Monday, July 31, 2006

Sistani warns us on Lebanon 

The most important man in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has warned that the United States will face dire consequences in the region if it does not move swiftly to broker a ceasefire in Lebanon. Reluctant as I am to say it, Juan Cole has the most interesting analysis of the implications that I have been able to locate:

Sistani is taking such a hard line on this issue not only because he feels strongly about it (his fatwa against the Jenin operation of 2002 was vehement) but also because he is in danger of being outflanked by Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's Mahdi Army is said to be "boiling" over the Israeli war on Hizbullah, since after all the Sadrists are also fundamentalist Shiites and they identify with the Lebanese Hizbullah. There have already been big demonstrations in Baghdad against the Israeli attacks, to which Sadrists flocked but probably also other Shiites.

Sistani cannot allow Muqtada to monopolize this issue, or the young cleric's legitimacy will grow among the angry Shiite masses at the expense of Sistani's.

Sistani is not linked to Hizbullah, which is strongly Khomeinist in orientation. Sistani largely rejects Khomeinism. He told an Iraqi acquaintance of mine, "Even if I must be wiped out, I will not allow Iraq to repeat the Iranian experience." When Sistani had his heart problems in summer, 2004, he flew to London via Beirut. He stopped in Beirut several hours, and Nabih Berri came out to the airport to consult with him. Berri is the speaker of the Lebanese parliament and the leader of the Amal Party. Amal is the party of the secularizing, moderate Lebanese Shiites. It was more militant in the 1980s but it mellowed.

So Sistani's political ties in Lebanon go to Amal much more than to Hizbullah. Sistani has many followers or "emulators" (muqallidun) among the Lebanese Shiites, though the hard core Hizbullahis tend to follow Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei of Iran instead.

Cole often draws strange and analytically suspect conclusions, but he equally often writes fascinating "inside baseball" stuff, which is why you have to pump yourself up and go over there and read his blog from time to time. In this case, read the whole thing, and then come back here and offer your comments below.


By Blogger sirius_sir, at Mon Jul 31, 11:21:00 AM:

I see that Cole notes that "US troops in Baghdad and elsewhere are planning offensives against Shiite paramilitary groups..." which corresponds to my own speculation that the recent call-up of more troops may be related to just such an offensive.

I hope that is the case. I would assume reversing the withdrawal on the basis of a need to restore order, while embarrassing, is still more politic than announcing a crackdown. But everyone knows that al Sadr--or at least his militia--has to go. We are probably at this point only waiting on an excuse to go get him/them, and I'm guessing that this Hezbollah-Israel conflict is just the spark that will set fire to, and engulf, al Sadr's ambitions.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Mon Jul 31, 01:57:00 PM:

I would not be shocked if the US, and the Iraqi government, for that matter, were not secretly pleased that Sadr has sent off a bunch of people to Lebanon to fight the Israelis. More likely than not they get themselves killed pretty quickly. Hence, less troublemakers for Baghdad.  

By Anonymous Another Princetonite (1985), at Mon Jul 31, 02:32:00 PM:

Cole often draws strange and analytically suspect conclusions, but he equally often writes fascinating "inside baseball" stuff, which is why you have to pump yourself up and go over there and read his blog from time to time.
I must thank you for doing the dirty work for me - I find Mr Cole profoundly annoying.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Mon Jul 31, 02:33:00 PM:

I would love to believe, as Cole seems to imply, that Sistani's rhetoric stems from fear of losing control to al-Sadr and not from some ingrained animosity towards Jews.

If that is the case, then neutralizing al-Sadr would calm him down, all the more reason for us to get right on it.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Jul 31, 02:35:00 PM:

I'm sure Sistani has ingrained animosity toward Jews, or at least Israel. It would be shocking if he didn't.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Mon Jul 31, 03:22:00 PM:

I'm sure he does, too. If it were up to me, someone would tell him it's time for him and his religion to grow up and get over it.  

By Blogger Mastiff, at Mon Jul 31, 07:45:00 PM:

Side note: my Arabic is very poor, but IIRC the word "amal" means "work," which would make Nabih Berri's party the Labor Party.

One can infer leftist tendencies, perhaps; in this circumstance, they might be precisely what is needed.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Sep 28, 08:06:00 AM:

Your analysis of the Lebanese and Iraqi situation dear sirs is with all respect so funny. It has very little to do with facts on the ground. If you consider us your enemy then an old advice is "know your enemy". What u are doing is actually daydreaming and wishful thinking. Maybe it is to our advantage that you continue doing so.

ps. Amal means hope not work. The Amal party is neither leftist nor secular. The word Amal in the Amal party stends for Afwaj Al Maqawama Al Lubnania that is "Lebanese resistance brigades. And by the way Amal was found by Muqtada Al Sadr Cousin(Musa Al Sadr). Muqtada Al Sadr is of Lebanese descent.  

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