Al-Sadr and Maliki (and Al-Sistani)

To expand on the post on Basra, below, go read this Abu Muquama post on Cordesman’s NYT column on the fighting.

Cordesman goes on to write, of the fighting in Basra, that…

There are good reasons for the central government to reassert control of Basra. It is not peaceful. It is the key to Iraq’s oil exports. Gang rule is no substitute for legitimate government. But given the timing and tactics, it is far from clear that this offensive is meant to serve the nation’s interest as opposed to those of the Islamic Supreme Council and Dawa.

A few thoughts: One, the fighting in Basra and Baghdad is, on one level, about asserting the control of the central government. That is a good thing. But two, on another level, the fighting that took place last week was about ISCI trying to set the stage for this fall’s provincial elections. It wasn’t about the central government versus local authorities at all — it was about cold-blooded intra-Shia politics.

Note that AM thinks we backed the wrong dog in the fight:

Do we have a dog in such a fight? Alas, we do. That dog’s name is ISCI. As the same friend mentioned above has noted, historians studying Iraq decades from now will wonder why the United States allied itself with the Iran-backed ISCI instead of the popularly-supported Sadr movement. (Hint to those historians: it’s because they dress well and speak English. This is what happens when you send smart but young Republican loyalists — who only speak English — to help run the CPA in Baghdad.) Once again, we have backed the loser…

Might I suggest that our deference to Al-Sistani might have had more to do with it? While their relationship is a complex one (see this interesting article suggesting they are more closely aligned than not), it’s certainly the case that they were significant rivals in the formative period of 04 and early 05.

18 thoughts on “Al-Sadr and Maliki (and Al-Sistani)”

  1. This is all conjecture and trying to read into inside Iraqi baseball. What we do know for a fact is that a militia took up arms against the lawful democratic government, and that government sent its military to restore order and control to its second largest city. We need to seperate causation from consequence. If the _results_ favor one party over another, those are the consequences incurred by rebellion.

    And the idea that Sadr is less cozy with Iran is interesting considering Sadr has spent far more time in Iran the last decade than in Iraq. Those Iranian rockets falling on the green zone arent being launched by Maliki.

  2. The ISCI isn’t our dog, they’re Maliki’s ally. This is Iraq’s war, after all. It’s ridiculous to think we could have just picked the other side.

    The ISCI has ulterior motives? No kidding? Could human motivations possibly be that complex? Maybe we should stay home and play “Island of Virtue” while they all kill each other.

  3. For the supporters of the Iraq adventure / mis-adventure / occupation / mission of freedom / branding name of choice, here on Winds of Change, a question – A.L., Joe Katzman, Glen Wishard, all others…

    At what time will you be happy, that US troops can be brought home? What circumstances would warrant, in your own mind, US troops being recalled? Both positive and negative scenarios?

    On the positive side – is there a LACK of violence that would mean, that we should bring our troops home?

    On the negative side – what would happen, on a negative scale, that would convince you we need to remove our troops?

    Are you, like McCain, fine with having troops stay for 10 years, at current costs to the nation? If so:

    If so: Would you be fine if, a tax is set aside, with the specific policy, where individuals can choose to check a box on their income returns, that says:

    “I agree that it is important for the United States to stay in Iraq for as long as necessary. I also believe that paying for this conflict should not be passed on to my children or grandchildren, or the nation’s children or grandchildren.

    Because of that, I am willing to fund, through my end of year taxes, to pay up to $10,000 per year for the maintenance of the occupation. I understand this amount will be reduced, based on the number of other people who check this box”.

    Right now, the cost of the conflict is estimated at 50-60 billion. If you figure that there are 150 million taxpayers, say that the current 30% who favor the conflict, check that box. So – an optimistic assessment is that 50 million people will divide the cost of the 50 billion, so it will probably work out to be a $1000 check per individual, per year who will put their money where their mouth is, in this.

    Of course, realistically, you would probably get about 5 to 10 million to check that box. In which case we could definitively say, the nation doesn’t want to bear the cost, and we need to get out.

  4. Although, if 10 million were willing to forego 5K each year, every year – then it work. Or 5 million willing to pay 10K per year.

  5. If so: Would you be fine if, a tax is set aside, with the specific policy, where individuals can choose to check a box on their income returns, that says: … [blah blah blah]

    Dude, match that with boxes letting us opt in to social security, medicare, medicaid, etc. and I am all for it.

