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Dreyfuss: The Lessons of Basra, Scheer: War of the Word

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080414/dreyfuss The Lessons of Basra So President Bush s defining moment is this: the head of an Iranian terrorist force
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      The Lessons of Basra

      "So President Bush's "defining moment" is this: the head of an
      Iranian "terrorist" force has brokered a deal between the two
      leading Shiite parties in Iraq, Sadr's movement and ISCI."

      By Robert Dreyfuss
      The Nation On-Line: March 31, 2008

      At the start of the military offensive launched last week into Basra by
      US-trained Iraqi army forces, President Bush called the action by Prime
      Minister Nouri al-Maliki "a bold decision." He added: "I would say this is a
      defining moment in the history of a free Iraq."

      That's true--but not in the way the President meant it. As the smoke clears
      over new rubble in Iraq's second city, at the heart of Iraq's oil region,
      it's apparent that the big winner of the Six-Day War in Basra are the forces
      of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army faced down the Iraqi armed
      forces not only in Basra, but in Baghdad, as well as in Kut, Amarah,
      Nasiriyah, and Diwaniya, capitals of four key southern provinces. That
      leaves Sadr, an anti-American rabble rouser and nationalist who demands an
      end to the US occupation of Iraq, and who has grown increasingly close to
      Iran of late, in a far stronger position that he was a week ago. In Basra,
      he's the boss. An Iraqi reporter for the New York Times, who managed to get
      into Basra during the fighting, concluded that the thousands of Mahdi Army
      militiamen that control most of the city remained in charge. "There was
      nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will," he

      The other big winner in the latest round of Shiite-vs.-Shiite civil war is
      Iran. For the past five years, Iran has built up enormous political,
      economic and military clout in Iraq, right under the noses of 170,000
      surge-inflated US occupying forces. (For details, see my March 10 Nation
      article, "Is Iran Winning the Iraq War?") Iran has strong ties to Iraq's
      ruling Shiite alliance, which is dominated by the Islamic Supreme Council of
      Iraq, whose militia, the Badr Corps, was armed, trained, financed and
      commanded by Iranians during two decades in exile in Iran. Since then,
      hedging its bets, Iran built a close relationship to Sadr's Mahdi Army as
      well, and Sadr himself has spent most of the time since the start of the US
      surge last January in Iran. In addition, Iran has armed and trained a loose
      collection of fighters that US military commanders call "Special Groups,"
      paramilitary fighters who've kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks on
      American troops. Thus, it was no surprise when Hadi al-Ameri, the commander
      of the Badr Corps and a leading member of ISCI, traveled over the weekend to
      Iran's religious capital of Qom to negotiate the truce with Sadr that
      resulted in a shaky ceasefire in Basra.

      That Sadr emerged victorious, and that Iran succeeded in brokering the deal
      that ended the fighting, is a double defeat for the United States. It is
      also a catastrophe for Maliki, and there is already speculation that his
      government could collapse. An ill-timed offensive, poorly prepared and
      poorly executed, resulted in an embarrassing defeat for Maliki.

      Why was the offensive launched in the first place? By all accounts, Maliki,
      his faction of the ruling Islamic Dawa party, and ISCI intended to crush
      Sadr in Basra for reasons both political and strategic. Political, because
      Sadr's movement is positioned to register a massive win at the polls in
      Basra and throughout southern Iraq in provincial elections scheduled for
      October, an electoral defeat that would portend the end of the Dawa-ISCI
      regime. Strategic, because Basra is the economic engine of all of Iraq. The
      city controls Iraq's South Oil Company, which pumps and exports the vast
      majority of Iraq's oil--and for years Basra has been under the control of
      militias loyal to Sadr and to a Sadrist splinter party, the Fadhila (Virtue)
      party. By controlling the Oil Protection Force, a quasi-military force, and
      through its own militia, Fadhila is an important player in Basra, too, and
      Basra's governor is a Fadhilist. Though Fadhila has had its own clashes with
      Sadr's Mahdi Army, Fadhila kept its powder dry in the recent fighting, and
      there is no doubt that Fadhila is a bitter opponent of the Dawa-ISCI
      alliance. Last year, Maliki tried to oust the governor of Basra, Mohammed
      al-Waeli, who defied Maliki and refused to step down.

      Maliki, miscalculating badly, flew to Basra last week from Baghdad to
      personally oversee the assault on Sadr's forces. In so doing, he staked his
      prestige on the offensive. If indeed it has failed, Maliki has lost face.
      That the ceasefire ending the fighting was worked out in Qom, Iran, and
      mediated by Tehran, is doubly embarrassing for him.

