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U.S.-Iraq negotiations: sudden patriots?

A World to Win News Service
What lies behind Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sudden patriotic posture? After all, he and the bulk of the Shia establishment, including Ayatollah Sistani from whose support he has derived his authority, have been going along with the occupier for years. In 2004, the U.S. decided to abandon the rule of directly-appointed puppets and go for elections in a deal cooked up with Sistani. The result – a Shia government like Mailiki’s – was so predictable that the Sunni parties then working with the U.S. decided to boycott them.

Many unthinking journalists and pundits whose wisdom comes from the White House have swallowed the line that the prime minister’s Dawa party and his far stronger partners in the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq are reluctant to sign the agreements because they were originally organized in Iran and remain close to the leadership of the Iranian Islamic Republic. Iran’s “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khamenei personally urged Maliki to resist the American demands. But let’s not confuse principle and secondary factors.

The U.S. has ruled Iraq in collaboration with these Shia forces, along with the clan-based Kurdish parties, from early on in the occupation (when, for instance, it, dissolved Saddam Hussein’s army and declared former members of his Ba’athist party ineligible for public office).

It was the U.S. that made Iraq the Islamic Republic that it is today. That is reflected above all in the fact that this state whose survival depends on the occupiers’ guns defines itself by Sharia (Islamic) law, although its system of government is quite different from the direct rule of the clergy in Iran. Nonetheless, in a paradoxical way, the U.S. has been able to run Iraq (to the degree that it has succeeded) in an uneasy alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran and political forces linked to Iran by ideology as well as history and class nature (the Iraqi Shia establishment is said to be based on the same kind of rich merchants who have formed a vital part of the social base of the mullah’s rule in Iran).

Initially, the neocon strategists of the Bush regime had hoped to install a secular, U.S.-style form of government in Iraq, not to bring the country “freedom”and “liberation”, as Bush so fatuously proclaims (what meaning do these word have in an occupied country, where imperialist guns ultimately dictate?), but to enable the inflow of imperialist investment and the economic and social transformations that could make the country far more profitable for foreign finance capital. This kind of imperialist modernisation was supposed to transform the country into a counter-model to the Islamic Republic of Iran and a military bastion against it. Eventually it was supposed to eliminate the breeding grounds for anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East.

When that proved impossible to impose this model on the Iraqi people, due to an assortment of armed resistance forces who largely, by conviction or opportunism, rallied behind the banner of Islam, the U.S. was forced to make the bargain with the Shia establishment and Iran that occupies the centre stage of Iraqi politics today.

But the U.S. has never been very happy with this situation. Further, to an increasing extent now, American policy in Iraq is being shaped by the intensifying conflict with Iran, which to no small degree is motivated by American frustration at the growth of Iranian Islamic influence due to the crimes the U.S. itself has committed, including the occupation of Iraq. Increasingly, the U.S. has toyed with and made some steps toward implementing the idea of downgrading the Iraqi Shia establishment rule by bringing back Sunni Ba’athist and forces and the tribal leadership that supported Saddam. More than one American strategist has said that they wished they could “rewind the film”, bring back Saddam and make the deal with him now that they spurned before.

This idea terrifies the Maliki government. The U.S.’s organisation of “Awakening Councils” (mainly although not exclusively based Sunni tribal leaders in the north, with some Shia participation in the south) and what it calls “the Sons of Iraq” (who include many ex-Ba’athists) has only increased the Maliki government’s reasons for alarm. When Maliki demands that the U.S. not be allowed to carry out independent military action without his authorization, this is both a sham (why would his authorization make what the U.S. armed forces did in Iraq any better?) and a real demand that his authority be recognised. His tough stance in bargaining with the U.S. is both a phoney bid for the national banner and support from nationalist-minded forces (which could include some Baathist types) and a real reflection of an urgent need to get a deal that would ensure the survival of Maliki and his clique. This is one part of the subtext in these negotiations.

he other part is this: because both Maliki’s Dawa party and the far larger Supreme Council do have historical ties with Iran’s clerics and do derive authority from Shia Islam, they are also terrified at having to choose between Washington and Tehran.

Most importantly, however, Maliki and the forces he represents know that they cannot survive on top without the American occupation. During the very same days Maliki was badmouthing the U.S. and blustering about how “many people” want the U.S. to just leave, the Iraqi government’s army (largely based on the Supreme Council’s Badr militia, many of whose members have simply been issued uniforms) was relying on American troops to carry out a major operation against the rival militia led by Moqtada Sadr in the southern town of Amarah.

A word about Sadr

A word about Moqtada Sadr, his Madhi army and what is known as the Sadr movement. Although, again paradoxically, a completely Iraqi phenomenon with little debt to Iran’s clerical tyrants and sometimes criticized by some of them, Sadr is ideologically closer to Iran and its doctrine of the rule of the clerics than to the Iraqi Shia establishment. Both for this reason, and because the Sadr movement has the kind of broad support that the other two Shia parties do not, Sadr and his advisors are far less wedded to the occupiers.

Contradictory as it may seem, given his ideology, Sadr has often tried to paint himself as a representative of the nation, not a sectarian figure, as his rival parties certainly are. But take, for example, his recent reorganisation of the Madhi army, into a trained armed wing and an unarmed wing, with the insistence that “the arms will be directed exclusively against the occupiers.” His forces certainly need weapons to defend themselves, since the U.S. has viciously sought to kill them and destroy Baghdad’s Sadr City and Shia neighbourhoods in other cities where they are based. But Sadr has never, so far at least, tried to move from using weapons to bolster his movement’s independent power (against both the U.S. and Sunni and other Shia forces) to actually organising a war to liberate the country from occupation. The armed wing may be able to make trouble for the U.S. and his rivals, but this reorganisation also means the bulk of his movement will be dedicated to resisting “Western ideology and secularism “through cultural, religious and ideological means”, combining a bullying form of preaching and social work much like Lebanon’s Hezbollah or Iran’s phony “anti-imperialist” mullahs before they took power.

“We know that a number of American soldiers will be pulled out of Iraq and they will concentrate their presence in certain bases and so we need to change the way we work,” a Sadr spokesman said to explain the reorganization. As a representative of the imperialist International Crisis Group offered, Sadr’s “strategy is not to confront the Americans, but to wait out their departure.” Another analyst put it like this: “If there is a strategy behind [Sadr’s] approach, it is fence-sitting.”(McClatchy news service, 15 June)

June 19, 2008 - Posted by | articles

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