Dreyfuss: The Lessons of Basra, Scheer: War of the Word
- View Sourcehttp://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 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
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.