Hashimi: Bush Blackmailed Blair on Timetable
Sistani Said to Back New Coalition
A US Marine died of wounds received in al-Anbar Province on Monday, the US military announced.
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi of the Iraqi Islamic Party said Tuesday that he thought George W. Bush had “blackmailed” or “brainwashed” British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Al-Hashimi, a Sunni Arab from a fundamentalist party descended from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, believed he had convinced Blair of the need for a specific timetable for withdrawal of Coalition troops from Iraq. Such a timetable has been a consistent demand of most Sunni Arab groups, as well as of many Shiites. After his meeting with Blair, al-Hashimi watched Mr. Blair come on television in a joint news conference with W., at which the PM declared himself in solidarity with the American leader’s opposition to a timetable.
Even the prime minister of Turkey, a NATO ally of the US and the UK, is calling for the setting of a withdrawal timetable.
Police found at least 53 bodies in the streets of Baghdad, killed in the course of sectarian violence. Reuters reports another 12 bodies in Baquba and 4 in Mosul. Guerrillas robbed a bank and its customers and may have gotten away with as much as $1.4 million. Reuters reports scattered violence around the country.
The “Istanbul Conference” of Sunni Arab Iraqi politicians and activists, held Dec. 13-14, produced incendiary speeches. Sunni politician Adnan Dulaimi spoke so vehemently about a “Safavid” (Iranian) threat to Iraq and the Sunnis of the Gulf that one Arabic-language Shiite newspaper alleged that the Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant against him for instigating sectarian violence. A parliamentary committee also demanded that he apologize. Dulaimi had been a leader of the Iraqi Accord Front, but his anti-American stance has increasingly brought him into conflict with the Iraqi Islamic Party, his coalition partner that favors cooperation with the Americans. The IAF seems likely to be splitting.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Iraqi government is talking to representatives of several important Sunni Arab guerrilla groups and has recently been contacted by Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, a former vice president of Iraq and major Baath leader of the resistance. The guerrillas are demanding that the US Congress call for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and that the “Iraqi Resistance” be “recognized.” Well, it may as well be recognized. It is there.
Kirk Semple and Ed Wong of the NYT have a scoop. They report, based on discussions with US officials, that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has approved the formation of a new coalition in parliament that would exclude the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr.
The coalition that the Americans hope for would look like this:
Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni Fundamentalist): 44 seats
Kurdistan Alliance and allies: 58 seats
SCIRI [Shiite fundamentalist] and allies: 63 seats
National Iraqi List of Allawi: 25 seats
That would be 190, more than enough to form a government and appoint a prime minister. It would potentially leave the Sadrists (32 seats) and the Da`wa Party of Nuri al-Maliki in the opposition, along with Salih Mutlak of the secular Sunni National Dialogue Front (11 seats).
The problem is that not all of the Iraqi Accord Front may be willing to join the coalition, and perhaps not all of the National Iraqi list will come in. Moreover, the idea that the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Kurds, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq are going to hold together as a united coalition very long strikes me as daft.
This plan of cutting the Sadrists out of parliamentary power and then launching a military attack on their paramilitary, the Mahdi Army, seems to me unlikely actually to reduce Muqtada’s power and influence.
It would also be possible for Muqtada and allies to put together a significant bloc:
Salih Mutlak’s list: 11
Mishaan Juburi list: 3
Part of the Iraqi Accord Front?: 10?
Sadr could find enough deputies to block the formation of a new government.
The real problem is that Parliament isn’t very powerful. Although the NYT blames Sadr’s boycott for the failure of parliament to reach a quorum the last couple of times it tried to meet, in fact it is because many of the parliamentarians virtually live abroad (they like London) and just aren’t around in Baghdad to take part in a vote.
The idea of the Bush administration is that you cut Sadr loose in parliament, so that the prime minister doesn’t depend on him, and then you have him call in the Iraqi Army against the Mahdi Army militiamen and defeat them. The Sunnis would thereby be reassured, the thinking goes, that the Sadrist death squads have been dealt with, and the Sunni Arabs would gradually become more willing to rein in their paramilitary. I don’t think it is plausible that the US military can defeat a widespread and entrenched social movement like the Sadrists at this late date, so we are in for a lot of trouble.
The US will turn security duties in Najaf province, site of a major Shiite shrine, over to the Iraqis. I suspect it is the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq that is actually the backbone of security forces in Najaf, though many may be in the police.
The Iraq War is more unpopular this year than last, and will also be more expensive. Reuters reports that “spending hit an all-time high of $120 billion in fiscal year 2006 that ended on Sept. 30. Some media reports have said the war costs for 2007 could total around $170 billion. But [White House budget official] Portman declined to give a precise figure.” Bush has been putting these costs off the regular budget books, and so they haven’t been counted in the budget deficit, which is actually closer to half a trillion dollars a year than Bush pretends.
The International Crisis Group criticizes the Baker-Hamilton Commission report for taking the autonomy of the Iraqi government too seriously. It recommends a multilateral approach to resolving the crisis. It also recognizes that Iraq is on the brink of being a failed state a la Somalia.
The USG Open Source Center paraphrases the Iraqi press for December 19:
‘ Dar al-Salam carries on page 2 a 230-word report entitled “Conference for Clerics in Basra Confirms Iraq’s Unity, Forbids Bloodshed in Iraq, Demands Departure of Foreign Forces.”. .
Al-Bayyinah carries on page 2 a 200-word report noting that Shiite and Sunni religious clerics and tribal shaykhs in Basra held a conference in which they called for Iraqi unity. . .
Ishraqat al-Sadr carries on the front page a 430-word editorial by Fattah al-Shaykh severely criticizing Adnan al-Dulaymi for his speech at the Istanbul Conference in which he attacked Iraqi Shiites, calling on parliament to lift immunity from him. . .
Al-Bayan carries on the front page a 230-word report citing Karbala Police Chief General Abu al-Walid confirming the arrest of two police officers responsible for lootings and killings on the Iraq- Jordan highway. . .
Al-Bayyinah carries on page 2 a 330-word article by Hasan Karim appreciating the formation of a new political bloc comprising the SCIRI, the Iraqi Islamic Party, and the Kurdistan Coalition. . . ‘