The Totalitarians Among Us

Herschel Smith · 03 Mar 2014 · 15 Comments

Victor Davis Hanson observes: In short, Obama will always poll around 45 percent. That core support is his lasting legacy. In a mere five years, by the vast expansion of federal spending, by the demonizing rhetoric of his partisan bully pulpit, and by executive orders and bizarre appointments, Obama has so divided the nation that he has created a permanent constituency that will never care as much about what he does as it cares about what he says and represents. For elite rich liberals…… [read more]

The Enemy of My Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

In Splits, Reorganization and Realignments Within the Insurgency in Iraq, I argued that the internecine warfare within the Sunni insurgency was a good thing for coalition troops in the short term, but that sooner or later, one side will win.  This side — whichever it happens to be — will then turns its sights again on the so-called “occupiers” (i.e., the U.S.).  The insurgency doesn’t end, it merely morphs into something different than it is at the present.

The Middle East Times brings us a fascinating story of U.S. armed forces learning counterinsurgency, adapting and bringing innovation to the battlefield.  Things like this simply cannot be taught.  They have to be learned by troops at the front.  This is a lengthly article, but well worth your time (along with a few comments by me at the end).

Joseph Krauss
AFP
May 9, 2007

SAMARRA, Iraq –  On a dark street in the restive Iraqi town of Samarra a young man masked with a bandana and a baseball cap looks over his shoulder before pulling out an aerosol can and spray-painting across a wall.

A US Army officer standing behind him squints at the flowing Arabic script, then turns to a reporter traveling with his platoon.

“What does that say?” he asks.

The young vandal is an army translator whom the soldiers call Matthew – publishing his real name would put him in danger.

Matthew is charged with sowing seeds of strife between the town’s two main insurgent groups, Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army of Iraq.

While Al Qaeda takes its inspiration from Osama Bin Laden’s international Islamist struggle, the Islamic Army is a coalition of Iraqi Islamists and Baathist supporters of the ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

And while both groups are fighting to oust American forces from Iraq, there are also signs of growing conflict between them – a conflict that the local security forces and their US allies are keen to exploit.

The two groups have clashed on the Internet, with the more nationalist Islamic Army criticizing Al Qaeda for targeting Iraqi civilians and for its attempts to impose a harsh Saudi-inspired version of Islamic law.

Within Samarra, the Islamic Army enjoys wide popularity because of its single-minded focus on attacking US forces, while Al Qaeda intimidates local residents with spectacular bombings and coordinated attacks on police.

“Al Qaeda is based on Islamic extremism, while the others only focus on the occupiers,” said Colonel Jalil Al Dulaimi, who was police chief of the town north of Baghdad until he was killed in a coordinated attack on police headquarters this week. “But from our perspective, anyone who carries weapons is a terrorist. It doesn’t matter what faction they are a part of,” he added.

The commander of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne, 3rd Brigade, Charlie Company, based in Samarra, agrees that both groups pose a threat to security in the town but says that there are important differences.

The Islamic Army “is against coalition forces and ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] that work with the coalition,” says Captain Eugene “Buddy” Ferris. “Al Qaeda will blow up bombs in markets. Al Jaish Al Islami [the Islamic Army] won’t,” Ferris adds. “If reconciliation is ever going to occur then the Islamic Army is a group you could work with.”

Both insurgent groups tag the walls with slogans, threats, and boasts.

Al Qaeda’s street artists write: “The Samarra police are infidels, so we will bring you young men who love martyrdom,” and “We will destroy all those who cooperate with the Americans.”

The Islamic Army scribes write much the same thing, but threaten “the occupiers” instead of the local security forces and collaborators.

Matthew’s job is to redirect the artistic impulses of each group against the other. “It’s a way to destabilize their unification efforts,” says First Lieutenant Charlie Hodges, who leads one of the graffiti patrols.

Abu Tiba, the alleged leader of Al Qaeda in Samarra, is a frequent subject.

Hodges tells Matthew to write something really terrible about Abu Tiba, something that the Islamic Army of Iraq might say about him, something that will start a fight.

Matthew nods. Then in bright red paint he writes “Abu Tiba is a terrorist and those who work with him are terrorists.”

It seems somehow less menacing than the crossed out “USA” daubed next to it on the dusty brown wall.

Hodges does not read Arabic, so he asks a reporter traveling with the platoon to translate. Hodges is clearly disappointed. The black propaganda effort needs a lot more street cred than Matthew is giving him.

They climb back into the Humvees, drive around the corner, and try again.

