3 September 2003

Asia Times | Ayatollah's killing: Winners and losers
After Baghdad fell without a fight on April 9, scores of Ba'ath Party cadres took refuge in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Morocco and Mauritania. The Ba'ath Party has operated cells in these countries since 1968. The idea - brilliant in itself - was to have these cadres rally the Arab masses in these countries to join a jihad against the superpower which dared to occupy sacred Arab land. The masses may not be responding yet - but certainly professional jihadis already have. With the Najaf bombing, the "Saddam network" has scored another big hit: it has managed in one stroke to simultaneously divide the Shi'ites (62 percent of the Iraqi population) and hurl hundreds of thousands of them into the streets chanting anti-US slogans. Ayatollah al-Hakim's brother is a member of the American-imposed interim governing council, which has absolutely no power and is considered a sham by the majority of Iraqis. Al-Hakim's Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has been vilified by other Shi'ite factions because it is - at least for the moment - against armed resistance. And many Shi'ites also remember very well that SCIRI backed Iran in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

As Asia Times Online has reported, holy Najaf is at the dead center of what happens next in Iraq. Immediately after the fall of Baghdad, first the imam at Ali's Shrine, Dr Haider Alkelydar, and then Shi'ite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who returned from exile in London, were assassinated. As chaos takes over, Shi'ites are increasingly in favor of armed resistance against the Americans. But the top de facto religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, does not want to get drawn into any political wrestling match: he is still adopting a "wait and see" attitude. The one character who has everything to gain from al-Hakim's murder is young Moqtada al-Sadr, extremely respected because he is the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr. Moqtada al-Sadr favors armed struggle - right now - and that's exactly why he would be a useful ally to both the "Saddam network" and the jihadis. Their objective is total confrontation with the Americans - with no space for appeasers like the UN's Vieira de Mello or SCIRI's al-Hakim.

European diplomats are very cynical about the possibility of the neo-conservatives controlling the Bush administration swallowing their pride and turning to the UN for help. Even the UN is facing a no-win situation, and the diplomats in New York and Geneva know it. In the unlikely event blue helmets were deployed in Iraq, it's practically certain they would be regarded by most of the population as the tail end of the US occupying serpent. Especially if Washington insists on not relinquishing one inch of control of the whole, disastrous operation. So this is the gift of Washington's neo-conservatives to the world: instead of a democratic Iraq, a putrid state infected by a guerrilla virus and on the verge of a devastating civil and ethnic war.

After the UN and Najaf bombings it's hard to see why any Iraqi would co-operate with the US. The occupation is legally responsible for security in Iraq. The latest Bush spin, that the evil Saddam tricked them into fighting a war, tells us more about neocon intellectual poverty than anything else.

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