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30 August 2005


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Sistani's announcement comes as no surprise as he is known for being a pragmatist and for his dislike of the Iranian model. He is not seeking to be the Iraqi version of Ayatollah Komeini. In addition, with Sadr gaining so much support, Sistani must be seen to be taking a leadership role in guiding the process alongor else cede ground to Sadr, something he is unlikely to want to do. Sistani, in many ways is the best safeguard against too much Iranian influence in Iraq. He might be Persian, but he is not a follower of Khomeini like Ayatollah Sadr was. As for Sadr Jr. he is staking out his political future in opposition, he comes from the same ilk as Khomeini, that is why Sadr and Sistani have had such a long running fued. Sadr-Theocracy
Sistani-Moderate Progressive Islamic regime (much more democratic) experiment

As an aside I think you are right in saying that the US has been too involved in promoting democracy in Iraq. What we need to do is to provide security to enable a political process to get along. The Iraqis will have to sort out their future. No security, no new social contract, No easy or timely withdrawal from Iraq.


Interesting that Sistani has thrown in on the same turf as Sadr. From what I have read, the main pushers for a Shia federal state are SCIRI (and perhaps Tehran behind them), as they run the provincial leadership in almost all southern provinces. If Sistani throws over SCIRI, then perhaps he is choosing a tactical alliance with Sadr? IIRC, wasn't it Sistani who kept the U.S. from stomping Sadr into the ground permanently during his last rebellion?


That tells you something about Sistani. He may disagree with Sadr's philosophy and methods, but is unwilling to use brute force to win their debate. He could have endorsed the US's destruction of Sadr and his forces but instead said that all forces should withdraw from the holy places and cease fighting.

Sistani, sees himself, as responsible for his flock...that does not mean solely shiites but also all Iraqis as such he knows the Iraqi constitution as it stands cannot work. Additionally, he also knows that Sciri and Dawa are far too close to Iran to look out for the Interests of Iraq first. His actions reflect not only a tactical alliance with Sadr, but rather a recognition of the reality on the ground. Whether we like it or not, he is the best hope for the future of Iraq, free of both a Khomeini style theocracy and an Iranian backed Iraqi client state.


Without Sistani, we would be in a far worse position than we currently are. It is he who has legitimized our occupation and prevented Shiites from carrying out an all out uprising. The moment he says we have to leave, we choose to oppose him and we're screwed.


I pretty much agree with you, but I am perturbed that our hopes rest on a 75-year-old Shia cleric who should under no circumstances be mistaken for a liberal democrat or a man who even remotely likes the United States.

I think his refusal to endorse the destruction of al-Sadr made a lot of sense from his standpoint. Sadr has very large followings in Baghdad and among the poor in the south. Allowing his destruction at the hands of infidels without a peep would have alienated them from Sistani and led to a definitive split in the Shia community, which I think Sistani fears above all (it would all too easily allow the Sunni Baathists to regain control). Now he has Sadr as a club against SCIRI, if that is what is going on.

Pat Lang


You are far too trusting. pl


I think Pat Lang has identified the essentially insoluble political problem: the governing class in Iraq (the Sunnis) was always going to lose essentially all political power in a "democratic" Iraq.

The insurgency is a rational response to this prospect, and will have genuine popular support in the Sunni areas.

Nothing we do changes this. No tweaking of the constitution, jawboning, etc. will secure the Sunnis any influence at a national level. It has seemed to me from the start that the best the Sunnis could hope for was a fig-leaf of "consultations".

I see little reason to get embroiled in this conflict, which will be a civil war. We may be able to supply enough force to maintain a unitary Iraq, but like former Yugoslavia when Tito died, the lid will simply come off when we leave.


A very interesting opinion column in the NY Times about the choices we made and whose agenda is being served in getting into Iraq.


Pat Lang


I looked at it. Thanks. Fukuyama has been among the intellectual backers of the neocons. The rats are looking for a cable that leads to the pier.

Elegantly written, of course, but sometime ago it bacame evident to me that elegance is a limited virtue.

So, its the neocon Jacobins and Jacksonian America that "done it," eh?

Hmm. I'd say that the commander in chief "done it."


J Thomas

The sunnis could have a big say in a pluralistic iraqi government if the shia split into several factions that didn't get along. Say it was 5 big factions total, sunni kurd and 3 shia, all about 20% of the electorate. Then to be the "swing vote" the sunnis would only have to be more nimble than the kurds.

I can't say it's likely to turn out that way, but the shia *do* appear to be split nicely. It isn't utterly impossible.

We dealt with issues of protection for minorities when we set up the USA. Having a senate where rhode island got 2 seats was part of it.

