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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 27th, 2007 - 00:57:13

Washington�s shifting alliances in Iraq
By Abbas J. Ali, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 27, 2007, 00:54

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International affairs experts and political commentators have focused in the last few weeks on President Bush�s decision to send more armed forces to Iraq. Washington, however, has been engaged quietly in redesigning the political landscape to the detriment of the future democratic order and the welfare of the people there. The recent comment made by Vice President Dick Cheney (ABC News, Feb. 23): �We have made significant progress in Iraq,� is more likely linked to this political rearrangement in Baghdad.

As part of President Bush�s new security plan for Baghdad, troops regularly raid houses and surround entire districts. These activities are supposed to disrupt terrorists and establish a trust between Iraqis and the foreign troops. But the intrusive and bold confrontation with Iraqis and the blunt violation of the sanctity of homes have inflamed people and intensified their frustrations.

Many Iraqis question the rationality of the plan and suggest that the real objective is to reshuffle and redraw the political map in Iraq in order to strategically strengthen those who unconditionally support the occupation and weaken those who seek a sovereign, free, and democratic Iraq. There are those, too, who claim that the plan does not discriminate among Iraqis and treats all as potential criminals (this view is reinforced by the comprehensive search of homes and districts).

Surprisingly, the initial implementation of the Security Plan for Baghdad is accompanied by the reappearance on the political stage of seasoned former exiled politicians. Two of Washington most trusted allies have suddenly returned to Baghdad: former Prime Minister, Ayad Alawy, and Ahmed Chalabi, along with adamant supporters of the invasion, Adnan Bachachi and Saad Salah Jabr.

Vice President Tarq al-Hashmi and Adnan al-delami, two of the most vocal sectarian leaders, have assertively and boldly intensified their political pronouncements. Most of the patriotic forces, especially the Sadrists and Arab nationalists have been silenced, and terrorists allegedly associated with al-Qaeda have increased their attacks against ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

Furthermore, an office belonging to the United Kurdish Patriotic Party led by Jalal al-Talabani, the President of Iraq, was bombed by American troops in the north. Though a military spokesperson indicated the attack was an accident, Iraqi politicians viewed it as a powerful message to Talabani -- Washington is not happy with his recent friendly gestures to Syria and Iran.

The most serious and unexpected development, however, was the detention of Amar al-Hakim, the eldest son of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, on February 23. The latter is considered one of the closest allies to neoconservatives and is the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Just before the invasion of Iraq, al-Hakim was instrumental in forming a coalition of exiled Iraqis to facilitate the invasion of Iraq. His immediate role, after the invasion, has been invaluable.

In fact, al-Hakim has been one of the most faithful politicians to Washington�s dictates and has wholeheartedly supported the neoconservatives� plan for a weak, polarized, and fragmented Iraq. The neoconservatives admire, too, al-Hakim�s other weaknesses, especially his ill feelings toward Iraqi patriots and those who aspire to a unified democratic Iraq. However, the neoconservatives, while viewing al-Hakim as instrumental in promoting their message, co-opting some religious figures, and marginalizing the patriotic forces within the religious authority, have also looked at him with suspicion, due to his long stay in Iran after he was exiled in the early 1980s.

Unlike his father, Amar al-Hakim is an articulate and soft-spoken person. Despite his aristocratic attitude, he seems to relate, much better than his father did, to ordinary citizens. Had he not followed his father�s blind commitment to the occupation and the division of Iraq, he could have had a promising political future. Recently, he has realized that the political choices that his father and SCIRI have made limit the political possibilities for him and essentially that his father has mortgaged the son�s fortune to the presence of foreign troops and the prolonging of the occupation.

Critics, therefore, have questioned the rationale for his detention and the neoconservatives� hidden objectives. They argue that American troops would not embark on any politically sensitive act without a prior approval from Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. These critics are aware that Khalilzad is not an ordinary diplomat or common neoconservative. Khalilzad was one of the few architects of the invasion of Iraq and was trained by the best neoconservative strategists, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. That is, Khalilzad would not take or approve an action without deliberate planning.

The New York Times reported (Feb. 24) that �American troops had been lying in wait to apprehend the Hakim convoy as it drove into Iraq.� Critics point to three possible reasons for the seizure of Amar al-Hakim. One of the most common justifications is that the neoconservatives are testing whether al-Hakim senior and his organization, SCIRI, are completely loyal to and behind the neoconservatives� plan for Iraq.

These critics argue, however, that the neoconservatives, especially Khalilzad, were satisfied that al-Hakim senior had been tested several times and had showed an exceptional conformity. The latest case, the critics assert, was when the American troops, about two months ago, raided al-Hakim�s Baghdad compound and apprehended two Iranians who were his dinner guests. Though the Iranians were on an official visit and were invited by the president of Iraq, al-Hakim behaved as though things were not of his concern. The incident raised many questions, but it evidences al-Hakim�s loyalty and willingness to cooperate. The seizure of his son is again aimed to measure the depth of his loyalty.

The second argument suggests that the neoconservatives have made a strategic decision that the United Iraqi Alliance, in general, has become an obstacle to the implementation of their project and has been reluctant to eliminate forever the Sadrist Movement or to go along with the project for repealing the de-Baathification law. The latter is intended to permit influential Baathists and some members of Saddam�s regime back into the government and to minimize any consequential role for Prime Minister al-Malaki in deciding the course of action in Iraq.

The most plausible explanation, however, for the detention of al-Hakim junior is that the neoconservatives have always viewed the Iraqi venture as their own project. On this matter, they are not willing to compromise with any one either at home or in Iraq. Those who advocate this point indicate that lately al-Hakim senior has started, after his last meeting with President Bush, to behave as though he is the ultimate arbiter in the Iraqi political game. Thus, by arresting his son, the neoconservatives seek to demonstrate to him that they, alone, are in charge in charting Iraq�s future.

The neoconservatives, therefore, are rethinking their alliances with Iraqi politicians and organizations. In this emerging mapping of alliances there is no place for patriotism and individual pride and dignity. In fact, the detention of al-Hakim junior. is precisely aimed to send a clear and powerful political message to all Iraqis: no one in Iraq is out of our reach and punishment.

Abbas J. Ali, Ph.D., is a professor and director in the School of International Management, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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