Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Functional Usage of Sectarian Imagery and Slogans: From the Iran-Iraq War to the Syrian Conflict


Why is Hezbullah using the heavy duty Shia-specific sectarian charged slogans?

Why these slogans, one wonders?

What happened to the Pan Islamic slogans? 

It is for the same reason that Ayatollah Khomeini used the sectarian charged slogans during the Iran –Iraq war.

The pan- Islamic slogans are not as effective in mobilizing and exciting the base when its an intra- Muslim fight.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution at its initial stage was thought of as a pan- Islamic revolution and not as a Shia revolution. I once met one of the Sunni Islamists who traveled to Tehran after the revolution to congratulate the Ayatollah on his revolution. Those were the heady days of Islamic unity. That Sunni Islamist says today that "they" meaning Sunni Islamists should have known better.

 The irrational exuberance did not last long. And one key reason is the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1988.

With the war not going in Iran’s favor, and with the death toll mounting and  the demoralization of the Iranian forces who thought that Iraq would be a cake walk, the Ayatollah resorted to unleashing Shia- specific slogans and using imagery that naturally aggravate the Sunni-Shia relations. The natural result of the deployment of the emotionally charged imagery and slogans was the resurrection of historical animosities and mutual suspicion between the two major groups of Islam.

The era of the Iran-Iraq war was the era of sectarian grievances on steroids.

The same logic applies today.

The thinking seems to be that the anti- Israel and pan- Islamic slogans are not going to excite and mobilize the Shia to fight for the “secular/ Arab nationalist/ Baathist”  Syrian regime- the decision is that a raw nerve needs to be hit and hit hard.

This is why, to the shock and awe/ dismay of many Sunni supporters of Hezbullah and Iran, the current leadership of Hezbollah chose to resurrect the highly charged slogans and images of the past and deploy them against the Sunnis of Syria fighting the "secular baath" regime.


Just as the usage of this tactic by the Ayatollah Khomeini aggravated Sunni-Shia relations for years, the current usage is worsening the relations and the salience of the grievances- real and imagined. The aggravation caused by the 1980-1988 war was later ameliorated with the Hizbullah fighting the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon.
The damage happening now will be forever with us thanks/ no thanks to the digitial record that includes Facebook, Youtube, twitter, etc.

The coming years will be the worst in Sunni-Shia relations in the Arab and Islamic world since the Iran-Iraq war. And this time the damage will be with us much longer and harder to erase from memory.

As the founder of Hezbullah Shaykh Sobhi Tofaili never tires from stating, and he is correct,  this strategy is playing with the sectarian fire and many lives will be lost because of it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dearborn's Conference of Ali- Discussion of the "Genocide of the Shia" in Bahrain and Pakistan does not "unify" American Muslims


This Memorial weekend is witnessing the largest Shia American conference in the United States. The UMA America's Conference of Ali  is held in Dearborn, Michigan. The title of the conference is Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century.

This is how the organization holding the conference describes itself:


"UNIVERSAL MUSLIM ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
 www.UMAAmerica.net

In September of 2002, the idea of establishing an institution unifying MuslimAmericans became a reality. The overarching objectives of UMAA include: working
towards uniting Muslim-Americans, helping fellow Americans better understand
Islam, and encouraging civic awareness and engagement within the Muslim
community in order to address socioeconomic and political issues that may not be
the focus of centers of worship and other organization."

The agenda:

There is only one orphan "unifying Muslims" item on the agenda.  The intra Muslim Code of  honor can be charitably stretched in the light most favorable to the organization to be considered "unifying": 

“The Intra-Faith Code of Honor- MR. SALAM AL-MARAYATI, MPAC.”


That’s it. 

That’s not it as to working on “unifying American Muslims.”


The focus on Sunni-Shia relations- the most important Islamic issue since the Ayatollah  Khomeini revolution of 1979- was on hotspots where there is sectarian violence as seen from the Shia perspective:

“Effective Strategies to Address the Shia Genocide in Pakistan & Bahrain
5:00 p.m.
The Current Status of the Shia of Bahrain
DR. OSAMA ARRADI
5:15 p.m.
Current Strategies Aimed at Assisting the Shia of Pakistan
10,000 SOULS MARCH COMMITTEE
5:30 p.m.
Practical Solutions to Overcoming Extremism in Pakistan
DR. HASSAN ABBAS
5:45 p.m. Interactive Discussion”


The focus is from the Shia point of view. This is legitimate and that is fine.

But-



Is focusing on the sectarian conflicts' segment of the Sunni-Shia equation helpful in “unifying American Muslims”?


Is the use of the word “genocide” proper in the Pakistan and Bahrain contexts?


Isn’t the use of the word “genocide” incitement to hatred in the American context?

The mission of the UNIVERSAL MUSLIM ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA needs to be changed to reflect the reality of the organization and its work.

Working on “unifying American Muslims” is light years away from the actual agenda of the organization- at least as to its Dearborn conference.


And Palestine, a central issue for American Muslims, is not on the agenda.

