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.