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Sistani rules, again

November 4th, 2005

I haven’t seen much discussion of this AP report that Ayatollah Sistani is likely to call for a withdrawal of US troops after the elections on December 15 (found via Juan Cole).

It’s unclear whether this is an accurate report of Sistani’s intentions, a trial balloon, or an attempt by some in his circle to create a fait accompli. But assuming the report is accurate, it seems clear, as Cole says, that any attempt to resist such a demand from Sistani would be futile, especially now that the Sadrists, still violently opposed to the occupation, are likely to play a large role in the new government. Nevertheless, the US, backed by current PM Jaafari is currently seeking a 12-month extension of the occupation mandate from the UN, instead of the 6-month extensions sought previously.

It’s not obvious why the Bush Administration would want to resist a demand for a withdrawal timetable. There’s never going to be a better opportunity to declare victory and pull out.

It seems unlikely that, in the event of a US pullout, the insurgents could regain power. On the other hand, it’s very likely to lead further in the direction of de facto or de jure partition, with the Kurds effectively seceding, Shiites controlling both the central government and a Shiite bloc of provinces and insurgents of one kind or another running large parts of the country, and continuing to wreak substantial havoc. This could lead to civil war. But that outcome seems even more likely if the US occupation continues.

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  1. Patrick
    November 5th, 2005 at 08:07 | #1

    It’s not obvious why the Bush Administration would want to resist a demand for a withdrawal timetable
    – they might actually care that the place doesn’t go to pieces when they leave, even if only for their own sakes.

    for my money, a trial balloon.

  2. Ros
    November 5th, 2005 at 09:03 | #2

    Love the Tecnorati thing and see what the bloggers are saying on the Washington Post page. Hence read a commenter in Crooked Timber who makes the point that Sistani is after a timetable, not setting a date. My memory is that he has pushed for it all along. The civil marches may be new, but what a magnet that would be for the Shia haters.

    None of the Iraqi bloggers that I have looked at mention this latest Sistani position, but then they are more like this blog in that they tend to consider particular issues rather than do news round-ups, so maybe they will get to it. I saw reports emanating from Moussa and his meeting with leaders of the Association of Muslim Scholars and that they made the setting of a timetable for withdrawal a pre-condition to any reconciliation dialogue. He did not report Sistani making that call.

    One of the Iraqi bloggers really really hates Cole. Sees Cole amongst other things as being a fan of Sadr. Aside from his obsession, to read across the Iraqi bloggers and some of the other ME bloggers was a salient reminder that those in the ME are not passive recipients of our considerations of what is happening to them and in their countries. Many are quite irritated at times by our assumptions about our knowledge and understanding of their affairs and difficulties and how the rest of the world impacts on them.

  3. Ian Gould
    November 5th, 2005 at 11:11 | #3

    As Cole points out, Sistani seldom addresses the public directly.

    Statements are attributed to him by his aides which are subsequently contradicted by other aides.

    Whether these represent changes of position, power struggles between groups around Sistani or deliberate manipulation by Sistani probably nobody outside his immediate retinue will ever know.

    The future of the American presence at this point probably hinges on the 2006 US mid-term elections as much as anything.

    With Bush’s approval ratings reaching new lows there has to be a temptation to switch policy (or at least the public presentation of policy).

    If the December elections proceed more or less peacefully, there maybe an opportunity for the US to claim progress is being made and draw down troop numbers.

  4. Katz
    November 5th, 2005 at 11:14 | #4

    “Many are quite irritated at times by our assumptions about our knowledge and understanding of their affairs and difficulties and how the rest of the world impacts on them.”

    Yep, and if Middle Easterners are irritated by those ignoramuses who simply talk about them, just think how irritated they must be about the ignoramuses who invaded, dismantled, and occupied them.

    That Moussa move about a timetable being a precondition for dialogue is a quantum leap in Sunni political savvy.

  5. Roberto
    November 5th, 2005 at 11:49 | #5

    Perhaps Katz, the West is irritated by those “Middle Easterners” ignoramuses.


  6. observa
    November 5th, 2005 at 17:29 | #6

    Well the COW might be happy to oblige by then http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,17148454-23109,00.html
    They’ve met all their timetabling for the handover of power to an ultimate elected Iraqi govt so far and there seems no reason to believe the Dec elections will go not ahead as planned. Of course the official COW line must always be- ‘as long as it takes’. However, if the Sunnis made the removal of foreign troops a precondition of peaceful coexistence in a democratic Iraq, I’m certain The COW would be happy to oblige and hand them their face saving ‘win’. That may ultimately be the diplomatic win/win for all, bar the foreign fundies.

