Friday, September 14, 2007

Muqtada al-Sadr Is Key to Iraq's Recovery

Solving Iraq - Part II

On no less then half a dozen occasions in these pages have I suggested, stressed or contended that Muqtada al-Sadr is a figure who is critical to resolving our occupation of Iraq, not to mention revolving sovereignty back in to Iraqi hands. Just to establish my bona fides, I have done that here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I am running out of words and ways to express this message. So today, I am relying on an excellent piece by Adil E. Shamoo, If You Want Peace in Iraq, Stop Trying to Kill Muqtada al-Sadr and Negotiate With Him. (How could it be put any clearer?)

Before I go any further, the big IF in Shamoo's title should be noted: judging from the deadlock in Congress enabled by the Bush Republicans and the Bushlite Democrats, independent observers would conclude that Americans are content to keep
indefinitely their ill-gotten spoils (oil and military bases) from Bush's preventive war. So there is a big IF.

But that's another story, isn't it?

In presenting Shamoo's argument, I have added my own bold-facing and bullet-points:

News reports indicate that the U. S. is negotiating with the Shiite nationalist Muqtada Al-Sadr, leader of the powerful Mahdi Army. Washington should accommodate Al-Sadr's demands to ensure the safe and orderly withdrawal or re-deployment of our forces as well as to enhance the possibility of a more peaceful outcome for Iraq.

Negotiating with Al-Sadr is distasteful to some Americans. American blood has been spilled by those who have followed him. But this is war, and the United States has already crossed this barrier by arming and collaborating with Sunnis in the Al-Anbar region who have fought and killed far more Americans than al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Moreover, the British just negotiated the withdrawal of their troops from Basra with Sadr's forces in the south, notwithstanding the recent hollow claim made by their defense and foreign secretaries in a recent opinion piece.

In the simplest possible terms, the United States should negotiate with Sadr because he is arguably the most powerful politician in the country today. At present, Muqtada al-Sadr has millions of Shiite followers, and among his fiercest supporters are the poor living under squalid conditions in al-Sadr city, named after his father. He controls six cabinet members and 30 lawmakers. More importantly, Al-Sadr has the Mahdi Army beside him -- even if he does not control all of it. If elections were held today, he could double his support in the parliament. Yet unless there is meaningful acceptance of some of Sadr's demands, this voting bloc in parliament will likely further paralyze the Iraqi government.

Al-Sadr has shown remarkable flexibility and acumen since our invasion, increasing his support dramatically during our occupation. Many of his followers are willing to die for him. His three-part approach of participating in democracy, fighting the government, and building a grass roots, service-oriented organization has endeared him to most Iraqis.

Al-Sadr became popular because he has espoused policies and services that are admired by most Iraqis.
  • He is fiercely nationalistic.
  • His support includes many Shiites who were among the poorest and most oppressed during Saddam's regime.
  • His Army and his followers provide safety to the areas they control.
  • He facilitates the daily services of healthcare, education, water and electricity, often where the Iraqi government and occupation forces have failed.
  • He advocates a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
  • He wants Iraqi oil to remain under the control of the central government.
  • He strongly condemns the killing of Iraqis whether Sunnis (no matter what happened in the past) or Christians.
  • Finally, like most Iraqis, he wants the country to stay unified. Sadr has even ordered his Mahdi Army to stand down for six months to help coalition forces have a clear fight against Al Qaeda.
In order to prevent the Iranians from setting up a puppet regime in Baghdad or at least in southern Iraq, we need to recognize that the stability in Iraq requires a nationalist, and not a U.S. puppet, government. As the most active Shiite spokesman, Sadr is the key to represent the unique interests of Iraq's Shiites, who do not want to be dominated by the Shiites of Iran. This Iraqi nationalist government, in the long run, would create a greater likelihood of cooperation with the United States for the reconstruction of Iraq. But that cooperation hinges on our respect for Iraqi sovereignty, maintaining the federal ownership of their oil and keeping Iraq intact. More importantly, the nationalist government could eliminate the insurgent group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Nations react differently to the presence of foreign forces on their soil. The presence of U.S. forces is accepted by the citizens of Kuwait, Qatar and, to some degree, by the Kurds in Northern Iraq. However, in the rest of Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, and in much of the Middle East, the presence of U.S. forces is not tolerated.

