T.S. Eliot wrote at the end of “Hollow Men” in 1926, “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.” He may as well have been talking about the war George W. Bush launched in Iraq in 2003.
Some Americans might find all this celebrating offensive. But the US public has mostly moved on, little interested in the foreign wars its armed forces are still fighting, and worried much more about the long-term consequences of the Republican Party’s Ponzi-scheme economy of 2001-2008, the collapse of which has cost them or their family and friends their jobs. As in the 1930s, even celebrity gossip and the glitz of Hollywood are more present in people’s minds than distant armies on the march. The public and the mass media mysteriously ignored the Afghanistan War right from 2002, and now Iraq is being given the same treatment, even though there are 130,000 or so US troops in Iraq and 38,000 in Afghanistan, and both contingents are still fighting and dying.
The end of US patrolling should neither be exaggerated nor downplayed as a turning point. Of course, US troops will still be in Iraqi streets from time to time, accompanying Iraqi forces. Special Operations teams will likely engage in surgical strikes in coordination with their Iraqi colleagues for years to come.
But there is an essential difference between such occasional interventions of a collaborative sort and routine patrols by a foreign military of densely populated urban areas in an Arab, Muslim country. The latter is viewed as a form of neo-colonialism by most Iraqis. The former could be welcome if it adds to law and order.
I was talking to a US military officer who had been in Baghdad in December, and he told me that he thought that Iraqi troops were now capable of patrolling independently, something he would not have said a year or two earlier. If they get into trouble, he said, they stand and fight. They still have poor logistical support. If the firefight lasts 5 hours rather than one hour, they might be in trouble because no one is bringing them ammunition and water. Az-Zaman writes in Arabic that the governor of Najaf remarked Sunday that US troops would still provide logistical support to Iraqi ones, despite the end of routine American patrols.
That the Iraqi military has experienced a sudden increase in efficiency is attested by relatively successful campaigns in 2008 against the Mahdi Army Shiite militia in Basra, Amara, Nasiriya, and Sadr City (East Baghdad). Security appears tangibly to have improved in the south in the aftermath. Still, of course the Iraqi police and other security forces have a long way to go toward professionalism.
Of course, the operations in Basra and east Baghdad succeeded in part because the US air force gave the Iraqi military close air support. That is another way that the US is not just vanishing from Iraq. Iraq does not have an air force and will not have one for something close to a decade, and its government wants the US to act as a surrogate Iraqi air force for the time being. Note, however, that such air support can be proffered from al-Udeid base in Qatar. It does not require a base inside Iraq.
More US troops will be withdrawn, though Gen. Ray Odierno wants to have a big enough force in January to help provide security for the parliamentary elections that month. I think there is some fear that if US troops are not sufficient in number to help lock down the country for the elections, that paucity of troops may encourage Sunni Arab radicals to disrupt the balloting with massive car bombings. Moreover, there is a danger of Iranian hard liners trying to steal the Iraqi elections, as a repeat performance of what happened in Iran on June 12, by using petrodollars to buy votes for their hard line Shiite allies.
In the medium term, the bombings by Sunni Arab guerrilla groups who cannot reconcile to the Shiite- and Kurdish-led new government, will likely continue. It is not clear, however, that such bombings can actually undermine the new government or force a radical change. If they cannot, they are useless.
The end of major US combat operations, prematurely announced by Bush on the USS Lincoln in 2003, may finally be at hand. Iraq faces many challenges going forward. Corruption is almost crippling for reconstruction. There has been little political reconciliation. Guerrillas are still deadly, as are sectarian militias. An Arab-Kurdish struggle over oil-rich Kirkuk of some ferocity could break out at any time. Increasingly, however, these problems will have to be dealt with by the new Iraqi elite itself.
The phase of mass protest in the aftermath of the controversial election results of June 12 has drawn to a close for the moment. Movement activists can no longer put tens of thousands of protesters in the street because the security forces are too well organized and too loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to allow it. Opposition leader Mir Hosain Mousavi has been increasingly indecisive on tactics even if he has been steadfast in demanding a rematch with incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
AP reports that the march for Mir Hosain Mousavi on Shariati Street by some 3,000 activists was violently repressed by the security forces, despite its having been a legal procession in part commemorating the killing in 1981 of revolutionary founding father Mohammad Beheshti (see below). Police used tear gas and clubs to disperse the marchers, attacking them and in some case breaking bones. The demonstrators had been chanting “where’s my vote?” and some were wearing green, the symbolic color of the Mousavi movement. They also by their chants tied Mir Hosain Mousavi to Imam Hosain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhmmad, who was killed by the repressive Umayyad government in 680 CE. The implication is that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the equivalent of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid, who is despised by Shiite Muslims as the author of the martyrdom of Imam Hosain.
Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi himself had joined in the march on Sunday.
