Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Plan for Post-Surge Iraq

Almost five years have passed since the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s government and Iraqis are still waiting for the better life promised by President George W. Bush in his speech hours before the invasion. Two days before the commencement of the military operations in Iraq, President George W. Bush addressed the Iraqi people with the following message:

“Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you. As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free. In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms. The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.”[1]

If history has a tendency to repeat itself, this is one case of such tendency. On 23 November, 1920, “Sir Percy Cox read in Arabic a proclamation which included the following statement of policy:

“The British Government has now occupied Basra, but though a state of war with the Ottoman Government still prevails, yet we have no enmity or ill-will against the population, to whom we hope to prove good friends and protectors. No remnant of Turkish administration now remains in this region. In place thereof the British flag has been established, under which you will enjoy the benefits of liberty and justice, both in regard to your religious and secular affairs.”[2]

While President Bush’s message does not express the imperialist tone of Cox’s statement, the two share one thing in common: none of their promises in a better future for Iraqis were positively fulfilled.

The United States' efforts to stabilize Iraq for the past years have been always described as “progress.” The quality of progress was finally defined by Ambassador Crocker in the following terms: “the cumulative trajectory of political, economic, and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upwards, although the slope of that line is not steep.”[3] In plain English, the progress is there, but hardly enough to get the job done. Meanwhile, a growing number of Iraqis feel some unhealthy nostalgia to the bad old days. This article aims at identifying the reasons for the lack of adequate progress and suggesting some measures to give the trajectory a better direction. This task cannot be adequately accomplished without providing a critique of the current U.S. policy in Iraq and the alternative “plans” suggested by some critics of this policy.

Three plans compete for the chance to replace the official policy in Iraq: a simple “cut and run” plan which calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops as soon as possible and let the Iraqis sort out their differences; a simple division of Iraq into three autonomous regions, as it was in the Ottoman days; and the Biden Plan, which is, in spite of its shortcomings, the most coherent of the three. This article, for obvious reasons, will ignore the first two plans and discuss the Biden Plan and the official U.S. policy in Iraq. It will also propose an alternative plan for the post-surge era.

The Biden Plan
Senator Joseph Biden has devoted a lot of time and energy to the Iraqi problem. He is correctly described as “probably the best-informed member of Congress on Iraq.”[4] As his plan shows, he does grasp many of the current problems in the country and provide reasonable ways to solve some of them. But the plan also fails to recognize many essential problems that would call for more than “five points” to solve the Iraqi crisis. Simply put, the Biden plan rests on a political pillar (the first point), which delegates most of the power to the regions and leaves a skeletal national government with jurisdiction on the “common interests.”[5] This point maybe scrutinized on several levels. First, the federal government will not be able to keep Iraq together. The Senator’s distinguished career must have taught him that there is more to a viable federal government that what he allows the Iraqi national government in the first point of his plan. Second, the proposal to have a Shi’i region, a Sunni region and a Kurdish region is easier on paper than in reality—one of the problems of the Biden plan is that it is heavily charged with sectarian and racial language that Iraqis try to avoid as they articulate the foundations of their political system. There are millions of Iraqis who will end up in a region not controlled by their own sectarian or ethnic groups. If this plan, as the Senator presents it, designed to end sectarian violence, there no solution to be expected from federalism, because most of the sectarian and ethnic violence takes place in the mixed cities and not in the homogeneous ones like Najaf, Arbil and Tikrit. Third, the regions are not able to handle all of the power that will be given to them under the Biden plan. Until 2003, most of the Iraqi cities never had a governor, a mayor or a chief of police of their own. The regime of Saddam Hussein sent those from Baghdad or the few towns loyal to him. The catastrophic performance of the local governments in the past four years speaks volumes about where this plan will lead. The latest report submitted to Congress by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (October 2007) states that “Iraq’s provincial councils have limited ability to manage and sustain infrastructure projects, and they are not sufficiently budgeting for operations and maintenance requirements.”[6] Until those local governments are enabled to act proficiently, it would be irresponsible to give them a sweeping control over the destiny of millions of Iraq’s citizens.

The second point calls for equitable distribution of revenues. This is the right thing to do, but the plan needs some adjustment. A guaranteed 20 percent of “all present and future revenues” for Sunnis should be made after taking into consideration the central government’s expenses. Otherwise, the other two groups end up financing the state from their own portions. Additionally, the second point in the plan seems to worry about the Ba'athists, but gives no attention whatsoever to their victims who outnumber them more than ten to one. In this sense, the plan will replace a small angry minority of former oppressors with a large furious majority of victims. The Senator, in spite of his obvious effort to follow the situation in Iraq, perhaps is not aware that a vast majority of the victims of the past regime are still victims in the new regime. To reward their former oppressors and tell them (the victims) to simply “get over it,” will create a political and moral quagmire the consequences of which can be catastrophic.

The third and fifth points present good suggestions concerning the engagement of Iraq’s neighbors, politically and financially, in solving Iraq’s problems. Unfortunately, most of those are unrealistic at the present time. First, the regional states are not operating in harmony with one another, because they have mutually exclusive goals in Iraq. Also, some of them are on the worst terms with the United States, which gives them no incentive to cooperate. Indeed, even the U.S. ‘allies’ seem to pursue their own interests, which at times can be to the opposite of what the United States tries to accomplish. Further, the plan does not explain how to make those “oil-rich Gulf states” give money to Iraq. Until now, Kuwait insists on collecting all of the compensations for Saddam’s invasion and occupation in 1990-1991, much less provide any financial aid, and Saudi has only agreed to give Iraq loans in addition to some unsubstantial aid. Saudi Arabia still wants Iraq to pay the loans from the Iraq-Iran War, some $15 to $18 billion. Although they agreed recently to forgive 80 percent of the loans, they did claim that unpaid interest has brought the amount owed to $39 billion.[7] In this case, Iraq will still have to pay half of the original debt. As the Iraqi minister of Finance, Baqir Jabr, pointed out, “Saudi Arabia has also failed to deliver on a long-standing pledge to provide $1 billion in new aid.”[8] Additionally, some Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, have undermined the stability of Iraq. In the words of one U.S. representative, the Saudi government shows “tacit approval of terrorism.”[9]

The fourth point calls for a withdrawal and re-deployment of “almost all U.S. forces from Iraq by 2008.” As it will be discussed shortly, this goal is not realistic, given the status of Iraq’s security forces. The plan does not call on giving Iraq a credible military and police to be able to defend itself in a very bad neighborhood, the Middle East. It calls for keeping a small number of troops, around 20,000, “to strike any concentration of terrorists, help keep Iraq's neighbors honest and train its security forces.” If 150,000 U.S. troops were deemed insufficient to keep Iraq safe, hence the surge, then how could one tenth of that number of troops accomplish this goal?

