Mar 28, 2008

Ante room to the presidency

The British got used to putting the rebel leader in prison, known as the ante room to the presidency, and then dealing with him post independence as leader of his country. By those old models the leader has already been obvious for years, to wit, Muqtada Al-Sadr, the self declared "sword of Ali Al-Sistani." Ali Al-Sistani refused ever to meet with Paul Bremer or acknowledge his existence. The US can not follow the British method, obviously, since as is now pretty clear their intention was always to control, in fact to own, the Iraqi oil fields, and freedom and democracy had zero to do with it.

Note: - First reports from the spanking new 3,000-personnel US Embassy-to-be say that choking black smoke came from all the power cables when they threw the switch to turn it on. Serve them right for contracting Halliburton.

The current US Embassy pad inside the green zone is largely occupied by bums on seats, people sent there to hold the fort without any very clear idea what they’re supposed to do. Long time since I heard a better description of a rotten apple ready to fall.

June 26, 2007

The Mystery of American Foreign Policy

Synopsis: Why are we propping up the pro-Iranian Maliki faction in Iraq?
Source: Antiwar Published: March 28, 2008 Author: Justin Raimondo

The recent increase in fighting around Basra, which is rapidly spreading to Baghdad, has the punditariat in a lather. Their sacred Surge has turned into a mere splurge – of resources, lives, and misplaced hope. Well, I could have told you that, and, indeed, I did. But never mind the chattering classes, their delusions of American omnipotence, and my own unfortunate penchant for self-congratulation. What's really fascinating about this story is how it underscores the central mystery of our Iraq war policy: why in the name of all that's holy are we supporting the pro-Iranian parties and factions in the Iraqi government, whilst Our Glorious Leader is coupling Tehran and al-Qaeda as "twin" evils to be fought and defeated in Iraq?

We have placed our chips on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose party, Da'wa (Islamic Call), in alliance with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), now known as ISCI, was one of the few Iraqi resistance groups to refuse all U.S. aid in the run-up to the invasion, and wasn't all that cooperative as the occupation regime was established. Together with their partners in government, the Da'wa Party, SCIRI/ISCI took refuge in Iran during the Ba'athist era and received military aid and training from Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The extension of Iranian influence into Iraq was a direct consequence of the Iraq war, and the recent visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Baghdad has underscored this and provided plenty of grist for those who are pointing at the so-called Shia Crescent with alarm.

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. The original plan of the neocons was to install Ahmed Chalabi, their own personal Iraqi puppet, but that soon fell through – and Chalabi, it turned out, had strong links to Iranian intelligence agencies. Accused of divulging American secrets to Tehran, Chalabi had his Iraq headquarters raided by Iraqi and U.S. personnel. Unfortunately, the horse was already out of the barn.

In any case, what the neocons – who knew (and know) nothing about Iraq or the Middle East – didn't anticipate was the awakening of the Shi'ite giant, whose rising took the form of Iranian-born Shi'ite religious leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shi'ite version of the pope. It was he who scuttled the neocon-devised "caucus" system, which would have convoked assemblies of handpicked U.S. stooges in the provinces, who would, in turn have elected a national constituent assembly, with the result easily manipulated by Washington's expert ventriloquists. Sistani called his followers out into the streets, and that's when things really started to veer out of Washington's control.

When Chalabi's shenanigans were exposed to the light of day, and his extensive interactions with the Iranians were revealed, a theory was floated by several in the intelligence community that we were basically suckered into the Iraq war by its chief beneficiaries, the Iranians. Using their chief asset, the double agent Chalabi, they and their neocon allies fed us ersatz "intelligence" via the various Iraqi "defectors" rounded up by the Iraqi National Congress and paraded across the front page of the New York Times by Judith Miller and her editors.

"One of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history" is how one intelligence officer described the run-up to the invasion of Iraq to a Newsday reporter. Looked at this way, U.S. policy in Iraq begins to make a kind of twisted, Bizarro World sense.

