubtedly pitched to the president as a means of enticing the E.U.-3 to support ending Iran’s program, is likely to diminish pressure on Iran and allow the mullahs more time to develop the weapons they have paid dearly to pursue.

No U.S. administration since 1979 has had a serious political strategy regarding Iran…

After this line, it is all regime change. Here is a sample:

The failure of successive U.S. administrations, including this one, to give moral and political support to the regime’s opponents is a tragedy. Iran is a country of young people, most of whom wish to live in freedom and admire the liberal democracies that Ahmadinejad loathes and fears.

On this score too, however, Perle complains that the State Department has the upper hand:

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) tried two weeks ago to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would have increased the administration’s too-little-too-late support for democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department opposed it, arguing that it “runs counter to our efforts . . . it would limit our diplomatic flexibility.”

From this perspective, it certainly looks as though the Right Zionists have been defeated by the “diplomatic establishment” in Washington. (Is there room for a little bit of irony in the fact that thanks to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the power of the “Israel Lobby” is proclaimed and publicized amidst serious policy defeats for Right Zionists in Washington?)

Has prior Right Zionist influence within the Bush administration (say, 9/11 to September 2003) changed the balance of power in the Gulf? If so, then Right Zionists may be victors in absentia.

Just to be clear: in at least one Right Zionist playbook–David Wurmser’s Tyranny’s Ally (profiled HERE)–the basis for regime change in Iran is not overt US policy but the anti-regime influence of Iraqi Shiites–specifically, Sistani and the Najaf clerical establishment.

Plenty of Right Zionists have been jettisoned from the Bush administration. To my knowledge, however, David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of the Vice President. And Sistani now runs Iraq–re-Baathification and insurgent amnesty, notwithstanding. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Note well: I claim no knowledge about the alleged anti-regime sentiments of Sistani or the Najaf clerical establishment. I only know that Right Zionists have made claims about such sentiments and I have yet to hear a discussion by critics who would challenge this view. On the contrary, I note–as I have in a previous post–that at least one prominent scholar who frequently clashes with Right Zionists, Juan Cole, has (perhaps unwittingly) bolstered this Right Zionist analysis.

In his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005 Professor Cole listed number five as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

Where is the discussion of this crucial issue?

Zarqawi and Zion, Affirmed

Posted by Cutler on June 20, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

In a previous post–one seen by more readers than any other, thanks to the Right Zionists at Frontpage who graciously included me in their diatribe, “The Left and the Death of Zarqawi“–I argued:

At the level of ideology, Zarqawi was best understood as the perfect foil for Right Zionists like David Wurmser who think of Iraq as the front line of a regional war. Zarqawi is the mirror image of Wurmser.

I also made the following prediction:

Zarqawi may have hated Zionists, but his importance in Iraq was that he also hated Shiites. It was in the mind of Zarqawi–like the mind of Wurmser–that Zionists and Shiites were united. Right Zionists will not shed a tear for Zarqawi, but they may miss him when he is gone.

Actually, I was wrong. Right Zionists have now actually shed a tear for Zarqawi in an extraordinary June 26, 2006 Lee Smith Weekly Standard article called “Sects and Death in the Middle East.” It is a eulogy in the truest sense:

For over half a century, Arab leaders from Nasser to Nasrallah have all sounded the same note–we Arabs are in a battle to the death against Israel, the United States, the West, colonialism, etc. Zarqawi broke that pact. We Sunnis are Arabs, said Zarqawi, but you lot are Shia and we will kill you….

Zarqawi tapped into the id of the region, the violent subterranean intra-Arab hatreds that no one wants to look at very closely, neither locals nor foreigners, because the picture it paints is so dauntingly gruesome that it suggests the Middle East will be a basket case for decades to come…

Certainly not all Sunni Arabs approved of Zarqawi’s tactics, but many agreed that someone had to put the Shiites back in their place lest they misunderstand what is in store for them once the Americans leave.

Last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah famously warned of a Shiite crescent–a sphere of influence running from Iran to Lebanon–and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has accused Shiites of being more loyal to Iran than the countries they live in. And these are the heads of the two major Arab states that are almost devoid of Shiites. Feelings run even higher elsewhere in the region. In Saudi Arabia, the mere existence of Shiites in the Eastern Province threatens not only the kingdom’s primary source of income, oil, but also the very legitimacy of Wahhabi rule. After all, as true Wahhabis, shouldn’t they be converting or killing Shiites, as the founder of the country, Ibn Saud, once insisted?

To your average Joe Sunni, then, it’s good that Osama bin Laden kills Americans. And it’s wonderful that the Palestinian groups kill Israelis. But Zarqawi was the man in the trenches who went after the heretics that Sunni Arabs all actually have to live with every day, and have successfully kept in their place for a millennium now, and don’t ever want overturning the scales…

But to downplay sectarian issues is to risk misunderstanding the real problems in Iraq. There are already scores of books and articles detailing how the Bush team screwed up the war or the postwar occupation, some written by former administration employees, others the mea culpas of self-described onetime true believers… The problem in Iraq is Iraq. More broadly speaking, it is the problem of Arab society. ..

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Zarqawi made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that a more “even-handed approach” toward the Israeli-Palestinian crisis will not really defuse tensions in the Middle East…

The world looks like a different place thanks to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for without him the obtuse, the partisan, and the dishonest would still have room to talk about root causes and such stuff and reason away mass murder and sectarian fear and loathing. Zarqawi clarified things.

Wow! If the Weekly Standard had called and asked me to serve as ghost writer for a Right Zionist profile of Zarqawi, I would never have had the nerve to put it as clearly and succinctly as that! Let’s read one of those paragraphs one more time, just for fun–this time with feeling:

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Well, Ok then.

All Quiet on the Political Front

Posted by Cutler on June 20, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Right Arabists (so-called Realists) seem to be calling the shots at every turn and the Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq who tend to yell the loudest at the first sign of a Right Zionist tilt to Bush administration policy continue to be very quiet.

The stability of the political process looks impressive, although it will surely be tested by one or more possible scenarios.

First, the government of national unity would be tested by any serious attempt by US forces to crush the Sunni insurgency, such as the plan that AEIs Frederick Kagan presumably offered to President Bush during their recent meeting.

Juan Cole notes something like a news blackout on allegedly massive counter-insurgency operations in Baghdad and Ramadi right now. According to a New York Times report, US military officials deny that a Falluja-style assault is in the works.

Some Sunni Arab leaders have said they are worried that American forces may be preparing an offensive in Ramadi meant to wipe out the insurgent groups that have taken control of much of the city, similar to the November 2004 assault on Falluja by the Marines.

An American military official in Baghdad said on Sunday that no such offensive was planned. “We’re trying to separate the insurgents from the rest of the people,” the official said. “There are a lot of rumors flying around that people think it’s another Falluja. It’s not.”

One reason to believe these reports: Sunni Arab political leaders are, thus far, quiet. It would be difficult for them to remain so in the face of a major assault.

Second, any attempt to negotiate Constitutional changes will almost certainly re-open the sectarians wounds that have been sutured by the Maliki government.

Third, the Maliki government could be tested by more sectarian violence or intra-Shiite factionalism in Basra.

Until then, one cannot fail to notice that Iraqi politics look very calm right now. Pretty impressive, given the Haditha revelations, etc.

On Haditha: Funny how quiet imperialism becomes in the US when the Right Arabist political establishment has been restored to power and no longer has any use for the anti-war Left. Recall the extraordinary political outcry in 2004 from US political elites over Abu Ghraib during the era when Right Zionists were still running the show. Now compare that political storm to the muted themes (“clouds” and “contradictions” seem to be the watchwords at the New York Times) that have accompanied revelations about the Haditha massacre.

Where is Richard Lugar and his outrage? Silence.

Ledeen and Zarqawi

Posted by Cutler on June 19, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In an earlier post, “Zarqawi and Zion,” I argued that Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen represent an ideological mirror image of Zarqawi because they both wanted to fight the same war, albeit on opposite sides.  Both wanted to make Iraq the central battleground of a regional war over the balance of power in the Gulf.  Right Zionists favor a Persian Gulf dominated by Shiites and Zarqawi sought to preserve the Arab Gulf as a stronghold of Sunni power.

All of this seems so unlikely, however, when reading Michael Ledeen’s June 16, 2006 article, “Nonsense: Don’t Read What You Are into the Big Document of Iraq” about the “the much ballyhooed document found in Iraq and published with great gravitas all over the world.”  The document in question–that is, an English translation provided to the media by Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie–is HERE.

Here is the part that Ledeen seems to find upsetting/laughable:

[T]he whole thrust of the document is that Iran is a sweet innocent, actually an ally of the United States in Iraq, and that the terrorists should do everything possible to foster conflict between Iran and the Americans.

Ledeen begins his column with a question lots of folks have asked when his name comes up:

“So how exactly do you figure out when something is real, and when it’s a deception?”

Good question.  His conclusion, in this instance:

I think the Iranians put out this sort of nonsense so that we’ll have trouble figuring out what’s real. And by the way, it wasn’t found in Zarqawi’s house, contrary to the triumphant announcement from the office of the Iraqi prime minister. So it’s certainly not a Last Testament. It’s just nonsense.

Why does Ledeen go so far out his way to claim that the US-backed government in Iraq and the government in Iran has perpetrated a massive deception?  Surely it is not because he doesn’t wish it were true.  Ledeen is the most strident advocate of such an alliance between the United States and Iran.

The disagreement between Zarqawi and Ledeen was that Zarqawi thought this alliance was already in the works while Ledeen has been frustrated by the slow pace of such an alliance.  Ledeen’s most common refrain? Faster Please.

The “Big” posthumously published Zarqawi document was not the first time that Zarqawi “allegedly alleged” that Ledeen’s regional vision had already been consummated.

In early June 2006 Zarqawi allegedly lashed out at Lebanon’s Iran-backed, Shiite Hizbollah movement:

The head of the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called Thursday for the disarmament of the Lebanese Shiite fundamentalist movement Hezbollah, according to an audio message posted on the Internet.Zarqawi accused Hezbollah of serving as a “shield protecting the Zionist enemy (Israel) against the strikes of the mujahedeen in Lebanon,” in an apparent reference to Sunni Arab militants loyal to the Al-Qaeda network.

“Why should Hezbollah be exempt from the… Taef accords” which brought an end to fighting in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, a voice purporting to be Iraq’s most wanted man asked in the lengthy audio message whose authenticity could not be verified.

Hezbollah is an independent state inside Lebanon… It puts forth lying slogans about Palestinian liberation when in fact it serves as a security wall (for Israel) and prevents Sunnis from crossing its borders.”

As the Telegraph commented at the time of these reports,

[Zarqawi] strangely echoed Israeli and western demands by denouncing Hizbollah as “an independent state inside Lebanon” and demanded that it should be disarmed.

For Ledeen, the only real problem with this characterization is that it is premature.  Right Zionists have not yet managed to achieve the long-term goal of aligning Lebanon’s Shiites with Israel.

Don’t take my word for it, though.  Here is David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East expert, on the subject (from his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally, profiled in my article “Beyond Incompetence“):

“Liberating the centers of learning in Najaf and Karbala in the wake of Saddam’s demise would offer the region and the West a chance to…reinstate the traditional dynamic among Lebanon’s ShiitesPrying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian Revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shiite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balanceA collapse of Iraq’s Baathism could be the catalyst for the implosion of Assad’s regime in Syria and, though the Shiite community, of the Islamic revolution in Iran as well.”

The problem, for Ledeen, is that Zarqawi was jumping the gun, so to speak.

Ledeen may be right that the incumbent regime in Iran has done everything possible to find common ground with Arab regimes.  Hence recent news out of Iran that the current regime has very warm relations with Saudi Arabia and that both countries seek to ease tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Right Zionists at Middle East Media Research Institute (where Meyrav Wurmser–married to David Wurmser, cited above–served as Executive Director) are quick to note the longer-term basis for Arab hostility to Iranian nuclear ambitions.  That is for another day, however, when Right Zionists can once again support an Iranian nuclear program.  Until then, they must explain how Arab hostility toward Israel has led some to offer qualified support for the incumbent Iranian regime.

For Right Zionists, everything turns on regime change in Iran.  Then comes the new regional balance of power against which Zarqawi fought.  Zarqawi died fighting a war that Ledeen thinks has barely begun.  Hence Ledeen: faster please.

Basra v. Persia, Part II

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel / 2 Comments

Details regarding a flare up of tensions between Basra Shiites and Iran–discussed in the previous post–remain sketchy. Here are some of the media reports:

The Associated Press (via Forbes) suggests that Basra Shiites are upset because of accusations made on Iranian TV about Iraqi cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani (variously referred to as Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi or Shaikh Mahmud al-Sarkhi al-Hasani):

Viewers in Iran and Iraq said a talk show guest on the channel Saturday criticized Mahmoud al-Hassani, a fiercely anti-American cleric whose followers have battled in the past with U.S. and other coalition troops in Iraq. The guest, Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Kourani, said al-Hassani was not a real cleric and Israel was using him to tarnish Islam, according to the viewers.

Many of al-Hassani’s supporters took the criticism as an accusation that the cleric was an Israeli agent, Basra police Capt. Mushtaq Khazim said.

Question #1: Was Sheik Ali Kourani saying that al-Hassani was an agent of Israel, as the Basra police Capt is said to have suggested?

Such an interpretation would make it seem like Kourani was fanning the flames of anti-Zionism by accusing al-Hassani of serving “Zionist masters.” There is reason to doubt this interpretation. First, the AP report that “Israel was ‘using’ him to tarnish Islam” could have more to do with Kourani’s discomfort with al-Hassani for militantly anti-Zionist and anti-American positions that Kourani thinks gives Islam a bad name. That would be a very different thing, no? It certainly rules out the possibility that the “anti-Iranian protesters” are implicitly pro-American or pro-Israeli.

Question #2: What does the media say about Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi?

Not much. On April 5, 2004, a Washington Post article briefly mentions militias in Iraq that are loyal to “a mystical cleric named Sarkhi Hassani.”

The depiction of al-Hassani as “mystical” makes some sense in light of another charge allegedly levelled against him by Kourani on Iranian TV. According to a June 14, 2006 Agence France Presse report under the headline “Iraq protestors tear down Iran consulate flag in religious row” (I could not find a copy on-line; link anyone?):

The incident came after an interview on Iranian television with Islamic scholar Sheikh Ali Korani, during which he criticized al-Sarkhi for claiming to be in regular communication with the hidden imam — a messiah-like figure who will one day return and redeem the Shiite community.

Although al-Hassani’s followers deny the charge, it is one that is regularly made against mystics in many religious traditions.

According to a December 28, 2005 “Iraq Weekly Status Report” published by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the U.S. State Department, al-Hassani is an “extremist Shi’a cleric” and leader of the Islamic Walaa Party (ballot number 758). The report also notes that Walaa Party members demonstrated in Karbala “and accused the United Islamic Alliance… of a host of election infractions…”

So there seems to be some tension between al-Hassani’s Walaa Party and the ruling Shiite alliance.

[Update: Juan Cole was on the case way back in October 2003 when he provided a profile of al-Hassani. He describes al-Hassani as a Sadrist.]

Question #3: Who is Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Kourani, the talk show guest whose comments sparked the demonstrations at the Iranian consulate in Basra?

Ali Kourani (also Ayatollah Ali Korani) received a burst of US media coverage in the middle of the 1990s as the representative of a new, moderate, modern trend within Iran. His specific claim to fame was as a “new wave” mullah, at least according to a May 11, 1995 Wall Street Journal report by Peter Waldman under the headline “Islamic Upheaval: Iranian Revolution Takes Another Turn, But Where Is It Going?–On the Inside, Signs Point to Greater Moderation; U.S. Still Sees Terrorism–‘New Wave’ Mullahs On-Line”:

[Y]ounger, “New Wave” mullahs, as the turbaned hackers are called, have persevered.

The spread of information will inevitably lead to a more moderate climate,” says Ali Korani, the cleric who heads the Qom project to publish the planned Encyclopedia of Islamic Law.

Some of the clergy say we’ve been hurt by being part of the government; we should return to our original role as spiritual leaders,” says Mr. Korani, the computer mullah. “Among the marjas [the most influential ayatollahs], this is the dominant view.”

Question #4: What is the relationship between Ali Kourani and the current Iranian government?

According to the Associated Press, the Iranian program appeared on a state-run channel:

Iran…has increased Arabic-language TV broadcasts in an attempt to further boost its influence in neighboring Iraq.

Al-Kawthar, which has a mix of religious and political programming, often with an anti-American tone, is the second largest Iranian station seen in Iraq, after al-Alam television.

According to the Agence France Presse report cited above, however, Iranian representatives in Iraq weren’t eager to claim Kourani:

The Iranian consulate in Karbala pointed out that its press was free and Korani was Lebanese, not Iranian, so the whole affair was not Tehran’s responsibility.

