Across the Bay

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Heating Up

The negotiations to end the Sadr rebellion have hit a wall it seems. Juan Cole writes today that Sadr has been going back and forth on basically signing his own marginalization, which is understandable. What is confusing however, is the claim that the US has seemingly set a condition that was refused by the religious leadership. That condition remains unclear.

Cole further stated:

"In another blow to the hope of a negotiated settlement, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi backed off earlier statements that Iran was willing to mediate between Muqtada and the Coalition. He now says it would be better if the US just left Iraq as soon as possible. Kharrazi's boss, President Mohammad Khatami, has probably been over-ruled (yet again) by Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, who clearly did not like the idea of Iran saving the US from a disaster of its own making."

Cole has to always make the comment that the US is screwing up. How one-dimensional. What I see in this is that Khamenei might have sniffed the potential Trojan horse that could boost Khatami and the reformists' standing in Iran, and their future ties to his ideological rival Sistani in Iraq, by removing the troublesome Sadr, the self-proclaimed ally of Khamenei's superstar Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon.
Therefore, he decided to take his chances by letting this thing play out (perhaps, to see where this new puppy love between Sadr and Hizbullah might lead? cf. Michael Young's recent piece on Hizbullah's invovlement), and see if the US can get out of it without a full-blown rebellion.

While the possibility of an all-out rebellion remains, Cole's own reporting of Abdul Mahdi Karbala'i's, Sistani's representative in Karbala, Friday sermon, shows that this decision is still the last resort, in case of a complete disaster. Karbala'i reportedly said:

"The situation has reached a serious juncture in past days, and reports indicate that the Occupation Forces will violate the sanctity of Karbala and Najaf, shedding in them much blood, and destroying what the people of those two cities have built. He said the religious leadership could forestall such a move, and that if the Coalition forces moved on the cities it would have grave consequences. He said that after so many years of state terror, every effort should now be made to find a peaceful way forward, and one that the US could not refuse. He said these peaceful methods must be used to end the occupation and return sovereignty to competent persons who represent the independent national will. He warned that if the religious leadership concluded that there was no escape from launching an armed uprising, it would not hesitate to do so."

I don't see this as the gloom and doom that Cole sees. Basically, nothing new has emerged in the rhetoric of Sistani! This has been his position from the beginning, that the US entering Najaf is crossing the red line. That he added the "armed uprising" bit towards the end is an emphatic insistence on the intial point. I'm sure the US will heed. We've heard before how the US lost the Shiites who are rebelling all over the place. That calmed down. Now there's another bump because Sadr is having a last minute change of heart. Whatever that unacceptable condition the US set, I wouldn't be surprised if in the coming few days, we'll hear that it was settled. Let's wait and see.

As for the Iranians, it just shows how pathetically tied up that country is, and how insecure the conservatives are. But in my view, it's a delay of the inevitable.