Hodges sees writing on the wall, but he has to ask to make sure that it is insurgent sloganeering and not something else, such as a sign advertising someone’s vegetable stand.

He asks about one long sentence. Matthew tells him it is a Koranic verse. “Leave that one alone,” Hodges says.

Finally they find a message telling the occupiers to leave. Matthew scribbles over it. Then Hodges tries again. “This time, I want you to write that Al Qaeda has killed many in the Islamic Army,” he says.

“Al Qaeda has killed many from the Islamic Army,” Matthew writes.

Then the local Iraqi police step in, not to handcuff Matthew and charge him with vandalism, but to offer suggestions on how to spice up his prose.

Many of the police are well-practiced themselves, having sprayed messages like “Long live Iraq, Long live the First Battalion,” and “the First Battalion are Heroes” on the blast walls surrounding their bases and compounds.

An argument ensues between Matthew and the police – three men in mismatched uniforms with AK-47 assault rifles slung around their necks.

One cop finally suggests something that is greeted with enthusiasm. Matthew amends the message.

“Al Qaeda has killed many FIGHTERS from the Islamic Army.”

The paint is running out. Hodges tells Matthew that his writing is too large, and orders everyone back to the vehicles.

The heavily armed US soldiers who had fanned out along the darkened street return to the Humvees, the police climb into their pickup trucks, and under the cover of darkness and an all-night curfew they head back to base.

Again, the use of graffiti to incite conflict between competing insurgents is adaptive, innovative, and apparently effective.  It is not learned at Quantico or Leavenworth.  It is learned in the school of the hard knocks.  The U.S. troops are the best in the world, but there are two cautionary comments that are appropriate at this point.

First, troops (most of the time) are given some basic instruction in Arabic as part of the training for deployment.  This training is based on the philosophy of phonetics (i.e., sounds, proper pronunciation).  With limited time, money and resources, this is the best approach and sure to yield the best possible results in the short term.  But proper planning for the long war needs to take the next step.  Immersion in Arabic (both spoken and written) needs to be part of the planning for not only officers, but enlisted men as well.  A better knowledge of Arabic would cause a remarkable step change in warfighting capabilities in Iraq (and throughout the Middle East) given the nature of COIN.

Second, we must remember that the counterinsurgency will morph upon the potential demise of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  It doesn’t end, and in fact it might become more complicated given the potential support of the broader population if this revised and restructured insurgency no longer engages in acts of brutality towards the population.

Iraqi Governing Coalition Set to Collapse

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

In Sistani, Maliki and Sadr Versus the U.S., I made the case that Maliki was in the pocket of both Sistani and Sadr, and had effectively become nothing more than a sectarian political puppet (while also pointing out that all three were enemies of U.S. interests).  The degree to which this is true is becoming increasingly manifested with time.  Now from MEMRI we learn that “An investigative article by journalist Mahdi Mustafa, published March 31, 2007 in the Egyptian government weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, featured photographs of documents indicating that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has ties with Muqtada Al-Sadr and with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.”  The following is a summary of one important document.

Al-Maliki Calls to Withdraw Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commanders from the Iraqi Front in Order to Protect Them

The first document, labeled “secret, personal, and urgent,” is a January 2007 letter from Al-Maliki’s office to the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, with copies to the presidency of the [Shi'ite party] Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and to the Al-Shahid Al-Sadr organization.” [2] In it, Al-Maliki requests that the commanders of the Mahdi Army, who have ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, be pulled off the Iraqi frontlines, in order to protect them from being arrested or killed. The following is a translation of the document:

“Secret, Personal and Urgent

“Based on a phone conversation with Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr and [after] consulting with [Iraq's National Security Advisor] Dr. Muwafaq Al-Rubai’i, in order to preserve our great achievements and in light of what the present circumstances demand, we ask to temporarily conceal the commanders of the Mahdi Army, who are connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, [and to remove them] from the front line [of battle] in order to protect them from being arrested or killed by the American forces. [The names of the commanders] are listed below. It would be best to send them to Iran for the time being, until the crisis passes.

“In addition, [we ask] to send the commanders from the second line [of battle] to the southern regions, since we know that intensive efforts are underway to persuade the Americans to leave the situation [there] as it is. All administrative and security arrangements for the transportation of these commanders have [already] been made.

“We ask you to implement [these orders] and report to us.

“[Signed,] Nouri Al-Maliki, Prime Minster [of Iraq]

“[List of commanders]…

“Cc:

“The Iranian Embassy [in] Baghdad,

“The presidency of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq,

“The office of Al-Shahid Al-Sadr.”