From the very beginning, U.S. policymakers were determined to go after militant Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the son of a prominent cleric, whose Mahdi Army is the only significant indigenous opposition to the pro-Iranian militias and the Tehran-influenced central government. Sadr is critical of both the U.S. and the Iranians, and, as such, represents a direct threat to the occupation and the Iraqi status quo. U.S. efforts to paint the Sadrists as tools of Tehran backfired for lack of evidence, and are, in any case, counterintuitive – as Sadr is an ardent Iraqi nationalist who decries the country's breakup and opposes all foreign influence.

The consolidation of a strong Iraqi state is the last thing the Americans want, for that would threaten their occupation and lead to their swift exit from the country. It is also in the Iranian interest to keep Iraq divided and stop the nationalist Sadr and his brutal militia from taking power in Baghdad. And, as Robert Parry points out, another factor played a key role in tricking us into war: "Israeli governments have long made a high priority out of forging alliances with countries like Iran on the periphery of the Arab world to divert Arab antipathy that otherwise could be concentrated on Israel. Plus, Israel and Iran had an important enemy in common: Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Both Israel and Iran had a lot to gain by convincing the United States to remove their hated adversary."

As Parry notes – and professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt showed in their trailblazing book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy – the neoconservatives, strategically positioned inside the national security bureaucracy, and the Lobby pushed this agenda, touted Chalabi, and relentlessly campaigned for war with Iraq. Parry's review of the long-standing ties between the Israelis and the Iranians is quite educational, and it explains a lot about what is happening in Iraq today – and, perhaps, what will happen tomorrow.

I think I pretty much summed up here the scenario that is now unfolding:
"I have to laugh when I hear criticisms from the Democrats and the growing number of antiwar Republicans in Congress who complain that we don't belong in Iraq any longer because, you know, it's a civil war. This is largely seen as an unintended consequence of the American invasion – but what if it was intended?

"It would, after all, make perfect Bizarro 'sense.' If, instead of trying to build a stable, democratic Iraq, you're trying to wreak as much destruction as possible and turn Arab against Arab, Muslim against Muslim, and the Kurds against everyone else, then the invasion and occupation of Iraq was the right thing to do."

That was last May, when the Surge was being hailed as the solution to all our problems in Iraq, and it's little wonder that this strategy is now being pronounced a failure. What you have to understand, dear reader, is that, in the Bizarro World alternate universe we seemed to have slipped into, failure is success.

At the end of John McCain's Hundred-Year War, when whoever is president declares "victory" and hightails it out of Iraq, some subversive soul will remind us of King Pyrrhus' lament: "Another such victory over the Roman, and we are undone."

Mar 28, 2008 - Muqtada cuts free - By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - The escalation of fighting between Mahdi Army militiamen and their Shi'ite rivals, which could mark the end of Muqtada al-Sadr's self-imposed ceasefire, also exposes General David Petraeus' strategy for controlling Muqtada's forces as a failure.

Petraeus reacted immediately to Sunday's rocket attacks on the Green Zone by blaming them on Iran. He told the BBC the rockets were "Iranian provided, Iranian-made rockets", and that they were launched by groups that were funded and trained by the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Petraeus said this was "in complete violation of promises made by President [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad and other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts".

Petraeus statement was clearly intended to divert attention from a development that threatens one of the two main pillars of the administration's claim of progress in Iraq - the willingness of Muqtada to restrain the Mahdi Army, even in the face of systematic raids on its leadership by the US military and its Iraqi allies.

The rocket attacks appear to have been one of several actions by the Mahdi Army to warn the United States and the Iraqi government to halt their systematic raids aimed at driving the Sadrists out of key Shi'ite centers in the south. They were followed almost immediately by Mahdi Army clashes with rival Shi'ite militiamen in Basra, Sadr City and Kut and a call for a nationwide general strike to demand the release of Sadrist detainees.

Even more pointed was a strong warning from Muqtada aide Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammedawi to the United States as well as to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), whose Badr Organization militiamen, in the uniforms of Iraqi security forces, have targeted the Madhi Army throughout the south. "They don't seem to realize that the Sadrist trend is like a volcano," he told worshippers Friday in Kufa. "If it explodes, it will crush their rotten heads."

The signs that the Madhi Army will no longer remain passive mark a major defeat for the US military command's strategy aimed at weakening the Mahdi Army.

When he took command in Iraq in early 2007, Petraeus recognized that the US occupation forces could not afford to wage a full-fledged campaign against the Mahdi Army as a whole. Instead it adopted a strategy of dividing the Sadrist movement.

