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…