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Beyond Kingmaker: Moqtada al-Sadr and the Future of Iraq

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Posted on Oct 24, 2010
AP / Karim Kadim

A supporter holds up a poster of religious, political and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

By Scott Ritter

(Page 2)

Jaafari replaced the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who owed his political power more to his former associations with Western intelligence services (the CIA and MI-6) than any popularity engendered among the Iraqi people. Allawi, as the head of the foreign intelligence-funded Iraqi National Alliance (INA), carried out anti-Saddam activities including the planning and implementation of a failed coup attempt in June 1996. It is this status as an anti-Saddam leader that the CPA believed would give Allawi credibility as an Iraqi political figure. But Allawi’s tenure as Iraqi prime minister was contentious, with resistance to the ongoing U.S.-led occupation of Iraq rapidly escalating. Under Allawi, Iraq supported several major American military operations, including two, against the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah and the Shiite religious center of Najaf, which proved to be extremely controversial among the Iraqi people given the level of violence inflicted upon the local populations. Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord Party fared poorly in the January 2005 election, and Allawi was replaced by Jaafari in April 2005. Allawi’s Iraq National Accord did even worse in the December 2005 elections, and while his party participated in the unity government that was formed from that election, Allawi himself did not take a seat in Parliament.

Ibrahim Jaafari was, at the time of his selection as prime minister, the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, which was founded for the purpose of promoting Islamic rule in Iraq. In the 1970s the Dawa Party began waging an armed struggle against Saddam Hussein’s regime, leading to a violent crackdown against Dawa that drove Jaafari and others into exile. Jaafari left Iraq for Iran in 1980, where he represented the Dawa Party and where, in 1983, he brought the Dawa Party into the fold of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an umbrella group of anti-Saddam Shiites who made common cause with Iran in its war against Iraq. Dawa by that time had been severely weakened in its fight with Saddam Hussein’s regime, and Jaafari found both himself and his party politically subordinated to Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI. 

The Dawa-SCIRI relationship was strained over SCIRI’s close relationship with Iran. With Iran’s strong support, SCIRI became the dominant Iraqi Shiite military and political force confronting Saddam Hussein, and when the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, forcing Saddam out of power, SCIRI, headed by Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (who headed the military wing of SCIRI, known as the Badr organization), became the dominant political force in Iraq. When Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim was assassinated in August 2003, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim took over as the head of SCIRI. But Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was more interested in cementing his role as the political leader of Iraq’s Shiites than he was in solving the myriad problems the country faced. His decision to allow Jaafari to become prime minister allowed the Shiites to continue to lead Iraq, but deflected any fault in the governance of Iraq away from SCIRI and onto its political rival, Dawa.

Hakim’s political maneuvering proved to be a dual-edged sword. Jaafari, a compromise leader weakened by a growing sectarian conflict and ongoing anti-U.S. insurgency, was never able to effectively govern, ran afoul of the U.S. government over charges of ineffective leadership and was forced to step down from office. Nouri al-Maliki, who at the time served as the deputy Iraqi prime minister, assumed his position by default, replacing Ibrahim al-Jaafari in April 2006. Malaki, like Jaafari, was a senior member of the Islamic Dawa Party. From 1979 until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, he had helped organize Dawa’s guerrilla war against Saddam Hussein from exile in Syria (1979-1982 and 1990-2003) and Iran (1982-1990).

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Jaafari’s ouster as prime minister reinforced Hakim’s astute observation that the prime minister’s office was a political minefield. But it also paved the way for a new post-Saddam political constituency, this time under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki. Prior to being selected as prime minister, Maliki was a little-known political figure whose primary reputation had been derived from overseeing the de-Baathification efforts of the Jaafari government. The United States made common cause with Maliki’s government in cracking down on the Sunni-based insurgency, something that helped cement his reputation as being prejudiced against the Iraqi Sunni community, and elevated his status among many, but not all, in the Iraqi Shiite community. In an effort to consolidate his political power, Nouri al-Maliki confronted Moqtada al-Sadr, who headed a powerful Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, which openly challenged both the ongoing U.S.-led occupation of Iraq as well as the American-allied Iraqi security forces directed by Maliki. Maliki’s Iraqi constituency is derived more from his status as a U.S.-backed authority, and the power that brings, than any grass-roots draw among the population.