The link to the UMA America website:

http://www.theconferenceofali.org/

The Conference's program link:

http://www.theconferenceofali.org/sites/default/files/2013_04_28_Program_Final.pdf


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The True colors of Asad Abukhalil: A Sectarian Fanatic hiding behind the Palestine Cause

Asad Abu Khalil



The True colors of Asad Abukhalil: A Sectarian Fanatic hiding behind the Palestine Cause

Palestine from publicity seeking stunt to the fig leaf to hide sectarian tribal militancy.
The Angry Arab is an Angry sectarian

Abukhalil is a political scientist who rode the Palestine cause to rise from marginality into a fraudulent claim of commitment to Palestine and the Palestinians

One is tempted to think of Asad Abukhalil as the Moammar Ghaddafi of Middle East Studies.  That is he is a clown, a raving lunatic, a publicity seeker, an embarrassment to Arabs and Muslims.

There is truth to all that but there is more.

I have written about Asad before and called him out for what he is- a liar.  See http://ihsanalkhatib.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-angry-arab-asad-abukhalil-passport.html


But there is more.

Professional Palestinian: Palestine as a publicity stunt

There are Palestinian professionals and there are professional Palestinians. Palestinian professionals are Palestinians who work in the professions. Professional Palestinians are those, and there are many, who use the Palestine cause to advance their own agenda. Asad Abu Khalil is a professional Palestinian who has used the Palestine cause as a publicity stunt to rise from being an obscure political scientist of no particular importance to a self promoter, a publicity seeker, in the name of Palestine. His Palestine business continues to be useful as a fig leaf as he has devolved into a tribal sectarian fanatic.

Palestine and his idol the late George Habash are useful tools of self promotion- stunts- also useful to veil, thinly veil, his sectarian tribalism which has become increasingly obvious with the Syrian crisis.

Repulsive Sectarianism

The “former” communist, current “anarchist,” George Habash as a Facebook Cover page, the “my mother is a Sunni”- as if that makes him any less a radical sectarian fanatic.  I must admit that I was one his Facebook friends, like many others that decamped, I was repulsed by this sectarianism and his use, like that of many others, of the Palestine cause as a tool for his own end.

The dominant theme of the man’s comments are thinly veiled sectarian cheerleading and defense of his tribe.

It is becoming increasingly flagrant and laughable.

.

Asad Abukhalil is a sectarian fanatic who hides behind the Palestine cause to veil his true colors. It has become increasing clear that the fig leaf of Palestine barley covers the angry tribal sectarian fanatic. Unfortunately, many Palestinians desperate for support from any source continue to believe in Abukhalil- a man whose sectarian tribalism has him clinically fixated on the Hariris, the father and the son, obsessed with attacking all whom he perceives as threats to the hegemony of his tribe’s militia in Lebanon- whether it is the Hariri family, MP Walid Jumblatt or Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea.  


Using sectarian code

Abukhalil  uses Shiite sectarian code in reference to the Sunnis. Commonly used Shia fanatics terms to describe the Sunnis are nawasib and Bani ummaya. He follows the tradition of the sectarian fanatics- and then he claims to be misunderstood.

This is from his FB page:


هناك مَن--بئس هذا العصر الطائفي--أساء فهم صدر البيت الشعري "بني أميّة الخ". قصدته عن كل العرب, سنة وشيعة. أقرأوا باقي القصيدة
http://ar.wikisource.org/wiki/البداية_والنهاية/الجزء_العاشر/ثم_دخلت_سنة_ست_وستين_ومائة

Oh-how could anyone think this man is a sectarian fanatic?

Isn’t his mommy Sunni and he is an “anarchist” who he loves George Habash and has the FB cover page to prove it?  

In defense of the extended tribe

This is an exchange on the Sociology of Islam list serve between a British scholar and Asad where Asad blew a gasket defending his extended sectarian tribe:

Thomas Pierret wrote:

 Although I have no doubt about the fact that the overall death toll is at least that high, it is hard for me to believe that Alawites account for one third of the victims.

As far as civilians are concerned, Alawites have suffered much less from the war than Sunnis. Regions inhabited by Alawites have been spared major military operations to a large extent. No large Alawite town or neighbourhood was overrun by the rebels, and none of them has known the fate of the countless Sunni cities that were turned into rubble by the regime's artillery and bombers (most of Homs, half of Aleppo, large parts of Deir ez-Zor and Damascus' suburbs, as well as many other smaller cities like al-Rastan, Talbisse, al-Qusayr, Khan Shaykhun, Ma'rat al-Nu'man, A'zaz, al-Atarib - the list is virtually unlimited). Mortar shells and rockets fired by rebels landed in Alawite neighbourhoods in Damascus and Homs as well as (very recently) in smaller towns like al-Qardaha, but these attacks were too sporadic and limited to entail very large numbers of casualties. Same for the few car bombs that exploded in places like Mezze 86 (Damascus). There were sectarian killings on both sides in Homs during the summer and autumn of 2011, as well as two known massacres of several dozens of Alawite civilians (in Aqrab last December, and near a military factory in Salamiyye more recently), but nothing that compares, for instance, with the daily massacres carried out by loyalist forces against Sunnis around Damascus during the regime's counter-offensive in the region in August-September 2012 (several hundreds were executed in Dariya alone, but dozens of dead bodies were found almost everyday in the province during that period). Civilian casualties on the Sunni side also include an unknown (but probably very high) number of prisoners executed while in detention. There is no equivalent for that on the Alawite side.

