Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Saudi Love-Fest, Sistani and the Kidnapped Translator

Saudi Love-Fest

The Saudis, and their bushels of money, are back in full force in Washington DC. The Saudi ambassador, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, has been operating a low-intensity charm campaign for the last year and a half, and this Monday and Tuesday (October 30-31) marks the Grand Coming-Out Party for all those closet "petrosexuals."

They’ve picked the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center as their venue.

Some will misinterpret the sight of Saudis in dishdashas with smooch marks on their behinds as a sort of Halloween gimmick. No it isn’t, but it still quite scary. Anyone taking a close look at Washington’s policy towards the Middle East would be amiss not to factor-in the Saudi influence.

There was a short period of time after 911 when what the Saudis had to say did not matter for all the obvious reasons. But it seems that old habits die hard in this town, and there is an emerging market for benzene-coated, self-serving Saudi “wisdom.”

The Saudi refrain consists of four words: “We told you so.” Their talking points are entitled: “Democracy is Bad,” “The Shi'as are Bad” and “Wahhabis on a Leash.”

Democracy is toxic to any ruling family that fixes its own name unto a nation in the 21st century. The Shi'as live on top of the oil fields, and if they get too uppity and go their own way, then it’s back to camel hair as the nation’s top export. And of course, Wahhabi radicalism, like fire, can be kindled yet harnessed to keep enemies of the state, such as democrats or Shi'as, under control.

I wonder if any journalists in attendance would ask Prince Turki about a certain oil company he was affiliated with back in the late 1990s called Ningharco, which in turn enjoyed good relations with the Taliban. The question should be, “Why was that?”

[The 2-day program of the “15th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference” is posted in the comments section]

Sistani=Evil Personified

The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King wrote an Op-Ed today titled “The Grand Ayatollah Behind the Curtain.” What King basically says is that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is a terrible guy for refusing to meet with American officials. And that his recalcitrance is a massive failure for America’s Iraq policy.

Oh, give me a break.

It is despicable how Washingtonians settle their election-season scores with Iraqi lives. Not only has Sistani prevented, through his cool-headedness, a massive wave of reprisals by Shi'as against Sunni provocation, he had also been instrumental in helping Iraq’s democracy stand on its feet—sometimes in contravention of the “strong man” fantasies held by some American policy-makers (I’m looking at you, Warrick) as King himself noted.

To say that Sistani has not met with American officials because “they are non-Muslims and thus he considers them to be kafir, or infidels” is a ridiculous assertion; Sistani has received many Iraqi Christian delegations and managed to charm their socks off. Plus, the founding thesis of the column is flawed, since Sistani had received Emad Dhia Al-Khirsan (an American citizen, and a Shi’a) in the past who, at the time, was technically a U.S. official.

Sistani not deigning to serve up tea and cakes to visiting American officials is the least of Iraq’s—or America’s—worries at the moment. The fact that he has been a maintainer of civil peace, and hence saved American lives, goes unacknowledged by King.

King also takes issue with Sistani forbidding “music for entertainment, dancing and playing chess, and forbids women from shaking the hands of any men other than their fathers, brothers or husbands. His whole purpose is to promote Shiite theology…” Yeah duh, that’s what the turban and beard are there for. That is Sistani’s job description. I don’t like it myself, but last time I checked they weren’t blasting Tupac at St. Peter’s either.

And what’s the big deal anyway? I’ve met Sistani and I didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt.

[The full text of King’s column is posted in the comments section]

Kidnapped Translator

The Washington Post got the story on the missing soldier wrong, as did Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (John Ward Anderson, “Search for U.S. Soldier Spurs Sadr City Battles; Translator's Brother Was Freed, Premier Says,” The Washington Post, October 28, 2006). The translator, since identified as Ahmed Qusay Al-Ta’i (of Ann Arbor, Michigan) by Al-Sharqiya TV [I had known this information earlier due to personal ties to the translator’s family] was abducted alone, not with his brother.

You’d think that Maliki, who is guarded by American soldiers in the Green Zone, would put in some effort to at least get the story straight, let alone picking up the phone and asking Muqtada Al-Sadr to throw his weight around to secure Al-Ta’i’s release.


Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

15th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference
Monday-Tuesday, October 30-31, 2006
Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
DAY 1 | DAY 2


Due to the overwhelming interest in the focus of this year’s Policymakers’ Conference, the first day “Taking Stock of the Saudi Arabian U.S. Relationship: Examining the Implications for Interests and Policies” and the second day focusing on the Gulf Cooperation Council, the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations regrets to inform you that both days of the Conference are sold out. We thank you for your interest in the efforts to contribute to the national dialogue on U.S.-Arab relations.

Participants are reminded that attendance at the Reception at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia is strictly by invitation only.

-The Conference Organizers

All speakers but one, as indicated, are confirmed
Titles of speakers' remarks as cited are subject to change

DAY 1: Monday, October 30, 2006

8:15 - 9:00 am – REGISTRATION & COFFEE

Dr. John Duke Anthony, President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations; Member, Council on Foreign Relations; Adjunct Associate Professor on Saudi Arabia and Gulf Politics, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; author, numerous books, articles, and essays on the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the six GCC countries.

Moderator: Ms. Afnan Al-Shuaiby, Advisor to the President of the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council, Washington, D.C.; formerly a business consultant to major U.S. companies and commercial associations, including Walt Disney World Company and the Business Council.

Keynote Speaker: "Saudi Arabia and America: Where Are We Headed?" -- H.E. Abdalla A. Alireza, Minister of State, Saudi Arabian Council of Ministers; former Co-Chairman, National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce.

• "Saudi Arabian-U.S. Relations: A Balance Sheet on the Issues of Greatest Importance to Both" -- The Hon. Robert Jordan, Partner, Baker and Botts; President, Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations; Member, Board of Directors, the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies; in addition to having served as personal attorney to President George W. Bush, he was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia 2001-2003.
• "The Dynamics of Educational Reform in the Kingdom: A Balance Sheet" -- H.E. Dr. Khalil Al-Khalil, Member, Majlis ash-Shura [National Consultative Council], Riyadh and Professor, Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, Riyadh.
• "Women's Rights and Development in the Kingdom: An Analytical Assessment" -- Dr. Eleanor Abdella Doumato, Visiting Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; former president of the Association for Middle East Women's Studies; co-editor of, inter alia, Getting God's Ear: Women, Islam, and Healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, plus author of essays on women in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf in numerous edited volumes and monographs as well as scholarly journals and encyclopedias.

10:30 - 11:00 - BREAK

Moderator: H.E. Dr. Majed Al-Qasabi, Director General, Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Foundation, Riyadh, and former president, Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Keynote Speaker: "Strategic Scenarios for the Energy Future" -- Dr. Daniel Yergin, Chairman, Cambridge Energy Research Associates; author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and more recently, Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy; former Chair, U.S. Department of Energy's Task Force on Strategic Energy Research and Development; Board Member, U.S. Energy Association; Member, the National Petroleum Council; the sole foreign member of the Russian Academy of Oil and Gas; Trustee, The Brookings Institution; Board Member, the New American Foundation; Advisory Board Member, the International Institute for Economics.

• "Impact of Events in Iraq and Iran: Implications for Saudi Arabian Interests and Policies" -- Mr. Nawaf Obaid, Managing Director of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; co-author, National Security in Saudi Arabia: Threats, Responses, and Challenges.
• "Assessing the Kingdom's Efforts in Counter-Terrorism and Political Reform" -- Dr. Rachel Bronson, Director of Programs, Institute for Global Affairs, Chicago; former Director of Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Council's Senior Associate for Near East Programs; author of Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia; and testifier before The Congressional Anti-Terrorist Finance Task Force; Congress' Joint Economic Committee; and the 9-11 Commission.
• "Oil Prices and the Financial and Investment Outlook for Saudi Arabia" -- Dr. Nahed M. Taher, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Gulf One Investment Bank, Bahrain, -- the first Saudi Arabian woman to head a bank in the Gulf region; and former Chief Economist, Saudi National Commercial Bank, where she was the first Saudi Arabian woman to hold such a position.

Moderator: Dr. John Duke Anthony, President and CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

Keynote Speaker: "A Vision for the Future of U.S. Saudi Relations" -- HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America; Chairman, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh; Co-Chair, C100 Group, Council of 100 Leaders (West-Islamic World Dialogue) which has been affiliated with the World Economic Forum since 2003; Founding Member, Board of Directors, King Faisal Foundation; former Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom and Ireland; and former Director General, General Intelligence Directorate, the kingdom's main foreign intelligence service, 1977-2001.

