Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Fadhila Drumbeat, and a Security Meltdown in Baghdad

Fadhila: There isn’t much more to report on the Block of 100 except to say that it is not panning out as planned. Although there are rumblings such as Fadhila’s misgivings concerning their share of the compensatory seats (they are getting 1 out of the 19 that the UIA is entitled to in the parliamentary distribution), and Nadhim Al-Jabiri is still adamantly insisting that he is a candidate for prime minister, no signs of a serious rift can yet be discerned.

However, there are more hints that an agreement had been struck between Fadhila and Allawi. One such indication is the fact that the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat ran an Op-Ed by Adnan Hussein—an indefatigable cheerleader for the Allawi camp—singing the praises of Jabiri. Other allies of Allawi’s are telling whoever would listen that they “can do business with a man like Jabiri.” SCIRI and Da’awa have started a whisper campaign denouncing Jabiri as a Ba’athist and his patron, Shaikh Yaqoubi as a spy for Saddam’s secret police.

I personally think that Jabiri is playing a high stakes game, albeit one that is much larger than his stature. It may sound good in game theory, something he is familiar with as a political science academic, but it doesn’t take stock of some very important vectors that cannot be qualified that easily for a neat fit in an ambitious political maneuver. I think Jabiri indeed thinks that he can become Prime Minister through waving his defection in the UIA’s face. “If you don’t let me become top dog,” he may be saying to SCIRI’s Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim & Co, “then I’ll go over to the other side and crown your arch nemesis, Ayad Allawi, as king.”

Here is what we know: the three-way deal struck between Jabiri, Allawi and American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, occurred last Friday evening during a soiree hosted at Safia Al-Suheil’s home in the Green Zone. Many Iraqi politicos and foreign diplomats were in attendance as well as visitors from the US, but the three gentlemen retired to a closed room for a private meeting, and the subsequent chatter had it that Jabiri had agreed to defect from the UIA and support Allawi’s bid for premiership.

The trick would be to stack the demands made by coalition partners such as Allawi-Consensus-Mutlag so high, that the UIA would have no alternative but to refuse them. Under such a circumstance, the Americans would hop in and label the UIA as inflexible, obstinate and uncompromising. The UIA would thus loose the moral mandate, as opposed to its numerical one, in forming an all inclusive ‘National Unity’ cabinet. Fadhila, now that they can point to a series of slights perpetrated by the UIA ‘grown-ups’ against them, would then defect and join the Allawi bandwagon. Together with the Kurds on board, Allawi would enjoy the parliamentary majority for forming a government.

Now all this would make sense if the Americans had any backbone. The three areas where Bush had designated as the launching pads for his vision of a democratic Middle East—post-Saddam Iraq, post-Asad Lebanon and the post-Arafat Palestinian territories—have been ceded to acolytes of Iran. The UIA, Hezbollah and Hamas today control the destiny of these three hotspots, and are in turn beholden to Iran in the strategic zero-sum equation that balances power in the region. At this point, the United States can do very little about places like Gaza or the Beka’a, but it does have 150,000 soldiers in Iraq.

David Ignatius argued last week that one of America’s strongest levers is the threat of withdrawal from Iraq, leaving all parties to their respective fates in a bloody civil war. Guess who wouldn’t mind this scenario: Iran. And guess what would happen in a few years time, when Al-Qaeda grows out and starts hitting pipelines in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf; the world’s economy would then be at the mercy of Iran’s nuclear-armed mullahs, now in control of Iran and Iraq’s oil fields, as well as the Persian Gulf access routes.

Not a very rosy picture, is it?

The US should act on its gut instinct: the UIA should not be allowed to run Iraq, at least not without plenty of friction. Allowing them that easy victory sets a precedent and translates down the road to a demarcation of the Middle East between Iran and Al-Qaeda.

To do this, they can’t allow themselves to be pawns in a game being played out by a two-bit hustler like Nadim Al-Jabiri. The Fadhila Party has recently put up a website, which is welcome news to someone like me who know next to nothing about their political inclinations and how they differ from Muqtada Al-Sadr and his cohorts. Well, I’m still trying to figure it out, but at least I now know that their emblem carries these two catchphrases: “We seek the acceptance of God” and “No obedience to a creature [who stands] in defiance of the Maker.”

This party’s association with Ayatollah Muhammad bin Musa Al-Yaqoubi is not a subtle matter, which is a first for Najaf and the Shia divines. I was also surprised to find that Yaqoubi is only 45 year-old, and that his father, a lesser Shia functionary, had moved his family to Baghdad when Yaqoubi was only 8. His father worked closely with Seyyid Mahdi Al-Hakim, the elder brother of Abdel-Aziz, who was assassinated by Saddam’s intelligence service in Khartoum, Sudan in the late 1980s. There is a hint that Yaqoubi’s family has some background in esotericism, a more-or-less taboo affiliation in Najaf for over two centuries. More can be found on Yaqoubi’s website.

See kids, this is what will happen if you smoke: premature aging...this guy is only 45

Phillip Morris should take note that Yaqoubi has issued a pamphlet that discourages smoking. Papa Sadr (Muqtada’s father) had won over many disciples in his day by allowing smoking during the Ramadhan fast. And before US embassy officials get too cozy with Jabiri, they should probably pick up a book by Yaqoubi called “Us and the West” where he apparently describes the “American model of life” as the precursor to the advent of the Shia Messiah, Ahmadinejad’s beloved: the Mahdi. According to Yaqoubi, “this failed [American] model cannot provide happiness to mankind who will eventually find their way back to Islam.”

Yaqoubi graduated as a civil engineer from Baghdad University in 1982. He was an army deserter whose attempt to escape to Iran was stymied, forcing him to hide in his parents’ house for many years where he devoured books on Islamic theology. This is a sure recipe for developing issues and neuroses later in life.

Fadhila doesn't have much of a following in Baghdad, where the only prime real estate they control is the unfinished mammoth Rahman mosque in Mansour (construction was started but never finished by Saddam). Other HQs like the Iman Foundation in Sha'ab were ceded to the Sadrists long ago. However, Fadhila does enjoy some standing in the south and especially in Basra, where they carried a plurality of the seats in the Provincial Council in the January elections and pciked a Fadhlist as governor.

All in all though, Fadhila doesn’t seem like a dependable ally. Let’s leave it at that.

Security Meltdown: there has been a spike in non-terrorist related violent crime lately throughout Baghdad, and this is not being reported by the media. A similar situation occurred in the interim between last January’s elections and the formation of the Jaafari government, but this time around the intensity is fiercer and wider. Kidnappings for ransom, armed robbery, and even shakedowns at ad hoc checkpoints have increased in the Jihad, Adel, Khadra’, Doura, Jami’a, Amiriya, and Baya’ neighborhoods—all of them areas where the insurgency is rampant. Homes and businesses are being casually looted while owners are held at gunpoint.

The security policy of Iraq’s Interior Ministry seems to be one of storming these neighborhoods, cutting them off, conducting searches and then withdrawing without leaving behind a recognizable measure of the state’s authority; police patrols, checkpoints, etc. I’ve had two sources tell me that they had recently tried dialing the ‘130’ emergency numbers to find that no one was picking up the phone.

In other words, a third of Baghdad’s sprawling mass is almost totally lawless.


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