Profile: Moqtada al-Sadr
a.k.a. Moqtadah al-Sadr, Muqtadah al-Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr
Moqtada al-Sadr was a participant or observer in the following events:
Following the model of Hamas and Hezbollah, various Shiite Islamist factions exploit the lack of security and basic services in post-invasion Iraq by policing neighborhoods and providing social services to the impoverished Shiite population. Moqtada Al-Sadr’s organization, for example, sets up administrative offices around the country and pays the salaries of civil servants. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) turns its militia members into aid workers that distribute food and set up clinics. [New York Times, 4/23/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 6/9/2003]
Britain accuses Iran of having played a role in the transfer of explosive technology from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army in Iraq. British officials say Iran is responsible for the deaths of all eight UK soldiers killed in Iraq this year, all of whom died in explosions. Iran denies the charges. [BBC, 9/5/2005; Reuters, 10/6/2005]
Nouri al-Maliki. [Source: Truthdig.com]The first permanent government in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is sworn in to office. Iraq’s prime minister is Shi’ite leader Nouri al-Maliki (sometimes known as Jawad al-Maliki), the Bush administration’s choice to run the new Iraqi government. Sunni lawmakers and leaders largely refuse to participate in the new government, and many Sunnis walk out of the installation proceedings. Al-Maliki has appointed mostly fellow Shi’ites to run the various ministries of government, a makeup that reflects the strong Shi’ite majority of votes cast in the December 15 parliamentary elections. President Bush says the US government is fully supportive of the new government: “The United States and freedom-loving nations around the world will stand with Iraq as it takes its place among the world’s democracies and as an ally in the war on terror.” The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the new government is expected to spur change that might “allow adjustments in terms of size, composition and mission of [US] forces.” While US forces may undergo occasional “tactical increases here and there,” Khalilzad says, the new government will have a “positive effect.… Strategically, we’re going to be in the direction of downsizing our forces.” [CNN, 5/20/2006] Reactions from US political and military observers are mixed. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes that the biggest difference between al-Maliki and the former interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, is that even though both are from the same Shi’ite faction, the Dawa party, al-Maliki can be expected to show some independence from Iran. Iran tried mightily to keep al-Jafari in office, Ignatius writes, and the new government’s choice of al-Maliki as prime minister shows that Iraq’s political leaders are “standing up for a unified Iraq.” However, “[t]o succeed, Maliki must mobilize that desire for unity to break the power of the militias and insurgent groups.” Khalilzad celebrates al-Maliki’s independence from Iran, and notes that even though al-Maliki spent some years in exile in Iran, “he felt he was threatened by them” because of his political independence, and later moved to Syria. “He sees himself as an Arab” and an Iraqi nationalist, Khalilzad explains. Kurdish leaders cautiously welcome al-Maliki as the new government’s leader, and predict, somewhat optimistically, that Sunni leaders will eventually welcome al-Maliki as well. The decisive factors in choosing al-Maliki over al-Jafari as prime minister, Ignatius writes, were three: US support; the endorsement of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani; and the insistence of non-Shi’ites that al-Jafari and his overtly sectarian government depart. It must be remembered, Ignatius notes, that al-Maliki is a follower of Lebanese Shi’ite leader Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the original spiritual adviser of Hezbollah, who later left the group in part because he viewed it as too close to Iran. [Washington Post, 4/26/2006] Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang will give a different view in March 2007. Al-Maliki is far more sectarian than Bush officials are willing to admit, Lang will write. “They want him to be George Washington, to bind together the new country of Iraq,” he will say. “And he’s not that. He is a Shi’a, a factional political leader, whose goal is to solidify the position of Shi’a Arabs in Iraq. That’s his goal. So he won’t let them do anything effective against [Moqtada al-Sadr’s] Mahdi army.” And former NSC official Gary Sick, an expert on Iran, says that Bush’s support of al-Maliki is perhaps a form of brinksmanship in the administration’s efforts to destabilize Iran. “What has happened is that the United States, in installing a Shi’ite government in Iraq, has really upset the balance of power [in the Middle East],” Sick will say. “Along with our Sunni allies—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—[the administration is] terribly concerned about Iran emerging as the new colossus. Having created this problem, the US is now in effect using it as a means of uniting forces who are sympathetic [to us].” Bush must reassure America’s regional allies that they will be protected if the Iraqi conflict spreads throughout the region. “[T]his is a very broad strategy,” he says. “It has a clear enemy and an appeal to Saudis, to Israelis, and has a potential of putting together a fairly significant coalition.” But, Sick warns, the policy steers dangerously close to provoking a conflict with Iran. “Basically, this is a signal to Maliki that we are not going to tolerate Shi’ite cooperation with Iran. This could lead to the ultimate break with Maliki. But once you start sending these signals, you end up in a corner and you can’t get out of it.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, George W. Bush, Gary G. Sick, David Ignatius, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Ibrahim al-Jafari, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Lang, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
