1) Gulliver in Iraq — for how long?
US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, best epitomizes the actual status of the US occupation of Iraq, which looks more and more indeed, in its relation to Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, like Gulliver among Lilliputians and Blefuscudans (Google shows that the reference to Gulliver with regard to Iraq is already very frequent — you know how this episode of Gulliver’s Travels ended).
After having meddled very unsuccessfully in Iraqi haggling over the draft constitution, and having proved unable to convince the Shiite parties to water down their own demands in order to get an impossible consensus, the Ambassador is terrified at the result he could not prevent. One more time, the US is proving to be an “apprentice-sorcerer” in the Middle East (after so many decades of failed apprenticeship, it is high time for the US government to quit this ambition).
From the very beginning of its occupation of Iraq, the US administration has sought to apply the classical imperial recipe of “divide and rule.” In order to be successful, such a game needs smart Machiavellian players: definitely not what you’ve got in Washington. The result now is that, whether the draft passes the referendum or not, there will be a largely autonomous Shiite entity in Southern and Central Iraq, in control of the major part of Iraqi oil reserves and allied with Iran. When one bears in mind the fact that the bulk of Saudi oil reserves are located in the Shiite-majority Eastern province of the US-protected Saudi Kingdom, one gets to realize the full extent of what is more and more of a nightmare for Washington.
For those who do not know about the Saudi Eastern province, here are excerpts from a good Wikipedia description:
“Ash Sharqiyah, known as Eastern Province is the largest province of Saudi Arabia, located in the east of the country on the coasts of the Persian Gulf … It has an area of 710,000 km² and a population of 2,886,700 (1999). …
The Eastern Province was conquered by the Saudis in 1914 on the Ottoman Empire. It had been known as Al Hasa under Ottoman rule.
The Eastern Province is largely Shi’ite, which makes it a very dangerous place for the ruling Sunni family to visit. Some villages are virtually no-go areas for the security forces. The reason for this is that Shi’ites in the country often live in bad conditions because Wahhabism is the State religion, and shi’ites classification as kuffar [infidels] has led to the denial of certain rights for them.
Saudi Aramco, the oil producing company of the Kingdom, is based in Dhahran, which is located in the Eastern Province, and most decisions on oil policy and production are made there. Saudi Arabia’s main oil and gas fields are all located in the Eastern Province, whether onshore or offshore.”
Khalilzad is trying desperately and hectically now to negotiate some kind of last-minute compromise, while there are more and more US statements (C. Rice recently) distancing themselves from the draft constitution. “Divide and rule” is an astute imperial recipe when it serves as a way to keep control over a territory. But when it messes up and leads to the most important part of this territory threatening to acquire autonomy, free itself from the tutelage of the Empire and ally with the latter’s bitterest regional enemy, the result has only one name: it is a disaster.
Khalilzad is actually trying to “limit the damage” to US interests by seeking some compromise through which key Iraqi Sunni and Shiite forces could be “reconciled” so that some kind of centralized Iraq could be held together, with the US as main broker/mediator — in other words, Khalilzad is trying to rescue “operation divide and rule.” In this endeavor, the US Ambassador, far from looking as a “honest broker,” is acting more and more like a local player in Iraqi politics (which is by itself an indication of the big failure of the Bush administration’s designs). Khalilzad is now working openly hand in hand with Iraqi CIA-buddy and former “Prime Minister,” Iyad Allawi: they are conducting together Washington’s last-minute attempts, meeting together with the Kurdish leadership, etc. On the other hand, Washington has asked the Arab League — which is even more under US domination than the UN is — to mediate on a parallel track. Below are some indications of the bright results of Washington’s work on these two parallel tracks among Iraqi Shiites.
2) Khalilzad’s last-ditch proposals
Excerpted from a report by Su’dad al-Salihi in today’s Al-Hayat:
“Ali al-’Adad, a member of the Central Committee of SCIRI, told Al-Hayat that ‘the US Ambassador’s initiative is actually an attempt to reshuffle the cards, with the aim to embarrass Shiite negotiators under the pretext of reinforcing national unity.’
“He added that ‘the initiative included seven proposals the most important being the creation of a Higher Commission for the revision of the constitution, which would include representatives of the parties and discuss the constitution and its objectives, in order to formulate amendments, lift the ban on the participation of Ba’athists in political and governmental instances and stop their prosecution, and limit federalism by a law, including implementation measures and conditions.’
“Al-’Adad stated that the UIA’s position on these proposals is ‘total rejection of the two proposals regarding the prosecution of Ba’athists and federal provinces.’
He pointed to the fact that ‘the adoption of a set of measures putting limitations on the creation of federal provinces, as included in the initiative, would make it difficult for the Shiites to set up a province in the Center and South in the future.’
“As for the proposal to create a Higher Commission for the revision of the constitution, ‘we are discussing the proposal and have asked for another formulation.’
“The SCIRI Central Committee member described the initiative as ‘an American-Kurdish trick aiming at the creation of a Shiite bloc led by Iyad Allawi, the former Prime Minister and present leader of the “al-Iraqiya” bloc, to divide the ranks of the Shiites.’
“He added that ‘neither the US Ambassador nor the Kurds nor anybody have any guarantee that the Sunnis will support the draft constitution,’ and that ‘the whole story is nothing but a trick to impede the political process and stop the intellectual and political emancipation of the Shiites who are governing the country at last.’”
3) The Arab League’s “mediation”
Arab sources reported Muqtada al-Sadr’s position on the Arab League’s interference purposely downplaying, if not plainly ignoring, the most important part of this position that considered any Arab troops intervening in Iraq as “occupation troops.” Here is my translation of Muqtada al-Sadr’s communiquÃ©:
“In the name of the Almighty,
“We make two official demands to the Arab League:
“First: that it formally condemns the crimes of the occupation, the terrorist crimes against civilians and holy places and the deeds of what is called Zarqawi.
“Second: that it formally condemns Saddam’s deeds and calls for his execution or his fair trial by honorable Iraqis [most Shiites hold in high suspicion the judge appointed by the US occupation to try Saddam Hussein]
“With these two conditions fulfilled, the Arab League will be able to intervene in Iraqi affairs politically, not by sending troops; the latter will be considered as occupation troops with all the consequences.”
6 Ramadan 1426 [October 9, 2005]
Gilbert Achcar is the author of The Clash of Barbarisms and Eastern Cauldron, both published by Monthly Review Press in New York.