Wolfowitz On Shiite Contacts In Iraq

Wolfowitz on Shiite contacts in Iraq; and on How He is the Only Patriot

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz talked Friday at Georgetown about his recent trip to Iraq, during which his life was put in danger by a missile attack on the hotel where he was staying. He spoke of his meetings with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq:

As I said earlier, it doesn’t take many people, sometimes only one or two, to set a bomb that can kill scores or hundreds. That happened in the Shia holy city of Najaf two months ago and it killed a very important Shia leader — Ayatollah Bakar al Hakim. That was big news, but I believe the more important news was the aftermath, and the incredibly restrained response of the Shia community to that shocking event. Sunday night I was privileged to have dinner in Baghdad with the younger brother, the last surviving brother by the way of Ayatollah Mohammed al Hakim. His name is Abdul Aziz al Hakim. It was an extraordinary three hours. It was impossible not to be impressed by this man’s intelligence, his sense of humor, and his understated courage. He is the last of seven brothers. The first six, counting his recently martyred brother, who were murdered by agents of the old regime. They are among 63 members of his family who he says were victims of Saddam and his thugs. Today Abdul Aziz al Hakim is a member of the new Governing Council of Iraq, and he said to me, and he laughed when he said it, that he did not himself want to become number 64. Anyone who can laugh at something like that has a strong sense of humor. But most impressive was his humanity and the conviction with which he spoke of his and his family’s commitment to religious freedom. He told about how his recently murdered brother had intervened with Iranian authorities in Iran to permit Iraqi Christian prisoners of war to assemble to celebrate Christmas, and how his brother, a senior Shia cleric, had joined them for Christmas. When his brother died, hundreds of Christians came by to pay condolences, many of them weeping unconsolably. As Adbul Aziz al Hakim observed to me on Sunday, quite shrewdly, “It might be possible for a few of them to be pretending, but certainly not all.” He then went on to talk about how their late father is described in the history of modern Iraq as having defended the Jews of Iraq even after 1967, when it became particularly difficult and dangerous. This man clearly comes from a family that boasts of courage and tolerance, and he stands firmly in their tradition. Let me hasten to add, before I once again get unfairly accused of painting rosy scenarios, that I don’t believe that the person I talked to was necessarily a saint or that I can judge everything from a three hour dinner. I don’t necessarily know that everyone in his organization shares the views that he expressed to me. And I imagine if we probed deeper that he and I would disagree, just as he would disagree with many Americans, about some important questions about the role of religion in society, or the role of women in society. It’s not perfect. But with leaders like that, particularly coming from the Shia clerical community, which so many people have told us we have so much to fear from, I think in fact there is strong reason to be hopeful.”

This picture of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its leaders is not just rosey but frankly bizarre. They did lead what was essentially a terrorist organization from Tehran, hitting Iraqi government targets from across the border, for 20 years. They were close to Ayatollah Khomeini (did they speak out about his mistreatment of religious minorities, including Jews and Baha’is?) and then to hardliner Ali Khamenei.

I wrote of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim for Le Monde Diplomatique last summer that on April 18 “he gave an interview from Kut with Iranian television in which he laid out his party’s two-stage plan for Iraq. He said, “We will first opt for a national political system,” in which all parties and sects were represented. He continued, “but eventually the Iraqi people will seek an Islamic republic system.” He added that in a democratic system, the will of the Shiites for an Islamic government would prevail, since they are 60 percent of the population. That is, SCIRI plans to begin with a representative government but ultimately to move to a tyranny of the Shiite majority, whether the Sunnis and secularists like it or not.”

Abdul Aziz has also called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Although Wolfowitz keeps talking about women’s rights in Iraq, he seems blithely unaware that Baath secularism was much better on that particular issue than the positions of people like Abdul Aziz al-Hakim will ever be, and that his friends the hardline Shiite clerics will do everything they can to withdraw rights from women.

On another topic, I thought this exchange was telling:

A student asked:

Q: I’d just like to say that people like Ruthy and myself have always opposed Saddam Hussein, especially when Saddam Hussein was being funded by the United States throughout the ’80s. And — [Applause] And after the killings of the Kurds when the United States increased aid to Iraq. We were there opposing him as well. People like us were there. We are for democracy. And I have a question. What do you plan to do when Bush is defeated in 2004 and you will no longer have the power to push forward the project for New American Century’s policy of American military and economic dominance over the people of the world? [Applause]

Wolfowitz: I don’t know if it was just Freudian or you intended to say it that way, but you said you opposed Saddam Hussein especially when the United States supported him. It seems to me that the north star of your comment is that you dislike this country and its policies. [Applause] And it seems to me a time to have supported the United States and to push the United States harder was in 1991 when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering those innocents so viciously.

You know, as a historian I try to be as even-handed as I can, and I don’t like to demonize people. There are things I admire about Paul Wolfowitz. But this exchange is just so ugly and ruthless that it made my blood boil when I read it. Wolfowitz doesn’t seem to get it, that the student is referring to the period 1983-1990 when the US was a close ally of Saddam’s, when it authorized the sale of chemical and biological precursors to Saddam, when it had the US navy function essentially as an auxiliary of Saddam’s military. Either he didn’t get it or he was using misdirection to shift attention away from his own former alliance with Saddam (I wonder if he’s managed to have all those files shredded?)

That is bad enough. But then he said, “It seems to me that the north star of your comment is that you dislike this country and its policies.” And you know, I want to puke at a statement like that. Objecting to the Bush administration’s policies is not the same as to “dislike this country.” That is sickening demagoguery. Objecting to the Reagan-Bush alliance with Saddam, of which Wolfowitz was part given that he served in those administrations, is certainly not unpatriotic. In any case, Paul Wolfowitz does not own this country. He does not have a patent on patriotism. No one appointed him High Inquisitioner to examine the consciences of other Americans. That comment was despicable. And I guarantee you, it will come back to haunt him. Because charges of working against the interests of your own country are very slippery things, and may get the one making the charges hoisted by his own petard someday. Nixon used to pull that crap too.



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