U.S. Foreign Policy In Deep Shi’ite
An in-depth analysis
In 2007, the dominant news story will be the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq. War is also the dominant spiritual and moral issue of my generation. It’s impossible for me not to blog about this.
The president has ordered a “surge,” or increase of 21,500 troops, which brings us to roughly 2004-troop-levels. This didn’t work in 2004, so it is unlikely to change things.
His saber-rattling regarding Iran and Syria is also unsettling. I liked that movie better the first time, when it was called Nixon Illegally Orders Crossborder Raids Into Laos and Cambodia Without Authorization.
But let’s cut past all the obvious problems, cut through the spin, and get behind the headlines to the underpinning issues.
Let’s talk about Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq.
Where is the Prime Minister coming from?
Nouri al-Maliki is from the Dawa Party, the stringently Shi’ite political party.
The Dawa Party has been singularly running the Iraqi government since May.
Who founded the Dawa Party? Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.
The fact that the father-in-law of militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr founded the ruling party in Iraq, tells you A LOT about what is behind the current upheaval.
What this means is, the Iraqi government is closely linked to the Sadrist movement at best, and, at worst, is its wholly-owned subsidiary.
When the Shi’ites lynched Saddam, they chanted “Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr! Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr!”
So we’ve had Sadrists running Iraq. They’ve ruthlessly cracked down on Sunnis. All but the entirety of the Sunni upper and middle class (an estimated 1-2 million Iraqis) have relocated to Amman, Jordan, transforming the makeup of Iraq and the makeup of Jordan. I see no indication those Sunnis will ever re-enter Iraq en masse.
We will continue to see that is Iraq is now a profoundly Shi’ite nation, unrecognizable compared to Hussien’s reign, with the Sadrists currently holding the power center. During Saddam, Shias were a majority, but now that they’ve disbanded his secular Ba’ath Party, lynched him and 1-2 million Sunnis have relocated, the Shi’ites are a super-majority in Iraq. With the U.S military keeping a lid on the Sunni insurgency, there’s no succeeding countervailing influence to total Shi’ite dominance. I’ve been following the news closely, and in recent years the Shias have remade Baghdad in their own image. It is now a Shia capital of a new Shia nation. It will continue to be profoundly Shia. And in these desperate times, moderate voices are a minority with no sway to speak of. I’m not saying that only militants and fundamentalists are left in Iraq. I’m saying that Shias, with their own strict brand of Iranian-bred Islam are now a super-majority in Iraq, and we are now dealing with an Iraqi nation that is more Shia-dominated, more fundamentalist, and more fractured and violent than ever expected . Jeffersonian democracy just ain’t in the cards.
Currently, the Dawa Party government (in short, Sadrists) are running the show, though they are fighting a nasty civil war against the Sunni tribesmen on their west and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades on their east (Shias murdering huge amounts of fellow Shias) among many other groups that spring up or shift every week.
In medieval Europe, feudal lords raised militias (see Knights of the Round Table, The) to protect their territory and interests. Following Saddam, Iraqi sheiks, Ayatollahs, nutjobs and politicians have been raising militias to protect their territory or people or ideology, minus the chivalry, and adding in huge doses of terrorism and kamikazi warfare.
I studied the scholarly journals when I took a course on foreign policy in college two years ago, and learned all I could about Iraqi Shi’ites. Back then there were lots of articles arguing that Iraqi Shias are fiercely nationalistic, and because they are a culture, language and physical appearance that is drastically different from their Persian co-religionists (Iranian Shias) and had no qualms about slaughtering Iranians en masse in the Iran-Iraq war, we should not worry about Iraq’s Shias opening the door to Iranian hegemony in the region. Now the word from foreign policy journals is that Arab Shias have strong ties with their Persian neighbors, with Iranian seminaries underpinning the Iraqi theological class (I wonder how they navigate the huge language barrier?) and that there is serious danger of uncorked Shia dominance and Iranian influence spurring a region-wide Shia vs. Sunni civil war. Will Iraqi Shias join Iran in a new religious Persian Empire? I still lean toward the first theory, that Iraqis will kill Iranians more than collaborate with them. But my G-d, even the most scholarly among us don’t know where the loyalties of most Iraqis lie! And THAT is perhaps the best argument against this war that I have.
Iran will certainly TRY to become a new hegemon in the region, but, in all likelihood, I think they’ll continue to be killed by the Dawa / Sadr guys. Meanwhile, militia groups have splintered off and grown until Iraq’s become this diffuse, hallucinogenic whirlwind of chaos and violence reminiscant of that gruesome Vietnam book we read in college. The horrors continue to trickle in, stories too ugly to print here, as Iraq sets new lows in the grim history of human depravity.
Meanwhile, we are fighting to prop up a government that is of, by and for the Sadrists. Sadr himself is returning to Iraq’s government.
Can our U.S. troops make a difference? In the latest Newsweek poll, 53 percent of Americans don’t believe the “surge” will reduce the violence in Baghdad and 67 percent think it is either “very” or “somewhat” likely to lead to more U.S. deaths in Iraq without getting the U.S. closer to our goals there.
On the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer last week, President Bush said, “Look, I had a choice to make, Jim, and that is – one – do what we’re doing. And one could define that maybe a slow failure. Secondly, withdraw out of Baghdad and hope for the best. I would think that would be expedited failure. And thirdly is to help this Iraqi government with additional forces – help them do what they need to do, which is to provide security in Baghdad.”
Helping prop up the Dawa Party?
When U.S. troops pull out of Iraq after too many more deaths, will the Sadrists still control things?
It is past time to vigorously question the “we cannot afford the consequences of withdrawal” line everyone is repeating like zombies. Hell, I’ve even parroted this.
Why not skip the unnecessary decade of bloodshed, declare victory we deposed Saddam, pull the F out, and let the Sadrists have it? What I was trying to establish is, the Sadrists already have it, and pulling out likely won’t change that.
I think Bush isn’t really scared of a new Persian Empire, but won’t pull out because it would leave Iraq to Muqtada al-Sadr, and he can’t bear the thought of 3,000 U.S. servicemen dying to lead to a brutal Shi’ite theocracy being installed. And I don’t blame him there; it’d be a terrible outcome. Brutal theocracy is what Sadr is all about. We would all turn on the TV to find Grand Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr presiding over women being beaten for not wearing hijab, women’s driver’s licenses being revoked, and anyone caught with a musical instrument getting summarily executed. But all these things are already happening! The Iraqi symphony orchestra already fled a few years ago after facing beatings and intimidation for practicing their music. We may have to take the bitter pill that a theocracy is what the remaining Iraqis want (most of the anti-theocracy people are now in Jordan).
And isn’t Iraqi self-determination better than continuing this absurdist charade of “IRAQ WILL BE FREE WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT! FREEDOM IS ON THE MARCH! YOU HAVE NO CHOICE! YOU WILL BE FREE!”
Isn’t it a way better option to just bypass the next 15-20 years of wasted blood and treasure?
What are the moral and spiritual consequences of continuing to play with this fire?
Thanks for reading my lengthy ramblings. This is a fascinating discussion. Iraq is the wildfire sucking the oxygen away from every presidential contender and every domestic problem, and, again, is the dominant spiritual and moral issue of our time.
I look forward to your comments.