Moderator: The Hon. James Schlesinger, Chairman of the Board of the MITRE Corporation and Senior Advisor at Lehman Brothers; Consultant to the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security; Member, the Defense Policy Board, the Arms Control and Nonproliferation Advisory Board, and Vice-Chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council; former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission and Director, Central Intelligence Agency; and former Secretary of Defense as well as the nation's first Secretary of Energy.

Invited Guest of Honor: The Hon. Samuel W. Bodman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy.

Keynote Speaker: Mr. Khalid Al-Falih, Senior Vice President, Industrial Relations, and Board Member, Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco), the world's largest producer of crude oil and which manages a quarter of the world's total oil reserves; Chairman of the Board, South Rub' Al-Khali Company, an upstream gas joint venture among Shell, Total, and Saudi Aramco; Chairman, Dammam City Municipal Council; former President of Petron Corporation, a refining and marketing venture between Saudi Aramco and the Philippine National Oil Company; former Vice-President for Gas Ventures, Development, and Coordination.


Among the senior energy executives represented in the following session are those whose companies are, among other things, major purchasers of Saudi Arabian crude oil, joint venture partners in refining projects in Saudi Arabia and the United States, substantial investors in both countries while pursuing expanded commercial relations and sharing technology to ensure continued reliable long-term energy supplies.

• Mr. Stephen D. Pryor, President, ExxonMobil Refining and Supply Company and a Vice President of the Corporation
• Mr. Peter J. Robertson, Vice Chairman of the Board, Chevron Corporation; former Comptroller for Chevron Oil Europe, Comptroller of Chevron USA, and Vice President of Finance, Chevron USA; former President, Warren Petroleum Company, Chevron's former natural gas liquids subsidiary; former President, Chevron Overseas Petroleum Inc., with responsibility for directing Chevron's oil exploration and production activities worldwide; Director, U.S.-Russian Business Council; the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council; the American Petroleum Institute; and Vice-Chairman, U.S. Energy Association.
• Mr. John D. Hofmeister, President, Shell Oil Company; Head, U.S. Country Leadership Team, which includes the leaders of all Shell businesses operating in the United States; Board Member, the American Petroleum Institute, United States Energy Association, National Association of Manufacturers, National Urban League, and the Foreign Policy Association.
• Mr. James J. Mulva, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, ConocoPhillips, and Chairman, the American Petroleum Institute; former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Phillips Petroleum Company; Member, the Business Council and the Board of Visitors of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
• Mr. Gary R. Heminger, President, Marathon Petroleum Company LLC, and Executive Vice President, Marathon Oil Corporation; Chairman, American Petroleum Institute Downstream Committee; Chairman of the Board, Tiffin University; former Chairman, Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, and Member, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Moderator: The Hon. Walter L. Cutler, twice former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, having represented President Ronald Reagan, 1984-86 and 1987-1988; Ambassador to Tunisia and Zaire and Ambassador-Designate to Khomeini's Iran before diplomatic relations were severed; President Emeritus, Meridian International, Washington, D.C.; former Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations.

• "Economic and Related Reforms in the Kingdom's Strategic Development Plans" - H.E. Dr. Mohammed Al-Qunaibet, Vice Chairman, Economic and Energy Affairs Committee, Majlis ash-Shura [National Consultative Council], Riyadh.
• "Perspectives of a Former Ambassador and United States Senator: Saudi Arabia-U.S. Relations, Reforms, Elections, and the Challenges Ahead." -- The Hon. Wyche Fowler, Chairman of the Board, Middle East Institute; former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, having represented President Bill Clinton, 1996-2000, and former Deputy Minority Leader, United States Senate and Congressman, 1977-1993.
• "Enhancing the Mutuality of Benefit: The Bilateral Commercial Dimension" -- H.E. Usamah Al-Kurdi, Member, Majlis Ash-Shura [National Consultative Council], Riyadh; immediate past Secretary General, Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry 1997-2001; former Vice President, Saudi Consulting House, a fore-runner of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

Hosted by the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council, Ms. Susanne Lendman, Vice President.

601 New Hampshire Avenue, Washington, D.C.
Hosted By HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabian Ambassador To The United States.
*Participants are reminded that attendance at the Reception at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia is strictly by invitation only.

DAY 2: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

8:15 - 9:00 am – REGISTRATION & COFFEE

Dr. John Duke Anthony, President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations

Moderators: H.E. Shaikh Terky bin Rashid Al-Khalifah, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain; and Rear Admiral Harold J. Bernsen, (USN, Ret.) Chairman, Board of Directors, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations; President, Board of Trustees of Physicians for Peace; Director, American-Bahraini Friendship Society; former Commander, U.S. Middle East Force; and Director Emeritus, National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce.

