Friday, February 09, 2007


Muqtada al-Sadr and a date to watch

The Qur’án forbids killing in the month of Muharram [January 21 – February 18]. So they'll do all the killing then. There is no better time for a true believer to die, Paradise is guaranteed. But God is merciful, we are not all going to die. After Muharram, we'll see. —Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in an interview posted January 19

When Bush announced his "surge" I wrote that its principal purpose was to attack the militias of Muqtada al-Sadr. Two weeks later in an article titled "Taking on the Shia Militias" The Economist noted

For most of last year, the Americans have been telling [Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki] that the Shia militias were their main worry and hinting that if Mr Maliki did not rein them in his government and fledgling army might lose American support.

Muqtada's response to the escalation has been a demonstration of "soft" power. The militias have gone to ground (while initiating a draft of every Shia male in Sadr City between the ages of 18 and 45), and Muqtada has made conciliatory moves toward the Americans (rejected, of course).

Meanwhile by January 24 the U.S. had rounded up at least 16 Mahdi Army (Sadrist) commanders and 600 members of the militia. This has produced relatively mild demands by the Sadrists and no apparent effort at retaliation. It is beginning to occur even to the MSM that Sadr is biding his time.

Iraq's new strong man?

There are several points to be made about Muqtada al-Sadr. Some are well publicized but others receive short shrift—

Why is Muqtada so unpopular with the Americans?

If the U.S. were truly looking for an exit from Iraq that would preserve the nation's borders and have a reasonable possibility of reducing bloodshed, you might wonder if Muqtada al-Sadr could be the man to help. But of course those are not the principal American aims, which instead are to install a government that has the power to make and honor contracts with multinational oil companies and to avoid a government friendly to Iran.1

So Muqtada (not al-Qaeda, not the Sunnis, not the Kurds) is the ultimate obstacle to U.S. ambitions. If he's as true to his religious principles as appears, a sell-out or sell-off of Iraqi oil to American interests is not in the cards. This may be equally true of the other Shiite religious leaders (such as Sistani), which means the only way the U.S. can have its oil is by maintaining a secular government.

The anti-Sadr propaganda

U.S. propaganda efforts against Muqtada al-Sadr are relentless. Sadr is universally described in the American media as a "radical," one of the scarier designations in the American lexicon. Here's a piece from NPR done in late December in which Anne Garels attempts to explain to fellow reporter Renée Montagne why Sadr is dubbed a "radical" —

GARELS: .... His organization is working to bridge gaps with the Sunnis. And yet there he is with his militiamen being responsible for much of the sectarian violence in the area around Baghdad.2

MONTAGNE: And that is the reason that he is so commonly referred to as the "radical"?

GARELS: Well, He's a radical in the sense that he pays lip-service to the Shiite establishment in Najaf but works totally on his own.... He appeals to the poor. He has a huge amount of standing with the sort of disenfranchised, with the poor of Sadr City and in fact across the Shiite community down into the South.3

That's radicalism for you!

On Wednesday NPR's Alex Chadwick interviewed John Burns, Baghdad bureau chief for the New York Times. Burns hardly makes a pretense at "objectivity." He is a self-acknowledged supporter of the invasion4 and is openly hostile to Sadr. He says, accurately enough—

I think Muqtada Al-Sadr's goal is to drive the United States out of Iraq, to profit from the chaos within Shiite politics and to emerge as something along the lines of what happened in Tehran in 1979—as the dominant figure under religious garb in Iraq. [a Simply Appalling transcription]

Burns goes on to contemplate Muqtada's murder—

.... If you ask American military commanders if they believe Muqtada al-Sadr has to be eliminated as a political force, they will say "Yes, he does," and that they believe that also in time will require the physical elimination of Muqtada al-Sadr as a political presence. Now whether that means they will kill him I don't know.

And then he helpfully provides the justification for it—
There is an indictment outstanding against Muqtada al-Sadr, which has been held in abeyance by all three post-Saddam Iraqi governments (that is to say the American-backed governments) in the murder of Ayatollah al-Khoi, who was murdered within a week of American troops arriving in Iraq in the most brutal fashion. And Muqtada al-Sadr was indicted by late 2003 in that murder.

