Monthly Archives: June 2006

“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.

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?

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…


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.

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…