• "Impact and Implications for GCC Interests and Policies of the Situation in Iraq" -- Dr. Michael Collins Dunn, Editor of The Estimate and Editor of The Middle East Journal; noted specialist on Middle Eastern defense and security issues; and former professor, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.
• "Impact and Implications for GCC Interests and Policies of the Situation in Iran" -- Dr. Kenneth Katzman, Senior Analyst of Gulf Affairs, Congressional Research Service, with special emphasis on Iran, Iraq, the GCC countries, Afghanistan, and violent groups operating in the Middle East and South Asia; author, U.S.-Iran Relations: An Analytic Compendium of U.S. Policies, Laws, and Regulations; co-author, "The Warriors of Islam: Iran's Revolutionary Guard;" and author of papers on the ballistic missile capabilities of Iran for the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States ("The Rumsfeld Commission"); formerly, Majority Staff Member, International Relations Committee, House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, and consultant to CBS News on Al Qaeda and related Islamic extremist organizations.
• "Reflections on the Way Forward Regarding U.S. Policies Toward the GCC Countries, Iran and Iraq -- Dr. Joseph Moynihan, Regional Vice President for the Middle East and Africa, Northrop Grumman; Founding Deputy Director for Research, Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research; former AWACS Group Commander; and Visiting Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

10:30-11:00 - BREAK

Moderator: Ms. Anne Joyce, Editor, Middle East Policy and Vice-President and Board Member, Middle East Policy Council, where, inter alia, she was editor and in charge of production for The Gulf Cooperation Council: Moderation and Stability in an Interdependent World; The Gulf, Cooperation, and the Council: An American Perspective; A Century in Thirty Years: Shaykh Zayed and the United Arab Emirates; and The Saudi-Egyptian Conflict over North Yemen.

Keynote Speaker: "Pursuing Greater Cooperation Among the GCC Countries: Opportunities and Challenges" -- HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America; Chairman, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh; Co-Chair, C100 Group, Council of 100 Leaders (West-Islamic World Dialogue) which has been affiliated with the World Economic Forum since 2003; Founding Member, Board of Directors, King Faisal Foundation; former Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom and Ireland; and former Director General, General Intelligence Directorate, the kingdom's main foreign intelligence service, 1977-2001.

• "Reflections on the Way Forward Regarding U.S. Policies Toward Iran and Iraq" -- Dr. Anthony H. Cordesman, The Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies; National Security Analyst, ABC News; Director, CSIS Middle East New Assessment Project, The Gulf in Transition Study, and principal investigator, CSIS Homeland Defense Project; former National Security Assistant to Senator John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Director of Intelligence Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Civilian Assistant to the Secretary of Defense; and author of more than 40 books, among them, The Iraq War; National Security in Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia Enters the 21st Century; The Lessons of Afghanistan; Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare; and Weapons of Mass Destruction.
• "A Geopolitical and Bilateral Cooperation Perspective of the GCC Region and the United States" -- The Hon. Gordon Gray, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, U.S. Department of State, with responsibilities for, inter alia, the promotion of U.S. interests in the Arabian Peninsula and Iran; former Director of Arabian Peninsula Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

Moderator: Dr. Hussein Al-Athel, Secretary General, Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Keynote Speaker: "The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Way Forward" -- HE Nasser bin Hamad bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Qatar to the United States of America and Non-Resident Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States of Mexico. Former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United Kingdom, and Non-Resident Ambassador to Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, 2000-2005; Permanent Representative to the United Nations; and Non-Resident Ambassador to Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Cuba and Nicaragua, 1996-1998; Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Italy, and Non-Resident Ambassador to Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Malta, 1994-1996; and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Korea, 1992-1993.

• "A Geo-Strategic and Defense Cooperation Perspective of the United States and Southwest Asia" -- Lt. Gen. David Barno (USA, Ret.), Director, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA Center), National Defense University, U.S. Department of Defense; former Commanding General, Task Force Warrior, to train Iraqi armed forces in conjunction with Operation Iraqi Freedom; Commanded more than 20,000 U.S. and Coalition Forces in the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, with responsibilities to the US Central Command for regional efforts in Afghanistan, most of Pakistan, and the southern parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
• "American-GCC Relations: An Assessment of Reforms, Elections, Challenges and the Prospects for Regional Peace and Stability" -- The Hon. Chas W. Freeman, Jr., President, the Middle East Policy Council; Chairman of the Board, Projects International; Co-Chair of the United States-China Policy Foundation; Vice-Chair, Atlantic Council of the United States; former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; and former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, 1990-91.

