FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

But Allawi and the US have been Weakened

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Ceasefires in Iraq are notoriously fragile but the agreement to end the fighting in Najaf may work because it is underwritten by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful religious leader in Iraq.

The winners and losers in the crisis in Najaf, where for three bloody weeks Muqtada Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric, and his Army of Mehdi fought the interim government of Iyad Allawi and the US army, are becoming clear.

Chief among the losers are the people of Kufa and Najaf, who have seen their cities devastated during the fighting and their hospitals and cemeteries filled with the maimed and the dead.

The main winner is Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who showed that he alone has the authority among Iraqis to bring the battles to an end.

The lesson for the US and Britain should be that they ignore his views at their peril and need to meet his demand for elections which will produce a legitimate and credible Iraqi authority.

For the government of Mr Allawi the outcome is a setback. “Their failure to finish Sadr is a defeat,” says Ghasan Attiyah, the Iraqi commentator and historian. “If they couldn’t eliminate him, why did they get into this crisis in the first place?”

Mr Allawi, two months after he was appointed head of an interim government by the US, has narrowed rather than expanded his already limited base of support.

There are signs of divisions within his cabinet, with the Islamist parties not giving him full backing in his assault on Najaf. The Kurds, the one Iraqi community still in favour of the US presence, have also distanced themselves from the government. Jalal Talabani, the powerful leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, had called for a peaceful solution.

The problem for Mr Allawi is that his most important support is the US army, but this is a two-edged weapon. The Iraqi army, police and National Guard are unreliable, ill-disciplined and prone, as was seen in Kufa in the last few days, to fire into crowds of demonstrators.

There is no doubt about the strength of the US army. But it continues to behave as if it was fighting the Soviet Army. Its main consideration is to keep its casualties low. It does not count Iraqi casualties. In Najaf it demolished any building from which it suspected gunfire was coming. US planes have dropped 2,000lb bombs near the holy shrine. Americans have been killing Iraqis in large numbers and this is unlikely to add to their popularity. Once again, Washington should learn that in Iraq military power does not necessarily turn into political influence.

Sadr and his militiamen may now withdraw from the shrine in the centre of Najaf but they have won a victory by surviving. Before last March, when the American envoy, Paul Bremer, had the disastrous idea of confronting him, Sadr was a significant but by no means a central figure in Iraqi politics. By attacking him the US has given credibility to his blend of nationalism and religion.

The Mahdi Army may now give up some of its light weapons in Najaf but nothing is easier to obtain in Iraq than a machine-gun or a rocket- propelled grenade launcher.

There are other shadowy players. The Iranians are seen by well-informed Iraqis as stoking political fires in Najaf and in southern Iraq to make sure that Washington never has a moment to fulfil its threats to overthrow or destabilise the Iranian government. The Iranians have been giving quiet support to Sadr and they will be pleased to have shown they can make life difficult for the US and Britain.

If theceasefire sticks there may be a few weeks in which the different players in Iraq can modify their policies. The preoccupation of Washington is to win the US presidential election in November. It may want to avoid further confrontations to persuade US voters that President George Bush knows what he is doing in Iraq.

Mr Allawi is more closely linked to the CIA than the State Department and the latter may become more influential within the divided US administration in shaping what the US does. An extraordinary aspect of the latest crisis is that it is the third time since April that the US has confronted Sadr, and each time has discovered that it dare not pay the political cost of eliminating him.

Ayatollah Sistani comes out of the crisis with his authority enhanced. The government of Iyad Allawi has suffered a defeat, shown its weakness, but has not collapsed. Dr Attiyah argues that the only solution to the permanent crisis in Iraq is for the US and its allies “to convince Iraqis that there will be free elections which will produce a legitimate government”.

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail