16 October 2003

The Iraqi Shiites

The hawks came to see an Americanized Iraq as a replacement for Saudi Arabia. The plan was risky, not least because the secular Baath government had been among the main ramparts against Sunni and Shiite religious radicalism in the Gulf. The hawks argued that a liberated Iraq would kick-start a wave of democratization in the Middle East, paralleling events in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union weakened and then fell. (They did not explain why the United States, if it wanted democratization, did not start with places like Egypt and Jordan, which were more plausible candidates, being allies, developed civil societies, and recipients of substantial aid). They believed, incorrectly, that Iraq's petroleum-producing capacity - while not at Saudi levels - was significant enough to offset Saudi dominance of the oil markets. And unlike Saudi Arabia, Paul Wolfowitz thought, Iraq did not have holy cities such as Mecca and Medina that would make the stationing of U.S. troops there objectionable: Iraqis, he said, "don't bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory." (He apparently did not then know about the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala). The hawks were aware that a democratic Iraq would have a Shiite majority, but their client, Ahmad Chalabi (head of the expatriate Iraqi National Congress), convinced them that Iraqi Shiites were largely secular in mindset and uninterested in a Khomeinist theocracy. In the short term, they thought, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress would run Iraq in at least a semi-democratic fashion.

You really should read the whole thing. I'm a bit startled (alert and alarmed, perhaps) that neocon �bergenius Wolfowitz did not know about Najaf and Karbala. Back on 29 March someone rabid said:

And whichever military genius laid out the line of advance on Baghdad might have taken account that Najaf and Kerbala are holy cities with a status (for Shi'a) equal to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.

Public Opinion, among others discusses the Cole article.

You must also read the Truth from These Podia (giant PDF file) which sets out in some detail how sophisticated and how carefully planned was the war party's information management (apart from not knowing anything about 12 or so centuries of Iraqi history). What a pity they promise so much better than they perform.

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