Monthly Archives: April 2006

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”).

May Day, May Day: From Haymarket to the “Day without Immigrants”

Posted by Cutler on April 29, 2006
Immigration, Labor / 2 Comments

Here is a Q & A I did for NPR on the legacy of Haymarket, May Day, and Shorter Hours:

Q&A: The Legacy of Haymarket

Jonathan Cutler is Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He is the author of Labor’s Time: Shorter Hours, the UAW, and the Struggle for American Unionism. Here he answers questions from on the ramifications of the Haymarket riots. You can read more of his current affairs commentaries at

What is the legacy of Haymarket? Does it still resonate today?

Haymarket resonates today more than it has at any other time in recent years. The original Haymarket affair of 1886 was part and parcel of a massive, national May Day rally and strike led, by and large, by America’s immigrant workers. Today, precisely 120 years later, the May 1, 2006 Immigrant General Strike — also known as the “Day without Immigrants” and the “Great American Boycott” — looks set to inherit and reinvigorate the legacy of Haymarket. Then, as now, employers launched an aggressive drive to undermine wages and living standards. In 1886 workers from around the world responded with an aggressive campaign of their own: an international movement for less work and more pay.

What is most misunderstood about the labor movement… historically and today?

Today it is easy to misunderstand the relationship between immigration and the labor movement. The unruly nationalists of basic cable talk tough about immigration and America’s “broken borders” in the name of defending working-class America. They hurl insults on the awkward coalition of Big Business interests hungry for cheap, docile labor and pro-immigrant progressives who favor free and open borders.

Today, anti-immigrant nationalists seem to speak truth to power because they insist that flooded labor markets benefit employers at the expense of employees. In the era of Haymarket, however, the May Day demand for shorter hours provided an acid test for differentiating labor’s true friends from the misleaders of labor.

In the time of the Haymarket affair, anti-immigrant nationalists sowed the seeds of chauvinism through labor market exclusion; shorter-hours activists sustained a vision of solidarity without borders. Where employers expected docile immigrant bodies, immigrant activists responded with May Day militancy. Today, immigrants rights activists have broken decisively with employers and reinvigorated the tradition of May Day militancy.

What’s the difference between May Day and Labor Day?

In almost every country around the world, May Day is the principal workers’ holiday. It is a day of strikes, rallies and demonstrations, often linked to demands for shorter hours. Within the international labor movement, the May Day protest tradition got its start in the United States. Today, however, the United States is the great exception to the May Day tradition. Our end-of-summer Labor Day holiday was developed as an official government alternative to the labor movement’s May Day rallies. One central difference: May Day has always been linked to the demand for less work and more pay; Labor Day celebrates the “dignity” of work.

How have American attitudes toward labor evolved since the Haymarket riot?

Most people in the United States seem to think of organized labor as a strictly blue-collar affair. Likewise, the Haymarket riot is viewed in nostalgic sepia tones. The labor movement, according to this viewpoint, had its place in the 19th and early 20th century when workers were exploited and abused in the furnaces of industrial capitalism but has no place in the high-tech, white collar world of the new economy.

The irony is that the issue at the heart of the Haymarket affair — the hours of labor — is now quite significant in the white collar world. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act established the 40-hour workweek as the legal norm and imposed over-time pay requirements on employers for all work in excess of 40 hours. Hourly wage workers get extra pay for extra time. Most white collar work is exempted from the law. As a result, the pressure on the white-collar work week has grown tremendously in recent decades.

If there is anyone who needs to attend to the spirit of Haymarket, it is the American white-collar professional who works 10 hour days, including many weekends, and who has fewer paid vacation days than other white-collar professionals around the world. Annual hours of work in the United States are now longer than any other industrialized country in the world.

What do the recent labor protests in France illuminate about the American labor movement?

There are some very significant parallels between recent events in France and those developing in the United States. In France, there were enormous immigrant protests in late 2005. The demands of the protesters were quite similar, in many respects, to those articulated by immigrant rights activists in the United States.

At the time of the 2005 protests, employers in France thought they might be able to use the immigrant protests as an excuse that would allow them to undermine French job security protections. The most recent labor protests were a reaction to this government initiative. The protesters succeeded in defending job security protection.

