Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Re-inventing Talisman Gate; Iran and Iraq’s Election

I don’t get it. After six years of being in the news, why is Hazim al-Araji’s name still mangled in transliteration? Why does it become “Hazim al-Araaiy” on the front-page of the Washington Post today, especially when his Canadian residency spells it correctly in English?

What’s more, why is he misidentified as “a Shiite lawmaker who heads the conservative Sadrist bloc in parliament,” when he isn’t even a member of parliament. It’s easy to spot where the reporter, Ernesto Londono, who’s been covering Iraq for several years, went wrong: he conflated Hazim al-Araji with Baha’ al-Araji. Honest mistake, except for Londono’s track record, which has established him in my eyes as one of the worst of the lot of mediocre journos pushing anti-war agendas in their reporting on Iraq.

Londono, after all, is the kind of reporter that manages to find sorrow in a cemetery. No small feat. And then has the sublimely confident sense to write about it.

Part of this blog’s mission over the years was to ‘call-out’ Western reporters covering Iraq for dishonest bias or misguided comprehension of emerging trends.

As some of you old-timers have noticed, the fire’s out here at Talisman Gate. The passion is gone, mostly because whatever gets written by such reporters and analysts makes absolutely no difference to Iraq’s trajectory: Iraq is heading to safety, and the stories of that land are those of the boring, very local variety.

For example, the state of political flux in Iraq is beautifully bizarre and complex. It really is a work of art, made more aesthetically pleasing by the realization that as issues settle and sediment, they lay the foundation for long-term stability and civil peace. But I don’t understand why an American audience would need to read about how new politics is taking shape in the Iraqi countryside. What American audiences need to know is that last month, not a single U.S. soldier died in combat. Unfortunately, U.S. papers don’t seem to cover that.

The last hurrah of the activist reporters in Iraq has nothing to do with Iraq: they needed to hammer on the negativism—some even writing about how U.S. soldiers are ‘littering’ in Iraq—so as to influence the Afghanistan ‘surge’ debate. They needed to argue that Iraq was an unmitigated disaster despite America’s best efforts, ergo there’s no need to even attempt to fix things in Afghanistan.

I doubt that after the March elections there would be compelling reasons for any U.S. media outlet to maintain a bureau in Baghdad. And good riddance.

So let’s re-invent Talisman Gate as something else: not as a pulpit that argues that Iraq will make it, but a sounding board for ideas about how Iraq will transform its neighborhood.

And let’s get things started by asking, how will the protests in Iran be influenced by a successful and fair election in Iraq?

I must admit that it took a recent photograph of an Iranian demonstrator kicking a policeman to get me excited about the prospects of change in Tehran. I was resigned to the idea that Iran, much like Egypt, is a rotting carcass with no signs of life. I now believe I was wrong.

Keeping things simple, Iraqi elections occur on March 7, and we’d probably have the results in by the 17th. The Persian New Year is March 21st, and it is no stretch to predict that the Iranian opposition will attempt to hold rallies on that date.

The image of a democratic and predominately Shiite Iraq holding fair elections will be a stark contrast to Iran’s recent experience with ballots. I’d imagine that if I were a person with a stake in the Iranian ruling establishment, I’d be very worried about having Iranians draw the wrong conclusions from that image. The idea that the sages of Shiism in Najaf such as Sistani & Co., who are supposed to tend to business while the Hidden Imam is away (…the very premise of the ruling order in Tehran), giving the Iraqi election their stamp of approval is an existential threat to the legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad/Revolutionary Guard order.

This would not be the first time that power in Iran was undermined by actors and ideas operating in Iraq; lots of that was happening in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Set aside all the differing variables, and the very real hatred between Iranians and Iraqis, but it would be an easy leap for the Iranian opposition to draw inspiration for the stances of the aesthetics of Najaf vis-à-vis tyrannical power. Iranians might hold their noses up at the idea of being inspired by ‘locust-eating’ Iraqis, but Sistani’s thumbs up on behalf of the Mahdi for how things are unfolding in Iraq will be a powerful revelation.

So if I am threatened by such an event on the calendar, what would I do?

Well, I’ve heard that preparations are underway to protest election fraud. Whispers about tent cities blockading the entrances to the Green Zone, and busloads of bored teenagers decanted from Sadr City into them. Somebody is coming up with a non-violent action plan for the day after the election results are announced. They assume that they will do badly, and are determined to make an inelegant exit.

I’m not saying that the Iranians are behind this; any dominant political force, seeing its fortunes waning, must make the claim that a drumming at the ballots had more to do with fraud than voters turning against them. On the face it, such protests jump-start a period of noisy opposition by those ejected from power. But it is also clear to see how the Iranian authorities may benefit from such theatrics in Iraq: they can point to events there and say to their people, “The Iraqi elections are also tainted, and Iraqis are also protesting in the street.” This scenario is certainly better for them than Iraqi elections going smoothly, reaping benefits to the Shiites after centuries of injustice, under the auspices of the Great Satan nonetheless.

So mark your calendars folks: Iraqi elections may become a rallying cry for demonstrators in Tehran, and the rulers of Iran may point to, or provoke, protests in Baghdad to taint any positive images of purple fingers and content voters streaming out from polls in Karbala and Basra.

I must add that re-inventing Talisman Gate does not necessarily mean that the pace of posting will pick-up. So don't get your hopes up. However, I would like to thank the loyal readers who have been harassing me these past months to begin writing again; your passion about these topics compels me to respond and deliver.

I promise to convey some sense of election fever in Iraq over the next couple of months. Stay tuned.


Anonymous Justice/Basil said...

Great post Nibras. I'm sure I speak on behalf of many of your loyal readers when I say that we are all sad to see you slow down your pace of posting. Best of luck to you in all your endeavors!


P.S. Do you know what Muwafaq al-Rubaie has been up to since he left his post as National Security Advisor?

4:37 PM, January 04, 2010

Blogger madtom said...

"And let’s get things started by asking, how will the protests in Iran be influenced by a successful and fair election in Iraq?"

What are the chances of that when O seems completely uninterested at best, and politically motivated for a disaster, so he can blame Bush. I mean his track record in Afghanistan, his "right war" wasn't that great, in fact a disaster.

7:25 PM, January 04, 2010

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How serious is the banning of candidates by the Election Commission? It stinks of Iran. Will it be corrected in time to avoid screwing up the election?

9:50 PM, January 16, 2010

Anonymous gj said...

Nibras - could you please give a run down on Dr Mutlak's biography, firstly his Baath history and secondly on the way he and his party have conducted themselves since the 2005 elections?

Have found it impossible to get this info to find out what is behind his exclusion?

As you can see the usual suspects -Lynch, the NYT etc are back making hay.

Appreciate it if you could emerge from yr lofty retirement and give yr loyal fans some enlightnment?

cheers gj

1:02 PM, January 18, 2010

Blogger Ed said...

Welcome back, i come here for info on Iraq, and correct you on one point. Many Americans are very interested in seeing your elections proceeding unimpedded, not just about withdrawing troops. We want to hear that things are getting better and freedom rings. Lastly are the refugees returning and how is it for them getting their properties back.
Thanks again for all your insight

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