Additional critique of the plan must emphasize that the plan makes no mention of corruption, which is the second form of terrorism in Iraq, nor does it present any measures to end it. Indeed, under the plan corruption is more likely to thrive. Iraq’s provinces need a long process to establish the institutions that would ensure accountability and transparency. In 2006, Iraq was placed as the second most corrupt country in the world, sharing the same place on the list (160) with Myanmar and Guinea, and saved from the worst position by Haiti. This is not likely to change, except for to worse, when the 2007 report is announced. Iraq’s 2006 budget was $41 billion and it will be $48 billion in 2008, the highest in Iraq’s history. Yet, Iraqis still live in sub-human conditions, worse than those of the poorest countries. The only ones who seem to have prospered are the politicians and their allies.[10] To put it bluntly, with this level of corruption, all of the talk about a strong, stable and democratic Iraq is mere nonsense.

The United States is, sadly, part of this problem. To be sure, the United States did not introduce corruption in Iraq. But the United States has tolerated gross corruption for a higher priority, namely so as not to disturb the political process. Hence, a unique opportunity to break away from the old system of corruption was missed. From the billions of dollars that simply disappeared during the CPA era to the latest revelations of gross corruption cases, the U.S. Government has not taken any significant steps to prosecute the offenders, much less use available tools, such as the Interpol, to bring fugitive embezzlers to justice. This conduct on part of the U.S. Government caused some frustrated members of Congress, like Rep. Henry Waxman, to introduce House Resolution 734, accusing the State Department of “abuse of the classification process to withhold from Congress and the people of the United States broad assessments of the extent of corruption in the Iraqi Government.”[11] This came after the State Department “retroactively classified two reports on corruption in Iraq,” that were previously disseminated. The resolution also expressed frustration at the State Department for “directing its employees not to answer questions in an open forum that call for ‘Broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability/determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons.’”[12] The resolution was passed in the House of Representatives on October 16, 2007, by an overwhelming majority of 395 to 21.[13] This is not about some small matters of petty corruption or embezzlement. As Representative Waxman put it, quoting the Head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, Radhi al-Radhi, testifying before Congress, “Corrupt Iraqi officials had stolen a staggering 18 billion dollars.”[14] Thirty-one investigators, according to al-Radhi, were assassinated to prevent the exposure of those corrupt officials.

The plan, in Senator Biden’s words, aims to “beef up” the federal arrangement in the Iraqi constitution. This is not possible, of course, without a constitutional amendment. Iraqis of all groups reject this level of tampering with the constitution. It goes without saying that amending the constitution to make it reflect a plan presented by a U.S. senator is in itself a bad plan that can only excite the resentment of Iraqis. Iraqi politicians are conveniently racing to criticize the Senate vote to endorse the Biden Plan in harsh terms. The leader of one bloc in the Iraqi legislature described the vote in the U.S. Senate to pass a non-binding resolution (essentially based on the Biden plan) as a move that shows no ethics, taste or any respect to the International law, asking the interviewer, “What if the Iraqi legislature passed a similar non-binding resolution to divide the United States?”[15]

U.S. Policy: No Good Options
Setting all diplomatic niceties aside, Ambassador Crocker complained that “[no] Nelson Mandela existed to emerge on the [Iraqi] national political scene; anyone with his leadership talents would have not survived.” This line was echoed in a speech President Bush gave, saying: “Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.”[16] In between, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also dwelled on the same theme and attributed the assumed lack of an Iraqi Mandela to the fact that “Saddam Hussein killed people, a lot of the leadership of Iraq.”[17] This lack of faith in all Iraqis, at the highest level of the U.S. Government, tells the whole story of failing to accomplish any substantial political progress in Iraq. In fairness to Ambassador Crocker and his superiors in the Government, they are not the first to hold this “Orientalist” view. Faced with the same task, Gertrude Bell wrote in 1920: “If only we could manage to install a native head of the state.”[18] She went on, a week later, to state that, “The theory is that we’re going to set up a government agreeable to all; the drawback [is] that such a government doesn’t exist.”[19] The British solution was to import a king, Faisal I, from Mecca. The real problem for the U.S. Government is not that an Iraqi Mandela does not exist; the problem is that there is no Faisal—a man who is accepted by the Iraqis and, at the same time, poses no threat to U.S. interests in the region. Any Sunni Arab or a Kurd will not be accepted by the Iraqis, because they will not agree to return to minority rule, which could only be sustained by oppression. Therefore, we are back to Ms. Bell’s quandary: “if you’re going to have anything like really representative institutions…you would have a majority of Shi’ahs.”[20] This will run against the second criteria since, as far as Washington is concerned, any Shi’i leader in Iraq is a priori guilty of being closer to Iran than to the United States.

Given this poverty of choices, the United States has moved in all directions and ended up with no particular direction. In the past five years we have seen U.S. support of democracy and its antithesis, tribalism; secularism and theocracy; constitutionalism and arbitrary politics; rule of law and contempt to the law; de-Ba’athification and re-Ba’athification; disarming the militias and tolerating the militias; fighting the insurgents and backing the insurgents; to give only a short list of inconsistencies. This experimentalism is directly caused by the lack of faith in the Iraqis and is also directly causing the lack of substantial progress in Iraq.

The drawback in Iraq is that after the military victory that resulted in the removal of a brutal dictator, a political victory by replacing him with a decent government did not ensue. Instead, factions within the U.S. Government kept their eyes on each other and let the Iraqi ball bounce all over the field. Just as Iraqis began to recover from the plunders of Ambassador L Paul Bremer III and, following two elections and a constitutional ratification, a fatal setback was set off by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s imposition of a “national unity” government which included politicians and parties who stood for anything but national unity. Worse of all, this imposition represented the first act to undermine a constitution whose ink was still fresh. As a result, it took the Iraqis several months to finally form a government that failed to reflect the constitution or national unity. The ministers represent and serve their own parties and social groups first and always, on the watch of a prime minister who possessed no actual oversight power on their performance—not to speak of the horrific corruption. Once again, Iraqis were sent back to despair and forced to embrace their tribes and militias, whose menace was tolerated simply because they outperform the incompetent government.

On January 10, 2007, President Bush said, “The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people—and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.”[21] This statement was as true then as it was true three years earlier, but it would have made a world of difference had it been said in 2003. Part of the problem, of course, was that the American people did not actively unveil their judgment on the situation in Iraq in the 2004 election, which was interpreted as a mandate for the Iraq policy.

