Amatzia Baram on the big question in Iraq



Between 1920 and 1924 the Shi’is of Iraq spilled a lot of blood in fighting the British. Their leading clerics under the leadership of Grand Ayat Allah Shirazi called for jihad and even after the collapse of the armed revolt in October 1920 they continued to object ferociously to any cooperation with the Brits. They were eventually exiled to India as a result. In June 1921 the Brits brought the Sunni Emir Faisal from the Hejaz and in August they anointed him as King of Iraq. They made up their minds: they turned to the Sunni community for cooperation. The latter, albeit with some exceptions, were pragmatic enough to accept the balance of power and act accordingly.

Iraq became Sunni dominated all the way to 2003. One of the ironies of history is that in the 1930s the Shi’i religious leadership turned a number of times to the Brits to protect them against the discrimination and oppression of the Sunni-led state. In the mid-1930s they even asked the Brits to abolish the formal independent status of Iraq and re-impose a fully-fledged British Mandate. But of no avail.

At least one Shi’i leader today is warning his community that the same scenario may be repeated if the Shi’i community does not know how to work with the US. But both the Shi’i leadership and grassroots are adamant on keeping the Sunnis out in the cold. At long last the US commanders found a common language with many Sunni tribal shaykhs and warlords and support them. It is quite possible to my mind that if the Shi’i leaders, between Maliki and Sistani, don’t show more flexibility and civil courage and if Muqtada does not cease his marauding mischief the Shi’is will lose Iraq again. It may not become a Sunni-led centralized state as it was before 2003, but it will descend into chaos and the Shi’i parts (and maybe Baghdad

too) will come under Iranian hegemony. This is something most Shi’i Arabs are far from enthusiastic about.

Amatzia Baram

Haifa University"

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21 Responses to Amatzia Baram on the big question in Iraq

  1. Jose says:

    Those events occurred before the Hezbollah as a model of Jihad and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
    IMHO, Southern Iraq is already under Iranian hegemony.
    Uri Avery’s blog best sums our adventures under Dumbya and company:

  2. taters says:

    Thank you Mr. Baram and of course, to Col. Lang for sharing this.

  3. Speaking of the Brits, it was depressing that the British Mandate was never discussed by our elite talking heads during the runup to the invasion. Nobody seemed to be interested in applying any actual analysis.
    Reading their experience there was almost a blueprint for what we encountered.
    But what truly amazed me was that the Brits didn’t heed their own lessons.

  4. Jack Kemp says:

    Tribal politics seems to be the common theme at this here blog lately. AS it should be.
    But one can’t but wonder if the creation of a failed state (Iraq) is the Objective, to perpetuate the war economy, at the risk of US national security. Thanks for posting Baram – not a likely talking head on CNN et al.

  5. robt willmann says:

    The Big Question in Iraq seems to be as stated in the first post under its name–
    “Will the government that we Americans largely created (purple thumbs and all) prove equal to the task of re-integrating all these Sunni Arab “ralliers” into the national body politic? If the government can do that, then there is likely to be a future for a united Iraq. If not, what? An inevitable military coup? De facto partition? It is not yet clear what that future will be.”
    This puts the monkey on the back of the present Iraqi “government”, the reach of which appears to end at the boundary of the “Green Zone”.
    The Tom Ricks and Karen DeYoung article noted in the post below on the Big Question in Iraq blasts out a theme in the headline and lead paragraph–
    “Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say
    Camp Liberty, Iraq — Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.”
    So it is the “Iraquis” who are “wasting” an “opportunity”, we say. The “Shiite-dominated” government’s “intransigence” is the “key threat” facing our entire “effort” in Iraq.
    This “intransigence” of the Iraqi government is worse than the “al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias”.
    Sadly, this is the same old theme that continues to plague us: the mess is always someone else’s fault or responsibility. It’s never the responsibility or fault of the U.S., Britain, and Israel.
    Recommending political reconciliation is nice, but show me the details.
    Ricks and DeYoung suggest “holding provincial elections”, without telling us what that means. Is this to elect new people to replace existing Iraqi office holders? To add additional members to parliament? To create new local governments?
    The only other suggestion is by “ambassador” Ryan Crocker,to have neighboring Sunni Arab governments “increase their official presence in Iraq”, which I assume means opening an embassy there.
    I think the last time that Shiites followed the advice of the U.S. government was when president Bush Sr. told them “to rise up” against Saddam Hussein, which they did, but then found themselves being used for target practice, with the U.S. as the spectator.
    Ricks and DeYoung make the bizarre and scandalous statement that “Military planners already worry that if security continues to improve, many of the 2 million Iraqis who fled the country will return”. These external refugees are “overwhelmingly Sunni, and many of their old houses are occupied by Shiites”. And the article nowhere mentions the plight of the over 2 million internal refugees in Iraq.
    If left alone, the Iraqis might be able to work through their problems. After all, Moqtada al Sadr is allegedly an Iraqi nationalist.
    But they will not be left alone. As I continue to maintain, the primary reason for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was to be sure there is not an independent and nationalist leader or government in that country. Next are the goals of the U.S., Britain, and Israel to control the oil, water, and financial structure of Iraq, and to suppress some of the moral and business principles of the Muslim World.
    As the Good Book says, we must take the log out of our own eye, before we complain about the speck in our brother’s eye.

