Big trouble in Iraq & Pakistan

Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq who killed who knows how many American troops, has come back–from Iran–and his party is part of the new coalition government:

Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia contributed to the bloodiest days of the Iraq war, made a surprise return to Iraq on Wednesday, ending nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran and raising new questions about U.S. influence here.

Sadr’s remarkable trajectory brought him home just as his political faction attains significant power, allied in Iraq’s new national unity government with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who just a few years ago moved to crush Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

It was Sadr’s recent decision to support Maliki for a second term, in a deal brokered by Iran, that ended eight months of political deadlock and allowed Maliki, also a Shiite, to cobble together his new government two weeks ago.

In another sign of Iran’s significant influence in Iraq, just as U.S. troops prepare to leave the country by the end of the year, Iran’s new foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, met in Baghdad on Wednesday with Maliki and more than a dozen other government officials.

The Sadrist faction controls at least eight of about three dozen ministries in Maliki’s new cabinet and has vowed to become a full participant in the political process. But the return of Sadr leaves open the question of whether he will seek to reassert his influence solely through political means, or will instead revert to violence.

via Anti-U.S. cleric back in Iraq after long exile.

Whether he uses violence or politics, we see the specter of a pro-Iranian strongman back in power.  Can anyone doubt that al-Sadr will eventually become the nation’s leader?

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, as you may have heard already, the governor of the province of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his body-guard.  Why?  He came out against Pakistan’s law requiring the death penalty for “blasphemy”; that is, speaking ill of Mohammed or Islam.  A Christian woman is facing execution for allegedly criticizing the prophet, and Taseer wanted her spared.  The case has become a catalyst for conservative Muslims in opposing the more secular establishment and its increasingly shaky government.  If the jihadists take power, not only will the Christian die, the Taliban in Afghanistan will have a powerful ally.  With nuclear weapons.

via Salman Taseer’s Assassination Points to Pakistani Extremists’ mounting power

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Caleb

    Kyrie Elesion.

  • Caleb

    Kyrie Elesion.

  • trotk

    Can anyone doubt that al-Sadr will eventually become the nation’s leader?

    Sure. The region is perpetually unstable. Why would we assume that he will be the nation’s leader just because of his influence and backing now?

  • trotk

    Can anyone doubt that al-Sadr will eventually become the nation’s leader?

    Sure. The region is perpetually unstable. Why would we assume that he will be the nation’s leader just because of his influence and backing now?

  • WebMonk

    Ahem. kerner. Would you care to concede right now, or should we go through the motions and wait for the end of the year to see troop levels still above 155,000?

  • WebMonk

    Ahem. kerner. Would you care to concede right now, or should we go through the motions and wait for the end of the year to see troop levels still above 155,000?

  • Porcell

    Sadr was forced to flee to Iran, as he was the leader of the Shiites in a vicious civil war against the Sunnis. He well knew that his life was close to forfeit. He has a choice now of legitimately functioning within the Iraq democracy or trying to return a civil war in which he would be likely rejected by the Iraqi people. Both Maliki and Allawi are far shrewder politicians than Sadr.

    The Iraqi people are in the process of developing an economy that has already begun to attract serious global investment. Should anyone doubt this read Bartle Bull’s WSJ article The Coming Iraqi Business Boom.

    It’s unlikely that both the people and powers that be in Iraq would allow such a retrograde low-class populist leader as Sadr to achieve presidential power. Also, for the most part Iraqis are Arabs who, notwithstanding their Shiite connection with Iran, are very wary of submitting to Persian power. Achieving a modus vivendi with a powerful neighbor is something different than abject submission.

  • Porcell

    Sadr was forced to flee to Iran, as he was the leader of the Shiites in a vicious civil war against the Sunnis. He well knew that his life was close to forfeit. He has a choice now of legitimately functioning within the Iraq democracy or trying to return a civil war in which he would be likely rejected by the Iraqi people. Both Maliki and Allawi are far shrewder politicians than Sadr.

    The Iraqi people are in the process of developing an economy that has already begun to attract serious global investment. Should anyone doubt this read Bartle Bull’s WSJ article The Coming Iraqi Business Boom.

    It’s unlikely that both the people and powers that be in Iraq would allow such a retrograde low-class populist leader as Sadr to achieve presidential power. Also, for the most part Iraqis are Arabs who, notwithstanding their Shiite connection with Iran, are very wary of submitting to Persian power. Achieving a modus vivendi with a powerful neighbor is something different than abject submission.

  • Cincinnatus

    Of course, this is what we meant when we proclaimed that Iraq would welcome democracy with open arms and dancing in the streets of Baghdad.

  • Cincinnatus

    Of course, this is what we meant when we proclaimed that Iraq would welcome democracy with open arms and dancing in the streets of Baghdad.