Maliki has worked directly against not only U.S. interests in Iraq, but Iraqi security as well.  The Sunni minority has been reluctant to enjoin the political process simply because they know that the government is riddled with sectarian power plays.  Not surprisingly, they are threatening to withdraw, thus seriously weakening the government and ending what little reconciliation effort there has been thus far (what little effort that has been expended has been on the part of the Sunnis).

Iraq’s top Sunni official has set a deadline of next week for pulling his entire bloc out of the government — a potentially devastating blow to reconciliation efforts within Iraq. He also said he turned down an offer by President Bush to visit Washington until he can count more fully on U.S. help.

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi made his comments in an interview with CNN. He said if key amendments to the Iraq Constitution are not made by May 15, he will step down and pull his 44 Sunni politicians out of the 275-member Iraqi parliament.

“If the constitution is not subject to major changes, definitely, I will tell my constituency frankly that I have made the mistake of my life when I put my endorsement to that national accord,” he said.

I had previously said that “Maliki’s government is dead, and the real question is how clever the military and political thinkers are and how quickly they will figure it out.”  The U.S. has so far refused to support replacement of Maliki.

It has been reported earlier that the Kurdish parties and the Fadhila party had not agreed to join the Allawi bloc, but the withdrawal of support from the Tawafuq Front would set Allawi’s efforts back to square one. The alliance of Allawi’s list and the Tawafuq Front, the largest Sunni bloc in the Parliament, was expected to be the core of the new opposition front.

The admission of a lack of American support for the efforts, if proven to be true, would also dispel suspicions that the US had decided to back Allawi’s attempt to bring down the Maliki government and replace it with a “strongman? in the form of Allawi’s return to power.

The U.S. would do well to re-evaluate its irrational commitment to Maliki.  His government has brought Iraq to a dead end.

Splits, Reorganization and Realignments Within the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

From Adnkronos International:

It’s been a bad week for the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq. While initial reports that its leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri or allied Islamist State of Iraq chief Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed were proven false, it did lose one top man, ‘information minister’ Muharib Abdulatif al-Juburi. But far more damaging in the growing isolation of al-Qaeda has been the birth of a new alliance between part of Sunni insurgent groups Ansar al-Sunna and the Islamic Army calling itself the Jihad and Reform Front.

The Ansar al-Sunna in a statement posted Friday to the internet made a scathing criticism of the new born front which comprises three groups, the Islamic Army the Mujahadeen and a breakaway cell of al-Sunna.

The declared cause of their anger is that inside the new formation is a group calling itself “Ansar al-Sunna Sharia Committee”.

“We write this letter on your first day of activity” said a statement from Ansar al-Sunna’s leadership “because we see that you have committed a horrible mistake. You say that among the founder members of the Front there is a so-called Sharia Committee of Ansar al-Sunna”.

“There is no such thing as a Sharia committee inside al-Sunna” the group complained. “What happened is that two leaders of our group, Abi Sajad e Abu Hind, who formed a new outfit with their name”

The damaging split within Ansar al-Sunna was first revealed by the Al Jazeera network two weeks ago, to the amazement of Islamist cybernauts who, not having found any trace of the news on Islamist forums asked whether the report was true or whether the Qatar based broacaster had got it wrong. Only the official launch of the new Jihad and Reform Front on Thursday provided proof of what was really happening inside the Sunni insurgent formation.

Though not explicitly stated in the foundation document posted to Islamist internet sites on Thursday, the group has a clear anti al-Qaeda role, challenging the principles and strategies of its armed struggle.

“The group’s aim is to continue the resistance in Iraq and throw out the occupiers but at the same time to restate that Jihadi operations will strike the occupiers and their agents and not innocent civilians whom we should protect,” reads the statement.

The new cartel goes on to ask the Islamist militiamen to think seriously about the consequences of their attacks before carrying them.

These words, and the final part of the document which refers to an interpretation of Sharia law which can change according to the requirements of a military strategy, appear to be a pointed criticism of al-Qaeda in Iraq which is increasingly isolated within the insurgency.

This report by AKI leaves some things in need of clarification.  The loss of senior al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leadership was possibly at the hands of competing insurgent groups, but is has been speculated that the loss in AQI leadership was at the hands of insurgents who are now working with coalition forces.  This seems somewhat dubious, but be that as it may, this alignment with U.S. interests (if it exists) must be seen as temporary and tenuous.  In Counterinsurgency Paradigm Shift in Iraq, I said “The much-heralded tribal split with al Qaeda is a positive sign in the Anbar Province, but it must be remembered that even if AQI loses in this showdown, the insurgency is not defeated.  One side of the insurgency has merely gained supremacy over the other.”

