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This is written in August of 2008, so it's a bit unfair, but I can't resist sharing my pleasure in how stupid your battle of Basra article was back in March. Basra was a huge military and political victory, of course. Now that the Russians have spoiled the fun in Beijing, perhaps the strategic importance of Iraq and our presence there is clear even to the juveniles who seem to write for this journal. Sorry for the retrospective, but this is my first visit here. I'm a grown-up, am I still welcome?

Steven Marshall

Eatontown, NJ

Aug 18 2008 - 5:41pm

Web Letter

The March of ShiismThe key to the future of Iraq is in Tehran today. “The greatest problem facing the U.S. is that Iran has superseded it as the most influential power in Iraq,” The British think tank, Chatham House, concluded in August 2006.

On April 9, 2003, control in Mesopotamia was transferred to Iraq’s 60 percent Shi’a majority after a thousand years of Arab Sunni control. Washington’s elimination of the Wahhabi Talibans and Saddam’s regime in Iraq allowed Iran to become the major power over Iraq and the world’s richest oil region. On April 9, 2003, the US won the battle against a tattered Iraq. But Iran, without firing a shot won the war for Iraq; a triumph for the Khomeini revolution--- one of Shiism’s greatest moments since Saladin ended the rule of the Shi’a Fatimid State in Cairo in 1171 AD, a cataclysmic event that turned Iran into an unstoppable regional powerhouse.

Unlike other religions and sects, Shiism binds Shiites together, especially among the Shiites of Iran and southern Iraq. To appreciate the reasons why Iran has now the upper hand in southern Iraq a brief outline of the Shi’a/Sunni divide and the binding of Shiism would be helpful.

To Sunnis, Shiites are heretics. In extremist Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, Shiites are discriminated against. The founder of the kingdom imposed on his Shi’a citizens the tax he imposed on non-Muslims. Shi’a towns and villages today are pathetically poor despite being located at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil region. In Bahrain, the Sunni ruling minority discriminates against the Shi’a majority. In Iraq, until the U.S. occupation, the Shi’a majority was deprived. In Kuwait, Shiites, almost one-third of Kuwaitis, are second-class citizens. In Lebanon, Shiites, a third of the population, are underprivileged. In Syria, until seizing power in 1970, the Alawites, a Shi’a sect, lived in abject poverty under Sunni rule. In Yemen, the Zaydis, a Shi’a sect, are a third of Yemen’s twenty million people. Zaidis accuse the Sunni government of genocide.

The Arab Shiites look to Iran for deliverance; leverage in Tehran’s arsenal in dealing with Arab oil Sheikhdoms. Egyptian President Mubarak declared recently that Shiites in Arab states were more loyal to Iran than to their own countries.

As a minority of about 15 percent of Muslims today, Shiism draws Shiites together. In Southern Iraq, Najaf and Karbala, the burial places of Imams Ali and Hussein, are the holiest of holy Shii cities. Kazimayn, nearby, has the tombs of the Seventh and the Ninth Imams. Samarra has the tombs of the Tenth and the Eleventh Imams plus the revered Mosque of the Occultation, from where the Twelfth Imam allegedly disappeared (this mosque was blown up in the civil war on February 22, 2006 and again on June 13, 2007). In the cemeteries of these holy cities, many illustrious religious personalities from the world of Shiism are buried. In Iran, the Eighth Imam is buried in Mashhad, and in Qumm his sister is buried. Outside Damascus in Syria, Zainab, the Granddaughter of the Prophet and the sister of Hasan and Hussein, is buried.

In commemorating the suffering of the Imams, pilgrimages pull millions of Shiites together. In the grand seminaries of Najaf, Karbala, Mashhad, and Qumm the best-known clerics teach. The prominent families of Najaf and Karbala trace their roots to long lines of marriages with the great families of Burjurid, Isfahan, Kirmanshah, Mashhad, and Qumm. Ayatollahs have cross-country followings. From Najaf and Karbala, Iranian clerics often led the Shii world. The so-called “historical ethnic enmity” between Arabs and Persians is an exaggeration. The conflict has always been between the rulers, not the Shi’a masses.

Strengthening Tehran's grip on Baghdad are the personal rivalries that exist among Iraq's Shiite leaders, particularly the Sistani/Hakeem camp on one hand and the Sadr organization on the other. In their turf wars, these men are compelled to seek assistance from Tehran. It is inconceivable that they would turn to Iraq’s Sunni neighbors for support. If they do, assistance would almost certainly be denied. Iran is the natural habitat for these men. Under such conditions, divide and rule is a powerful weapon in the hand of Iran’s ayatollahs to keep Iraq’s Shi’a politicians virtual surrogates and Tehran the ultimate arbiter. That Iran brought representatives of Al-Sadr and Al-Hakeem/Iraqi government to end the fighting in Basra in late March 2008 is a case in point. Washington needs to deal with Tehran. GCC rulers in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE are too feeble to challenge Iran. These men are non-representative dictators pre-occupied in outdoing each other on who owns the more ostentatious palace and who flies the bigger private Airbus or Boeing 747.