In the United States, there were similar suspicions that employers might use the immigrant rights rallies as an occasion to establish a “guest worker” program as an alternative to amnesty and full citizenship. The May Day Immigrant General Strike contradicts that notion. Like their counterparts in France, immigrant workers in the United States — through their demands for amnesty and full rights — have rejected employer efforts to use immigrant workers to undermine U.S. labor standards.

How will the labor movement factor into the ongoing immigration debate? Can the two issues be separated?

Until recently, it has been common for labor leaders to justify their failure to organize immigrant-intensive industries with the claim that low-wage undocumented workers were difficult to organize. The wave of protests that started on March 25 in Los Angeles defy that rationalization.

Some unions are quite animated by the immigration debate and have mobilized members to action, but have weighed in on the side of anti-immigrant nationalism. Other unions, especially the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), led by Andy Stern, seem interested in building bridges between immigrant communities and organized labor. Still, for some reason, many SEIU locals have shown only lukewarm interest — if not outright hostility — toward the May Day strike. Immigrant workers are proving themselves to be more militant than the official unions. Organized labor has some catching up to do.

What are the biggest challenges facing the labor movement today?

The biggest challenge is putting the “movement” back in labor. Of course, there are economic obstacles. But the real and unprecedented crisis is organizational, not economic. Back in the Haymarket era, labor activists were scrappy fighters and labor unions were nimble and responsive. Today, labor has formal rights but no soul. There is “organized labor” — a big lumbering bureaucracy with lots of large buildings in Washington — but precious little in the way of labor movement.

How do you see those challenges being resolved? What do you see as the next step for the labor movement?

There is hope on the horizon, although it may be difficult for some to recognize at first. In 2005, the labor movement split into two rival labor federations. One is the old AFL-CIO, led by John Sweeney, and the other is the new “Change to Win” federation, led by Andy Stern. Sweeney and Stern each have their defenders and detractors, but many labor activists argue that labor as a whole is injured by a divided house of labor.

It is worth recalling, however, that the great Haymarket battle occurred in the context of a long-term rivalry between the pre-cursor of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and its primary challenger, the Knights of Labor. The Knights are usually thought of as the more militant organization, but this is not entirely true. The Knights of Labor were initially hesitant to embrace strike tactics or to press for shorter hours. Fearing the loss of members to the AFL unions, however, the Knights eventually embraced both shorter hours and May Day strikes. The competition between the AFL organization and the Knights forced the two organizations to bid for the support of rank-and-file workers and led to an upward spiral of demands, centered on the idea of shorter hours.

Today, the “Change to Win” federation, like the Knights of Labor, is usually thought of as the more militant organization. However, the apparent refusal of SEIU and “Change to Win” to endorse the “Day without Immigrants” raises serious questions about that assumption. Is “Change to Win” willing to confront employers on behalf of undocumented workers? Immigrant rights activists may have to find ways to exploit the rivalry between the AFL-CIO and the “Change to Win” federation if either organization is going to play a productive role in the burgeoning immigrant workers movement.

The immigrant workers movement is leading the way by summoning the American labor movement to revisit its own May Day protest traditions.

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?

Gulf Arabs v. Persian Gulf

Posted by Cutler on April 25, 2006
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

The decision by CBS to air a 60 Minutes report–CIA offical Tyler Drumheller’s accusations that the Bush administration ignored warnings about faulty intelligence used to justify the invasion of IRaq–appears to be an odd choice. The program wasn’t a re-run, but it sure felt like old news. Perhaps it was intended to serve as a link to the developing story of Mary McCarthy, the CIA analyst fired recently for leaking classified information to reporters.

The story was a reminder of the particularly vapid mode of criticism that has animated much of the political squabbling over Iraq. Drumheller’s criticism is that the Bush folks knowingly lied. But the Drumheller segment also ends with the CIA official blasting the decision to invade as one of the most significant policy mistakes of all time. End of interview. He never explains this accusation. Simply that the Bush administration made that mistake “knowingly.” Doesn’t that cry out for elaboration?