I think in the long run it isn't good to set up a nation around particular minorities. We succeeded in giving small states enough of a veto that they joined, but we never managed enough of a veto for slave states to keep the system from completely breaking down.

Similarly, lebanon set up a system to keep christians from losing too much power, but when they had to delay taking a census because the christians would be too few, eventually it broke down.

How do you design a government that can give reasonable protection to minorities that haven't even shown up yet? But not unreasonable protection?

Still, if they could redistrict iraq so that 1/3 of the provinces were controlled by sunnis, and set up a senate where the senators represented provinces, the sunnis might feel like that was enough protection.

Pat Lang

J Thomas

I don't think the sovereign entities that were the liberated colonies could properly be called "minorities."

They were under no obligation to join, Rhode Island refused to ratify until after Virginia's ratification made a majority without her. pl

J Thomas

Vaguely similar to the iraqi situation, a lot of colonists felt their loyalty to the people of their own colony or to some smaller group. The citisens of a state that had a small population would be way outvoted by larger states if it was all one-man/one-vote. They would be minorities in that sense.

The story I heard was that their fears were allayed by having a senate where they were represented independent of their population. They couldn't get legislation passed without psasing the house where population mattered, but they could block legislation in the senate.

This is vaguely similar to the roman system where the plebes were represented by tributes who could veto legislation but not propose legislation, and a little closer to the english house of lords where the aristocrats could block legislation.

Something along those lines might possibly have worked for the sunnis in iraq. But I didn't notice anybody but me suggest it, and I never heard that the iraqis discussed it.


>The additional risk of seeing a "rump Shia Iraq with

>a common frontier and interest in Saudi Arabia and

>Kuwait should be worrisome.

But can we stop it. I think "democracy" in quotes is exactly right because democract requires respect for process. I feel even if the voters in southern cities voted out the Shiite parties it would be meaningless because these people have the militias and have typically infiltrated the security forces.

I don't think that they will give up power peacefully. Usually the kind of people who pick up undesiribles and later dump their bodies don't.

But we depend on this parties for the battle against the insurgency. It seems we have relatively few troops and a closing of soujtern Iraqi oil fields alone would terrorize already uneasy econonomies with the possible boycott of Iranian oil (and who knows even Venezuelan and Libyan) in the background.

I have to admit that I'm a pessimist, but I feel the various factions know our desperation and consider us increasingly irrelevant.

I feel that unless we were to get rid of Rumsfeld, Cheney and various leaders to indicate a clean slate, admit various mistakes, come up wth radically new plans and bring up resources that we may not even have that we are pretty much along for the ride.

Pat Lang


Oh! Yes! And they are quite aggressive if they think you are a problem.

Pat Lang

J Thomas

"The Story I heard?" you mean
The Great Compromise?" pl


It's not that I am too trusting, but rather a recognition that whether we like it or not, Sistani as the highest religious authority in Iraq (and Iran) will have a big say in the manner in which things go. Because he comes from a branch of Shia Islam that is opposed to the type of theocracy exemplified by Iran, and his standing even among Iranians he serves as a check on the power of Iran's clergy. Does that make him a liberal democrat? NO. But it does mean that any state that eventually comes to being in Iraq will be alot less like Iran that we imagine. The politicians can't pass the constitution without Sistani's backing and to get that backing they will have to get Sunni support first. Will Iraq's new constitution be a lot more religious than we are comfortable with? Probably. But we have to espect that in the heart of the Middle East, and in a country were secularism was enforced at the point of a gun. Is that bad? No. As long as the Iraqi people can agree that this is the type of state they want to live in and have a choice in the matter (as in elections and power to get rid of leaders), they are more likely to embrace it and defend it.

Pat Lang


That's a reasonable argument. I have problems with it in several ways:

-Sistani may not subscribe to the Khomeinist doctrine of "Wilayet al-Faqih" but he is already acting as though he is the supreme arbiter of future government form and structure in Iraq.

-Many of my Arab friends express suspicion that Sistani will find the actual possession of the power of influence to be an overwhelming temptation leading to its use. I am suspicious by nature and experience and I just don't trust him.

-Islam remains essentially medieval in outlook. People have every right to their religion, but I do not think that Islam within the context of its own predominant thinking is an effective vehicle for achieving modernity and a prosperous economic life for the masses. On that basis alone, I do not think the US should participate in bringing any government dominated by Islam into being. pl

J Thomas

So, if we don't participate in getting the government set up, should we pack up and leave?

What's the point in being there if we aren't helping them set up a government that can actually govern?


J Thomas :

We can help them set up a government that can govern and train their military but we cannot dictate what that government should look like, otherwise the people will never accept it, and it will last only until our last soldier leaves Iraqi soil.

Pat Lang


I couldn't agree more. I would still like to know what percentage of the soldiers are Sunni Arabs. pl

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