We think we can win the hearts and mind of Iraqis if we do a good job on their security, health, education and economy. We assumed that by ensuring these services we would be loved -- or at least tolerated. We have not been able to accomplish this because we have ignored the most important element that angers the Iraqis -- the presence of nearly 300,000 U.S. troops and contractors on Iraqi soil, trying vainly to enforce the laws of a government that was not designed to represent the nationalistic longings of its people.

History is full of examples that occupation breeds resentment leading to the creation of extreme elements. Once there is peace and foreign troops are out, the popularity of the extremists wanes while the popularity of moderates increases. If our policy towards extremists includes negotiation, it may well result in strengthening the moderates within the same movement as well as enhancing other moderate movements.

We need to think of policies that in the long run will serve our national interests while also serving the interests of humanity. This will happen when our policies are moral and perceived as such by others. It is time to accommodate the demands of some with groups that have opposed us and begin to moderate their policies by dialog and engagement for the good of Iraqis as well as Americans.

The relevance of all of this is, of course, predicated on a well-intentioned American policy - not one bent on exploiting Iraq for oil reserves and permanent military bases.
Adil E. Shamoo,
born and raised in Baghdad,
is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
He is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Oh, No! It's Say-Something-Nice-about-a-Republican Friday!

Well, the best I can say is that some of them can sure talk the talk, even if, when they try to walk the walk. . . .

I guess it turns into something more like a waffle, shuffle or sidestep. Let's take the case of Rep. James Walsh (R-Onondaga, N.Y.).

Last Monday, Walsh said he now favors a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops and will support votes in Congress to force the issue. This was after he returned from Iraq, his first trip since 2003.

He reported his own change of heart:
Things have not changed substantially in Iraq . . . It's a very, very dangerous place, if not the most dangerous place on Earth. Governance is a serious issue. They are stumbling toward democracy.

What occurred to me while I was in Iraq is that it's time. We've done enough. No country has done more than we have for Iraq. The question I kept coming up with is how much do we have to give Iraq to make things work? I think we have given enough.

I think we need to let the president know that if he doesn't start taking troops out, then Congress will use the power of the purse to do it. . . . We need to start reducing our troops. . . . These guys have done everything we asked them to do, over and over again. They are absolutely brilliant. And it's unbelievably hostile conditions there.

I heard Petraeus. I agree with much of what he says. But his focus is the military. And as I've said many times before, this will require a political, not a military, solution.

The big question is whether the Sunni and Shia can get a deal. I think they can. But the Shia government needs to be pressured by us. And I think the way to do that is to start bringing our troops home.

That's the message we have to give to the Iraqis. You've got to find a way to power-share and begin to reconcile with the Sunnis.
That sounds so good and promising. I think I've found this Friday's Real Republican. I'm falling over myself looking for a blank copy of a Citizen's Medal of Intellectual Integrity certificate and a pen to fill in the Congressman's name.

And, just then, I see a comment by one of Walsh's constitutents, named Once-A-Repub, who clues me in:
I don't know why the hardline rightwingers are so upset at Walsh. He always says one thing and votes another. He won't vote for withdrawal. He will vote against it on procedural issues. He'll vote for a Republican bill that leaves the troops in Iraq to the number before the surge. So, he's really voting his rightwing conscience, supporting Bush's White House. You wait and see. He'll do the Walsh shuffle, say one thing and do another. just like with Stem Cell Research. How many times has he said he is for stem cell research, but every time one comes on the floor he votes against it. It's the Walsh shuffle. It's one step to the left and three steps to the right with a little dip in between. I can find some solace in the fact that it has taken him this long to come to a conclusion his opponent Maffei has had all along. Conservative means being cautious not slow. While Walsh has played semantics with his constituents, saying one thing and voting another, men are dying and our country is declining in power. So don't worry my good friends on the right, he doesn't mean it.
Darn! One more week in my weekly quest for an honest, intelligent and courageous Republican leadership turns up unfulfilled. Wait until next week, I guess...