In such circumstances, it is likely that the largest share of Alawite victims are members of the military, since Alawites constitute most of the regime's fighting units, but here again, the figure mentioned in the report is doubtful. Indeed, since Sunni victims also include soldiers who died while fighting on the regime's side, it would mean that regime forces lost as much or more men than the opposition. Again, this is hard to believe: in conflicts that are characterised by such a massive imbalance in terms of firepower (insurgents have no planes, ballistic missiles, and very few heavy guns), the side with the smaller guns generally suffers considerably higher casualties, even when it wins in the end (think of Vietnam for instance).

In conclusion, I think that either the number of Alawite victims is overestimated by the SOHD, or it is correct, in which case the total death toll is much, much higher than 120.000.



Here is Asad jumping in to defend his extended tribe. Since the British scholar is not a Sunni Muslim Asad could not call him a “Wahabi” -one of his favorite code words for the Sunnis:


Thomas:  There is something quite disturbingly sectarian (and even worse) in your purely emotional—nay sectarian—response.  You are quibbling with a report that is issued by a group that is unquestionably supportive of the Syrian armed movement.  So you may take up the case with them, and not with this group.  But while you dispute the report (personally, I treat all reports on the Syrian conflict as propaganda by both sides, pending the arrival of verified information or facts) you go on to say that, well, if this is true, all those `Alawites (or “the largest share of Alawite victims” according to your language) are guilty people who were members of the military.  You either accept the finding of the report, or you don’t.  Also, do you experience any moral guild at all in giving a long distance verdict about thousands upon thousands of `Alawite victims in Syria? You feel that you are in a position to decide that “the largest share of Alawite victims” are guilty people who deserved to die and be mutilated as well? I mean, really?

as`ad
                                         
Inciting against the Palestinian refugees

Now he has stooped to a lower level of sectarianism by inciting against the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon by saying that the next civil war will have the Syrians and Palestinians involved in it too. This is despite the fact that the Palestinians are going out of their way to keep the conflicts around them at bay. That is he is insinuating that the [Sunni] Palestinians will join the fight against his tribe- that is he is providing an excuse/logic for a violent pre-emption or a future massacre of the Palestinian refugees whose cause he has been riding for his own ends through the years.





إن الحرب الأهليّة المُقبلة في لبنان ستكون ثلاثيّة الأبعاد, لأن السوريّين والفلسطينيّين في لبنان سيُجرّون إليها.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Iraq War ten Years After: Bremer's Story-II


The Iraq War Ten Years After: Bremer’s Story-II


            The 2003 invasion of Iraq has ushered in/resurrected the Sunni-Shia tensions and conflict. What went wrong in Iraq after the invasion? What did the Kurdish leaders want from the New Iraq? Why and how did Ayatollah Sistani rise to prominence in the post invasion Iraq even though he was of the quietist Shia orientation during the pre- invasion years? How did the US deal with the Sunnis of Iraq?  How did the US deal with the Shia? How did the US see Sunni-Shia relations?  An excellent source of insight into what went right or wrong after the old regime was defeated is My Year in Iraq by L.  Paul Bremer. Mr. Bremer was the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), George W Bush’s man in Iraq, a man who ran Iraq for 14 months.  Reading Bremer’s book one can conclude that the Kurds wanted a weakened state, in shambles, where they can have an independent Kurdish state in all but name. This goal explains why the Kurdish leaders insisted on dismantling basic institutions, the army and the police, of Iraq. The sorry state of Iraq today, particularly the Sunni-Shia relations, has a lot to do with that critical period of the history of Iraq.

The US did not approach Iraq with the idea that a dictatorship was defeated and the democratically minded should set up a rule based not only on free elections but also on all the other important and critical elements of democracy- rule of law, checks and balances, basic freedoms, etc. That could not be done. Tagging alone with American tanks were hardened sectarian fanatics, individuals and groups that fought against their own country in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, riding on American tanks, coming with bloody revenge plans to settle scores for small real and huge imagined grievances. The recordings of conversations of these fanatics such as those of Jaafari shows the extent of the sectarian hatred and delusions of these sectarian fanatics.

The logic of the invasion was removing a “Sunni regime” and turning the country to the Shia "majority" who were “persecuted by the regime as Shia- even though it is well known that the Arab clans of Iraq are known to have Shia and Sunni members and the Iraqis have a high rate of sectarian intermarriages. It is clear from reading Bremer’s memoir that the CPA dealt with the Sunni Arab community as a defeated community whom it marginalized and hence helped feed the insurgency. The sins of the old regime, despite the fact that almost half of the most wanted in the “deck of cards” were Shia, were placed on them as a community. It is a fact that the Baath regime was not a “Sunni regime” and did not oppress its Shia opponents as Shia. Regardless of it being a myth and an outright insidious  lie, this was the premise of the builders of the “New Iraq” who held New Iraq as a model for other countries in the region.  In fact Bremer, the envoy of the leader of the free world, repeatedly mentions conversations with Shia clergy where he says the US is here and this is the Shia opportunity to rule Iraq. 

Also, it is instructive that in a book of 400 pages “Sunni outreach” appears on page 210- and since the book is chronological that means that more than halfway through Bremer’s tenure did Bremer think of engaging the Arab Sunni community by addressing their legitimate grievances and spending money on projects in Sunni-majority areas. The al Sahwa groups, the Awakening groups, were organized to protect the Arab Sunni community from the Shia Iran-allied sectarian bloodthirsty gangs and the al Qaeda fanatics.