  • kerner

    Webmonk @3:

    This is why the bet ends on 12/31, not on 01/31. What? Me worry?

    But seriously, I’m not conceding. I still think troop levels will be much reduced in Iraq. And Afghanistan troop levels may still fall somewhat as well.

  • kerner

    Webmonk @3:

    This is why the bet ends on 12/31, not on 01/31. What? Me worry?

    But seriously, I’m not conceding. I still think troop levels will be much reduced in Iraq. And Afghanistan troop levels may still fall somewhat as well.

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus @6:

    What’s that supposed to mean?

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus @6:

    What’s that supposed to mean?

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner: Is that a serious question?

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner: Is that a serious question?

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus:

    yes, it was. I don’t know what, exactly, you find unexpected (it might be a lot of things). Iraqis vote now. They didn’t before. We don’t control their elections, hence they have elected a government we would not have hand picked for them that has made deals we may not approve of.

    The Iraqis now have to formulate a foreign policy. Like the Hussein regime, the newly elected government now has to develop a policy for dealing with us, and one for dealing with Iran. Its hard for an amateur like me to tell, but it seems that they want us to leave them to themselves as much as possible but they want to not be dominated by Iran either. If I am correct, this is a perfecly understandable policy, and I am not the least bit surprised or disappointed in the Iraqis for pursuing it.

    Frankly, if I have any concerns about the Iraqi situation, my concerns are about our government, not theirs. What we need now is a State department capable of maintaining a good relationship with Iraq, now that our military presence is inevitably waning. One of the reasons Germany remained our ally all through the cold war was that there were benefits to being our ally, and there was a real down side to being dominated by Russia. But the situation with Iraq is less clear cut and it will take more diplomatic finesse to maintain a good relationship with Iraq today than it did to maintain a good relationship with West Germany in 1958.

    My fear is that the current US administration is not up to the task. Unlike real empires, our policy has never been to subjugate and take over foreign territories. It has been more along the lines of keeping our enemies weak and at a safe distance (i.e., “containment”). To do this we have to convince countries that are much closer to, and more vulnerable to, our enemies that it is to their advantage to be our ally. I question whether the current administration understands this, much less has a plan to impliment it. I really worry that what we have gained, and what the Iraqis have gained, in the last 7 years is in danger of being lost by the incompetence of our government.

    So anyway, what did you mean?

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus:

    yes, it was. I don’t know what, exactly, you find unexpected (it might be a lot of things). Iraqis vote now. They didn’t before. We don’t control their elections, hence they have elected a government we would not have hand picked for them that has made deals we may not approve of.

    The Iraqis now have to formulate a foreign policy. Like the Hussein regime, the newly elected government now has to develop a policy for dealing with us, and one for dealing with Iran. Its hard for an amateur like me to tell, but it seems that they want us to leave them to themselves as much as possible but they want to not be dominated by Iran either. If I am correct, this is a perfecly understandable policy, and I am not the least bit surprised or disappointed in the Iraqis for pursuing it.

    Frankly, if I have any concerns about the Iraqi situation, my concerns are about our government, not theirs. What we need now is a State department capable of maintaining a good relationship with Iraq, now that our military presence is inevitably waning. One of the reasons Germany remained our ally all through the cold war was that there were benefits to being our ally, and there was a real down side to being dominated by Russia. But the situation with Iraq is less clear cut and it will take more diplomatic finesse to maintain a good relationship with Iraq today than it did to maintain a good relationship with West Germany in 1958.

    My fear is that the current US administration is not up to the task. Unlike real empires, our policy has never been to subjugate and take over foreign territories. It has been more along the lines of keeping our enemies weak and at a safe distance (i.e., “containment”). To do this we have to convince countries that are much closer to, and more vulnerable to, our enemies that it is to their advantage to be our ally. I question whether the current administration understands this, much less has a plan to impliment it. I really worry that what we have gained, and what the Iraqis have gained, in the last 7 years is in danger of being lost by the incompetence of our government.

    So anyway, what did you mean?

  • S Bauer

    George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

    The gift that keeps on giving.

  • S Bauer

    George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

    The gift that keeps on giving.

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@10: I don’t find anything remotely surprising about recent events in Iraq. Some nations aren’t ready for the responsible and successful implementation of democratic institutions. We happen to have invaded one of them. I glean endless amusement from the clowns at DoD and the Council on Foreign Relations who are “surprised” and “concerned” that Iraqis are ceding increasing levels of control over their political mechanisms to authoritarians, Islamists, and radicals.

    “My fear is that the current US administration is not up to the task. Unlike real empires, our policy has never been to subjugate and take over foreign territories.”