Foreign fighters are still a significant influence in Iraq, especially concerning suicide bombers (crossing the Syrian border) and weapons supply (crossing the Iranian border).   It is certainly the case that should AQI diminish or even disappear from Iraq, the results will be positive.  But in the total absence of AQI and Ansar al Sunna (AAS), there would still be an insurgency among the hard line Baathists and Fedayeen Saddam (although it is now becoming apparent that the Baathists, as a political party, are beginning the process of self-destruction).  This reorganized insurgency will be opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq, and in fact, the real purpose of the split in the current insurgency is made clear in their vision for the future.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army and Ansar Al Sunna (Shariah Council), an offshoot of the established Ansar Al Sunna group, said they would avoid spilling civilian blood, according to an Internet statement.

“The Jihad and Reform Front … pledges to continue with the duty of jihad in Iraq until all objectives, including the complete withdrawal of the occupiers in all their guises and the establishment of God’s religion …. are met,? it said.

“The military actions of the mujahideen will target the occupiers and their collaborators and will not target the innocents whom jihad aims to lead to victory.?

Much of the internecine warfare among the insurgency is reorganization and realignment.  If the insurgency has become experienced enough to move on to what David Galula roughly describes as care and governance of the population rather than brutalization of them, the reorganization and realignment may be a harbinger of a transition in strategy and tactics.

The background of AAS is described in summary fashion for us by an expert on the subject.

“Ansar al-Islam was formed out of a merger of the majority Kurdish groups Hamas (inspired by but not identical to the Palestinian group of the same name), Second Soran Unit, and al-Tawhid. I think September 2001 was the last time that they were majority Kurdish, because after that they started receiving a heavy influx of “Afghan Arabs? – you know the drill – and they soon outnumbered the original Kurdish fighters.

Fast forward to OIF in 2003. Most of the group is killed by the US and the battered remnants flee to Iran. They reorganize under the protection of the IRGC, but there is a lot of internal controversy.

Some members want to go join Zarqawi (AMZ), while others blame him and the international attention he brought to their activities for their current plight. By November 2003, the split finalizes and about half join AMZ while the others go back into Iraq as Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah.

They are pro-AQ but anti-AMZ and keep sending nasty reports back to AQ HQ talking trash on AMZ. Right now with AMZ dead, the major concern is that they will merge with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) since its new supremo doesn’t carry the personal baggage that AMZ did with the Ansar al-Sunnah leaders. If you look at the list of captured or killed AQI leaders that CENTCOM just released, you will note that at least one of them was an Ansar al-Sunnah leader who was discussing such a merger.

AQI has never been majority Kurdish, now or at any time in the past since its formation in October 2004. Its predecessor group al-Tawhid wal Jihad was the same thing, made up primarily of Palestinian Jordanians from AMZ’s Bani Hassan tribe with a healthy sprinkling of international jihadis, mostly Algerians and Saudis. After the capture of Saddam, they were able to use AMZ as an alternate “alpha male? for a lot rank-and-file Baathist henchmen and picked up most of Saddam’s former lapdogs.

Bottom line, the Kurdish component in Iraqi jihadis has always been small and is likely to remain so in the future. The only time when Kurds made up a majority of Iraqi jihadis was when there were only 500-800 of them back in 2001 and most of those are captured or dead.?

Insurgency Planned Bombs for Girl’s School

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

In another reminder of the real nature of the enemy, a plot was uncovered where bombs had been pre-deployed inside a girl’s school.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — American soldiers discovered a girls school being built north of Baghdad had become an explosives-rigged “death trap,” the U.S. military said Thursday.

The plot at the Huda Girls’ school in Tarmiya was a “sophisticated and premeditated attempt to inflict massive casualties on our most innocent victims,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said.

The military suspects the plot was the work of al Qaeda, because of its nature and sophistication, Caldwell said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

The plot was uncovered Saturday, when troopers in the Salaheddin province found detonating wire across the street from the school. They picked up the wire and followed its trail, which led to the school. Once inside, they found an explosive-filled propane tank buried beneath the floor. There were artillery shells built into the ceiling and floor, and another propane tank was found, the military said.

The wire was concealed with mortar and concrete, and the propane tanks had been covered with brick and hidden underneath the floor, according to a military statement. Soldiers were able to clear the building.