The most important admission of Bremer is that the US government brought to rule Iraq a bunch of sectarian fanatics of legendary incompetence and clownish Kurdish tribal leaders whose idea of "federalism" is laughable. It would have been a really funny joke- these characters coming to rule Iraq- if it were not for all the deaths and devastation they wrought on Iraq. They came to rule the Iraqi people, a people who are not as sectarian as the New Iraq leaders as Bremer himself concedes. Despite the work of the Shia sectarian gangs and the suicide bombers, Bremer concedes that there is more sectarianism among the “leaders” of the New Iraq than among the Sunnis and Shia in the population. He knows that well. He had to pressure the sectarian pro Iran thugs to have the Sunnis included in the government.

 Ayatollah Sistani, Bremer’s book shows, played a key role, second only to Bremer's, in American- occupied Iraq. Reading the book it seems that Sistani’s name is the single most mentioned name in the entire book. He is Bremer's Iranian imaginary friend.

Ayatollah Sustani, the Iranian citizen who declined the Iraqi citizenship that was offered to him by the New Iraq regime, was America's chief partner in Iraq.


The excerpts below clarify a number of important points on how America ruled/misruled Iraq. The subheadings are mine.



Bremer and the Kurds: Barzani’s “I hate Baghdad”

"You know, some were encouraging us to reconstitute a smaller version of Saddam's army," I said. 59

"That would have been a big mistake," Barzani said. "We Kurds would have left Iraq, seceded. We've fought the Baathists' army from the beginning. For twelve years, we've enjoyed autonomy. If they returned, we'd fight again ... a civil war." 59

“I hate Baghdad,” Barzani told me. “I don’t want to have to live or even travel there.  But, if you insist, I will agree, with great reluctance, to serve on the Council.” 93

Talabani waves his hands in a big circle, agreeing to all these points. “But,” he raised a finger, “we Kurds will also want the document to address our concerns, especially our demands for a federal system – you know, to protect our autonomy.”214


This inspired several Kurds to give stirring speeches on the nature of federalism. They were not about to let go of their autonomous region. 230

            Barzani and Talabani initially told Gompert that they would never agree to give up the Peshmerga, which they understandably considered the ultimate guarantor of the safety of the Kurdish people should the attempt to create a New Iraq fail. 275

            Since Liberation, the Kurds had taken matters into their own hands. Kurdish Peshmerga militia had been forcing Arabs off farmland, out of houses and bazaar stalls. The Kurds were packing the police force and setting up a shadow government. Most ominously, they had kidnapped Arabs known to be cooperating with the Coalition. 268

            For Barzani, reversing the Arabization of Kirkuk had become a sacred duty. He’d been giving speeches proclaiming that “Kirkuk is the Jerusalem of Kurdistan.” 271

            I told him that “the world already has one Jerusalem and it causes quite enough problems on its own,” and suggested he drop the analogy. 271

  I convened the Kurds in a small, dark work room and made it clear that their last-minute demands were not only unreasonable, but also threatened the Kurds’ “special” relationship with the United Stated.  This quieted them, at least for what was left of the night. 296 

           

Talabani pointedly states, “Mr. Ambassador, you are asking us to join an Iraq in which we’ll have less freedom than we had while Saddam was in power.” They proposed that ratification of the constitution would fail if a two-thirds majority in any of the three provinces voted against it. Since the Kurdish Regional Government comprised three provinces, this gave them a veto. 297

Almost immediately, we got word that the Kurds had called an urgent political confab in Irbil at which the two Kurdish parties would pass a resolution demanding either the presidency or premiership as their price for staying as part of Iraq. 362

            The man launched into another tiresome complaining about the long-suffering Kurds – and how if they were “not satisfied” they would have to reconsider their entire posture toward the new government. Frankly I was fed up with all the political posturing. 380 [Barzani]

Bremer and the Shia

“Tell me, Ambassador," he [Sayed Abdul Aziz Hakim, one of the leaders of the Shiite supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)] said, watching me closely through his tinted glasses. "You say the battalions of this new army will be commanded by Iraqi officers. And who will these officers be?" 59

"I promise you this, Sayyid," I said, using his honorific title. "The commander of the first battalion will be a Shiite." 59

The Coalition kept that promise. 59

Over the next three months, the project cleared 20,000 kilometers of canals and created more than 100,000 jobs-and helped win the Coalition the respect of moderate Shiites. 69

After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, many in the West thought that all Shiites were primitive religious fanatics.  Repeated television images of self-flagellating Shiite pilgrims circling the nearby shrine of the martyr Ali, blood soaking their shirts, had reinforced this mistaken belief.  But there were probably at least as many secular as there were devout Iraqi Shiites.  Ibrahim Jaafari had elements of both.  I appealed to his secular side. 80-1

Earlier, I’d had a bracing conversation with the Shiite SCIRI party’s Abdul Aziz Hakim.  The conversation had begun politely with the Hakim expressing joy at our decisions on de-Baathification and the disbanding of Iraq's hated security services. 83

In other words, let Iraq’s Shiite clerics manipulate the Shia majority to the detriment of other sectarian and ethnic elements of Iraqi society.83

First, we assumed  that the Shia would have to be a majority of the Council since they were believed to make up 60 percent of the population. 93

I told Jaafari, as I had in his sweltering Karbala office in May, that the Shia must not repeat the disastrous mistake they had made in the 1920s, which had locked them out of power for eighty years. 202

Since liberation, Shi’ite leaders had encouraged their followers to cooperate with the Coalition. I knew that if we carelessly brought back units of the old army, we could put this operation at risk, possibly even driving the Shia to oppose the Coalition. That would cost lives and greatly complicate our task. 236


            I told the president that I saw an opportunity to use the next three months to broaden the representation in Iraq’s infant political structures. “We need to get more Sunni and more moderate Shia representation into the interim govern[316]ment. Inclusiveness should trump simplicity in the process of setting up the government.”

