Saturday, March 25, 2006

With advisers like these...

I wrote this post a couple of days ago but never got round to publishing it. Khalilzad's interview (via) with the Washington Post reminded me. Not sure what on earth he's up to there. He says the Iranians are supporting the Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgents. Er? Really? Aren't they, like, fighting against each other and stuff? And why is Khalilzad highlighting the Mahdi army as a particular cause for concern? I thought pretty much everyone agreed that the Iranian connection comes mainly through their support of the Badr Brigade (the militia of the SCIRI), not al Sadr's Mahdi Army. And isn't Khalilzad supposed to be about to ask the Iranians for help in Iraq anyway?

And what's this? One day later, Condi uses the US administration's favourite Friday afternoon media dead spot to announce that Khalilzad will indeed be meeting the Iranians "at an appropriate time". Perhaps the Bush administration is just a tiny bit embarrassed by their need to ask the Iranians for help. It's all very odd.

Anyway, the post.

Via Media Matters, I've got round to reading the recent(ish) interview with General Pace. There's lots that could be said about his views but I'll keep to one point.

Here we go:
MR. RUSSERT: What’s going on in Iraq?

GEN. PACE: Well, what happened in Iraq was you have the extremists who see that the Iraqi people are going to the polls and voting for their own freely elected government. The terrorists are becoming more desperate—so desperate that they destroy one of their own most sacred shrines in an attempt to cause civil war and strife.
That is, by all accounts, a ridiculously ignorant thing for anyone to say. But General Pace isn't just anyone. He's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranked military officer in the United States military and the principle military adviser to the President. And it appears that he remains utterly ignorant of the situation on the ground.

Let me spell it out. The shrine, any intelligence person who's given this a moments thought agrees, was bombed by Sunnis of one form or another. General Pace calls them terrorists and, given what they did, I would certainly agree with that. No-one is absolutely sure that the attack was the work of Sunni Wahhabi extremists but it's highly likely. The idea that Shiites bombed the Shrine is not one which has been seriously entertained. Sunnis bombed it.

The al-Askari shrine is one of the holiest sites of Shia Islam. Sunni's, on the other hand, have held seperate beliefs for nearly1,400 years. Shiites* believe that the 10th and 11th Imams are buried under the spot where the shrine now stands. They also believe that the twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, disappeared in the same area. Many Shiite Muslims make pilgrimages to the shrine to pray for the return of the Mahdi. Many believe he will reappear in Samarra.

But Sunnis don't believe any of that. They have their own views of the Mahdi and do not accept that the Shia Imams are the true voice of Islam. As such, they certainly do not believe that the al-Askari shrine is "one of their own most sacred shrines".

So when General Pace says the (Sunni) terrorists in Iraq are "so desperate that they destroy one of their own most sacred shrines," he's showing an extrordinary lack of understanding Iraq and of Islam.

Three years after the invasion, General Pace, the highest ranking officer in the US military, and adviser to President Bush, still does not appear to understand that there's a fairly substantial difference betweeen the beliefs of Sunni and Shiite Muslims. It's inexcusable really. And depressing.

And people ask me why I'm such a pessimist about the ability of the US government to deal with the situation in Iraq.

* To be strictly accurate, not all Shiites believe that. Most Iraqi Shiites, however, are indeed Twelvers.

Edited. Thanks to Billy for pointing out a missing word.

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