"We will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes of freedom and security are fulfilled.
These two nations will be a model for the broader Middle East, a region where millions have been denied basic human rights and simple justice. [...] We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom, and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations.
This commitment to democratic reform is essential to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. [...]
The democratic hopes we see growing in the Middle East are growing everywhere."
"We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace."
Late last month Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite leader in Baghdad, traveled to Tehran to confer with his Iranian sponsors, who help pay for his ten-thousand-man private militia, the Mahdi Army. Commenting on the impending crisis between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear program, al-Sadr said, "If neighboring Islamic countries, including Iran, become the target of attacks, we will support them. The Mahdi Army is beyond the Iraqi Army. It was established to defend Islam."
...At the end of March 2004, the CPA's chief, L. Paul Bremer III, decided to take action against al-Sadr. He closed his newspaper for sixty days. This measure was compared to attacking a tiger with a flyswatter. The Mahdi Army rapidly seized much of Shiite southern Iraq, overrunning CPA offices that Bremer left undefended. The new Iraqi army and police—recruited and trained at a cost of billions of dollars—collapsed. Many Iraqis defected to al-Sadr.
For two months, the Coalition and the Mahdi Army fought pitched battles around Shiite Islam's holiest shrines. Iraq's senior Shiite clerics and politicians, all of whom saw al-Sadr as a threat, assured Bremer of their support and did nothing to help him. Iraq's Shiites were the prime beneficiary of Saddam Hussein's overthrow, but America's stock in Iraq had fallen so low that only Iraq's Kurds were prepared to stand with the United States against al-Sadr. By May 2004, al-Sadr's insurgency so disrupted US supply lines in Iraq that Bremer considered ordering food rationing for the thousands of Americans working in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone. A year after liberating Iraq, the world's only superpower was finding it difficult to feed the Americans in charge of the occupation.
Today, Moqtada al-Sadr controls one of the largest factions within the victorious United Iraq Alliance (UIA), the coalition of Shiite religious parties that won the December 2005 national elections. Nor is he the only member of the Alliance likely to side with Iran if war comes. SCIRI—the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq—is Iraq's largest political party. It was founded in Tehran in 1982, and its name gives an accurate idea of its politics. The Iranians also created, trained, and apparently still fund SCIRI's military wing, the Badr Corps, which has over 12,000 troops. Iraq's interior minister, Bayan Jabr, is the former head of the Badr Corps, whose members he has helped place throughout Iraq's national police. Dawa, the third major element in the UIA, also has close relations with Iran.
Late Saturday night, on the eve of a crucial vote to choose Iraq's next prime minister, a senior Iraqi politician's cellphone rang. A supporter of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr was on the line with a threat. "He said that there's going to be a civil war among the Shia" if Sadr's preferred candidate was not confirmed, the politician said.
Less than 12 hours later, and after many similar calls to top Shiite leaders, Sadr got his wish. The widely favored candidate lost by one vote, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim prime minister, was anointed as Iraq's next leader. "Everyone was stunned; it was a coup d'état," said the politician, a senior member of the main Shiite political coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. It was a crowning moment for Sadr, whose sudden rise to political power poses a stark new set of challenges for Iraq's fledgling democracy. The man who led the Mahdi Army militia's two deadly uprisings against American troops in 2004 now controls 32 seats in Iraq's Parliament, enough to be a kingmaker.
The insurgency is increasingly optimistic about victory. Such self-confidence was not there when the war was conceived as an open-ended jihad against an occupier they believed was determined to stay. Optimism stems from a conviction the legitimacy of jihad is now beyond doubt, institutions established under the occupation are fragile and irreparably illegitimate, and the war of attrition against U.S. forces is succeeding.
...With the US Army vastly overextended in Iraq and Iran's friends in power in Baghdad, the Iranians apparently feel confident that the United States will take no action to stop them if they try to make a nuclear weapon. This is only one little-noticed consequence of America's failure in Iraq. We invaded Iraq to protect ourselves against nonexistent WMDs and to promote democracy. Democracy in Iraq brought to power Iran's allies, who are in a position to ignite an uprising against American troops that would make the current problems with the Sunni insurgency seem insignificant. Iran, in effect, holds the US hostage in Iraq, and as a consequence we have no good military or nonmilitary options in dealing with the problem of Iran's nuclear facilities. Unlike the 1979 hostage crisis, we did this to ourselves.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush told his Iraq critics, "Hindsight is not wisdom and second-guessing is not a strategy." His comments are understandable. Much of the Iraq fiasco can be directly attributed to Bush's shortcomings as a leader. Having decided to invade Iraq, he failed to make sure there was adequate planning for the postwar period. He never settled bitter policy disputes among his principal aides over how postwar Iraq would be governed; and he allowed competing elements of his administration to pursue diametrically opposed policies at nearly the same time. He used jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reward political loyalists who lacked professional competence, regional expertise, language skills, and, in some cases, common sense. Most serious of all, he conducted his Iraq policy with an arrogance not matched by political will or military power.
These shortcomings have led directly to the current dilemmas of the US both in Iraq and with Iran. Unless the President and his team—abetted by some oversight from Congress— are capable of examining the causes of failure in Iraq, it is hard to believe he will be able to manage the far more serious problem with Iran.
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