British Are Asserting That There Has

*The British are asserting that there has been a popular revolt in Basra against the Republican Guards and other forces loyal to Saddam. The Iraqi government has denied the report. The British also say that the Iraqi military is firing mortars on the rebels. Since the British can pinpoint the origin of mortar fire, they have been using this activity to target the Republican Guards mortar positions, so as to help the rebellion. I wonder myself if the “rebellion” isn’t being in part led by Special Forces agents infiltrated into the city. It is also possible that elements of SCIRI (the Shiite “Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) from the Badr Brigade have slipped into the city from Iran. A Basra rebellion would not be impossible. It happened on a large scale in 1991, and there were also disturbances later in the 1990s, especially when Grand Ayatollah Sadr was assassinated by Saddam. But Basrans would also remember that the US hung them out to dry in 1991 and let Saddam crush them. They will be wary, and their friendliness to the British cannot be assumed.

*My analysis of the Iraqi strategy is that it is similar to what Sadat did in 1973. Ariel Sharon left lots of Egyptian forces in his rear as he raced to encircle Cairo. That is similar to what the US forces are doing. But Sadat won the peace by getting the UN security council (especially the Soviet Union, which reportedly threatened to intervene) to insist on a cease-fire. Saddam has already gotten a condemnation of the war from the Arab League and is seeking one from the Security Council. The difference is that this time the Russian successors to the Soviet Union are weak and economically dependent on the US, and won’t go to the mat for Saddam. So, the strategy will almost certainly fail, but the parallel seems to me striking.

From a discussion on a list about how the war in Iraq is going:

Military analysts have for some time been nervous about the Rumsfeld plan to start the war before all units were in place. A lot of analysts, including Wesley Clark, cannot understand why the equipment for the Fourth Army Infantry was left in ships off Turkey long after it seemed obvious that they were not going to be allowed to be positioned on Turkish soil. These are now being moved to Kuwait. They worried that things could go badly wrong in the meantime. They have. It may be that some units are being held in reserve for the north, but if so that still means they cannot be used in the south, which continues as far as I can see to be in a condition of chaos.

Speaking of the Suez Canal, one remarkable development is the widespread

calls among Egyptians, especially leftists and Islamists, for Egypt to deny

use of the Canal to the U.S. Since Camp David in 1978, I have never seen

this degree of rage and anti-US feeling in Egypt, and one worries that the

Canal can probably be stopped up with a well-executed terrorist attack on

an oil tanker.

The good news for the Anglo-American forces that they have completely

secured Umm Qasr, as the British spokesman claims, is surely offset by the

fact that Umm Qasr is a dinky little port town near Kuwait that a massive

invading force should not have had any trouble securing immediately in the

first place. What I read in the press was that the British were being

pinned down by as few as 100 Iraqi soldiers. This is very bad news for the

Anglo-American side, since Iraq has lots of bunches of 100 soldiers.

Likewise, al-Nasiriya has been the site of numerous anti-Saddam uprisings,

and should not have been so hard to take.

This is not to mention the very bad news indeed that Republican Guards

units have positioned their artillery and tanks in civilian neighborhoods

of Basra and have forced the British to withdraw from the city. Despite

earlier Pentagon promises, Basra’s electricity and water purification have

been knocked out, and civilians are getting shelled. Presumably some of

the food shipments coming in to Umm Qasr would be for Basra, which the

British do not hold.

And, what is to stop the same thing from happening in Baghdad? If it does,

what will that do to world public opinion? So far the US and British look

like British redcoats, marching in straight lines and annoyed that the

colonists are not playing fair. If substantial numbers of the 300,000

Iraqi troops turn guerrilla fighters and stand their ground against the

invaders, this could be a disaster.

My analysis is not meant to support an anti-war or pro-war position. Like

most people, I have mixed feelings about all this (I despise the Baath


Replying to someone who asserted that Iraqi Shiites remained loyal to their clergymen in the 1980s, not to their nation:

The notion that most Iraqi Shiites have the sort of relationship to their “source for emulation” that is common in Iran is erroneous. Rural Iraqi Shiites in the South for the most part have a fairly recent (18th-19th centuries) past as pastoralists and the Iranian type of Shiism that foregrounded trained clerics and jurisprudents was important only in a few urban settings (the Shrine Cities of Najaf and Karbala e.g.) which incidentally had large Iranian heritage populations (most of whom were deported by Saddam).