Implications: It may be too soon to say, but it looks like this whole event turns traditional Right Zionist assumptions about Shiite politics on its head. If, as I have argued in my article “Beyond Incompetence“, Right Zionists hoped that moderate Iraqi Shiites would help undermine the revolutionary Iranian regime, this case looks like the exact opposite: radical Iraqi Shiites demonstrating against political “moderates” in Iran.

Basra v. Persia?

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 3 Comments

Juan Cole at Informed Comment has posted a very important discussion of recent tension between Shiites in Basra and the Iranian government:

An angry crowd of Iraqi Shiites attacked the Iranian Basra consulate on Wednesday, protesting an insult aired on Iranian television against Shaikh Mahmud al-Sarkhi al-Hasani, a popular Basra preacher. They set fire to an annex of the building, and black smoke billowed above it. Iraqi Shiite leaders said that they feared further violence if Iran did not apologize. Many Basra Shiites still hold a grudge against Iran for the latter’s shelling of the city during the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988. Sadrist Iraqis in particular denounce the dominance of Persian Shiism over Iraqi Shiism. The crowd planted an Iraqi flag on the building.

Is the Bush administration supporting these anti-Iranian demonstrators? One might imagine so. But if you look closely at Bush administration policies in Iraq, it sure looks like the Bush administration continues to back the pro-Iranian SCIRI party against anti-Iranian Iraqi nationalist Shiites in Basra.

In a series of recent posts (HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE), I have been trying to make some sense of Basra politics–especially in light of Prime Minister Maliki’s highly publicized declaration of a “state of emergency” in Basra. What are the stakes?

In the oil-rich city of Basra, political control is crucial and from early on in the war there has been talk about various plans for Shiite regional autonomy centered in Basra. In most instances, such talk has also been viewed as part of an emergent regional alliance between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites. One recent Reuters report went so far as to suggest that the Maliki crackdown on Basra was, in essence, a battle to win control of Basra away from Iran.

“There are local and international battles for Basra. Locally it is between Fadhila and other groups while regionally it is between Iran and other forces, like the British.”

By all appearances, Maliki’s “state of emergency”–for which Maliki has earned considerable White House praise–seems directed at the political influence two political forces in Basra: Moqtada al-Sadr and the Fadhila/Virtue party.

Here is the mystery: Sadr and Fadhila are often depicted as being the two Shiite forces that oppose Shiite regional autonomy. See, for example, an August 2005 New York Times article.

But there are also Shiites who vehemently oppose any move toward autonomy. Moktada al-Sadr, the young rebel cleric who led two uprisings against the Americans last year, and Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi, another radical cleric with ties to Mr. Sadr, have both denounced the movement, saying it goes against the concept of central Islamic rule.

Yacoubi is the leader of the Fadhila party.

A more recent June 13, 2006 New York Times article “Oil, Politics, and Bloodshed Corrupt an Iraqi City” tellsl a somewhat different story:

In Fadhila’s model, Basra Province, the only one it controls, would stand on its own. “We as Fadhila, we want to make our province our own region,” Mr. Talib said. “We have two million people, an airport, a port and oil — everything we need to be a state.”

Does Fadhila favor a strong, centralized Iraqi state, as initially reported? If so, one would think that on this question in would have quite a bit in common with nationalist Sunni Arab political forces. Certainly Sadrists have, at times, recognized this common ground.

Or does Fadhila favor regional autonomy for Iraqi Shiites?

The relationship between Fadhila and Iran may be crucial in this respect. Anti-Iranian sentiment would seem to tilt Fadhila toward an Iraqi nationalist position. The recent reports of tension between Basra Shiites and Iran would seem to support this view.

One additional tidbit that points in the direction of anti-Iranian sentiment among Basra Shiites come from a January 25, 2005 Washington Post report, “Political Islam Put to the Test in Southern Iraq“:

The question of Iranian support is debilitating for Basra’s Islamic parties, in particular for the Supreme Council, which fought on the Iranian side during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and, as is bitterly recalled by some Iraqi veterans, oversaw prisoner-of-war camps. Some Supreme Council officials in Basra still speak Arabic with a Persian inflection, and many residents — both religious and secular — punctuate their conversations with rumors about the involvement of Iran’s intelligence service in southern Iraq.

One rival Islamic party, an offshoot of Sadr’s movement known as Fudhala, is campaigning on a slogan that is a not-too-subtle jab at the Supreme Council’s perceived leanings: “Born in Iraq, Iraqi financed, with Iraqi leadership.”

If the Bush administration is full of praise for the SCIRI-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki for its attempt to drive an anti-Iranian Shiite political party from power in Basra, what does that say about Bush administration attitudes toward Iranian regional influence?

Biden Time

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Does Senator Joe Biden think that his party is so irrelevant that he can champion views on Iraq that seem completely contradictory without anybody knowing or caring?

Biden, in case you have missed it, has been all over the media in recent days arguing for appeasing Iraq’s Sunni Arab political forces even as he simultaneously champions regional autonomy for Iraqi Shiites and Kurds. In other words, he is essentially trying to woo Sunni Arabs and antagonize them at the same time. Along the way, he manages to support both of the visions for Iraq that have generated fierce factional antagonisms withing the Bush administration.

Here is Biden on the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS last night:

[E]verybody agrees three things have to happen for us to be able to leave and leave success behind, that is a stable government. You’ve got to do something about the militia, and you’ve got to purge the existing, trained Iraqis of these sectarian thugs.

Secondly, what you got to do, is you got to get the Sunnis to buy in. That’s why our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it, to provide for the opportunity to get the Sunnis to buy in by giving them a larger piece of the action.

And, three, you’ve got to keep the neighbors out.

Biden has reproduced these three bullet points on CNN, MSNBC, and in a press release.

These talking points are not particularly different from the current “Right Arabist” policies being pursued by Zalmay Khalilzad. Hence the nod to the “great job” Khalilzad is doing.These talking points are quite different, however, from Biden’s simultaneous endorsement (discussed in a previous post) of regional autonomy for Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish minorities.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, what do you say to the growing number of your fellow and sister Democrats who are saying, “Hey, it’s time to set a date certain to get America out of there, get the troops out of there”? What do you say to them?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I’m saying setting a date is not a plan. I’m not suggesting that Senator Lugar agrees with the plan I put forward, but I laid out a clear, precise plan as to how I think we should proceed, by giving more breathing room to the various sectarian groups, by sharing the oil revenue, by amending the constitution

This “clear, precise plan” is hardly the stuff of Right Arabist strategy in Iraq. Take, for example, Senator Lugar, Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who appeared with Biden on the News Hour:

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, are you on board for the Biden plan?…

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I think it should be carefully considered, but my own view is that the best option is still to try to find a unified Iraq

I think that Turks will be very nervous about Kurds heading toward more independence under those situations… quite apart from Sunnis that might hook up with Sunnis in Saudi Arabia… the Wahhabi-types that could be very dangerous for the conclusion for all of this…

Biden’s plan drew similar criticism from Anthony Cordesman in a May 9, 2006 New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem.”

[T]here is no way to divide Iraq that will not set off fights over control of oil. More than 90 percent of Iraq’s government revenues come from oil exports. The Sunni Arab west has no developed oil fields and thus would have no oil revenues…

And with Iraqi Sunnis cut out of oil money, Arab Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be forced to support them, if only to avoid having the Islamist extremists take over this part of Iraq.

Iran, of course, would compete for the Iraqi Shiites. The Kurds have no friends: Turkey, Iran and Syria would seek to destabilize the north…

[A quick detour: “The Kurds have no friends” Is it my imagination or did Anthony Cordesman just “wipe Israel off the map”? For better or worse, Israel has long aligned itself with Kurdish forces.]

Biden and Gelb responded to Cordesman’s criticism in a May 11, 2006 letter to the New York Times (subscription required):

[Cordesman] says our proposal cuts the Sunni Arabs out of oil money. But as we wrote, our plan would constitutionally guarantee Sunnis 20 percent of all oil revenues. Right now, they are guaranteed nothing.

Our suggested oil guarantee would also give Sunnis a major incentive to fight the insurgents and accept the regionalism we propose and Iraq’s constitution allows.

You will have to ask Iraqi Sunnis for yourself if they find Biden’s promise of “20 percent of all oil revenues” sufficient “incentive to fight the insurgents,” but I have yet to find any Right Arabists (including Lugar) who find in this clarification a basis for signing on to Biden’s regionalism plan.

It is worth noting, however, that Biden’s insistence here on exisiting provisions of the Iraqi constitution runs agains the grain of his News Hour praise for Khalilzad: “our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it.”

What were the changes that Khalilzad introduced days ahead of the October 2005 ratification vote? Khalilzad’s own October 12, 2005 press release is quite clear:

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad praised Iraqi political leaders for agreeing to last-minute compromises on the language of the country’s proposed constitution. The changes are aimed at forging broader consensus ahead of the October 15 constitutional referendum.

“As Iraqis prepare to vote their consciences in the coming referendum, leaders who have led the democratic process and leaders who have boycotted it have decisively settled their differences and joined together to announce, ‘Vote yes for Iraq’s constitution,’” Khalilzad said in an October 12 statement…

One agreed change would allow for the new Council of Representatives to review the document and propose changes…

This provision was important to Sunni Arab negotiators who feel that they were under-represented on the constitutional drafting committee…

Other changes include language emphasizing the unity of the Iraqi state and highlighting its ties to the Arab world.

Two new clauses state that membership in the former regime’s Ba’ath Party is not an adequate basis for referral of an individual to the courts and that the new Council of Representatives shall establish a committee to ensure that the de-Ba’athification program is carried out in a just, fair and objective manner. Sunni Arab negotiators insisted on these provisions to ensure that their constituents, many of whom were rank-and-file members of the party, are not unjustly prosecuted.

How can Biden praise Khalilzad’s constitutional amendments that won some Sunni Arab buy in only by promising the “unity of the Iraqi state” even as Biden continues to support regional autonomy?

Senator Biden: which side are you on?

At a minimum, let us pray that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee understands that his current talking points represent two antagonistic approaches to US policy in Iraq–approaches that have hitherto appeared as mutually exclusive to the Right Zionist and Right Arabist factional forces that have battled for position since the start of the Bush administration, to say nothing of forces on the ground in Iraq and the entire Gulf region.

Basra: the Virtue of Autonomy?

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 1 Comment

The New York Times has published a report from Basra today under the headline “Oil, Politics, and Bloodshed Corrupt an Iraqi City.” A quote from the article is also the “Quote of the Day” in the Times.

Quotation of the Day

“I cannot talk with you. I haven’t joined a party and no militia is protecting me.”

SAJID SAAD HASSAN, a professor, on lawlessness in Basra, Iraq.

Funny thing about that quote: it isn’t exactly “of the day.” The same quote appeared 10 days ago–along with another colorful lead quote from a British officer–in the Saturday, June 3, 2006 edition of the International Herald Tribune under the headline “State Has ‘Melted,’ Leaving Basra in Chaos.”

Thrown in amidst the recycled Basra vignettes, the Times seems to have actually either broken some news or quietly retracted an earlier reporting error. The issue involves the political spectrum of Shiite views regarding regional political and economic autonomy for the oil-rich, Shiite-dominated southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Aqeel Talib, a senior member of the [Fadhila] party, argues that a disagreement over federalism is one of the issues dividing the parties. The party and its two main competitors — the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party — all had different visions for a southern Shiite region.

In Fadhila’s model, Basra Province, the only one it controls, would stand on its own. “We as Fadhila, we want to make our province our own region,” Mr. Talib said. “We have two million people, an airport, a port and oil — everything we need to be a state.”

In a previous post on Basra politics, I cited an April 25, 2005 New York Times report by Edward Wong–published under the headline “Top Shiite Politician Joins Call for Autonomous South Iraq“:

Some Shiites have supported creating a region out of Al Basra Province and neighboring provinces, while others have pushed for a much larger region that would also encompass the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

But there are also Shiites who vehemently oppose any move toward autonomy. Moktada al-Sadr, the young rebel cleric who led two uprisings against the Americans last year, and Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi, another radical cleric with ties to Mr. Sadr, have both denounced the movement, saying it goes against the concept of central Islamic rule.

Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi is the leader of the Fadhila party (translated as the Virtue Party).

So, what exactly is the political lineup on regional autonomy in Basra? Has Fadhila changed its position? Or is one of the New York Times articles incorrect?

The significance of the issue cannot be overstated: if Yacoubi and/or Sadr are Shiite nationalists who oppose Iranian influence in Iraq and support a centralized government in Baghdad, this tends to align them far more with the Sunni Arab insurgency then it does with either the Shiite political forces associated with SCIRI or with Iraqi Kurds who seek similar autonomous control of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

If, on the other hand, Yacoubi and/or Sadr support Basra regional autonomy (in some form or another), then this tends to tilt the political balance toward a sectarian and fragmented–rather than Sunni Arab nationalist–future for Iraq. Yacoubi and Sadr can swing the balance of power either way.

For that reason, I note with great interest a very important post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment.

Shiite Iraqi clerical leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is multi-tasking, according to al-Zaman [Ar.]/ AFP Al-Hakim first went to Najaf. There, he consulted with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and 2 other grand ayatollahs. Then he met with young Shiite nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr. Its sources say that the two discussed ways of calming the fighting and tensions between the Badr Corps fighters and the Mahdi Army in the southern port city of Basra, Iraq’s sole window to the outside world and sole secure avenue for the export of petroleum.

Then al-Hakim went off to Tehran. His trip has two purposes, according to the Baghdad daily. One is to mediate between the Americans and the Iranians over the nuclear crisis. The other is to explore with the Iranian government how it might be helpful in quieting Basra, and to consult with the ayatollahs in Tehran over al-Hakim’s plan to form regional confederacies out of provinces in the Shiite south of Iraq.

Did Sadr give Hakim any kind of green light on regional autonomy for Basra before Hakim made his trek to Iran?

Tehran Tilt

Posted by Cutler on June 12, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

What is the Bush administration up to in Iran? And what, if anything, does it have to do with the fate of Neoconservative/Right Zionist foreign policy initiatives?

The first thing to note is that “open source” (media-based) analysis of Bush administration policy toward Iran has been complicated by lots of mixed signals. It wasn’t long ago that all the chatter was about impending nuclear strikes on Iran. Remember that? It was only about two months ago that Seymour Hersh published “The Iran Plans” in the April 17, 2006 issue of the New Yorker.

Now fast forward to the June 1, 2006 New York Times report by David Sanger, “For Bush, Talks With Iran Were a Last Resort.”

After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice…

[A]fter five years of behind-the-scenes battling within the administration, Mr. Bush finally came to a crossroads at which both sides in the debate over Iran — engagers and isolaters, and some with a foot in each camp — saw an advantage in, as one senior aide said, “seeing if they are serious.”…

But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside
In the end, said one former official who has kept close tabs on the debate, “it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box” of trying talks.

A little more than a week later, Right Zionist (so-called Neocon) verdicts are in. Over at the American Enterprise Institute, the reviews are quite negative. The Forward quotes AEI’s Michael Rubin:

“The administration can’t have it both ways. They can’t embrace the regime and still talk about liberty for the Iranian people,” said Iran analyst Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank widely associated with the push for regime change in Iraq. A former Pentagon official, Rubin added that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “can spout whatever platitudes she wants to spout, but at this point, when it comes to liberty and freedom, she has no credibility.”

In a Weekly Standard missive, Rubin suggests, “the Bush administration is in full retreat” even as “rich Saudi and Persian Gulf financiers work to consolidate the region as a jihadist base.”

AEI’s Michael Ledeen also seems unhappy. In his recent National Review Online column “Iran Connects the Dots,” Ledeen slams the idea of Iran diplomacy.

The intelligence community was savaged after 9/11 for its failure to connect the dots, and it would be truly embarrassing, and very dangerous, to leave the Iranian dot out there apart from the rest of the network we have uncovered and shattered. A week ago Director of National Intelligence Negroponte gave a very interesting interview to the BBC in which he reiterated what everybody knows: ‘(the Iranians) are the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world.’

So how come we’re not going after them?

And for those who think the recent ‘we’ll-talk-if-you-stop-enrichment’ gambit was some sort of master diplomatic stroke, consider this: it turns out that the Iranians have actually increased their enrichment program.

There is no escape from the necessity of bringing down the mullahcracy, for they will keep killing our people and our friends.

It may be worth noting, however, that Reuel Marc Gerecht–also at AEI–seems not to have chimed in yet on the Rice initiative. One Gerecht missive in the Weekly Standard–published before Rice announcement of a shift toward direct talks with the Iranians–predicts that such an initiative would fail.

Even if the secretary still has strong “realist” instincts–she is, after all, a disciple of Brent Scowcroft, Bush One’s national security adviser, and she is surrounded in the State Department by foreign service officers who live to negotiate–it won’t matter. The Iranians won’t play ball.

