Friday, December 24, 2004

A singular achievement of President Bush that he invaded Iraq for the purpose of turning the country over to the Iranians

Is Iraq headed for more chaos?- The Times of India: "Is Iraq headed for more chaos?

IANS[ FRIDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2004 09:59:15 AM ]

In less than five weeks, Iraqis hope to elect their own government. But before a single vote has been cast, the results are in. The Shiites have won.

Under the direction of the powerful Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a broad electoral alliance was announced earlier this month, uniting all Shiite factions. With some 60 percent of the population, the Shiites are expected to vote en masse for the United Iraqi Alliance, guaranteeing its victory.

The Shiites intend to form a government committed to creating an Islamic state in Iraq. Its senior ranks will include men with close ties to the Shiite clerical regime in neighbouring Iran. According to the spokesman for the alliance, the first order of business for the new government will be to negotiate the withdrawal of all American and foreign troops.

Getting the Americans out is essential to the legitimacy of any claim to rule the country. The Sunni minority, which held power under the Baath regime, is the base of an anti-American insurgency clothed in nationalist and Islamist ideology. Sunni organizations threaten to boycott the election as an American-organized farce.

The Shiites, whose alliance includes a smattering of non-Shia elements, argue the vote is a means to the same end. "Elections are the ideal way to expel the occupier from Iraq," proclaimed a Shiite banner hung recently in Baghdad.

This is not what the Bush administration had in mind when it sent American soldiers charging into Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz assured the American people a month before the invasion that Iraqi Shiites are "completely different" from their Sunni brethren in Saudi Arabia, where the mullahs dictate so much of daily life. The Iraqis, he told an interviewer, "are by and large quite secular."

The Bush administration still mouths the confident belief that a secular democracy is being born in Iraq. But it has been evident for some time that by removing the Baath regime, the United States unleashed long-suppressed political forces that have very different aspirations.

Some now raise alarms that the election will create an Islamic republic of Iraq controlled by Iran. Jordan's King Abdullah told the Washington Post earlier this month that a million Iranians have crossed the border to vote and that the Iranian regime is flooding the country with money. "We've opened ourselves to a whole set of new problems that will not be limited to the borders of Iraq," he warned.

Longtime American observers of Iraq also voice those fears. "It will be a singular achievement of President Bush that he invaded Iraq for the purpose of turning the country over to the Iranians," Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador who uncovered and documented Saddam's murderous campaigns against the Kurds, told me.

There are legitimate concerns about Iran's activities in Iraq. During Saddam's reign, Shiite organizations -- including two large parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Al-Dawa -- operated in exile from Iran. The Shiite militias were trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Ayatollah Sistani is himself Iranian in origin, though he has lived in Iraq for most of his life.

"The Shia identity transcends national boundaries; it transcends ethnic boundaries," says William Beeman, head of Middle East studies at Brown University.

But Beeman and most other experts consider fears of an Iranian-style Islamic state, one ruled directly by the clergy, overdrawn. Sistani does not share Ayatollah Khomeini's views on clerical rule, though he clearly is not averse to playing a behind-the-scenes political role.

The immediate danger in Iraq may be not Islamic revolution but civil war. Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite is growing daily. It may only worsen if the Sunnis see the election as illegitimate. The Kurds fear a Shiite government will threaten their national autonomy. They are ready to break away from Iraq entirely.

The Bush administration has focused on the military campaign against the Sunni insurgency. It seems as ill-prepared for the political struggle as it is for warfare. "I've never seen an administration as divorced from reality as this one," says Ambassador Galbraith.

Soon, however, it may not matter what Americans think about Iraq."

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