“It was truly just an incredibly ugly, dirty kind of vicious killing that would have gone on here,” Caldwell said.

Iraqi contractors were responsible for building the school, which was intended to bring in hundreds of girls.

“Given the care and work put into emplacing this IED, it is likely it had been planned for a long time” and it is thought that “the IED was not intended to be set off until the building was occupied,” the military said.

We may speculate that since the planning was so detailed and (likely) time consuming, the Iraqi contractor (or more specifically, at least some of the workers) knew beforehand that this plot existed.  The possibilities are that the insurgency infiltrated the contractor, or that threats forced the silence of the balance of the uninvolved workers.

This is not atypical of the insurgency.  They have targeted children in the past, and there has been in radical Islam an ongoing war against education and those who conduct it.  See my article Radical Islam’s War on Education.

Watch Interview (YouTube)

Insurgency Planned Bombs for Girl’s School

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

In another reminder of the real nature of the enemy, a plot was uncovered where bombs had been pre-deployed inside a girl’s school.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — American soldiers discovered a girls school being built north of Baghdad had become an explosives-rigged “death trap,” the U.S. military said Thursday.

The plot at the Huda Girls’ school in Tarmiya was a “sophisticated and premeditated attempt to inflict massive casualties on our most innocent victims,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said.

The military suspects the plot was the work of al Qaeda, because of its nature and sophistication, Caldwell said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

The plot was uncovered Saturday, when troopers in the Salaheddin province found detonating wire across the street from the school. They picked up the wire and followed its trail, which led to the school. Once inside, they found an explosive-filled propane tank buried beneath the floor. There were artillery shells built into the ceiling and floor, and another propane tank was found, the military said.

The wire was concealed with mortar and concrete, and the propane tanks had been covered with brick and hidden underneath the floor, according to a military statement. Soldiers were able to clear the building.

“It was truly just an incredibly ugly, dirty kind of vicious killing that would have gone on here,” Caldwell said.

Iraqi contractors were responsible for building the school, which was intended to bring in hundreds of girls.

“Given the care and work put into emplacing this IED, it is likely it had been planned for a long time” and it is thought that “the IED was not intended to be set off until the building was occupied,” the military said.

We may speculate that since the planning was so detailed and (likely) time consuming, the Iraqi contractor (or more specifically, at least some of the workers) knew beforehand that this plot existed.  The possibilities are that the insurgency infiltrated the contractor, or that threats forced the silence of the balance of the uninvolved workers.

This is not atypical of the insurgency.  They have targeted children in the past, and there has been in radical Islam an ongoing war against education and those who conduct it.  See my article Radical Islam’s War on Education.

Watch Interview (YouTube)

Sistani, Maliki and Sadr Versus the U.S.

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s office is responsible for the removal of high level Iraqi security forces and police for being too efficient in the engagement of the Mahdi army.

A department of the Iraqi prime minister’s office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias, according to U.S. military officials in Baghdad.

Since March 1, at least 16 army and national police commanders have been fired, detained or pressured to resign; at least nine of them are Sunnis, according to U.S. military documents shown to The Washington Post …

“Their only crimes or offenses were they were successful” against the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia, said Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commanding general of the Iraq Assistance Group, which works with Iraqi security forces. “I’m tired of seeing good Iraqi officers having to look over their shoulders when they’re trying to do the right thing.”

This is part of a larger whole in which what has been called a ‘shadow cabinet’ has been operating based on a sectarian agenda.

Iraq’s prime minister has created an entity within his government that U.S. and Iraqi military officials say is being used as a smokescreen to hide an extreme Shiite agenda that is worsening the country’s sectarian divide.

The Office of the Commander in Chief has the power to overrule other government ministries, according to U.S. military and intelligence sources.

Those sources say the 24-member office is abusing its power, increasingly overriding decisions made by the Iraqi Ministries of Defense and Interior and potentially undermining the entire U.S. effort in Iraq.

Predictions and reporting of the splintering of the Shi’ite militias and leadership are exaggerated.  Sadr has not stood down on the rhetoric, calling Bush a “leader of evil.”  The U.S. and the Sadrist militias have also been recently engaged in combat action.  Sadr, in absentia, is still able to field large numbers of people to chant slogans against the U.S.  But perhaps even more powerful than Sadr is Sistani, and his power has been wielded against U.S. interests in Iraq.