            Seated in his book-lined library, I asked, “If Ayatollah Sistani does manage to discredit the interim constitution, where does that leave the Shia and Iraq?” 317

            “Please remember the lessons of 1920,” I said. “This interim constitution is the only way for Iraq to get an elected constitutional government. Your people have waited over eighty years for this opportunity.” 317

           

            “We’ve waited for centuries, Ambassador,” he [Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr] finally said. 317

On the political front, Brahimi and his UN team returned to Iraq the first week of May to begin to work with us on selecting the interim government. The Shia still grumbled about a secular Sunni Algerian having such authority, but there were no choreographed walkouts from the Governing Council, or protest resignations from the government over his role. 346

“That’s shortsighted,” I said bluntly, “and risks repeating the tragic mistake the Shia made in the 1920s when they opted out of the political process and bought themselves eight years in internal exile.” 359

Bremer and the Sunnis

By contrast, the Iraqi Arab Sunnis, who had enjoyed centuries of preferential treatment under their Sunni Ottoman Turkish rulers, had cooperated with the British occupation and remained the privileged caste, first under the British-installed monarchy, and later in the British regime.  81

            On my return from Washington, Friday morning, October 31, I met with Clay and the Governance Team, who had been expanding our efforts to reach out to Sunnis. The team had come up with several good ideas, including channeling more money through Sunni tribal sheiks in to public works projects, just as we’d done with the irrigation renewal in the Shi’ite south. They had identified a number of potential Sunni leaders who were probably fence-sitting, waiting to see if the Coalition had staying power. 210

            ‘The Sunni outreach is important,” I said, explaining that I’d decided to ask my British colleague David Richmond, who had good Arabic and regional experience, to take full-time responsibility for this project. 210

Robert Blackwill of the NSC’s Iraq Stabilization Group had arrived in Baghdad a few days earlier to get a sense of how we were doing on the Sunni outreach initiative. The complex and frustrating task of building bridges to the Sunnis was one of our top priorities, and I was glad an NSC insider was here to see the progress we were making to offer suggestions about improving it. When Rice had recommended his visit, I’d agreed, with the caveat that Bob, whom I had known for decades, coordinate his activities with me.215


The insurgency had the potential to reverse everything we’d accomplished and ultimately to ignite a civil war, with Sunni [222] Baathists fighting  Shiite and Kurdish militias, and Iraq fragmenting along sectarian and geographical fault lines.

Abizaid noted he was fed up that my Senior Advisor on National Security, Walt Slocombe, still opposed rehiring Sunni field-grade army officers. “We need experienced Iraqi commanders who can lead troops. And I’m sick of reading his opinion in newspapers.” 223

I told Abizaid I agreed with Slocombe that we needed to be very careful. 223


“Listen,” he said, “I’ve always told you that I opposed disbanding the army, but I’ve never gone to press with my opinion.” 223


“Well, John,” I said as the conversation ended, “I appreciate your position, but disagree. All my conversations with Shia and Kurdish leaders since arriving convince me that bringing back Saddam’s army would have set off a civil war here. If you think we’re got problems now, imagine what they would have been.” 224


He [Colin Powell] wondered if the caucus process might help with the Sunnis. 227

“The basic problem for them is the prospect that the Shia might retaliate for what the Sunnis did to them for a thousand years. So building guarantees of minority rights into the interim constitution will be important reassurance for the Sunnis.” 227


I briefed the PM [Tony Blair] on our aggressive efforts to broaden the Coalition’s outreach to Iraq’s disgruntled Sunnis. This was a top priority but difficult to pull off. I’d earmarked several hundred million dollars for projects in the Sunni provinces. 268

On January 3, increasingly concerned over the slowness of Washington, I asked my staff to identify a half dozen large (more than $20 million each) projects for the Sunni area. “We’ll just find the money somehow in the Iraqi budget,” I told them. 276

I thanked Sharif Ali for his efforts to get the message out that it was futile for the insurgency to continue.  I added that the Coalition was working hard to strengthen Iraqi security forces, but that our troops would remain engaged until Iraqis could assume responsibility for their own defense.  “Meanwhile,” I said, “we’re willing to pull Coalition forces out of selected cities if we have assurance that security there will be maintained.  What we need now are mutual confidence-building measures.” 277

“Many Sunnis feel excluded from the political process.  They are hardly represented on the Governing Council,” he said.  “They complain about your taking men into detention.  I will try to help with the parole process but this is difficult because people do not want to have contact with the Americans.” 277

Sharif Ali let this go and instead said he would discuss establishing a “period of calm” with his contacts, perhaps in the Fallujah-Ramadi region.  “But this will not be easy,” he said. 
“The Sunnis have felt so many injustices that you have to expect them to attack the Coalition.  Most Sunnis feel that way.” 277

