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Tuesday, February 08, 2005


John Moore (Useful Fools)

Let me count the ways that Frank's article is silly, or actually, just from the one anti-Right excerpt above. Err, never mind - not enough fingers.

"but it underscores that the election was a step forward for Iraqi sovereignty, despite the conditions of U.S. military occupation in which it took place."

Despite? DESPITE? The occupation was there in order to further Iraqi sovereignty.

Hello... wake up... we are not a colonial power and don't want to be. We want Iraq to be sovereign. We'd prefer a friendly government and probably won't allow an enemy government (moot for now because it won't happen). So the election did just what the Neocons suggested, which was more that I expected. I underestimated the courage of ordinary Iraqis...

"U.S. progressives could help Iraqis reach their goal by ensuring that a transfer of power actually occurs."

Err, say what? How are they going to do that? After all, the transfer of power is in the plans anyway. And if it wasn't, progressives, soundly trounced in the polls from President down to dog-catcher, aren't going to change that.

Once again, Hellooooo.... It isn't the 1930's in Central America any more. We simply want Iraq to cease to be a problem for us, and simply through their freedom to be a problem for their dictatorial neighbors (although an air base or two would be handy but not required).

"Progressives" could do the most for their cause by doing as Marc wrote earlier - work on progressive issues within Iraq - labor unions, etc. Of course, since I'm a conservative, I'd just as soon they stayed away. Oh well.


Well , i actually agree with elements of the argument that Smythe makes and Cooper advances. I was listening to Naomi Klein recently and she was speaking of the general silence of anti war people one year ago when 100 000 Iraqis marched under braod calls for elections not US appointed selections. At this time if you recall The Bush adminstration was adamantly oppossed to elections and needed more time both to fully implement its economic restructioning package, brimming with sweetheart halliburton style giver aways, as well as buy off a large number of Iraqis. Well, Naomi argued that while a hundred thousand Iraqis were marching agianst the disctates of their occupiers, the anti war movement was mostly silent. We could have marched in foavour of their demands, but we weren't listening. We could have helped Iraqis score a major victory, but we didn't. So part of the challenge of the movement, Naomi argues, needs to be how we act to mirror the demands coming out of Iraq. To call for peace or just say troops out, is simply not enough.


"Many if not most progressives however, have downplayed Iraq’s sectarian divisions... "

That's a broad generalization that he doesn't support with any evidence. As I recall, the concern about what was going to happen post-Saddam was one of the major anti-war arguments. We didn't expect to be greeted with flowers and were seriously concerned that the planners were incompetent. Bringing democracy was not high on the list of reasons and has inched up in priority after all the others were shown to be false. It was more likely that given that Saudi Arabia is the state sponsor of fundamentalist terrorism, we need another stable source of oil before we can deal with them. Sorry for the conspiracy theory but this whole thing seems more geo-political than ideological to me. That said, the anti-war left does need to move beyond the finger pointing, and I do agree with Naomi Kein's observations.

too many steves

We have long passed the point where the party in power can admit their mistakes and the party out of power can acknowledge their opponent's successes. In our current political climate it is just too certain that your political opponent will seize upon such a public admission in order to thump you with it so as to advance their agenda.

Sad that it is so, but history is not made by the carping attacks of one political party toward the other. I see evidence that the Iraqis will overcome the mistakes of the Bush-lead effort and leverage their unacknowledged achievements for more success.


I'm really not aware of any anti-war activists who have "downplayed" Iraq's sectarian divisions. There may be some, but I've never heard of any. Sounds like a straw man argument to me.


Of course the election will be exploited by both sides for political points. It was a political event and has a domestic political resonance to it. But that's not all it is. Fundamentally, it's about the Iraqis. It's politics for them, too, and they will exploit the election for their ends as well. So much messier than politics under Saddam!

As for the "reliable" poll, ahem, that's debatable.

I hope for the best for Iraq, and I will hold Bush's feet to the fire, as best I can, to see it he keeps his promises to that country.

