US/Iraqi Attack on Samarra Region
Parliament Sworn In
Saddam Hussein’s call at his trial for Iraqis to unite, stop killing each other on sectarian grounds, and attack US troops instead is likely to be very popular in the Sunni Arab region. The ineptitude of this tribunal is astonishing– the US and its Iraqi allies have basically given Saddam a platform on which to make himself a martyr to Iraqi unity and independence. Given that he ran the country into the ground and engaged in large-scale ethnic cleansing, this call is the height of hypocrisy. But you wonder if Bush will remain more popular than Saddam in Iraq if things go on as they have been.
US military aircraft delivered a mixed US and Iraqi force to four villages north of Samarra which, the US military says, are suspected guerrilla bases. Actually, Samarra and its environs have long been dominated by the guerrillas, and repeated US attempts to subdue Samarra have all failed. Some sources reported massive bombing, which the Pentagon denied. Local Iraqis said they heard big explosions, however.
The US military command in Iraq, perhaps despairing of inaction in Washington, does not seem to have sought the authorization of President Bush for this operation. It does make you wonder what Bush thinks he is doing. After the Samarra shrine bombing, which many Iraqis blamed on the US one way or another, Bush should have been going on Iraqi television and addressing them directly as to what would be done about it. Instead, he kept trying to tell the Americans that things were actually just wonderful in Iraq.
This Samarra operation is probably mainly a political act. The US generals are attempting to demonstrate to their Shiite allies that they take seriously the terror attack on the Askari Shrine on Feb. 22. Presumably they are also attempting to ensure that if the shrine is rebuilt, it won’t just be blown up again. Short of pulling a Fallujah on Samarra, however– which would involve emptying the city and then destroying it– it is difficult to see how the US/ Iraqi government forces can prevail. Even then, they would just face sullen suicide bombers thereafter, as has happened in Fallujah, where 2/3s of the buildings were damaged and a large part of the population permanently dispossessed.
Frankly, the Samarra “Operation Swarm” is probably also meant to give the impression of progress or at least of activity in Iraq, where the political process is stalled and the guerrillas seem to strike at will, with increasing political success.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and Jalal Talabani, prominent Iraqi politicians who are also close to Tehran, have convinced the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to open direct talks with the United States on Iraqi security concerns. Such talks have been sought by US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad, who is the first Bush administration official in Iraq who seems to know what he is doing, and some important part of whose activities are likely to bear positive results. Note that the Neocons would never have agreed to talk to the Iranian government, which they just want to bomb (e.g. Richard Perle and Michael Ledeen). I disagree with some of what Khalilzad is doing, of course. I personally think Ibrahim Jaafari’s commitment a strong Iraqi central government and national unity is more promising than the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq’s adoption of the loose federalism model of Kurdistan for the Shiite south. On the other hand, if Jaafari is so unpopular that Iraq comes apart at the seams now, it doesn’t do us much good that his policy vision is probably better for the country in the long run.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq renewed his pledge Thursday to create two new provincial confederations in Iraq, in the Shiite far south and in the middle Euphrates [on the Kurdistan model]. Ibrahim Jaafari is opposed to such provincial confederations, which may lead to the break-up of Iraq or at least to an extremely weak central government. If you had in the United States the system that al-Hakim proposes, then Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana could form a regional confederacy, elect a parliament and prime minister, and keep 100% of the revenue from all future oil finds, refusing to pay taxes to the federal government on it. And if Bush wanted to talk to Austin, he’d be directed to the Prime Minister of the Regional Confederacy. It would cause a lot of trouble.
The Iraqi parliament opened on Thursday, and the 275 members took their oath of office, administered in the absence of an elected speaker of the house (on whom parliament could not decide) by senior statesman Adnan Pachachi (on the grounds that he is the oldest MP). Some of the members objected to the form of the oath administered by the chief justice, on the grounds that it differed from the text that had been distributed beforehand, and some said it the way it had been written (-Al-Sharq al-Awsat). The autnorities decided to let that pass.
Pachachi attempted to make a speech from the floor, lamenting the recent sectarian violence, but was interrupted by Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who said it was inappropriate for Pachachi to do more than swear in the members of parliament.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that the MPs universally expressed a desire for a national unity government as a way to end the crisis. A Sunni politician, Khalaf al-Ulyan, said that it would also allow the government to avoid the problems that beset the previous, Jaafari, government. Mahmoud Osman, an independent Kurd, predicted that it would be difficult for Jaafari, leader of the Shiite Dawa Party, to form a new government given the opposition to him among other blocs.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, nominated by the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance for a second term, said Thursday that he would step down if his people asked him to. He clarified that he was referring to the parliament. Jaafari’s political foes believe they can deny him the simple majority he needs to form a government, since the UIA only has 132 deputies willing to vote for it including allies, and needs 138. Moreover, there is opposition to Jaafari within the UIA, so he might not even get 132. The Virtue Party, lead by Nadim al-Jabiri, is diehard opposed to him. It has 15 seats.
Reuters argues that Washington views Jaafari as Iran’s candidate, explaining US hostility to his nomination. But the idea that Jaafari is closer to Iran than the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is frankly absurd. Whatever is going on, this isn’t it. My suspicion? The Bush administration also sees that the establishment of several more provincial confederacies on the Kurdistan model, to which al-Hakim is committed (see above) will guarantee a very weak central government in Iraq and will also guarantee US oil firms weak, naive local governments on whom unfair contracts can be imposed. But the possibility that these confederacies will pull Iraq apart and reconfigure the Middle East and the Gulf in a way such as to provoke massive wars and pipeline sabotage must be taken into consideration.
Kurdish sources alleged that young Shiite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has set up a virtual mini-state in slummy, Shiite East Baghdad, his power base. This allegation seems an exaggeration. The Sadrists in what is now called Sadr City have long run organizations that parallel those of the state, and it is hard to see what is new here.