Latest setback in the effort to turn Iraq into Massachusetts.
By Robert H Reid for AP via The Guardian:
BAGHDAD (AP) – An al-Qaida front group threatened to assassinate Sunni leaders who support American troops in Iraq as a Shiite bloc loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr defected Saturday from the Iraqi government’s parliament base.
The two developments cast doubt over prospects for political and military progress in Iraq as the U.S. Senate gears up for a debate next week on Democratic demands for deeper and faster troop cuts than President Bush plans.
The threat against Sunni leaders came from the Islamic State of Iraq, which claimed responsibility for the assassination Thursday of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the mastermind of the Sunni Arab revolt against al-Qaida in Anbar province. Bush met Abu Risha at a U.S. base in Anbar this month and praised his courage.
The Sunni revolt which Abu Risha spearheaded has led to a dramatic improvement in security in Anbar, although the province remains unstable. Nevertheless, the decline in violence in Ramadi and other Anbar cities has been one of the major success stories for the U.S. mission in Iraq.
A prominent Sunni sheik told The Associated Press that the province’s leaders would not be intimidated by al-Qaida threats and would continue efforts to drive the terror movement from their communities.
“We as tribesmen will act against the al-Qaida, and those standing behind it who do not want us to put an end to it,” Ali Hatem al-Suleiman said.
Still, the al-Qaida threats and the assassination of Abu Risha, one of the best protected tribal figures in Iraq, could cause some tribal leaders in other Sunni provinces to reconsider plans to stand up against the terror movement.
With U.S. and Iraqi overtures to the Sunnis under threat, the government faced a deepening political crisis with the announcement that al-Sadr’s followers were withdrawing from the Shiite alliance in parliament. Al-Sadr’s followers hold 30 of the 275 parliament seats.
The announcement, made to reporters in Najaf, means the Shiite-led government can count on the support of only 108 parliament members – 30 short of a majority. However, it could probably win the backing of the 30 independent Shiite parliamentarians, as well as some minor parties.
Still, the decision by al-Sadr’s followers will complicate further U.S.-backed efforts to win parliamentary approval of power-sharing legislation, including the oil bill and an easing of curbs that prevent former Saddam Hussein supporters from holding government jobs.
Al-Sadr’s decision will also sharpen the power struggle among armed Shiite groups in the south, which includes major Shiite religious shrines and much of the country’s vast oil resources.
Now while al-Qaeda may be the nastiest of the bunch right now, the idea that defeating them will at last liberate that huge reservoir of Islamic goodwill and cooperation currently only latent is, well, fantasy. If it’s not al-Qaeda it will be somebody else — unless they are forcibly repressed.
In an Islamic context, there are exactly two kinds of regimes possible: Islamic tyrannies and non-Islamic tyrannies. Either way, force is what holds the whole thing together. And don’t talk to me about Turkey. Turkey continually oscillates between full-blown Sharia and military dictatorship. Turkey is as secular as it is thanks to Gemal’s outright repression of Islam.
Force is invariably the key: the question is whether it is employed to repress or to abet Sharia, jihad, and general Islamic imperialism. The result the US administration ostensibly desires in Iraq — a competent, popular, Shia republic — might prove the worst of the possible outcomes. It would effectively turn Iraq into another Iran. Though US policy success in Iraq hardly seems likely. Small consolation.