His comment struck me as insupportable. First he said the Sunnis wanted a greater share of the political process, ad two minutes later he asserted that “most” backed the insurgency.  “If your view is correct,” I said, “you’ve better start praying for the Sunnis. It is a fundamental principle of democratic government that people do not shoot their way to power. General Sanchez and I have a responsibility for the safety of our men and women. If the Sunnis decide to use violence, there is no place for them in the New Iraq.” 277

On Saturday, February 7, we received a message from Sharif Ali that his contacts among Sunni insurgents in the Tigris River city of Baquba north of Baghdad had declared a unilateral cease-fire at dawn.  It was scheduled to last until 6:00 A.M. on Tuesday. 287

It fell to me to tell him that Brahimi and the Coalition had agreed that the post [of President of Iraq] should go to an Arab Sunni. “For too long they have felt underrepresented in the New Iraq, Mr. Talabani,” I told him. “We have to use this government as an opportunity to broaden Iraq’s political base.” Talabani, visibly distressed to hear this news, went back to his hometown of Sulamaniya.356


Moreover, it had become apparent that Shahristani [a nuclear scientists who headed the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission until 1979] was very much a Shiite. He  had little contact with Iraq north of Baghdad. And then he shocked us by saying that he and Ayatollah Sistani were of the opinion that a Sunni should become prime minister. “The job will be too difficult for anyone,” he said. “Whoever takes it is likely to fail, so let a Sunni fail.”359


Sunnis and Shia

The tribes of Iraq reflect Mesopotamia’s ancient civilizations.  Thus a tribe can have both Shiite and Sunni members, and, in some cases, members of different ethnic groups. 90

My meeting June 24 at CPA headquarters with about a dozen Sunni sheiks of the Shammar tribe was a memorable encounter with this fact.  The Shammar [91] is one of Iraq’s largest tribes and has both Shia and Sunni members, though the overall leadership is Sunni.

            We spoke of the need for the new government members to pull together and I noted that my impression from a year of traveling around the country, talking to thousands of Iraqis, was that the sectarian divides that had dominated Iraqi politicians on the Governing Council were much less pronounced among average Iraqis. 379

Bremer and mass incarcerations, disproportionately of Sunnis

            After a mid-August meeting of the Governing Council, Judge Dara Nor al-Din, a large-handed, heavy-set Kurd who was both a member of the GC and one of the league.  The man was a seventy-six-year-old Sunni judge who’d been picked up by Coalition forces in July in Baghdad, then transferred to a holding facility at the stifling Gulf port of Umm Qasr, where daytime temperatures often reached 140 with high humidity. 131

            The case of this judge put in stark relief the growing problem of the many [132] Iraqi civilian detainees the Coalition held in custody.  Our over-stretched military was having real problems identifying and tracking them.  And we were detaining people in conditions that I had told Judge Campbell “are at the very margin of acceptable.”


            Colin Powell raised his concerns in e-mails in mid-August.  He told me that some foreign governments had complained that Coalition forces and Iraqi police were indiscriminately arresting innocent suspects, holding them incommunicado, and depriving them of legal representation.132

            Ghastly green night-vision images of GIs leading off handcuffed and hooded prisoners while their wives and children wailed were flashing across the Arab world, CNN, and BBC International. “We’re getting killed in the media,” Powell wrote. 132

            At the same time, I didn’t want our policy on holding detainees to erode the goodwill the Coalition had acquired by overthrowing Saddam.  I hoped that the eventual sorting-out process, once we had enough Arabic speakers and Iraqi interpreters, would proceed quickly, so that detainees guilty of minor infractions, and those who were obviously innocent, could be released.  But when I asked about the elderly Sunni judge’s status, no one seemed to know anything [133] about him.  It took the military three weeks to locate the man and another ten days before I finally got him freed.  I was furious.

            The next morning, Pat Kennedy gave me his analysis.  “Look, it’s not just Rick Sanchez,” he said.  “Nobody wants to take responsibility for releasing detainees for fear one of them will have been involved in atrocities, WMD, or is some really bad Baathist type.  If a detainee were released and then found to have killed an American, the repercussions from the Pentagon would be terrible.  Folks won’t earn their next star, if you get my drift.” 133


“Is there any way for me to assume the responsibility for the release of some of the detainees?” I asked. “We’re already holding 4,000 of them. Many are probably of no interest to us. I ‘m fully prepared to take the heat if it helps.”


            “We’re working the problem, sir,” he [General Sanchez] said.

            But I never got an answer to my offer. 133

The role of Ayatollah Sistani.

                        And Hume was right.  In the early summer, Sistani had sent word to me that his position had not been taken “out of hostility to the Coalition.”  Rather, the ayatollah believed that avoiding public contact with the Coalition allowed him to be more useful in “our joint pursuits,” that he would forfeit some of his credibility among the faithful were he to cooperate openly with Coalition officials, as had many secular Shiites and Sunnis, as well as devout but lower-ranking Shia clergy. 166

            In subsequent exchanges I assured the ayatollah that I was well aware of the suffering of the Shia, noting that my first trip outside Baghdad had been to Al-Hillah’s mass graves.  And I pointed out that the Coalition was pumping lots of money into reconstruction projects in the Shia heartland. 166….