The U.S. election of 2006 brought several positive changes that gave a chance to correct the Iraq policy: the departure of Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which in turn facilitated the appointment of a general who called for more troops; the replacement of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who was resented by many Iraqis for what they perceived as his political bias toward the Sunnis;[22] and the first declaration by President Bush that “we’re not winning, we’re not loosing,” instead of the over-confident pre-election statement, “Absolutely, we’re winning.”[23] As a result, a policy contrary to that of Rumsfeld’s began to take shape. More troops were deployed to secure Baghdad and some other hot areas in the past months, which resulted in a significant reduction of violence in the city. But, unless true measures are adopted to sustain it, this reduction is temporary. Furthermore, it is not enough, as of now, to create a feeling of safety in the capital, or any other place in Iraq, because the terrorists are still able to strike at will in any place and at any time; and they do.

Contributing to the general lack of confidence in the future of Iraq’s security is the fact that the surge is supposed to end very soon. The post-surge circumstances will not have changed from the time before the surge to prevent the return of the terrorists and the criminals to the streets of Baghdad. The question that needs to be asked now is, “What is the post-surge plan?”

The Problem Can Be the Solution
The security problem in Iraq at this time is the weakness of Iraq’s military and security forces. Niceties aside, there is no true commitment on the part of the United States, or anyone else, to make Iraq a strong country. Iraqi forces are still untrained, poorly equipped and confused. This lack of commitment should not surprise anyone, because Iraq is still a suspect, just like it was in Saddam’s days. A strong military, which is what it takes to accomplish true security, is not on the immediate agenda.

In his recent testimony before Congress, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey argued that Iraq should have the number of troops it needs, but not more than that.[24] But, what is this number? Initially, it was estimated in 2003 that Iraqi forces would be, by 2006, as low as 40,000, excluding the police force—hardly enough to secure one Iraqi province. Nevertheless, at that time, Walter Slocombe, a senior Coalition Provisional Authority official, “said the new military would theoretically be able to defend Iraq from invasion.”[25]

After the rise of the insurgency, the objective number of military and police was set at 325,000 (134,700 Military and 188,300 Police). The irksome reality is that Iraq needs four times this number in order to achieve stability. Without domestic violence, Saddam Hussein employed a military of 400,000 troops in peace time to keep order and deter an outside attack, with the flexibility to raise the number to a million in war time. When the number of Saddam’s police, security police and other forces are added to the math, it should become clear that the current force objectives will never produce security in Iraq without a long-term commitment of foreign forces. This is exactly the assessment of Lt. General Dempsey, who said, in a recent interview: “For some time Iraq will continue to need assurances from the United States in terms of its external security.”[26] The General’s assessment was confirmed by the Declaration of Principles, which was agreed to by President George W. Bush and PM Nouri al-Maliki on November 26, 2007. In the section on security, the first principle stipulates that the United States “provides security assurances and commitments to deter any external aggression targeting Iraq and violating its sovereignty and its territory, water or space.”[27] As this declaration is a prelude to “a formal agreement defining long-term relations between the two nations,”[28] Lt. Gen. Dempsey’s statement that not before the end of 2008 that the Iraqi “…force begins to look like that of a fully sovereign government,” becomes an understatement of some sort. The national defense of Iraq will become the business of the Unites States for quite a while. Iraqi sovereignty will never be complete and no future Iraqi government can claim legitimacy and independence, as the experience with Britain proved throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, the plan to handle Iraq’s current military and police deficiency is both misguided and dangerous. It is built on outsourcing the job of Iraq’s inadequate troops to the tribes and, in some limited cases, the insurgents! Fighting one element of the insurgency by empowering another insurgency element is an untenable method of counterinsurgency, especially when both elements have the same stated goals: to kill as many Iraqis and Americans as it takes to regain control of Iraq. The same can also be said about the empowerment of tribal elements. The tribal sheikhs do not put their lives and those of their men on the line because of pro-Americanism or because of some Iraqi patriotic sentiments. They do so to enhance their own positions in the constant struggle with local rivals over territory and prestige, not to mention personal gains. A similar policy of reliance on the tribes brought dire consequences to the Ottomans in the 19th century; it exploded in the face of the British administration of Iraq in the early 20th century; and it will lead to the same now.

The objective of “an Iraq that does not constitute a threat to its neighbors” must not be understood in pure military terms. Otherwise, the old, threatening, Iraq would be replaced by a new Iraq that is constantly threatened by its neighbors. The concept of an Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors must be found on a democratic, stable and strong Iraq. The solution is to have enough forces in Iraq to end the violence and provide stability. Since a substantial increase of U.S. forces is not a possibility, both logistically and politically, the only solution—which also happens to be the right one—is to re-institute the military conscription in Iraq.

Military Conscription in Iraq
Military conscription in Iraq was mistakenly abolished after the toppling of Saddam’s government. It was established by an elected Iraqi parliament in the 1930s and was kept on the books by every subsequent government.[29] Re-instating conscription in Iraq will tackle a complex of problems in the country. Most importantly, it will provide the number of troops desperately needed for the upcoming years. This will reduce the security dependence on U.S. forces, many of whom went through three tours of duty, and some are on their fourth tour. Indeed, this is the only viable plan for the post-surge period.

Conscription will also change the current lopsided make-up of the Iraqi forces, wherein the Shi’a are over-represented. Consequently, insurgency propagandists brand all Iraqi soldiers and officers as “collaborators with the U.S.” or as “militias loyal to the governing parties.” A military conscription will undermine this claim and restore the old status of the Iraqi soldier. For once, there is a chance for the Iraqi military to be a true national institution in a country with a dire need for some institutions that transcend the sects and ethnic groups. This can be done only when the military includes all Iraqi groups through a return to conscription. Furthermore, with every recruit added to the Iraq forces, the number of Iraqis who join the insurgency, or choose a criminal path for economic reasons, will decrease.

In addition to conscription, a return to the previous laws concerning soldiers’ commitment to their units is essential for a successful military in Iraq—in today’s Iraq, “it is not illegal for an Iraqi soldier to abandon his unit or go AWOL.”[30] This is why many soldiers simply desert their units when asked to fight and, in other cases, insist on serving in a specific location but not elsewhere. In May 2006, “dozens of [soldiers in the Anbar province] declared that they would refuse to serve outside their home areas.” And a year earlier, “more than 15,000 other Iraqi soldiers and police officers deserted, forcing the training effort essentially to start over with new practices designed to increase the retention of recruits.”[31] Still, no policy exists to prevent the recurrence of such conduct. According to Lt. Gen. Dempsey, of the Iraqi Security Forces that were ordered to support the plan to secure Baghdad, “some units didn’t want to fight,” while there was “one case where several senior leaders at the lieutenant colonel and major level spoke out against the mission [in Baghdad] and advised their soldiers not to deploy,” contributing to other reasons behind the loss of 35%-40% of the units’ authorized strength.[32] Iraqis need to confront this flaw in there military if they wish to operate independently to provide internal security and/or defend their country against an external threat.