It was the “surge” of American combat power in 2006-2007, more than anything else, that established Maliki’s authority to govern. This authority has been openly challenged by Sadr, who insists that Iraq be governed by Iraqis who are free of outside influence. Sadr’s Mahdi Army engaged in open conflict with U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi Army in 2004, and again in 2006. A ceasefire prompted by the U.S. surge of military forces in 2007 led to the demobilization of much of the Mahdi Army, but, in 2008, open conflict again erupted when Maliki ordered his forces to confront and dismantle the Mahdi Army. The near-civil war that erupted as a result created fissures from within the Shiite political coalition that had won the 2005 elections.

In an effort to secure the continuation of Shiite-dominated rule, Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for a change in Iraq’s election laws, replacing the closed list ballots of the past with a new open list system that empowered the electorate to vote for individuals rather than political parties. In this way, a political figure like Maliki could remain viable even though his political coalition was not. But the open list system turned out to be a debacle. The required new Iraqi election laws were not passed by Parliament until November 2009, delaying the election until March 2010. The emergence of numerous new political parties only confused an Iraqi electorate still new to the concept of national elections. The March 2010 election not only failed to produce an outright winner, but created the conditions in which a viable coalition government was virtually impossible to form.


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By firefly, November 7, 2010 at 1:56 am Link to this comment

While America claims to be the vanguard of freedom
and democracy.

The truth is that in the Middle East, few leaders
exist without the approval and backing of the US,
irrespective of the benefits to the people. America’s
needs come first! The US chooses who can govern, and
if the people don’t like their choice, they are
‘terrorists’.

If the US doesn’t like the people’s choice, the
government is a ‘terrorist state’ (as with Hamas and
Iran) and American subterfuge is used to support ‘the
people’ a.k.a., the opposition.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 28, 2010 at 4:21 am Link to this comment

mdgr: Pointing the finger of blame is not just what is required to expiate/atone for the horrors, but it is also needed in order to unbind ourselves from inertial force those horrors have engendered.

Up to a point, beyond which it becomes reflexive catharsis. Beyond which, as well, it is just “bleating-in-a-blog” to release our pent-up frustrations.

Frankly, the repeated bitching is as interesting commentary to read as ... uh, dull dishwater. Besides, it focuses the debate on people/groups and not on methods, habits/motivations and means.

The real problem is in the latter. Change them and the former will fall into line. Meaning this: the tools are there to be used properly for the competent management of the economy and government. But we’ve put dunderheads in charge of the process.

That objective is far more difficult to attain in just one mid-term election. It is a long, long process of reformation—of the wasteful way we live and the manner in which we are educated to think and behave. It is a question, thus, of common values—which are wanting.

The New Age “be all ya wannabe” has led to the mess that we are in. People wannabe selfish and inward looking as they focus on their individual desires and needs. Their role models are the celebrity rich, made such by incessant media promotion.

When what is necessary is an enhancement of collective needs—better education, better health care, better usage of energy resources, better living conditions for more of our population.

And far less a wanton bent on personal accumulation of riches.

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By mdgr, October 26, 2010 at 11:10 pm Link to this comment

I would go a bit further yet from that of Moonraven

Lafayette:

Pointing the finger of blame is not just what is required to expiate/atone for the horrors, but it is also needed in order to unbind ourselves from inertial force those horrors have engendered. 

If we don’t, we will inevitably send political prisoners to Egyptian jails in the name of rendition, though we shall say there is no torture.

We shall continue to commit the same war crimes that were conducted under Bush, but under an even greater cover of darkness than that offered by Cheney.

It’s way too late for expiation at this late hour, however.