2:00 - CONFERENCE ADJOURNMENT: Dr. John Duke Anthony

11:36 AM, October 28, 2006

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

The Washington Post

October 28, 2006 Saturday
Final Edition

SECTION: Editorial; A15

LENGTH: 793 words

HEADLINE: The Grand Ayatollah Behind the Curtain

BYLINE: Colbert I. King


The question directed this week to the National Security Council press office was straightforward: "Has the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani met with any American official, either military or civilian, since the U.S. invasion in 2003?" The answer reveals the extent to which the Bush administration is now, and always has been, out of its depth in Iraq.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is Iraq's most powerful figure. Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, Sistani was forced to keep a low profile, since he was part of the Shiite majority that Hussein's ruling Baath Party controlled with a heavy hand. Sistani was on the receiving end of assassination attempts by Hussein's thugs. But all that changed in the spring of 2003, when the United States toppled the Iraqi regime.

Today, Sistani's Shiites are the major political force in Iraq. They are leaders in the new government; they run the key Interior Ministry; and one of their own, Nouri al-Maliki, serves as prime minister. Were it not for Iraq's liberation from Hussein's tyranny by U.S. troops, Sistani and his followers would still be under the thumb of Sunnis.

The average Iraqi may not be happy to see the country occupied by foreigners. But if any Iraqi should feel even a tad kindly toward his American liberators, it ought to be the grand ayatollah. After all, he is the chief beneficiary of Hussein's defeat. It's not too much to think that if the president of the United States visits Iraq, Sistani would at least meet him face to face to say thank you. Think again.

Back to the question that started this column: Has Sistani met with any American official in the past 31/2 years? Frederick Jones, the NSC's communications director, said yesterday that no American official has ever met Sistani.

But how, you might ask, can that be? After all, since Hussein's statue was pulled down in 2003, Iraq has been visited twice by President Bush. Vice President Cheney has been there, too. Two different secretaries of state -- Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice -- have dropped in. So have Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, countless high-ranking Pentagon brass and enough U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives to warrant a congressional annex in the Green Zone.

How is it possible that leaders of the world's most powerful nation -- a country that has generously sent 140,000 of its finest sons and daughters to fight, suffer and die to free Iraq from the Baathist grip -- have not met the Iraqi leader with the most to gain from Hussein's defeat?

It's because the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has designated himself off-limits to Americans. He will not let Bush, Cheney, Rice and company in to see him because they are non-Muslims and thus he considers them to be kafir, or infidels. Sistani regards himself as too good to meet with those who freed him.

What's weird is to hear folks in Washington speak about Sistani's views as if they just got off the phone with him. "Sistani doesn't want clerics to have a role in government," one Washington foreign policy expert told me. "Sistani believes Islam should be the national religion," said another. "Sistani is a pragmatist," said a third. All this is asserted with confidence, when in reality these people know only what they have heard from someone else -- a Muslim go-between or a Sistani envoy.

Bush and his high command have never set eyes on the man. Yet Sistani controls them as if they were puppets on a string. It's like something out of "The Wizard of Oz."

Consider what happened in 2004: Barricaded in a Najaf slum miles from Baghdad, the unseen Sistani was able single-handedly to block the United States from staging a handover of power without elections. He did so by issuing a fatwa that sent thousands into the streets. The Bush people were forced to give ground. A law was drafted that led to elections in 2005.

Sistani's chief competition is not the United States but an anti-American Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, and his Badr Organization, which has infiltrated Iraqi military and police units. The Iraqi parliament, truth be told, responds to the calls of the firebrand cleric.

What have we come to? In addition to al-Sadr, today's Iraq is under the influence of a Muslim cleric, Sistani, who, according to Newsweek, forbids music for entertainment, dancing and playing chess, and forbids women from shaking the hands of any men other than their fathers, brothers or husbands. His whole purpose is to promote Shiite theology and keep Iraq as a democratic, but decidedly Islamic, state.

Billions spent, thousands of Americans dead or maimed, U.S. armed forces exhausted, stretched thin and working around the clock -- for that? Is this what George W. Bush had in mind?


11:36 AM, October 28, 2006

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