Randy Paul

"Many if not most progressives, however, have downplayed Iraq’s sectarian divisions, since to acknowledge them might lead one to admit that the anti-American insurgents are drawn mainly from the nation’s long-privileged Sunni Arab minority constituting less than 20% of the Iraqi population."

Just once I would like to see when someone makes a sweeeeeeeeeeeeping generalization about any group that they actually back it up with something other than their opinions.

[misspelling deliberate for effect]

jim hitchcock

Boy, add a little echo to that, Randy, and I think you'd clear the Grand Canyon.

I can only speak for for myself, but I've always seen the divisions as the crucial factor. Always been fascinated by the way Bremer, Bolton, and Wolfowitz downplayed it, along with ignoring Scowcroft's take on the matter.


I think if anyone has downplayed the sectarian divisions in Iraq it's been the press. How many times have I seen a headline like, "Bomb at Mosque, 67 kiled" only to find ten paragraphs down it was a Shia mosque and the bomber was Sunni (if the can find anything left of him)? It was only just recently I realized Zarqawi is Sunni and I came to see the interior war in Iraq as primarily religious/cultural.

What I think most people, myself include, still don't understand is the flavor of tension between the Shia and Sunni. Is it like post apartheid South Africa with the Sunnis cast in the role of White Afrikaners? Or is it more like the Hutus an Tutsi's of Rwanda? Is there a racial element? Which group is considered classier than the other? This sort of analysis I haven't seen anywhere, left or right, but it would go a long way towards understanding the odds of civil war.

While I can offer no formal poll of progressive literature, in my immediate circle of family and friends, progressives seemed to always focus on a more Marxist class view of what was going on in Iraq (which is valid, but not the only lens one should use), and less the religious aspect. I had to correct one friend lately who thought Sunnis were the majority. I did see Klein statement moving the left towards making a pro-democracy statement and thought she hit the nail on the head. (Here, if anyone's looking for a link: http://www.alternet.org/story/21099/)

I would be interested in a in depth look at the source of Sunni/Shia (and Kurd) tensions if anyone's got it. But I'm not looking for a history lesson. I'm looking for what blaxpoitation movies could tell you about black/white tensions in the 70's.


The latter by writing off the real-life aspirations of Iraqi voters for a post-Saddam future.

--I myself recall a similar moral ambiguity among the pro and anti-civil rights elements in the 1960's. Both sides were wrong and morally equivalent. Martin Luther King and George Wallace were both wrong and basically the same, just like the prowar and antiwar people today. The middle ground is always best. We should keep forces in IRaq, even place more, maybe double or triple the number to make sure that democracy is solid. And they should stay there for probably about 10 to 15 more years in double or triple the number that are there now. Cooper is right this time. The right and left are morally equivalent and we should be keeping large numbers of troops in Iraq for a decade or more.


Wil…apropos of your question, I recommend Steve Magagnini’s piece in Sunday’s Sacramento Bee. It lays out the difference between Sunni and Shia in simple but intelligent terms---a sort of Iraq’s Religious Divisions For Dummies. It doesn’t get into complexities---such as the difference between the Sadr-istas (yes, I know I made that term up), and the followers of Ali Sistani. But it’s a good place to begin. (Magagnini, while not an Arabist, is a smart cookie who’s particularly good at making forays into others cultures and coming back with info for everyone else.) Hope it helps.



Rosedog, thanks - some good stuff, more detailed than a lot of what I've seen. Gets me closer.

This line seems interesting, "In addition, Sunnis tend to be more modernized and oppose the concept of a Shiite Islamic state." What's their take on a Sunni Islamic state? It seems that's what Zarqawi is fighting for. (I realize he's a foriegner and can't be taken as the face of the local Baathist Sunni terrorist attacks and certainly not for your avaerage Sunni on the street.)

I do think while the key division here is Sunni/Shia, it's a cultural division moreso than a religious one, if that makes any sense.

There's still much to learn though.



Informed Comment is one person's analysis of daya to day events with consideration to the culture and religions in Iraq.