Petraeus and the ground commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, hoped that there were leaders in the Sadrist movement who would be willing to give up further military resistance and accept the US occupation and the existing government.

For months, the command tried to generate a "dialogue" with "moderates" in the Sadrist camp. It issued a series of statements hailing Muqtada's willingness to change the purpose of his movement. Most recently, on January 17, Odierno said, "I believe he is trying to move forward with more of a religious organization and get away from a militia type-supported organization." But he admitted, "That could change."

Meanwhile, Petraeus targeted selected elements of the Mahdi Army in raids in Sadr City and the Shi'ite south, portraying its targets as "criminals" and "rogue elements" which had broken away from Muqtada and were armed, trained and financed by Iran. Odierno suggested in his January 17 press briefing that such renegade groups were causing "the majority of the violence".

But the "moderate" Sadrists who would be willing to make a deal with the US never materialized. Last July, a US commander in Baghdad claimed that Sadrist representatives had initiated "indirect" talks with the US military. But in January, Odierno would say only that they had been meeting with "local leaders" in Sadr City, not with representatives of the Sadrist movement.

The Mahdi Army's blunt warnings of military countermeasures followed months of raids against Muqtada's political-military organization by both US forces and the Badr Organization. According to a senior Sadrist parliamentarian, between 2,000 and 2,500 Mahdi Army militiamen had been detained since Muqtada declared a ceasefire last August.

The raids have been aimed at weakening the Madhi Army's political hold on Shi'ite cities in anticipation of eventual provincial elections.

During 2007 there were signs of strong support for Muqtada in Najaf, Basra and Karbala, as Sudarsan Raghavan reported in the Washington Post last December. In Najaf, portraits of Muqtada and his father, grand ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein's security forces in 1999, had "mushroomed defiantly in the streets".
Muqtada's image had also been "pervasive" in Karbala, according to Raghavan, until security forces loyal to the ISCI arrested more than 400 of Muqtada's followers in an obvious effort to destroy its organization in the city.

For months Muqtada had refrained from authorizing a full-fledged response to such attacks on his forces. But on Tuesday an officer at Muqtada's headquarters in Najaf said the Mahdi Army should be prepared to "strike the occupiers" as well as the Badr Organization.

Revealing the contradictions built into the US position in Iraq, even as it was blaming Iran for the alleged renegade units of the Mahdi Army, the US was using the Badr Organization, the military arm of the ISCI, to carry out raids against the Mahdi Army. The Badr Organization and the ISCI had always been and remained the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq, having been established, trained and funded by the IRGC from Shi'ite exiles in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

It was the ISCI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim who had invited two IRGC officers to be his guests in December 2006, apparently to discuss military assistance to the Badr Organization. The Iranian officials were seized in the home of Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization and detained by the US military. The George W Bush administration continued throughout 2007 to cite those Iranian visitors as evidence of the IRGC's illicit intervention in Iraq.

But the Badr Organization had become the indispensable element of the Iraqi government's security forces, who could be counted on to oppose the Mahdi Army in the south. And in a further ironic twist, it was the leaders of the ISCI and of the Nuri al-Maliki government, which depended on Iranian support, who insisted last summer and autumn that the US should credit Iran with having prevailed on Muqtada to agree to a ceasefire. The close collaboration of the US command with these pro-Iranian groups against Muqtada appears to be the main reason for the State Department's endorsement of that argument last December.

The Petraeus assertion that the rocket attacks on the Green Zone were Iranian-inspired strongly implied that Iran is still providing arms to Shi'ite militias. However, Odierno told a press briefing in mid-January, "We are not sure if they're still importing [sic] weapons into Iraq."

That admission came only after many months in which US officers in the border provinces were unable to find any evidence of arms coming across the border from Iran.

Those officers also found no trace of the alleged presence of the IRGC personnel in Iraq. Last November, the French weekly news magazine Le Point quoted Major Scott A Pettigrew, the military intelligence chief in Diyala province on the Iranian border, as saying, "I have never seen any activity or presence of the Quds Force. I see nothing here that resembles a proxy war with Iran."

Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006. (Inter Press Service)

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