Let’s stipulate that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence it used to justify the invasion. Let’s be “shocked, shocked” to find that lies were told. Then let’s move on. Beyond the game of gotcha, isn’t it time for the follow-up question: if the threat of WMD was not actually the reason you were so determined to go to war–just the one for public consumption–then what were the private reasons that motivated the invasion? Not the “personal” reasons–to avenge the Father or the kill the Father. And not just the most general reasons–oil, no doubt. But the more specific reasons behind the extraordinary decisions to remake the Iraqi political order: the initial attempt to terminate Sunni minority rule in Iraq and empower the Iraqi Shia.

I have tried to make some sense of this in my article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.” One of the key issues raised there is the prospect that right Zionists (aka “neocons”) played the game in Iraq for very high stakes: reshaping the regional balance of power. The goal was to tilt power away from Sunni Arab dominance–the Gulf Arab states of Saudi Arabia and Sunni-dominated Iraq–in favor of a Shiite Gulf.

Earlier in April, Brian Lehrer of WNYC interviewed Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief of Al Hayat about Arab reaction to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Worth a listen. Nematt spoke about Gulf Arab concerns that a nuclear Iran would enhance its regional power. These concerns were not limited to the current regime, but also the regional power of Iran as such. Nematt emphasized the continuity of Iranian regional ambitions–relative to the Gulf Arabs–under the Shah and the Revolutionary regime. Regime change in Iran or not, the Arab states do not want a nuclear Iran.

Lehrer also interviewed an Israeli diplomat about Iran’s nuclear program. Not surprisingly, the Israelis are quite hostile to the Iranian Revolutionary regime acquiring nuclear weapons. More surprising, however, is that unlike the Gulf Arabs, right Zionists seem quite willing to contemplate a nuclear Iran after the fall of the Revolutionary regime. In June 2005 Michael Rubin, a Right Zionist at the American Enterprise Institute who served in Iraq as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, published an essay in The Forward entitled Washington Must Plan Today For Democratic Iran of Tomorrow.” In that essay, Rubin warns against the threat posed by the Iranian’s quest for nuclear weapons, but then comes to his central point:

A democratic Iran might not abandon its nuclear program, but neither would it sponsor anti-American terrorism, undercut the Middle East peace process or deny Israel’s right to exist. Democratization, therefore, can take the edge off the Iranian threat.

Right Zionists are hawkish about the current Iranian drive for nukes, but their preferred solution is not a direct military assault on Irans nuclear program.  They want populist regime change. Indeed, some understand that US efforts to repress Iranian nuclear ambitions incite popular nationalism and help stabilize an otherwise unpopular regime.

For Right Zionists, this is the preferred future regional balance of power: a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Israel (and a nuclear India?) aligned against Sunni Arab regional dominance (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan). Right Zionists do not like the Iranian Revolutionary regime, but unlike the Gulf Arabs they are far from hostile to Iranian regional power. Indeed, they cannot bring themselves to abandon the dream of restoring the Iranian-Israeli regional alliance the flourished under Nixon’s tilt toward the Shah. Right Arabists in the US (aka “realists”) howled against that regional shift during the 1970s and they have not stopped howling since the Bush administration started moving toward the invasion of Iraq.

For Right Zionists, the road to Tehran starts in Baghdad. First step: hand Iraq to the Shiite majority, under the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Second step: join Sistani in sparking a Shiite-led populist rebellion against his clerical opponents in Iran. Third step: exploit Sunni-Shiite rivalry over control of the Gulf–is it a Persian Gulf or an Arab Gulf?–in order to rebuild the alliance between a “democratic Iran” and Israel. Fourth step: pry the US away from its dependence on Sunni Arab regimes deemed hostile to Israel and/or unreliable to the US.

With apologies to 60 Minutes and Tyler Drumheller, the fact that the Right Zionists lied about intelligence on the road to war is small potatoes. The stakes in this war are far greater. The truly significant issue is not the secret lies behind the invasion, but the open truth behind the lies.

Jaafari/Maliki: What’s in a Name?

Posted by Cutler on April 23, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

The selection of Jawad al-Maliki as the new Iraqi Prime Minister does little, so far, to clarify the nature of US objections to the prior designation by the Shiite alliance of Jaafari as PM. Reporters and bloggers have generated elaborate profiles of Maliki’s record, but none have discerned any major differences between Jaafari and Maliki. One US diplomat, cited by the New York Times, reports that Maliki is simply more “competent.” Maybe. But the idea that the administration of George W. Bush put it all on the line in defense of “competence” stretches credulity to the breaking point. Swopa cites the LA Times conclusion: Jaafari and Maliki appear to be carbon copies.

