Okay, so I know you spent the last few weeks without my e-mails tossing and turning in bed between refresh clicks in your inboxes. I am here to say that I am back from finals and a country called Venezeula to re-start the issues of issues. I had some scraps about Iraq that I had left out of last time’s huge e-mail, and I want to cover that. Plus some news broke right after the e-mail that needs to be run through.
Also I was told by my Iranian readers that not all Shi’ites are backwards and uneducated. And not all of them beat themselves every year during Ashura. “Only fundamentalists do that,” said one. So I apologize for generalizing Shi’ites without specifying Arab Shia versus Iranian ones. And for that matter, there are secular Shi’ites in Iraq, they just don’t seem to have much clout as far as I’ve seen. The secular Shi’ite and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi only got 12% of the vote for his ticket in the 2005 elections.
Iran and Iraqi culture links
Time to make things complicated. So remember how I said Arabs and Iranians are not the same thing, and they need to be kept separate in your head? Actually, it’s not so simple.
Iraqi Shi’ites are culturally linked to Iran by religion. Iran being a Shi’ite majority Islamic Republic ruled by a theocracy, it has a strong religious link. Both sides visit each others shrines, and many Iraqi clerics trained and lived in Iran during Saddam’s rule. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most important cleric in Iraq, lived in Iran for years and (they say) speaks Arabic with a Persian accent. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (part of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance of religious parties) is supported by Iran.
Apparently, Saddam used to suppress the religious roots between the two nations of Shi’ites by emphasizing how Iraq was an Arab nation. The Ba’ath Party of Saddam Hussein (which rules Syria as well) was an Arab nationalist party. Arab nationalism mixed with socialism (as far as I understand Middle East history) was a huge power after the end of colonialism (see the Italian movie the Battle of Algiers for a good example) until the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Arab nationalists were all about uniting all the Arab countries into one large Arab nation rather than being a bunch of divided countries with artificial boundaries made up by Europe. This dream is still there, but instead of doing it through secular politics and culture, people want to do it through religion (the Ummah, community of the faithful). Arab nationalists still rule a lot of Middle Eastern countries, but they aren’t democratic and are necessarily popular anymore. The torturer Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (a “pro-American”) is an example of what Arab nationalism dreams have degenerated into.
In any case, a lot of this has degenerated in Iraq to name-calling the Arab Shi’ites traitorous Persians. In the United States, stupidly nefarious statements like “Iran’s influence in Iraq grows” make headlines. The truth is that a post-Saddam Iraq with any semblence of democratic aspirations was going to have more relations with its cultural/religiously-linked neighbor. Anyone who didn’t have their head shoved up their neoconservative ass would have known this, but sadly those people don’t make the Bush Cabinet. The Los Angles Times ran an article recently explaining these relations. Too late to stop a fantasy war that ended with a pro-Israel, anti-Iran, democratic and secular Iraq, but I suppose it’s a start.
How does this play out on the streets? I’m glad you asked because my recurring main character, Moqtada al-Sadr, is an Iraqi nationalist who doesn’t know Persian and isn’t tainted by charges that he is an Iranian lackey. He inveighs against the Iranian leanings of the Iraqi Shi’ites who hid in Iran during Saddam’s rule while he and his family stayed in Iraq despite his father and brother being murdered by Saddam. When he called for nationwide protests to drive out the Americans, he insisted that the Iraqi national flag be used rather than any sectarian or religious flags. Take a look at how big the protests were with this picture. Far larger than the celebrations when the Saddam statue came down.
Oh, and al-Sadr pulled his party out of the Iraqi Cabinet and government because they have failed to get the Americans to make a deadline to leave Iraq. I think he means business.
Awesome links to Dilip Hiro
These came out right after I sent last time’s e-mail . This one is basically the same thing as what I wrote in Issue III, but it explains the relationship between Sistani and al-Sadr. This makes me wonder (and probably the wondering is from something I read) whether al-Sadr is Sistani‘s stage man. Sistani wants to look apolitical and only intervene on big matters (like the demand for elections instead of caucuses). Al-Sadr is not tainted with the Persian links and has street cred with the Sunnis because he fought the Americans in 2004, that Sistani doesn’t have. Yet the media reports Sistani to be “moderate” while al-Sadr is a “radical.” I figured soon after the war that Sistani wasn’t really moderate, but just waiting for the opportune moment to turn the knife on the Americans. In any case, the Iraqis want us out, and we’ve no right to be there.
Fall in sectarian violence?
Remember when I called bullshit on “the surge”? It looks like the fall in violence that was reported was because the United States wasn’t counting car bombs. Car bombs blow up…. and kill people. Usually terrorist-related. But what do I know. Also al-Sadr pulled his militias off the street to wait till the surge ends; he knows he can’t fight America directly since his surrender in 2004.
Random odds and ends I thought were interesting.
Mexico City to legalize abortion
I want to do a civil liberties issue and why I think the president has started dangerous precedents with his extraordinary views of what a president can do with the “unitary executive” idea. I don’t have time for that here, but here is a petition to be delivered on June 26th to restore habeas corpus and repeal the disgraceful Military Commissions Act passed last year by the laziest, most worthless Congress in history. And if you don’t read Matt Taibbi, you should.
I got a request to do an issue about globalization. I’m going to say that that is going to be very, very hard, but I’ll try. If you wanna read what I read, there is the awesome “How the World Works” blog on globalization. . This is the author’s first post, which I just read for the first time. We’ll chat next time.