    Not that you want to start this debate again, but during the height of its “real” empire, Britain’s official policy in its foreign holdings was precisely not to subjugate its territories but rather to maintain a small expeditionary force and permit the natives to supervise as much of their own governance as possible. Britain’s 19th-century policy in colonial India bears a striking resemblance to our current policy in (colonial?) Iraq.

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@10: I don’t find anything remotely surprising about recent events in Iraq. Some nations aren’t ready for the responsible and successful implementation of democratic institutions. We happen to have invaded one of them. I glean endless amusement from the clowns at DoD and the Council on Foreign Relations who are “surprised” and “concerned” that Iraqis are ceding increasing levels of control over their political mechanisms to authoritarians, Islamists, and radicals.

    “My fear is that the current US administration is not up to the task. Unlike real empires, our policy has never been to subjugate and take over foreign territories.”

    Not that you want to start this debate again, but during the height of its “real” empire, Britain’s official policy in its foreign holdings was precisely not to subjugate its territories but rather to maintain a small expeditionary force and permit the natives to supervise as much of their own governance as possible. Britain’s 19th-century policy in colonial India bears a striking resemblance to our current policy in (colonial?) Iraq.

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus:

    I’ve kind of rethought our former debate, ans I see your point a little more now perhaps. But, all this time I though the “empire” was defined as a certain form of government. You know, like a monarchy or dictatorship, only larger and more diverse. Something in which the emperor appointed his provincial governors who answered directly to him and implimented his policies without question.

    That does not describe The United States of America even now.

    tbc

  • kerner

    Cincinnatus:

    I’ve kind of rethought our former debate, ans I see your point a little more now perhaps. But, all this time I though the “empire” was defined as a certain form of government. You know, like a monarchy or dictatorship, only larger and more diverse. Something in which the emperor appointed his provincial governors who answered directly to him and implimented his policies without question.

    That does not describe The United States of America even now.

    tbc

  • Porcell

    Pres.Bush prosecuted the Iraq War partly on the assumption that Saddam Hussein intended to build an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and, following the advice of Bernard Lewis and others, mainly that Iraq was the most likely of Arab nations in the heart of the Middle East capable of democracy. Lewis’s view is that the only way in the long run to defeat Islamic jihadists is to establish democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. Over time, despite the usual quantum of American mistakes in wartime, we won both the war against Saddam Hussein and the ensuing insurgency.

    At this point, Iraq has become a fledgling Arab democracy in the Middle East. Bush’s pacifistic and isolationist critics are hoping for and expecting a defeat, which could indeed happen, though time will tell. Bush himself in his recent book expects that the issue won’t be settled until well after our present lifetimes.

    Bear in mind that Lincoln was severely criticized for the Civil War, Roosevelt [mainly by the isolationists] for WW II; Truman was vilified for the Korean War. Reagan was regarded as a warmonger for standing up to the Soviet Union. Americans tend not to like wars, though in retrospect they come to be regarded as necessary. About two-thirds of the American people either opposed or were indifferent to the Revolutionary War.

    Mr. Bauer at 11 regards “George Bush’s invasion of Iraq” as The gift that keeps on giving. , though it is far too early to make such a crude, unforgiving argument.

    My view is that, like Truman and Reagan, George Bush could well end up among the most exemplary of contemporary presidents.

  • Porcell

    Pres.Bush prosecuted the Iraq War partly on the assumption that Saddam Hussein intended to build an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and, following the advice of Bernard Lewis and others, mainly that Iraq was the most likely of Arab nations in the heart of the Middle East capable of democracy. Lewis’s view is that the only way in the long run to defeat Islamic jihadists is to establish democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. Over time, despite the usual quantum of American mistakes in wartime, we won both the war against Saddam Hussein and the ensuing insurgency.

    At this point, Iraq has become a fledgling Arab democracy in the Middle East. Bush’s pacifistic and isolationist critics are hoping for and expecting a defeat, which could indeed happen, though time will tell. Bush himself in his recent book expects that the issue won’t be settled until well after our present lifetimes.

    Bear in mind that Lincoln was severely criticized for the Civil War, Roosevelt [mainly by the isolationists] for WW II; Truman was vilified for the Korean War. Reagan was regarded as a warmonger for standing up to the Soviet Union. Americans tend not to like wars, though in retrospect they come to be regarded as necessary. About two-thirds of the American people either opposed or were indifferent to the Revolutionary War.

    Mr. Bauer at 11 regards “George Bush’s invasion of Iraq” as The gift that keeps on giving. , though it is far too early to make such a crude, unforgiving argument.

    My view is that, like Truman and Reagan, George Bush could well end up among the most exemplary of contemporary presidents.

  • S Bauer

    Porcell,

    You are entitled to your opinion.

    It is one thing to think that Iraq was the “most likely of Arab nations in the heart of the Middle East capable of democracy” and quite another to think that a nice quick and painless war is the means to that end.