But Gerecht also seems less certain than Rubin or Ledeen about the immediate prospects for regime change in Iran.

No matter what happens, it is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians–which is the Bush administration’s current game plan–isn’t likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn’t the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

Gerecht’s pessimism regarding regime change in Iran seems like a retreat from some of his earlier confidence.

And then there are prominent Neocon figures like Charles Krauthammer who–as I noted in a previous post–have been more forgiving of the Bush administration’s attempt at diplomacy.

There is probably something to the Forward headline that suggests, “Bush Overture To Iran Splits Israel, Neocons.”

The basis of any such split may center on the best way for the US to rebuild its alliance with Iran. By contrast, Right Arabists–including many who talk very tough on Iran–do not favor any serious US alliance with Iran and did not support the US tilt toward Iran during the 1970s. For reasons that I have explained in previous posts and in my ZNet article–“Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–Right Zionists favor a tilt toward Shiite power–and an assault on Sunni Arab power–in the Gulf; Right Arabists oppose such a shift.

Some “Right Zionist history” may help make the point: way back on July 19, 1988, Michael Ledeen–famous for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair–published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Let’s Talk With Iran Now” (I couldn’t find an on-line copy. Link anyone?). Here are some excerpts of his position at that time:

The United States, which should have been exploring improved relations with Iran before… should now seize the opportunity to do so. To wait might suggest to even pro-Western Iranians that a refusal to seek better relations is based on an anti-Iran animus rather than objections to specific Iranian actions.

Those Iranians who have been calling for better relations with the West have clearly been gathering strength… Among the advocates of such improved relations are two leading candidates to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani and the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri

Yet there has been no sense of urgency among our top policymakers to design and conduct a policy toward Iran–in part because our top officials, traumatized by the Iran-contra scandal and the hearings and investigatiosn that followed, were determined to to be caught dealing with the Iranians…

Yet past mistakes should not prevent the Administration from pursuing the clear chance for a potential breakthrough in one of the more strategically sensitive areas of the world.

Same theme, again, in a February 1, 1991 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Iran–Back in the Game,” as the US waged war against Iraq.

Iran is once again a player in the Great Game, even to the point of being able to contemplate territorial acquisitions of its own once Iraq has been defeated…

Iran will be seated at the table when the new Middle Eastern order is designed at war’s end, and it will not be easy for the U.S. to know how to deal with it. For there is no country in the world that American diplomats have shunned so totally, indeed avoided so compulsively, as Iran. We have done so primarily for political reasons; ever since the Iran-Contra affair, no American leader has wished to be caught talking to an Iranian, even though many recognized the many sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran.

It would have been wiser to have dealt with the Iranians earlier, but we now have little choice in the matter. Our contacts will surely increase, and President Rafsanjani and company will likely sit at the postwar negotiating table, thereby producing the great historical irony that Saddam Hussein, the conqueror of Persia, will have forced us to resume sensible relations with a reemerging Iran.

You get the point. No mention of the liberty of Iranians or the mullahcracy here. The significance is not that Ledeen is caught changing his position. The reals significance is that Ledeen may not actually have changed his central goal–a US alliance with Iran.

So, the real question is why isn’t the current prospect of dialogue with Iran the culmination of Right Zionist regional ambitions? The US is, after all, contemplating a tilt toward Iran–having already empowered Shiites in Iraq. Are those real Right Zionist tears in the eyes of Rubin and Ledeen?

If so, the tears are probably shed on account of tactical, not strategic defeats.

Here is the tactical question: Any Bush administration dialogue with Iran will be with Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani, one of the two figures Ledeen identified as an advocate of “improved relations” back in 1988. Rafsanjani successfully pushed aside the other leading figure–Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri–who now sits in Iran under house arrest. When Ledeen dismisses dialogue with Rafsanjani and advocates regime change, what he really means is that he has now taken sides within the Shiite revolution: He favors Montazeri, not Rafsanjani.

Take a look, for example, at the transcript of this Brit Hume Fox News interview with Michael Ledeen from May 1, 2002 (I couldn’t find a copy on-line. Link anyone?):

HUME: Now, we look from this country at Iran. And we see it pretty much through a glass darkly. We see these statements coming out of their leading religious figure who outranks and has more power than any of the secular leaders there. And we think, uh oh, this is getting worse over there. Is it?

LEDEEN: No, it’s getting better because the people really are in insurrection, virtual insurrection, against the regime right now. What Supreme Leader Khomeini is reacting to with all these speeches in the last couple of days is a fatwa issued by probably the most respected religious leader in the country, Ayatollah Montazeri.

HUME: Now, I’ve heard of him, the Ayatollah Montazeri, or Montazeri as we American hicks sometimes are prone to say. Is not Khomeini the ranking leader, though? Isn’t he the guy with the title?

LEDEEN: Khomeini runs the country. He runs the government.

HUME: Right. And so Montazeri has standing by virtue of what?

LEDEEN: By his religious authority and his apparent saintliness and the respect of the people. And he’s been voted by the other ayatollahs to be the grandest of the so-called grand ayatollahs. So, he sits atop that whole religious structure, even though he sits atop it at home under house arrest.

HUME: And what did he say? He said — he issued a fatwa, a religious decree, last week saying that suicide terrorism was in absolute violation of the rules of Islam and that people who practiced suicide terrorism, instead of going to heaven with the 72 virgins, would go to hell, where for all eternity they would have to repeat their suicide.

HUME: And the importance of this beyond the clerical disagreement between two mullahs?

LEDEEN: No, it’s a division within the religious authorities within the country. And Montazeri is aiming it far beyond the boundaries of Iran. He is aiming it at the Islamic world entirely.

HUME: So his word would be heard across Islam?

LEDEEN: Yes. And it was coordinated with other ayatollahs, Iranian Shiite ayatollahs living in Europe. So, it wasn’t just restricted to Iran.

HUME: We never heard a word about it here.

LEDEEN: No, it’s not reported. I mean, it was reported in one or two Iranian publications. And here and there, you can find it on the web. But it was not picked up here.

HUME: And we Americans should regard this as a consequential event because of what consequences?

LEDEEN: But it shows that the authority that’s being claimed by the tyrants in Tehran is not being enforced and that the people of Iran, including some of the most important religious leaders, are in open rebellion against that regime. And we should support them.

Next thing to look for, if the dialogue with Rafsanjani breaks down? How about talk of a budding alliance between Montazeri in Iran and Sistani in Iraq?

[Update: Ledeen’s full-throated, June 7, 2006 criticism of Bush administration “appeasement” of Iran is HERE]

A Quiet Reception for new Interior Minister Bolani

Posted by Cutler on June 09, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel / 6 Comments

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s appointment of Jawad Bolani as Iraq’s new Interior Minister has, thus far, been received with little if any protest from politicians who might be expected to be skeptical about Bolani’s political profile.

A report by Ferry Biedermannin in the Financial Times (my favorite newspaper) appears under the headline “Infighting Ensnares New Cabinet Appointees” but the article doesn’t really support that theme.

The new ministers – Jawad Bolani at interior and Abdel Kader Jassim al-Mifarji at defence – were immediately caught up in political infighting as some politicians criticised them for being too close to the main Shia and Sunni blocs.

If “some politicians criticised” the appointment of Bolani, Biedermannin fails to deliver up money quotes that would have illustrated the claim. Biedermannin explains why some politicians might criticize Bolani:

Mr Bolani was one of the preferred choices of the dominant but divided Shia United Iraqi Alliance. The Interior Ministry is seen as particularly sensitive because of accusations that the ranks of its security forces have been infiltrated by Shia militias who have been responsible for some of the sectarian violence against Sunni.

So where are the harsh quotes from key Sunni leaders about how Bolani’s appointment will inflame sectarian tensions and push Iraq closer to civil war? There are none. Here is what Biedermannin offers, instead:

Some politicians doubted that the new ministers will be able to tackle the various sectarian groups decisively. It depended on the “strength of the minister”, in relation to the party that had supported his appointment, said Falah Naqib, who was interior minister in the brief government of Iyad Alawi in 2004. The new ministers will need at least three months before any judgment could be made, he said.

Oh, snap! Ouch! Falah Naqib is bringing the heat!… Not so much.

There is only one more quote in the whole article:

The independent Sunni member of parliament Mithal al-Alusi said he had voted for the new ministers without much enthusiasm “because Iraq needs a government”. He said he was less worried about the ministers themselves than about the likelihood that their ministries would be sectarian bastions.

That’s deep.

A quick detour about Alusi. Mithal al-Alusi is an odd duck. Basically, Iraq’s only known pro-Israel Sunni Arab politician and the object of considerable adoration from Thomas Friedman (subscription required). My favorite Alusi article is one published in the Detroit Free Press by Nancy A. Youssef of Knight Ridder under the headline “Iran now enemy No. 1, Sunnis say: Fears fhift from Israel to Shi’ite nation next door“:

Sunni Muslims have begun to ask: Is Israel really Iraq’s enemy or is it neighboring Iran?

Sunnis are often not comfortable talking openly about Israel, especially in a region where most Arabs won’t refer to it by name and blame Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians. But privately, many have said Israel has not done anything lately to harm them, but Iran has…

While campaigning for a seat in the new parliament, Mithal al Alusi called for stronger ties between Israel and Iraq, and he appears to have won. He said some Iraqis are warming to a stronger relationship with Israel, in part because they are frightened of Iran’s influence. “They are afraid of Iran’s extremist political system,” he said.

It is not hard to see why I would find this particularly interesting. It is the “pro-Sunni” mirror image of the regional “balance of power” strategy that Right Zionists developed as the rationale for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraq’s Shiite majority. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Is this “Plan B” for Right Zionists in case the Shiite-Israeli alliance falls through?

Anyway, returning to the new Maliki government: So far, at least, those who shorted the market in “national unity” are scrambling to cover losses. Of course, it is only one day–and a day overshadowed by the big news of Zarqawi’s death. But wouldn’t you score this a surprising victory for “national unity” politics?

Iraqi Interior Minister Bolani: Chalabi Redux?

Posted by Cutler on June 08, 2006
Iraq / 3 Comments

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has named–and the Iraqi parliament has already approved–a new Interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani. This was one of the key appointments that has held up the full formation of a new, “permanent” government. Lots at stake here.

So far this morning, most media outlets are reporting his name with little or no additional information. The Washington Post article–“Iraqi Parliament Selects Top Security Ministers“–simply notes,

The new interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, was nominated by the Iraqi United Alliance, the largest Shiite bloc in the parliament. But unlike his predecessor, Bayan Jabr, he is not connected to Shiite militias. He had been an engineer in the Iraqi air force until 1999. He became involved in politics after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government and eventually joined Iraq’s interim parliament.

There is a bit more to say than that. Here is some background on Bolani:

On the occasion of Paul Bremer’s extraordinary “re-Baathification” order, The Times of London ran an April 24, 2004 article (i couldn’t find it on-line; link anyone?) by Stephen Farrell under the headline “Baathist officials in from cold as US does U-turn.” The report quotes Jawad al-Bolani, referring to him as a “spokesman for Abdel-Karim al-Mohammedawi, widely known as the ‘Prince of the Marshes'”:

The Americans could face an uprising because all people will reject this. I want to tell the Americans they must remember that who kills the American soldiers now are the Baathists in Fallujah.

So, at least back in April 2004, Bolani was intensely committed to de-Baathification and saw Bremer’s U-turn as a betrayal.

In December 2004, the New York Times ran an article by Robert Worth under the headline “Rift Among Shiite Factions May Hurt Them in Election” (couldn’t find it on-line; link anyone?) about the formation of a new “Shiite Council.” Bolani is named as the chairman of the Shiite Council.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 6 — A rift has developed among the major Shiite political groups here, raising the prospect of fierce competition for votes among rival Shiite factions in the coming elections and possibly altering the religious and political alignment of the country’s new national assembly.

The development is a major setback for Iraq’s most powerful religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali alSistani, who appointed a committee in October to create a single coalition dominated by Shiite religious parties…
On Monday a coalition of several dozen groups and individuals calling itself the Shiite Council announced plans to break away from the United Iraqi Alliance, the new umbrella group formed under Ayatollah Sistani’s auspices…

Officials with the Shiite Council have questioned the loyalty of some of their rivals, saying the Alliance has favored parties and individuals with foreign connections, including many who lived in Iran and the West until Mr. Hussein was ousted. That accusation is a potent one here and could color the political debate as campaigning begins in the coming weeks.”How can you run with a man who tries to get foreigners to intervene in an Iraqi election?” said Ali Faisal, a spokesman for the Shiite Council, referring to Ibrahim Jafari, a member of the Alliance who has lived in Britain and spent time in Iran more recently…

The United Iraqi Alliance had hoped to unite all the Shiite religious parties under a single banner, with a date palm as its logo. It also drew in Sunni and Kurdish parties and tribal leaders from throughout the country in an effort to create a truly national coalition under Shiite leadership.”These are the major players in Iraq,” said Hussein al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist imprisoned by Mr. Hussein and a member of the Alliance’s six-man coordinating committee.

But the committee allocated dominant positions to the Dawa Islamic Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose candidates will receive preferred positions in the Alliance’s allocation of assembly seats. That infuriated members of the Shiite Council, who were considering joining the Alliance but felt they were not getting their fair share and rankled at the party’s favoring of candidates with foreign ties…

[Caption…]

Shiite CouncilMade of about 40 smaller political groups. They have criticized the Alliance for its foreign ties and its favoring of expatriate leaders.

Jawad al-Bolani, the chairman of the Shiite Council, is not pictured.

On March 5, 2005, the New York Times ran an article by Edward Wong under the headline, “Two Legislators Withdraw in Impatience From Fragile Shiite Coalition” that shed further light on the relationship between Bolani’s patron–Muhammadawi, Prince of the Marsh Arabs–and Ahmad Chalabi:

Two newly elected politicians announced Friday that they were withdrawing from the fragile political alliance cobbled together by the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric, marking the first notable fracture within the alliance.

One of the departing politicians, Sheik Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi, said as many as eight others on the Shiite list might withdraw. Mr. Muhammadawi is a close ally of Ahmad Chalabi

Mr. Muhammadawi, an influential politician from Amara, a southern city near the Shiite marshlands, heads the Hezbollah Party (which has no ties to the party of the same name in Lebanon, listed by the United States as a terrorist organization). The other politician is Ali Hashem Yousha, the head of a little-known party called the National Coalition.

Mr. Muhammadawi said in a telephone interview that the main reason he had lost confidence in the Shiite alliance was that the alliance had failed so far to install a government. ”There hasn’t even been a meeting yet to choose a new president,” he said.

Mr. Muhammadawi’s withdrawal could have a significant ripple effect. Before the elections, he agreed to ally the Hezbollah Party with the Shiite Council, an umbrella political group assembled by Mr. Chalabi that later joined forces with the Sistani group, the United Iraqi Alliance. The Shiite Council has at least a dozen members in the Shiite alliance, and Mr. Muhammadawi could take some of them with him.

Regarding Muhammadawi, his Hezbollah Party, and the politics of Basra (see HERE, HERE, and HERE for background). On August 7, 2005, the Associated Press ran the following report:

Dozens of armed men belonging to two rival Shiite Muslim groups went into the streets late Sunday as tension rose between them following a raid by gunmen on a police station that police said freed four prisoners.The raid on the Saudia police station in central Basra was carried out by members of the Hezbollah group, said police Capt. Mushtaq Kadhim. Hezbollah members fired several shots in the air before fleeing with the four, Kadhim said…

Right after the raid, more than 200 armed members of the Fadhila group as well as police took positions in the streets around some police stations and the governor’s office of the Basra province.

Basra’s provincial governor, Mohammed al-Waili, is a member of Fadhila, a breakaway group of the movement led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. About 20 other Fadhila members are on the provincial council.

The two groups had close relations until after the provincial elections in January, when Fadhila defeated Hezbollah, headed by legislator Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi.

So, in terms of Basra politics, it looks like Bolani/Mohammedawi were the folks that Waeli’s Fadhila party defeated back in the January 2005 elections. What does the appointment of Bolani as Interior Minister say about the political significance of Maliki’s “state of emergency”?

If the tensions between Mohammedawi’s Hezbollah party and Waeli’s Fadhila party have continued unabated, then it certainly looks like the inclusion of Bolani in the Maliki government implies that Waeli and Fadhila’s political control of Basra are the likely targets of the Basra crackdown.

According to a June 30, 2005 New York Times report by Edward Wong under the headline “Secular Shiites in Iraq Seek Autonomy in Oil-Rich South,” Mohammedawi is also a champion of regional autonomy for Basra.