An unnamed Pentagon consultant describes the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq and Iran as “a classic case of ‘failure forward.’” He adds: “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.” In the light of belligerent statements made by several administration officials hostile to the current regime in Iran, he also says: “More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq.… [T]he goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq.” (Note: al-Sadr’s closeness to Iran is a matter of dispute.) [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006) holds one of his final meetings with a group of retired military officers who serve as “independent analysts” for various television news broadcasts. The analysts are integral parts of a widespread Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Vitriolic Comments - Rumsfeld, who is accompanied by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, is unrestrained in his contempt for a number of Iraqis and Americans involved in the occupation. According to Rumsfeld, Iraq’s interim Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is an ineffectual “windsock.” Anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is “a 30-year-old thug” who wants “to create a Hezbollah” in Iraq; al-Sadr, in Rumsfeld’s estimation, is “not a real cleric and not well respected. [Grand Ayatollah] Sistani has, of course, all the respect… and he doesn’t like him.… He opposes what he does, but he at the present time has (a) survived (b) does not have perfect control over the Sadr elements.” He lauds former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, a fellow neoconservative who now serves as the US ambassador to Iraq, but in the next breath lambasts Khalilzad’s successor in Afghanistan, Ronald Neuman. “The guy who replaced him is just terrible—Neuman,” Rumsfeld says. “I mean he’s a career foreign service officer. He ought to be running a museum somewhere. That’s also off the record. No, he ought to be assistant to the guy… I wouldn’t hire the guy to push a wheelbarrow.”
Rewriting History - When Rumsfeld is asked about former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki’s statement that he believed it would take several hundred thousand US troops to keep the peace in post-invasion Iraq (see February 25, 2003), Rumsfeld attempts to rewrite history, suggesting that he was ready to send more troops, but the commanders on the ground did not want them. He is asked: “What’s become conventional wisdom, simply Shinseki was right. If we simply had 400,000 troops or 200 or 300? What’s your thought as you looked at it?” Rumsfeld replies: “First of all, I don’t think Shinseki ever said that. I think he was pressed in a congressional hearing hard and hard and hard and over again, well, how many? And his answer was roughly the same as it would take to do the job—to defeat the regime. It would be about the right amount for post-major combat operation stabilization. And they said, ‘Well, how much is that?’ And I think he may have said then, ‘Well maybe 200,000 or 300,000.’” Both Pace and an analyst tell Rumsfeld that Shinseki’s words were “several hundred thousand,” and Rumsfeld continues, “Now it turned out he was right. The commanders—you guys ended up wanting roughly the same as you had for the major combat operation, and that’s what we have. There is no damned guidebook that says what the number ought to be. We were queued up to go up to what, 400-plus thousand.… They were in the queue. We would have gone right on if they’d wanted them, but they didn’t, so life goes on.” [Chicago Tribune, 5/7/2008] In reality, Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz publicly derided Shinseki’s estimation, and hounded him into early retirement for his remarks (see February 27, 2003). And one of the commanders in the field that Rumsfeld cites, General James “Spider” Marks, has already noted that Rumsfeld personally denied multiple requests from the field for more troops (see April 16, 2006).
Entity Tags: Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Hezbollah, Eric Shinseki, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Ronald Neuman, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Peter Pace, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006. [Source: Representational Pictures]A plan, later approved by President George Bush, to “surge” 21,500 US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) is created, largely by Frederick Kagan of the main neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with the help of retired Army general and deputy chief of staff Jack Keane. Kagan and Keane want to send seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq.