Iraqi Shiites most certainly did stay loyal to the Iraqi nation during the Iran-Iraq war. They were throughout the 20th century among the main proponents of an *Iraqi* nationalism as distinct from pan-Arabism (in which they would have been swamped in a sea of Sunnis). I suspect that a lot of the Marsh Arabs (500,000 of the Shiites until the ethnic cleansing and swamp-draining of the 90s) couldn’t have told you which jurisprudent they emulated, and if they named one it would have been pro forma–they wouldn’t actually know his rulings.

The late Hanna Batatu actually figured out the ratio per person of mullas in Iran and Iraq, and found it vanishingly small in Iraq.

from a discussion on a list about the origins of radical Islamism:

The strain of thought we are considering is properly thought of as

neo-Kharijism. The Kharijite sect in early Islam was trigger-happy about

declaring people who did not agree with their ways of doing things to be

non-Muslims. A Kharijite declared Ali, the first Imam of the Shiites and

the Fourth Caliph of the Sunnis, to be a non-Muslim and assassinated him

as such. In contrast, the Sunni tradition frowned on kicking anyone out of

the Muslim community for any but the most egregious crimes or heresies.

If one acknowledges the 4 Orthodox Caliphs and a few other simple principle,

you can be an ex-con and still be a Sunni Muslim. The Kharijites tolerated

no slight deviance from their orthodoxies and ideas of morality.

The temptation to revive a Kharijite mindset (I am not arguing for actual

historical influence) was particularly strong in British India, where many

Muslims were converts from Hinduism and/or retained Hindu usages, and

where many Muslims learned English and/or worked for British firms or the

British government. In addition, 18th and 19th century South Asian Islam

was highly influenced by Shiism via the impact of Safavid and Qajar Iran.

Those hardline Sunni Muslims threatened by what they saw as departures

from pristine Islam were thus tempted to declare the hinduized or iranized

or britishized Muslims to be actually non-Muslims altogether. Among the

major such streams in North Indian Islam with this attitude was that of

Sayyid Ahmad Rai-Barelvi in the 1820s and 1830s, whose movement the

British dubbed “wahhabism” by analogy. This British confusion has

confused generations of researchers; the two are not related and are very

dissimilar in many ways.

Maududi in my view simply gave a modernist cast to Sayyid Ahmad

Rai-Barelvi’s approach. Sayyid Qutb imported many of Maududi’s ideas into

Arabic. So there is a complex international Islamist web of neo-Kharijism

going back to the 19th century, which is highly intertwined with the

history of Western colonialism in the Muslim world.

The connection between Sayyid Qutb and Saudi Arabia goes right back to the

1960s. The Saudis clandestinely gave aid to the Muslim Brotherhood,

including its Qutbist wing, as a way of undermining their enemy, the

secular nationalist & socialist Abdel Nasser. Abdel Nasser succeeded in

cracking back down on the revival of the Brotherhood in the early to

mid-1960s, which had militant overtones and openly discussed assassinating

him. In 1965-66 the plot was busted up, with hundreds (some say

thousands) of arrests, and that was the occasion of Sayyid Qutb’s

execution. There is every reason to think that the would-be assassins of

Abdel Nasser were at the least inspired by his work, and the connection

could have been even tighter.

Some of the survivors of the 1965-66 crackdown among the Muslim

Brotherhood in Egypt managed to escape to Saudi Arabia–which had been

their patron–where they became prime conduits for the spread of Qutbist

ideology. As Dick Norton notes, Sayyid Qutb’s brother was among these.

Thus, the mere conservative Machiavellianism of the Saudi leadership in

using the Muslim Brotherhood and its more radical wings against Abdel

Nasser blew back on them insofar as those chickens came home to roost.

Nowadays Saudi ministers and princes (well, I’ve been redundant) routinely

denounce the Muslim Brotherhood as political in a way the Wahhabis never


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