    I am neither a pacifist nor an isolationist nor opposed to the wise use of power. I am opposed to biting off more than one can chew. I am opposed to underestimating the opposition. I am opposed to not being able to add 2 plus 2. I am opposed to not being upfront with your citizens. Not even considering the reasons why the President thinks war is necessary (especially if it isn’t a defensive war), I expect three things from my President when she or he asks our country to go to war: 1) How many people are doing to die? 2) How much is it going to cost? 3) What sacrifices were all citizens gong to have to take on. President Bush shrugged his shoulders on all three counts. Later actions and words showed that his administration truly thought the answers were 1) not many; 2) not much; and 3) What, me worry?

    I am no military analyst. I am no geo-political strategist. I am no Middle East “expert”. But I could figure out that the answers to these questions were a lot steeper than what the President thought. (Or said he thought, knowing that saying what he really thought would kinda dampen enthusiasm for going to war.) In either case, I turned out to have a better grasp of the situation than the President did (or let on he did). Not a ringing endorsement of leadership, in my opinion.

    So, in my opinion, my comment was appropriate because:

    A) War is crude. American men and women and resources (not to mention the death and suffering dealt to the Iraqi people) being burned on the altar of a nebulous opinion is crude (Mars is the planet “most likely to harbor life” but I wouldn’t bet 10 cents on there actually being life there). A president who says, “Bring it on” when faced with the threat of a insurgency crystalizing against one’s troops is crude. The only way to speak of such things is to be crude.

    2) Forgiveness belongs to the kingdom of God. If I do poorly with my investors’ money (deliberately or no), there’s no court in the land that’s going to tell them, “forgive and forget, he doesn’t owe you a thing”. In politics one reaps what one sows. Or even more appropos, our leaders reap the wind, the country reaps the whirlwind. I would be glad if Iraq turns out to be the Switzerland (not Sweden) of the Middle East. I also would be glad if Hobbits would be discovered living quietly somewhere around Manchester or Leeds.

  • S Bauer

    Porcell,

    You are entitled to your opinion.

    It is one thing to think that Iraq was the “most likely of Arab nations in the heart of the Middle East capable of democracy” and quite another to think that a nice quick and painless war is the means to that end.

    I am neither a pacifist nor an isolationist nor opposed to the wise use of power. I am opposed to biting off more than one can chew. I am opposed to underestimating the opposition. I am opposed to not being able to add 2 plus 2. I am opposed to not being upfront with your citizens. Not even considering the reasons why the President thinks war is necessary (especially if it isn’t a defensive war), I expect three things from my President when she or he asks our country to go to war: 1) How many people are doing to die? 2) How much is it going to cost? 3) What sacrifices were all citizens gong to have to take on. President Bush shrugged his shoulders on all three counts. Later actions and words showed that his administration truly thought the answers were 1) not many; 2) not much; and 3) What, me worry?

    I am no military analyst. I am no geo-political strategist. I am no Middle East “expert”. But I could figure out that the answers to these questions were a lot steeper than what the President thought. (Or said he thought, knowing that saying what he really thought would kinda dampen enthusiasm for going to war.) In either case, I turned out to have a better grasp of the situation than the President did (or let on he did). Not a ringing endorsement of leadership, in my opinion.

    So, in my opinion, my comment was appropriate because:

    A) War is crude. American men and women and resources (not to mention the death and suffering dealt to the Iraqi people) being burned on the altar of a nebulous opinion is crude (Mars is the planet “most likely to harbor life” but I wouldn’t bet 10 cents on there actually being life there). A president who says, “Bring it on” when faced with the threat of a insurgency crystalizing against one’s troops is crude. The only way to speak of such things is to be crude.

    2) Forgiveness belongs to the kingdom of God. If I do poorly with my investors’ money (deliberately or no), there’s no court in the land that’s going to tell them, “forgive and forget, he doesn’t owe you a thing”. In politics one reaps what one sows. Or even more appropos, our leaders reap the wind, the country reaps the whirlwind. I would be glad if Iraq turns out to be the Switzerland (not Sweden) of the Middle East. I also would be glad if Hobbits would be discovered living quietly somewhere around Manchester or Leeds.

  • kerner

    Maybe I’m setting the bar too low, but I would be satisfied if Iraq becomes the Philippines, or maybe the Chile, of the middle east, and the discovery of a few 5’2″ Yorkshiremen living in Leeds.

    The benefits (if any) resulting from the Iraq War should be measured from what was there before, not from where Switzerland is now.

  • kerner

    Maybe I’m setting the bar too low, but I would be satisfied if Iraq becomes the Philippines, or maybe the Chile, of the middle east, and the discovery of a few 5’2″ Yorkshiremen living in Leeds.

    The benefits (if any) resulting from the Iraq War should be measured from what was there before, not from where Switzerland is now.


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