The things in Iraq took yet another wrong turn when Bush forced Maliki to meet him in Jordan. The meeting did not help Republicans in the elections, but broke the Iraqi coalition. The faction of Shiite cleric al-Sadr walked out of the government coalition, as promised, because of the meeting.
No one in Iraq has a slightest doubt that Maliki is an American quisling. That’s ok with the people. In Muslims countries, rulers are not expected to represent population; the US and the Qaeda each tries to change that. Muslims are very extroversive and value fac,ade and rituals. Maliki could be a puppet, but he should behave like a tiger – Iraqi tiger. At least, Maliki managed to skip social meeting with Bush and Jordanian King Abdullah (Olmert ignored Arab mentality and met Abdullah several times, a PR disaster).
If that attention to rituals looks silly to rational Americans, it probably is. But that’s how it works in the region. To reach an agreement with Iraqis – rather than simply punish the Baathist state – the US negotiators would have to sit hours and days with various Iraqis, both bureaucrats and radicals, drinking super-sweet Iranian tea, chain-smoking on par with their opponents and talking, talking, and talking. That might or might not bring the desired results, but no other approach could deliver a stable, moderate, US-friendly Iraq.
To please his American masters, Maliki brought together fictitious coalition. Its Shiite faction does not include al-Sadr’s group, the main Shiite organization. It includes only a minor Sunni party, also non-representative. The coalition is advertised as moderate, but listen to the names: Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party (sectarians), the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (sic) in Iraq, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (separatist organization, as the name makes clear).
The coalition is meant to squeeze Sadr out of politics. He would indeed go – into the urban battlefields. Sadr could show himself a good Muslim, promise to step down the fighting – and use the truce to train his forces. He needs time to grow the Mahdi gang into an army.
Sistani’s approval won’t cement the coalition. He is merely a religious authority. Religious power in Islam is very dispersed because every cleric and theoretically every Muslim could pronounce fatwas. People go along with famous clerics insofar as they opportunistically serve the mob’s wishes. Sistani cannot afford to condemn fighting the Sunnis, thus his blessing of the coalition could only be half-hearted. Moreover, Shiite militia includes few fundamentalists who would blindly obey Sistani. They are common guerrillas who only superficially subscribe to religion or ideology. They fight for the sake of killing. Their loyalty is with Sadr. Iran – al-Sadr’s sponsor – does not care about Iraqi Shiite bosses such as Sistani. Civil war in Iraq suits Iranian national interest: strong and hostile neighbor turns into protectorate.
Iran, not Sadr is the problem, but Sadr handsomely contributes to the situation. Oddly, the US loses its soldiers, kills Iraqis and allows still larger numbers to die in the conflict while al-Sadr, who orchestrates much of the violence, lives in safety. Why not assassinate him?
The White House PR people offended the common sense when they staged Robert Gates’ meeting with a dozen of handpicked soldiers who assured him that the army is on the right track.