Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Happening Elsewhere

Today, Iraq's President, Jalal Talabani, has said that in Baghdad alone more than 1,000 people were killed as a result of sectarian violence in April. It seems that it is a matter of opinion as to whether this can be described as civil war. For Iraqis living in such chaos, I very much doubt they give a fuck whether western public opinion believes it is justified to refer to the escalating violence in their country as civil war. They care about the safety and security of their families. They care about not being killed today. They care about not having so many holes drilled into their chest that it appears shredded when their body is discovered.

For those of us sitting in our cosy bunkers firing rhetoric salvoes at the hated stoppers/mongers (delete as appropriate), it is essentially impossible to grasp the realities of living under conditions like these. Whatever you want to call what's happening in Iraq today, I'm sure we can all agree that we wouldn't want our children living there.

On the political front, Iraq's new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is close to announcing his cabinet. It looks as if there is a good chance that the Interior Ministry will be placed under the authority of an "independent figure". Whatever the truth of the allegations of involvement in sectarian violence by SCIRI controlled Interior Ministry forces, it was clear that Sunnis had lost all confidence in its ability to protect their communities. With that in mind, it is essential that the Interior Ministry be removed from SCIRI control if Iraq is to have any chance of avoiding complete disintegration. It looks as if al-Maliki understands this and has the authority to do something about it. This could be a small chink of light in the gloom.

This is only part of the picture though. Much of al-Maliki's authority to remove the SCIRI appears to come from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Al-Maliki went to meet al-Sistani almost immediately after being nominated as PM. After the meeting, the Grand Ayatollah "called for a government of technocrats rather than political loyalists or sectarian interests and said that only government forces should be permitted to carry weapons on the streets". (The irony there is, of course that al-Sistani is almost certainly heavily guarded by Shiite militia forces.* Can you imagine what'd happen if Zarqawi's thugs managed to kill the Grand Ayatollah?) Al-Sistani's statement has led to worries that the clergy are becoming increasingly involved in what should be entirely political decisions.

Al-Sistani is sometimes referred to as a moderate. Western pro-war universalists ought not to but in many cases their desperation for good news seems to have clouded their judgement as to what the Grand Ayatollah actually believes. David T at Harry's place, to give credit where it's due, seems not to have fallen into that trap. On al-Sistani's Arabic website is a report of a question and answer session
Question: What is the judgment for sodomy and lesbianism?

Al-Sistani: Forbidden. Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.
This judgement appears to be having real life consequences for gay Iraqis. Again, David T does not shirk from bringing this to the attention of H'sP readers**.

Al-Sistani then, is not a moderate in the sense some would have us believe. On a related note, I'd be very interested to know what his views are on Israel. I've tried a bit of googling but can find little information on this. It seems to me that there's a very good chance that he shares Ahmadinejad's view that "this occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time". That is, I stress, speculation on my part. If anyone has any useful links as to al-Sistani's stated position on Israel, I'd be much obliged if you could point me towards them.

In some senses though, it can be argued that he is more moderate than some. His influence has been considerable in restraining the Shite majority from taking violent action on a much larger scale against Iraqi Sunnis and this has undoubtedly limited what could otherwise have been a far worse death toll in recent months. It should be noted, however, that for religious Shiites, there are no particular advantages to the disintegration of Iraq. In terms of power politics, they're going to hold all the cards in a unified Iraq given the size of the Shiite majority. In a civil war, in other words, the Shiites have nothing to gain. This should be borne in mind when considering al-Sistani's desire to hold the country together; there's almost certainly more than just peaceful altruism at work there.

The other of al-Sistani's "moderate" positions is that he, unlike the Iranian clerical regime, has long believed that clerics should not be directly involved in the political process. His vision of an Islamic Republic is one in which the politicians simply consult the religious authorities to ensure they are acting within the limits of Islamic law. To this end, Shiite politicians created Article 2(a) of the Iraqi constitution which states that "No law can be passed that contradicts the fixed principles of Islam."*** This essentially gives clerics the right of veto over any laws the government wishes to pass. It is more moderate than the Iranian position but by how much remains to be seen.

It should also be noted that, as the LA Times article linked above points out, al-Sistani has recently become more directly involved in politics in spite of his stated beliefs. He is, arguably, the most influential figure in Iraq today.

The best anyone can hope for in Iraq now is a relatively stable, conservative, religious, Iran friendly **** Shiite government which is able to exercise some degree of authority over most of the country (excluding the Kurdish north which will become increasingly independent). This Shiite dominated government will have to fight a sectarian Sunni insurgency for years, probably decades to come. As Kurdish independence becomes more and more evident, the Kurdish/Turkish question will fuel further conflict in the North.

The worst case scenario is that Iraq disintegrates completely into seperate warring sectarian factions.

Al-Sistani's decision to become directly involved in influencing the makeup of the government makes this second perhaps slightly less likely and the first slightly more. Whatever happens, it'll be very long way from the sort of peaceful democratic beacon which was originally promised by the leaders who led us to war.

* Correct me if I'm wrong on this though. I can't say I'm certain. It just seems extraordinarily unlikely that al-Sistani is relying exclusively on government forces for his protection.

** If I was being really cynical, I'd wonder whether these H'P posts were intended to bring out the worst sort of anti-war gloating loons in the comment boxes. You know, the people who seem genuinely happy to read that someone has been executed because they can use it to wind up those who supported the war. The ultimate example can be seen in the first comment here. Good grief. We should surely all try to remember that we're talking about the lives and deaths of real people, not just pawns our long running game.

(On the other side, Brownie, seeks to play down this execution in his comments by overlooking the fact that policemen carried out this crime and that they'll almost certainly have immunity from any sort of investigation and punishment. These feeble and misleading representations of the realities of Iraq are just as bad.)

Anyway, I genuinely am not that cynical. I think David is making an honest attempt to apply his beliefs consistently. Credit where due, as I said.

*** The "fixed principles" is one of several translations. Others include "established" and "undisputed".

**** I say Iran friendly because Iraqi Shiites, despite sharing much in common with the Iranians, are also proud Iraqis. They will not simply consent to becoming an Iranian puppet state; they want and expect to be relatively independent but generally supportive of Iran.

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1 comment:

Jarndyce said...

You should scroll down that thread at CiF and read the guy's third or fourth comment for some real weapons-grade mentalism. Priceless.