And some accounts by eyewitnesses say that Muqtada al-Sadr actually drove past the dying al-Khoi (who was a very, very distinguished ayatollah and a member of the so-called Majiah, which is the ruling council of Shiism in Iraq) as he lay dying from multiple stab wounds in the street outside Sadr's stronghold in Najaf.

We are given to understand that Sadr is a terrible, terrible man (which he may be, though there's not much visible sign of it)—so terrible in fact that his murder by U.S. or Iraqi forces would be quite understandable.

But the phrase "some accounts by eyewitnesses" caught my attention. I might not have noticed the propaganda aspect of Burn's narrative if it weren't for the contrast with a tale of another Iraqi leader: the U.S.-appointed interim prime minister who replaced Paul Bremer, Ayad Allawi. Eyewitnesses stated that Allawi shot six handcuffed and blindfolded insurgents in cold blood only days before he took office. But in Allawi's case there were no charges and no investigation.

Allawi, now spending his days in London and Jordan instead of attending to his duties in the Iraqi parliament, is frequently mentioned as a candidate for the role of U.S.-sponsored strongman if and when the Maliki government fails. As Fouad Ajami wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal

Mr. Maliki's predecessor [al-Jaafari]—a man who belongs to the same political party and hails from the same traditional Shia political class—was forced out of office by an American veto and Mr. Maliki could be forgiven his suspicion that the Americans might try this again. It was known that ... he fully understood that American officials would rather have other Shia contenders in his post—our old standby Ayad Allawi, the current vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi, both more worldly men at ease with American ways.

Given the American affection for Allawi, who is not only murderous but hopelessly corrupt, you have to conclude that the greatest fault of Muqtada al-Sadr lies in his lack of "ease with American ways."

Sadr's strategic withdrawal in the face of the "surge" seems an intelligent move, and he even has a Koranic excuse to save face. But the month of Muharram ends on February 18. Will Sadr continue to wait?

Related posts
"Saddam ... killed in secret. Allawi kills in public" (7/30/04)
Taking sides in a civil war (1/14/07)
Estimate of the Day (1/16/07)
Getting it wrong is usually right (1/17/07)
Understatement of the Day (1/21/07)
A war we can't afford to win (1/24/07)
Advice of the Day (1/26/07)
Conclusion of the Day (1/29/07)
Neocons fear the pain of premature withdrawal (1/29/07)



1Sadr's actual relation to the Iranian regime is ambivalent at best. [back]

2There is no consensus on how much control Sadr actually has over all the militias operating out of Sadr City. The Economist even suggests that Sadr welcomes the surge as a way to prune out rogue cadres—

Mr Sadr never seemed happy with the sectarian cleansing carried out by groups acting in his name and has struggled to control his loose-limbed movement.... So far he has failed to respond to the arrests of many Mahdi Army leaders in the past six months, suggesting he may have acquiesced in the Americans’ effort to prune his movement of rogue commanders.

3In today's NY Times, Damien Cave gives a glowing account of the reconstruction going on in Sadr City. He writes

Many residents credit a Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, and its powerful political leader, the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, for keeping the area safe enough to allow rebuilding.

4For instance, Burns wrote in 2003—

Though President Bush made weapons of mass destruction and possible links to al-Qaida his principal arguments for invading Iraq, the war could have been justified on the basis of human rights alone.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Quote of the Day

The great religious ages were notable for their indifference to human rights in the contemporary sense — not only for their acquiescence in poverty, inequality and oppression, but for their enthusiastic justification of slavery, persecution, torture and genocide. —Historian Arthur Schlesinger as quoted by Chris Hedges in "The Rise of Christian Fascism and Its Threat to American Democracy"


Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Uncommonly Good Sense of the Day

We live in our cultural context where gays and lesbians are regarded as criminals, punishable by long-term imprisonments. We also live in a country where gays and lesbians are violently persecuted, mistreated, hated, and ostracised... We as Black Africans know the hurts and permanent damage caused by our past experiences, which still linger on to the present... We have gone through that, and we don't want to go that way again. —the Rt. Rev. Godfrey Mdimi Mhogolo, Anglican bishop of Central Tanganyika, as quoted by Pat Ashworth writing in "Gay question is ‘not central to faith’ says Tanzanian bishop"

If you've followed the struggles of the Anglican Communion, the world's third largest Christian body (depending upon who's counting), you may have the impression that the African churches are uniformly anti-gay. Bishop Mdimi's statement makes clear the falsity of that impression, as does the former Archbishop of Capetown, Desmond Tutu, of anti-apartheid fame—

.... Dr Desmond Tutu, berated African Churches for focusing on homosexuality at the expense of the pressing needs of South Africa.