  7. November 5th, 2005 at 18:27 | #7

    Ya Roberto, hal ismi mustashriq?

    I won’t translate, since obviously Roberto will have no problem working out even my broken Arabic. He is so obviously an expert.

  8. Roberto
    November 5th, 2005 at 18:50 | #8

    Never claimed I was Lawrence. What does it mean?

  9. November 6th, 2005 at 01:49 | #9

    “Roberto, are you an orientalist [specialist in eastern affairs]?”

  10. November 6th, 2005 at 19:15 | #10

    It’s not obvious why the Bush Administration would want to resist a demand for a withdrawal timetable. There’s never going to be a better opportunity to declare victory and pull out.

    The US invaded Iraq to replace Saudi Arabia as its main client state in Mesopotamia ie ditch Saudis/hitch Iraqis. They have established many enduring bases in-country to show that they mean business.

    The Bush do not want to write off the $500 billion that they are currently in the hole on this venture without showing something for their investment. Too much has been invested in this by the perpetrators to come away empty-handed, or worse still, with another rogue Iraqi state to contend with:

    We’re not stuck in Iraq for the reasons the foreign policy elite in Washington would have us believe. … We’re stuck in Iraq because we have a leadership that wants to be “stuck” there, … because making Iraq into an example of U.S. dominance and undoing the taint of Vietnam, or “finishing what we started” during the first Gulf War remain the goals of other constituents in Bush’s foreign policy world.

  11. observa
    November 7th, 2005 at 00:01 | #11

    I’d agree with ditching of the Saudis, which is a nice way of saying that really the Saudis have ditched them. Because of the rise of Wahabbism, US bases in SA were becoming increasingly problematic and tenuous. However you haven’t considered that the Iraq venture was largely predicated on a Beacon of Light theory, the more so given the rise of Wahabbism. Iraq was the only logical choice when you think about it. If Bush and Blair in particular ascribed to this view, then clearly they won’t want to wear out their welcome, albeit they’d be mindful of vacating the field too soon without adequate safeguards in place. Certainly a delicate call at some stage, but as I pointed out previously, they’ve met all their timetables so far. Not bad under the circumstances and the gaze of the critics.

    Now it would be naive to think these Anglos hadn’t considered the possibility of their preferred BOL failing here and where would that leave the state of play? The removal of a very troublesome dictator with Pan Arabic dreams of empire, a free and friendly Kurdish enclave to add to Kuwait and the final cleavage of the Muslim world into the Sunni and Shia schism. Just like Protestants and Catholics of yore. At the very least, that would leave Islamists in a quandary as to which was the real Islam to promulgate. Hard to focus solely on infidels then. Indeed, the various Islamists may well be drawn into supporting their own particular version of the true Islam, as Sunni and Shia fight each other for supremacy. A violent Sunni versus Shia confrontation would not be against Western interests here, because each side would require hard currency for a fight that may take on all the attributes of the long Iran/Iraq war of attrition. The rest of the world would be only too happy to trade hard currency with either protagonists in such a war. The Anglos may well have considered this second best scenario, as not too far second after Sept 11.

  12. Katz
    November 7th, 2005 at 08:12 | #12

    Observa, the Bush Clique and its acolytes are so entangled in the web of their own deceptions and self-delusions it is now well-nigh impossible to distinguish their rationales from their pretexts.

    Bob Woodward’s book on the decision for war shows just how shambolic the process was. Bush may not have asked God whether he should go to war, but privately, it is likely, Bush believes that God told him anyway.

    As to Bush’s “timetable”: ever since the invasion, Bush has been dancing to the tune played by Sistani. This is depressing enough. But it could get worse.

    1. Bush wanted to establish a protectorate run from the US Embassy, the largest US foreign government establishment in the world. Sistani’s pressure forced Bush to hand over sovereignty, which he did in private three days ahead of schedule, by throwing it out of a moving car. The interim government was not Bush’s choice.

    2. Bush didn’t want the January 2005 elections. Again, Sistani’s forces pressed. Bush caved.

    3. Ever since then the Bush Clique has been looking for a formula to withdraw, but also to leave behind a reminder of the US presence, in the form of “enduring bases”. The Kurds would prefer the Americans to remain. And perhaps the anti-Iranian wing of the Shias wouldn’t mind too much. But the Shia hardliners want the Americans out altogether. And now the Association of Islamic Scholars, spokesman Moussa, has called for US withdrawal as a precondition for dialogue. Clearly the Association of Islamic Scholars believes that the Sunni minority don’t need the Americans to protect them from the non-Sunni majority.

