Talisman Gate

Monday, November 28, 2005

Iraqi Cauldron

November 29, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Iraqi Cauldron

Nibras Kazimi warns of mutiny in Washington and aggression from Tehran

Three ingredients are necessary for failure in Iraq, and all three are being poured into the bubbling cauldron that is Baghdad at this very moment. The recipe includes Ba’athists believing that they have been given a seat at the table and thus have achieved a prelude to total victory, and the Islamists supposing that if they cinch these next elections, then they will get their theocracy.The third element is the cowardice of Washington offset by the bravery of American warriors, but we’ll get to that later.

The Cairo conference last week — where warring Iraqi factions were supposed to reconcile — was an unmitigated disaster. In an attempt to isolate the jihadists, America has uneasily embraced the Ba’athists it defeated on April 9, 2003, when Baghdad was liberated. The moral high ground has been ceded: as I had warned back in June, the “honorable resistance” is now the acceptable term among the Iraqi political elite for those who attack American soldiers. The American military command in Iraq is now using the term “rejectionists” and not terrorists to describe those who lob rocket propelled grenades at America humvees.

Therefore, those waging the insurgency for the past two and a half years walked away from Cairo feeling vindicated by victory. They had humbled the greatest power on earth; now keeling over in order to placate them. The murder of American forces — the same forces that defeated the Ba’athist regime — is now warranted and legitimized.But there’s a caveat that the Ba’athists did not mention: they no longer control the insurgency, nor can they effectively put it out. Zarqawi and his league of jihadists hold sway and have done so for several months, and whatever amount of deference the American cough up to the Ba’athists will not halt the murderous onslaught.

The Ba’athists are indeed doing well in delivering body-blows to Iraqi democracy, but the Islamists just one-upped them. After an abysmal run in office over the last eight months, their prospects for another landslide victory in the December elections were very slim — until yesterday that is.A source close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s “political office” has confirmed to me in a phone interview from Baghdad on Sunday afternoon that Muhammed Ridha Sistani, the ayatollah’s son, has instructed his father’s aides to put out the word to the faithful to vote for the United Iraqi Alliance list,headed by the likes of Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq’s Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim and current Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.Whereas in the last elections the UIA list (also backed by Sistani then) contained a large number of secular Shia democrats, this time around it is a wholly fundamentalist list, subservient to strong Iranian influence.

The Iranians have been doing feverish polling around Iraq, and they concluded that their acolytes in the UIA list were in trouble. Somehow, they struck a deal with Muhammad Ridha, a diminutive busy-body who is also exceedingly ambitious, and the only person who could resurrect their political prospects. His message — delivered over the course of last week to Sistani’s representatives across Iraq — was “tell the people to vote for Islamist lists, and then tell them not to vote for small or marginal lists, to forestall the fragmentation or dissipation of the Shia vote.”This will be perceived by the Iraqi public as a de facto fatwa from Sistani in favor of the UIA list.

I’ve also been hearing that the Iranian leadership, and specifically the Revolutionary Guard puppet masters who are back in total control, have decided to change their policy vis-à-vis Iraq. They no longer want to strike a deal for better relations with the Americans; with oil prices so high, they feel that they can splurge on belatedly finding their revolutionary roots as their regime undergoes a mid-life crisis. They now believe that they can turn Iraq, or at least the Shia part of it, into a sister Islamic Republic.They have concluded that America will run away from Iraq, and all they need to do is get their militias ready and willing to take over in the aftermath.

Meanwhile in Washington, there is also a policy shift of sorts. Remember President Bush’s Inaugural Address last January? Remember when he said all those things about democracy and freedom? And how it was America’s mission to bring liberty to the Middle East?

Well, apparently, the State Department has decided that the ceiling for these goals is too high and that America should aim lower as it tries to rebuild places like Iraq and Afghanistan. What they are really saying is that the bad guys are winning and that in any case democracy is too difficult of a concept for these Middle Easterners; the best that can be hoped for is that they stop clobbering each other to death. And of course, they couldn’t call this new policy “Shameful Cowardice” — because that would just be too obvious—so they went with “Locally-Led Nascent Peace,” a power-point presentation coming to a briefing room near you.

There is an all-out mutiny against Mr. Bush among the middling ranks of State and CIA bureaucrats. For several decades, those dealing with the Middle East invariably plugged into a complex matrix of oil and arms companies, academic circles, and play-it-safe careerists to give us the conventional wisdom: stability is good, change is bad. The mantra went unchallenged until September 11, 2001, when things had to change. For a brief period of time, these bureaucracies were caught off guard, but now they are trying to restore their past knee-jerk instincts. They have a government in exile consisting of the likes of Scowcroft,Tenet and Powell as well as fellow travelers in the left-leaning press, and there is a venal synergy to embarrass President Bush and the neo-conservative for attempting to change how things usually get done.

The prospect of an embattled White House caving in on its own self and grasping at any “exit”strategy,no matter how damaging,is saddening. The risk is that the White House will reach a deal with either the Ba’athists or the Islamists and settle for yet another generic Middle Eastern autocracy, or “mullah-crocy,” or whatever emerges from the frothy stew. So instead of “ma’am, your son gave his life for Operation Enduring Freedom,” the headstones in Arlington National Cemetery would be etched with the words “Operation Locally-Led Nascent Peace.”

And what would they say to all those Iraqis who are braving all sorts of dangers to make it to the ballot box? “Your little elections don’t matter as much as our midterm gubernatorial elections next year; after all, it’s going to be a tight race for governor of Rhode Island.”

Listen here, President Bush: now is not the time to recalibrate objectives away from democracy.Now is the time to focus: drive home the message to the Ba’athists that they have been defeated and that no amount of improvised explosive devices will change that fact. Tell the Iranians that should they choose to step on your toes then not only will their nuclear weapons facilities be blown to smithereens but so will their power and sewage plants; let’s see how popular their belligerency would sound to the run-of-the-mill Iranian then. And for heaven’s sake, curb those mutineers who are undermining the policy and morale of your administration.

Domestic press and political sniping may sting, but history will be unflinchingly cruel to your legacy should it involve wavering on Iraq’s democracy. Too much is at stake, not to mention too many lives.

Mr.Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com