Opposed by Joint Chiefs - The AEI plan, however, has been rebuffed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who do not believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can effectively confront the Shi’ite militias, especially those of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] However, al-Maliki reportedly told Bush in recent days, “I swear to God, I’m not going to let Sadr run this country.” [ABC News, 1/10/2007]
Plan Created by Neoconservatives at AEI - Kagan is a neoconservative who, in his new book Finding the Target, has scorned Bush’s military policies as “simplistic,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “fatuous,” and Rumsfeld’s former deputy and architect of the Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, as “self-serving.” Along with Kagan and Keane, a number of lesser-known AEI neoconservatives contributed to the plans for the surge, including Danielle Pletka, a former aide to retired Republican senator Jesse Helms, and former Coalition Provisional Authority aide Michael Rubin. Commentator and former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal calls the collection a “rump group of neocons” hanging on to influence primarily in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, battered and demoralized by the failures of the past five years but, Blumenthal writes, “not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.” The AEI plan, entitled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” calls for a huge escalation to fight a tide-turning battle for Baghdad which, it predicts, will lead to the dissolution of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, deliver a crushing defeat to the Sunni insurgency, and spread security and democracy from Baghdad throughout the country. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities of limited troop availability, Blumenthal observes, and perhaps worse, dismisses any notion of diplomacy, particularly the diplomatic initiatives advanced by the Iraq Study Group. The only solution to the Iraq problem, the plan asserts, is “victory.” The plan claims, “America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
Marketing Slogan with Inaccurate Implications - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Recall that the surge strategy promoted by the American Enterprise Institute was titled ‘Choosing Victory,’ implying both that the only possible outcomes in Iraq were victory or defeat and that it was entirely within our power to decide which happened.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 272]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sidney Blumenthal, Paul Wolfowitz, J. Peter Scoblic, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr, Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Keane, Mahdi Army, George W. Bush, Jesse Helms
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
The US has unwittingly strengthened the Mahdi Army of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr by working hard to train and equip Iraqi security forces. The Mahdi Army is fighting to take over much of Baghdad as US forces try to secure it. US Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad - home to more than half the city’s population and the front line of al-Sadr’s campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods - say al-Sadr’s militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that the US has trained and armed. Platoon leader Lieutenant Dan Quinn says, “Half of them are JAM. They’ll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night.” JAM is the acronym for the Arabic name of the Mahdi Army, Jaish al Mahdi. He adds, “People [in America] think it’s bad, but that we control the city. That’s not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It’s hostile territory.” The soldiers worry that Bush’s “surge” of approximately 17,000 combat troops allocated for Baghdad will, like previous escalations, merely strengthen the Mahdi Army. The new US soldiers will work to improve Iraqi security units so that American forces can hand over control of the area and withdraw to the outskirts of the city. Instead, Mahdi fighters are themselves withdrawing from the city, in effect ducking the American push until it is over. Lieutenant Alain Etienne says, “All the Shi’ites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they’ll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It’ll be called the &slquo;Day of Death’ or something like that. They say, &slquo;Wait, and we will be victorious.’ That’s what they preach. And it will be their victory.” Quinn agrees, saying, “Honestly, within six months of us leaving, the way Iranian clerics run the country behind the scenes, it’ll be the same way here with Sadr. He already runs our side of the river.” Many US officers say that, in hindsight, it is obvious that too much pressure was brought to bear on giving Iraqi army units their own areas of operation, a process that left Iraqi soldiers outmanned, outgunned, and easy targets for infiltration and coercion. “There was a decision…that was probably made prematurely,” says Lieutenant Colonel Eric Schacht. “I think we jumped the gun a little bit.” An Iraqi Sunni says, “[I]f the Mahdi Army comes in here, they will come with the support of the Iraqi army.” [McClatchy News, 2/2/2007]
