Aristotle Chalabi, Meet Alexander Sadr

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The NYT op-ed page recently offered this remarkable thesis: The hope for a successful liberal order in Iraq lies in great part with Ahmad Chalabi and Moktada Al-Sadr. In the case of the latter, "Sadr and the occupation have common cause on the issue that matters most: a stable democratic outcome." Indeed, the extraordinary Mr. Sadr has not only "shown a knack for politics since he emerged from the rubble of Saddam Hussein's fall," he is now showing "a willingness to play Alexander to Ahmad Chalabi's Aristotle."

That's right: "Aristotle." When Chalabi was associated with the U.S., Iraqis reportedly despised him as a bank embezzler, a willing puppet, and a carpetbagging exile. Now, argues this piece, these same Iraqis credit him above all others with ridding them of Saddam. The piece's bottom line: If the U.S. and the Allawi regime know what's good for them, they "would do well to stop seeing these men as enemies and start working with them on building a free Iraq."

That's one point of view. Here's another: The only thing Sadr's gang of thugs has shown a knack for is murder, theft, and mayhem. The U.S. charges Sadr with the murder last April of reformist Shiite cleric Abdul Majid Al-Kho'i, killed while praying in the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. Sistani reportedly believes that at the time of the murder, Sadr's followers stole the key to the Najaf shrine (there's a literal key), and that they have since helped themselves to the money and valuables left there by pilgrims. During Alexander the Great's most recent fumbling attempt at an "uprising," in the course of which he took the Najaf shrine hostage and allowed his followers to blast at it from within, nobody responded to his call.

Few Iraqis seem to think that Sadr has been giving many orders; they suspect he is being manipulated by others. That's because Mr. Sadr's reputation among most Iraqis is not very sparkling. The country's senior clerics have been consistently dismissive of him, perhaps because Sadr is a madrassa dropout; regional news services tend to identify him not as a religious leader, but as a "leader of an armed band." (A number of Iraqi observers even suspect that Sadr's actions have been coordinated with Zarqawi's gang of foreigners, who have been waging war against Iraqi civilians. Whenever Mr. Sadr's thugs make a move, they note, the car bombs that target Iraqi men, women, and children seem to subside. When Sadr fails, as he invariably has, the car bombs resume.)

There are a lot of Sadr stories in circulation among Iraqis. They may or may not be true, but they give some hint of the regard in which many Iraqis hold Sadr. He features in these stories as "Poor Moktada." The "Poor Moktada" of these tales is mentally deranged. Indeed, this "Poor Moktada" has been in and out of institutions because he presented a physical danger to his own family. This "Poor Moktada" won't even look at you in the face when you address him. Some or even all such "Poor Moktada" stories may well be untrue, but they suggest that many Iraqis perceive Sadr as something less than an Iraqi Alexander.

An amazed Iraqi take on the NYT piece can be found here.

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  1. So do terror attacks actually subside when the Mehdi Army is engaged in a fight against American forces, or do they “seem to” subside?

    Is this an observation about the realities, or about the stories that make the nooz?

    And were you hoping no one would notice this word play?

    BTW, are there any Bush stories or Allawi stories in circulation? How about the crazy rumor that Allawi used to head a hit squad for Saddam?

  2. that is one of the most fantastically absurd analogies i’ve ever heard, i think.

    i suspect that al-sadr and many like him are fighting for, among other things, position in the post-withdrawal political order (democratic or not). that he’s a “thug” seems obvious — but so are many future statesmen (yitzhak shamir, nelson mandela, yassir arafat all). to denounce him as though he is intrinsically evil or cannot be a part of iraqi politics is, at the very least, premature.

    anyway, fwiw, predicting the outcome of any such elections as may be held in iraq anytime soon strikes me a fool’s game.

  3. This was probably the second most mind-numbingly stupid op-ed piece I’ve ever read in the NYT. It says Chalabi and Sadr would make great allies for America because… the one thing that makes them credible to their fellow Iraqis is their anti-Americanism.

    The stupidest op-ed was by William Safire, arguing that a letter from Zarqawi to bin Laden requesting help from al Qaeda is “smoking gun” proof of Saddam Hussein’s ties to bin Laden.

  4. I don’t get the analogy. Alexander only bought into pan-hellenism for reasons of pure political expedience. He dumped it the moment it was no longer useful to him.

  5. Why is it any iraqi (or iranian, afghani, …) who falls in line with the US government policies for their country is tagged with “reformist”, “moderate”, etc. and when someone opposes them they get tagged with “thug”, “extremist” etc.?

  6. lol — a, that’s known as “propaganda”, i think. 🙂

  7. “Why is it any iraqi (or iranian, afghani, …) who falls in line with the US government policies for their country is tagged with “reformist”, “moderate”, etc. and when someone opposes them they get tagged with “thug”, “extremist” etc.? ”

    Well, mostly because they are thugs…

  8. Why is it any iraqi (or iranian, afghani, …) who falls in line with the US government policies for their country is tagged with “reformist”, “moderate”, etc. and when someone opposes them they get tagged with “thug”, “extremist” etc.?

    Well, the US government policy for the country is that it should be democratic, religiously tolerant, and stable. Can you name a high-profile Iraqi opponent of those policies who is deserving of labels such as “reformist” and “moderate”?

  9. US government policy for the country is that it should be democratic, religiously tolerant…

    the implication you’re making, dan, is that those aims are moderate. i submit that they are, from most points of view, very liberal — and opposition to them can be moderate or conservative by degrees.

    it’s part of the general american conceit, i think, to assume that our values are right in the middle of the road where everyone ought to be. in the broader historical and geopolitical perspective, of course, these western values are new, ideological and radical. you don’t have to be an idiot or an extremist to oppose them on some level.

    fwiw, i saw a film called “battleground” last week which is something of a (mildly) pro-war documentary filmed in iraq over three weeks in 2003. it was replete with interviews of man-in-the-street iraqis who were sensible, literate, funny, worldly — and who want nothing to do with american-style capitalist democracy. they weren’t barbarians trapped in the 13th century. women are valued. peace is very important. these people simply viewed the west as immoral and out of control — owing, in part, to capitalism and democracy — and want instead to adhere to their traditions.

    does that make them “thugs”? obviously not.

  10. I love it that our troops in Iraq refer to Moktada as “Mookie.” Zarqawi is “Z-man.”

  11. Moktada as “Mookie.”

    lol — that is great.

  12. the implication you’re making, dan, is that those aims are moderate. i submit that they are, from most points of view, very liberal

    Perhaps, but from relevant points of view they are entirely mainstream. I’m not giving a speech before the assembled peoples of the world; I’m a western English speaker writing in a forum frequented by western English speakers. I am not obligated to refer to crypto-fascists as “moderates” just because most of the world lives under dictatorial rule.

    it’s part of the general american conceit, i think, to assume that our values are right in the middle of the road where everyone ought to be.

    That’s spelled “h u m a n”, not “a m e r i c a n”.

    does that make them “thugs”?

    It makes them thugs from a western point of view. Why should we pretend that other points of view are legitimate?

  13. Why should we pretend that other points of view are legitimate?

    oh… this explains much — including my use of “conceit”.

    do you speak for all conservatives when you say this, in your opinion? or do you not “pretend” that anyone else’s view is “legitimate” unless it agrees with yours?

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