We don’t need no stinkin’ ayatollah

So, Iraq exploded. The Shi’ah are now rising against us. How did this happen? As always, a misunderstanding of the “other.” In this case, the mistake was so basic it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

There are two basic camps in Iraq right now, those who believe in vilayat-e faqih (rule by the clerical elite, led by Muqtada as-Sadr‘s family – of whom he is the only surviving male member – and those who don’t, led by Ayatollah Sistani. [Yes, this is a gross oversimplification, but I’m making a simple point.]

So, the US goes into Iraq and decides not support Sistani because he is an ayatollah, and the government believes that to be an inherently bad thing. In turn, they avoid him like the plague, although he initially supports Coalition activities, believes in democracy and is opposed to a Khomeinist vision of the state. Instead we throw in with Muqtada as-Sadr because he is not an ayatollah, although his family has supported vilayat-e faqih. It’s important to note that Muqtada is an over-glorified thug, trading on the good name created by the intellectual giants of his family (you don’t have to agree with them to respect them). He’s a bug who should have been left alone, and he would have disappeared. Instead, we propped him up, he got funded by the Iranians, and he follows an extreme Khomeinist. But, because he wasn’t an ayatollah, we liked him.

Somebody woke-up and said maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, so we should arrest him. While I think there is some justification for his arrest, the way we presented the case was weak. So now we have the Iraqis fighting for a man they shouldn’t have liked, because we told them to like him. The Shi’ah are giving loyalty to a buffoon, because we so alienated Sistani, he’s not clearly in support of us anymore.

The basic mistake? Not recognizing ayatollah is a title of learning and that intelligent, learned people disagree (shades of the Title VI debate). Instead, we supported someone against our own best interests (not Saddam again!) and now it’s costing us lives and legitimacy.

There are other basic “d’oh!” moments I hope to address soon.

2 thoughts on “We don’t need no stinkin’ ayatollah

  1. Thanks for the info (and for keeping it simple) . . . it’s hard to believe that the government doesn’t have people who understand this, though.
    Just curious now, as to the best way to resolve the situation in a way that won’t encourage thugs.

  2. Good question. I won’t do a hindsight analysis, i.e. what should have been done. The situation we have now is too pressing to let the public debate devolve into finger pointing, but I hope somewhere the historical analyses are being made to avoid future such mistakes.
    The first step seems to be to cease operations in Fallujah for a bit; don’t keep hitting the hornet’s nest, especially when it appears we are undermanned there. (My aggregator just came up with a headline saying that is in fact what we are doing. Maybe I’m not so ill-informed after all.) Fallujah is a Sunni stronghold and has been opposed to us from day 1. Don’t write it off, but realize brute force is not going to get us what we need there.
    Maintain operations in Najaf, which is critical to the Shi’ah. However, you need to tie in the propaganda machine. Don’t play up Shi’ah-Sunni differences as it will only create problems later. Rather, play up the fact that Najaf is terribly important historically, and the damage that could be done would be immesurable. Make it clear the US doesn’t want to fight and if the Najaf community would help stop hostilities, the US would like to help build up the heritage of Imam Ali. Concurrently make nice with Sistani. Have him start saying the same things in Najaf – stop hostilities, build up the history, etc. – and all of sudden you’ve bought back a major ally, and subverted the moral, if not practical, support of Fallujah and as-Sadr.
    That would be my immediate band-aid.
    As to the government’s knowledge, I’ve never been convinced before as I am now that ideology has supplanted policy in this administration. I’m sure at some point there were people who knew what was going on in Iraq, but they’ve been ignored, demoted or forced out because of the frustration level.

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