            Between July and mid-September alone, I had more than a dozen exchanges with the ayatollah.  Sistani repeatedly expressed his personal gratitude for all that the Coalition had done for the Shia and for Iraq.  But he remained insistent that the Constitutional Convention “must be directly elected.” 166

           

            I sat at the wide marble table a few minutes, thinking.  Their concept was logical.  But unfortunately developments in Iraq were not always logical.  Certainly Ayatollah Sistani operated on a different rational plan than we Westerners.  From his austere quarters in Najaf, Sistani viewed Iraq and the wider world through the perspective of Shia Islamic theology, as well as hard-nosed politics.  He had issued thousands of fatwas on a bewildering range of issues, even on how and when the faithful should drink water.  And, despite his cloistered image, the Grand Ayatollah was determined to influence the political process, albeit indirectly.  I doubted he would backtrack on his decree that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention must be elected since this would guarantee the Shiites a majority at the convention. 190

           

            Sistani has told Rubaie that his preferred option was that Muqtada simply “was no longer around.” 198


            Rubaie stunned me with another piece of news. Sistani had told him that Syrian President Bashar Assad had recently sent him a confidential message suggesting that the ayatollah should “issue a fatwa calling for a jihad against the Coalition,” as Shia leaders had done in 1920 against the British. 198

            This was an act of extraordinary irresponsibility from Syria’s president. We had good intelligence showing that many insurgents and terrorists were coming into Iraq through Syria. But this message from Assad essentially incited Shia rebellion. If he were to succeed, the Coalition would face an extremely bloody two-front uprising, costing thousands of lives, including Americans. 198

                       

 “Three times last week Adel told me that he strongly approved of the agreement, including Friday night when he told us Sistani had approved of the agreement, including Friday night when he told us Sistani had approved the plan. Why’s he suddenly become such stubborn opponent?” 233

“Remember,” I said, “the Coalition has gone a very long way to accommodate Ayatollah Sistani. And every Shi’ite in Iraq should bear this in mind.” 234

On the way over, I told him we have new problem with the Sistani. “Talabani was down in Najaf yesterday and reports that the ayatollah now insists that the transitional legislature that will assume sovereignty in June should be elected. This is a complete reversal of Sistani’s earlier position and of the November 15 Agreement.” 239

To confuse the issue further, also the day before, SCIRI’s Hakim had held a press conference after conferring with Sistani, who, Hakim claimed, “expressed concern about the real gaps” in that agreement. But later that day I’d received a private message from Sistani stating that he was displeased with Hakim’s public remarks. “It’s a first-class shmozzle, Mr. President. These GC guys have got to get it sorted out.” 239

…tell your fellow Council members my wishes.” He also asked them to convey his high regards to Ayatollah Sistani. 240 Bush visit to Iraq and meeting with some members.


After the dramatic visit, we turned our attention to figuring out what was up with Sistani and the Shia Islamists. It became apparent that Dr. Adel and SCIRI had carried clouded messages- we couldn’t tell whether intentionally or not – to Sistani two weeks earlier about the proposed path forward. Our analysis suggested that the Shia Islamists and Sistani had separate concerns. 240


“He’s moved the goalposts,” I told the Governance Team. We were not the only ones caught out by Sistani’s shift. Abdul Aziz Hakim, who saw Sistani regularly, was puzzled because he had been assured by the ayatollah that there was no need for elections for the interim government. My team canvassed the other Shia political leaders, who, too, were surprised that the ayatollah had added a brand-new demand. 240

To get a better read on the situation in Najaf, I employed my very private channel to Sistani: the Iraqi-American who headed the Iraqi reconstruction and Development Council, Emad Dhia. A Detroit resident, Dhia had been born to a respected family in Najaf and had often been proven useful as a discreet conduit to the Grand Ayatollah. I drafted a confidential letter to the ayatollah, using the vehicle of the traditional Eid message at the end of Ramadan. I could trust Dhia not to garble the message or twist it for partisan reasons. 240

Message to Sistani via Dhia- in writing:

the Shia of Iraq have suffered under unjust and tyrannical regimes. This horrible history    must now come to an end. In my view, the November 15 agreement represents a great             historical opportunity for the Shia, and for all the Iraqi people. This is the one chance the      Iraqi people will have to build a political future for themselves based on the equal human       dignity of each individual under God, on respect for the just teachings of Islam, and on        peace. 241


That evening, Emad Dhia returned from Najaf with the ayatollah’s answer. The news wasn’t good.241

“The Grand Ayatollah likes and respects you. He appreciates the chance to work with you on Iraq’s future. But he wants to proceed with full direct elections for the transitional legislature,” Emad said, reading his notes, “even if they are imperfect.” 241

“The Grand Ayatollah likes and respects you. He appreciates the chance to work with you on Iraq’s future. But he wants to proceed with full direct elections for the transitional legislature, even if they are imperfect”241


His message confirmed that Sistani had gone beyond his former insistence on elec[242] tions to choose the convention for writing the permanent constitution. Now he rejected the idea of an unelected body assuming sovereignty. This was an explosive new demand. 242

Reading the articles, I felt the anger rising. I was trying to preserve a constitution, even an interim one, as central to the path to democracy here. We could not get there if the Coalition was seen to cave in to the Shia or Sistani. Moreover, that would severely undercut our efforts to reach out to the Sunnis. And the Kurds were deeply suspicious of the “black turbans” in Najaf and Karbala, as I had been repeatedly reminded for months. 243

Email to his wife:

…the administration will conclude they cannot get home with me, having been unable to deliver either of my two plans (though in both cases because of Sistani, and in the second    case because he changed his mind). 243


