Turning point in Iraq
Once upon a time in the Iraq debacle, bearded guys in turbans sat in the background at press briefings while natty dreadful U.S. and British officials took the spotlight to announce various plans by the occupiers.
That fairy tale is coming to an end, now that people like Abdul Aziz Hakim, leader of Iraq’s most powerful political party, are stepping out of the shadows.
The only reason you’re finally hearing from the Bush regime about “timetables” for our withdrawal is that we’re getting pushed out, and Iraq’s various militias will start their civil war in earnest. No rest for weary Iraqis, whose suffering was cranked up yet another notch yesterday when a suicide bomber blew up a crowded gas station in Baghdead.
An interview of Hakim by crack reporter Ellen Knickmeyer is splashed on the front page of the Washington Post this morning, under the headline “Shiite Urges U.S. to Give Iraqis Leeway in Rebel Fight.”
Knickmeyer says at the top of her piece that Hakim is “saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.”
That’s old news. Back in March 2004, after nearly 200 people were blown up in Baghdead and Karbala, Aqil Jabbar of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting filed a story that noted:
Critics say the U.S. has neglected its obligations as occupying power by sealing Iraq’s borders to stop foreign fighters slipping into the country. Nor have the Americans given Iraqis the means to defend themselves, they say.
Speaking after the March 2 attacks, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of the Shia-led Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said, “The forces of occupation bear responsibility, because they neither protect the Iraqi people nor let them protect themselves.”
But if you read on down in Knickmeyer’s story this morning, you’ll see that November 2005 is indeed a turning point. Hakim is now speaking to the Western press, and that’s important, because Knickmeyer properly identifies him in full context as head of SCIRI, which she describes as “the Shiite Muslim religious party that leads the transitional government and whose armed wing is the most feared of Iraq’s many factional forces.” She adds:
Hakim asserted in a rare interview late last week [that] the United States is tying Iraq’s hands in the fight against insurgents. One of Iraq’s “biggest problems is the mistaken or wrong policies practiced by the Americans,” he said.
Note: This is a different kind of “tying Iraq’s hands” from the tying of Iraqis’ hands that went on at Abu Ghraib or goes on at Camp Mercury. Anyway, Knickmeyer’s account continues:
In more than an hour of conversation at his Baghdad home and office, Hakim denied accusations that the Shiite-led government’s security forces — with alleged involvement by his party’s armed wing — have operated torture centers and death squads targeting Sunni Arabs. He also renewed his call to merge half of Iraq’s 18 provinces into a federal region in the oil-rich, heavily Shiite south, and he played down Iran’s interests in Iraq, saying that the Shiite theocracy to the east wants only what the United States claims to want: a stable Iraq.
During much of the interview, Hakim was critical of U.S. policies toward Iraq, though he acknowledged that U.S. forces must remain in the country as a “guest” of the Iraqi government while it builds its security forces. The Americans are guilty of “major interference, and preventing the forces of the Interior or Defense ministries from carrying out tasks they are capable of doing, and also in the way they are dealing with the terrorists,” Hakim charged.
OK, so you’ve got the Kurds in the north, running a de facto separate country and seeking full control over Iraq’s northern oil fields. And now it’s official: The main Shiite leader tells a major Western news organization on a Sunday morning that he wants the same thing in Iraq’s oil-rich south.
In the rumbling belly of central Iraq, the Bush regime will find itself trapped, isolated, trying to quell insurgents and terrorists in Baghdead and a wide swath of dangerous desert that doesn’t even have any oil. So much for the imperial fantasy.
Oops, my mistake. It’s our soldiers — not George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Don Rumsfeld — who will be trapped and in even worse danger.
But let’s break down the breakdown by going back to Hakim’s plans for southern Iraq. Knickmeyer writes:
Hakim gave few details of what getting tough would entail, other than making clear it would require more weapons, with more firepower, than the United States is currently supplying.
Perhaps the neighboring Shiites in Iran could help out their brothers like Hakim in Iraq, although counting on Mahmoud “Mad Dog” Ahmadinejad seems like a risky venture.
In any case, the days are long gone when people like preposterous pasha Jerry Bremer can openly threaten Moqtada al-Sadr (leader of yet another armed Shiite faction) and other Shiites.
Knickmeyer’s story gets brighter the farther into it you go. Like a spelunker, she sheds light on the coming emergence of Hakim’s party as the dominant force in a huge part of Iraq:
Until now, Hakim has opted not to hold office; the highest-ranking member of the Supreme Council in the current government is Adel Abdel-Mehdi, one of Iraq’s two vice presidents. But as head of the Supreme Council, which was founded by exiles in Iran as an armed Shiite opposition group to Saddam Hussein, Hakim commands the largest bloc of seats in Iraq’s transitional parliament.
In addition, Hakim oversees the party’s armed wing, formerly known as the Badr Brigade. Its fighters are widely feared for what even many Iraqi Shiites say are habits of torture and other ruthless tactics learned from Iranian intelligence and security forces. Now officially converted into a private security detail and political group, the renamed Badr Organization is widely alleged to control many command-level and the rank-and-file officers in the Interior Ministry — police, commandos, intelligence agencies and other branches.
After she quotes Hakim as saying that “American officials and forces” rejected plans “to clean out some areas” of terrorists, Knickmeyer writes:
The issue points to a key difference between U.S. officials and some of Iraq’s conservative Shiite leaders about what it will take to end the insurgency. Even the top U.S. generals say the ultimate solution is a political one, bringing minority Sunnis into a democracy that without them stands to be dominated permanently by the Shiite majority. But the leaders of many Shiite religious parties, reflecting their years in exile and their bitterness over the killing of relatives and supporters during Hussein’s dictatorship, say the endgame is a military one.
Hakim charged that the United States, evidently fearful of alienating Sunnis, was blocking the arrests of Sunni political leaders who had ties to insurgents. “The mixing of security and political issues” was just another U.S. mistake, he said. “Terrorists should know there would be no dealing with them.”
Indeed, some former members of Hussein’s Baath Party who initially took up arms against U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government have said they have abandoned the insurgency and sought a political role largely because of the effectiveness of what they alleged to be Shiite death squads rounding up and executing Sunni men since the Shiite-led government took office last spring.
Now tell me that a full-fledged civil war isn’t going to happen.
And here’s a suggestion that will never happen: We fire non-negotiable John Bolton as our U.N. ambassador, replace him with a Republican whom other nations respect, like Dick Lugar, and tell Lugar to do anything he can to get an international force of peacekeepers to Iraq ASAP.
Back to reality: I can’t help but take Cheney’s advice to throw some words back at critics. For example, here’s the introduction and just one of the quotes in the White House’s “Liberation Update” of June 5, 2003:
News accounts are painting vivid pictures of the joy and relief of free Iraqis, who are living without fear of Saddam’s brutality and beginning to enjoy freedoms unknown for decades. These voices have been silenced for too long, but now they are heard inside Iraq and around the world. …
“There is no doubt that Iraqis have, as Vice President Dick Cheney predicted, welcomed us ‘as liberators.’ ” — Robert J. Pollock, senior editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal, writing from Baghdad, 05/30/03
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 27, 2005