Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mixed Signals IV

Iraqi PM Noor Al Maliki is promising a cabinet shake-up before the March 10th Conference with the "neighbours". According to AP/CNN, nine current cabinet members will be ousted, including all six loyal to radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who until now has been a Maliki ally. Good news? Not necessarily. Al Sadr has been far more of an Iraqi nationalist than the SCIRI crowd, who are quite open about wanting a seperate Shiite state in the South with close ties to Iran.

Maliki is also promising other top officials will face prosecution for ties to insurgents, sectarian militias and death squads and sources say there could be up to 100 arrests including members of parliament.

It seems clear that this is all under pressure from the US, but if Maliki ignores SCIRI and it's Badr brigades he will be creating conditions for an inter-militia Shia bloodmatch while actually pushing his government further into orbiting Iran. I'm just not certain that's what the Bush administration really wants, but they've consistently used Sadr as a demonic figure while practically ignoring the Badr so that's what they are going to get.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad of Iran and Saudi King Abdullah emerged from a closed-door session today to announce that both nations would work to fight the spread of sectarian strife that is already spilling over their neighbour.
The two parties have agreed to stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters without elaborating.
But Ahmadinejad was a bit more vocal according to dpa German Press (via Raw Story):
"Iran and Saudi Arabia are two great and powerful Islamic countries and accordingly have numerous mutual obligations and responsibilities in the Islamic world and Middle East," Ahmadinejad said in a statement on the website of the Iranian presidential office.

"The eyes of hope of Islamic nations are focused on these two countries, expecting from us to settle their problems and cover their needs, and therefore bilateral ties should be far beyond relations by just two neighbouring countries."

Ahmadinejad further said that in the current critical juncture, "coordination between Iran and Saudi Arabia could strengthen identity and greatness of the Islamic world."

The Iranian president thanked the Saudis for their efforts during pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, attended every year by millions of Muslims worldwide including more than 80,000 Iranians.

He called for expansion of ties in the fields of business, energy, culture and theology.

The Iranian website quoted Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz as saying that Saudi Arabia is the "second home country for Iranians."

"Today, the Islamic world has many enemies who want to sow discord between the two countries, but our two nations are Muslims with a united belief and therefore enjoying good relations," Abdullah said.

"We have the duty to confront the enemies with wisdom and reason and not allow them to realize their aims of sowing discord."
The Iranian and Saudi Arabian governments have the potential, between them, to greatly reduce sectarian violence in Iraq. Not by standing on the sidelines mouthing platitudes but by acting to cut off aid to both Sunni and Shiite Iraqi groups from sympathizers in other countries including their own. However, these statements show how that would be accomplished - by reminding Sunni and Shiite alike that they are Muslim first and that Islam is seen as the enemy by many in powerful positions in other nations.

Israel is increasingly taking an obstructive stance on Saudi-backed peace proposals in Palestine, after being very pro in the earlier stages. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have declared interests in having nuclear power industries which would be more acceptable on the international stage if they could be seen as strong on making the Middle east a nuclear weapon free zone. Between them, the Saudis and the Iranians can carve up the region into mutually supporting spheres of influence if they can convince the other arab nations to fear Iran less than some other threat to their interests. That all means Israel is going to come under pressure again, not least on it's own nuke arsenal and absence from the NPT. Expect such issues to come up at the Baghdad conference, irregardless of Israel's attendance. And yet again, it's hardly going to be good news for the neocons in the Bush administration.

In the run-up to the conference, one of the most important factors to watch is the rapidly shifting loyalties of the various Sunni and Shiite factions. It's almost as if someone tried, very much on purpose, to set them at each others throats and now certain figures are beginning to realize they've been had. That would be a simple deduction, but the truth may be more complex. Rami G. Khouri examines the possibilities in a must-read article republished in Canadian Dimensions.
We are in the midst of a potentially historic moment when the modern Arab state order that was created by the Europeans in circa 1920 has started to break down, in what we might perhaps call the Great Arab Unraveling.

Shattered Iraq is the immediate driver of this possible dissolution and reconfiguration of an Arab state system that had held together rather well for nearly four generations. It is only the most dramatic case of an Arab country that wrestles with its own coherence, legitimacy, and viability. Lebanon and Palestine have struggled with their statehood for half a century; Somalia has quietly dropped out of this game; Kuwait vanished in 1990 and quickly reappeared; Yemen split, reunited, split, fought a war, and reunited; Sudan spins like a centrifuge, with national and tribal forces pushing away from a centralized state; Morocco and the Western Sahara dance gingerly around their logical association; and internal tensions plague other Arab countries to varying degrees.

...The Middle East has suffered so much homegrown tyranny and sustained external assaults that it has become a dangerous pressure cooker, given that a majority of citizens live with enormous, still-growing dissatisfaction in their economic, social, ethnic, religious, or national lives. If the pressure is not relieved by allowing the region and its states to define themselves and their own governance values, the pot will explode. I suspect we are witnessing both things happening together these days.

On the one hand, Islamist, ethnic, sectarian, and tribal movements are growing and flourishing all over the Middle East - and are aided by Iran - in a dramatic example of collective self-assertion. On the other hand, massive external pressure, led by the US, some Europeans, Israel, and some Arab governments, fights back, hoping to keep the lid on a region trying to define itself and liberate itself from the modern legacy of the American, British and Israeli armies.

The pervasive incoherence of this bizarre picture makes it perfectly routine for Arab monarchies to support Salafist terrorists, for Western democracies to ignore the results of Arab free elections, for Iranians and Arabs, and Shiites and Sunnis, to work hand in hand while also fighting bitter wars, for Islamists and secular Arabs to join forces, for freedom lovers in London and Washington to support seasoned Arab autocrats, for Western and Arab rule-of-law advocates to sponsor militias, and for Israel and the US to perpetuate Israeli policies that exacerbate rather than calm security threats and vulnerabilities in the region.
If Khouri is right, then the "unravelling" will only get worse, alliances more chaotic and faster shifting. Iraq will then be the least of the world's worries. If Sy Hersh is right in claiming that the Bush administration has been deliberately accelerating that "unravelling" then they will have ended any chance of America's national interests being met in Iraq or in the region - not to mention making the world a very much more dangerous place.

No comments: