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


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