March 6, 2006

Al-Jaafari Must Step Down to Unify Iraq

Hatched by Sachi

Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), is the leading candidate for next Iraqi Prime Minister; but he is stirring up a hornet's nest across Iraq: the Kurds don’t like him; the Sunnis hate him; and secular Iraqis fear him. Even the top Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- a strong proponent of a unified Iraq -- is suggesting al-Jaafari step aside.

Now that Iraq transitional President Jalal Talabani has decided to call the newly elected permanent parliament into session, starting the countdown for forming the government, the UIA has only a short period of time to decide whether to fight to install al-Jaafari over the objections of everyone else or compromise with al-Jaafari's rival, current Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), who is widely acceptable among the various sects in Iraq.

Iraq's president said Monday he would convene the new parliament for the first time next week, beginning a 60-day countdown for lawmakers to elect a new head of state and sign off on a prime minister and Cabinet.

After nightfall, nine key Shiite parliamentarians rushed to an emergency meeting at President Jalal Talabani's Baghdad home to try to change his mind about forcing a showdown in the deepening political crisis and further inflaming sectarian tensions.

Talabani openly opposes al-Jaafari's nomination and is likely forcing the Shia's hand, hoping they will blink.

Talabani, a Kurd, said al-Jaafari was too divisive a figure.

"We want a prime minister who can gather all the political blocs around him, so that the government would be one of national unity," he told a news briefing in Baghdad.

Many believe al-Jaafari is behind a series of killings targeting prominent Sunni clerics and former Baath members, under the guise of the Interior Ministry’s Security Forces, which are infested with Iranian influenced militiamen. Al-Jaafari, of the Islamic Dawa Party (within the UIA coalition), was strongly backed in the Shiite caucus by militia leader Muqtada Sadr, the anti-American militant who occupied Najaf, Sadr City, and Basra during a failed "uprising" in March of 2004, timed to coincide with a similar surge of violence in Sunni Fallujah.

Sadr opposed the Iraqi constitution, supports a "sharia" state, and has consistently been connected with Iran -- and just as persistently, his spokesmen have denied it. However, less than a month ago, Sadr threatened another uprising if the U.S. were to attack Iran:

"If America attacks Iran, there will be a reaction in Iraq, and also if America stays in Iraq, there will be another uprising," he warned.

This does not prove that al-Jaafari follows Iran's lead, of course. And as Omar of Iraq the Model notes, even the main rival Shiite party within the UIA, the SCIRI, has a strong Iranian connection:

I'm not sure if you're familiar with this but did you know the internal charter of the SCIRI states that the party reports to the Murshid, who currently is Khamena'i?

"Khamena'i" refers to Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of Iran. This isn't exactly surprising, as the SCIRI was formed in 1982 under exile in Iran, where the Iranians recognized it as the "legitimate" rulers of Iraq during the war with Iran. For more than twenty years, the SCIRI was based in Teheran.

Yet despite that, secular Shiia prefer the SCIRI candidate, Abdul-Mahdi; he is equally strong within the Shiite caucus as al-Jaafari but not connected to the notorious Muqtada Sadr.

Abdul-Mahdi lost in the Shiite caucus by one vote to al-Jaafari, who won with the support of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Abdul-Mahdi is backed by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a powerful Shiite leader who is frequently at odds politically with al-Sadr. Both have strong militias behind them.

Underlining the divisions within the Alliance, some Shiite leaders are troubled by al-Jaafari's ties to the radical and openly anti-American al-Sadr.

And the most influential Shia in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has indicated (through an anonymous spokesman, to distance the cleric from the political nature of the announcement) that he would prefer it if al-Jaafari voluntarily withdraw his candidacy:

Two lawmakers from al-Jaafari's Dawa Party hinted Saturday that they got an endorsement for their leader during a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric.

But a senior al-Sistani aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the dispute, said Sunday that the spiritual leader indirectly suggested al-Jaafari step aside.

Abdul-Mahdi may well be a better man to be prime minsiter than al-Jaafari, despite belonging to the SCIRI: although he was exiled from Baathist Iraq, it was in 1969, thirteen years before the SCIRI was formed; and he spent his exile in France, not revolutionary Iran. France is not exactly friendly to American interests; in fact, Ayatollah Khomeini himself was exiled in France before the 1979 Iranian revolution brought him back to rule his home country. But Socialist France is certainly less radical than the Iranian mullahcracy.