If so, it becomes even more difficult to discern who blinked in the impasse over Jaafari. On the one hand, Khalilzad’s attempt to spin the Maliki deal as “a major positive” seems like a weak effort to cover his losses. Khalilzad’s attack on Jaafari seemed, at times, to aim at reshaping the power balance in Iraqi governance, replacing democratic Shiite majority rule with an extra-constitutional government of “national unity.” No sign of that here. Not yet, at least. If he aimed at substance, he missed. Khalilzad blinked. And lived to fight another day.

On the other hand, if the Shia–Sistani, but especially Sadr who stood by Jaafari for months while the US complained–were really looking to defy the US and establish their political independence, why hand the US even a symbolic victory? Why accept a carbon copy when you hold all the winning cards? Why allow Zhalilzad the (false) image of success?

If personnel changes do little to illuminate the central issues at stake in the Jaafari impasse, policy decisions almost certainly will. First up, according to Reuters, the future of Iraqi militias. Maliki seems to favor “integration” of militias within the official security system, the US allegedly wants the militias disbanded. Is this the real crux of the issue? If so, Maliki seems defiant and the US is headed for tough sledding with the new government. But does the US want “all” militias disbanded? The Kurdish Peshmerga? Nah. The US-instigated and trained Shiite “Commando” units at the Interior ministry? Nah. Sadr’s Mahdi army? Maybe, but why? Hasn’t Sadr has been pretty well contained within the political system? And if Khalilzad is interested in reaching across the sectarian divide, is it plausible to think that Sadr’s nationalism is so dangerous? Sadr has worked overtime to try to keep his own rank-and-file base from retaliating against the Sunni minority for anti-Shiite terror attacks.

During the long months of the Jaafari impasse, Iraqi Shiites rightly suspected that Khalilzad’s real goal was to put the Shiite genie back in the bottle and restore Sunni minority rule in Iraq. If Badr brigade control at the Interior Ministry is a symbolic sign of Shiite power, then the militia issue seems significant at that level. But during the last two months, Khalilzad managed to keep SCIRI closely aligned with his agenda. If there is some massive split between SCIRI and its own militia wing, it is fair to say that the details of such a rupture have been largely ignored by media outlets of all stripes.

Suppose, then, that the real index of US efforts to retreat from de-Baathification is the fate of former-Baathist and pro-Baathist figures like Iyad Allawi, Adnan Pachachi, and Salih Mutlak. If so, then the real mystery of the Jaafari impasse is that it featured entirely mixed-up alliances. Allawi, Pachachi and Mutlak stood with their old sectarian enemies: the Kurds and the pro-Iranian Shiite forces of SCIRI. Standing in opposition to this peculiar re-Baathification initiative was the most ant-Iranian Arab nationalist Shiite leader and the only Shiite leader with links to the Sunni-led insurgency, Muqtada al-Sadr. The alleged reason: Sadr is still bitter that Allawi led military campaigns to crush Sadr during Allawi’s time as US-appointed Prime Minister. Maybe. But the world has seen stranger bedfellows.

Perhaps one reason why Khalilzad blinked and let the Jaafari impasse slide was because the battle lines were not useful for a sustained campaign againt Shiite power. Don’t worry, though, he’ll try again. And next time, he might have Sadr on his side. At the height of Shiite objections to Khalilzad’s post-election maneuvering in favor of a national unity government, Juan Cole noted that Sadr offered up a peculiar, but potentially significant formula: “We want the expulsion of the Occupier and not the American ambassador.” Khalilzad, take note.

Jaafari Out, Courtesy of Sistani?

Posted by Cutler on April 21, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

The decision by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside is illuminating for several reasons. Press reports quote Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman:

Jaafari’s change of heart followed meetings Wednesday in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf between UN envoy Ashraf Qazi and both anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation’s most prestigious Shi’ite cleric. ”There was a signal from Najaf,” Othman said in an interview. ”Qazi’s meetings with [Sistani] and [Sadr] were the chief reason that untied the knot.”

