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Whose Iraq? Sistani's or Sadr's?

Washington, DC

* Naomi Klein deserves credit for being among the first to report how the United States has been privatizing the Iraqi economy without any legal authority to do so. But her analysis of the Iraqi resistance is wrong. In her October 18 "Lookout" column, Klein at least qualifies her September 13 defense of Muqtada al-Sadr, the young leader of Shiite insurgents, by calling out his "dangerous fundamentalism." But she still sticks to her claim that his militia's resistance "represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq."

Instead of underscoring that the more respected, elder Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, enjoys far more support among Iraq's Shiite majority population, Klein now paints Sadr as being allegedly more resolute than Sistani in standing up to the US occupation. Klein also misleadingly suggests that it is Sadr rather than Sistani who has most consistently demanded that the United States allow for direct elections in Iraq. She also fails to tell her readers that it was Sistani who brokered the recent cease-fire between Sadr's militia and US forces over Najaf.

Klein also exaggerates Sadr's strength, writing that "he is the single greatest threat to US military and economic control of Iraq." Really? Sadr has announced his plans to disarm his militia and participate in the US-backed elections scheduled for January. If so, then the resistance would be all but over, according to Klein's logic.

Yet Klein deserves credit for one point, as she finally acknowledges in her latest piece that there are moderate Iraqis who wish to participate in US-backed elections. She correctly writes that "the current choice in Iraq" is "between open elections--which risk handing power to fundamentalists but would also allow secular and moderate religious forces to organize--and rigged elections designed to leave the country in the hands of Iyad Allawi and the rest of his CIA/Mukhabarat-trained thugs, fully dependent on Washington for both money and might."



* Frank Smyth quotes only a portion of my statement about Sadr: "Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq." The meaning of this sentence is absolutely clear: It is their opposition to the occupation that is overwhelmingly mainstream, not Sadr or the Mahdi Army themselves. In addition, I have discussed Sadr's dangerous fundamentalism elsewhere.

I also clearly stated that Sistani has more political support in Iraq than Sadr and have written extensively on Sistani's brave and principled calls for elections. But after huge pro-democracy rallies in January, Sistani decided to call off the street protests, hoping the UN would intervene and insure that elections take place. The UN, sadly, sided with US occupation authorities. Similarly, after strongly opposing the interim Constitution, which locked in neoliberal reforms, Sistani eventually allowed the document to be signed. He did so because he understandably feared an outbreak of civil war after the Ashoura bombings in March. These are not my judgments, they are facts, just as it is a fact that the longer democracy is denied in Iraq, the more support for Sadr grows.

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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Smyth, Frank
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Nov 22, 2004
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