The SCIRI is controlled by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim; and the entire al-Hakim family hates Muqtada Sadr (and his followers, including al-Jaafari). Because of the pre-existing rivalry, some of them hold Sadr responsible, or at least complicit, in the 2003 assassination of al-Hakim's brother, the revered Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who ran the SCIRI until his death.

(The U.S., on the other hand, believes the massive car-bomb was actually planted by Musab Zarqawi and his al-Qaeda In Iraq; the Iraqis claim that Zarqawi's bombmaker -- Abu Omar al-Kurdi -- has confessed to the bombing while in U.S. custody since January 2005.)

Regardless, Adel Abdul-Mahdi opposes Sadr, supports a unified Iraq and the Iraqi constitution, and is more friendly to America than Ibrahim al-Jaafari. I believe many Iraqi politicians are members of political factions based more upon tribal connections than actual ideological agreement; Abdul-Mahdi is probably closer in philosophy to al-Dawa, and al-Jaafari would probably feel more at home in the SCIRI -- sort of like Zell Miller vs. Lincoln Chafee.

Of course, the UIA does not have the two thirds majority in the incoming Iraqi parliament required to push their candidate through; they would need votes from Kurds, Sunnis, and secular Shia (who themselves would likely prefer Achmed Chalabi -- who has also been connected with Sadr, and who also denies it). Even so, the UIA so far seems quite determined to try, and that frets many people, including Omar:

What really worries me here is that the UIA knows this mechanism which is stated in the constitution yet they refuse to change their mind which makes one suspect they have no intention to compromise and they want to do some arm-twisting telling the others to 'either accept Jafari or face the danger of halting the entire political process'. [Emphasis added]

They're playing a very dangerous game that only those who don't care for the unity of the country would dare play.

If the UIA withdraws al-Jaafari and substitutes Abdul-Mahdi, he would likely sail through with little opposition. This would unify Iraq behind the nascent government, surely the best response to the bombing of the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra -- likely engineered by Zarqawi in order to shove Iraq into civil war. Zarqawi has already failed in the civil war plan: if the bombing of the Golden Mosque didn't do it, then neither will anything else that Zarqawi can do. But still, it would be a wonderful blow to the Iraq-War doubters were the Shia to put together a respected and widely accepted government that unified the country and was even pro-America.

Contrariwise, a candidate like al-Jaafari, who divides Iraq into nearly hysterical opposing camps, is very, very bad not only for Iraq but for America's plan to democratize the Middle East.

The UIA is quite open about preferring Sharia to secular law, though they also insist they do not want Iraq to be controlled by Iran. But do they support a unified Iraq? Omar worries that they may be planning for a country divided along sectarian grounds:

The UIA have made it clear that what they want is to either rule the whole country in the way like or rule part of Iraq in the way they like; more precisely in the way their religious references in Najaf and Tehran.

Omar is concerned that the UIA would be perfectly willing to break Iraq into a Shiite sector, a Kurdish sector, and then a weak and economically crippled "Saddamist" sector in the middle -- Omar notes that the UIA uses "Saddamists" the same way they use "Shia," implying that all Sunnis are Baathists.

Now that the power of foreign terrorists is waning in Iraq, Iraninan influenced domestic militias are becoming a more serious problem for Iraq and America. Just as there are Baathist Sunni "bitter enders," who really do want Saddam back, there are also Iraqi Shia who want to see a Teheran-style regime enforcing Shiite sharia on everyone... and they may be willing to settle for a piece of Iraq under sharia rather than the whole under a secular government.

We are going to have to clean up the Interior Ministry and their Security Forces very soon now; we need a "come to Jesus" meeting with the Shia in Iraq. And of course, we must get rid of the vile Muqtada Sadr by any means necessary.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, March 6, 2006, at the time of 5:22 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Excellent post, Sachi, but do you really think "come to Jesus" is the right approach?

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 6, 2006 8:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 6, 2006 11:51 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 6, 2006 11:53 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

I love coming here! Great post, and thanks.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 7, 2006 6:02 AM

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