Friday, March 9, 2007

War updates

Robert Dreyfuss writes in Iraq: Pulled Out Or Pushed Out 03/09/07:

Tremendous obstacles stand in the way of pro-peace forces both in Congress and in Iraq’s parliament, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that the Iraqis will ask the United States to get out of Iraq long before Congress can force the issue.
Dreyfuss speaks to a serious disconnect in the American discussions about the Iraq War, in which both the still-dwidling number of war supporters as well as war critics assume that when US troops leave primarily depends on American decisions. That's not an entirely sound assumption.

Dreyfuss points out the central dilemma for the antiwar movement in the United States right now. The public has turned overwhelmingly against the war and confidence in the Cheney-Bush administration is down to the most hardcore Republican base voters. But Cheney and Bush are committed to the war and even if they wanted to pull out American forces, that is a complex process that its doubtful in the extreme if they could pull it off successfully. And with the Senate Republicans still committed to the administration's war policies, at least enough to filibuster any major restrictions proposed, the prospects for Congress forcing a withdrawal are not good right now. But, he writes, political shifts in the Iraqi parliament right now could result in some kind of majority there demanding a US timetable for withdrawal:

The emerging new Iraqi coalition is fragile, and it could easily fall apart or fall victim to intensified sectarian warfare. Many obstacles lie in its way, including the attitude of the Kurds, the opposition of the powerful Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and other factors—including, of course, the machinations of the United States and its ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. But it’s at least possible that by the summer a new government could start taking shape in Baghdad, one that could (among other things) assert its nationalist credentials by demanding a timetable for a U.S. pullout.

President Bush, of course, would do everything he could to prevent the emergence of such a new coalition in Iraq, including possibly the use of military force against its leaders. Unlike with Nancy Pelosi’s legislation, however, at least the White House can’t veto something that the Iraqi parliament passes.
Via Juan Cole, this article looks at the notion of Sunni-Shi'a conflicts becoming central in the Middle East, The Shia-Sunni divide: myths and reality by Omayma Abdel-Latif Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo) Mar 1-7, 2007. He uses the example of Hizbullah in Lebanon to illustrate why trying to force events in the Middle East into a simple Sunni-Shi'a split can be misleading:

A number of Lebanese Shia thinkers and academics refute such arguments. The most important fault lines, they insist, are, and will remain, political, not sectarian: the tendency to frame conflict and politics in the Middle East within an exclusively sectarian frame is no more than a rehash of the colonial attempt to reduce the region to a serious of tribes, sects and communal groups rather than viable states.

One of the recurrent themes in the speeches of Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is his insistence that the Shia "cannot be lumped together in one basket". Nasrallah's assertion is commonly interpreted as an attempt to distance the resistance movement from Shia political groups elsewhere, particularly in Iraq, where they maintain an intimate relationship with their occupiers.

In one of his Ashoura speeches last month, Nasrallah fell just short denouncing Iraq's current rulers as a liability. He was nonetheless keen on emphasising the need to understand political developments in Iraq within an Iraqi context. Such a discourse, coming from the leader of one of the biggest socio-political Shia movements in the Arab and Muslim world, exposes the fallacy of supposing the Shia's rise to power in Iraq as part of some grand Shia design.

It was military success against Israel in Lebanon and not the rise to power of a corrupt ruling elite in Iraq, says one Shia thinker close to Hizbullah, that has empowered the Shia, just as has the Sunnis. What is happening in Iraq, he continues, is not something from which strength can be drawn; rather, the opposite is true, and the Iraqi situation weakens political Shiism.

This seems to be the general consensus among Hizbullah's leaders about the Iraqi situation, complicated as it is by Iranian involvement, the operation of death squads and the ambivalent relationship between occupiers and occupied. (my emphasis)
We can't assume that the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims overrides other shared goals among various states, he argues. Despite suspicion of Persian, Shi'a Iran among Sunni Arab countries, Iran's foreign policy shares some major goals with Sunni states. As he puts it here, Iran also pursues some "Sunni foreign policy goals":

A recent Zogby International poll found that close to 80 per cent of Arabs consider Israel and the United States to be the biggest external threats to their security whereas only six per cent cited Iran. ...

The popular view is a result, says Ali Fayad, head of the Consultative Centre for Strategic and Documentation Studies, a Hizbullah think tank, of Iran's pursuit of Sunni foreign policy goals.

"At the heart of Iran's foreign policy are two key issues; the Palestinian cause and confronting Washington's hegemonic schemes in the region," says Fayad. "There is nothing particularly Shia about the two issues. Indeed both have been presented as the causes for the majority Sunni Arabs. In this sense Iran's foreign policy is Sunni. One can say that the Islamic Republic has transcended the sectarian issue in its foreign policy." (my emphasis)
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