'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beneath the Surface of the Iraqi Insurgency 

In the US, the conventional perspective is that Iraq is now experiencing an irreversible civil war because the sectarian violence can no longer contained. Such a perspective conveniently fits within the domestic political narrative of blaming Iraqis for the failure of the occupation. Naturally, it ignores the fact that the US has, since its inception, manipulated tensions between Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, initially arming and training Shia police and militia to suppress the Sunni insurgency.

Unfortunately, despite their close relationship with their US advisors (or, perhaps, because of it?), it became impossible to distingush the armed Shia from death squads as they increasingly began killing, kidnapping and torturing their victims. Apparently, they were so successful that the US recently sought to expand the program into al-Anbar province by creating its own client Sunni militia to challenge the Sunni insurgency there. For more background, see my post of October 5, 2006, Negroponte's People.

There has, however, been one prominent figure in Iraq that has publicly opposed the occupation, the partition of the country and efforts to foment violence between the Sunni and the Shia. Of course, that person is Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi politician most maligned in the US media, and he still persists, even in the face of the horrible violence that has erupted:

Last week, at least 215 people were killed in a series of car bombings in a Shiite slum of Baghdad, stronghold of the powerful Al Mahdi militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr. The massive assault prompted days of reprisal attacks against Sunni neighborhoods.

Sadr demanded that Harith Dhari, the leader of the Muslim Scholars Assn. who is wanted on charges of inciting terrorism, issue edicts forbidding the killing of Shiites, banning participation in the group Al Qaeda in Iraq and supporting reconstruction of the Samarra shrine.

Dhari said he had already repeatedly denounced the killing of any Muslim and did not see the need to do so again. "Why is Sadr saying it now? Is he trying to provoke a problem?" Dhari asked The Times in a rare interview with a Western newspaper this week in neighboring Jordan.

He sidestepped the question of whether he is prepared to denounce Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is blamed for some of the deadliest attacks against the Shiite-led government and civilians.

"Al Qaeda is part of the resistance, but the resistance is of two kinds," he said, surrounded by tribal elders at a residence in Amman, the Jordanian capital. "The resistance that only resists occupation, this we support 100%. And the resistance that mixes up resisting the occupation and killing innocents … this, even if it calls itself resistance, we condemn."

Other clerics, particularly those living in areas dominated by Iraq's Shiite majority, see a pressing need for compromise. The tiny Sunni community in southern Iraq has been in disarray since the mufti of Basra, Yousuf Hassan, was assassinated in June, leaders said Wednesday.

Many Sunni clerics have fled the country. Those who remain said they wanted to signal a break with more radical leaders in Baghdad and Sunni-dominated Al Anbar province, heartland of the insurgency.

"We thought that what Muqtada Sadr set as conditions are not impossible," said Abdalfatah Abdalrazaq, a Basra imam. "All of them are aimed at preventing bloodshed."

After consulting local political and tribal leaders, the southern branch went ahead and issued its fatwa, or edict, including a specific ban on killing Shiites, language others have so far avoided.

"We did this to please God and our conscience," Abdalrazaq said. "We hope that we will be able to apply this fatwa to the reality on the ground, as it gives us a chance to live side by side with our brother, the Shiites, in the south."

Sadr's representatives in Basra welcomed the move.

"We think the Sunnis in the south are different in nature from the Sunnis in other regions," said Khalil Maliki, of Sadr's office. "Such a frank fatwa at this specific time will calm down all the violence in the south."

The story is revealing in many respects. First, it shows that, contrary to what you might think if you watched US television, prominent Shia and Sunni leaders still communicate with one another in an attempt to stop the violence. Second, while al-Sadr's outreach to the Muslim Scholars Assocation is nothing new, he's sought to create a coalition against the occupation including Sunni and Shia since its inception, the fact that he is still persisting is significant. Third, in a classic instance of Sherlock Holmes' observation about the dog that didn't bark, why isn't the US promoting such dialogue? Could it possibly be that the US doesn't want it to succeed because it presents the prospect of a unified Shia/Sunni front against the occupation?