There is, of course, the past history of abusing the conscription law by the previous regimes; especially the abuses under Saddam Hussein’s rule. Saddam Hussein engaged in external wars for eleven of his twenty-two years in power. Throughout these years, conscripts were kept in the service for up to thirteen years,[33] with a pay that was hardly enough to cover the soldier’s personal expenses, much less to support a family. When the war was over, veterans were thrown out to unemployment and neglect, only to face a recall when another war began. The lives tens of thousands of Iraqi men and their families were shattered by this cruel practice. The new conscription law must take every measure to prevent such abuse. Additionally, the law needs not be permanent. It can be set with an expiration date after seven or ten years and a provision for a review by the Iraqi legislators to keep it on the books or end it according to the circumstances.

A Plan for Iraq
The Iraqi Constitution should be sole basis for Iraq’s political and legal processes. Having failed to meet its purpose and proven its incompetence, the National Unity Government should be replaced with a government consistent with the Iraqi constitution. The Prime Minister should choose his ministers and have full authority over them. What Iraq needs is a really united and vibrant government in office and a vibrant opposition in and outside the parliament. PM Nouri al-Maliki can form such a government and govern for the balance of his term.
Iraq’s Conscription Law needs to be reinstated and the Iraqi Forces, including the Air Force, should be fully equipped and trained to meet the current and future challenges. Iraq’s security should not be compromised for the sake of the political process or to satisfy some local or regional actors. This is the only realistic way to responsibly withdraw the U.S. forces without leaving a vacuum in Iraq.
Militias, tribal and religious forces, and all other anti-democratic armed groups should not have a place in Iraq. The government must devise a plan to have a monopoly on the possession and use of weapons. As the circumstances allow, subsequent laws can be enacted to permit reasonable possession and use of arms in a manner that poses no threat to law and order.
De-Ba'athification must be a legal and a political process. The question needs to be addressed at three levels. First, Ba'ath Party members should be accountable for their personal conduct rather than their previous association with the Party; second, the victims of the Party’s brutality must see justice done by prosecuting known criminals and fair compensation for their loss and suffering during the Ba'athist rule; and, third, reconciliation may be made with the individuals, but not with the Ba'ath as a party and an ideology—the ideology of the Ba'ath Party and any similar form of chauvinism must not be permitted in Iraq. All former Ba'ath members can receive political amnesty, as long as this does not preclude any victim from pressing charges against anyone of them for personal crimes committed during their time in power.
There is a need to activate the Iraqi judiciary and respect its independence. No one in Iraq can be allowed to escape prosecution, especially high profile criminals and terrorists, who are spared for the sake of the “political process.”
Corruption in Iraq must be combated with the same determination as the insurgency and terrorism. No corrupt politicians or bureaucrats should be spared for any consideration.
With the exception of the three Kurdish provinces, federalism in Iraq should be applied gradually, starting with the federalism of the governorates. Political and financial powers should be given in a progressive way along with extensive training and capacity building and the necessary steps to assure transparency and accountability. Once the governorates attain the level of maturity as federal unites, they can join each other and cluster as larger provinces (aqaleem).
The reconstruction of Iraq should be given a higher level of consideration. It must not be tied to the “generosity” of the International Community or the regional actors. With a budget of $48 billion, Iraq is capable of depending on itself. Any extra contributions should be treated as a welcome addition, but not as a sine qua non basis for reconstruction. Along with reconstructing Iraq, there is a need to raise the standard of living for all Iraqis. Whether they are unemployed, or employed with inadequate pay, too many Iraqis do not live with dignity at the present time. This is unacceptable for a country with the second oil reserve in the world.
Iraqi revenues should be distributed equally among all Iraqis according to a sound and transparent fiscal policy. Any oil laws should be made with the consensus of all Iraqi groups and crafted by professionals and specialists rather than partisan politicians with no knowledge of the long-term consequences of the laws. Iraq’s current vulnerability must not be a justification to surrender its wealth to the multi-national corporations.
Since none of Iraq’s neighbors can be considered a friend of the Iraqi people, they must not be allowed to influence the political process in the country. The more they interfere, the harder it is for Iraqis to succeed. While the United States cannot make Iraq’s neighbors provide positive assistance, it certainly can deter them from hindering the process. This should go for both U.S. foes and allies.

1. White House Press Release, “President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours,” March 17, 2003.

2. Arnold T. Wilson, Loyalties: Mesopotamia 1914-1917 (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1930), 10-11.

3. Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s Statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, September 11, 2007.

4. Peter Galbraith, “Make Walls, Not War,” The New York Times, October 23, 2007.

5. Senator Joseph Biden Press Release, “Iraq: A Way Forward," October 6, 2006. See also, Joseph Biden, “A Plan to Hold Iraq Together,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2006, A21.

6. For details, see the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Quarterly Report to the United States Congress for October 30, 2007.

7. Steven Mufson and Robin Wright, “In a Major Step, Saudi Arabia Agrees to Write Off 80 Percent of Iraqi Debt,” The Washington Post, April 18, 2007.

8. Ibid.

9. Al-Jazeera News, “US: Saudi Arabia destabilizing Iraq,” Al-Jazeera News (Aljazeera.net), July 29, 2007.

10. The series of hearings on Iraqi corruption conducted by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform are very revealing and disheartening.

11. H. Res. 374, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the withholding of information relating to corruption in Iraq," October 11, 2007.

12. House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, “House Passes Resolution on Iraq Corruption,” October 16, 2007.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Salih al-Mutlak, interview with al-Fayhaa TV, November 30, 2007.

16. An online clip is accessible on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1KGwQ1O88Y (accessed on Nov. 22, 07). Given Mandela’s position on the whole Iraq tragedy, it is highly doubtful that the Bush Administration is "literally" looking for someone like Mandela.

17. Text of September 12, 2007 Interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on KARN with Dave Elswick, posted at the U.S. State Department Website.

18. Gertrude Bell, a letter to her father on October 3, 1920. Ms. Bell, as she is generally known, was the architect of the modern Iraqi state.