Ali Sistani established his nationalist credentials early on. As the invading American forces neared Najaf on March 25, 2003, he issued a religious decree requiring all Muslims to resist the invading “infidel? troops. Once the Anglo-American forces occupied Iraq, he adamantly refused to meet American or British officials or their emissaries and continues to do so to this day.

In January 2004, when Washington favored appointing a hand-picked body of Iraqis, guided by American experts, to draft the Iraqi constitution along secular, democratic, and capitalist lines, Sistani decided to act. He called on the faithful to demonstrate for an elected Parliament, which would then be charged with drafting the constitution. And he succeeded.

Sistani then issued a religious decree calling on the faithful to participate in the vote to create a representative assembly committed to achieving the exit of foreign troops through peaceful means. The Bush White House, however, exploited Sistani’s move as part of its own “democracy promotion? campaign in Iraq, with Iraqi fingers dipped in inedible purple ink becoming its much flaunted “democracy symbol.?

When Allawi began dithering about holding the vote for an interim parliament by January 2005, as stipulated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546, Sistani warned that he would call for popular non-cooperation with the occupying powers if it was not held on time. In the elections that followed, the United Iraqi Alliance, the brain-child of Sistani, emerged as the majority group, and thus the leading designer of the new constitution. Respecting Sistani’s views, the Iraqi constitution stipulated that Sharia (“Islamic law?) was to be the principal source of Iraqi legislation and that no law would be passed that violated the undisputed tenets of Islam.

In the December 2005 parliamentary general election under the new constitution, the UIA became the largest group, a mere 10 seats short of a majority. Though Ibrahim Jaafari of Al Daawa won the contest for UIA leadership by one vote, he was rejected as prime minister by the Kurdish parties, who held the parliament’s swing votes, as well as by Washington and London. A crisis paralyzed the government. Once again, Sistani’s intercession defused a crisis. He persuaded Jaafari to step down.

Jaafari’s successor, Maliki, is as reverential toward Sistani as other Shiite leaders. For instance, in December 2006, when American officials reportedly urged Maliki to postpone Saddam Hussein’s execution until after the religious holiday of Eid Al Adha (“the Festival of Sacrifice?), Maliki turned to Sistani. The Grand Ayatollah favored an immediate execution. And so it came to pass.

Sistani’s next blow fell on the Bush administration earlier this month. He made public his disapproval of Washington-backed legislation allowing thousands of former Baath Party members to resume their public service positions. This undermined one of the White House’s pet projects in Iraq — an attempt to entice into the political mainstream part of the alienated Sunni minority that is at the heart of the Iraqi insurgency.

In sum, while refraining from participating in everyday politics, Sistani intervenes on the issues of paramount importance to the Iraqi people, as he sees them. Western journalists, who routinely describe him as belonging to the “quietist school? of Shiite Islam (at odds with the “interventionist school?), are therefore off the mark. Given Sistani’s uncompromising opposition to the presence of foreign troops in Iraq, his staunch nationalism, and the unmatched reverence that he evokes, particularly among the majority Shiites, he poses a greater long-term threat to Washington’s interests in Iraq than Muqtada al-Sadr; and, far from belonging to opposite schools of Shiite Islam, Sadr and Sistani, both staunch nationalists, complement each other, much to the puzzled frustration of the Bush White House.

Dinesh D’Souza makes a case that the supposed Iraq-Iran Shia alliance is a myth, but given the flow of weapons from Iran into Iraq, the training of insurgents taking place in Iran, and the protection of Moqtada al Sadr and the Sadrist leadership in Iran, this is a hard sell.  D’Souza doesn’t quite make the case.  The balance of the Middle East fears a potential alliance, and thus the Saudis have let the world know their opinion of Maliki by snubbing his overtures.

The Sunnis perceive (correctly) that Maliki’s government is an arm of Sistani and Sadr, and the Sunni ministers have threatened withdrawal from Maliki’s cabinet.  As I have pointed out before, the supposed healing powers of democracy do not exist, and in the case of Maliki’s government, democracy had been used as a catalyst for a sectarian agenda rather than for therapeutic purposes.  As long as the U.S. is slavishly devoted to a democratic experiment in Iraq, we are relegated to the Multi-National Forces spokesmen talking about how the U.S. supports the democratic right to protest.  There is still time to turn the train in Iraq, but the train must not have Maliki as a passenger.  The train’s destination must be stability, reconciliation and security, rather than surreptitious sectarianism in the name of democracy.

Maliki’s government is dead, and the real question is how clever the military and political thinkers are and how quickly they will figure it out.


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