Dr Tutu told a press conference at the World Social Forum in Nairobi: “I am deeply, deeply distressed that in the face of the most horrendous problems — we’ve got poverty, we’ve got conflict and war, we’ve got HIV/AIDS — and what do we concentrate on? We concentrate on what you are doing in bed.”

The usual suspects are behind the commotion, about which I hope to do a post someday.

There is a web site unabashedly calling itself Virtue Online, which is devoted to keeping the Anglican pot boiling. The article I cited was reprinted there, where it drew some choice and presumably virtuous comments—

From "Brother Carlo"—

Sodomy is so central to the Episcopal religion that it has replaced the Eucharist as the chief sacrament! Blessings.

And my favorite from "ZachD," who either skipped his medication or has a marvelous sense of humor, take your pick—

Dr. Tutu.! Are you all kidding me, here?
Who cares about Dr.Tutu!?

This man represents the World Council of Churches!

Anyone for the all seeing eye of Osiris?

This man and his ilk is largely responsible for the devilspawn that now infiltrates all corners of God's green earth! I don't give a rat's you-know-what about any of this stuff, except that we must all pray earnestly that God Himself will take care of that collective scourge! (At least the RC's see what is at work there.)

Whew! That's better!

Can you feel the relief?


Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Unanswered questions surrounding the Stimson resignation

Last Friday the resignation of Defense Department poobah Charles “Cully” Stimson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, was announced. It followed Stimson's ill-received attempt to bully high-powered law firms that have undertaken the defense of Guantánamo inmates.

Stimson had suggested in a radio interview that companies doing business with these firms might want to cancel their representation and helpfully gave the names of most of the firms. He even hinted darkly that perhaps some of them weren't doing the work for free but were “receiving moneys from who-knows-where.”

Stimson later apologized, but it was too little too late. When Attorney General Gonzalez, who's seldom seen a line he wouldn't cross, "disowns" your remarks, you know you're in deep do-do.

Stimson now insists that his decision to resign was reached independently and that he was not asked to leave by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or anyone else. Well, maybe not. But for me his rather pointed statement of an independent decision to resign reinforces an impression that I gleaned from Stimson's apology—that he was acting for, and covering up for, someone higher in the administration.

In his apology Stimson affirmed that—

He then concluded "I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments [on the radio] do not reflect my core beliefs."

This raises a question that does not seem to have interested reporters: If Stimson's remarks did not reflect his "core beliefs," why did he utter them? To have made the extensive comments in contradiction of his beliefs would seem to require a little more explanation than that it was just a lawyer's equivalent of a bad-hair day.

Former State Dept. employee William Fisher writes that "this is not the first time US military officials have criticized Guantanano defense lawyers" and dug up this interesting tidbit—

In a editorial by Robert L. Pollock, a member of the [Wall Street Journal's] editorial board, quoted an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying, “Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.”

At a time when the MSM is declaring that what is so interesting about the Scooter Libby trial is not the crime itself but the insight it provides into the backroom machinations of the Bush administration, you would think that some enterprising reporter might want to do a little follow-up on the meaning of Stimson's apology.

Wouldn't you like to know the name of that senior U.S. official quoted in the Wall Street Journal? And if the WSJ report is accurate, isn't it even more appropriate for this "senior administration official" to resign as it is for Mr. Stimson?



NASA Control Device of the Day

[Astronaut] Nowak raced from Houston to Orlando wearing diapers so she wouldn't have to stop to urinate.... Astronauts wear diapers during launch and re-entry.AP report

A true space cadet, Lisa Nowak demonstrates how all of us can reap benefits from NASA-developed space-flight technology.


Monday, February 05, 2007


Joke of the Day

It'll take a few days to get things organized. —Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, speaking of the new Baghdad command center for the "surge," which is to be headed by an Iraqi general

Though the center is not quite "up and running," there are apparently some people milling about.


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