19. Gertrude Bell, a letter to her parents on October 10, 1920.

20. Gertrude Bell, a letter to her father on October 3, 1920.

21. “President’s Address to the Nation,” White House Website (Whitehouse.gov), January 10, 2007.

22. As Nibras Kazimi noted, “Shia resentment is so acute that the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is referred to as 'Abu Omar' in Iraqi political circles—meaning ‘father of Omar,’ with Omar being a quintessentially Sunni name as far as Shias are concerned.” See Nibras Kazimi, “’Abu Omar’ vs. the Shias,” The New York Sun, April 12, 2006.

23. Peter Baker, “U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time,” The Washington Post, December 20, 2006.

24. Lt. General Martin Dempsey’s Testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, June 12, 2007.

25. Patrick Tyler, “AFTER THE WAR: THE NEW ARMY; U.S.-British Project: To Build a Postwar Iraqi Armed Force of 40,000 Soldiers in 3 Years,” The New York Times, June 24, 2003.

26. James Kitfield, “Q &A: Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, More Art Than Science,” National Journal, June 8, 2007.

27. Al-Sabaah Daily, November 26, 2006.

28. Thom Shanker and Cara Buckley, “US and Iraq to Negotiate Pact on Long-Term Relations,” The New York Times, November 27, 2007.

29. Abbas Kadhim, “Civil-Military Relations in Iraq (1921-2006): An Introductory Survey,” Strategic Insights V, no. 5 (May 2006).

30. Jeremy Sharp, The Iraqi Security Forces: The Challenge of Sectarian and Ethnic Influences, CRS Report for Congress, January 18, 2007.

31. Nelson Hernandez, “Iraqis Begin Duty With Refusal,” Washington Post, May 2, 2006.

32. James Kitfield, Op. Cit., “Q &A: Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, More Art Than Science,” National Journal, June 8, 2007.

33. Conscription in Iraq at the time in question required a service of three years of those without a college degree and two years of the holders of a college degree.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Shi`i Perceptions of The Iraq Study Group Report

When addressing the reactions of various Iraqi groups to the findings and the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), one has to bear in mind that Iraqis do not view the Iraq Study Group’s main purpose to be pertinent to their plight. Rather, they view the formation of the ISG as a means to help a perplexed American administration to break the vicious cycle of failure in Iraq, which has encompassed every aspect of life in the country: politics, security, services, economics, reconstruction, and to the last item in the long list of necessities.[1] It is no wonder, then, that Iraqis fell into two categories, those who rejected the Group’s report and others who complimented it with cold and vague statements.

Being true to its mission, The ISG Report is a reminder of the British reports from the Iraqi Mandate era in the 1920’s. The first item in the report was a “Letter from the Co-Chairs” that reads, in part, as follows:

“There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq. However, there are actions that can be taken to improve the situation and protect American interests.

Many Americans are dissatisfied, not just with the situation in Iraq but with the state of our political debate regarding Iraq. Our political leaders must build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to what is now a lengthy and costly war. Our country deserves a debate.”

Other than the diplomatic phrase of “honor[ing] the many Iraqis who have sacrificed on behalf of their country,” in the last sentence, there is virtually no attention paid to the interests of Iraq or the desires and aspirations of the Iraqis, as there was no mention of the cost this war has caused for the Iraqis. In essence, the report could not have been written with a more alienating tone as far as the Iraqi audience is concerned.

This essay addresses the reactions to the Group’s report among the Shi`a. But before any further elaboration, it should be helpful to map out the Shi`a factions and their aspirations regarding the salient recommendations in the report.

The Shi`i landscape:
Political and religious factions have mushroomed in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government on April 9, 2003. In the past, two active political groups were generally known:

The Da`wa Party : a religious party established in the late 1950s under the influence of Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, an exceptional Islamic scholar who was executed by the Iraqi regime in the context of the political escalation between Iraq and Iran prior to the eight-year war (1980-1988). The Da`wa Party had a strong organization inside Iraq, but the leadership resided in Iran, Syria and London. Membership in this party was considered, by Iraqi law, a crime punishable by death.[2] The group leadership was split later into two major factions, one technocrat and another made of clergymen. The split was caused mainly by the disagreement between the two factions about the Iranian meddling in the party’s affairs. Both factions of the party returned to Iraq after the U.S. invasion. Although they were against the invasion, Da`wa leaders have participated in the political process and played an important role in the past years—the last two Iraqi prime ministers were chosen from the Da`wa Party.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) : this group was established in Iran, by the late Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, son of Ayatullah Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim. Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim was the head cleric in the Najaf Seminary (the Hawza) until 1970. The Iraqi government brutally persecuted his family in the 1970s and 1980s; his sons, Muhammad Baqir and Abd al-Aziz, managed to escape to Iran. The former established the SCIRI in 1982, recruiting its membership mainly from Iraqi exiles in Iran and the repentant Iraqi prisoners of war who were captured over the years.[3] The latter group became known as the Badr Corps (Faylaq Badr) and remained under the command of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim. They received both military and ideological training in Iran.

Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim became a household name in the Iraqi south in the 1980s and 1990s. This author recalls passing through the Marsh areas during the 1991 uprising in the midst of crowds chanting Muhammad Baqir’s name. One man actually claimed that the Sayyid (i.e. Muhammad Baqir) was in town, leading the uprising, which was not true of course because he, like all other opposition leaders, failed to agree on a location to meet and decide how to help the uprising, much less to do something about it.

The SCIRI returned to Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime and, later in the same year, Muhammad Baqir was assassinated as he was leaving the Friday Prayer, which he led in the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. His brother Abd al-Aziz took his place, democratic considerations notwithstanding.

In addition to the Da`wa Party and the SCIRI, there was the clergy establishment in the holy cities of Iraq, especially in Najaf, where the oldest continuing Shi`a seminary (the Hawza) is located.[4] Since 1970, the Hawza has been under the guardianship of the Grand Ayatullah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei and his student and successor, Grand Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani, both of whom never acquired an Iraqi citizenship. As such, the Hawza leadership pursued a non-political approach, often causing the anger of some firebrand Ayatullahs, such as Khomeini in the 1970s and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr in the 1990s. Ayatullah Khomeini, while mainly concerned with Iranian politics, had tacitly accused the Hawza leaders of infidelity to the authentic teachings of Islam, because of their advocacy of separation of religion and politics.[5]

Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr was also an outsider (i.e. not part of the Hawza). He criticized the quietist approach and, contrary to it, he established his own school, branding it “the Vocal Hawza” (al-Hawza al-Natiqah), to imply that the Hawza of Sistani was “the Silent Hawza.” The main product of the Vocal Hawza was presented in the form of Friday sermons in the Grand Mosque of Kufa, where Imam Ali gave his sermons 1,350 years ago. Sadr gave ninety speeches (two each Friday) before he was assassinated in late February 1999, evidently by the regime of Saddam Hussein.[6]