    It’s up to the Shia hardliners to decide whether to stick with the Shia moderates or to press for a maximalist resolution of the post Shock and Awe era by seeking a marriage of convenience with the Sunni based on a demand for complete COW withdrawal from Iraq.

    So, to return to the theme “Sistani Rules Again”. Perhaps this is less true than it was a year ago.

  13. observa
    November 7th, 2005 at 18:47 | #13

    IMO Blair was the most ardent advocate of the BOL theory for Iraq. Now given the previous reluctance to go all the way to Baghdad in GW1, the US and Britain had some obvious reservations then. First and foremost was the lack of domestic support, being too close to Vietnam, but there was also the strong belief that a coup would probably finish a humbled and weakened Saddam anyway. However that still wasn’t enough to make them support a Shia uprising with overt assistance (mainly air support), because of the concern about a greater Shia/Iran alliance. The Iraqi Shia would be mindful of the consequences of that even now.

    Now my point is that if this Anglo view prevailed then, it would clearly have been a consideration with the decision to invade Iraq. As you say, it was inevitable that removing the Baath regime, would automatically hand the predominant Shia a greater say in subsequent nation building. That is clearly evident and to be expected. In that sense the Anglos were prepared to wear that and it may well be for the reason I outlined. If ultimately the Sunnis and Shia cannot coexist in a new Iraq, then they would turn on each other, drawing in their natural allies behind them. The Kurds would be no threat to either and could happily play the Swiss game. I think the US and Britain will be more than happy to accede to Iraqi factional ultimatums and leave Iraq early next year, come what may. Either unified Iraq pushes on with a reasonably civil truce or it degenerates into a Sunni/Shia battleground. Either way, the Anglos would be comfortable with the result. Either unified Iraq becomes a no go zone for the fundies, or it doesn’t and splits them down the middle with a completely different focus. Don’t underestimate the Anglo mindset here. Divide and conquer is a familiar game for them, as is learning well from their past mistakes.

  14. observa
    November 7th, 2005 at 19:36 | #14

    In fact I’d go so far as to suggest that Bush and Blair are on the verge of a complete strategic victory here. They have negotiated every hurdle, despite all the bleatings of the critics and doomsayers. With the inevitable elections in Dec, they will be only too willing to accede to demands for withdrawal from the new govt ASAP. What possible reason could they have for staying long term? Their achievements will be the removal of a Pan-Arabic trouble maker AND either a democratic, civil BOL in the ME, or the mediaeval Protestant/Catholic schism of Islam. Basically they can take credit for their BOL, or if it’s to be the Sunni/Shia long war toward Muslim Reformation, then it’s a case of- ‘We did our best, but what can you expect from these mediaeval types?’ Oh and of course the loud and clear message to any jumped up tyrants in future.

    In fact I’m calling it now, whichever way Iraq turns out.

  15. November 7th, 2005 at 21:02 | #15

    I am not sure how a pullout would play with the American people. If they run off leaving a mess of a civil war, then Bush can hardly claim victory, even if asked by an elected government. More so if there are terrorists letting off more and more bombs in Iraq considering how often terrorism has been used as an excuse lately for sticking around.

    Plus what the effect be on oil price? The Commodore costs too much to fill up nowadays.

  16. observa
    November 8th, 2005 at 02:01 | #16

    Your wrong about the oil supply and hence the price BS. There is Saudi oil on the one hand, the neutral Kurds now hold some of Iraq’s supply, while the Shia hold the rest of Iraqs plus Irans. The Anglos have driven a master wedge through Arab street now. The Arabs have a choice. Either back a unified and democratic Iraq, or support it’s demise via their Sunni or Shia alliances. It doesn’t matter to the West which choice they make now, but it would be in all the Arab’s interest to back a unified Iraq. The alternative is a long and bloody proxy confrontation in Iraq, which risks a larger sustained confrontation, all the while needing to sell oil for the fight. They’ll be careful not to interfere with each other’s oil infrastructure in that regard, because it would be tit for tat and counterproductive. The Anglos don’t need to be in Iraq a moment longer than the installation of a democratic Iraqi govt now. As for how a disintegrating Iraq would play out in Anglo electorates, they won’t give a stuff long term if their tanks are full, be it with Shia or Sunni oil. In any case the Sunnis and Sadrists would observe a suitable decorum while the Anglos obligingly observed their phony ultimatum to leave. If the place turns to crap after that because Arab street can’t resist settling old sectarian scores, Westerners will shrug their shoulders at what they believe are a bunch of suicidal maniacs and throat slitters anyway. A master wedge on Arab street. Strategically brilliant. As an Anglo I should have seen it before. They’re redrawing the boundaries of an old colonial mistake that needed a tyrant to crush it all together. No Saddam can ever rise again in Iraq now. It’s unified democracy or mediaeval Protestants vs Catholics. Either way there’s no future for the fundies there now.