      But it's far worse for the United States. President Bush strongly backed
      Maliki since the Battle of Basra started. According to Steve Hadley, the
      president's national security adviser, the decision to act in Basra was
      taken jointly between Washington and Baghdad. And US air power and even some
      ground units supported the floundering Iraqi forces, whose weakness and
      incompetence were revealed for all to see. After five years of massive US
      training and equipment, the Iraqi armed forces weren't even able to take
      control of Iraq's second-largest city.

      Adding to Bush's utter humiliation, the Iranian-negotiated truce was
      mediated by the commander of the so-called Quds Force of Iran's
      Revolutionary Guard Corps, Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, who brought
      Sadr's representatives together with Hadi al-Ameri, the Badr Corps commander
      and the leading aide to Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the ISCI leader. The Quds
      Force, you will recall, was only last year designated as a "terrorist"
      entity by the US government. So President Bush's "defining moment" is this:
      the head of an Iranian "terrorist" force has brokered a deal between the two
      leading Shiite parties in Iraq, Sadr's movement and ISCI.



      War of the Word

      By Robert Scheer
      Truthdig: March 25, 2008

      Would God ever damn America? Is there anything we have done or could do as a
      nation that might court such severe judgment from an almighty, or is there a
      peculiar American exemption from God's wrath? The prediction of God's
      damnation for bad behavior is made in both black and white churches.

      One authority on such matters, the Rev. Pat Robertson, didn't think the
      latter when he blamed the ravaging effects of Hurricane Katrina on the
      retribution against those who "shed innocent blood." Robertson's reference
      to legalized abortion cited a passage from Leviticus that the Rev. Jeremiah
      Wright also might have been thinking of when he sermonized: "The government
      ... wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America,
      in the Bible for killing innocent people," a reference to African-Americans
      sacrificed on ghetto streets.

      While the "innocents" about whom they spoke are different, the scriptural
      reference seems to be the same. As Robertson put it, in a statement
      preserved in a video clip posted on the Internet by Media Matters: "I was
      reading yesterday ... about what God has to say in the Old Testament about
      those who shed innocent blood ... 'the land will vomit you out,' " which he
      related to attacks "either by terrorists or now by natural disaster."

      Robertson, a firm ally of Republican administrations, has not always been
      warm to the presumed GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, although
      the two recently mended their strained relationship. However, in this season
      of pastor-baiting, McCain has his own problem, having expressed his thrill
      in receiving "the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee."

      Hagee, citing a planned "homosexual parade," had previously told National
      Public Radio that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment of the people of
      New Orleans for "a level of sin that was offensive to God." Obviously, the
      almighty with whom Hagee is on intimate terms is in need of MapQuest, given
      that New Orleans' gay neighborhoods were among the ones least impacted by
      the hurricane.

      Hagee long has been denounced by Catholics for labeling the Vatican "The
      Great Whore" and blaming Hitler's genocidal policies on his having "attended
      a Catholic school as a child." An Hagee issue that has some current
      relevance to the Iraq disaster is his blasting of the Roman Catholic Church
      for sponsoring the Crusades, which "plunged the world into the Dark Ages."

      In a warning that imperial adventures lose some of their luster with the
      passage of time, Hagee wrote in his book "Jerusalem Countdown": "The brutal
      truth is that the Crusades were military campaigns of the Roman Catholic
      Church to gain control of Jerusalem from the Muslims and to punish the Jews
      as the alleged Christ killers on the road to and from Jerusalem." What will
      future theologians say about George W. Bush's crusade to liberate Iraq,
      shedding the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents?

      I know what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would say were he alive today,
      for it would be consistent with his denunciation of the Vietnam War in a
      sermon at New York's Riverside Church a year before his assassination.
      Recounting his difficulty in spreading the message of nonviolence and
      personal responsibility to the very ghetto youths that the Rev. Wright has
      worked with for four decades, King stated, "I knew that I could never again
      raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without
      having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the
      world today: my own government."

      King delivered that speech the year Wright ended his six years of service in
      the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy, for which he received three commendations
      from President Lyndon Johnson, whom King was confronting. No doubt Wright
      was influenced by King's oratory decrying "the cruel irony of watching Negro
      and white boys on TV screens ... in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a
      poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block
      in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of
      the poor." And neither could Wright.

      I respect Barack Obama's right to repudiate his pastor's comments, as he
      did, but I respect even more his refusal to throw the man overboard in a
      practice we witnessed all too often with the Clintons when they came under
      right-wing attacks. Hillary did it again Tuesday, telling the right-wing
      Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial board that Wright "would not have been
      my pastor." So she says, but the record shows she was there in the White
      House on Sept. 11, 1998, when her husband posed for a photo with the Rev.
      Wright and was grateful for his support in the midst of that
      wrath-of-Leviticus blue dress flap. Ingrate.
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