  6. Homer says:

    Jose: IMHO, Southern Iraq is already under Iranian hegemony.
    No reason to be humble Jose since that’s been reported on long ago.
    Iraq: Bush’s Islamic Republic
    Volume 52, Number 13 · August 11, 2005
    By Peter W. Galbraith
    SCIRI and Dawa want Iraq to be an Islamic state.
    This program is not just theoretical.
    Since Saddam’s fall, Shiite religious parties have had de facto control over Iraq’s southern cities.
    There Iranian-style religious police enforce a conservative Islamic code, including dress codes and bans on alcohol and other non-Islamic behavior. In most cases, the religious authorities govern—and legislate—without authority from Baghdad, and certainly without any reference to the freedoms incorporated in Iraq’s American-written interim constitution—the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).
    Dawa and SCIRI are not just promoting an Iranian-style political system —they are also directly promoting Iranian interests.
    Rem.: Al-Dawa and the SCIRI have been working to transform a secular Iraq into a Shia fundamentalist republic for well over twenty years. They supported Iran in The Iraq-Iran War. The Party of God actually took hostages to release the Kuwait 17 who were involved in the bombing o fthe US Embassy in Kuwait.
    a) Beirut Bombers Seen Front for Iranian-Supported Shiite Faction, The Washington Post, January 4, 1984
    The terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the bombing of the U.S. Marine compound and the French military headquarters here may be a front for an exiled Iraqi Shiite opposition party based in Iran, in the view of a number of Arab and western diplomatic sources.
    Authorities in Kuwait say their questioning of suspects in the recent bombing there of the U.S. and French embassies indicates a clear link between Islamic Jihad, a shadowy group that says it carried out the Beirut attacks, and Al Dawa Islamiyah, the main source of resistance to the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
    Al Dawa (The Call) has been outlawed in Iraq, where it wants to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state to replace the secular Baath Socialist government of Saddam Hussein, who is a Sunni Moslem.
    It draws its strength from the large Shiite population in southern Iraq. Thousands of its most militant members were expelled to Iran in 1980 before the outbreak of the Iranian-Iraqi war and joined Al Dawa there. But it also has a large following in Lebanon among Iraqi exiles and sympathetic Lebanese Shiites.
    While Al Dawa operates out of Tehran, it is not clear whether its activities abroad are under direct Iranian control or merely have Iran’s tacit acceptance.
    b) Message From Iran Triggered Bombing Spree In Kuwait, The Washington Post, February 3, 1984
    Al Dawa, for example, is no household name in the United States.
    But it is a name important to this story.
    It leads us back to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the ruling figure in Iran; to Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the militant Lebanese Shiite leader who has been implicated–despite his denials–in the Marine and French bombings in Beirut; to Hussein Musawi, Fadlallah’s strong-arm lieutenant; to the Hakim brothers in Iran and their connections to the Middle East terrorism industry

  7. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    The bigger question would appear to be US policy toward Iran if not the region generally. Iraq does not exist in a vacuum but rather in a regional context (geographic, historical, cultural, economic, political, etc.).
    Given the US generated mess in Iraq (however defined) what should US policy be toward Iran? Preventive war? Air strike by STRATCOM? Reaching some diplomatic “arrangements” on matters of mutual interest?
    What are the implications of US Iran policy (pick a scenario) to the mess in Iraq? To the mess in the region?