Josh Narins

I've never heard any breakdowns on the % Kurdish, % Marsh Arab, % Urban, % Sunni or _anything_ regarding the makeup of the rebels.

I do feel bad about not helping get early elections, but perhaps I have an excuse. The Bush administration ignored the largest protest in the history of the world in order to bomb Iraq. The US media refused to call it the largest protest, and I watched Fox repeatedly write the whole thing off as the death-throes-agitations of the pro-Soviet groups within the US. Was I supposed to believe that another protest was going to make a difference to these stupid fucking idiots (and yes, compared to me, they are stupid).


FYI Ditto Juan Cole/Informed Comment - an academic expert on the Middle East who's linked on the left side of marc's blog, is on of the best sources of continuing inside info on Iraq, particularly as re: the Iraqis themselves, the various leaders and factions.

Cole saw through the war rationales of BushCo but also realized the takedown of Saddam - although it was the opportunistic creation of deliberately distorted national security arguments - held great promise for the Iraqi people over the long term IF the occupation didn't simply visit chaos on the country. The final verdict on that one is obviously not yet in, but there are some hopeful signs among the obvious dangers. If you've been following Cole's blog, not much that happens on the ground comes as a surprise. The blog is centered on the Iraqis, the pain they're going through and their eventual prospects, not American political opportunism of any stripe. Highly recommended...

Of course the crackpot triumphalists - Hack Bush Apologists as well as Great White Liberators - hate Cole because he's measured, serious, able to deal with contradictions and actually knows what he's talking about - he gets his information from a wide variety of sources, knows the region and the players, reads Arabic, etc. He's been attacked by the likes of the Spawn of Lucianne, Jonah Goldberg AND Lt. Col Michael Totten of the Fighting 69th Keyboard Command considers him a "weasel". Those are both pretty good credentials. General Andrew Sullivan (Retired), also a veteran of the Fighting 69th, attacked Cole dishonestly but has acknowledged that he's an indispensable source of information.

Highly recommended if you actually give a shit. Not for closed minds, die-hard Bush partisans or folks of any persuasion who simply want their opinions or biases verified.


I actually have Cole off my "Go" links. But I have to say, for all the praise/derision he generates, I find his writing rather dry. Important, certainly, but I'd hate to have to go through a book of his material.

I guess what I'm looking for is a Hunter S Thompson/P.J. O'Rourke combination that's actually an Iraqi on the ground. It's those little details that tell you all you need to know.

Anyway, my three posts are up. I'll keep following this thread though.


Cole has made Johah GOldberg look as silly as can be in his blog. Why would Goldberg go after someone who knows something about which Goldberg knows nothing?


1. Insult Juan Cole
2. ??
3. Profit!

(I'm done)


I haven't had the impression the anti-war left has been playing down the sectarian divisions in Iraq wrt the elections. If anything, when they finally, grudgingly, mention the election at all, it's to try to claim the pouting and sulking of a minority of a minority make it invalid.

Josh Legere

The election if anything proved that the insurgence is marginal and despite what many Anti-War types have been claiming, they do not have the vast support of Iraq. We now know that at least 1/2 of the country wants some sort of viable political future. I don't doubt that the majority of the country has a building resentment towards the occupation and the US, but I am guessing that they equally resent the insurgence.

It has been striking to watch the sickening exploitation of the Right and the backpedaling of the anti war Left. It is almost a draw as to who is more shameless at this point, but the fact that many on the Left were willing (including many on this blog) to try to legitimize the resistance as a broad based uprising with a discernable post occupation plan might make the anti-war left the winner.

It amazed me how The Nation pushed aside the elections as illegitimate even before they happened. The Left seems to want things to fail, for the US to have to leave the country in ruin just so they can say "I told you so." Of course the Republican hogs in the congress had to use the State of the Union for some transparent act of solidarity that was really a jab at the other side.