Bob Simon. [Source: CBS News]Veteran CBS war correspondent Bob Simon discusses the media’s enthusiasm for a war with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion, and its credulity, with PBS host Bill Moyers. [PBS, 4/25/2007] CBS News describes Simon as “the most honored journalist in international reporting.” A regular contributor to CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes, Simon has won 18 Emmy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in September 2003. [CBS News, 6/8/2007] He did one of the first broadcast news examinations of the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts to sell the war with Iraq to the American public. [CBS News, 12/6/2002] Simon says that foreign journalists had a perspective that Washington-based journalists did not. “From overseas we had a clearer view,” he explains. “I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.” Moyers asks: “Absurdity. The Washington press corps cannot question an absurdity?” Simon replies: “Well, maybe the Washington press corps based inside the belt wasn’t as aware as those of us who are based in the Middle East and who spend a lot of time in Iraq. I mean when the Washington press corps travels, it travels with the president or with the secretary of state… [i]n a bubble. Where as we who’ve spent weeks just walking the streets of Baghdad and in other situations in Baghdad just were scratching our heads. In ways that perhaps that the Washington press corps could not.” Simon and his camera crew had been captured and brutalized by Hussein’s forces for 40 days during the 1991 Gulf War, and, Moyers notes, Simon “was under no illusions about Saddam Hussein.… It didn’t make sense to Simon that the dictator would trust Islamic terrorists.” Simon explains his reasoning: “Saddam as most tyrants, was a total control freak. He wanted total control of his regime. Total control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like al-Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn’t believe it for an instant.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
The Al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest of Shi’ite shrines, is attacked for a second time, apparently by Sunni insurgents. The mosque was partially destroyed in a massive bombing attack over a year ago (see February 22, 2006), sparking a calamitous increase in sectarian violence that claimed at least 10,000 lives. Both US and Iraqi officials fear a similar outbreak of violence following this bombing. President Bush says the attack is “clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions.” Additional US forces are sent to Samarra to enforce security. US and Iraqi officials blame al-Qaeda in Iraq, an extremist Sunni group with loose ties to the larger al-Qaeda network, but as with the February 2006 bombings, that assertion cannot be proven. In what are apparently retaliatory strikes, Shi’ite members of the Mahdi Army destroy the Sunni Grand Mosque in Iskandariyah, and attack another Sunni mosque in the same city. Mahdi leader Moqtada al-Sadr blames the Golden Mosque attack on “the hidden hands of the occupiers,” his term for the US military, but calls for peaceful protests instead of violent responses to the attacks. Al-Maliki says that Sunni security forces responsible for guarding the mosque may have been involved in the attack; until very recently, Sunni forces were the only ones delegated to guard the Shi’ite mosque. Iraqi authorities believe those forces may have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda operatives. One day prior, a Shi’ite force from Baghdad was deployed to the mosque. According to a resident, the Sunni and Shi’ite forces engaged in “some disagreement and fighting…because the previous force did not want to leave their position, but later they had to.” It is possible that the conflict between the two Iraqi forces precipitated the attack. [Washington Post, 6/13/2004] Many Iraqis feel that the latest attacks could carry Iraq to the brink of an all-out civil war. A Shi’ite graduate student says, “The problem is that ignorant people carry out the orders of those who want to arm Iraq. We have some of those, and some of the Sunnis also have some among them. We are on the edge of a catastrophe.” A Sunni housewife says, “We feel that the gap is getting bigger and bigger between us and the Shiites.” [New York Times, 6/13/2007]
Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr orders his militia, the Mahdi Army, to suspend offensive operations for six months following the deaths of over 50 Shi’ite Muslims during recent sectarian fighting in the holy city of Karbala. “I direct the Mahdi army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honor the principles for which it is formed,” al-Sadr says in a statement issued by his office in the nearby city of Najaf. The statement continues, “We call on all Sadrists to observe self-restraint, to help security forces control the situation and arrest the perpetrators and sedition mongers, and urge them to end all forms of armament in the sacred city.” Asked if the unexpected order meant no attacks on American troops, as well as a ban on Shia infighting, a senior Sadr aide says, “All kinds of armed actions are to be frozen, without exception.” [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007] Just three weeks before, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno talked of the US concerns over heavy casualties inflicted on US troops by Shi’ite militia fighters using new roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). [New York Times, 8/8/2007] US, British, and Iraqi officials are apparently surprised by the sudden announcement, and military officials are cautious about accepting the truth of al-Sadr’s ceasefire order. British military spokesman Major Mike Shearer says, “We don’t know how real this is and I suspect it will take some significant time to see if violence against us does diminish as a result.” But, two days after the announcement, the US military puts out a statement that calls the ceasefire order “encouraging,” and says it will allow US and Iraqi forces to “intensify their focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq… without distraction from [Mahdi Army] attacks.” It adds: “Moqtada al-Sadr’s declaration holds the potential to reduce criminal activity and help reunite Iraqis separated by ethno-sectarian violence and fear. [The ceasefire] would also be an important step in helping Iraqi authorities focus greater attention on achieving the political and economic solutions necessary for progress and less on dealing with criminal activity, sectarian violence, kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces.” Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubbaie is carefully optimistic: “I will see on the ground what is going to happen. It is good news if it is true. If it happens it will reduce violence in the country a great deal.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office says, “This initiative is an encouraging step toward consolidating security and stability throughout the country and an opportunity for the suspension of the work of the rest of the militias in various political and ideological affiliations to preserve the unity, independence and sovereignty of Iraq.” Al-Sadr does not control all of the Shi’ite militias in the country; those groups do not follow al-Sadr’s lead in suspending hostilities. However, the Mahdi Army is considered by the Pentagon to be the biggest threat to stability in Iraq, even more so than al-Qaeda. In recent months, Mahdi-inflicted casualties have dropped in and around Baghdad, as al-Sadr’s fighters have left the capital to avoid the military crackdown, and gone to Shi’a-dominated southern Iraq. [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007; CNN, 9/1/2007] In the weeks and months that follow, US casualties indeed drop; administration and military officials do not credit the ceasefire, but instead showcase the drop in casualties as proof the surge is working (see Early November, 2007).
US officials hail a marked drop in casualties in Iraq in recent weeks. One major reason for the drop seems to be the recent decision by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army to observe a six-month ceasefire (see August 30, 2007), but Pentagon and White House officials instead credit it to the recent “surge” of US troops into the country (see January 10, 2007), and do not mention the ceasefire at all.
Number of Explosively Formed Projectiles Decreasing - The number of deadly explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) coming into the country seems to be dropping as well, with 99 being detonated or found in July 2007 and 53 in October, according to Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been alleged to be a major recipient and user of EFPs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will not yet declare “victory” in Iraq, saying that use of terms like “victory” or “winning” are “loaded words.” However, Gates says: “We have been very successful. We need to continue being successful.” Iran has promised to help curtail the flow of EFPs into Iraq; some believe that Iran is the source of most EFPs used in Iraq, and some US officials do not yet believe the Iranians. Odierno says: “In terms of Iran… it’s unclear yet to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgency or not. I’ll still wait and see.” [Washington Post, 11/2/2007]
Bush, Others Claim Surge a Success - President George Bush says the strategy is successful; at Fort Jackson, SC, he says, “Slowly but surely, the people of Iraq are reclaiming a normal society.” White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe adds, “The purpose of the strategy is to make the lull a trend,” and says the trend suggests “steady forward movement on the security front.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/3/2007] Presidential candidate and senator John McCain (R-AZ), an advocate of increasing the US presence in Iraq, says that the US is experiencing “astonishing success” in Iraq because of the surge: “Things are dramatically better, particularly since Gen. Petraeus went before the Congress of the United States and Americans had a chance to see what a great and dynamic leader he is.” [USA Today, 11/1/2007] The London Times agrees, writing, “[O]n every relevant measure, the shape of the Petraeus curve is profoundly encouraging.” The Times goes even further, avowing: “As the pace of reconstruction quickens, the prospects for economic recovery will be enhanced yet further. With oil at record high prices, Iraq should be an extremely prosperous nation and in a position to start planning for its future with confidence.” The editors dismiss the opposition to the war by British and American politicians alike as “outdated.” [London Times, 11/3/2007]
Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” [VetVoice, 12/4/2007]