Rhetorical questions aside, Sadr's effort is consistent with his recent decision to withdraw from the al-Maliki government:

Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is building an anti-US parliamentary alliance to demand the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, some of his party's lawmakers have told AFP.

The 30-strong Sadrist bloc has suspended its support of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ruling coalition and withdrawn six ministers from cabinet in protest at the premier's meeting with US President George W. Bush.

Maliki on Thursday urged the group to end their boycott.

"I wish they would revise their decision as it is not a positive milestone in the political process," Maliki told reporters after he returned from Amman where he met Bush Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday, Salih al-Agaili, a member of Sadr's parliamentary group, said the bloc now hoped to persuade more lawmakers to follow their suspension, adding that some have "started contacting us to take a similar position. We are holding talks with them."

He did not name the groups but said they would soon declare their intentions. "We are endeavouring to form a national front inside parliament to oppose the occupation," Agaili said.

He stressed that the minimum condition for Sadrist deputies to rejoin the government would be "a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces."

Could it possibly be more obvious? We are endeavouring to form a national front inside parliament to oppose the occupation. In other words, there is an intense effort amongst Shia and Sunni to come together in an attempt to isolate, and eventually drive out, the US military and al-Qaeda, the two forces that Iraqis consider resposible for the conflagration has engulfed the country. If you still have doubt, consider the following, as it appears that the effort is gaining momentum:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faced a widening revolt within his divided government as two senior Sunni politicians joined prominent Shiite lawmakers and Cabinet members in criticizing his policies.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said he wanted to see al-Maliki's government gone and another "understanding" for a new coalition put in place with guarantees that ensure collective decision making.

"There is a clear deterioration in security and everything is moving in the wrong direction," the Sunni leader told The Associated Press. "This situation must be redressed as soon as possible. If they continue, the country will plunge into civil war."

Al-Maliki's No. 2, Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, also a Sunni, argued that the president's government failed to curb the spread of sectarian politics.

A boycott by 30 lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was in protest of al-Maliki's meeting with President Bush in Jordan on Thursday. The Sadrists said the meeting amounted to an affront to the Iraqi people.

Here's the Cliff Notes version: al-Maliki is a puppet of the US who supports a perpetual US occupation, and will do nothing to curtail that sectarian violence relied upon to justify it, so Iraqis want to be rid of him. Hence, the expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of collective decision making, as puppets installed to run client states aren't noted for their tendency to consult other domestic political leaders and act upon their advice.

Sadr is an essential figure in bringing about the creation of such a coalition. No wonder that two CNN hosts inquired of their American guests last weekend as to whether it was time to take out Sadr. Carol Costello and Wolf Blitzer were the culprits, with Blitzer's instance being the most illuminating :

BLITZER: Do you think -- I want to take a break, Senator Cornyn, but do you think it's enough for the U.S. or the Iraqi government to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr, this young Shiite cleric, or is it time to take him out as some are suggesting? In other words, kill him.

CORNYN [Republican Senator from Texas]: Well, I would say arrest him, and if he's unable to go peacefully, obviously I think he's a danger to the Iraqis and the Iraqi future in the entire Middle East. We need to disarm him and his militias. Arrest them.

Take them out of action whatever way we need to, and to provide basic security to allow the political process that Jack Reed and others have talked about to go forward. It's not going to do that in a period of such chaos and violence as we're seeing right now.

BLITZER: Senator Reed, kill him if necessary?

REED [Democratic Senator from Rhode Island]: I think what you -- that's a decision I think that the Iraqi government would make. But I think if he's -- an arrest warrant is authorized and they go after him, he resists, he becomes a combatant. I would hope we could get him off the scene without making him a martyr.

As with the war resolution, there was bipartisan consensus. Not much has changed since the November election. More generally, it reflects an attempt to Israelize the occupation of Iraq by adopting the policy of assassinating prominent political opponents, or targeted killings, as it is euphemistically called. But Cornyn and Reed were too cowardly to expressly adopt it, instead opting for an approach similar to the one that the Chicago police took with Fred Hampton. Let's provoke a firefight so that we can say that we had to kill him in self-defense. No doubt true fascists like Joshua Muravchik snorted in contempt.

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