Following the 2003 regime change, the first actor on the Shi`a scene was the Sadr Movement, a network consisting of the loyal followers of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who gave allegiance to his only surviving son, Muqtada al-Sadr. Having been active under the radar of all observers, this group was underestimated by the U.S. officials, to the detriment of their mission in Iraq. In addition to their founder’s disillusion with the quietism of the Hawza, the group resented being dismissed by the Americans, who favored their counterparts from the Da`wa and the SCIRI. They were also feeling the pressure from some well-funded groups that returned from, or newly established by, Iran, especially in the southern cities of Basra, Imara and Nasiriyya. Some of these new entities were established under the guidance of returning clergymen who used to be part of the Da`wa Party of SCIRI. Paradoxically, most of these new parties claim some intellectual descent from the “Two Sadrs” (Muhammad Baqir and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr).

One of the most successful factions that was established after 2003 is al-Fadhila Party (the Virtue Party), founded by Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoobi. It is a major component of the Shi`a coalition in the Iraqi Parliament and is a growing party with more than one web site. They also have a newspaper and several offices in and outside Iraq. The party assumed several ministries, including the Oil Ministry in several administrations since 2004.[7] The founder’s web-site has a place for answering the questions of “concerned believers,” who ask about a variety of issues, from the opinion about drinking the “Islamic Beer” to the permissibility of certain clothes for men and women. Most shocking of these answers was his opinion that a man who wears short pants is not human, but an animal who needs to be advised gently, and if such advice is not effective, then by “gradual coercion.”[8] Al-Fadhila made news in the past days by its withdrawal from the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in the Assembly, citing the need to end “sectarianism” in Iraqi politics.

Not unpredictably, this diversity among the Shi`a has created some serious tensions and, with so much at stake, violent clashes that plagued most of the communities in the southern Iraqi region, where the regime’s former victims are still collecting the remains of their loved ones from the scattered mass graves across the region. The fighting has many causes, most prominent of those have been the control of the revenue from the holy shrines, the oil smuggling business and, of course, the fighting over the control of city councils, where billions of dollars are squandered with no accountability whatsoever.

The salient issues:
Unlike the voices who lamented the selection of the members of the group because of the lack of expertise on the part of most members, this writer, acknowledging this fact, does not tend to blame the ISG members. If anything, they should be commended for their service. The blame goes for those who made the selection. It does not help that the ISG did seek the advice of many experts in the field—although some of the names listed are clueless about the Middle East and were listed merely because of their political weight. As Machiavelli suggested in The Prince, “a prince who is not prudent himself, cannot be well-advised.” Hence, the Group, lacking knowledge about the basics, could not tell the difference between a good advice provided by Phebe Marr from a bad one that might come from someone less qualified on the advisory list.

The Shi`a and Kurdish grievances were best articulated by Mahmoud Othman, a leading Kurdish politician known for his forthright comments, who blasted the ISG for not having Iraqi members or doing enough homework inside Iraq, arguing that, “those who wrote it (i.e. the Report) have little knowledge about the situation in Iraq. They only visited the Green Zone for some days, they did not go to the south or to Kurdistan to ask the people there. This is the reason why their outcome and recommendations are superficial and inaccurate.”[9]

The greatest problem plaguing The ISG Report, however, pertains to the uneven treatment of Iraq’s neighbors. The group’s approach to these countries is disturbingly identical to the current approach taken by the Bush administration, with the single exception of demanding to engage Syria and Iran, a proposal that was rejected by the administration until very recently.[10] Syria and Iran are described as part of the problem, while Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are part of the solution.[11] While one cannot dispute the negative role played by Syria and Iran in Iraq, The ISG Report loses its credibility by giving a pass to the others, whose role is not less counterproductive. This hypocrisy is rampant throughout the U.S. political establishment that portrays these countries as “the moderate Arab governments,” in complete defiance of the truth and common sense. The ISG Report, by adopting this Orwellian style, has enforced the cynical beliefs that Mr. Baker’s strong ties to the Saudis made him a bad choice for this task.

Syria and Iran are blamed in The ISG Report for supporting militias and insurgents, Saudi and Jordan are considered as potential sponsors of reconciliation in Iraq. It is obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that Saudi Arabia and Jordan play a similar, if not worse, role when it comes to support the forces of destabilization in Iraq. While it is fashionable to demonize Syria and Iran, even if for good reasons, it seems that Mr. Baker finds it very hard to criticize the Saudis, with whom he has special relations—Baker’s law firm, Baker Botts, represented the Saudis.

This “sweet” treatment of the Saudis and Jordanians in The ISG Report make the Shi`a very nervous. Saudi Arabia is the most anti-Shi`a country in the region. The ISG Report’s statement that “the Saudis could use their Islamic credentials to help reconcile differences between Iraqi factions” is preposterous. First, because the Saudis do not believe in the reconciliation between the Islamic factions and, more importantly, they have no Islamic credentials to speak of, since their Islamic standing as Wahhabis is disputed by the Sunnis and the Shi`a alike. Theirs is a cult that gave the world many extremist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qa`ida, not to mention their repugnant oppression of their own citizens. In the words of a leading scholar of Islamic studies:

“Sometimes the Wahhabis are characterized, particularly by non-Muslim observers searching for a brief description, as ‘extreme’ or as ‘conservative Sunnis, with adjectives such as ‘stern’ or austere’ added for good measure. It has, however, been observed by knowledgeable Sunnis since the earliest times that the Wahhabis do not count as part of the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘a [i.e. the Sunnis], for almost all the practices, traditions and beliefs denounced by Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab have been historically integral to Sunni Islam, enshrined in a vast body of literature and accepted by the great majority of Muslims.”[12]

Jordan has also displayed its anti-Shi`a sentiments at the highest levels. King Abdullah II of Jordan made a statement warning of the rise of a " Shia Crescent" from Iran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, threatening the entire region, as he perceived it. Jordan also hosts many former Ba'athists and other Iraqi personalities who express hate to the Shi`a and support the so-called Iraqi resistance. The third member of the axis of “moderation,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, was more blunt in expressing his views. He told the pan-Arab TV, Al-Arabiyya that the Shi`a “are mostly always loyal to Iran and not to the countries where they live .”[13]

The Shi`a consider the recommendations on the engagement of Iraq’s neighbors a way to counterbalance Iran’s help for the Shi`a. The ISG Report rightfully states:

“None of Iraq’s neighbors especially major countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel see it in their interest for the situation in Iraq to lead to aggrandized regional influence by Iran. Indeed, they may take active steps to limit Iran’s influence, steps that could lead to an intraregional conflict.”[14]

Historically, Arab countries—all hold a Sunni identity—have intervened in an anti-Shi`a manner. The Shi`a view any call for a bigger role for those countries as a call to stop the progress of their political rights. Given the Bush administration’s attitude toward Iran, the Shi`a realize that the involvement of Iraq’s neighbors will not benefit them, as Iran’s input will be ignored, if it is ever requested. Hence, the process would be dominated by the anti-Shi`a countries.

