*One US soldier was killed and three others severely wounded on Monday when a guerrilla dropped a grenade on their vehicle as it went under a bridge in the Sunni center of Baghdad.
*The claimant to the Iraqi throne, Sharif `Ali b. al-Husain, visited the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Monday, receiving a mixed reaction there according to AP. He was admitted to an audience with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The two of them issued a statement calling for an elected Interim Governing Council, rather than the appointed one that is now in place. According to AFP, he statement spoke of the “need for the restoration of national sovereignty in Iraq through free elections” and insisted, “legitimacy comes from the wish of the people and not by designation.” (It is actually quite a spectacle–a would-be king and an ayatollah insisting on popular sovereignty! The American and French revolutions are still alive in the world.) Al-Zaman says they also called upon the US to address expeditiously the pressing security and economic problems facing the country.
It is interesting to me that Sistani agreed to see Sharif Ali at all. I don’t think most Shiites want a Sunni monarchy. (The enthusiasts in the Najaf crowd were actually tribesmen from the countryside who see the monarchy as an element of their traditionalism). The Shiites did not do very well during the last monarchy, imposed by the British in 1922 and lasting until 1958, when it was overthrown. But Sistani is looking for a Middle Path between the two extremes of Western domination and Khomeinist radicalism. He wants Islamic law or shariah to be the law of the land, but does not want the Shiite clerics to be government officials. He wants the Anglo-American presence ended as soon as possible but does not want it replaced by Sadrist vigilantes. He wants an elected government and an elected constitutional convention. He has been willing to meet with Iraqi politicians who share those goals, but has declined to see American figures such as Paul Bremer and Paul Wolfowitz. It is significant that he joined with Sharif Ali in calling for the Americans to improve the economy. That is quite a different message than the Sadrist one that the US should leave yesterday.
*”I am an enemy to the Americans as long as they remain in Iraq,” Muqtada al-Sadr told the al-Arabiyyah satellite television channel on Monday, according to al-Hayat. He characterized the “Mahdi Army” he wants to create as an “unarmed” force that would protect the religious institutions. He continued to reject the idea of cooperating with the appointed Interim Governing Council, calling for a referendum in which the Iraqi people could decide whether or not they want an Islamic government. (Well, if a California governor can be deposed and elected by referundum . . . ). Asked if he would run for Iraqi president, he said it would be up to the Iraqi people to make him president or not.
*Paul Wolfowitz was quoted in the Washington Post insisting that the Iraq campaign is “central” to the “war on terror.” He also admitted on Sunday that intelligence about terrorism is “intrinsically murky,” as a way of replying to the charge that he hyped a non-existent link between Saddam’s Iraq and al-Qaeda before 9/11. My advice to Dr. Wolfowitz would be to give up on this whole line of argument. It will just end up discrediting him and the administration altogether. Saddam and Bin Laden were not in bed with one another, and everyone knows they were not. If anything, the lid that Saddam had kept on Sunni radicalism in Iraq has now been blown off, and US military spokesmen like Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez are openly admitting that Iraq is becoming a magnet for terrorists. The US has given al-Qaeda and its analogs a new arena in which to play.
Look, I want the US to succeed in Iraq, just as I think all responsible Americans do. The war was not justifiable on grounds of an immediate threat to US security. But it still may have been a worthwhile enterprise if it really can break the logjam in the region created by authoritarianism, patrimonial cronyism, creaky national socialism in the economy, and political censorship and massive repression. [Not to mention just ending the US economic sanctions, which were hurting ordinary Iraqis and killing children.] If Iraqis can just do so much as replicate India’s success in holding regular elections and in maintaining a relatively independent judiciary and press, they would pioneer a new way of being Arab and modern. (The earlier experiments with parliamentary governance of the 1920s, 30s and 40s were marred by the dominance of very large landlords, a class now largely gone, who did not permit genuine democracy). The US needed to redeem itself from earlier complicity in genocide against the Kurds and the Shiites (first against the Kurds in 1988 when the US was allied with Saddam, and then against both groups in spring of 1991 when the US stood aside and watched it happen even though they could have interdicted Saddam’s helicopter gunships).
A little humility, a little seeking of redemption, a little doing good for others. Those things could make a convincing rationale for the current project. But not a war on terrorism.
*The Bush administration nominated Daniel Pipes to the US Institute for Peace, but the nomination has with good justification been put on hold by the Senate and the Jerusalem Post is complaining that the administration is not figting for Pipes. In other words, they are cutting their losses. A lot of Arab Americans vote Republican, and this misstep of Bush had deeply angered them. To see why, look at the entry on the affair at TomPaine.com, which reports that Pipes says there are no differences between radical terrorists and the Islamic people: “It would be like saying there were good Nazis and bad Nazis.” My suspicion is that the reporter got him wrong, and he spoke of “Islamists,” not “the Islamic people.” He has said before that he thinks 15% of Muslims are Islamists, and that the body of ideas borne by Islamists produces terror. This would be like saying that the Southern Baptists are directly responsible for the Branch Dravidians and the killing of abortion doctors, or that Orthodox Judaism is responsible for the terrorist actions of Gush Emunim and other Settler militants on the West Bank. When challenged, Pipes just says you can’t compare Muslim fundamentalism to its Jewish and Christian counterparts. He doesn’t say why. And, his refusal of comparison contradicts the findings of the Fundamentalism Project done at the University of Chicago, which found broadly similar elements in fundamentalisms in various religions. Pipes is not exactly interested in social science, however. A lot of the Senate opposition to his nomination came from his McCarthyite Campus Watch project. It’s a good lesson: if you want to mainstream yourself, you can’t do things that make you look like a raving maniac. (Truth in advertising: I was one of the academics Pipes wanted to have everyone spy on.) For the Tom Paine link see Losing Hearts and Minds.
*An excellent profile of the US struggle with Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf has been written by UPI correspondent Pamela Hess. She, like Anthony Shadid of the WP, refers to the interesting cooperation between Muqtada and Sunni fundamentalist Ahmad Kubeisi, who told his followers to attent Muqtada’s sermon last Friday in Kufa. But, I think she has too uncritically accepted some of the things alleged to her about Muqtada by his enemies. For instance, she says he fled to Iran after his father’s murder in the late ’90s and only came back in April of 2003. All the reporting I’ve seen, including in Arabic sources, says that he went underground inside Iraq; and, he certainly was there in March of this year. In fact, he taunts Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim for having left, which he couldn’t do if he himself had also fled abroad. I also don’t think Muqtada is 22. Even just looking at his photos, you can see he is at least in his late 20s. See http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20030728-011659-8800r.