            This system would help meet our overall objective of engaging a broader group of Iraqis in selecting Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly before the planned June 30 handover. “Prime Minister,” I said, “I told the president last week that we may be up against traditional Persian negotiating techniques. Every time we make a concession, the other guy comes up with a new set of demands. That’s certainly been our experience with Sistani the last six months.” 268


Blair nodded. “They’ve been at this type of thing longer than we have.” 268

            “But if the ayatollah can simply throw out the agreed political process,” I said, “It’ll just confirm the Sunni Arabs’ and Kurds’ worst fear – that a single Shiite cleric is determining Iraq’s future.” 268


            I told Rice that I’d just seen a report that Sistani felt it necessary to react to Greenstock’s comments by publicly restating his insistence on direct national elections. So [ 272] the advances made by our quiet, patient diplomacy in December had been revered.


            Sistani now moved beyond brooding to grumbling and to veiled threats to issue a fatwa condemning the entire November 15 Agreement while renewing his call for elections. 272


            According to a subdued Pachachi, “Sistani has in effect denied his previous interest in the United Nations sending a team out.” 272


            Instead of a fatwa, a blunt message was posted on Sistani’s website. Sistani condemned the November 15 Agreement and mentioned that unidentified “experts” had confirmed that elections could be held within months.

            “Here we go again,” I told Scott Carpenter. “Is this more Persian carpet haggling, or has Sistani reached his final position?” 272    

This was ominous.  If it represented Sistani’s view, it contradicted the private message I’d received two days earlier. 278

The situation had begun to resemble one of those nightmares where you pull open a stuck door only to find another… and another…278

“Well, yeah,” I said. “But we’ve got to be prepared to confront Sistani if the UN comes up with a credible alternative consistent with our objectives and timeline and Sistani still rejects it.” If, on the other hand, we simple “caved” to Sistani, as some unnamed Washington officials were recently suggesting to the press, we risked pushing the Kurds toward secession, and the breakup of Iraq, civil war, and escalating regional instability. 279

“Does Ayatollah Sistani want the UN brought in just to provide a face-saving way to change his position on elections?” [Annan to Bremer] 281

“It’s firm,” I said. “We need to demonstrate that we’ll carry out our agreement. The Iraqi people want sovereignty back. And we have to show that we’re not going to be pushed around by the Ayatollah Sistani.” Brahimi said that he didn’t think Iraq’s interim government should be run by “people with black turbans.” I told him I thought Sistani’s basic concern was to ensure a Shia majority in the new government. 281

President Bush did not respond. Finally, Hakim noted the importance of protecting the “Islamic identity of the Iraqi people.” 283

Later, the Iraqis and the CPA team met Colin Powell at the State Department.

Ahmad Chalabi offered unbidden praise for Sistani, “one of our county’s greatest leaders.” Chalabi smiled at Hakim while the interpreter translated. 283

That’s a bit over the top, considering Chalabi’s a secularist, I thought. 283


            Ayatollah Sistani’s verbal reply through Emad Dhia grudgingly conceded that he was “beginning to see” that elections might not be possible by summer.  But he demanded assurances that they would take place within nine months of June 30. 289

           

            I told them we could accept their language on ratification, but reminded them that I expected their support for opposing the wide disenfranchisement Chalabi was proposing for former Baathists. 298 [to Kurds]

            On March 4, I received another letter from Ayatollah Sistani. It was a bombshell. He was unhappy with the TAL “draft”- the very document which Rubaie said he’d approved five days earlier. The law, he said, was “not democratic:” because it allowed a two-thirds majority in any three provinces to veto the permanent constitution. He could not accept any “Kurdish veto” of the constitution and said that if this provision stayed in the TAL, he would have to speak out against it. 302


             I discovered just how serious our problems were when Dr. Rubaie asked to see me a 10:00 P.M. on March 4.  Now, less than twenty-four hours before the scheduled signing of the TAL, he came with a list of eight changes Sistani wanted in the agreed text, including the language on ratification.  I told Rubaie I didn’t see how we could operate this way.  The entire Governing Council had adopted the text by consensus three days before. 303


            First , I received Sistani’s reply. It did not bode well. [304]We appreciate the Ambassador’s hard work.  We are committed to the success of this process.”  But he could not accept the veto. “Can the blacks of America veto the vote of the American people? Can the Spanish people of America veto the entire will of the American people?” 304

            They had nothing to offer.  So I suggested Chalabi might consider asking [305] Talabani what the Kurds wanted and perhaps a way forward could be found.  But Dick Jones learned that the Kurdish price for dropping their ratification article was the immediate turnover to them of Kirkuk.  This clearly was unacceptable.

            Several times as the evening wore on, Condi Rice suggested that we put pressure on the Kurds to recede from their position on ratification.  I disagreed.  My concern was the serious strategic consequences of pressuring the Kurds to drop an agreed text to placate Sistani.  This might give us a short-term win for the TV cameras.  But if we forced the Kurds to cave while the U.S. was still robustly present in Iraq, there was little hope for a secular, united Iraq once we left.  Far better, I argued, to let the Shia “stew” and see if they could face down Sistani. 306

            Al hamdulillah,” thank God, I said.  The GC members had in effect gotten Sistani to understand that if he wanted them to be credible political leaders, he couldn’t micromanage them in politics.  Our risky bet had paid off with a significant round won in favor of a secular Iraq. 307