The 28th recommendation in The ISG Report deems any provincial control over the whole or even part of its oil as incompatible with the national reconciliation. Sharing the oil according to population, as The ISG Report suggested, is a fair recommendation. However, the Shi`a, whose territories hold most of Iraq’s known oil reserves, want the past neglect of their towns to be taken into consideration when oil revenues are distributed or used for the purposes of reconstruction and development. They want spending to keep in mind the need of each city, which means more spending, initially at least, in the Shi`i region. This writer, having served as a soldier in Basra, remembers the constant illness from bad water in the city, where drinking a decent cup of tea was, and still is, a luxury. The ISG should also know that sweeping this past under the rug of national reconciliation is also incompatible with national reconciliation.

Talking directly to Sistani and Sadr is a positive recommendation. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that Sistani would receive a U.S. emissary, even if he be “a high-level American Shia Muslim,” as The ISG Report thoughtfully suggests.[15] The same may be said about Muqtada al-Sadr. Although he is easier to contact, the United States does not seem ready to ingest some of his demands.

The ISG Report’s recommendation to give an amnesty to “once-bitter enemies” has played a negative role in many Shi`a circles. This is seen by the Shi`a as a euphemism for re-Ba'athification in the government and the military. The ISG’s lack of knowledge regarding Iraq’s history may have made it easy to miss this sensitivity. The Ba'ath Party came to power in a vicious coup in 1963 and lost power soon thereafter, but a complete de-Ba'athification was not undertaken by the Arif government. Consequently, the Ba'ath came to power again in 1968 and established a reign of terror for thirty-five years. Repeating the same mistake will risk another episode of a Ba'athist tyranny in Iraq sooner or later. Also, amnesty would necessarily mean that the past regime’s victims, the majority of whom are Shi`a, would receive no justice. In Islam, the state has no right to make concessions on behalf of the victim, or his kin, without their approval. Again, the ISG has no way of knowing this obscure, yet very important, detail. Any such amnesty, therefore, must secure the popular consent and be accompanied with an elaborate system of reparations. Otherwise, and given the long trail of the Ba'ath’s criminality, this amnesty will open the door for the victimized to take the law into their hands.

Furthermore, The ISG Report’s recommendation to transfer the entire Iraqi police force to the Ministry of Defense is a formula for creating several problems.[16] For this move will essentially abolish the Ministry of Interior, as a national force. According to the sectarian distribution of cabinet positions, the Ministry of Interior has been a Shi`a ministry. In return, the Sunnis have the Ministry of Defense. Taking the best and strongest elements of the Ministry of Interior and allocating them to the Ministry of Defense will be seen by the Shi`a as an empowerment of their Sunni rivals and a weakening of their position, which would be absolutely unacceptable. Further, giving the Ministry of Interior the authority over local police in the provinces, while a good idea in the present time, does not sit well with the local governments who see their control over their local security as a sign of the self-governance in the post-Saddam era. The Shi`a, whose performance is arguably more successful in providing better security in their region, do not want to delegate this task to the central government whose performance has been catastrophic in every aspect.

The Shi`a Reactions:
The Shi`a reaction to The ISG Report was not as negative as the Kurdish reaction. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has said that the report “is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution…[It is] a type of insult to the Iraqi people.”[17] Of course, the Kurdish fierce opposition to The ISG Report is understandable, since they stand to lose much more than anyone else should all the report’s recommendations are implemented.

The ISG Report emphasized more than once the relation between Iran and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, whose party, SCIRI was described as having “close relations with Iran”[18] The militant wing of SCIRI, the Badr Brigade, according to the report, “has long-standing ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.”[19] The ISG Report fails to mention that SCIRI and its leader, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, are the only Shi`a religious group that supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq and they are the closest Shi`a allies of the United States in Iraq at the present time. This portrayal of the group in the report led al-Hakim to condition his acceptance of The ISG Report’s recommendations by expressing some reservations. He told some media outlets that he disagrees with the ISG on some parts of The ISG Report, which he described as “containing some inaccurate information.”[20] A key member of the SCIRI, Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, also cited problems with The ISG Report’s recommendations that suggest a very little role for Iraqis in the process. He took the opportunity to demand that Iraqis have a larger involvement in the decision making.[21]

The former prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Ja`fari, criticized The ISG Report’s attempt to link the Iraqi case with other crises in the region, arguing, correctly, that this will complicate the Iraqi crisis even further.[22]

There are several obstacles for the implementation of most of The ISG Report’s recommendations. First and most importantly, the U.S. administration has not made the decision to deliver Iraq to the Iraqis. The United States simply cannot deliver Iraq to the Shi`a majority or to the Sunni minority, because it perceives the former scenario as equivalent to delivering Iraq to Iran, whereas leaving the Sunnis in charge would necessarily mean delivering Iraq to al-Qa`ida, not to mention the collapse of any rhetoric regarding democracy and political idealism.

Second, The ISG Report’s recommendations go against the political nature of the administration’s key decision makers who view any concessions or pragmatic positions as a sign of weakness or defeat. As expected, the administration picked a few of the favorite recommendations for implementation and acted to the contrary of the most important ones. The administration and its allies in Congress even claimed that sending more troops to Iraq is indeed consistent with The ISG Report.

Third, various Iraqi factions find in The ISG Report a threat to their own interests. The ISG Report requires the Kurds to lower the ceiling of their demands and give up some of what they consider as their rightful share, whether it is the de facto independence they enjoy now or the ultimate fate of Kirkuk and other territories they claim to be part of Kurdistan.