The Furies will still follow us and I am guessing that America will not escape them.

* * *

On another note, thank you so much Mr. Ritter for an astute strategic analysis of the situation in Iraq.

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By Ella Zahra, October 26, 2010 at 12:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is exactly what I have been thinking.  Thanks for articulating this analysis, Scott.

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Arabian Sinbad's avatar

By Arabian Sinbad, October 25, 2010 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment

By moonraven, October 25 at 10:20 pm

Lafayette:

Wrong.  Pointing the finger of blame is what is REQUIRED to expiate horrors.

Otherwise the door is always wide open to impunity and repetition.
=========================
Well said moonraven!

And I might add that identifying the perpetrators of these horrors is necessary as a precondition for bringing them to a court of justice and having them pay for their crimes; otherwise we will continue to regress backward into savagery and barbarity, and one day we will have not one Hitler, but many other Hitlers in these sad United States of America, which will be “united” only in criminality and crimes against humanity!

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By moonraven, October 25, 2010 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment

Lafayette:

Wrong.  Pointing the finger of blame is what is REQUIRED to expiate horrors.

Otherwise the door is always wide open to impunity and repetition.

Report this

By tedmurphy41, October 25, 2010 at 8:08 am Link to this comment

Whatever the fate of Iraq, never forget how it all came about, not forgetting the dead and injured left on the road to this ‘impasse’.

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By omop, October 25, 2010 at 7:57 am Link to this comment

OK Boys and girls its time to call it as it is.

Its quite acceptable and honorable to ” install a NEW state” whose justificzation is
the pseudo-history that its people have been prosecuted because of their
RELIGiOUS BE is not soLIEFS ( the jews) in one area of the world in a different part
of the world and then claim that those who oppose such a state are all religious
zealots.

If that kind of logic[?] is not so deadly it would be hilarious.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

AS: The essence of my post, which was lost on you in your mistranslation, was to lament the perennially short-sighted and misguided policies of the US political establishment!

Yes, Lead-head’s administration botched this job royally.

But, so what?, that’s history. Pointing the finger of blame never ever solved the remaining problem.

Peace in the Middle-East is a maniac’s puzzle. Let them get on with it.

And America’s blind faith/support of Israel is an impediment to the process—as we are seeing once again with Netanyahu. Europe is far more bipartisan in its approach to this highly complex puzzle.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 5:33 am Link to this comment

Rob: Sadr isn’t Bin Laden, he’s more of a Hassan Nasrallah type, but his rise is a great wake up for the idiots who still try to justify the war.

Naive thinking.

He’s no better than the rest of the religious nutters in Iraq.

If in power, he will install a religious regime as exists in Iran. He could also be a major threat to Israel, meaning yet another to peace in the area.

It’s easy for us to talk about this ... we don’t live in Iraq.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

AS: I was making a comparison-contrast with the “very secular” Saddam Hussein, whom the Americans could not handle, by way of lamenting that the war in Iraq has resulted in empowering “fanatically religious” groups as opposed to the previously secular regime of Saddam Hussein.

Hussein was a “secular” murderous thug—an Iraqi version of Murder Inc. and hardly an acceptable alternative.

He had killed his way to the top of the Ba’athist Party, then killed anyone who got in his way in order that his family should stay there—and with preference anyone impertinent enough to challenge him from the Schia majority.

Good riddance to him and his to murderous sons.

Until the three ethnicities (Schia/Sunni/Kirds) arrive at an agreement that installs a modus vivendi between them, the killing will continue and Iraq will teeter on a tight-rope, with no safety net.

There are plenty of national precedents for a democracy wherein the power is shared between majority and minority factions: Switzerland, Finland, Latvia, Belgium - just to name three. It’s not easy, but it is a better option than killing one another.

Frankly, it all comes down to sharing oil revenues amongst the ethnicities.

N’est-ce pas?

