Friday, August 27, 2004

So Who Is The Winner?

Juan Cole gives this assessment:

I think the big losers from the Najaf episode (part deux) are the Americans. They have become, if it is possible, even more unpopular in Iraq than they were last spring after Abu Ghuraib, Fallujah and Najaf Part 1. The US is perceived as culturally insensitive for its actions in the holy city of Najaf.

The Allawi government is also a big loser. Instead of looking decisive, as they had hoped, they ended up looking like the lackeys of neo-imperialists.

The big winner is Sistani, whose religious charisma has now been enhanced by solid nationalist credentials. He is a national hero for saving Najaf.

For Muqtada, it is a wash. He did not have Najaf until April, anyway, and cn easily survive not having it. His movement in the slums of the southern cities is intact, even if its paramilitary has been weakened.

I'm not sure his paramilitary has weakened, given that while the US and international press focused on Najaf, the Mahdi Army gained practical control of the South and Sadr City. It may grow even stronger if the survivors in Najaf learnt tactical lessons from the fighting. On the other hand, unless Sami Ramadani's optimism (which I don't share; see Sadr Is Winning series below) is justified and Sadrists can learn and improve on the political-social front too (i.e. be more inclusive and circumspect and control less by fear), the way the Mahdi controls these large areas could lead to enough disillusionment on the part of the population to seriously weaken Sadr again.

UPDATE 29/08: The Christian Science Monitor's journalist in Baghdad concluded Sadr was strenghtened. Also as an effect of the shootings of pro-Sistani protesters in Najaf.

BAGHDAD – Six months ago, Sheikh Jawad al-Khalasi was what most would consider an Iraqi Shiite moderate. Critical of the militant ideas of fellow Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalasi preached a more cooperative approach toward the Americans and the interim Iraqi government.

Then, last Thursday, when Iraqi snipers opened fire on him and thousands of demonstrators converging on Najaf, hoping to end the siege there and protect the shrine, Khalasi changed his mind. Now he's a radical, a troubling sign that Mr. Sadr has grown stronger from a three-week-long standoff that the Iraqi government once hoped might reduce Sadr to irrelevance.

..."This is the beginning of the end for the Americans," says Khalasi, speaking from his home in Baghdad's upper-class Shiite district of Kadhimiya. "What will happen now is that all the political parties will unite to kick the Americans out of Iraq. You have seen even the Sunni people starting to support Moqtada. All this will encourage people to be united."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Report From Sadr City

On the issue of how Sadr's popularity develops in the current situation, a first piece of evidence is in an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor, titled Sadr loyalty grows, even as Sistani returns

Firing On Demonstrants

In seems US-created Iraqi forces in Najaf governate are hell-bent upon preventing a peaceful solution in Najaf. There are now half a dozen events with deaths, altough most news reports don't separate them, so here is a little summary.

First, yesterday Iraqi National Guard shot at Sadrists who were walking from Kufa to Najaf, after Sadr urged his followers to join the peaceful pilgrimage to Najaf Sistani called for, killing eight. (See Juan Cole and AP reports.) Today, the Grand Mosque of Kufa (the center of Sadrism), with worshippers inside, was hit by mortars, with dozens of dead. Later that thay, the Sadrists again attempted to march to Najaf, and again were fired at (see alphabetcity too). At the same time, another mosque in Kufa was fired on.

But also today, protesters arriving from Diwaniyyah were also fired upon (see middle of this report). This group may be identical with the Sistani supporters who are claimed to be shot at after armed gunmen mixed among them to shoot at police (see this Reuters report). However, Juan Cole misunderstood a report about two dead in Hilla, believing they were shot at in Hilla - but they were only transported to the hospital there from Kufa.

Now, hopefully, this outrageous carnage won't stop Sistani's move, and politics can reign again. If it will, we will see whether Sadr or Sistani will come out better from this. Raed Jarrar is sarcastic about Sistani calling for a 10 million man march but achieving a 10,000-man one, but that may still be more than what Sadr can mobilise - so I would't dismiss Sistani just because of that. Also, if he succeeds as peacemaker, that will make him regain some of the popularity lost outside Najaf because of his silence after his "Red Line" was violated. (As for inside Najaf, I'm not sure how much he lost, i.e. to what extent the civilian dead from snipers and bombings could be accepted as 'collateral damage' for crushing the Sadrists by the mostly middle-class, pro-Hakim, pro-Sistani Najafis.) The question is whether Sistani can find a way of peacemaking that weakens Sadr (as he surely wants to), or not.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Farce At The Olympics

After a series of dubious jury decisions, now there is a dubious "doping case" - and it is highly on-topic on my blog, because the international press is repeating stuff without checking again.

I mean the case of Hungarian discus gold medal winner Róbert Fazekas. Headlines are that he doped, or that he tried to give someone else's urine sample, or that he refused to give an urine sample - each of these is not only untrue, but contrary to what stands in the committee decision stripping him from his gold medal.