With the Aug. 15 deadline for writing a new constitution bearing down, a cadre of powerful, mostly secular Shiite politicians is pushing for the creation of an autonomous region in the oil-rich south of Iraq, posing a direct challenge to the nation’s central authority…

Here in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, banners have appeared on the streets in recent weeks calling for an autonomous region similar to Iraqi Kurdistan…

Mr. Chalabi and Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent member of the National Assembly, are planning to propose a regional vote on the question of southern autonomy in October, at the same time as a national referendum on the constitution, said Ali Faisal al-Lami, an aide to both politicians…

The staunchest Shiite opponents of autonomy are Moktada al-Sadr, the young firebrand cleric who led two uprisings against the Americans, and Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi, another activist cleric who was close to Mr. Sadr’s martyred father.

Yacoubi is the leader of the Fadhila party that beat out Muhammadawi’s Hezbollah party in the January 2005 electiosn for control of the Basra Provincial Council.
Update:

Reuters says,

Out of 198 deputies present in the 275-seat legislature, 182 voted for Bolani and 142 backed Jassim.

As I’ve suggested in the past, the best way to get a handle on the political identity of various players is to listen to the accusations of their enemies. The 182 out of 198 vote tally for Bolani looks impressive at first glance, but it will be important to hear what key Sunni-aligned politicians (Dulaimi, Mutlak, Allawi, Pachachi, etc.) have to say about the appointment, especially given the Bolani/Mohammedawi link to Chalabi and de-Baathification.

Zarqawi and Zion

Posted by Cutler on June 08, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 4 Comments

Looks like news from the “war on terror” we are fighting “over there” in Iraq is about to temporarily distract Americans from doing battle “here” with the gay insurgents (insurgents? terrorists? dead-enders?) allegedly waging “war” on the institution of marriage.

Insurgent Leader Zarqawi Killed in Iraq.” If the headlines prove to be correct and Abu Musab Zarqawi–Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq–has been killed by US forces in a raid on a house north of Baquba, this marks a perverse kind of setback for Right Zionists visions of the war in Iraq. At the level of ideology, Zarqawi was best understood as the perfect foil for Right Zionists like David Wurmser who think of Iraq as the front line of a regional war. Zarqawi is the mirror image of Wurmser.

One of the most important battles within the Iraq war has been the struggle to define the central axis of conflict. According to the first axis–call it the nationalist axis–the US has been fighting in Iraq against a national liberation army defending itself against imperialist occupation. Along this axis, the signature moment might be the April 2004 rebellionsimultaneous and sometimes coordinated–of Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and Shiite insurgents (Sadr’s Mahdi Army) in Najaf. Along the nationalist axis, any fissures between Shiite and Sunni melts into a unified national resistance to foreign occupation. Not surprisingly, Right Arabists within the US foreign policy establishment prefer to think in terms of the nationalist axis because at the level of policy it tends to commend a resolution: give the insurgents their country back. Bring back the Baathists. Return the country to its rightful owners.

According to the second axis–call it the sectarian axis–the US has been fighting a regional war on terror by tilting the regional balance of power away from Sunni extremists and the Sunni Arab dominated regimes with which they are aligned and toward the region’s embattled Shiites. Along this axis, the signature moment might be the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra. This bombing shifted the axis toward a war between Sunni terrorists and oppressed Shiites. As Adel Abdul Mahdi, a leader of the Shiite SCIRI party, so aptly put it after the bombing: This is as 9/11 in the United States.” The logic of the bombing was to put Shiites and Americans in the same boat.

Nobody did more to identify, build and maintain the significance of Sunni/Shiite split–the sectarian axis–than Abu Musab Zarqawi. Zarqawi may have hated Zionists, but his importance in Iraq was that he also hated Shiites. It was in the mind of Zarqawi–like the mind of Wurmser–that Zionists and Shiites were united. Right Zionists will not shed a tear for Zarqawi, but they may miss him when he is gone. If he is gone. For Right Zionists, Zarqawi is really an indespensible enemy. As Zarqawi’s allies might say: the US may have killed Zarqawi, but it has not yet dismantled the sectarian axis.

Basra Crude

Posted by Cutler on June 07, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

Tracking Iraqi domestic politics can feel like following a soap opera: if you don’t already know the characters and background, it can be difficult to jump in and make sense of it all, even if you arrive at a crucial, emotionally-charged moment. So it is with recent political developments in the oil-rich southern Iraqi city of Basra. (For a bit of background to the current post, see my previous long post on Basra and a short follow-up post.)

Rarely has the news coverage of Iraqi domestic politics been more frustrating than in the case of Basra oil politics. This is hardly surprising in the case of the mainstream media, but a bit unsettling when the “alternative” press mangles the story in such a way that it leaves the reader more confused than ever.

I have in mind an article published by the Inter Press Service News Agency. I’m a huge fan of IPS writer Jim Lobe and I generally think IPS generates very useful reporting. There is also some excellent and original reporting in a May 26 article by Aaron Glantz and Alaa Hassan entitled “Basra Begins to Fall Apart.” But a few key facts are botched and the context is so vague that the entire report tends to be very misleading.

The British military — whose 8,000 soldiers in Iraq control Basra — were considered by many to be more humane than their American counterparts.

But when thousands of residents took to the streets earlier this month to protest high unemployment and corruption in the governor’s office, the British attacked the demonstrators with helicopters. Fighters responded.

“They shot down a helicopter,” As’aad Kareem, president of the Iraqi oil workers union in Basra told IPS. “It was real resistance. They shot it down because the British were supporting the governor and shooting at the people in the demonstration. And the governor didn’t stop the British from bombing the demonstration, and so that’s his responsibility also“…

Kareem said lack of water and electricity are not the only reasons for the tensions. “The government in Baghdad was giving a lot of support and money to Basra, but the governor (Mohammed al-Waili) was misusing it, and that led to violence and a lot of strikes, including walkouts by the military and police,” he said…

Fadil el-Sharaa, spokesman for Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, says British forces and the governor (who comes from the Shia group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) want to blame the killings on sectarian conflict.

But that is not the case, he said. “What happened in Basra is that Ayatollah al-Sistani’s representative talked about the corruption created by the governor and his administration, which caused the governor to say that the religious offices were responsible for all the violence in Basra and that we are dividing people against themselves.”

El-Sharaa added: “They should be more responsible in their proclamations.. Now the problem has been solved by the Sadr office. We sent our representative to Basra, and we held a meeting of the two groups and tried to solve the problem peacefully.”

Glantz and Hassan provide the correct name of the Basra Provincial Governor, but every other news source I’ve ever read (see, for example, this May 26 Reuters report) says Waili (more commonly “Waeli” or “Waelli” in the mainstream press) comes from the Fadhila party–NOT Fadhila’s major Basra rival, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).The article cites very serious accusations against the governor (Waeli): that unidentified demonstrators were protesting “corruption in the governor’s office”; that the governor “didn’t stop the British from bombing the demostration”; that “the British were supporting the governor”; that the governor was “misusing” money given to Basra and therefore became the target of “strikes” and “walkouts by the military and police.”

In the current climate–when Basra Provincial governor Waeli is being criticized by the British and Iraqi governments–it would be very helpful to know more about the political perspective of the accuser.

Indeed, if there have been demonstrators against corruption in Waeli’s office they might well be people aligned with SCIRI. As the Washington Post reported on June 1, 2006, Fadhila ousted SCIRI in January 2005 local elections for the Basra Provincial Council. SCIRI responded to the defeat with a boycott of the Council. SCIRI and Waeli are locked in battle.

Who, then, is the accuser? “As’aad Kareem, president of the Iraqi oil workers union in Basra.” Anti-war activists who try to follow labor union politics in Iraq (no easy task) might be familiar with Hassan Jumaa Awad al Assadi, President of the General Union of Oil Employees in Basra. Some of his speeches against the US Occupation (and against privatization of the Iraqi oil industry) have been translated by Gilbert Achcar and circulate on the internet. But try doing an internet search on As’aad Kareem. I could find nothing, apart from the reference by Glantz and Hassan in the article under discussion. I’m not suggesting he doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter; I’m simply saying that it might be helpful to have some context, especially given the tenor of his allegations against Governor Waeli.

Is As’aad Kareem a SCIRI-linked labor leader? Or, more likely perhaps, a Sadrist labor leader?

There was a British helicopter shot down in Basra. It was “real resistance.” But who does As’aad Kareem intend to credit with such resistance? Is As’aad Kareem suggesting that SCIRI shot down British helicopter? Highly unlikely.

One May 8, 2006 report from The Guardian suggested a more direct link to Sadr’s Mahdi Army:

As soldiers from the British army’s Quick Reaction Force got to the scene, they were confronted by stones thrown from the crowd. A minority, chanted support for the Mahdi army, the militia of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and was armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and petrol bombs, British defence sources said…

A commander of the Mahdi Army, Jassan Khalaf, was reported yesterday as saying that his men brought down the helicopter and threatened more attacks.

Has there been tension between Sadrists and Fadhila? Absolutely. Is it possible that Sadrists were demonstrating against Waeli? Yes, it is certainly possible. But this is big and important news and needs to be made clear. If Glantz and Hassan are reporting on serious friction between Sadrists and Fadhila, this is crucial information that may even help explain why the Sadrists have thus far raised no public objections in the media regarding the Iraqi government decision to crack down on unrest in Basra. (In my previous post, I discuss a scenario where Sadr and Maliki are aligned against Fadhila and Governor Waeli.)

Serious tension between Sadrists and Fadhila runs against the grain of an earlier September 2005 September 2005 report of a growing alliance between Fadhila leader Ayatollah Yaqubi and Sadr.

As’aad Kareem suggests that the “British were supporting the governor.” This is also an important claim but it is hard to know how to weigh its accuracy. If the British were–or are–supporting Waeli, this is also big, breaking news. It may be true, but it certainly requires some explanation since Waeli has had a rocky relationship with the British.

The current indications are very mixed about the relationship between Waeli and the British. Aftering severing all ties with the British in January 2006, Waeli apparently tried to patch things up with the British. According to the May 8, 2006 report from The Guardian:

Basra’s governor, Muhammad al-Waeli, agreed yesterday to resume cooperation with the British, which he broke off four months ago, in an effort to defuse tension.

Was that “yesterday” the day before the helicopter was downed? Or was it a response to the attack on the helicopter?

A June 1, 2006 report from The Guardian also sends mixed signals about the state of British relations with Waeli. On the one hand, the article tends to undermine and general claim of an alliance between Waeli and the British:

The British and Iraqi governments have often clashed with the governor of Basra, Muhammad al-Waelli, whom they regard as part of the problem.

Indeed, it would not be surprising if the entire Maliki “state of emergency” in Basra was aimed at ousting Waeli. According to Reuters, the whole Basra crackdown was formally initiated–under pressure from the UK–by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Talabani, a Kurd, issued a statement urging Maliki to despatch senior officials to Basra to calm the situation. He said it should have wide-ranging powers, including being “authorised to dismiss and appoint” officials.

But the June 1, 2006 report from The Guardian also includes quotes from Fadhila officials who do not seem particularly upset by news of the Maliki “state of emergency.” One might expect them to sound either alarmed or upset if it looked like the entire crackdown was aimed at dismissing the Fadhila-linked governor.

Assan Abdul Jabbar, an aide to Mr Waelli, said yesterday: “The focus on Basra by the media and the rulers in Baghdad is not justified and has a political motivation behind it. They want to divert attention from the bad situations in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle.”

Mahdi al Nasi’a, a senior member of the Fadhila party, one of the factions engaged in the power struggle, accused Iraq’s prime minister of exaggerating the problems in Basra. “These efforts will not help the city, but they may indeed open the door to a crisis in security,” he said.

He said Fadhila would work with any recommendations put forward by the government “provided they were legitimate and focused on improving services to ordinary citizens of Basra”.

Apart from the prediction that the crackdown “may… open the door to a crisis in security,” these comments by Mahdi al Nasi’a and Assan Abdul Jabbar hardly amount to a declaration of war (“Fadhila would work with any recommendations…”). Such reporting gives some credence to the idea that Fadhila aspires to good relations with the British.

What if Assan Abdul Jabbar is right and the “state of emergency” is not an attack on Fadhila but a publicity stunt intended to “divert attention from the bad situations in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle”? (In my previous post, I called this the “Maliki Media Magic” scenario.)

Or, what if Sadr has been silent and Fadhila relatively calm because–UK pressure notwithstanding–Maliki really did try to initiate a “peace mission” (what I called the “Solidarity Forever” scenario in my previous post) and Sadr and Waeli are taking a wait-and-see approach?

If the Glantz and Hassan article can be taken to signal tenstion between the Sadrists and Waeli, then perhaps one side is targeted for attack but not the other. Who is more likely aligned a Maliki crackdown? Waeli and Fadhila who left the Maliki coalition in protest after being recently stripped of control of the oil ministry and now threatens to cripple oil exports? Or the Sadrists of Basra who claim credit for shooting down British helicopters?

My hunch is that British and UK forces–along with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani–are gunning for Sadr and Waeli, with our without the enthusiastic support of Maliki who still depends on Sadrists to maintain his government coalition.

The key to the Basra crackdown may turn on Basra Crude–the politics of oil. It is for this reason that it has become urgent to know more about Basra oil workers. Where do oil workers stand on the question of regional autonomy for the oil industry?

Where does Fadhila stand? Where do the Sadrists stand?
Where does “As’aad Kareem, president of the Iraqi oil workers union in Basra” stand? Where does “Hassan Jumaa Awad al Assadi, President of the General Union of Oil Employees in Basra” stand?

Finally, where do Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Khalilzad stand?

UPDATE:  from Juan Cole at Informed Comment:
Al-Zaman reports that the Sunni Arabs of Basra are mostly forced to stay at home, going out only when absolutely necessary, for fear of being assassinated or kidnapped. They are virtual prisoners in their homes…
The Arab League is preparing to send a commission to Basra, at the request of the Sunni Arabs. (Arab League member states have as their citizens mostly Sunni Arabs.)

Meanwhile, al-Zaman says, hundreds of British troops have spread through Basra neighborhoods, arresting persons on its list, who belong to the Mahdi Army or Iraqi military intelligence. (The latter in Basra was presumably mostly recruited from the Badr Corps paramilitary of the [hard line Shiite] Supreme Council).

Where is Sadr?

Posted by Cutler on June 06, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

At least one critical question emerges from my long post on Maliki’s Basra lockdown:

Where is Sadr on the Basra lockdown?

1. Sadr/Yaqubi: the alliance between Sadr and Yaqubi (mentioned in my previous post) still holds and both are targets of the Maliki crackdown on Basra.  The Maliki/Sadr alliance has already ended and the consequences will soon emerge: like Yaqubi’s Fadhila party, the Sadrists will withdraw from the government.

2. Sadr/Maliki: Sadr has sold out Yaqubi and given Maliki the green light for a crackdown on Fadhila’s control of the Basra oil infrastructure.  The political isolation of Yaqubi’s Fadhila party is complete and the only resistance to Maliki’s crackdown will come from Fadhila’s rank and file.

3. Maliki Media Magic: there is no Basra lockdown worthy of the name.  It was all a publicity stunt for the benefit of the Sunni insurgency to show that a Shiite government would “get tough” on its own rather than (or prior to) any comparable crackdown in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

4. Solidarity Forever: Maliki and the UK will disarm Sadr’s Mahdi Army and SCIRI’s Badr Brigade—and gently remove Fadhila’s rank and file from sensitive positions in the oil industry—but will do so in such an even-handed way that all parties will consent to the initiative.  The UK will establish a monopoly on the use of force.  Basra oil will flow like a mighty river into the waiting hands of International Oil Companies.

The betting window is now open… Place your bets!

Basra Lockdown

Posted by Cutler on June 05, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

The new Maliki government has made headlines for one major action–swooping into Basra with talk of smashing militias and imposing a state of emergency. The decision seems to have been welcomed by–and probably initiated under pressure from–the US and the UK.

The Basra initiative seems likely to be very significant, although it is hard to make sense of the politics at this juncture. But understanding the politics of Basra may prove quite helpful going forward, if only because the nature of the Maliki government otherwise remains so vague–especially in relation to the former Jaafari government, which drew so much criticism from the US. Does Basra signal anything about the contours of the new Iraqi politics?

Perhaps the first thing to note is that the stakes in Basra seem quite high: NYT columnist Thomas Friedman recently went so far as to say that the true obstacle in Iraq has now moved from the Sunni insurgency to Shiite militias in Basra. His article, “Insurgency Out, Anarchy In” is for subscribers only (value added?), but here are some “highlights” of his latest missive…

You see, the insurgency in Iraq is in its ”last throes’‘ — just like Dick Cheney said. Unfortunately, it’s being replaced by anarchy in many neighborhoods — not democracy…

Indeed, there has been a subtle but important change in the violence in Iraq. The main enemy in many places is no longer the Sunni insurgency. It is anarchy. Mini-wars of all against all. As the BBC reported Wednesday from Basra: Prime Minister Nuri Maliki ”has declared a monthlong state of emergency in Basra, which has been plagued by sectarian clashes, anarchy and factional rivalry.” That’s what happens in a security vacuum…

We are not losing Iraq to the Iraqi Vietcong — traditional nationalists. Iraq has a freely elected nationalist government. No, we are losing in Iraq to sectarian theocrats, Islamo-fascists and local and regional tyrants…

We’ll see about the idea that the insurgency is actually in its “last throes.” Suffice it to say I have my doubts that the “Iraqi Vietcong” has been coopted and contained by the “elected nationalist government.” What news prompts this unlikely prediction?

The more serious part of the Friedman piece is his tirade against political realities in Basra, especially since this part likely mirrors Bush administration concerns. The problem is not really “anarchy” (or, better, the distinguishing characteristic of Basra is not anarchy) but the loss of British control over the oil-rich Shiite city. The cry of “anarchy” functions to justify the suspension of local control by a democratically elected Provincial Council under the state of emergency.

The real issue is that the UK began to lose political control of Basra when SCIRI lost control of the Basra Provincial Council to the “Islamic Virtue Party” (Fadhila). The Washington Post quotes Reidar Visser on the roots current situation:

“The conflict with SCIRI in Basra dates back to early 2005, when, after the local elections, Fadhila managed to sideline SCIRI in the local governorate council, by entering into coalition with smaller parties,” Visser wrote in an e-mail. “At first, the tension was mainly fought out within the council. Then SCIRI boycotted the council for a while, and now it seems that the conflict has begun affecting the general security situation in Basra.”

One thing seems clear enough. The UK has not gotten along well with Fadhila, especially Fadhila-backed Governor, Mohammed al-Waeli, along Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi, the religious figure most closely associated with Fadhila.

According to the Washington Post report, the British hold Waeli and Fadhila responsible for the collapse of the Basra police force and for guerilla attacks on British soldiers.

The governor of Basra province, Mohammed al-Waeli, suspended the police chief, Maj. Gen. Hassan Suwadi and demanded he be fired, saying he was involved in criminal activities. A bomb exploded outside Suwadi’s house in an apparent attempt to kill him. And nine British soldiers have died this month in three incidents, including the downing of a helicopter.

According to the Telegraph Waeli’s clashes with the police go back to the summer of 2005. At that time,

Gen Hassan al-Sade, the chief of police, recently admitted that he had lost control of the majority of his officers because of penetration of the force by members of the militias.

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi, the religious leader of Fadhila, has emerged as a major thorn in the side of US and UK political officials. A September 24, 2005 Telegraph report provides a very useful background for understanding the current impasse:

Basra lurched further towards religious extremism yesterday after the leader of one of the province’s biggest political parties instructed his supporters to reject a draft constitution in a national referendum next month.

The unexpected announcement by Ayatollah Mohammed Yaqubi, head of the Fadhila party, has shocked British diplomats and raised fears that Basra could become the main focus for violence in the Shia-dominated south.

Mr Yaqubi’s declaration came as the most revered Shia figure in Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, signalled that he would endorse the constitution and indicated the possibility of a damaging split among Iraq’s usually cohesive Shia majority.

Mr Yaqubi’s apparent mutiny also risks turning Basra into a radical outpost, western diplomats warned.

“There has always been a small possibility that Basra could become something like the Fallujah of the south,” a western diplomat in Baghdad said…

The new stance by Mr Yaqubi locks the ayatollah into a surprising alliance with his one-time rival, the fiery young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militiamen took captive two SAS soldiers earlier this week.

Yaqubi and Sadr were rivals to succeed the latter’s father, the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, one of the country’s most respected clerics until he was assassinated in 1999.

Sadr’s appeal is limited to the slums of Basra but he has a disproportionate influence on the southern capital’s police force, thanks to a heavy degree of infiltration by his Mahdi Army, which twice rose up against US forces last year.

The new alliance will be an unwelcome development and suggests that Basra’s governor, a member of Fadhila who has withdrawn his co-operation from the British, could prove increasingly intransigent in the future.

More recently, the Daily Times (Pakistan) and Reuters reported that Yaqubi called for the US to dump Ambassador Khalilzad for the same reasons that alienate Right Zionists in the US, namely his attempt to appease the Sunni Arab minority:

“The American ambassador and the tyrants of the Arab states are giving political support to those parties who provide political cover for the terrorists.”

This last remark by Yaqubi raises a central question about the most recent Basra blowup: are all factiosn within the US/UK “coalition” equally afraid of Fadhila controlling Basra oil? Does the conflict with Fadhila intersect at all with Right Zionist/Right Arabist factional fights?
At a basic level, the “loss” of Basra matters to all factions because it is home to the oil industry and Iraq’s only outlet to Gulf tankers. In the formation of the Maliki government, Fadhila lost control of the oil ministry to Sistani-aligned Hussein al-Shahristani. Nevertheless, the party still has considerable control over the oil industry in Basra itself. Fadhila formally left the Shiite Alliance when Maliki moved to hand the oil ministry to Shahristani and now threatens to sabotage production at Basra oil facilities (currently the only major source of Iraqi oil exports).

A May 26, 2006 Reuters report provides the basic outline:

Iraq’s new government risks being held to ransom by a dissident Shi’ite faction using its local clout in Basra to hobble vital oil exports, Iraqi officials and senior political sources said on Friday.

They warned that the locally powerful Fadhila party was threatening to have members in the oil industry stage a go-slow to halt exports through the key southern oil port if it did not win the concessions it wanted from Baghdad.

“Fadhila is in control,” a senior Shi’ite political source close to the party said…

He who owns Basra owns the oil reserves. It is the gateway to the Gulf,” the Shi’ite political source said. “It’s the richest city in the world. It has a strategic position so why would any one give it up?

However, at a deeper level, the politics of Basra oil seems wrapped up in the larger question of Shiite power (and regional autonomy) in relation to the Sunni Arab minority. Right Arabists defend a centralized state as the basis for rebuilding and retaining Sunni Arab political dominance while Right Zionists defend regional autonomy for Shiites and Kurds.

On the one hand, Sharistani–the new oil minister–has emphasized his desire to centralize control over the oil industry. The May 26 Reuters report suggests,

Shahristani in turn has vowed to centralize control of oil in Baghdad and crack down hard on corruption and oil smuggling, which officials say are endemic in the southern oilfields.

An earlier Reuters report included quoted Sharistani:

“According to the constitution the oil and gas are the property of all Iraqi people, the revenues will be put in the state coffer,” said the Shiite Islamist known for his no-nonsense approach.

The main concern for regions is to get its share and not to run the oilfields or sign any contracts,” he added.

Such comments can hardly be welcomed by Kurdish or Shiite advocates of regional autonomy–including control over all new oil field development.

Where does Fadhila stand on the issue of Shiite regional autonomy? This is where things get very murky. Some reports suggest that Fadhila itself has campaigned against Shiite demands for regional autonomy. For example, in August 2005 when SCIRI leaders announced their support for Shiite autonomy, the New York Times article suggested:

One of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politicians on Thursday strongly backed demands for the formation of a semi-independent region in the oil-rich south, adding fresh turmoil to the drafting of a new constitution as the deadline for its completion draws near.

The politician, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a religious Shiite with close ties to Iran, told a large gathering in the holy city of Najaf that it was “necessary” for Shiite Arabs to secure broad governing powers for the south, which is dominated by the Shiites and was long oppressed under the rule of Saddam Hussein…

Mr. Hakim’s remarks followed a meeting he had Wednesday in Najaf with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq. The ayatollah told Shiite politicians last week that he supported the concept of autonomy, though he did not make specific recommendations…

Many of the Shiite politicians who initially backed the idea of southern autonomy are secular. The most powerful supporter has been Ahmad Chalabi, a vice prime minister and a former Pentagon favorite. Mr. Hakim is the first leading religious Shiite figure to lend his backing in such a public way…

But there are also Shiites who vehemently oppose any move toward autonomy. Moktada al-Sadr, the young rebel cleric who led two uprisings against the Americans last year, and Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi, another radical cleric with ties to Mr. Sadr, have both denounced the movement, saying it goes against the concept of central Islamic rule.

If Maliki is backed by Sadr and if both Sadr and Yaqubi favor centralization, then where is the fight between these forces and Sharistani?
Perhaps Sharistani’s centralization move is a head fake. He does favor regional autonomy, but only once Basra has been “liberated” from the “anarchy” of Fadhila control. For now, centralized control means taking control away from Yaqubi and his Fadhila party. In the longer-term, it is a good bet that Sharistani will support regional autonomy.

Meanwhile, Yaqubi and Sadr both appear to be Iraqi nationalists who are aligned against the other Shiite parties (esp. SCIRI) who favor regional autonomy. The only way to re-align Yaqubi and Sadr would be to shift the axis of conflict from “central v. regional” to “Shiite v. Sunni.” Of course, that is Zarqawi’s central function, isnt’ it?

At present, however, the Sadr/Yaqubi alliance in Basra is public enemy number. The crime is spoiling the fantasy of an independent Basra. That dream was most clearly sketched in a February 27, 2005 James Glanz article in New York Times entitled “Iraq’s Serene South Asks, Who Needs Baghdad?

[I]f no inconsiderable number of people here have their way, the provinces of the south, home to rich oil reserves but kept poor by Saddam Hussein, will soon become a separate country, or at least a semi-autonomous region in a loosely federal Iraq. The clear southern preference for profit over politics could make it a place where foreign companies willing to invest hard cash are able to do business.

”Quite a few people prefer to be separated, because they are disappointed,” said Sadek A. Hussein, a Basra native who is a professor in the college of agriculture at the University of Basra, and who speaks with the mildness characteristic of southern Iraq. The trait is refreshing in itself, in a country better known for its firebrands, chatterboxes and just plain loudmouths

Some members of the local governing council recently went as far as trying to impose a 10 percent tax on oil revenue from the south, but they were stymied by legal barriers.

If southerners cannot put a stop to the great sucking sound to the north, many would like to see an international boundary between them and the capital. ”They see all of the good things going to Baghdad,” said Ramzi, a translator who asked that only his first name be used…

[T]he south of Iraq is just that, the south of Iraq, with no wider ethnic entanglements to worry about, just a close religious affinity with neighboring Iran, which, like southern Iraq, is overwhelmingly Shiite…

And Zuhair Kubba, a board member of the Basra Chamber of Commerce, said that, in contrast to the xenophobia dogging other regions of Iraq, Basra’s history made it likely to welcome foreign investment.

”They have a port, and being a port, they have experience with foreigners,” said Mr. Kubba, a follower of the largely pacifist and apolitical Sheikhi branch of Shiite Islam, whose holiest cleric, Sayyed Ali Al-Mousawi, is based in a Basra mosque.

Some foreign companies, including Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that is repairing parts of Iraq’s oil industry under American government contracts, are already listening. The company is moving its center of operations from the insurgency-ridden streets of Baghdad to the south, said Ray Villegas, a general manager for the company, and not just to be closer to its field work, which is mainly in the south.

This is the place you want to be,” Mr. Villegas said. ”It’s much different down here. You have flat open land, so you have a lot of visibility. We don’t have the day-to-day traffic problems that you experience up in Baghdad, so the opportunity is much less for insurgents to act.”

Most of all, he said, ”we’ve found that the Iraqis here are much more willing and accommodating to approach the Americans.”

Quite a fall–from Glanz’s description of the “mildness characteristic” of Basra residents who demonstrate a “clear southern preference for profit over politics to Friedman’s more recent discovery of “sectarian theocrats, Islamo-fascists and local and regional tyrants” running Basra.
This is an intra-Shiite battle that pits Sistani, on the one hand, againt Sadr and Yaqubi on the other, with the oil weath of Basra caught in between. This battle will surely the test the Right Zionist hope for a US-Shiite alliance like nothing else.

Killing Me Softly: A Soft Landing for Sunni Arabs?

Posted by Cutler on June 02, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In looking at Washington’s political inclinations in post-Saddam Iraq, I have argued for a factional interpretation that pits Right Arabists (so-called Realists) against Right Zionists (so-called Neocons). If, at first, the US moved aggressively to empower Iraqi Shiites and undermine the political power of Iraq’s Sunni minority, I suggested that this should be coded as a victory for Right Zionists. I still hold to that view.

At least as early as September 2003, however, there seemed to be signs of a serious effort by Right Arabists to win back control of US policy in Iraq. One popular marker was the decision to bring in Robert Blackwill to run the Iraq Stabilization Group, viewed at the time as an attempt to marginalize Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his Right Zionist deputies. One of the great observers of this process–the alleged eclipse of the Neocons and rally of the Realists–has been Jim Lobe who has been tracking the details of the story without fail for several years now.

I offer, for your consideration, however, a modest–less factional–interpretation of Bush administration policy that, if plausible, would indicate no real loss of influence for Right Zionists. The source of this analysis is Vali Nasr, on the occasion of his being named the newest adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

I have posted below some extended excerpts of Nasr’s March 26, 2006 remarks (how much, if anything, has changed since these remarks were made?) about Iran, Iraq, and Arab regional hegemony. Let’s start, however, with the key “less factional” amendment to the usual analysis of US policy in Iraq.

ultimately there are winners and there are losers out of Iraq, not only in Iraq, but across the region. The Shi’as won and the Kurds won, and the Sunnis lost. And if Iraq continues, ultimately when there’s a balance, for Shi’as the glass will be half full, and for the Sunnis the glass will be half empty. And the U.S. has tried to sort of—has been trying to give the Sunnis, if you would, a soft landing, at the same time as it’s—in Iraq it’s trying to hold the hand of the Shi’as being ascendent…

But at some point, we’re not going to be able to do this, and actually, we’re reaching that point, that ultimately in Iraq, and then across the region, there is going to be a winner and a loser. And there is an enormous amount of effort, particularly by regional leaders, to try to influence Washington in this regard. I mean here, for instance, in the council, I think when last year the Saudi foreign minister essentially called for the U.S. to change its tactics and be much more amenable to Sunnis is indicative of that.

Has US Ambassador Khalilzad been trying to close “pandora’s box” (re-Baathification, curbing Shiite influence, etc.) and reverse US policy in Iraq? Or is he merely trying to provide a “soft landing” to Sunnis in the region, even as the Right Zionist tilt toward the Shia proceeds as planned?

Here are more of Nasr’s remarks. The full transcript is available HERE and is well worth reading.

I would like to sort of raise a number of issues that—in a way of generating discussion with regard to the impact that Iraq has had, at least in terms of changing the balance of power in the region, and introducing in a major way a new factor into the regional dynamics, which is the Shi’a power, not only in Iraq, but actually as a regional phenomenon. I mean, often people don’t consider that about half the population between Lebanon and Pakistan are Shi’a. And around the Persian Gulf, by most counts, about 80 percent of the population are Shi’a. And the Shi’as themselves would always like to point out that wherever there’s oil, there’s Shi’a essentially. (Laughter.)

Now, this has been seen as both a new phenomenon, a threat, or an opportunity. King Abdullah of Jordan referred to the Shi’a Crescent, the first time in a major way, as at threat, essentially, to the established powers in the region and therefore, by implication, he suggested, to the United States…

But what we are seeing is a bit more complicated. Namely, we’re—what we’re seeing is that there is possibility for change everywhere in the region. In other words, the mantra is not a centralized revival or empowerment of the Shi’as, as happened with Iran’s efforts in the 1970s, but the replication of what many in the region refer to as the Sistani model, namely, one man, one vote; call for pluralism; call for power-sharing; call for redistribution of power, which in every—most cases, as it was in Iraq, it will benefit the Shi’as. Where they’re a majority or a plurality, as in Lebanon or Bahrain, they can expect to gain control. Where they’re a minority, as in Pakistan, across the Persian Gulf in Saudi Arabia, they’re likely to get a lot more than what they have right now.

And this notion of a sort of an enveloping, cascading Shi’a call and achievement of power is based on not just a political dynamic, but what has happened after Iraq and often we don’t take note of is the much bigger cultural, economic and religious ties that have been spawned since 2003 and are now sort of the underbelly of this movement…

The—in many regards, at least in the short run, the relations between Iraqi Shi’as and Iranian Shi’as is going to be less defined by objective connections between them, as it’s going to be defined by the Sunni threat that is perceived. Iranians view it differently in terms of what the—the rise of al Qaeda in the region and rise of salafism and jihadism means, but for Iraqi Shi’as it’s very clear that the prospects or possibility of a Sunni restoration or a continuation of insurgency at the pace that it has been occurring and the vehemence that we saw at the Askariya shrine bombing overrides any Arab Iranian divisions that they proceed with Iran.