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By Arabian Sinbad, October 25, 2010 at 5:07 am Link to this comment

By Lafayette, October 25 at 7:48 am

VERY RELIGIOUS?

You think anyone who bows down to pray to the Kaaba daily is “very religious”? Perhaps so, but that does not seem to prevent them from killing with wild abandon.

Just like us “Crusaders”, I might add, except that we pray elsewhere ...

Just how many people have died in the name of God/Allah/Whatever?
==============================================
Lafayette,

I think that you fully misunderstood the irony in my usage of the expression “very religious.” What I meant is to say “fanatically religious” in the same sense that you referred to the Crusaders.

I was making a comparison-contrast with the “very secular” Saddam Hussein, whom the Americans could not handle, by way of lamenting that the war in Iraq has resulted in empowering “fanatically religious” groups as opposed to the previously secular regime of Saddam Hussein.

The same situation is being repeated in Afghanistan, where after 10 years of killing and destruction, the US is being forced to negotiate with the fanatic Taliban as partners to end the quagmire they got themselves into.

The essence of my post, which was lost on you in your mistranslation, was to lament the perennially short-sighted and misguided policies of the US political establishment! And I was, en essence, expressing my unhappiness with the power of such groups as the one led by Al-Sadr!

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By Robespierre115, October 25, 2010 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

If Sadr were to take power in Iraq it would be a great ending to an imperialist adventure promoted by people like Christopher Hitchens who glorified the war as some sort of march against theocrats, fundamentalists etc. Sadr isn’t Bin Laden, he’s more of a Hassan Nasrallah type, but his rise is a great wake up for the idiots who still try to justify the war.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 3:48 am Link to this comment

VERY RELIGIOUS?

AS: the very religious Shi’ah-oriented Moqtada al-Sadr, closely allied with Shi’ah Iran in a sea of Sunni Islam

Very religious your cutthroat as-Sadr? What did he do, shortly after the invasion, when Imam al-Khoei rushed from London to Iraq to (possibly) become a major threat to al-Sadr’s hold on power?

This excerpt from here:

Some of his [al-Sadr] followers are alleged to be responsible for the assassination on 10 April 2003 of Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei. Judge Raed Juhi, who conducted the investigation after the incident, issued arrest warrants against Sadr and two dozen others, but Sadr’s warrant was placed under seal by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Yes, yes - a pure fabrication of the Western Powers. I can see you writing it already ...

You think anyone who bows down to pray to the Kaaba daily is “very religious”? Perhaps so, but that does not seem to prevent them from killing with wild abandon.

Just like us “Crusaders”, I might add, except that we pray elsewhere ...

Just how many people have died in the name of God/Allah/Whatever?

POST SCRIPTUM: Though shalt not kill

Ditch the war, ditch the people who make war. Let them dig themselves back into the Deep, Deep Doodoo.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 3:18 am Link to this comment

Translation of very old French dictum:

The one-eyed man rules in the kingdom of the blind.

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By morristhewise, October 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment

There is little profit in defeating an enemy in a few days or months, but the beauty
of having the Taliban as an enemy is that they rarely come out to fight. Many live
in mountainous cracks and crevices and are supported by Pakistan who is
interested in maintaining a long war. Picking them off one by one can last forever,
it is no different in the war on drugs as soon as one pothead is busted another
lights up a joint.

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By Arabian Sinbad, October 24, 2010 at 8:16 pm Link to this comment

Good luck to the ever misguided political-America!

You could not handle the very secular Saddam Hussein, which you discarded after using him to achieve your “religion” of divide and conquer evil schemes in the area, and now you’re condemned to deal with the very religious Shi’ah-oriented Moqtada al-Sadr, closely allied with Shi’ah Iran in a sea of Sunni Islam.

The best recipe for unending conflicts, so you can continue to be the merchant of death, selling your weapons of mass destruction to both parties. As we speak, the normally non-combatant Saudis are in their way to purchase 60 billion worth of weapons, and the irony of this is that Israel has already given their approval of such sale!

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