In a bad sign for Mousavi, his ally former president Akbar Hashimi Rafsanjani appeared to desert him on Sunday. The USG Open Source Center translates from official Iranian radio:
‘FYI — Iran: Rafsanjani Cites ‘Complicated Plots,’ Calls for ‘Solidarity’ Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 Sunday, June 28, 2009 Document Type: OSC Summary
Tehran Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 in Persian at 1630 GMT on 28 June broadcast its scheduled newscast, which included an item on remarks by Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Chairman of the Expediency Council, in a meeting the families of the “martyrs” of the 7 Tir incident, that is 28 June 1981, when the head of Judiciary and some other officials were killed in a bomb blast.
Rafsanjani referred to the recent incidents after the results of the presidential elections, saying: “The incidents were the results of complicated plots by obscure sources with the aim of creating separation and differences between the people and the system. And with the aim of making the people distrust the Islamic system.” He said Ayatollah Khamene’i's expedience in extending the deadline by the Guardian Council for a better study of the issues and providing convincing explanations and clearing any doubts was a very valuable measure. He added: “In my opinion, the recent order by the leadership was one of the very valuable decisions he made. That is he asked the Guardian Council to extend the legal time, which was over, to study the complaints. And a group was appointed to help the Guardian Council with this regard.”
Rafsanjani said: “We should all make a step with cooperation and solidarity to remove the obstacles and solve the problems.” He also said: “We should always end the election results with solidarity. If every election would result in discord – we have an election once a year – and there would be hatred and fighting, then there will be nothing left.” . .
(Description of Source: Tehran Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 in Persian — state-run television) ‘
Rafsanjani has clearly decided to defer to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on handling the outcome of the elections, and has come out as critical of the crowd politics and occasional turbulence they produced. As a multi-billionaire and man of the establishment, he may well have been frightened that the massive street rallies for Mousavi a week ago signalled a danger to the status quo, which he is attempting to preserve. From Rafsanjani’s point of view, Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and others have been making a slow-motion coup, reducing the sigificance and openness of the of the system by excluding the reformists from running for office. Wanting to go back to 1997 is not the same as wanting a revolution.
On the other hand, Grand Ayatollah Bayyat Zanjani issued a statement defending the right of the protesters to rally peacefully and condemning the violent crackdown on them. There are nearly 30 grand ayotallahs in the Shiite world, the majority of them resident in the holy city of Qom in Iran. Despite their lack of political power, they could be influential in determing how the public remembers the election and what aspirations Iranians have for the future.
Mansoor Moaddel writes in a guest editorial for IC:
The current civil uprising in Iran reflects not just a protest against a rigged election. Nor is it primarily a symptom of contentions for power or clashes between opposing perspectives on the nature of the Islamic regime. It is, rather, resistance against a political coup, whose engineers plan to impose a Taliban-style Islamic government on Iran. The coup has been organized by an alliance between the supreme leader and the most militant and fundamentalist faction within the ruling establishment, backed by the Revolutionary Guard.
The political attitudes of one of its most notorious ideologues, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, demonstrates the danger Iranians and the world would be facing should this militant faction get its way. Mesbah Yazdi does not believe in the republican aspects of the Islamic regime, but rather views Islamic law as supreme and must be unquestionably followed. The supreme leader, he says, is not elected but rather discovered by the clerics. For him, Ayatollah Khamenei is the exemplar of such a leader. He has characterized the ideas of representative government and legislative functions as belong to the decadent system of Western liberalism. He has likened reformist ideas to the AIDS virus. He has publically endorsed the construction of a nuclear bomb.
These ideas have much appeal for Ahmadinejad, who claims that the past governments were corrupt and deviated from the Islamic path. Some of the former leaders, people like Rafsanjani and Natiq Nouri, have abandoned the ideals of the revolution. Ahmadinejad argues that for the sake of Islam, such individuals must be sacrificed and the society must be restored to the principles of the Islamic revolution. Under his presidency, be claims, this restoration has been launched, ushering a new beginning for a truly Islamic state in Iran.
Ahmadinejad’s deeds are Islamic extremism in action. He has already restricted the freedom of Iranian citizens, expanded men’s authority over women, increased political persecution, undermined the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and supported terrorism and political adventurism abroad. He has also recruited members of the Revolutionary Guard to fill key governmental positions and awarded them lucrative government-sponsored projects. These actions, and his administration’s economic mismanagement, promoted the formation of a broad coalition in Iran comprised of reformist politicians, conservative pragmatists, and ordinary citizens representing the majority of the Iranian public.
Realizing the growing strength of this coalition in the run up to the election, the Revolutionary Guard acted to stifle the movement and the ruling party awarded itself a landslide victory – an uncontestable mandate for four more years of growing religious extremism and global isolationism.
The outcome of the current civil uprising is certainly consequential for the development of democracy in Iran. It has also far reaching implications for regional stability, international peace efforts, and the security of the United States. At this point, the regime cannot secure its rule without unleashing a reign of terror. And if this coup succeeds, the regime will forge ahead with its expressed plans for nuclear development and support for religious extremism abroad. It would be a mistake to think that people like Ahmadinejad are reasonable. It is counter productive to base policy on the untenable premise that he would be amenable to a cost-benefit analysis on the nuclear issue. Time and again he has announced that the nuclear issue is off the table. To believe or hope otherwise would be a profound and resonant error.
The option that is left for the United States is either to effectively support Mousavi’s camp today or risk a military confrontation with Ahmadinejad tomorrow.
Mansoor Moaddel, Professor of Sociology, Eastern Michigan University Research Affiliate, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan
CNN is reporting that 5,000 dissidents marched silently on Shariati street near a major mosque in downtown Tehran, ostensibly in honor of cleric Mohammad Beheshti, who was killed in a bombing by the terrorist organization Mojahedin-e Khalq (Holy Warriors of the People) in 1981. But in fact they were protesting the stealing of the recent presidential election and the betrayal of the ideals for which Beheshti died. By casting their march in the terms of a commemoration of a martyr to the revolution at the hands of a despised dissident group, the crowd cleverly made it difficult for hard liners to depict them as agents of a foreign power or revolutionaries seeking an overturn of the government. CNN says that they walked slowly as part of their protest, despite attempts of government security forces to move them along.
The resort to licensed, legal demonstrations is a way for the movement to keep making news and coming in public, something the regime refuses to allow in the case of unlicensed protests. Opposition leader Mir Hosain Mousavi is alleged to have promoted today’s event via Facebook.
‘ I would like to give you my assurance that I remain true to my existing pact with you and all layers of the great people of Iran, and using all legal avenues will demand your deserved rights that have been violated at the ballot boxes.
Unfortunately, as you witness in the international media, contrary to the letter of the constitution, and the stated freedoms in the Islamic Republic, all my communication with the people and you has been cut off, and people’s peaceful objections are being crushed.
The national media which is being financed with public funds, with a revolting misrepresentation is changing the truth, and labels the peaceful march of close to three million people as anarchist, and the media that are being controlled by the government have become the mouthpiece of those who have stolen the people’s votes.
I’d like to thank you again for your peaceful objections which have received widespread coverage across the world, and would like to ask you that by using all legal channels, and by remaining faithful to the sacred system of the Islamic Republic, to make sure that your objections are heard by the authorities in the country.’
He also cautions the expatriate dissidents not to get involved in revolutionary groups that want to overthrow the Iranian government.
AP is reporting that opposition leader Mir-Hosein Mousavi has agreed to the Interior Ministry’s demand that he apply for a permit one week in advance for any demonstrations, and will cease calling for unlicensed rallies. This is an about-face on Saturday from his stance just 24 hours earlier, when he said that the election theft attempt would be crushed. Mousavi did complain that rallies for his rival Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are allowed without all this rigamarole, implying that the Interior Ministry is treating him and his followers unfairly. D’oh.
The Iranian authorities are now alleging that they have examined a series of ballot boxes and found no evidence of fraud. The problem with this approach, which is being echoed by some Western observers, is that you have to explain the wholly implausible outcome first. Ballots can always be phonied up in various ways. When has there ever been a whistleblower in Egypt who explained how exactly the ruling National Democratic Party always wins parliamentary elections? And yet we know they are fixed. It isn’t interesting how– the *outcomes* tell us that they are.
Meanwhile grassroots protesters are still calling on Iranians to gather in the traditional markets at 9 am in Tehran and other cities, as an attempt to reinvent mass gatherings. This is a way for them to achieve a shop strike indirectly, hurting the economy and putting pressure on the regime.
The announcement says, ‘If [the authorities] try to prevent us from doing this, they will inevitably close down the bazaar. If they don’t prevent it, we will gather in such numbers that anyway the bazaar will be closed.” They say people should just go, initially pretending to be ordinary shoppers, shouting no slogans and wearing no green. But once the pedestrians swell to large numbers in the bazaar, they should simply mill around and decline to buy anything, which will have the effect of making it impossible for real customers to buy anything, either. They portray this method as likely to avoid any bloodshed. (Bazaars are admittedly labyrinthine, and getting a bead on someone inside one may not be easy; and, the bazaaris or shopkeepers and artisans would rather mind gunplay around their merchandise, and they are a backbone for any regime in Iran that wants to survive very long.)
The organizers also say that they hope to see this message spread around the blogosphere, maintaining that the more Iranians who know about it, the better it will work.
This is the announcement in Persian:
Click on the image for larger text. (Hitting the ‘control’ button and the plus sign on the keyboard will also size the image up further in most browsers. But go to the larger text first, since it will show more clearly).