Othman’s claims, if true, are significant for the following reasons:

1. Sistani has advanced the US agenda in Iraq. This can only be seen as consistent with pre-war planning by neo-conservatives who argued for an alliance between the US and Sistani. For an elaboration of this argument, see my article “Beyond Incompetence: Washingon’s War in Iraq.”

2. Sistani will not deal with the US directly, but he is willling to negotiate and compromise through the legitimating mediation of the UN. Hence the role of UN envoy Ashraf Qazi. Sistani used the same technique in February 2004 when he used the mediation efforts of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as cover for an agreement that allowed the US to formally transfer Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004 while postponing Iraqi elections until 2005.
3. Sistani seems willing and able to contain Sadr. Sadr provided Jaafari with much of his base within the Shiite Alliance and Jaafari’s retreat is only possible with the consent of Sadr. Until Sistani withdrew his support, Sadr and Jaafari had boldly defied US demands for Jaafari to step aside.

On the other hand, the end of the Jaafari impasse leaves several issues unresolved, especially the original reasons for US objections to Jaafari. It is possible–but unlikely–that the naming of a new Prime Minister will illuminate the key issues at stake for the US throughout the Jaafari impasse.

Why the original impasse? What does the US want in an Iraqi PM?

1. US Occupation/Status of Forces Agreement: According to a December 2005 AP report, Sadr pressed Jaafari to support a “code of honor” that demanded a timetable for the end of the U.S. military presence. If the US believed that Sadr made this a condition for his support for Jaafari and believed that Jaafari would make good on the promise, then this might provide the key to US objections.

Note, however, that the AP report alleges SCIRI also signed the declaration. This makes it difficult to understand why–after the December 2005 election–the US initially backed the SCIRI candidate, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who lost to Jaafari by one vote in Shiite Alliance balloting for the Prime Minister post.

2. Iran: Jaafari’s party is close to Iran.

Fine, but SCIRI is just as close to Iran. The Iran issue is an obstacle for Bush administration Arabists who never wanted elections or an alliance with Sistani. Bush administration Zionists, however, know Sistani is Persian but remain confident he is no friend of the incumbent “revolutionary” regime in Iran. The key point, from this perspective, is that Sistani is more powerful than any of the political parties. So, why fear Jaafari?

3. Appeasing the Sunni Minority: Jaafari was too closely identified with Shiite militias, Shiite death squads in the Iraqi Interior Ministry, and de-Baathification. Hence, the US pressure for a government of “national unity,” rather than Jaafari-led Shiite sectarianism.

First, the Shiite Interior Ministry is controlled by the Badr brigades, a militia linked to SCIRI, not Jaafari’s Dawa party. And it is far from clear that the Interior Ministry has been as independent of the US as has been alleged by the US in recent days. In any event, if SCIRI-backed death squads are the concern, why the US preference for SCIRI’s Adel Abdul Mahdi? Second, Sadr is the Shiite most inclined to build bridges with Sunni nationalists. Wouldn’t a Jaafari-Sadr alliance present the greatest opportunities for reaching out to Sunni parties, including those close to the insurgency?

4. Neo-Liberalism: Adel Abdul Mahdi is a leading Iraqi neo-liberal.

Fair enough. But it was the old, provisional Jaafari government that tried to cut gasoline subsidies only days after the December 2005 election. True, Sadr opposed these austerity measures and might have had more influence in any new Jaafari government.

5. Kurdistan: Jaafari met with the Turkish government–which opposes Kurdish independenc–wihtout first consulting the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. Sadr is also resistant to Kurdish demands for autonomy and control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Is the US ready to go to war with the Iraqi Shiite majority and Turkey in order to appease the Iraqi Kurds? The question must be rephrased in order to be answered. Are Bush administration Arabists ready to go to war with the Iraqi Shia? Yes. And the formation of a Sunni Arab/Sunni Kurdish bloc in opposition to the Iraqi Shia is the best way for mobilizing such an effort to restore Sunni Arab power in Iraq. Are Bush adminstration Zionists ready to alienate the Iraqi Shia? No. (For an explanation, see my article “Beyond Incompetence: Washingon’s War in Iraq.”)