Across the Bay

Friday, May 21, 2004

Sadr Among Experts

Slate's Mickey Kaus wrote on the problems of figuring out events in Iraq, with such seemingly contradictory voices as Cole and Taheri filtering them through to us.

I like Kaus' assessment of Cole, as it is very much mine (as is clear from my posts on Cole).

"I am grateful to Cole for his serious response--though his equating of Wolfowitz and Saddam suggests why he's still too shrill to be completely trustworthy in my book."

Kaus has previously labeled Cole's site "useful but alarmist" which is probably the best description of it. He should add Cole obvious anti-Bush bias (which has led him to write a couple of pieces on how Bush is seeking to bring on the Apocalypse! I.e. he has gone from historian to a Michael Moore wannabe!) as well as a pro-DoS/CIA view and a deep hatred for Wolfowitz. These things taint his analysis to a significant extent, as Kaus rightly concludes.

Here's what Taheri wrote on Sadr this past Tuesday, which is clearly different (at least in emphasis) than what Cole wrote:

"Muqtada al-Sadr, the self-styled warring mullah, is desperately shopping around for a way out of the tangle he has created for himself. He has proposed to dissolve his so-called Army of the Mahdi and says he is even ready to go into exile to prevent further bloodshed. All he is asking for is for the Shiite grand ayatollahs to intervene to get him off the hook of an arrest warrant on a charge of murder. The grand ayatollahs, however, insist that he should eat humble pie."

Taheri concludes:

"Notwithstanding the forebodings of doom coming from "experts" who know nothing of Iraq, the newly liberated nation could, as President Bush has promised, become a model of democratization for other Arabs. Iraq will be won or lost not in Baghdad or Najaf or Fallujah, but in Washington."

Cole recently refered to this piece in Al-Ahram on the future of the Shiite scene in Iraq. Cole drew attention to the "chilling" words of Sistani at the end of the piece:

"Should the situation continue to deteriorate, however, Al-Kashmiri would not elaborate on whether or not Al-Sistani would change his stand. But he warned that if the occupation forces cross the line in Najaf, then, in what was nearing a threatening tone, he said that "the marjaiyyah might eventually be forced to change its quietist stand."

The funny thing is that Cole himself has said that Sistani and SCIRI (and there is other evidence that tribes and even common folks) have "green-lighted" or approved the US offensive on Sadr in the holy cities. (Some "empire" the US is, needing the green light to take action!)

There is another bizarre thing that is still unclear to me. This report says that it was the Americans who refused a peaceful deal (which included Muqtada being prosecuted for the murder of Kho'i). But this doesn't add up. There are too many loose ends, especially given the physical threats made by Sadrists against Sistani and other Shiites. Also, look at the statements talking about SCIRI and Shiite tribes threatening to take action against Sadr themselves. It's simply not convincing that "the Americans refuse a peaceful option." It's too simplistic, and doesn't stand up to the other elements being reported. This is not to say that on the tactical level, the US isn't making blunders that might end up being to the benefit of Sadr, but so far, none of those blunders have pushed the other Shiites over the edge, and this report doesn't give another picture. In fact, the final paragraph about Sistani is perhaps best understood in that light.

However, it's quite another thing to hear Cole comparing the US to Yazid, Wolfowitz to Saddam, and claiming that the US can no longer be said to be aiding the Shiites, but rather it's now killing them. That hardly qualifies as "trustworthy" (cf. the story from "Iraq the Model") and Kaus' "shrill" qualifier seems quite the understatement!