  8. Homer says:

    robt willmann: Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq
    Thx for posting this!
    This is truly baffling to the mind!!!
    It shows an almost complete ignorance of the past.
    Long ago, the US openly and generously supported Saddam Hussein due to his ability to keep the pro-Iranian Shias out of power.
    And now senior military commanders portray those very same pro-Iranian Shias as being the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq?
    How could anyone be that ignorant?
    a) War Seems to Bolster Khomeini’s Appeal to the People Across the Arab
    World. By YOUSSEF M. IBRAHIM. NYT, Oct 26, 1980 [snip]
    Baath Socialist Party officers in Iraq and Iraqi Embassies abroad have been targets of bombings, all of them the work of the Daawa party, the
    religious-political organization of the Shiite opposition in Iraq. It is financed and helped by the clerical ruling establishment of Iran.
    The Daawa, which means The Call, is a bigger threat to Iraq’s Baath party than the Kurds, the Communists or the Arab nationalists, all of whom have been in the opposition for years. Its potent appeal, enhanced by fiery broadcasts from Tehran, touched religious sentiments of Iraqi Shiites, paricularly in the south, where they are concentrated.
    b) How the Baath Rules Iraq: With a Very Tight Fist; Crackdown on the ‘Call’. By YOUSSEF M. IBRAHIM. NYT, Jan 11, 1981. [snip]
    The Baath responded ruthlessly to an assassination attempt in March against Tareq Aziz, its No. 2 official. By June, thousands of followers of the pro-Iranian Al Da’waa Al Islamiyah (Islamic Call) had been rounded up. Their leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Bakr al-Sadr, who had become the rallying point for the Iraqi Shiite opposition, was summarily executed in April. Mr. Aziz told a recent visitor to Baghdad that several hundred of his followers were also executed. ” `We are, as you know quite firm in these matters,’ “the visitor quoted him saying.
    ‘Walk Free’ Prediction Gets Puzzled Reaction. San Francisco Chronicle.
    Jul 15, 1987.
    State Department officials indicated yesterday they were perplexed by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s assertion that 17 men convicted in Kuwait of bomb attacks on the U.S. and French embassies will eventually
    “walk free.” …. The 17 are mainly Iraqi Shiites identified as members of the underground Al-Daawa Party, which is pro-Iranian.
    d) Warships in Gulf Convoy. LAT, Oct 1, 1987.
    Three pro-Iranian Shia Muslim organizations in Lebanon warned Tunisia against executing seven fundamentalists convicted earlier this week of
    trying to overthrow the government of President Habib Bourguiba. The groups-Hezbollah (Party of God), the umbrella organization for those holding Western hostages in Lebanon; the Daawa Party, a Hezbollah ally, and the Islamic Coalition-warned of a confrontation and a “sweeping storm” if the “unjust death sentences” are carried out.
    [Keywords: Daawa Party, Hezbollah, Hizbollah,

  9. JT says:

    Maliki is a member of the Dawa Party.

  10. DaveGood says:

    ( Continued)
    Now they’ve decided that was some sort of “Mistake” and now arming and funding the very Sunni whose cities they’ve been busy destroying, to the obvious fears of the Shia’s.
    Meanwhile, the third internal Iraqi player, the Kurds, could find themselves at war with America’s Nato ally at any point in the near future.
    First we turn the Sunnis into enemies, now we do the same to the Shia’s, and once the Turk\Kurd conflict kicks off, well have done the same with the Kurds.
    Meanwhile, every country in the region around Iraq is outraged and Cheney\Bush’s failed polices for different reasons.

  11. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “the US openly and generously supported Saddam Hussein due to his ability to keep the pro-Iranian Shias out of power”
    This is simply incorrect. The US supported Saddam’s Iraq because the Gulf Arabs (including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) feared an Iranian conquest of their countries. pl

  12. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think that unless someone lives in Iraq and speaks Arabic one no longer can make sensible statements regarding the political forces in that country.
    Oil is being produced, shipped and sold. Who is involved in these activities and where does the revenue go?
    In Basra area, based on the open source news outlets, there are multiple power structures. What is their agenda and their dynamics?
    Is the reduction of violence in Baghdad true? If so, is it because the sectarian segregation of the city into Sunni and Shia has been largely accomplished?
    What are the agenda of various tribal Sheikhs? Some tribes have both Sunni and Shia extended families? What is the dynamics there?
    I do not think that anyone not in Iraq can form any reliable opinions about what is going on in Iraq or were she is going.

  13. Mark K Logan says:

    I agree with Babak.
    I would add another question related to the
    opportunity being squandered, as referenced in the Ricks article.
    Given the great disorder in the Shia tent, is there even anybody with enough authority to cut deals on their behalf with the Sunni tribes in there?