    Who dares wins eh knockers and UN sanction lovers?

  17. Katz
    November 8th, 2005 at 07:55 | #17

    “Now my point is that if this Anglo view prevailed then, it would clearly have been a consideration with the decision to invade Iraq.”

    A clause in the subjunctive mood modified by a conditional. This sentence spins out of the realm of hope into the mysterious spheres of fantasy.

    The British in Iraq are the stunted, acephalous conjoined twin dangling helplessly from the bloated torso of the shambling US giant.

    “Don’t underestimate the Anglo mindset here. Divide and conquer is a familiar game for them, as is learning well from their past mistakes.”

    I’m racking my brains for an example of the Americans ever attempting to play the divide-and-rule game in foreign policy. …

    Nup. Drawing blanks here.

    Our American cousins, as lovable as they may be, cannot count subtlety in foreign diplomacy as one of their long suits.

    On a more general level, South America is a very worrying straw in the wind for Bush’s proclaimed faith in “democracy” and “freedom”. South America is now mostly democratic and almost entirely anti-American. Bush’s subtlety was on show for all to see in Buenos Aires last week.

  18. Ian Gould
    November 8th, 2005 at 16:56 | #18

    “the rise of Wahabbism,”

    so how ecaxtly do you see hte “rise” of religious sect in a country where it’s been the official state religion for 200 years and where its ministers are installed at virtually every level of government.

  19. Ian Gould
    November 8th, 2005 at 16:58 | #19

    “In fact I’d go so far as to suggest that Bush and Blair are on the verge of a complete strategic victory here.”

    Thanks I haven’t had such a good laugh in weeks.

    In other news, the chocolate ration has been increased to 20 grams a week.

  20. observa
    November 10th, 2005 at 18:14 | #20

    Smackies for me Ian. Wahabbist might actually be a derogatory term for some Salafists, a bit like calling some Protestants, happy clappers and so forth. Anglicans, etc certainly wouldn’t see it that way, but atheists might. Catholics are a bit more homogenous Christian lot, but they have their factions and factional distastes to. I’ll defer to the superior wisdom of a CL on that. Protestant and Catholic are very broad Christian churches, similar to Salafists and Shiites.

    Less than 40 sleeps to go knockers and doomsayers and for some the excitement is building
    We’ll see Ian. Not getting a little nervous that the US and its supporters were right overall about Iraq, are you? Their timetable is still remarkably on track, despite all the unknowables of their BOL venture.

  21. observa
    November 10th, 2005 at 18:44 | #21

    “Our American cousins, as lovable as they may be, cannot count subtlety in foreign diplomacy as one of their long suits.”
    The same Americans who devised the Marshall Plan for Japan, et al, after a war in which it was fashionable for US soldiers to boil the flesh off dead Japs’ skulls and send then home to their girlfriends as gifts? The same Marshall Plan that those men would pay for as taxpayers, all the while the knockers and doomsayers of the day said to them, would all turn to crap just like Iraq today? They should have stuck to those subtle Versaille reparations I guess.

    As for Bush in South America, I’ll bet he’s quaking in his boots with champions of the mob like druggie Diego Maradonna and Hugo Chavez nipping at his heels. The problem for all leftist leaders is sooner or later you have to perform economically, rather than blame the US. It’s an old ruse of despots and tyrants, but given the veracity with which their people are trying to get to the US in droves, I doubt these wankers are fooling too many.

  22. Ian Gould
    November 10th, 2005 at 20:00 | #22

    “Their timetable is still remarkably on track, despite all the unknowables of their BOL venture.”

    I can’t help noticing a few sparks from the “beacon” landed on Amman this morning.

    The only reason the US appears to be “on track” is because there’s a political imperative to do so.

    The Constitution was not completed and agreed according ot the timeable – hence the absurdity of people voting for a document which will be immediately rewritten.

  23. observa
    November 10th, 2005 at 22:02 | #23

    We can’t control what Jordanians do in Jordan Ian, although we’re more than happy to help in countries where we’re wanted like Indonesia. Took 2 of his own with him, Allah be praised. Zero tolerance for these scum and their apologists and appeasers is the message now. The West has at last awoken from its slumber and is taking a stand with its values loud and clear
    Islam had better reform itself swiftly root and branch, or gird its loins for war with the West.

  24. Katz
    November 11th, 2005 at 08:07 | #24

    “There are Islamic states around the world that practice sharia law, and if that is your object, you may well be much more at home in such a country than trying to turn Australia into one of those countries, because it is not going to happen,” said Mr Costello.

    Australia has democratic values. This country’s constitution can be changed by the more or less democratic process of referendum.

    It is unlikely but not beyond the realms of imagination that Muslim Australians may one day comprise a largish proportion of the Australian population.

    One day, they may be moved to agitate for Islam to be recognised in some way under the Australian constitution.

    Even under the sedition laws currently being mooted, this agitation for peaceful constitutional change would not be deemed illegal.

    The wisest way forward for Australia, it seems to me, is to convince Muslim citizens that they need not feel like an embattled, threatened minority. For their part, these Muslims would be expected to be good citizens and report any criminal activities to the appropriate authorities.

    Another approach is to follow the Idi Amin policy of enforced expulsion of large numbers of innocent people. I believe this is what al Qaeda would like Australia and other democratic nations to do.

    RWDBs and Osama bin Laden are natural allies in this objective. One party is the useful idiot of the other party.

    And when it comes to idiocy, RWDBs have a remarkable track record.

  25. Ian Gould
    November 11th, 2005 at 09:22 | #25

    “We can’t control what Jordanians do in Jordan Ian”

    Is that the royal we or do you have a tapeworm?

    The bombings were carried out using vehicles with Iraqi licence plates and were conducted in the name of Al Qaida in Iraq.

    I believe this is just the latest step in a concerted campain to use Iraq as a base to conduct terrorist attacks in neighbouring countries in order to destabilise them.

  26. observa
    November 11th, 2005 at 17:24 | #26

    Try here Ian http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=20140
    Get the picture? It’s the same picture in Afghanistan, Indonesia, NY, London, Paris, Sydney,…. You know Ian, all those far away exotic places.
    ‘We’ are those who resist the Caliphate. Come and join the revolution Ian. It should be right up your alley. You can even wear your Che T-shirt mate.
    Viva la Revolution!

  27. observa
    November 11th, 2005 at 17:33 | #27

    Another take on Zarqawi and Jordan

  28. observa
    November 11th, 2005 at 17:59 | #28

    “The wisest way forward for Australia, it seems to me, is to convince Muslim citizens that they need not feel like an embattled, threatened minority. For their part, these Muslims would be expected to be good citizens and report any criminal activities to the appropriate authorities.”

    Actually Katz, the best way may be to engage Australian Muslims in an enterprise to establish their own unified hierarchical church, which can adapt diverse Islamic thought to liberal democratic modernism. If such a reform project was successful, it could become a model for other Western Muslims and countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. It works for the Catholic Church. Ambitious I know, but it’s worth trying.

  29. Ian Gould
    November 13th, 2005 at 07:46 | #29

    “Come and join the revolution Ian. It should be right up your alley.”

    sorry Observa, while you seem ot derive a great deal of fun from your paranoid delusion that a relative hadnful of irregular troops and terrorists pose a threat comparable to Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, reality just keeps getting in the way.

    In addition to that there are a couple of more personal factors at work.

    1. I grew up on stories of how during the first world war my German immigrant grandparents were spat on in the streets, physcially assaulted and eventually burnt out by good patriotic Aussies. So you’ll forgive me if I’m less than enthusiastic about the collective scapegoating of an entire religious or ethnic group.

    2. I can’t help remembering that the far right was just as enthusiastically antisemitic a few decades ago as they are now anti-arab. The fact that they’ve decided, for the moment at least, that they hate arabs more than they hate Jews does little to endear them to me. To quote the great Groucho, I refuse to join any club that’d have me as a member.

    Moving on to your more substantive points: I never claimed that the invasion of Iraq inspired the attacks on Jordan. Zarqawi was attacking Jordanian and western interests prior to the war and I was wll aware of that fact. What it did was create a lawless power vaccuum in which he could operate on a scale which would otherwise have been quite beyond him and supply him with a huge new source of money, weapons and recruits.

    I’m not sure if it’s been confirmed but Al Qaida is claiming that all the suicide bombers were Iraqis.

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