  6. hypocrisy sets up the straw man and proceeds to demolish it. how insightful. or not.

    how about a discussion of the ramifications of having basra in the hands of the iranians? seems like a dire outcome to me as basra sits on the entrance to sea for iraq. i would think that the sitting government in baghdad has some ideas about what they would like to see.

    abu m is right and to carry the simile further, the dog in this fight that turns ‘puppy’ is the loser. maliki MUST keep inflicting damage on al sadr in basra until they flop on their backs and show their belly. then they are in fact defeated. (hypo – you gotta know something about dog behavior to get this. i suggest you go google it.)

    i have said it before. look at a map and decide for yourself if iraq has some strategic use to the US. looks pretty obvious to me therefore we want to have some kind of presence until the region is stable or it devolves into total chaos.

    the good news is that it appears the iraqis are doing the heavy lifting this time.

  7. Robohobo,

    Yeah, my math was off, as I corrected in my second post. But would even 5 to 10 million go for that? It’s still an important point, because the cost of this occupation, at the minimum, should not be passed on to future generations.

    I probably should have left that out though, because the whole point is – what’s the endgame? At what point do 100K troops come home, in the Iraq occupation supporters view? And I’m still not sure when that endgame is.

  8. #2 from Glen Wishard:

    “The ISCI isn’t our dog, they’re Maliki’s ally. This is Iraq’s war, after all. It’s ridiculous to think we could have just picked the other side.”

    True.

    #2 from Glen Wishard:

    “Maybe we should stay home and play “Island of Virtue” while they all kill each other.”

    That’s right.

    We are fighting to establish and do nation-building in states that take Islam as a source of law. That’s a job directly contrary to our interests and to morality. It’s no better than if we were fighting to establish and do nation-building in states that took Marxism as a source of law.

    A more efficient, more prosperous Iraq would just have more money to invest in things like support for Hezbollah. We shouldn’t build up Iraq.

    It would be better for us if the money that we have spent on this mission had simply vanished. Much, much better if it had remained with the taxpayers of course.

    #3 from hypocrisyrules:

    “For the supporters of the Iraq adventure / mis-adventure / occupation / mission of freedom / branding name of choice, here on Winds of Change, a question – A.L., Joe Katzman, Glen Wishard, all others…”

    I’m a supporter of the mission in that:

    A. I think it was right to whack Saddam Hussein and destroy his “Weapons of Mass Destruction” programs on what we thought we knew at the time. Only, after it turned out that so much that we knew was wrong, the CIA should have been abolished and the money saved should have been spent to build a real intelligence agency. The CIA has too many overly bad failures on its record. The culture is no good. Scrap it.

    B. I think that the anti-war movement is nuts, in a reprehensible way. All the paranoid “Neocon” / you-know-whos / Haliburton / Bush Cheney Likud puppet stuff is mad and vile. The “anti-war” movement that far too often isn’t anti-war but on the other side.

    C. I accept the argument that we have to support the troops, and to some extent that means we have to support the mission.

    But this is only the same argument that apply if we had committed ourselves to establish and nation-build in states that took the Communist Manifesto as a source of law.

    You know: we have to support the troops, if we back out now we’ll be surrendering, after making commitments to our Marxist allies we can’t welsh on them now, Marxism is an ideology of peace, and to say otherwise is contrary to what we indoctrinate our troops with and what they must say and ultimately think to get along with our Marxist allies – and it’s probably racist as well. All that stuff.

    #3 from hypocrisyrules:

    “At what time will you be happy, that US troops can be brought home?”

    When political will and skill exists to declare victory and make it stick.

    I think as long as our official pro-Islamic orientation holds up, we are not fighting for any worthwhile goal any more other than to make the troops feel good about themselves.

  9. hypo –

    I should think you’d want us to stay forever, so you can go on playing the triumphant Jeremiah.

    Prophesying doom, and declaring all a disaster, has always been the cheap and easy position on the war. Especially when doom is defined as anything less than daisy-sniffing utopia.

    We’re going to be in this fight, in Iraq or elsewhere, no matter who the president is. The only question is when, where, and how. Our enemies aren’t going to quit just because we sign the Kyoto treaty or hike the payroll tax. They’re not going to roll over and die if we send some dingbat delegation around the world to apologize for being such cowboys.

  10. Sadr is no less of an Iranian tool, is absolutely hostile to any rule of law in Iraq, and is the #1 source of death squads killing Sunnis. Which almost provoked a full civil war before the Surge secured order, backed him down, and let the Sunnis settle accounts of honor themselves in the Awakening.

    I don’t care who dismantles Sadr’s organization, as long as it gets done. And armed revolt against a democratic government is a declaration of war. If Sadr doesn’t like the results, I guess the decision was a big mistake for the Mahdi Army. Live by the gun, die by the gun.

    Iraq is a human polity. It has factions. Tribal countries especially have them. Whether we are there with troops, or exerting influence without them by the diplomatic/ intelligence means supposedly favored by many on the Left, leveraging hostile factions against each other MUST (not should, must) be one of the main tools in the toolbox.

    Recent events may well have happened without the USA’s assistance. Even in Iraq, lots of people have agendas and plans that proceed regardless of America’s actions. I would hope that American agencies ARE involved here, however, precisely because this is such an important capability to be building in America’s military and security agencies.

