Qom-ic Relief

Posted by Cutler on July 03, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists

One of the things that first grabbed my attention about Right Zionist policy toward Iraq was their plan for exploiting various rivalries, splits, and fissures within the Gulf for the purpose of achieving a broad re-alignment of alliances in the region, especially in relation to the region’s Shiites.

By many measures, the Right Zionists are now pretty marginal players in the Bush administration Iraq policy machine (the same cannot be said of the Israel/Palestine portfolio where Elliott Abrams still serves as Deputy National Security Advisor). However, there has been–to my knowledge–no purge in the Office of the Vice President where David Wurmser presumably still serves as a top Middle East aide.

During his time at the American Enterprise Institute, Wurmser was the most articulate advocate for exploiting Sunni-Shiite rivalries (i.e., Iraqi civil war) and intra-Shiite factionalism to achieve “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s successor at AEI, Reuel Gerecht, contintued to publish on this theme after Wurmser entered the Bush administration.

Now, Michael Ledeen has once again raised the issue in his latest article, “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid.”

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Ledeen continues to write as an embattled outsider frustrated that Right Zionist views are ignored within the intelligence community and among policymakers. Is this merely a convenient cover for Right Zionist influence? Maybe. But a case could also be made that there are Iraq policy folks–Right Arabists–who care not one bit about intra-Shiite factionalism.

Right Arabists are far more upset about any “Shiite cresent” in the Gulf than they are about which Shiites bloc is the emergent regional force. Right Arabists in the US have long shared Saudi misgivings about rising Shiite power. This fear pre-dates the Iranian revolution.

Any distinction between Qom and Najaf (if there is one) only matters to Right Zionists who want to use Iraq’s “Najaf” Shiism to undermine Iran’s “Qom”-based Shiism and restore a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran as a strategic pillar to offset US reliance on Arab regimes.

For Ledeen (and for many fearful Right Arabists) Iranian influence in Iraq is undeniable. In this view, Iran is already fighting that intra-Shiite civil war by undermining the stability of the US-backed, Najaf-Shiite Iraqi government.

For Right Zionists, however, the key is Iraqi influence in Iran. Wurmser, Gerecht, and others have been counting on Najaf to wage war on Qom. If Ledeen sees any signs of this, he isn’t sharing them. There is only the wish for such a two-sided civil war:

[W]e are involved in a regional war that cannot be won by playing defense in Iraq alone.

Faster, please.

In other words, it is time for Sistani to take the battle to the Iranians. We’ll see, I guess.

I have mentioned in previous posts (also here) that I don’t think the Right Zionists are really all that excited about using the Nuke issue to whip up a war frenzy.

First, unlike Right Arabists who fear nukes in the hands of any Iranian regime, Right Zionists only fear nukes in the hands of an Iran that is hostile to the US.

Second, Right Zionists are primaily interested in regime change in Iran and there isn’t much about a nuke stand-off that favors regime change. If anything, it allows the Iranian regime to use “nuclear nationalism” as an anti-imperialist populist credo to consolidate domestic legitimacy.

Now, Ledeen has come right out and said it (I love it when they do that…):

We are wrongly focused on the Iranian nuclear threat, which is obviously worth worrying about, but this excessively narrow focus has distracted us from the main threat, which is terrorism. The mullahs are not going to nuke our fighters in Iraq; they are going to kill as many as they can on the ground with IEDs, suicide terrorists, and assassins. And we have given them a free hand in this murderous campaign instead of unleashing political war against them in their own country. We hear lots of talk from the president and the secretary of state, but there is no sign of the sort of aggressive support we should be giving to the forces of freedom inside Iran.

Ledeen sees “no sign” of such a campaign. Maybe there is no such US campaign. Maybe it is covert. Either way, Ledeen’s own analysis would imply that such a campaign would depend at least as much on Iraqi Shiite forces–like a fatwa from Sistani. There is, as yet, no sign of that campaign.

7 Comments to Qom-ic Relief

  • I wonder if you might not be painting the so-called “right arabists” a little too dogmatic? They aren’t slavesof the saudi princes, you know.

  • I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true.

    Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

  • On your blog, Swopa, you say that “the theocratic elements are also virtually the only organized Shiite bloc in the country”, which I think is an example of how unhelpful the term “theocratic” actually is : there seems to me to be a crucial difference between the Sadrists, who I continue to feel understand the idea of anti-occupation national solidarity , including with Sunnis, Ba’athists, secularists, and leftists, and the Badrists, who evidently do not. This explains why the occupation really wants to use the latter against the former.

  • Although Moqtada might continue to pay lip service to “the idea of anti-occupation national solidarity,” it doesn’t seem to me that many Sunnis (secular/Baathist or otherwise) believe him anymore, since his militia seems to one of the driving forces of the sectarian killings.

  • “his militia seems to one of the driving forces of the sectarian killings” – so I see from today’s papers. I could construct a contorted argument to the effect that this is either a false flag situation, or that a faction within the so-called Mahdi Army has been suborned by Black Ops people, but I shan’t waste any further space doing so. Anything is possible, unfortunately.

  • Thanks to Swopa for the reference to that November 2003 NYT article featuring a Bush administration official looking forward to “Qom-Najaf rivalry.”

    Just for clarification on Sistani and the Iranians, Swopa:
    You write that these two forces “have their differences” but will “work them out” after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.”

    Do you think they will “work them out” in a relatively peaceful and agreeable negotation and dialogue?

    Or, are you saying that Sistani’s “anti-Khomenist and relatively quietist” politics (phrase is Juan Cole’s) will emerge with all the force anticipated by Right Zionists, BUT it will only happen “after” they have solidified control over Iraq, “not before.”

    I’m guessing, from the fact of your self-described “sneering” and your comment that you have seen “very little evidence” of the Qom-Najaf rivalry “being true,” that you mean the former (peaceful, agreeable) not the latter (anti-Khomenist offensive), but I wanted to make sure.

    On Sadr, I tend to agree that his “nationalist” credentials are being shredded at this very moment. My most recent post is, in part, a reflection on that idea.

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