Guest Editorial by Gilbert Achcar: The US and Shiite Politics in Iraq
Gilbert Achcar writes:
1) How US and British Forces help Iraqis recover their sovereignty
For any person believing in good faith that occupation troops in Iraq are helping the Iraqis build independent institutions in order to recover their sovereignty, recent events in Basra—the way British troops stormed police headquarters in that city—and their aftermath ought to be enough to prove the contrary.
[Late last week] Reuters (“British troops seize 12 in Basra raids”) and other agencies reported how British troops arrested 12 persons, including police officers, in Basra. The account by Reuters correspondent is interesting:
“Sources in Sadr’s office in Basra said those detained included several lieutenants in Basra’s interior affairs department, which is part of the Interior Ministry, and an official with the local electricity authority.
‘They are mostly Sadr people,’ one of the sources said.
He said some of the suspects were seized from the police building which was attacked by British forces last month to free two undercover soldiers who had been detained by Iraqi police. The British military said only that the raids took place in the Hadem district of Basra.
Another source said all 12 men were seized from one house.
The arrests run the risk of increasing tensions between the 8,500 British troops serving in Iraq and the local population.
After the detention of the two British soldiers last month, angry crowds of young men attacked British military vehicles with petrol bombs and rocks, forcing units to pull back.
The sources in Sadr’s office said the arrests took place late on Thursday, shortly after the men had broken fast on the second day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, in what could be seen as a slight and provoke more anger.”
Karbala—-after Najaf, the second major Shiite holy city in Iraq—-was supposed to have come under full Iraqi sovereignty. In his Radio Address of October 1, Bush boasted that “this week coalition forces were able to turn over security responsibility for one of Iraq’s largest cities, Karbala, to Iraqi soldiers.”
On October 8, Voice of Iraq broadcast the following report, posted by nahrainnet (my translation from Arabic) revealing what US forces have done in Karbala at the same time that their British counterparts in Basra:
“KARBALA’S GOVERNORATE CONDEMNS THE MILITARY OPERATION IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY AND CONSIDER IT A VIOLATION OF THE TURNING OVER OF SECURITY RESPONSIBILITY
The information office in the Governorate of Holy Karbala, contacted by the Voice of Iraq correspondent, condemned the military operation executed by special units of US forces Thursday evening in Holy Karbala, in the district of Eastern Abbasiya in the middle of the town.
The representative of the information office of the Governorate said: This military operation constitutes a violation of the agreement concluded between the multinational forces and the Iraqi side, represented by the officials of the Governorate of Karbala, by which security responsibility has been turned over to the Iraqi side two weeks ago.
The representative of the Governorate’s information office added that a communiqué was issued in this regard, and we are waiting for an official reply from the US side on this matter.
The governorate of Karbala had seen, on Thursday evening, US forces supported by helicopters operate an airborne raid in the district of Eastern Abbasiya in the middle of the Governorate, during which, according to eyewitnesses, they targeted three houses in the district. The airborne raid led to the arrest of ten suspected persons, seven of whom were released and the others taken to an unknown destination.
The correspondent of Voice of Iraq visited the district targeted by the airborne raid, one of Karbala’s old popular districts. He saw houses with fallen awnings, shattered window glasses and fallen parts of their roofs, as a result of the sound grenades used before troops landed. One of those arrested and later released said: The raid was rapid and sudden, helicopters filled the sky over the district and made an intensive use of sound grenades, frightening hundreds of families in the district. The Americans did not reveal the causes and motivations of this military raid in which Karbala residents saw a strong indication that the turning over of security responsibility was only a propaganda operation. It proved clearly to them that the Americans dominate entirely the security situation in Karbala and take their decisions without consulting any of the official authorities of the Governorate.”
No further comment needed.
2) Muqtada al-Sadr’s official position on the Constitution: Refer (again) to Higher Clerics
Excerpted from the October 8 Al-Sharq al-Awsat (my translation from Arabic):
“Al-Nafaf, AFP: Young Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr confirmed yesterday that his followers are free to take part in the referendum on the constitution that will take place on October 15. Mustafa al-Ya’qubi, one of al-Sadr’s major aides, said in a communiqué distributed to journalists in the holy Shiite city of Najaf (160 km south of Baghdad):
‘Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr has replied to the question: How to vote on the constitution? by saying: The question of the constitution needs ijtihad and fatwa [Muqtada al-Sadr means: theological expertise for which he is not qualified], and therefore each one should refer to his model (muqallad) and reference (marjaa). Al-Sadr added: We ask God, in general, that He deigns granting us a just State, as comes in the prayer … God, we implore you to grant us a noble State dignifying Islam and its people.’
On the Sadrist official site, there is this single sentence:
“In his reply to a consultation on the issue of the constitution—Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr: Each one refers to his model regarding the constitution, for it is a question requiring ijtihad—-Be up to the responsibility, please.”
Below are excerpts from letters I have written at the end of August on the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr. They shed some light on his recent position:
In his press conference in Najaf on August 25, al-Sadr said the following about the constitution: “There is no problem with federalism as such, it is an Islamic idea, but its timing now is not good.”
Also: “I have heard that they will remove the purging of Baath (de-Baathification) from the constitution. We refuse that categorically.”
This last statement, not surprising from al-Sadr, shows the distance between him and those Sunni opponents of federalism who are pro-Baathists.
On the issue of the constitution, Muqtada al-Sadr has made quite ambiguous or even contradictory statements. One of them is the interview that he gave to the BBC on July 18, where he said (from the report posted on the BBC website):
“I personally shall not interfere. I say that our constitution is the Koran and the Sunnah and I refuse any political role while the occupation is present.” he said, although adding that he would not stop any others participating.”
He vowed in the same way not to take part in the political process as long as the occupation remains, while his followers actually took part in the January 30 elections and are represented not only in the Parliament, but even in the government itself. The pro-Sadr ministers announced, after the August 25 clashes between al-Sadr and SCIRI followers in Najaf, that they suspended their activities in solidarity with al-Sadr, but he called on them in a communiqué to resume them:
“My brothers in the Iraqi government who have suspended their ministerial activities must resume their activities at the service of the people. The interest of Islam and the interest of Iraq are more important and more venerable.”
Al-Sadr is opposed, of course, to the federal scheme because he fears it could marginalize him. His main constituency is in Baghdad, a mixed city, and he has built up his image as a hero to hard-line Sunnis by converging with them, so he believes he could build a mixed Shia-Sunni constituency, thus getting an important leverage over his Shia rivals. Actually, this is exactly the same game that Allawi plays, the difference being that Allawi cozies up to “moderate” Baathists whereas al-Sadr cozies up to Sunni fundamentalists (the AMS, etc.).
However, al-Sadr is cautious and quite opportunist, capable of combining contradictory attitudes and statements—talking like a firebrand and participating in the government at the same time, even calling on his ministerial supporters to resume their activities in the government after they had suspended them. Al-Sadr knows that federalism has become very popular among Shiites because of the sectarian polarization in recent weeks, plus the genuine longing of the Shiites, and especially the Southern population—after such a long historical record of oppression—for some kind of autonomy. This longing is sharply increased by the fact that the Sunnis appear more and more as nostalgic of Saddam Hussein. That’s why al-Sadr has made conciliatory statements on federalism.