He was stripped from his gold medal for refusing further cooperation after pissing 25 ml, while proscribed are 75 ml. No attempt at a fake sample, neither a lack of sample, nor a positive sample. The big issue missing from the reports (and the main basis for a coming protest by the Hungarian sports federation) is that the doping committee made its decision on the basis of only a rules violation, and omitted the testing of the sample - which they could have done: for while 75 ml are proscribed, the testing method only needs 5 ml.

This is fact.

What is only testimony is the story of the other side: why and how Fazekas refused further cooperation. His defense and a Hungarian doctor who was eyewitness told that he waited for four hours, and then two men came to witness his pissing, contrary to the one prescribed in regulations, and as he began pissing, they touched his penis (presumably looking for a hidden pipe), rather than just looking at it as prescribed in the regulations. But this wasn't yet when he left: he protested he wants to rest and not be molested, so he was offered to go to the Olympic hospital under supervision - which he first accepted. But then it turned out this is not an offer of taking a rest, but of supervised sitting around until he can piss again, supervised by the same two gentlemen who fondled his penis. At this point Fazekas had enough, and left. Certainly a rules violation, but - especially if the above account is true and there were rules violations on the controller's side - no reason to strip him from his medal.

UPDATE 26/08: The reason for the special attention to Fazekas was an anonymous letter received by authorities, describing a method used by certain (named) Hungarian heavy athletes. Yesterday morning I knew no details, but now German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung brings the story of a German trainer, who claims he received a similar letter from Hungarian rivals of Fazekas two years ago. The claimed method: at a time when athletes didn't have to fully undress, the athlete would hide a bag behind his back, with a transparent tube leading to his penis. The author of the article accepts the charges without questioning (and proof), but there is unintentional irony in the last paragraph (my translation):

On Wendesday afternoon, it spread across the news that German discus thrower Lars Riedel reported to his functionaries about Fazekas's tricks just like the trainer. This time one year ago. "All fine and good," commented the trainer, "then how did it happen that he was exposed only now? Why did our functionaries not pursue the case when nothing happened?"

Well, maybe because...

On the other hand, Fazekas might yet have been doping. The most suspicious moment is that he left for home hours before the committee decision stripping him from his medal. This may be because A) since the anonymous letter was written, he invented some improved method to hide the sack on his nacked body and from controllers watching from two directions; or because B) the controllers were not nearly as thorough as the Hungarian doctor claimed or as one would expect from readers of the anonymous letter; or because C) that untested 25 ml probe is positive.

A further development and further point of suspicion is that the friend of Fazekas, hammer throwing gold medal winner Adrián Annus, who was on the list but who cooperated fully and had a negative post-competition doping probe, was ordered to submit himself to a second test until Sunday - or else his medal will be taken away, too. In his first public response, he displayed outrage, but didn't say whether he will go to the test.

UPDATE 26/08 II: Annus now declared there is a campaign against him and he believes his second sample could be manipulated, so he won't take a second test. Well, this sounds like an admission - from this point, my cursiousity is focused on how he could fool the doctors the first time.

UPDATE 27/08: It turns out Annus also had a blood test - I'm not sure how that could have been faked, with controllers expecting manipulation. However, as a B test can be made at an independent laboratory, if he fails to give a probe by midday today he is almost certainly guilty. On the other hand, Lars Riedel named the Hungarian rival of Fazekas who supposedly gave him the anonymous mail, but that athlete denied it and said he considers suing, while Fazekas already decided to sue Riedel. In the meantime, the number of Hungarian weightlifters who were either tested positive or broke off the test like Fazekas climbed to three. In the latest case - unlike the first -, officials doubted the results and hope the B prove will be negative - tough, I heard so much contradictory blather from these inept Hungarian officials that I don't think they ever talk in good faith. One of the issues they made contradictory statements about was the time Fazekas left for home - some said at midday (the decision on him was at 16 o'clock), others claimed he is still there in the evening. He himself claims he left for home just after hearing the decision.

Western readers might say that these cases (if true) are examples of the poor man's doping, while US or German or even Chinese atheletes can use design doping their chemical industry developed to be undetectable, but I don't think that is an excuse: it is still unfair to honest sporters, even if the stake for them is only qualification to the Olympics, not winning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Sadr Is Winning IV

Apparently, Lenin's Tomb had the same thoughts as I did - but wrote them down in a more eloquent and scholarly fashion.

Meanwhile, ex-refugee-from-Saddam's-Iraq Sami Ramadani has a very optimistic view of Sadr. While I don't share it as of now, I certainly agree Sadr seems to have been learning in the last two years. Here is one paragraph, that contains the essence of Ramadani's optimism:

There are now signs that, like Nasrallah in Lebanon, Sadr is learning that he needs to build bridges and links with Iraq's varied sects, religions, nationalities and secular political trends. After Iraq's proconsul Paul Bremer appointed the now defunct Iraqi Governing Council last year, Sadr uni laterally declared the appointment of an alternative government composed solely of his supporters. It went down like a lead balloon. However, when asked last week about the political and social programme of al-Tayyar al-Sadri's (the Sadri current), one of Sadr's main spokesmen said that Sadr opposed the publication of such a detailed programme because it had to evolve from and be agreed at a conference of all Iraq's political forces. Indeed, if the Sadri current is to last the distance, he has to also take on board that the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraqi women, particularly in the cities, will want a major input.