    Meanwhile, when contemplating ISCI, I suggest that readers Goggle the old leftist term “Salami Tactics”.

  11. Sure. Smashing Sadr and his whole organization is good no matter who does it and why they do it.

    Also, smashing Saddam was good, even though we did so on the basis of misconceptions so great that I think the CIA should have been dismantled in consequence.

    “Oh the humanity!” should not be any part of our responses to current events in Iraq.

  12. BTW, after six years of pacifist histrionics, “this guy”:http://thepage.time.com/video-obama-semi-heated-with-reporter-at-gas-station-presser/ is the best solution the anti-war crowd can come up with.

    Except that this guy doesn’t know what he’d going to do in Iraq. He doesn’t even know what he’s said about Iraq. He thinks he knows what John McCain has said about Iraq … but he’s not sure. Above all, he has no idea why anyone would ask him questions about all of this.

  13. _Maybe we should stay home and play “Island of Virtue” while they all kill each other._
    and
    _We’re going to be in this fight, in Iraq or elsewhere, no matter who the president is. The only question is when, where, and how. Our enemies aren’t going to quit just because we sign the Kyoto treaty or hike the payroll tax. They’re not going to roll over and die if we send some dingbat delegation around the world to apologize for being such cowboys._

    You know, this bridges to what most conservatives – including the president – won’t admit. That there continues to be a low grade civil war on(much lower nowadays), and has been for over 3 years. And then, lapses right back into “our enemies are there!”, because it’s a nice easy reason to stay. Much harder than the layered knowledge that we may stay there for 10 years, and still have a fragile country, or remain in the exact same situation. Or really, worse.

    It is not only our enemies fighting in Iraq. Some of whom are patriots(to them only, of course), some of which are terrorists, some of which are thugs. And yet, no politician who supports the war comes out and states this obvious reality with the conviction of “our enemies are there!”.

  14. Dave,

    The reality doesn’t change the fact that our enemies ARE there. It may give us a wider roster of potential factions to mobilize against them, however. Gives them a certain amount of choice, too, of course.

    Though I’ve gotta say, if anyone had told me 3 years ago that one of our mobilized factions would be the tribes of Ramadi, I would have thought they were from cloud cuckooland. Something to be said for letting situations develop, I guess.

    The reality is that there has been a low grade civil war throughout the Islamic world for over a decade. the difference is that until the Islamists started reacting by blowing up fellow Muslims on a regular basis, only one side was fighting that civil war.

    The transition to both sides fighting, or even many sides fighting, is an improvement. It’s the unspoken flip side of all the hot air about these situations requiring a political solution. One wonders why those using such language never mention it, though…

  15. _I don’t care who dismantles Sadr’s organization, as long as it gets done. And armed revolt against a democratic government is a declaration of war. If Sadr doesn’t like the results, I guess the decision was a big mistake for the Mahdi Army. Live by the gun, die by the gun._

    They have anywhere from 10k-50k members(armed, militia, not just followers), and have a deep sympathy from their communities. “Riverbend said years ago”:http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_riverbendblog_archive.html#106710751427430120 that there could easily be a million people supporting him. Though hopefully less by now.

    Let’s say that number is far off, and it’s only 100k who would actively resist, 50k who would do so violently. There’s a reason why no one has called for the arrest of Al-Sadr, and why it won’t be dismantled any time soon. Even this dustup wasn’t called for against Al-Sadr directly, only the periphery, and phrased at “criminals”, not the Mahdi Army.

  16. “… phrased at “criminals”, not the Mahdi Army.”

    In practice, a distinction without a difference. They can call it whatever they want. As long as they do it.

  17. Oh man. I think David_Blue was on to something with:

    _We are fighting to establish and do nation-building in states that take Islam as a source of law. That’s a job directly contrary to our interests and to morality. It’s no better than if we were fighting to establish and do nation-building in states that took Marxism as a source of law._

    Once upon a time, Islam wasn’t the cut throat Saudi/Iranian version it is now. Islam was adapted by many cultures in which it had moved and Muslims in Egypt, Turkey,and Lebanon for example lived in relative peace. Without the zealotry of the current fundamentalist driven religious battle going on between the Saudi and Iranian versions of Islam, Iraq’s civil discontent might be a little more manageable for the Iraqi people. But alas, once the iron fist of Saddam was removed, it appears the power vacuum was quickly filled with these two onerous and powerful foes, finding and training their dogs, as they call the fight to be on in earnest.

    Perhaps the U.S. felt Iraq was the best chance we had to influence the development of a secular government which includes aspects of shar’ia law, in the volatile Islamic Arab (and let us not forget oil rich) Middle East. Perhaps that will be the real portrait of victory here.

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