Both sides don't seem to have the livelihood of the Iraqi people in mind. It is sad. The political forces in this country turned the war and occupation into a fucking childish game of checkers. It is a disgrace and a sign as to how self obsessed US intellectuals, journalists, and pundits have become. The human cost of either side "being right" was never taken into account. Sooner or later most people in this country and in the world are going to look at the clowns that get heard in the US and flip them the middle finger.

richard lo cicero

a few things everyone seems to forget or overlook about the recent iraqi elections: 1. this was not the first "free and fair" election in the middle east. the palestinain election that made Arafat president of the PA was deemed to be free and fair by the international community including the good housekeeping seal of approval from jimmy carter. of course that didn't count since we didn't like the result. there was also a free election in algeria but that got voided because the "wrong" people won- and a 100,000 or so deaths later everything is copacetic. oh, by the way, the observers for iraq observed from jordan- a fact that jon stewart found interesting! but it was free and fair and there was a hight turnout - except we now know that was wrong as the % keeps dropping. finally, anyone see the posting on TOM PAINE of the 1967 ny times article on the south vietnamese election? seems that too was a great success and a reaffirmation of an oppressed people's desire for freedom. i think i saw that movie; now how did that end?


I can already see it. The situation in iraq will continue to go badly. Anti-war people will scream, "I told you so", in the next elections and republican dominance will continue.

Frank Smyth

Several people have posted notes here saying that I allegedly set up a "straw men" when I wrote that many progressives have downplayed sectarian divisions in Iraq, and one person challenged me to provide even one example.

Here are three, each one from a leading progressive publication.

1) John Nichols in The Nation wrote on Iraq's election day that U.S. policies have "denied the Iraqi people an honest choice." He makes no further breakdown of "the Iraqi people."

2) Robert Jensen and Pat Youngblood wrote on CommonDreams.org two days before election day that "U.S. policymakers are holding the entire Iraqi population hostage to U.S. designs for domination of the region." Later in the piece, Jensen and Youngblood do acknowledge Shi'a leaders in passing, but they maintain that even their victory in elections would be meaningless because of who "has the guns." Then they sidestep the issue of what most Shi'as, i.e. Iraqis, want.

3) Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed one Iraqi, a retired engineer called Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, the day after the elections. He told Amy, "The election was shoved down our threats." He added: "The Sunnis have boycotted the elections. Some of the Shias boycotted it. Muktadr al-Sadr faction boycotted the election. Al Khalaf faction boycotted the election. There is a resistance to the occupation in Iraq."

Each of these pieces is consistent with most other recent pieces about the Iraqi electiosn in The Nation, Common Dreams and on Democracy Now! Common Dreams ran about a dozen pieces along the same lines in the week leading up to the elections, and not one piece that offered much at all about either the Shi'as or Kurds. And what these three pieces above (and many others) all have in common is that they each downplay, in fact, Iraq's sectarian divisions.

Can those who claimed I set up a "straw man" now point to three recent pieces by progressives that did discuss Iraq's sectarian divisions including the differences in political and other aspirations among the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds?
If so, please post them to further the debate.

Marc Cooper

Good challenge, Frank! I havent seen ONE piece from American (as opposed to British) lefties that suggests who we support in Iraq. @6 million people living in post-saddam U.S. occupied Iraq and we cant find any allies?


In about three minutes I came up with Robert Scheer's most recent column at The Nation focusing on the goals of Shiite clerics (it's cautionary, but praises the clerics for pushing for the direct election of representatives, which was not the initial U.S. plan), a current column in Salon by I believe Jill Carroll that discusses the current factional contention within Iraq, and - how about almost anything that Juan Cole posts on the issue. Maybe Salon and Cole aren't progressive enough for you - I never listen to KPFA or read Common Dreams because they are predictable echo-chambers in my opinion (and only read about a third of The Nation - Corn, Alterman, Marc...a few others - for the same reason). I didn't copy all of the links, but anyone can do a quick Google of Nation, Salon or Cole to check on this (Salon requires you watch an ad, but beyond that it's free.)

I'm not sure what the point of all this is - but like some others here, one of my concerns pre-war was the ethnic/sectarian divisions that characterize the Iraqi political entity. This was a pretty common issue at the time among people with a cautionary approach to what was being cooked up by the administration.

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