Tuesday, December 02, 2008

al-Sadr's lost influence?

A lasting image from the parliamentary debate here on the U.S.-Iraqi security plan is of a lawmaker loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr sweeping his arm across a table in a rage, hurling books, papers and a vase of flowers onto the floor of the chamber.
Ahmed Massoudi's televised tantrum, and days of Sadr loyalists shouting, pounding desks and pleading for parliament to reject the pact, made no difference. Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lawmakers approved the Status of Forces Agreement, which sets a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for American forces to leave Iraq. Sadr says the deal has loopholes that could extend the U.S. presence.
The vote last week was a sign of how Sadr's clout has diminished since 2005, when his parliamentary bloc provided the boost needed to propel fellow Shiite Nouri Maliki into the prime minister's role. Now that Sadr's ultimate goal, a U.S. exit, is in sight, questions arise about his political future.

Like all but a tiny few domestic correspondents in the MSM, Tina Susman can't bring herself to be upfront about the realities of the one-year nature of the treaty between the US and Iraq; however, she's usually able to convey other aspects very well which makes the above, from her "U.S.-Iraqi accord shows Muqtada Sadr's diminished clout" (Los Angeles Times), all the more confusing.

First off, Moqtada al-Sadr has been counted out many, many times. The US State Dept has repeatedly counted him out -- most recently in February of 2008. However, even the State Dept isn't buying the opinion Susman's offering today. Maybe she's seeing something everyone else is missing?

Could be. She can be very astute.

But from the article, she really has no basis for her claims.

Sami Moubayed's "SOFA not sitting well in Iraq" (Asia Times) was noted here yesterday morning and it's much more in line with the conventional wisdom. Add to that, the United Nations has been saying for weeks now (since the Secretary General's report, in fact) that violence would increase as provincial elections (currently scheduled for Jan. 31st) neared. Point? As violence increases, who looks better to the average Iraqi? The person who's seen as having pushed the current status quo or the one who opposed it?

By taking a very strong line against the treaty, al-Sadr did a smart thing in terms of movement building. That may or may not have been his intention. But it was a smart move regardless. The US State Dept expected the treaty to pass and knew they'd have to grease a number of Sunni palms (as they in fact did). al-Sadr could count the numbers and knew how many voters were needed and also knew from members of his bloc what was going on in terms of 'rewards' for MPs who supported the treaty. Now maybe he's just so great and wonderful and so totally awesome that he had a conviction and stuck with it? Or maybe he -- as he's done many times before -- examined the situation and came up with a strategy. His opposing the treaty is not something unpopular in Iraq. Many Iraqis oppose the treaty and, as with Basra, any time he can stand up and out from the al-Maliki government it increases his standing. That has been the pattern over and over.

Susman may be right. We've opened with her for that reason. But if we look at the pattern and what's offered in her article (note that she has much more on the subject than what she put into her article), there's no basis for the conclusion.

For those who buy into the myth of al-Maliki rising . . .

A furious young policeman pointed at the sack and screamed: "See, this is Iraqi flesh! This is the flesh of Iraqi people, and it is all because of Maliki," a reference to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

What was the Baghdad police officer furious about? Katherine Zoepf doesn't tell you in her "Two Bombings Kill at Least 30 Iraqis" (New York Times). It could just be the bombing? It could be the treaty (some observers -- read the article -- blame the US for the bombing with one quoted appearing to believe the US military presence drew the bombers out and), it could be the loss of life, it could be his 'rule.' See, al-Sadr is the critic. He is not the ruler. al-Maliki takes the fall for all things he fails to provide Iraqis. Another reason Susman's conclusions seem doubtful. We'll note this from Zoepf's article:

In a separate episode early Monday, there was an assassination attempt on a convoy carrying Maj. Gen. Mudher al-Mawla, an adviser to the Iraqi cabinet on the Awakening movement, made up mostly of Sunni former insurgents who are now working with the government. Three people were killed and 10 were injured, according to the Interior Ministry. The adviser survived with only minor injuries.
Firas al-Samarrai, the leader of the Awakening movement in Selikh, the Baghdad neighborhood where the assassination attempt took place, said the explosion appeared to have come from a small bomb that was placed in a cavity in a lamppost near General Mawla's home.

Here's Susman on that attempt from "Blasts kill at least 15 cadets at Baghdad police academy" (Los Angeles Times, video of the aftermath of some of yesterday's violence is also at the link):

Also in the capital, an Iraqi army general escaped an assassination attempt, but the roadside bomb targeting him killed one of his bodyguards. The blast was intended for Maj. Gen. Mudher Mawla, who is overseeing the transition of tens of thousands of mainly Sunni Arab paramilitary fighters into the Iraqi security forces and other government entities.
The paramilitaries, known as the Sons of Iraq, are credited with helping reduce violence nationwide. But they are frequent targets of insurgents, who consider them traitors for working alongside U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

On yesterday's bombing Mosul, we'll note this from Sudarsan Raghavan and Zaid Sabah's "Bomb Attacks Kill at Least 27, Wound Dozens in Iraq" (Washington Post):

Mohammed Salam al-Obeidy, a 23-year-old laborer, was carrying goods in his cart when the attack unfolded.
"A huge explosion shook the buildings and everything flew to the sky," Obeidy recalled. "I felt something hit my right leg and then I fell to the ground. My leg began bleeding, so I crawled to a nearby shop. I was screaming because of the pain."
The shopkeeper helped him into a car to get to the hospital, along with another man with a head wound.
"Seconds later, another explosion took place and our driver fled the car," Obeidy said. "We thought we were going to die. But then the driver came back and took us to the hospital."

Addressing the larger picture, Zach notes Chris Hedges' "Confronting the Terrorist Within" (Information Clearing House):

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when viewed from the receiving end, are state-sponsored acts of terrorism. These wars defy every ethical and legal code that seek to determine when a nation can wage war, from Just War Theory to the statutes of international law largely put into place by the United States after World War II. These wars are criminal wars of aggression. They have left hundreds of thousands of people, who never took up arms against us, dead and seen millions driven from their homes. We have no right as a nation to debate the terms of these occupations. And an Afghan villager, burying members of his family's wedding party after an American airstrike, understands in a way we often do not that terrorist attacks can also be unleashed from the arsenals of an imperial power.
Barack Obama's decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and leave behind tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines in Iraq -- he promises only to withdraw combat brigades -- is a failure to rescue us from the status of a rogue nation. It codifies Bush's "war on terror." And the continuation of these wars will corrupt and degrade our nation just as the long and brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank has corrupted and degraded Israel. George W. Bush has handed Barack Obama a poisoned apple. Obama has bitten it.
The invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were our response to feelings of vulnerability and collective humiliation after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They were a way to exorcise through reciprocal violence what had been done to us.
Collective humiliation is also the driving force behind al-Qaida and most terrorist groups. Osama bin Laden cites the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which led to the carving up of the Ottoman Empire, as the beginning of Arab humiliation. He attacks the agreement for dividing the Muslim world into "fragments." He rails against the presence of American troops on the soil of his native Saudi Arabia. The dark motivations of Islamic extremists mirror our own.

And just as al-Sadr benefits from being right (violence will not disappear from Iraq anytime soon), Chris Hedges -- for those paying attention -- was right as well even if he is too kind to point that out.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.

 the los angeles times
 tina susman

the new york times
katherine zoepf
 the washington post
sudarsan raghavan