(Elie Elhadj is author of The Islamic Shield

Blog: http://journals.aol.com/eeh100/daring-opinion/

Elie Elhadj

London, United Kingdom

Apr 3 2008 - 1:47pm

Web Letter

FYITo bring some truth to your world you might want to read the following:

Iraqi Commander Leads Convoy Into Mahdi Army Stronghold in Basra in Show of Force Wednesday, April 02, 2008

BASRA, Iraq — The Iraqi commander of an offensive against Shiite militias has led a convoy into a Mahdi Army stronghold that has seen some of the fiercest fighting in the southern city of Basra.

Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji, who is leading the joint military-police operation, and the convoy have entered the Hayaniyah area and the troops began shooting into the air in a show of force before opening traffic.

The move comes a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned to Baghdad after spending a week in Basra overseeing the crackdown that provoked widespread retaliatory clashes in the capital and across the southern Shiite heartland.

Brian Carter

Simi Valley, California

Apr 2 2008 - 7:20am

Web Letter

This article and some of the letters that follow are amazingly clear examples of the alternative universe the anti-war left of our country live in.

Here are some facts. Sadr surrendered. Capitulated. Quit. He ran to Iran and told his forces to stop fighting and cooperate with Iraqi government troops.

Conversely, the Iraqi Army is still on the offensive in Basra. They did not quit. Maliki did not accept Sadr's request for a cease fire. His army is still killing and capturing criminals in Basra.

That anyone considers Basra a victory for the Mahdi army is a clear indictment of either their lack of intelligence, or their complete inability to accept reality. In Dryfuss' case, I'd consider either conclusion valid.

For the sake of those who actually found some kind of logic in the twisted conclusions of Robert Dreyfuss, let me assure you that lacking intelligence or refusing to accept reality are generally not considered positive attributes. At least not in the real world.

Eric Rokke

Monument, CO

Apr 1 2008 - 9:21pm

Web Letter

I guess that I am confused. Why would Sadr negotiate a truce if he was so convicingly winning the battle?

I realize that Amercan planes were used to aid the Iraqi Army, but I didn't hear anything about Sadr's men driving back or crushing Iraqi forces.

I guess I would look at it as a training mission to see how the Iraqi Army is (under)performing. In my opinion the only Iraqi Army soldiers who would be successful would be the Sunni's.

Craig Zeller

Denver, Colorado

Apr 1 2008 - 12:17pm

Web Letter

Hmmmm. I wonder how long it would take an American Division to secure a major city like Basra? Just a few days? I think not.

I've seen reports that the ISF is in control of the Port of Basra, and all the strategic roads and entry / exit points.

The ISF is being supported by American and British airpower. I wonder how the militias might feel when they receive a 500 lb. bomb, hellfire missile, or get strafed by a 30mm gun on a chopper?

Oh, but in all the liberal media - It's already GAME OVER.

We shall see.

Ernie Dill

Fredericksburg, VA

Apr 1 2008 - 11:31am

Web Letter

Expecting the arrogantly ignorant Bushites to know what is really going on in Iraq is like expecting a bunch of 8-year olds to understand nuclear physics.

Never have such idiots had so much power to do so much evil. Impeachment would be far too good for this bunch.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, Georgia

Mar 31 2008 - 3:10pm

Web Letter

What i think this proves is that we need to land ALL the marines we have in country, march through Basra, and clean out the bad guys.

The fighting style needs to change, surround the area that the Al Sadr guys is in, clean out every house, and when we get to the middle, capture him, and hang him or just kill him on the spot.

BIll Nigh

Riverside, CA

Mar 31 2008 - 3:04pm

Web Letter

As always, this is an informative article. While this may be a defeat for Bush and Maliki, there may be some long-term benefits to Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr is a Shia, but he is also a nationalist. He therefore has some interest in reconstituting Iraq as a nation. In order to unify Iraq, he must, at some point in time, resolve any conflicts with other religions or groups. While he may be friendly toward Iran, Iraq's national interest will prevail in any relationship with Iran or any other country.

Further, if al-Sadr does control Basra and the oil fields, they will be protected and the oil will be available for sale to those who are interested. While it might not please Bush, some Iraqis would control their own oil. I would regard that as a positive. In summary, it appears al-Sadr has created a fact on the ground, that has to be recognized, and it cannot micromanaged.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, California

Mar 31 2008 - 1:19pm

Web Letter

Who has more power in Iraq?

Who has the clout to act as a peacemaker?

President Bush or Iranian Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani?

S. Peterson

Manalapan, New Jersey

Mar 31 2008 - 12:58pm

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