We are in dire need of Iran’s help in establishing security and stability in Iraq.
– Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, November 27, in Tehran
As dozens of people a day (sometimes a couple of hundred a day), every single day, Sunni and Shi’ite alike, continue to be beheaded, tortured, blown up, shot, kidnapped, struck by mortars and even doused in gasoline and set on fire in a non-stop gruesome ritual, every big player seems to be laying down a desperate game to “save” Iraq. This includes the ongoing summit between Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Iran and this week’s meeting between President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan.
But they all have forgotten to consider the guerrilla point of view; as far as the Sunni Arab resistance is concerned, any summit is guilty of legitimizing the “puppet” Iraqi government.
The Talabani-Ahmadinejad meeting was supposed to have included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria had to walk a careful diplomatic tightrope to evade Iran’s invitation without alienating a close ally and at the same time send a signal to Washington it is willing to talk with no preconditions. James Baker’s and Lee Hamilton’s Iraq Study Group (ISG), after all, will propose a chaos-defying summit between Iraq and all its close neighbors.
Non-stop White House and Pentagon accusations swirl around: Syria facilitates the flow of jihadis into Iraq through their deserted, 1,200-kilometer border. This simply does not make sense (in fact the exodus is the other way around: every day up to 2,000 Iraqis flee to Syria, and more than 1,000 to Jordan, according to the United Nations). Syria may have a Ba’athist regime, but the power elite is configured by Alawites – who follow a branch of Shi’ism completely different from Iran’s duodecimals (who believe in 12 imams). The utmost fear of the Assad regime is exactly Salafi-jihadis of the al-Qaeda kind, so Damascus would not be aiding them.
Kurdish warlord-turned-politician Talabani may have been US-protected during the days of Saddam Hussein, but quite a few players in the White House and Pentagon axis will have their reasons to regard the summit in Tehran as a pure “axis of evil”. As for the helpless Maliki, there’s not much for Bush to lecture him about; his days in power may be numbered. According to various and persistent reports, including from Western and Arab networks, a coup d’etat may be in the works in Baghdad: the US in the Green Zone may have enlisted four of Saddam’s Sunni Arab generals with the mission of toppling the Shi’ite-majority Maliki government to install a regime of “national salvation”. It would then restructure the Shi’ite-dominated ministries of Defense and Interior and finish off Shi’ite militias such as the Badr Organization of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Call it the return of the Ba’athists – minus Saddam. Even before rumors of a coup began circulation, one could see the so-called diplomatic strategists of Baker’s ISG coming up with the idea of trying to co-opt the resistance into entering a coalition government.
But that does not mean the plan will work. The US might invest in an Asian-style face-saving operation spun by heavy public relations by getting involved in direct negotiations with the Sunni Arab resistance. But only a Saddam-style dictator is capable of assuring a strong, stable central government in Baghdad in charge of security for everyone, with no discrimination. That would mean alienating the Shi’ite religious parties and their paramilitary factions to the limit.
The return of the Ba’athists fits into a “stay the course” pattern. And it also somehow fits into the Pentagon’s “go big” (more troops) and “go long” (many years) strategies – which would take at least up to 2015 before Iraqization of the security forces is complete. In the end, these “strategies” amount to little more than a catchphrase – a muddled “go big but short while transitioning to go long”.
A web of myth continues to be spun by much of the world’s press, according to which Iran, as an overpowering entity, uses the US occupation to crush the Sunni Arab resistance while manipulating Shi’ite militias. This is a two-pronged fallacy. The Pentagon’s finest in Iraq are not crushing anything – on the contrary. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has all but installed an Islamic emirate in al-Anbar province, while the Mehdi Army reigns in Kufa, south of Baghdad, and in Sadr City in Baghdad itself.
The 10,000-strong Badr Organization – affiliated with SCIRI – may have been trained by the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, but it does not take any orders from Tehran. As for Muqtada’s 7,000-strong Mehdi Army, it is split into at least three different factions (two of them don’t even respond to Muqtada anymore). But all of them are opposed to Iranian interference.
The Maliki government is, for all purposes, already dead. Maliki, the No 2 of the Islamist Da’wa Party, controls only 25 representatives in the 275-member parliament. He depends on the SCIRI – which has the majority – and the Sadrists. So obviously Maliki cannot order any kind of crackdown either on the Badr or the Mehdi Army factions. According to the Islamic Party – which has the majority of parliamentarians under the Sunni Concord Front – the police and the army are totally infiltrated by Shi’ite militias. The Sadrists for their part denounce the US “return of the Ba’athists” strategy – and defend the Mehdi Army as patriots who protect Shi’ites from the takfiris (Sunni radicals).
The Maliki government won’t go down quietly, though, if judged by its current diplomatic frenzy. The US for its part will accomplish absolutely nothing by trying to take down Muqtada and the Mehdi Army, or even the Badr Organization. If the Pentagon somehow decided to go on an all-out offensive, it would be very easy for SCIRI/Badr – or for Mehdi Army commandos – completely to cut off the US supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad.
What the Shi’ite Islamic parties in power and Tehran agree on is a crucial point: the Sunni Arab resistance must be vanquished. But Muqtada’s position is more nuanced: as a true Iraqi nationalist, he does not rule out agreements with Sunni Arabs with the supreme objective of kicking the occupiers out. Meanwhile, the US military will keep being caught in a deadly trap – between the sprawling, underground Sunni Arab resistance and the Shi’ite militias’ non-stop rampage.
The fall of the Green Zone
Everyone is guilty in the ongoing Iraq tragedy. The US-trained new Iraqi army is infiltrated by militias, by death squads and even by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The SCIRI, Da’wa and the Kurds are only worried about their own interests, not the interests of Iraq as a nation. And the US – always hiding under the dubious mantra of “Iraqi democracy” – totally evades its responsibility in provoking the appalling chaos in the first place.
Militia hell will remain impervious to any summit. Shi’ite clerical leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani may call for restraint. But Sistani does not control the Shi’ite proletarian masses anymore, Muqtada does. The Americans – attacked at least 180 times a day, every day – will keep “controlling” only one piece of real estate in the whole of Mesopotamia (although an extremely valuable one): the Green Zone.
The ISG may recommend more summits and more covert contacts with the Sunni Arab resistance. Ahmadinejad, Talabani and Assad may even meet again. But Baghdad sources close to the resistance in the Sunni belt have told Asia Times Online of another coup in the making – and that goes way beyond the removal of the Maliki government.
Secular former Ba’athists and Saddam’s fighters congregated in the Army of Mohammed – the paramilitary wing of the Awda Party – are already in control of the Syrian border (and not Salafi-jihadis of the al-Qaeda kind).
The next big step for the Sunni Arab resistance – according to sheikhs of the powerful Shammar Sunni tribe – would be to take out the Badr Organization, holed up in the Ministry of the Interior, and the two most murderous factions of the Mehdi Army. That would mean an Iraqi nationalist purge of the hated “Iranians”. And that implies an all-out attack on the Green Zone.
The return of the Ba’athists and the fall of the Green Zone: now that’s a prime-time double bill to knock ’em dead.