December 10, 2006


Lebanon's Shiites Grapple With New Feeling of Power (Anthony Shadid, 12/10/06, Washington Post)

"How is this democracy?" Ayyash asked, pointing to the colonnaded government headquarters known as the Serail, standing like a citadel atop a hill. "The majority is here," he said, waving his hand across rows of protesters' tents.

His friends nodded, sprawled in brown plastic chairs.

"These days," he said, "we have to seize our opportunity."

Once the country's most downtrodden, entrenched in feudal misery, Lebanon's Shiites stand today on the verge of their greatest political power in the history of a diverse country defined by its fractious religious communities: Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Druze and Christians. But their ascent is a story of contradictions: Now at the peak of that power, confident of victory, the community is still shaped by its own sense of vulnerability and weakness.

Its leaders rely on age-old notions of backroom, under-the-table Lebanese politics replete with patronage, a cult of leadership and the influence money buys. But they may be reshaped by leaving a legacy of turning to the street with populist demands. And in pursuit of power, through the protests that began Dec. 1, the Shiites, the country's single-largest community, may end up breaking a system that appears to be buckling under the stress of Lebanon's most acute crisis since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has made the mistake of treating them as if they should accept continued repression, rather than welcoming their liberation, thereby repeating the mistake we made in Iraq, Meanwhile, Reality In Iraq (Jim Hoagland, December 10, 2006, Washington Post)
[I]n Iraq, the study group repeats the fundamental error that this administration has made since overthrowing Saddam Hussein. That is to refuse to anticipate and then accept the logical -- in fact, inescapable -- consequences of U.S. actions.

Having empowered the formerly persecuted Shiite majority in Iraq through regime change and democratic elections, Bush repeatedly has found its exercise of power suspect or unacceptable, primarily because of Shiite links to Iran.

And both the commission and Bush shrink from directly acknowledging that the struggle in Iraq is now the center of a much broader civil war -- a civil war within Islam that pits Shiites against Sunnis and moderates against extremists in both sects. American actions are not designed to give one religious group advantage over another. But they inevitably do and inevitably are judged in that light by the Iraqis and their neighbors. Again, the United States seems oblivious to the consequences for others of American choices.

This broader context made Hakim's soft words on Iraq's harsh realities the most important suggestions the president heard last week. As offered by the black-turbaned cleric in a series of public appearances in Washington and as supplemented by his aides, his view goes like this:

U.S. forces and the feeble central government do too little to protect Shiites. We can do that job ourselves if your troops get out of the way. That will clear the way for U.S. withdrawals while leading to the informal division of Iraq into three distinct autonomous regions. That is the only acceptable alternative to a strong central government controlled by the Shiites, which may no longer be in reach. [...]

In recent weeks British commanders have reported to London that Hakim's Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, has completed a gradual takeover of Iraq's south. That leaves British forces with little ability to influence events -- or reason to stay on much longer in any large numbers -- the commanders add pointedly.

Nationally, Hakim has watched patiently as his Shiite rivals in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party and in Moqtada al-Sadr's organization have been chewed up in the meat grinder of Baghdad's barbaric sectarian conflicts, rampant corruption and U.S. inconsistency.

Hakim gave the impression in Washington of a man riding a wave carrying him inexorably toward where he wants to go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2006 9:56 AM

Speaking of "welcoming their liberation"!

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 10, 2006 10:08 AM

Francis Marion laughs.

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2006 10:55 AM

Hoagland understands.

Meanwhile, Kagan/Kristol say more troops, more imperialism!

Posted by: kevin whited at December 10, 2006 3:01 PM

For the neocons it isn't about Iraq, it's about killing enough Americans to appear "serious."

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2006 3:23 PM

We should be encouraging the Sheite revival--it's called maximizing the contradictions.

We should much rather fight those who believe that their juju makes bullets bounce off.

I am at a loss to grasp why we should care that Sheite "dysfunction" is the product of 1400 years of Summi oppression. The vicious dog may have become so by abuse, but we still put it down.

Concerning Hezbollah war crimes, it is well known that they are a criminal organization, after the fashion of the SS. They fight without uniform or equivalent badge; their offensive tactic consists of indiscriminate fires into Israeli civilian habitations; their defense is to deliberately fight from behind and within protected persons and places.

Those Lebanese civilians who are so unfortunate as to be unwilling human shields may be lawfully fired upon by Israel if military necessity demands it, if the fires are not needlessly indiscrinate and if the collateral damage is not disproportionate to the objective.

Those Lebanese civilians who willingly serve as "human shields" have not only lost their status as protected persons, but, worse, are themselves unlawful combatants. Now the target may be engaged without concern for collateral damage, and any criminals left alive punished in accordance with the law of armed conflict.

Why did I waste all these keystrokes when we all know that international law has no application to the struggle to destroy Israel? Only to make that point. If the law meant anything, we would most literally fight unreformed Islam to the knife, as we had unreformed Shinto. Bush may or may not be in a state of denial concerening the spiritual jailhouse, if he is, he is not the only one.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 10, 2006 8:37 PM

No, we don't. We recognize it as the same breed as us. The contradictions between the Sunni and the Shi'a are the same as between the Sunni and us.

Nothing is a war crime if you win. Hezbollah wins.

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2006 8:59 PM