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Profile: Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani
Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ayatollah Sistani warns in a letter to the United Nations that the Security Council’s forthcoming resolution (see June 8, 2004) on the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq must not contain any references to the interim constitution known as the Transitional Administrative Law (see March 8, 2004) because that document “runs counter to the will of the Iraqi people.” Sistani writes: “This law, which has been written by an unelected council under the occupation and its direct influence, restricts the national [body] due to be elected at the beginning of the new year to draft Iraq’s permanent constitution. This runs against law and is rejected by the majority of the Iraqi people.” [Associated Press, 6/9/2004]
Nouri al-Maliki. [Source: Truthdig.com]The first permanent government in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is sworn in to office. Iraq’s prime minister is Shi’ite leader Nouri al-Maliki (sometimes known as Jawad al-Maliki), the Bush administration’s choice to run the new Iraqi government. Sunni lawmakers and leaders largely refuse to participate in the new government, and many Sunnis walk out of the installation proceedings. Al-Maliki has appointed mostly fellow Shi’ites to run the various ministries of government, a makeup that reflects the strong Shi’ite majority of votes cast in the December 15 parliamentary elections. President Bush says the US government is fully supportive of the new government: “The United States and freedom-loving nations around the world will stand with Iraq as it takes its place among the world’s democracies and as an ally in the war on terror.” The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the new government is expected to spur change that might “allow adjustments in terms of size, composition and mission of [US] forces.” While US forces may undergo occasional “tactical increases here and there,” Khalilzad says, the new government will have a “positive effect.… Strategically, we’re going to be in the direction of downsizing our forces.” [CNN, 5/20/2006] Reactions from US political and military observers are mixed. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes that the biggest difference between al-Maliki and the former interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, is that even though both are from the same Shi’ite faction, the Dawa party, al-Maliki can be expected to show some independence from Iran. Iran tried mightily to keep al-Jafari in office, Ignatius writes, and the new government’s choice of al-Maliki as prime minister shows that Iraq’s political leaders are “standing up for a unified Iraq.” However, “[t]o succeed, Maliki must mobilize that desire for unity to break the power of the militias and insurgent groups.” Khalilzad celebrates al-Maliki’s independence from Iran, and notes that even though al-Maliki spent some years in exile in Iran, “he felt he was threatened by them” because of his political independence, and later moved to Syria. “He sees himself as an Arab” and an Iraqi nationalist, Khalilzad explains. Kurdish leaders cautiously welcome al-Maliki as the new government’s leader, and predict, somewhat optimistically, that Sunni leaders will eventually welcome al-Maliki as well. The decisive factors in choosing al-Maliki over al-Jafari as prime minister, Ignatius writes, were three: US support; the endorsement of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani; and the insistence of non-Shi’ites that al-Jafari and his overtly sectarian government depart. It must be remembered, Ignatius notes, that al-Maliki is a follower of Lebanese Shi’ite leader Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the original spiritual adviser of Hezbollah, who later left the group in part because he viewed it as too close to Iran. [Washington Post, 4/26/2006] Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang will give a different view in March 2007. Al-Maliki is far more sectarian than Bush officials are willing to admit, Lang will write. “They want him to be George Washington, to bind together the new country of Iraq,” he will say. “And he’s not that. He is a Shi’a, a factional political leader, whose goal is to solidify the position of Shi’a Arabs in Iraq. That’s his goal. So he won’t let them do anything effective against [Moqtada al-Sadr’s] Mahdi army.” And former NSC official Gary Sick, an expert on Iran, says that Bush’s support of al-Maliki is perhaps a form of brinksmanship in the administration’s efforts to destabilize Iran. “What has happened is that the United States, in installing a Shi’ite government in Iraq, has really upset the balance of power [in the Middle East],” Sick will say. “Along with our Sunni allies—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—[the administration is] terribly concerned about Iran emerging as the new colossus. Having created this problem, the US is now in effect using it as a means of uniting forces who are sympathetic [to us].” Bush must reassure America’s regional allies that they will be protected if the Iraqi conflict spreads throughout the region. “[T]his is a very broad strategy,” he says. “It has a clear enemy and an appeal to Saudis, to Israelis, and has a potential of putting together a fairly significant coalition.” But, Sick warns, the policy steers dangerously close to provoking a conflict with Iran. “Basically, this is a signal to Maliki that we are not going to tolerate Shi’ite cooperation with Iran. This could lead to the ultimate break with Maliki. But once you start sending these signals, you end up in a corner and you can’t get out of it.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, George W. Bush, Gary G. Sick, David Ignatius, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Ibrahim al-Jafari, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Lang, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
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.” [Chicago Tribune, 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).
Entity Tags: Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Hezbollah, Eric Shinseki, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Ronald Neuman, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Peter Pace, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The British newspaper The Independent reports on a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad that would indefinitely perpetuate the American occupation of Iraq, no matter who wins the US presidential elections in November. Under the accord, US troops and private contractors will occupy over 50 permanent military bases, conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government, arrest Iraqis at will, control Iraqi airspace, and be immune from Iraqi law. The agreement goes much farther than a previous draft agreement created between the two countries in March (see March 7, 2008). It is based on a so-called “Declaration of Principles” issued by both governments in November 2007 (see November 26, 2007). The US says it has no intention of entering into a permanent agreement (see June 5, 2008).
Forcing Agreement Over Iraqi Opposition - President Bush intends to force the so-called “strategic alliance” onto the Iraqi government, without modifications, by the end of July. Inside sources believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opposes the deal, but feels that his government cannot stay in power without US backing and therefore has no power to resist. Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement that limits Iraqi sovereignty, insiders believe that their resistance is little more than bluster designed to shore up their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence; they will sign off on the agreement in the end, observers believe. The only person with the authority to block the deal is Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But al-Sistani is said to believe that the Shi’a cannot afford to lose US support if they intend to remain in control of the government. Al-Sistani’s political rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has exhorted his followers to demonstrate against the agreement as a compromise of Iraqi sovereignty. As for the other two power blocs in the country, the Kurds are likely to accept the agreement, and, interestingly, so are many Sunni political leaders, who want the US in Iraq to dilute the Shi’ites’ control of the government. (Many Sunni citizens oppose any such deal.) While the Iraqi government itself is trying to delay the signing of the accord, Vice President Dick Cheney has been instrumental in pushing for its early acceptance. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the agreement.
'Explosive Political Effect' - Many Iraqis fear that the deal will have what reporter Patrick Cockburn calls “an explosive political effect in Iraq… [it may] destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Cockburn writes that the accords may provoke a political crisis in the US as well. Bush wants the accords pushed through “so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.” The accord would also boost the candidacy of John McCain (R-AZ), who claims the US is on the brink of victory in Iraq. It would fly in the face of pledges made by McCain’s presidential opponent Barack Obama (D-IL), who has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq if elected. McCain has said that Obama will throw away a US victory if he prematurely withdraws troops. An Iraqi politician says of the potential agreement, “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty.” He adds that such an agreement will delegitimize the Iraqi government and prove to the world that it is nothing more than a puppet government controlled by the US. While US officials have repeatedly denied that the Bush administration wants permanent bases in Iraq, an Iraqi source retorts, “This is just a tactical subterfuge.”
Exacerbating Tensions with Iran - Iranian leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says that the agreement will create “a permanent occupation.… The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.” The deal may also inflame tensions between Iran and the US; currently the two countries are locked in an under-the-radar struggle to win influence in Iraq. [Independent, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Hashemi Rafsanjani, John McCain, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ryan C. Crocker, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Cockburn, Nouri al-Maliki, Independent
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
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