The Sunnis, while applauding The ISG Report’s accurate statements on the militias and the sectarian conflict, found it lacking any real solution to the problem. More importantly for them, the report failed to ask for a specific schedule for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. Other Sunnis lamented what they considered as the bad timing of The ISG Report, which they considered to be too late.[23]

The Shi`a, especially SCIRI, find The ISG Report equally threatening to their dream in a large province made of nine governorates in the south where they will finally have a breathing room away from the meddling of the central government. SCIRI is of course the best situated at the present time to control such a province once it is formed. With the oil and other revenues, especially those coming from religious tourism, the new province will be one of the most prosperous places in the world. Further, The ISG Report’s recommendations on disarming the militias make the Shi`a uncomfortable, since the militias are, in spite of their present menace, the only guard against the vicious onslaught on the Shi`a by al-Qa`ida and the Ba'athists. Given the incompetence of the central government and the lack of effectiveness by the Multi-National Forces in providing security, any talk about disarming the militias will not be welcomed by the Shi`a.

Finally, the politicians at all levels do not like the implementation of The ISG Report’s recommendations regarding the end of financial and administrative corruption, which turned Iraq into one of the worst cases in the world. If there is one multi-partisan interest in today’s Iraq, it would be the quest to maintain the current lack of accountability.

1. Adnan al-Ubaidi, “The Baker-Hamilton Report: its positive and negative aspects,” An-Nabaa News.

2. For a detailed history of the Da`wa Party, see Faleh Jabar’s The Shi‘ite Movement in Iraq (Saqi Books 2003), 78ff.

3. Ibid., 235ff.

4. The Hawza of Najaf has been continuously operational since 1055 AD.

5. While residing in Najaf, Ayatullah Khomeini wrote his famous book, Islam and Revolution, wherein he articulates the doctrine of wilayat al-Faqih (the sovereignty of the jurist). He accused the advocates of separating politics from religion of being agents of Western colonization.

6. An audio recording of the sermons can be found on the Sadr's web-site

7. Al-Fadhila Party’s web-site.

8. For details on this and other fatwas, see: Yaqoobi's web-site.

9. Kevin Zeese and Liz Persson, “Reactions to the long-awaited Iraq Study Group Report,” AlJazeera Magazine (Dec. 9, 2006): 5.

10. This policy was reversed when the administration agreed to talk to Syria and Iran during the Baghdad Conference on March 9, 2007.

11. The ISG Report, 25-26 and 35.

12. Hamid Algar, Wahhabism: A Critical Essay, New York: IPI Press (2002), 2-3.

13. Abbas Kadhim, “United We Stand: The demonisation of the Shia is on the rise,” Al-Ahram Weekly, April 13-19, 2006.

14. The ISG Report, 35. While The ISG Report does not advocate the involvement of Israel in the Iraqi crisis, for obvious reasons, Israeli interests will certainly be represented through the U.S. presence in any effort. Hence, it is fitting that the report lists Israel in this statement.

15. Ibid., 46-47.

16. Ibid., 53-54.

17. Brian Knowlton, “Baker and Hamilton Defend Report on Iraq,” New York Times, December 10, 2006.

18. See page 17 of The ISG Report.

19. The ISG Report, 11.

20. “Baker-Hamilton Report draws different reactions,” editorial in Al-Mada Newspaper.

21. “Half-hearted reactions to the Baker-Hamilton Report," German Press Agency (DPA), December 7, 2006.

22. Al-Ja`fari made this statement in an interview with the Iranian News Agency (IRNA) on December 7, 2006.

23. Editorial: “Opinions are still differing on the Baker-Hamilton Report,” Al-Sabah Newspaper, December 10, 2006.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Back to blogging. Apologies for the delay and hopes that nothing will stop the flow of entries.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The death of Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi is a very welcome news. This, however, is not enough, since too much has been said about this particular terrorist that many people feel that his death is going to change things dramatically. I am sad to say that it will not.

What will change things dramatically is for the Iraqi government to activate the judiciary and begin processing those who are sitting in detention waiting to be released in some fishy deal every once in a while. Terrorists in Iraq should be dealt with in the same manner elsewhere. They should be tried in a fast fashion and made examples of.

They just released a group from detention in the name of the so-called 'national reconciliation.' When they are captured they are said to be terrorists and when they release them arbitrarily they call them detainees.

Abu Mus`ab was a rotten terrorist who committed every disgraceful act on the books. Whe must remember that he did not do it alone.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A very touching story. Interesting is that the article never mentioned that the girl is a Muslim or even of Middle East origin. If this were a negative deed that she did, you would have this in the first sentence. You would have seen reporting on the family, the mosque they attend and much more.

But, in any event, it is a very touching story:

"SYRACUSE, N.Y. - A soldier said he was only showing his gratitude when gave his Purple Heart to a 13-year-old student being honored for winning a contest for writing letters to American troops.
"It's important what these children do for us in sending these letters," said Staff Sgt. Phillip Trackey, after giving away the medal he received for injuries in Iraq. "The letters mean so much to us. So I thought this was a big way of giving something back to them."

Trackey and a group of fellow Fort Drum soldiers were attending a ceremony Thursday at West Genesee Middle School for seventh-grader Fatima Faisal, of Camillus, who was being honored as a regional winner in the Veteran's of Foreign Wars' Letters to the Front contest.

After Faisal received her prizes, Trackey stood and held up his Purple Heart for everyone to see. Then, he pinned it on the girl's blouse.

Fatima said she didn't know what to say or do.

"I'm touched. I'm speechless," Fatima said. "This is the sweetest thing ever."

Faisal's letter was chosen the best out of more than 300 letters written in the age 12-18 category in the Central New York region. The national contest was to write letters to servicemen and servicewomen starting with the line, "Dear Service Member, I just wanted to say thanks for ..."

Teacher Donna Mahar said she has her seventh-grade classes participate in the yearly contest. About 60 of her pupils wrote letters, she said.

In her letter, Faisal said, "...I give you great respect because you had a choice to join the military and because of your bravery and courage you decided to join."

For winning the contest, Faisal received a T-shirt, a certificate and a $50 savings bond.

But the Purple Heart was the top prize, Faisal said, adding she hoped to mount it in a frame to hang in her room.

"When he gave it to her, I was getting chills," said Nadia Faisal, Fatima's mother. "I told her 'Oh my gosh, Fatima. You should treasure it forever.'"

Trackey, of Glens Falls, said he received the medal for the shoulder and head wounds he suffered when a bomb went off near him in Baghdad in January 2005. Trackey said his Purple Heart was just collecting dust at home."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day !!!

Monday, May 01, 2006

I remember visiting an Iraqi friend who resided in Zarqa in 2000. Detecting my Iraqi accent, the ones I spoke with (cab drivers, store owners and others on the street) took special pleasure in tormenting me with their expressed love for Saddam, not to mention their claims to monopoly on Islam. Having read this article, it seems that nothing has changed in that little Jordanian town.

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