  14. Homer says:

    Homer: “the US openly and generously supported Saddam Hussein due to his ability to keep the pro-Iranian Shias out of power”
    PL: This is simply incorrect. The US supported Saddam’s Iraq because the Gulf Arabs (including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) feared an Iranian conquest of their countries.
    Thank you for pointing this out.
    I see what you are saying.
    Nevertheless, could you pls unpack the word “conquest”?
    You mean economic, social, religious, etc???
    a) Iraq’s Hussein; Arab who smote the Persians is riding high on the victory. By ALAN COWELL. The Gazette. Oct 9, 1988. [snip]
    When Iraq’s Shiites showed signs of restiveness at the beginning of the war with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolutionary Shia state,
    President Hussein moved quickly and brutally to deal with them.
    He responded to an assassination attempt on Deputy Prime Minister Tariq
    Aziz by executing Mohammad Bakr al-Sadr, one of the nation’s most prominent Shiite clerics and the leader of the pro-Khomeini Al Daawa
    Party, and his sister Amina bint al-Huda.
    “Membership of the Shiite-based Al Daawa Party was made retroactively
    punishable by death,” wrote two experts on the region, Shahram Chubin and Charles Tripp, in their recent book, Iran and Iraq at War (Westview).
    “Thousands of Shia in Najaf, Karbala and Al-Thawra township in Baghdad were arrested; and a campaign was initiated to expel from Iraq any Iraqi who had even the remotest connection with Iran, by birth, marriage or name.”
    b) The Man Who Would Be Feared. By YOUSSEF IBRAHIM. NYT, Jul 29, 1990. [snip]
    A few years ago, Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was asked why his Government was so ruthless with its adversaries – executing, for example, all the leaders of the Iraqi Islamic fundamentalist movement known as Al Daawa, or the Call. Mr. Aziz paused and then said, ”It is because we don’t have the time.”
    The Baath party, he said, was modernizing Iraq and unifying a tribal country divided along religious and ethnic lines.
    Unlike Europe, he said, Iraq could not afford a freewheeling democratic exercise; ”reactionary forces,” he said, might drag the nation back into religious fundamentalism.
    It is for that reason, Mr. Hussein and Mr. Aziz have argued, that Iraq went to war against Iran in 1980.

  15. rjj says:

    “I do not think that anyone not in Iraq can form any reliable opinions about what is going on in Iraq or were she is going.”
    Hell, we don’t know what’s going on in Washington.

  16. Speaking of the Brits…..
    Violence Down in Basra – AP Article
    My “victory” comment earlier in the week resulted in some comments. If the South remains quiet and we can calm down Baghdad and the North enough, that will be a “victory” and the next Pres can declare Mission Accomplished in Iraq for good and skidaddle.
    It will be something along the lines of:
    1. We went to remove WMD. Check.
    2. We invaded to provide democracy. Check. (It’s a joke, but every box can be checked off – election resulting in a government grounded in a constitution. Check, check and check)
    3. We have provided breathing room for the new Iraq government to do their thing. Check.
    We’ve already heard some minor players saying this. It will become conventional wisdom once the elections are over in November.
    That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it…until I change my mind, later.

  17. bstr says:

    The Big Question is how to bring the Middle East into a harmonious order that favors or merely includes, with satisfactory dividends, Western corporate management of natural resources. Impossible without a visonary alliance of Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, and the USA. Well, its ok to dream, isn’t it?

  18. Yohan says:

    Maliki and the ruling Shia will not make a deal until someone puts real pressure on them. Ironically the downturn in violence has made a resolution of the insurgency less likely because the violence was one of the few things pressuring Maliki. Now he thinks he has breathing room, plus US troops to insulate himself with, so he can safely ignore Sunni demands without consequence. If the US were to withdraw, or at least credibly threaten to withdraw, it would force Maliki and the Shia establishment to make deals. They would be the ones feeling the consequences of their own intransigence, rather than hiding behind US troops who currently take the brunt.

  19. I have a question. What does it mean to “come under Iranian hegemony?” Does that mean seeing a predominance of Iranians in business arrangements in southern Iraq (already done,) or does it mean actual Iranian military domination? It seems to me the latter event is unlikely, because the U.S. would stop it. In fact the U.S. would like nothing better than that provocation! Iran itself may be uninvadable due to size and topography, but any Iranian troops invading Iraq might be decimated by U.S. aerial bombardment from Gulf carriers. So it seems to me that, if the Shi’ite government is NOT responding to U.S. calls for conciliation with the Sunnis, then the Iraqi Shi’ites DON’T think they need the United States to defend their territorial interests. Therefore, either they think they are strong enough to repel an Iranian invasion, or they don’t much fear Iranian hegemony at all. What am I missing here?

  20. Babak:
    “I do not think that anyone not in Iraq can form any reliable opinions about what is going on in Iraq or were she is going.”
    I could not agree more. The lights have been out (literally!) in much of Iraq for the last four years.
    Moreover, I don’t believe Iraq is ours to partition. We are spectators now, trying to gauge movement today according to the sloppy analyses of yesterday.

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Lee A. Arnold:
    You are not missing anything.

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