And in fact, many Iraqi Shi’as would say that there are two pillars to the Shi’a position in Iraq, and considering one can say this is true of everywhere in the region, but more so in Iraq. One is the United States, and one is Iran. And in many regards that’s the reason why many Shi’a politicians have been lobbying for an Iranian-American dialogue because the more these two pillars move away from each other, the more difficult it will be for Iraqi Shi’as to maintain their position…

I think Ibrahim Ja’afari is the first Shi’a leader that the U.S. has dealt with in some way since the Iranian Revolution. And even Ja’afari’s ability to influence, to impact U.S. policy, U.S. thinking, is not comparable to the regional powers, who essentially are arguing against the Shi’a empowerment in the region—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and the like…And I think, you know, not everybody in the region laments the fact that there was de-Ba’athification or the destruction of the Iraqi army. I think the Shi’as and the Kurds were very happy with the destruction of the Sunni officer class…

Bush Administration Right Zionists: Dead or Alive?

Posted by Cutler on May 31, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq / 5 Comments

Has news of the death of the Neocons been greatly exaggerated?

In some respects, the eclipse of the Neocons is an old story. As I suggested in a prior post, many Neocons decided long ago they had been sold out by the Bush administration’s failure of imperial nerve.

Since at least September 2003, the basic Bush administration political program in Iraq–echoed in today’s Washington Post column by Fareed Zakaria, “A Political Path out of Iraq“–has been to try to put the Shiite genie back in the bottle. As Zakaria suggests, this implies wooing the Sunni minority that was marginalized by the agressive de-Baathification program initiated in May 2003 at the start of the formal US occupation of Iraq.

Co-opting the majority of the Sunnis is the simplest way [Prime Minister] Maliki can cripple the insurgency…

[Maliki] will have to address the core Sunni demand: an end to the de-Baathification process, which has thrown tens of thousands of Sunnis out of jobs and barred them from new ones. Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, a Kurd, told me that “the time has come for us to be courageous enough to admit that there were massive mistakes in de-Baathification.” The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, argued similarly, saying that “de-Baathification has to evolve into reconciliation with accountability.” Khalilzad added that Prime Minister Maliki supported the notion that de-Baathification “has to focus on individuals who are charged with specific crimes, not whole classes and groups of people.” If so, it would mark a major and positive shift in policy.

This “shift in policy” marks a sharp rebuke to the Neocon agenda in Iraq. On the basis of this defeat and others (failure to support democratization in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, etc.), Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times has pronounced the Neocon patient dead in his May 29 article, “Neo-cons Question Bush’s Democratisation Strategy” and–following Neocons Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute–Dinmore lists the cause of death as suicide.

Rubin and Pletka ask:

Is it possible that the administration is questioning the wisdom of promoting democracy as a long-term solution to U.S. national security woes? “Realists” suggest that the president has finally woken up and smelled the coffee. They say democracy gave us an Islamist government in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine. It could give us the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Heaven knows what it would spawn in China or Libya. Better the devil you know.

But there is no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking. The president continues to believe his own preaching, but his administration has become incapable of making the hard choices those beliefs require.

Everyone is grateful to Rubin and Pletka for the “straight man” set up: “no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking”? Was there ever any sign the White House did any strategic thinking? (As irresistable as that line may be, I think the White House did quite a bit of strategic thinking on the road to war in Iraq.)

Where, exactly, should one draw the line between the “president,” the “White House,” and “his administration”?

One place to draw the line might be the State Department. The careful observers over at Whirled View find ample evidence (here and here) of so-called “Realist” influence over at State, including the new Iran desk.

If only the president continued to believe his own preaching, that would be one thing. But the “White House” presumably includes the Office of the Vice President. Do Rubin and Pletka really think Cheney remains an ally?

There are some signs they may be right. If so, the Neocons might live to see another day. Dinmore filed his story on the death of the Neocons only to report in today’s Financial Times that Bush and Blair have met with Right Zionist (aka Neocon) Iranian exiles:

US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, have received separate background briefings from Iranian opposition activists, including one visitor to the White House on Tuesday who caused a storm earlier this month by reporting Iran had passed a law requiring Jews to wear special identification.

Contacts at such a high level with Iranian opposition activists are likely to raise concerns in Tehran while the US and UK lead diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel programme.

White House officials said Amir Taheri, a London-based former editor, was among a group of experts invited to discuss Iraq and the region with Mr Bush. Mr Taheri is well known for his support of the war in Iraq and regime change in Iran.

You shall know them by their agents: Taheri is represented by Neocon public relations firm Benador Associates, home of Right Zionist all-stars.

So, is this just Bush throwing a bone to Neocons in the dog house? Or is this the “White House”–i.e., the Office of the Vice President–sending out the word: Game On.

Farsi or Farse?

Posted by Cutler on May 26, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 4 Comments

Today is clearly Iran day at the Washington Post. Witness the two competing columns on today’s editorial page: Charles Krauthammer’s “Say No to Tehran’s Gambit” and David Ignatius’s “Its Time to Engage With Iran.”

Bad Cop/Good Cop. Krauthammer makes the case for tough love and Ignatius proposes more honey, less vinegar.

Truth is, if you drill down a little in the Krauthammer column, he isn’t entirely willing to “Just Say No.”

Entering negotiations… is an obvious trap. We should resolutely say no.

Except on one condition. If the [European] allies, rather than shift responsibility for this entire process back to Washington, will reassert their responsibility by pledging support for U.S. and/or coalition military action against Iran in the event that the bilateral talks fail, then we might achieve something.

You want us to talk? Fine. We will go there, but only if you arm us with the largest stick of all: your public support for military action if the talks fail. The mullahs already fear economic sanctions; they will fear European-backed U.S. military action infinitely more. Such negotiations might actually accomplish something.

At the most simple level, this is an equivalent in the case of Iran of trying to preempt the diplomatic mess of the Iraq invasion when the Bush administration agreed to support a UN resolution regarding inspections, etc. but couldn’t win European support for the ill-fated second resolution backing military action.

In a larger sense, Krauthammer’s “conditional” support for negotiations probably means that even he doesn’t actually believe there is a viable military option–let alone one feared by the mullahs.

I may have to eat these words, but I don’t think military action is the preferred option of either Ignatius (not a risky interpretation, given his writing on the subject) or Krauthammer and his allies.

Here is what seems clear about Right Zionists: Iran is–in the long term–the key indespensible ally that they cannot afford to do without if they are going to beat back Arab nationalism. What remains uncertain for Right Zionists is the best way to win Iran as an ally, rather than simply defeating it as a foe. The military option doesn’t even seem likely to defeat a foe, let alone win an ally. It is a farse. But can “official Iran” become an ally? Or only the “eternal Iran” that would presumably emerge from “populist” regime change?

Shared interest in Shiite political power in Iraq might provide the basis for an alliance of sorts between the US and “official Iran.” That is the Khalilzad/Ignatius option, a Farsi option. Beyond detente with “official Iran” is the kind of US-backed “populism” rebellion deployed in Serbia, Ukraine, and elsewhere to achieve extra-constitutional regime change without military force. What to call this option in Iran?

Farsi? Or just Farse?

Regional Rivalry: Persian Gulf or Arab Gulf?

Posted by Cutler on May 25, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

The US invaded Iraq, but the target was Saudi Arabia–at least among Rigth Zionists within the Bush administration. Iraq is the central pivot for the regional balance of power in the Gulf. On the western shores of the Gulf sits Saudi Arabia. To the East, Iran. Iraq, in the North, is the tip of the triangle. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by a Sunni Arab minority, the Gulf is an Arab Gulf. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by its Shiite majority (loyal to a Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani), the balance of power in the Gulf tips toward a Persian Gulf.

The US invasion–and more specifically, the all-important decision to destroy the Baathist military state that guaranteed Sunni minority rule–tipped the balance toward a Persian Gulf. It is for this reason that the war has provoked hostility from Saudi Arabia (and other Arab regimes like Egypt and Jordan)–and Right Arabist friends of Saudi Arabia in Washington.

I mention all this for two reasons. First, no dynamic is more important for understanding what the war in Iraq–including all the post-war political wrangling–has been about.

Second, the “Saudi Question” regarding Iraq (leaving aside, for the moment, the equally important “Iranian Question”) has recently received some media attention from the Los Angeles Times and discussion by Juan Cole at Informed Comment, here and here.

According to the LA Times,

A stark dilemma lies before the rulers of this desert kingdom: how to insulate their land from the sectarian fighting in neighboring Iraq yet find a way to counter Iran’s swelling influence there.

Though Saudi rulers might prefer to avoid involvement in Iraq, there is a growing sense here that of all the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the most likely to be sucked in if the violence doesn’t slow. A host of ideas, virtually all of them controversial, are swirling around Riyadh, including funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and improving ties with Iran.

This dilemma is not new. It is the same dilemma that determind the end of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. On the one hand, the Saudis had no love for Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, they could not support a Shiite uprising in Iraq. The result: Saudis pressed the US to leave Saddam in power and then spent the better part of a decade trying to initiate a Baathist coup to oust Saddam with the help of ex-Baathist figures like Iyad Allawi. (The best source on all this remains Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s outstanding book on Iraq in the 1990s, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein).

One very strange feature of the LA Times article: there are plenty of quotes supporting the notion that one of the “ideas…swirling around Riyadh” is “funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.” Indeed, I think this may constitute more than merely an “idea” at this point. But the article doesn’t include even one talking head that actually suggests “improving ties with Iran.” Hmmm. Just a journalistic/political flourish on the part of reporter Megan Stack?

It should also be said–if it isn’t already obvious–that Right Zionists cleary intended to have the US invasion of Iraq tip the regional balance of power away from Saudi Arabia.

And what about the “Iranian Question”? Did the US intend to tip the regional balance of power toward Iran? Yes and no. It depends on which Iran you mean, as suggested by a recent Financial Times report on US relations with Iran:

Speaking about US plans to spend more than $75m (€58m, £40m) on promoting democratic change in Iran, Alberto Fernandez, head of the US State Department’s press and public diplomacy for the Middle East, set out how the US sees Iran’s duality. Like night and day, he said, Iran was divided between – “official Iran” (the regime) and “eternal Iran” (the people).

When the US invaded Iraq, its target was also “official Iran” but its goal was “eternal Iran.” Regime change in Iran depends on sharpening the distinction between the two.  Right Zionist aren’t expecting much help in this regard from the $75m to be spent by the Right Arabists over at the State Department.  Nor do they favor a military invasion.  For regime change–pitting “eternal Iran” against “official Iran”–Right Zionists are counting on a clarifying fatwa from a certain Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani.

I’m waiting for that shoe to drop. How about you?

Meyerson’s Neo-Cons

Posted by Cutler on May 24, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 9 Comments

Harold Meyerson’s column in today’s Washington Post, “For Neocons, the Irony of Iraq,” provides an excellent example of the kind of thinking that leads critics of the war in Iraq down a blind alley. He chastises neocons for two key failures. First, they betrayed their own “law and order” tradition.

Irving Kristol initiated neoconservatism at least partly in revulsion at the disorder of John Lindsay’s New York. Now his son William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the single leading proponent (going back to the mid-1990s) of invading Iraq, has helped convert neoconservatism into a source of a disorder infinitely more violent than anything that once disquieted his dad.

Just to be clear: is this supposed to be a “progressive” critique of the neocons? The effect, so far as I can tell, is to feed a notion that US failures in Iraq are, in part, a failure to really kick butt in Iraq. More war, please. Hence the re-hash of the old Shinseki critique.

The sharpest irony was their stunning indifference to the need for civic order. When the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, said that the occupation would require many hundreds of thousands of troops to establish and maintain the peace, he was publicly rebuked by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the administration’s foremost neocon, and quickly put out to pasture.

There is a real danger here. The “Left” calls for more troops…Hmmm. Careful what you ask for. Just a hunch, but if the US had put 500,000 troops on the ground at the start of the war and still faced an insurgency, much of the “Left” would have been just as happy to suggest (rightly so) that US brutality–fed by an obsessive concern for law and order at the expense of popular demands for freedom–was to blame for that insurgency. You can’t win friends at the point of a gun, we would say.

Meyerson’s second charge is that neocons–let’s call them Right Zionists–failed to understand the basic contours of Iraqi society.

[Kristol] and his fellow war proponents ignored all credible information on the actual Iraq and promised an Eden more improbable than anything that ’60s liberals ever imagined. “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America,” he told National Public Radio listeners in the war’s opening weeks, “that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s been almost no evidence of that at all,” he continued. “Iraq’s always been very secular.”

This point is crucial. There is no denying that Kristol was floating this line. And there is no way to know whether or not he believed his own rhetoric. However, as I suggested in my ZNet article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” not all neo-conservatives were ignorant of Shiite/Sunni relations. Indeed, many neo-cons/Right Zionists were quite keen to exploit the domestic rivalry between Shiite and Sunni forces in Iraq as a key basis for changing the balance of power in the region.

William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan, two prominent neo-conservatives, insist that their book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, “wears its heart on its sleeve” (p.ix). They present a relentless critique of “a narrow realpolitik that defined America’s vital interests in terms of oil wells, strategic chokepoints and regional stability” (p.viii). Even as they celebrate “creating democracy in a land that for decades has known only dictatorship” (p.ix), they make no mention of — and seem utterly oblivious to — the prospect of Iraqi democracy emboldening Shiites in Iraq, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

Kristol and Kaplan may be “Boy Scouts”…or maybe they simply find it convenient to appear good-hearted and bumbling, as Chomsky warned. Either way, not all neo-conservatives wear their merit badges or their heart on their sleeve. The neo-conservative movement is hardly monolithic; there have been many fissures and splits along the way. The crucial point, however, is that some key neo-conservatives are as committed to cold-hearted Machiavellian Realpolitik as any so-called “realist.” The battle dividing the Bush administration in Iraq is between two factions of Realpolitik strategists.

Indeed, as Achcar has recently noted, “in some neo-con circles” there is actually support for the same scenario feared most by Chomsky’s realists: “some kind of Shia state controlling the bulk of Iraq’s oil” that would align itself with Iranian Shiites and “unleash” Shiite power in the whole area, “including the Saudi Kingdom where the main oil producing area is inhabited by a Shia majority.” To assume that evidence of neo-conservative support for de-Baathification in Iraq represents a simple blunder by naïve and incompetent Wilsonian idealists is, at best, a misunderstanding — at worst, a serious underestimation — of neo-conservative visions for US foreign policy.

To suppose that Right Zionists didn’t understand the Sunni/Shiite politics of Iraq is foolishness and is not supported by the record.

Consider, for example, David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (hereafter, TA). Wurmser published Tyranny’s Ally while serving as a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank long identified with neo-conservative foreign policy analysis. After his time at AEI, Wurmser moved on to service within the Bush administration, most recently serving as Middle East expert in the office of Vice President Richard Cheney. Published in 1999, the book is a Machiavellian tour de force — and a blueprint for US policy in the Middle East. There are striking parallels between the policies endorsed in Wurmser’s book and those enacted by the Bush administration at the start of the US war in Iraq.

Wurmser directly confronts so-called “realist” fears regarding Shiite power in Iraq.

“The ensuing chaos of any policy that generates upheaval in Iraq would offer the oppressed, majority Shi’ites of that country an opportunity to enhance their power and prestige. Fear that this would in turn enable Iran to extend its influence through its coreligionists has led Britain and the United States, along with our Middle Eastern allies, to regard a continued Sunni control of Iraq as the cornerstone for stability in the Levant. Saudi Arabia in particular fears that any Shi’ite autonomy or control in Iraq will undermine its own precarious stability, because an emboldened Shi’ite populace in Iraq could spread its fervor into Saudi Arabia’s predominantly Shi’ite northeastern provinces. The Saudi government also fears that this upheaval could spread to predominantly Shi’ite Bahrain, or to other gulf states with large Shi’ite minorities.” (TA, p.73)

It is simply not plausible that Meyerson could know about Wurmser and still think of Bill Kristol as the best measure of Right Zionist “preparedness” to play a very high-stakes game with Iraqi domestic politics.

Barely Afloat

Posted by Cutler on May 23, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Did I seem overly negative in my post of the new Iraqi government? If so, I’m not alone. The most recent analysis from the Economist Intelligence Unit (May 22, 2006) is no less pessimistic. Entitled “Iraq Politics: Barely Afloat,” the text reads:

The two most contentious posts in the new Iraqi government are those of interior and defence ministers. By leaving them vacant during his presentation of the cabinet to the National Assembly on May 20th, the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, managed to secure a large majority of votes in favour of the line-up, which may have been more difficult had he filled them. However, the gap in the government list also cruelly illustrated the shortcomings of Mr Maliki’s administration as it seeks to address the main challenges that he has identified–ensuring security, rooting out corruption and providing decent services to the Iraqi people.

Khalilzad and Iran

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

How to read this Khalilzad opening to Iran in todays news?

In an interview with The Associated Press in the U.S. Embassy Annex in Baghdad, Khalilzad said talks with Iran about Iraq could not have taken place earlier because the United States did not want to leave anyone under the impression that Iran and the United States “got together to decide the government in Iraq.”

“But we have said publicly, and that remains our position, we’d be prepared to consider talking with them once the government of national unity is formed,” he said. He declined to specify how talks might begin, saying only, “There are channels for communicating.”…

There have been reports that a prior effort by Khalilzad to open a dialogue with Iran in March of this year met with opposition from within the administration. The source of that opposition–and its meaning–remains unclear.

One might have supposed that the opposition to a dialogue with Iran came from hawks who favor regime change over dialogue with the incumbent regime. Khalilzad’s official explanation for prior hesitation to open such a dialogue–that the US didn’t want to leave anyone with the impression that the US and Iran “got together to decide the government of Iraq”–sends a very, very different message.

Who might get the impression that the US and Iran were carving up the region for their mutual benefit? Well, the Iraqi population for starters.  And/or the Sunni Arab regimes who fear that the US tilt to Shiite Iraq is part of a broader tilt away from Sunni Arab regional domination.

Does this mean that now the US is now prepared to more openly facilitate a regional alliance between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites? Does anyone believe that those most afraid of such an alliance (Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc.) will be comforted by the fact that the US and Iran did not formally get together to decide the government of Iraq?

If this be Success… Maliki v. Mutlak

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

Not to rain on the parade about the “successful” formation of a new Iraqi government, but it was a failure, not a success. Maliki has thus far failed to reach a deal on the key Interior and Defense ministries. He went ahead with the formation of a government that left unresolved the most contentious issue of all: control of the security ministries.

Presumably, the failure to resolve a conflict might have provoked howls of protest and concern from either Shiite parties or Sunni parties. Both might have reason to fear that Maliki was saving “bad news” for another day. It didn’t happen that way. Maliki’s refusal to name security ministers prompted a Sunni walkout, not a Shiite rebellion. If as I suggested in a previous post, we shall know the score by listening to the protests, then Maliki’s incomplete government is most ominous to elements of the Sunni Arab community.

The Washington Post reported details of the parliamentary protest:

While a man read a verse from the Koran, Khalilzad talked to a Sunni leader, then abruptly stood up and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with Adnan al-Dulaimi and Khalaf al-Elayan, two leaders of the main Sunni coalition, who both appeared to be reluctant to attend.

Seconds after the parliament’s speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, began to speak, another Sunni parliament member stood up and asked for two more days to research the cabinet nominees before a vote on them would take place.

Then Saleh al-Mutlak, head of a Sunni group that is not part of the main coalition, interrupted the session again. He declared that Maliki’s Shiite coalition had offered him ministries in the government but only if he agreed to change his political agenda. Mashhadani tapped loudly on his microphone to try to stop Mutlak’s speech, while grumbling from other parliament members grew louder.

Maliki stood silently at a podium on the stage, waiting to name his cabinet. Once he finally gained the parliament’s attention, he listed the 37 names quickly. After that, Mutlak and his party’s members walked out of the session, along with several members of the main coalition of three Sunni parties, who protested against swearing in an incomplete cabinet.

Mutlak, it may be recalled, was being courted by the US in its effort to find common ground with Sunni Arabs and former Baathists. Recall that in mid-April, Mutlak figured prominently in such efforts. He met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her trip to Iraq. The Washington Post report of that time helps put Mutlak’s recent parliamentary walkout in some perspective:

After her dinner in Baghdad, which in addition to Hashimi included Kurdish leaders and Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni politician who has long been accused of ties to Iraqi insurgent groups, Rice noted what she called a “considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership.” Later, in an interview with CBS News, she called the Sunnis’ entry into politics “one of the most extraordinary developments” of the past year.

Mutlak, Hashimi and others say that after months of raising concerns with U.S. officials in Baghdad, they finally feel that their voices are being heard — and echoed in recent statements by Khalilzad and officials in Washington…

Mutlak said he told Rice at the dinner that the sectarian tension between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites had arrived with the U.S. invasion force in 2003. “I am not sure she agreed or not,” he said. “But she listened to me. When they came to Iraq, absolutely they were biased to the Shiites. I think they are being more evenhanded than what they were before. They realized they cannot solve the problems in Iraq without us.”

Sunni leaders say the new U.S. stance has opened the way for dialogue between U.S. officials and Sunni-led insurgent groups. Khalilzad, while circumspect about details, has acknowledged such contacts in recent weeks.

Mutlak said Americans have held discussions mostly with smaller insurgent groups linked to better-known armed groups. Among the issues on the table, predicated on insurgents laying down their weapons, he said, are amnesty for some categories of insurgents, incorporating more Sunnis into Iraq’s security forces, economic support for impoverished Sunni regions and a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals.

“I think if they can reach a good agreement with these groups, they can jump to bigger groups,” he said. “But it is just beginning.”

Has that beginning now come to an end? If the formation of a Maliki government was intended to reflect a new accord between the US and figures like Mutlak, it seems to have failed in that regard. If, however, the formation of the Maliki government–over the objections of Mutlak–signals a retreat from attempts to co-opt the Sunni insurgency and a dramatic tilt toward the Shiite majority, it is hardly a bold step in this direction.

Presumably, Maliki will have to name permanent ministers to head the two security ministers. Either Maliki will select weak technocrats in the hope that they will signfy as little as possible (more waffling and delay) or the final shoe will drop and Khalilzad will no longer be able to corral reluctant Sunni leaders back into the political process.

The Politics of Iraqi Death Squads

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

It is too early to predict the outcome of back room negotiations over the composition of a new Iraqi government. However, there have been scattered reports, most recently by Agence France-Presse, of an agreement to allow the Shiite Alliance to retain control of the Interior Ministry.

If true, this would tend to undermine the idea that US concern over SCIRI Badr Brigade “death squads” at the Interior Ministry was a central factor in Khalilzad’s refusal to back the first Shiite Alliance government proposed by Ibrahim Jaafari. Has Khalilzad simply retreated? Or was the whole idea–that the US feared uncontrolled Shiite “death squads”–something of a stretch from the start.

Perhaps the controversial outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr Solagh, knows too much about US participation in the formation of the “death squads” to be easily marginalized at this point. Most recently, he has joined the chorus of complaints about death squads, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for the death squads. Instead, he blows the whistle on the US:

Solagh said most of the human rights abuses attributed to the Iraqi police and interior ministry could be laid at the feet of the various security bodies belonging to other ministries. Referring to the country’s interior and defence ministries, Solagh said: “These forces are out of control. In total there are 200 000 not controlled by the MOI and MOD. “No one controls them, not even the prime minister.” Solagh said that, in addition to the 250 000 armed forces and police members, 200 000 others are guarding ministries, pipelines and infrastructure, or working as private security in the country. In the case of the Facility Protection Service (FPS), which guards the various ministries and consists of almost 150 000 men, the equipment is similar to that of the police, he said. Solagh said: “They have the same cars, the same weapons, the same uniforms as the police, just instead of ‘IP’ it is written ‘FPS’.”

The Interior Minister made similar charges in a BBC interview in April 2006.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has admitted that death squads and other unauthorized armed groups are carrying out sectarian murders in his country. The minister alleged that non-governmental security agencies like the Facility Protection Service (FPS) – which was set up under the US governorship in order to protect public buildings – were behind many of the killings. Jabr told the BBC that the 150,000-strong FPS was “out of order, not under our control“.

The US seems to have removed its objections to Shiite control of the ministry some time after he linked the US to the death squads. There has been precious little discussion of the Facility Protection Service. Maybe Jabr is blowing smoke. Maybe not.

In any event, the key to the entire “death squads” issue is that the US at one point had a hand in all this.  Prior attempts to sideline Jabr and the Badr Brigade reflect US fears of Shiite death squads much more than concern over Shiite death squads.  It is a political thing, not a humanitarian thing.

On Hold in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on May 15, 2006
Iraq / 3 Comments

Bush takes a lot of heat for sticking to his guns, most recently from Stephen Colbert:

“When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday — no matter what happened Tuesday.”

Iraq is, presumably, a case in point. It just ain’t so. In truth, the Bush administration has done nothing but flip flop about the political outcome in Iraq. The long wait for a new government in Iraq is a product of US indecisiveness.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki could form a government today if he didn’t face pressure from US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The Sadrist Shiite parliamentary bloc recently rebuked Khalilzad for pressuring Maliki to make too many accomodations on behalf of the Sunni Arab minority. From the New York Times:

As 275-member parliament convened Sunday, Bahaa al-Araji, a lawmaker loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, denounced what he said was continued U.S. meddling in the selection of ministers for the coveted interior and defense ministry posts… “Within the past two days, the occupation forces have been interfering with certain names and certain posts,” said al-Araji, whose group holds 30 seats in parliament. “There are also blocs participating in the (formation of) the government that have begun demanding more than what they are entitled to electorally…” he said, singling out the Sunni Arab Accordance Front as one example.

Who is stalling? Araji threatened that if the US did not quit stalling the process on behalf of the Sunni Arab forces, the Shiite alliance would “form a government without regard to their demands.” According to the NYT report, Araji “set a deadline of two-days before the 130 alliance deputies act unilaterally.”

Such a government would, no doubt, drive most Sunni politicians into the hands of the insurgency. The fact that such a government has not been announced is hardly a consequence of Shiite ambivalence or hesitation, however. It is a result of US attempts to pressure Iraqi Shiites to reach out to the Sunni Arab minority.

There have been some moments of extraordinary US political decisiveness in Iraq, but they have always been contradicted in short order. In May 2003, early in the occupation, the Coalition Provisional Authority issues orders to de-Baathify the Iraqi state apparatus and to disband the Sunni Arab-dominated Iraqi Army officer corps. Both steps were bold initiatives designed to signal US support for a full-blown political transformation in Iraq. Both steps also generated massive opposition. In Iraq opposition took the form of the Sunni Arab insurgency. In the US it took the form of a revolt by the Arabist Republican foreign policy establishment.

No later than September 2003, however, Bush administration resolve weakened and started to wobble. Eventually, the de-Baathification order was rescinded and the US began to reach out to former regime elements. By June 2004, the Bush administration took another bold step, albeit one completely at odds with its first bold step. In that month, the Coalition Provisional Authority formally handed sovereignty to Iyad Allawi, a former Baathist. It looked like the US had returned to its older policy of favoring “Saddamism without Saddam.”

If Allawi was supposed to function as an unelected authoritarian Iraqi “strongman,” this role was completely undermined by the January 2005 elections, the October 2005 Constitutional Referendum, and the December 2005 elections. Undertaken with the enthusiastic support of Right Zionists (so-called neocons) and the Iraqi Shiite majority–but over the objections of Right Arabists–these elections put full-blown political transformation back on the Iraqi agenda.

The current stalemate is an index of US flip-flopping and mixed signals. On most days, Ambassador Khalilzad devotes himself to appeasing the Sunni Arab minority–most visibly in the March 2006 attempt to form an extra-Constitutional “national security” council. That one looked like a coup in the making.

Even as the “security” situtation continues to deteriorate on all fronts, the US remains fundamentally unwilling to take a stand and stick with a plan on the “political” front. Plan A: support the Shiite majority and get on with counter-insurgency against the Sunni Arab resistance. Plan B: support Allawi as a new Iraqi strongman and get on with the inevitable counter-insurgency against the (future) Shiite resistance. Plan C: declare Kurdistan the 51st state of the US and get on with the inevitable military clashes with Turkey.Right now, the US seems to be carefully weighing its options and pondering alternative plans. How many US troops died today while the Bush administration sat stewing in its own strategic ambivalence and half-hearted flip-flopping?

Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney

Posted by Cutler on May 12, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

My ZNet article–“Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–is an abridged version of a longer essay. The longer paper includes an explanation–quite speculative in most respects–for the fact that Rumsfeld and Cheney have served as leaders of a Right Zionist war in Iraq. This warrants explanation because Rumsfeld/Cheney have not always appeared to be the most reliable allies for such a project. Indeed, I review some indications that both were previously thought of by Right Zionists and Right Arabists as reliable Right Arabists. So, what changed?

A further question–even more important for understanding current US policy toward Iraq and Iran–is whether Rumsfeld and Cheney remain aligned with Right Zionists. Alas, the following excerpt does not attempt to answer that crucial question.

“Finding Cheney/Rumsfeld”

By Jonathan Cutler, Wesleyan University, May 12, 2006

In the history of Republican foreign policy factionalism, there seems to have been two major defections from the Right Arabist camp: Vice-President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In prior administrations, Rumsfeld and Cheney—Rumsfeld’s protégé in the Ford White House—fought side by side with Right Arabists. In the US invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld have drawn considerable fire from former allies on the Arabist Right. Any effort to explain the influence Right Zionist strategies at the start of the US invasion of Iraq must take account of the anomalous roles played by Cheney and Rumsfeld.

The timing and significance of any break between Cheney and Rumsfeld, on the one side, and the Right Arabists, on the other, will likely remain a matter of speculation for some time to come. For now, the record remains sketchy. Rumsfeld served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense in the administration of Gerald Ford, but he stayed out of government during the early Reagan administration. However, as the “Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service” reminded readers of its website in December 2003—Rumsfeld came back to the White House to help Reagan overcome Zionist opposition to the sale of AWACS to the Saudis. Similarly, the “American Israel Public Affairs Committee” has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale. And it was Rumsfeld who helped Reagan’s Arabists “tilt” the US toward Iraq in 1983 and 1984 when he traveled to Baghdad as special U.S. Middle East envoy and met with Saddam Hussein.

Somewhere along the way to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld ran into trouble with the Right Arabist crowd. Brent Scowcroft could not have been more explicit than he was in an October 2005 interview with the New Yorker.

The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney… I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore… I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons.

More specifically, Scowcroft speculates that Cheney has been persuaded by the idea—rejected by Scowcroft, but attributed by him to Princeton professor Bernard Lewis—that “one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick.” Continue reading…

A “Government of National Unity” in Washington?

Posted by Cutler on May 11, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 5 Comments

There have been times, especially in recent months, when Bush administration foreign policy factionalism looked like a thing of the past. Remember the good old days when Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld seemed locked in enormously weighty and bitter battles over the shape of US foreign policy in the Middle East? Nowadays, Condi Rice and Rumsfeld spar for fun over Rice’s acknowledgement that there might have been thousands of tactical errors made in Iraq, but then they take it all back with a “government of national unity” joint visit to Iraq.

“We just want to make sure there are no seams between what we’re doing politically and what we’re doing militarily. Secretary Rumsfeld and I are going to be there together because a lot of the work that has to be done is at that juncture between political and military,” Rice said.

For a while it looked like neither faction really had the energy to do battle on behalf of any kind of “Right Zionist” (aka “neocon”) or “Right Arabist” (so-called “realist”) vision for Iraq. Can’t we all just get along?

Or maybe the Right Arabists have simply won the day. Wolfowitz, Feith, and Libby are gone. If Khalilzad was once thought to be close to Right Zionists who favored Iraqi de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment, you wouldn’t know it from his extraordinary efforts as US Ambassador. His work on behalf of former Baathists and his willingness to risk war with Iraqi Shiites–not exactly moves lifted from the Right Zionist playbook. Rumsfeld is under seige from the Right Arabist military brass. And James Baker–a leading Right Arabist from the Bush Sr era–has been brought back (via Congress, but allegedly with White House support) to help manage Iraq.

Sure, Right Zionist David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of Vice President Cheney and Elliott Abrams still serves at the pleasure of Condi Rice. But they are “merely” deputies; maybe they prefer to stay close to power rather than resign as a matter of principle.

The abrupt departure of Porter Goss from the CIA might be about any number of things (including poker), but it may also represent another power grab by the Right Arabists. The Weekly Standard certainly fears as much.

We’re inclined to side with Goss in this dispute. But we are concerned that Goss left, or was eased out, for reasons of greater policy significance. And if this is the case, Goss’s leaving is not a good sign. Goss is a political conservative and an institutional reformer. He is pro-Bush Doctrine and pro-shaking-up-the-CIA.

John Negroponte, so far as we can tell, shares none of these sympathies. Negroponte is therefore more in tune with large swaths of the intelligence community and the State Department. If Negroponte forced Goss out… then Goss’s departure will prove to have been a weakening moment in an administration increasingly susceptible to moments of weakness.

This isn’t exactly triumphalist talk from the Right Zionist camp. The selection of Negroponte’s deputy–Michael Hayden–has brought howls of protest from those who see his selection as a move against Rumsfeld.

So, by some measures, the Right Zionists don’t count for much any more in the Bush administration. Many–like Michael Rubin and Barbara Lerner–long ago moved into the “opposition” once they saw their dreams for Iraq overrun by Right Arabists in Washington.

Funny thing, though: Re-Baathification in Washington looks far more advanced than it does in Baghdad. So long as Sistani moves from victory to victory, Right Zionists continue to be pleased with political results on the ground in Iraq, even as they lick their wounds back in Washington. In his recent Weekly Standard essay, “The Sistani Paradox: Building a democracy with the Ayatollahs We Have,” Duncan Currie writes:

Whether we like it or not, devout Muslims–not, alas, liberal secularists–offer the best hope for salvaging Iraq’s democratic experiment, because they represent broad swathes of Iraqi opinion… Ayatollah Sistani may be an imperfect vehicle for achieving our goals. (It is indeed depressing what passes for a “progressive” in the Muslim Middle East.) But he is a robust democrat who condemns terrorism and fervently wants to breach Islam’s separation from the modern world. In the great struggle of our time, that surely places Sistani on the side of the angels.

There was a time when one could claim that the “personnel is political” in Washington’s war in Iraq. Back then, the rise and fall of Right Zionist influence was measured by personnell decisions within the Bush administration. That time may have passed. Iraqi Shiites are a rising force in the Gulf and they will not be easily repressed. Right Zionists opened pandora’s box in Iraq. It is far from clear that Right Arabists will be able to close it, even as they move from victory to victory back in Washington.

Who’s Afraid of Regime Change in Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 09, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 7 Comments

Who’s Afraid of Regime Change in Iran? The answer might surprise you. Right Zionists (so-called neo-cons) surely favor regime change in Iran. But they also fear regime change that is based on ethnic separatism in Iran–specifically Arab separatism.

In the long term, Right Zionists are less interested in defeating or weakening Iran than they are in strengthening a pro-Western Iran. This is, arguably, a different agenda than that of Right Arabists who object to Shiite regional power. In the Right Zionist strategic worldview, Iran remains Israel’s logical (if not empirical) ally in a region dominated by Arab regimes. The model: flourishing US-Israeli-Iranian relations during the 1970s under the Shah. So, too, Right Arabists objected to this US tilt toward Israel and Iran under Kissinger and Nixon.Today, Right Zionists want to terminate the incumebent clerical regime, but they also want to enhance the regional power of Iran, relative to Arab regional dominance. Right Arabists, meanwhile, are willling to entertain the possibility of some kind of accord with the (weakened) incumbent clerical regime, especially if it prevents Right Zionists from winning US-Israeli-Iranian regional hegemony down the road.

As I have argued in a previous post, the question of Iranian nukes falls into this framework. Right Arabists, like Right Zionists, are hostile to the idea of Iranian nukes. But Right Arabists are hostile to Iranian nukes as such, not simply nuclear weapons in the hands of the current Iranian regime. Right Arabists were hostile to Iranian nukes in the 1970s under the Shah and would likely continue to oppose Iranian nukes long after the fall of the incumbent clerical regime. The issue is regional power. For the same reason–regional power–Right Zionists would welcome the exact opposite: Iranian nukes after the restoration of a pro-western regime in Iran.

Arab separatist rebellion within Iran also falls into this framework. Even though there is very little public chatter about US sponsorship of a separatist rebellion by Iran’s Arab minority, Right Zionists are already busy attacking the idea of regime change in Iran on the basis of Arab separatism.

The central issue here is the Iranian province of Khuzistan. In November 2005, AEI Right Zionist Michael Rubin was suffiently concerned about such plans that he published an “internal briefing” for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that warned against any attempt by the US to undermine the Iranian regime through Arab minority rebellion. The briefing is entitled “Domestic Threats to Iranian Stability: Khuzistan and Baluchistan.”

Khuzistan has a long and rich heritage…Long populated predominantly by Arabs, the region was known throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as Arabistan – “land of the Arabs.” The region grew in strategic importance in the twentieth century, especially after the 1908 discovery of oil and the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company the following year…After Reza Khan subdued the province, the Iranian foreign ministry changed the provincial name to Khuzistan. The oil boom and government efforts to dilute the Arab component of the population have caused the relative size of the ethnic Arab population to shrink. When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, Saddam Hussein sought to play the ethnic card. The Iraqi leader portrayed himself as the liberator of the Khuzistani Arabs.

Rubin doesn’t like the idea of the US playing the Arab ethnic card in Iran, even if (or precisely because) it might destabilize Iran. He certainly seems afraid that Right Arabists (so-called “realists”) are toying with the idea, however.

The Iranian regime is unpopular among the majority of its population…[T]he majority of Iran’s youth long for the freedom enjoyed in the West… When the Islamic Republic collapses, a strong unified Iran will be a force for stability and a regional bulwark against the Islamism under which the Iranian people now chafe. Neither Washington nor any other Western democracy should attempt to play the separatist card in Iran. To do so would not only backfire, but would trade ephemeral short-term gain for long-term strategic harm. The realists are wrong.

Why be so picky about the precise method of uprooting the clerical regime? Because Right Zionists like Rubin are playing a long-term, regional balance-of-power game, not merely a short-term militaristic offensive. Right Zionists are battling for Shiite Iraq and Iran, but targeting the Saudis. Hence, Rubin is already anticipating the benefits of a “strong unified Iran” after the counter-revolution. In the short term, Right Zionists can’t live with the incumbent clerical regime; in the long term they can’t live without non-Arab Iran.

The last thing Right Zionists want is to hand an oil-rich, strategic province of Iran to Arab forces–even if it means sacrificing a short-term opportunity to topple the incumbent Shiite revolutionary regime.

Funny how things work in the Gulf (and much of the former British Empire). Arabs sit atop Iranian oil and Shiite sit atop Saudi oil.

Right Zionists love separatist rebellion in Iraq; hate it in Iran. Right Arabists favor a strong unified Iraq; hate it in Iran.

In the most audacious version of the Right Zionist fantasy the Shia of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province would secede in the name of a Shia Gulf (Iran, southern Iraq, and the Saudi Eastern Province). In the Khuzistan option (championed by unidentified “realists”) the Gulf Arabs would restore Sunni Arab control of Iraq and help the Arabs of oil-rich Khuzistan secede from Shiite-dominated Iran.

Smells like a regional war at every turn.

NB: there is no necessary or essential symmetry in the binary opposition Arab/Shiite. When ethnic rivalry is the issue, the more appropriate contrasts are between Arab and Persian (and/or Kurd, Turkman, etc.). When religious factionalism is the issue, the more appropriate terms are Sunni/Shiite Muslim.

Most Iraqi Shiites are Arab, not Persian.

In practice, however, Right Zionists seek to exploit something akin to Arab/Shiite rivalry in the Gulf. Hence, the centrality of their reliance on Iraq’s leading Persian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Arab nationalists also seem happy to accept the bait. See, for example, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s recent accusation that Iraqi Shiites are more loyal to Shiite Iran than they are to pan-Arab power. Mubarak’s accusations, notwithstanding, the key obstacle to the full development of Arab/Shiite rivalry is the Arab nationalism of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

Sistani & Iran

Posted by Cutler on May 02, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 12 Comments

Bush administration policy on Iran is a pretty complicated affair. I’m not yet prepared to post a full commentary on the flurry of rumors last week about a potential US nuke strike against Iran. Suffice it to say, for now, that I have my doubts that this is the neocon game plan. My reading is that neocons are not actually all that upset about the country of Iran having nukes–at least not as upset as say, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. Neocons are, however, upset about the incumbent clerical regime in Iran having nukes.

The neocons want regime change in Iran.  They have in mind a popular rebellion, not a military strike.  The emphasis on regime change is actually all over Hersh’s New Yorker piece, but it gets second billing to the nuke attack. The only explicit connection Hersh makes between a military strike and regime change is one quote that suggests a nuke attack might lead to regime change–something like a “Falklands” scenario where military defeat leads to regime change. I have my doubts…

I find much more compelling the idea that neocons are not the ones who want to keep the Iranian nuke issue front and center; the key sources for Hersh’s articles were folks who favored coming to terms with the incumbent regime. They call it crazy and press Bush to go for a diplomatic solution.

Neocons don’t want any “accord” with the Iranian regime, but that is not the same as favoring a military attack. They favor a populist rebellion against a regime they think is quite unpopular. Moreover, my reading of neocon war strategies suggests that they think that the Iraqi clerical establishment–especially the good offices of Grand Ayatollah Sistani–might help undermine the Iranian clerical establishment.

This notion–that the US can exploit divisions between Najaf (Sistani’s base in Iraq) and Qom (the center of the Iranian clerical establishment)–may seem like the most far-fetched notion of all. (One comment by Kieran suggested that the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny would be similarly inclined to help bring down the Iranian regime).

I don’t really have a dog in this race. And I have no interest in defending neocons. But I also don’t like to underestimate my opponents. And I note, with great interest, that when Professor Juan Cole–far more of an expert on such matters than I–listed his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005, number five was as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

I haven’t asked Professor Cole what he thinks about Neocon attempts to exploit this fissure between Sistani and the Iranian regime, but I’d sure be interested to know…

Dem Zionists? Biden & Gelb on Iraqi Partition

Posted by Cutler on May 02, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 4 Comments

Senator Joseph Biden–with Leslie Gelb–has published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:

America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.

My ZNet article on Iraq focuses primarily on Republican strategic orientations, especially battles between Zionist and Arabist factions. Given the political dominance of the Republican party, there has been some urgency to mapping their views on Iraq. There are, however, parralel lines within the Democratic foreign policy establishment. The chief difference may be that Republican Zionists (so-called “neocons”) are still relatively rare within the foreign policy establishment. Not so with the Democrats. The challenge, within the Democratic party is to find any Arabists; Dem Zionists are quite plentiful.

Critics of the war in Iraq have often–and correctly–suggested that the neo-cons favor ethnic federalism in Iraq. After all, it was fear of ethnic federalism–and its regional consequences–that led Right Arabists to prop up Saddam’s rule at the end of the 1991 Gulf war and it was the Right Zionist embrace of this federalism within the administration of George W. Bush that guided the decision to end Sunni Baathist dominance of a centralized Iraq power structure. This issue has always been at the crux of the politics of war in Iraq.
There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:

“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (“U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)

Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.

The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.

His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.

If there is nothing particularly new about Democratic party foreign policy figures supporting such a plan, would the implementation of such a plan signify anything new in Iraq? Yes and no. On the one hand, Biden and Gelb acknowledge that their “third way” isn’t really much of a bold departure from events on the ground.

Decentralization is hardly as radical as it may seem: the Iraqi Constitution, in fact, already provides for a federal structure and a procedure for provinces to combine into regional governments… Besides, things are already heading toward partition… a breakup is already under way.

On the other hand, they may be quite right to signify a departure from current Bush administration policy. Although they represent their position as a break from Bush’s determination to “stay the course,” the truth is that the Bush administration has not stayed the course. As early as September 2003, the Bush administration began to retreat from a full embrace of ethnic federalism and began to favor Iraqi proxies–chiefly former Baathists like Iyad Allawi–who favor a restoration of something like Saddamism without Saddam. That policy has not managed to close pandora’s box; a breakup is already under way. But it is not currently US policy. As US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad never tires of repeating, the US favors a government of “national unity,” not ethnic federalism.

Biden and Gelb’s third way is, in fact, the first way. It is the way the Bush administration started the war.

Juan Cole provides a helpful clarification of the battle lines regarding the Biden/Gelb “Third Way”:

The Arab world would never forgive the United States if it broke up Iraq. You would never be able to convince them that it hadn’t been done primarily for the benefit of Israel. Iraq in the late 1970s was a comer as potentially the most powerful Arab country. To see it broken and in fragments, supine before imperial and regional powers, would be heartbreaking to Arabs and would certainly provoke anti-Western sentiments and attacks in retaliation.

Farewell to neo-cons; here come Dem Zionists.

Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on April 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 4 Comments

ZNet has published my article, Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.” The article makes two central arguments.

1. Critics of the War should not underestimate the Realpolitik analysis behind the decision to invade Iraq and deliver power to the Shiite majority. It also tries to elaborate that Realpolitik primarily through a close reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (AEI: 1999).

2. Within the US, there is an “intra-imperialist” battle over political outcomes in Iraq. Critics of the War who take one side or another in this intra-imperialist battle risk unintentionally aligning themselves with one side or another of an essentially imperialist debate.

Along the way, the article tries to make sense of Bush administration battles between neo-conservatives and realists. I propose that the factions are best defined as Right Zionists (so-called “neo-conservatives”) and Right Arabists (so-called “realists”).

Kirkuk, Sadr and the Jaafari Impasse

Posted by Cutler on April 26, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

In an earlier post I identified several issues that might have been behind the Jaafari impasse. Recent news makes me think that one issue in particular–the question of Kirkuk and Kurdistan–may be worth additional attention.  I refer to the Washington Post news report, highlighted by Swopa, of growing tension between the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Kurds of Kirkuk. The report featured Kurdish complaints that Sadr was moving elements of his militia to Kirkuk.

Let’s start with some basics. The city of Kirkuk is home to approximately 40% of Iraqi oil reserves. The city sits atop key oil fields that have been central to the geopolitics of the region for decades. Check out, for example, the prominent place given to discussion of Kirkuk in Ludwell Denny’s 1928 book We Fight for Oil (incredibly, the full text of this long-forgotten out-of-print book is actually online! must be something about the title and our times…hmmm).

Iraq’s Kurdish minority considers Kirkuk to be the capital of “Kurdistan“–a would be nation-state betrayed by the West after World War I that includes sizeable populations in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Kurds accuse Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party of displacing many Kirkuk Kurds; of importing Arab Sunnis and poor Shiites from Sadr city to live in Kirkuk; and of redrawing provincial boundaries to separate Kirkuk from the Kurdish provinces. Iraq’s Turkman minority also calls Kirkuk home.

Since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Kurds have maintained autonomous control of the Kurdish region of Iraq–except for Kirkuk. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 ignited Kurdish hopes that a new political structure–especially a new Iraqi Constitution–might allow them to achieve three major goals:

1. Resettlement of Kurds to Kirkuk: This is often referred to as the “normalization of Kirkuk.” The aim is to use population resettlement to reclaim property and restore Kurdish dominance and control within Kirkuk. Arabs (Shiite and Sunni)–and the Turkman population– fear being marginalized and displaced as Kurds reclaim property.

2. Annexation of Kirkuk: At present, Kirkuk is not formally part of the autonomous Kurdish region. Kurds hope to annex Kirkuk and make it formally part of the Kurdish region. Resettlement is, in part, a necessary condition for establishing a population able to win annexation of Kirkuk in any future referendum. Any referendum raises enormous questions about eligibility to vote and Kurds can be expected to press for maximum geographic coverage and Kurdish predominance within the electorate.

3. Federal Autonomy for Kurdistan: The “federalism” demand centers on political control of natural resources, i.e., oil. In a Financial Times editorial (originally published August 16, 2005) the Prime Minister of autonomous Kurdistan demanded Kurdish control over all new/undeveloped oil fields in the region, including the unexploited fields of Kirkuk.

The broad coaltion that aligned itself against Jaafari–the Kurds, Iyad Allawi, and SCIRI–have all made their peace with the Kurds. However, Muqtada al-Sadr–the key player that allowed Jaafari to win the Shiite nomination for Prime Minister after the December 2005 elections–has declared Kirkuk to be a red line. In a February 2005 interview with al-Jazeera, cited in the Washington Post, Sadr gave a clue to the root of his particular brand of Iraqi “nationalism”:

“The problem with Kirkuk is the presence of oil in it… It should be in the ownership of all Iraqis. No one has the right to demand Kirkuk.”

Sadr is often depicted as a radical ideologue. On the issue of Kirkuk, however, he may simply be playing the part of a pragmatic politician defending his constituency, the impoverished Shiites who settled in Kirkuk during Saddam’s rule and who fear being displaced by Kurdish resettlement plans, not to mention the impoverished Shiites of central Iraq who remain in Sadr city and who would be left with no oil wealth if federalism prevailed in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south.
The Jaafari Impasse may have been, at least in part, about Kurdish perceptions that Jaafari–and his Daawa party–were willing to jettison Kurdish concerns about Kirkuk in order to build and maintain an alliance with Sadr.

So far, it is difficult to figure out how Kirkuk figures in the settlement of the Jaafari Impasse. It is certainly possible that the Kurds–who started playing hardball with Jaafari over the issue of Kirkuk since the summer of 2005–decided to back down. They may have decided, under pressure from the US, that their best bet was to renew their alliance with the Shiite parties. Did they get anything in return? Unclear. Did Sadr retreat from his red line on Kirkuk? Unclear. If the Kurdish leadership (or more specifically, Talabani) retreated, look for a split in the Kurdish ranks, especially if Barzani tries to make hay out of Talabani’s compromised position.
If, however, Kirkuk figured as part of a compromise agreement and if the compromise was achieved by moving the question forward in time–to the promise of a 2007 referendum on Kirkuk, for example–then this might explain the recent flurry of news about tension between Sadr and the Kurds over settlement and resettlement.
Is everyone trying to stack the deck ahead of an upcoming referendum?