Friday, March 28, 2008


"The present onslaught aims to break popular resistance, especially from the Sadrist movement, to the passage of the oil law and to the occupation itself," says Naftana, a UK group working in solidarity with the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions ("Basra Assault Threatens Trade Unionists," 28 March 2008).1

In doing so, the empire backs Hakim against Sadr.

Where does Tehran stand on the conflict between them, since it has cultivated both among other Iraqis? Vali Nasr speculates:
Well, Iran has backed both of them and has supported a truce between them that was signed last year. The Iranians encouraged the two of them to put the fighting aside and not to fight one another at a time when the larger issue of the fate of Iraq was still out there. However, Iran has only limited influence and ultimately Muqtada al-Sadr will not sit by idly as Hakim and the United States begin to downgrade his forces and ultimately move to crush him, regardless of what Iran says.

On the other hand, one might say that Iran also encourages Sadr to disrupt the stability of southern Iraq because its relations with the United States are growing more tense and Iran ultimately would like to see the United States leave Iraq. The lull in the fighting, a sort of truce, which Iran contributed to by holding Muqtada down, may no longer be in Iran’s interest right now. It’s difficult to see how the Iranians are calculating this. They may be supportive of Muqtada raising the heat, not completely but somewhat, to put pressure on the United States. On the other hand, it might very well be that the Iranians are not able to totally control what happens next door, that they are able to influence the decisions that Sadr and Hakim make but they cannot completely control them.

We have to wait and see as this thing unfolds whether the Iranians will act to restrain the two sides or not. When the British moved out of Basra, it was argued that the Iranians would not try to control Basra but they did. For a very long period of time, the governor was very close to Iran, and the various militias maintained a truce in Basra. In fact the Iranians touted the relative stability of Basra as an indication of their ability to influence the situation in Iraq. It is possible the Iranians would use this issue of this escalation of tensions in the south as a way of reminding the United States that they are very relevant in southern Iraq and their value to stability in Iraq should not be taken for granted. ("Nasr: Iraqi Prime Minister ‘Irrelevant’ in Shiite Power Struggle," Council on Foreign Relations, 26 March 2008)
In short, we have no clue.

In my humble opinion, Tehran should back Sadr against Hakim, especially if Sadrists successfully resist the present US onslaught. Hakim won't be able to govern Iraq without US forces, but Sadr, potentially, can, and he is less likely than Hakim to establish a government that sells off Iraqi oil, hosts permanent US bases, and lets Iraq be used as a launching pad of attacks against Iran.

What of Western leftists? If Islamophobia weren't so prevalent among them,2 they would reach out to Sadr.

1 See, also, Hassan Hafidh and John D. McKinnon, "Violence Imperils Iraq's Oil Progress; Attacks in Basra Come amid Talks with Western Firms," Wall Street Journal, 28 March 2008: A1.

2 Explaining why the anti-war movement has dissolved, despite the staggering tolls that the occupation of Iraq has taken, Tariq Ali wrote on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq:
Di fronte a tutto questo la risposta dei cittadini del Nord America e dell'Europa è muta. Perché? Non c'è solidarietà con gli iracheni. Sono arabi, in gran parte islamici: e l'ondata di islamofobia che ha spazzato il mondo occidentale ha portato alla de-umanizzazione di coloro che venivano uccisi. La stessa cosa accadde quando il colonialismo europeo del diciottesimo e diciannovesimo secolo conquistò il Maghreb. Le atrocità commesse dagli italiani in Libia e la pubblica impiccagione del leader ribelle Sheikh Mukhtar non suscitarono nessuna emozione in Italia. I francesi fecero passare un sacco di tempo prima di protestare contro la guerra in Algeria. Gli esempi sono tanti. La «febbre civilizzatrice», oggi come allora, ha smobilitato l'opinione pubblica occidentale.

In the face of all that, the response of North American and European citizens is silence. Why? There is no solidarity with the Iraqis. They are Arabs, largely Muslims, and the wave of Islamophobia that has swept the West has brought with it the dehumanization of those who were murdered. The same thing happened when eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century European colonialism conquered the Maghreb. The atrocities committed by Italians in Libya and the public hanging of the rebel leader Sheikh Mukhtar did not provoke the least emotion in Italy. It took a long time before the French protested against the Algeria war. The examples are many. The "civilizing mission fever," now as then, has demobilized the Western public opinion. (Tariq Ali, "No War: Il movimento che si è dissolto," Il Manifesto, 20 March 2008, English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi)
Few leftists have trouble accepting liberal Muslims (who think and act like typical liberal Westerners in all relevant respects), but Muslims who think and act like Sadr are another story.

1 comment:

Niki said...

I don't agree with Nasr's analysis that one may speculate that Iran encourages Sadr to brew unrest in Basra. Iran has clearly been allied and pushed for SCIRI and Hakeem, and any unrest in the south will clearly show the limited support of Hakeem and loosen whatever grip they may have thanks to US and Iranian support. As the clashes of the past few days have shown, Hakeem's men can't take Sadr even with the backing of the fire power of the UK and US, and even though Sadr has not unleashed the full force of his supporters.

I also don't think Iran would ever back Sadr against Hakeem, even though that might be the advisable thing to do for a variety of reason. It is hard to know what the iranian establishment thinks about this whole thing as well, since the topic is not really covered in the Iranian or the lousy diasporic press.