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Elections for Iraq’s 275-member national assembly are held, the first democratic elections in Iraq in 50 years. Fifty-eight percent of Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a new government, the first national elections since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. Iraqis proudly display their ink-dipped purple fingers as signs that they voted. In Washington, Republicans display their own enpurpled fingers as a sign of solidarity with President Bush and as a symbol of their pride in bringing democracy to Iraq. The Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) wins 48.2 percent of the vote, a coalition of two major Kurdish parties garners 25.7 percent, and a bloc led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wins only 13.8 percent. As expected, the Sunni parties capture only a fraction of the vote. (Shadid and Struck 2/14/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 327-329)
Shi'ite Turnout High, but Election Marred by Violence - Suicide bombers and mortar attacks attempt to disrupt the elections, killing 44 around the country, but voters turn out in large numbers regardless of the danger. Three cloaked women going to polls in Baghdad tell a reporter in unison, “We have no fear.” Another Iraqi tells a reporter: “I am doing this because I love my country and I love the sons of my nation. We are Arabs, we are not scared and we are not cowards.” (Associated Press 1/31/2005)
Sunni Boycott Undermines Legitimacy of Election Results - The political reality of the vote is less reassuring. Millions of Shi’ites do indeed flock to the polls, but most Sunnis, angered by years of what they consider oppression by US occupying forces, refuse to vote. Brent Scowcroft, the former foreign policy adviser held in such contempt by the administration’s neoconservatives (see October 2004), had warned that the election could well deepen the rift between Sunnis and Shi’a, and indeed could precipitate a civil war. Soon after the elections, Sunni insurgents will shift their targets and begin attacking Shi’ite citizens instead of battling US troops. Another popular, and effective, target will be Iraq’s decaying oil production infrastructure.
UIA Links to Iran and Terrorism Undermine US Ambitions - Another troublesome consequence of the elections is that Bush officials are forced to support a Shi’ite government led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a member of the Dawa Party, one of the two Shi’ite factions comprising the United Iraq Alliance. Dawa is so closely aligned with Iran that not only had it supported Iran in the Iraq-Iran War, but it had moved its headquarters to Tehran in 1979. While in the Iranian capital, Dawa had spun off what Middle East expert Juan Cole called “a shadowy set of special ops units generically called ‘Islamic Jihad,’ which operated in places like Kuwait and Lebanon.” Dawa was also an integral part of the process that created the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah. And Dawa was founded by Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr, the uncle of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has been accused of attempting to exterminate Sunni populations. In other words, the US is now supporting a government which not only supports terrorism, but itself incorporates a terrorist-affiliated organization in its executive structure. Author Craig Unger will write: “One by one the contradictions behind America’s Middle East policies emerged—and with them, the enormity of its catastrophic blunder. Gradually America’s real agenda was coming to light—not its stated agenda to rid Iraq of WMDs, which had been nonexistent, not regime change, which had already been accomplished, but the neoconservative dream of ‘democratizing’ the region by installing pro-West, pro-Israeli governments led by the likes of Ahmed Chalabi in oil-rich Middle East states. Now that Chalabi had been eliminated as a potential leader amid accusations that he was secretly working for Iran (see April 2004), and the Sunnis had opted out of the elections entirely, the United States, by default, was backing a democratically elected government that maintained close ties to Iran and was linked to Shi’ite leaders whose powerful Shi’ite militias were battling the Sunnis.” Moreover, the Iraqi security forces have little intention of cooperating with the US’s plan to “stand up” as US forces “stand down.” Their loyalties are not to their country or their newly elected government, but to their individual militias. Journalist and author Nir Rosen says the Iraqi soldiers are mainly loyal to al-Sadr and to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, the other member of the United Iraq Alliance), “but not to the Iraqi state and not to anyone in the Green Zone.” Unger will write, “Unwittingly, America [is] spending billions of dollars to fuel a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war.” (Unger 2007, pp. 327-329)
The predominantly Shiite Arab administration of Ibrahim al-Jaafari is sworn into office with several posts unfilled. It was originally planned that a Sunni Arab would hold the position of defense minister, but the appointment was blocked by the Shiite officials who said that he had close ties to the deposed Baathist regime. (Worth and Oppel 5/4/2005)
Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, visits Iraq and meets with top officials, including Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The visit marks the highest profile meeting between Iran and Iraq since US forces ousted Saddam Hussein in spring of 2003. At a news conference, Kharrazi tells reporters, “We will not allow terrorists to use our lands to access Iraq,” and adds, “We will watch our borders and will arrest infiltrators, because securing Iraq is securing the Islamic Republic.” (CNN 5/17/2005; Peterson 5/20/2005)
The Al-Askari or Golden Mosque, in Samarra, Iraq, is partially destroyed in a bombing attack that devastates the ancient shrine. The mosque is one of the holiest of Shi’ite sites. The attacks are carried out by about a dozen men in paramilitary uniforms who enter the shrine, handcuff four guards sleeping in a back room, place a bomb in the dome of the mosque, and detonate it. (Worth 2/22/2006; Ridolfo 2/12/2007) The devastating attack on one of Shi’a Islam’s holiest sites prompts off a wave of Shi’ite attacks on Sunni mosques, Sunni citizens, and even US occupiers that eventually takes over 10,000 Iraqi lives and brings the country closer to full-blown civil war. (Anderson and Partlow 6/13/2004) Some local officials say that the bombers wore the uniforms of Iraqi security forces. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari says that the attack was possibly the result of “infiltration” of Iraqi security forces. The four guards found handcuffed will later be arrested as suspects in the bombing as well as 10 men dressed as Iraqi police commandos. (Knickmeyer and Ibrahim 2/23/2006) The Iraqi government will blame the al-Qaeda faction in Iraq for the bombings, though that organization’s responsibility for the bombings remains unclear. (Reuters 6/13/2007) One leading Iraqi Shi’ite politician, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, lays partial blame for the bombing on the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, saying that Khalilzad’s public comments on death squads operating within Iraq’s Shi’ite-led Interior Ministry were a provocation to the bombing. (Worth 2/22/2006) Shi’ite and Sunni politicians exchange accusations over the bombings, with Shi’ite lawmakers saying that the government ignored warnings about the attacks, and Sunnis accusing Shi’ites of bombing their own shrine to exacerbate discords between the two religious factions. (Karouny and Ibrahim 3/2/2006) President Bush promises to rebuild the mosque. (CNN News 2/22/2006) But the shrine is, as of mid-2007, never rebuilt, partly because of disagreements between Sunnis and Shi’ites as to how to go about the rebuilding process. (Ridolfo 2/12/2007) The shrine will be bombed again 17 months later (see June 13, 2007), setting off another wave of violent reprisals.
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.” (Madhani 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).
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