Daily Archives: June 13, 2006

All in Favor of National Unity?

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions / 1 Comment

In a prior post, I wondered whether Bush administration factionalism–between Right Zionists (aka Neocons) and Right Arabists (aka Realists)–had given way to a government of national unity in Washington. Does everyone in DC support US Ambassador Khalilzad’s attempts to incorporate Sunni Arab forces into an Iraqi “government of national unity”?

There are no signs of any cracks inside the Bush administration itself. If there are Right Zionists upset about all this (David Wurmser in Cheney’s office?), they aren’t making public their concerns.

Outside the Bush administration, there has been at least one dissent: a June 12, 2006 editorial from the Right Zionist New York Sun entitled “Beware of Reconciliation.”

Prime Minister al-Maliki will unveil, following the slaying of al-Qaeda’s Zarqawi, new details of Iraq’s national reconciliation process. That comes against the backdrop of Mr. al-Maliki’s decision last week to release some 2,500 Sunni political prisoners and his naming of a Sunni defense minister and a Shiite interior minister, unconnected to ethnic militias.

We have a certain reserve about this… It’s one thing to seek reconciliation between the country’s ethnic factions. But the gushing over these gestures echoes the hosannas that greeted Secretary Rice’s bow to Iran. Iraq’s leaders have invited its country’s saboteurs into the tent of government almost since Paul Bremer announced the demolition of Saddam’s parasitic army.

It was on Mr. Bremer’s watch that we briefly placed a Saddam-era general, Jasim Mohammed Saleh, in charge of Falluja, where he paraded with his Ba’athist uniform and medals. Under Prime Minister Allawi’s brief regime in 2004, former Ba’athist colonels and generals were hired into the state’s new intelligence service and police by his hand picked intelligence chief, Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani.

Only seven months ago, in Cairo, there was a meeting between Iraq’s elected legislators and the representatives of terrorists who had been seeking to kill them. And just as the Arab League had been pressing for this “reconciliation” in December, they are now involving themselves with yet another conference to bring “all sides” together

Re-inviting the leaders and spokesmen of those who have sought from the beginning to plunge Iraq into this hellish kind of war holds out the impression that an amnesty or reprieve from the forces of civilization may yet await them. Better these barbarians remember the Nazi peace-seeker, Hess. When he parachuted into Britain, he was imprisoned – and he died in prison decades later….

What one cannot imagine is a parley with the agents of the foreign powers committed to ethnic cleansing and the collapse of the very government issuing the invitations going out this week. With these factions even the idea of negotiations holds its own kind of danger.

That is–in one tidy package–a strident defense of the old Right Zionist agenda for Iraq and a critique of Right Arabist re-Baathification, sponosored by the Arab League.

The real question is simply this: does anyone in government share these views anymore? Or are the Right Zionists howling in the wilderness?

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?