Since Britain has withdrawn its troops from the Iraqi city of Basra, attacks against British and Iraqi forces have dropped by 90%, according to the commander of British forces in southern Iraq. Major General Graham Binns says that the reason for the drop is simple: the presence of British forces in downtown Basra was the single largest instigator of violence. “We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?’” Binns says. Britain’s 5,000 troops pulled out of their barracks—in a palace built for the use of former dictator Saddam Hussein—in early September, and instead set up a garrison at an airport on the edge of the city. Since the pullback, Binns says, there has been a “remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks.… The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we’re no longer patrolling the streets.” Last spring, British forces waged relentless and bloody battles with Shi’ite militias through the streets of central Basra. British forces have now left the in-town patrols to Iraqi forces, who, Binns says, can now handle the remaining problems in the city. By the middle of December, British troops will return control of Basra province back to Iraqi officials, formally ending Britain’s combat role in the area. Binns says, “We’ve been in that de facto role since we moved out of the palace… but we hope the transfer will symbolize the end of a period many in Basra city perceived as occupation.” Binns says he and other British military officials were surprised that the expected spike in what is termed “intra-militia violence” after the pullback never occurred. Binns says the Mahdi Army, the Shi’ite militia led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is “all powerful” in Basra. The rival Badr Brigade, tied to Iraq’s largest Shi’ite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, will not openly challenge the Mahdis in the city. Britain’s troop levels have steadily declined from a high of 46,000 in March 2003 to about 5,000 now. [Associated Press, 12/15/2007]
The British newspaper The Independent reports on a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad that would indefinitely perpetuate the American occupation of Iraq, no matter who wins the US presidential elections in November. Under the accord, US troops and private contractors will occupy over 50 permanent military bases, conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government, arrest Iraqis at will, control Iraqi airspace, and be immune from Iraqi law. The agreement goes much farther than a previous draft agreement created between the two countries in March (see March 7, 2008). It is based on a so-called “Declaration of Principles” issued by both governments in November 2007 (see November 26, 2007). The US says it has no intention of entering into a permanent agreement (see June 5, 2008).
Forcing Agreement Over Iraqi Opposition - President Bush intends to force the so-called “strategic alliance” onto the Iraqi government, without modifications, by the end of July. Inside sources believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opposes the deal, but feels that his government cannot stay in power without US backing and therefore has no power to resist. Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement that limits Iraqi sovereignty, insiders believe that their resistance is little more than bluster designed to shore up their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence; they will sign off on the agreement in the end, observers believe. The only person with the authority to block the deal is Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But al-Sistani is said to believe that the Shi’a cannot afford to lose US support if they intend to remain in control of the government. Al-Sistani’s political rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has exhorted his followers to demonstrate against the agreement as a compromise of Iraqi sovereignty. As for the other two power blocs in the country, the Kurds are likely to accept the agreement, and, interestingly, so are many Sunni political leaders, who want the US in Iraq to dilute the Shi’ites’ control of the government. (Many Sunni citizens oppose any such deal.) While the Iraqi government itself is trying to delay the signing of the accord, Vice President Dick Cheney has been instrumental in pushing for its early acceptance. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the agreement.
'Explosive Political Effect' - Many Iraqis fear that the deal will have what reporter Patrick Cockburn calls “an explosive political effect in Iraq… [it may] destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Cockburn writes that the accords may provoke a political crisis in the US as well. Bush wants the accords pushed through “so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.” The accord would also boost the candidacy of John McCain (R-AZ), who claims the US is on the brink of victory in Iraq. It would fly in the face of pledges made by McCain’s presidential opponent Barack Obama (D-IL), who has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq if elected. McCain has said that Obama will throw away a US victory if he prematurely withdraws troops. An Iraqi politician says of the potential agreement, “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty.” He adds that such an agreement will delegitimize the Iraqi government and prove to the world that it is nothing more than a puppet government controlled by the US. While US officials have repeatedly denied that the Bush administration wants permanent bases in Iraq, an Iraqi source retorts, “This is just a tactical subterfuge.”
Exacerbating Tensions with Iran - Iranian leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says that the agreement will create “a permanent occupation.… The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.” The deal may also inflame tensions between Iran and the US; currently the two countries are locked in an under-the-radar struggle to win influence in Iraq. [Independent, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Hashemi Rafsanjani, John McCain, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ryan C. Crocker, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Cockburn, Nouri al-Maliki, Independent
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
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