Sadr Is Winning III

For another leftist Iraqi's take on Sadr winning, read Raed's latest post on his blog, he puts the blame where it belongs. Also, Salam Pax in his latest post, while still blaming Muqtada for deciding to up the ante while it was the Marines and Negroponte, he wrote this:

In Najaf and in Sadr City meeting the men who form the Mahdi Army has made me reconsider my view of them, they are simple people, always very friendly and welcoming. It is their leaders who worry me.

...which resonates with my point about Khomeini.

By the way, I mention it here, of course Sadr is winning even should he be killed in the next few hours/days/weeks. Shi'itism is strongest about martydom (the importance of self-sacrifice is so deeply ingrained in the culture that even the anti-clerical Iranian youth is inspired by it, tough to actions like kissing in public in front of the religious police), Muqtada's death would make the Sadrist movement stronger just like his father's death. This should be obvious to anyone who read up on the matter just a bit, but America's elite now listens to Michael Ledeen-like "experts"...

Monday, August 23, 2004

Sadr Is Winning II

Another hilarious example of contradictory US propaganda - from an AP story:

The size of the al-Sadr's forces in the Old City appeared to have decreased Monday with the U.S. advance, witnesses said. Fewer fighters were seen in the streets and some were seen leaving Najaf, residents said. Militant medical officials said at least two insurgents were killed and four others injured.

Now, if the Mahdi Amry is fleeing, how did they get across the supposed tightening US cordon around the Imam Ali Shrine?...

Sadr Is Winning

Over the past 17 days the standoff between Sadr's Shia militia and Iraq's US-backed interim government has been portrayed as a conflict that the renegade cleric will eventually lose. In fact, he is winning.

The above quote is from The Observer, a pro-war British weekly.

They also compare last Friday's charade of the Allawi 'government' claiming the control of the Imam Ali Mosque, and the capture of 400 fighters, to Comical Ali's propaganda. A propaganda that, unlike Comical Ali's, most of the Western TV news media - and not just the American - bought into anyway. It is amazing how they fall for every new US/US puppet government propaganda line, even after two years of being proven wrong in short notice.

And then there is the Christian Science Monitor. Tough certainly not a pro-Bush outlet, their reporter filed two reports from Najaf, filled with hypothetising about various dangers the Mahdi Army could pose to his life - but the only civilian dead he saw was shot from a US Bradley. In the second report, linked above, he also mocks a Sadrist who told him about awaiting martyrdom, just because he won't reveal his full name - the reporter, after weeks in Iraq, seems unaware of the long-running Iraqi tradition of persecuting relatives. But it is an interesting report anyway - and there is a nudget that brings us back to the propaganda lie theme; in light of the US Army's denial today of having fired the shot that damaged an outer wall of the Imam Ali Mosque:

"You realize that what you are doing is risky," said a US Army major, whose last name was Robertson. "That shrine might not be around much longer."

The painful thing about Sadr winning is that while Sadr is a freedom fighter, and according to CPA polls but contrary to what you read in most reports he is popular, but he is also a fighter for theocracy most of his compatriots don't want. This is something many in the anti-war camp, sticking to a simplistic script themselves, tend to overlook or dismiss. And it doesn't help that possibly most members of the Mahdi Army aren't really religious fanatics - as has been reported, some drink beer, most are disaffected ghetto youth, and the Iraqi nationalism part in Sadr's credo seems to have more pull - if you consider Khomeini. Khomeini was another freedom fighter who also fought for theocracy, and his takeover after the victory of the Iranian revolution resulted in the loss of freedom just won not just for the wide masses, but many of the actual revolutionaries too. Even some high-ranking clerics who didn't agree with Khomeini were arrested or put under house arrest.

Ever since the US invasion begun, all realistic choices for Iraq I saw were bad choices. I still do. Now the two I deem most likely are:

  1. In a protracted struggle taking further years under whoever wins the November US elections, Sadr wins, and as unifying figure, becomes Iraq's de-facto leader in one form or other, and builds a theocracy less formal but just as opressive as Iran's - and then enters a long struggle with Iran for dominance in the Shi'a world.

  2. In a protracted struggle taking further years under whoever wins the November US elections, Sadr is killed, but the US is ultimately driven out, while Iraq falls apart - not into the Sunni/Shi'a/Kurd subsets uninformed Westerner journalists expect, but kind of city-states and some larger regions, all controlled by militias.

On this subject, I recommend people to read the first dozen posts in Salam Pax's second blog. you may think he was away in London for too much time to truly relate to Iraqi relality, you may think he is wrong about whom to blame for the Najaf battle (see previous post), yet you have to contemplate that for him it is not just the progress of US imperialism and the legality of the invasion and justice done for past war crimes that is at stake, but his personal future - and as a gay liberal secular Iraqi, he doesn't have the luxury to accept any solution to the former.