February 07, 2005

Ayatollah Sistani and His List

The United Iraqi Alliance will most likely be the winner in Iraq’s election once the votes are all counted. The party (or “list” of candidates) was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Sistani.

The nature of this political party is crucial. It can help us determine what the majority of Iraqis really want, as well as the direction the country is likely to take during the next couple of years.

I’m hardly an expert on the United Iraqi Alliance. Far from it. Iraq has as many political parties as it has opinions, and I’m nowhere near being able to keep all of them straight.

On that note, here are a few articles that suggest in broad brushstrokes what we might expect.

The first is an AP article from Hamza Hendawi that appeared just before the election. Much of this is encouraging.
The candidate list endorsed by Iraq's top Shiite cleric is likely to emerge as the dominant political group in Sunday's election. But his followers said Monday they aren't looking to create a cleric-led Islamic state, and expectations are they won't be strong enough to govern on their own.

The bloc backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani probably will have to negotiate a governing coalition with other political groups, including rival Sunni Arabs, a minority that long dominated Iraq's Shiite majority.

At a news conference, politicians running on the al-Sistani-endorsed ticket, the United Iraqi Alliance, sought to ease any fears the bloc wants to install an Iranian-style Shiite state. Hanin Mohammed Qaddou, a Sunni Muslim on the ticket, said the issue of religious government was "not part of the program and it will not be in the near future."

Humam Hammoudi, a Shiite cleric allied with al-Sistani, said the United Iraqi Alliance has many members who oppose mixing Islam and politics. "Had this been our intention we wouldn't have let them join our list," he said.

Al-Sistani, whose views are influential with most Shiites in Iraq, is known to oppose the idea that clergy have a right to rule. He is, however, expected to insist that the constitution drawn up by the new National Assembly upholds Iraq's Muslim traditions and not include freedoms or practices violating the faith's basic tenets.

Alliance leaders also vowed not to seek revenge for violence by Sunni extremists, who make up most of the country's insurgency.
Emphasis added by me.

If what the article says is indeed true, our two biggest concerns can be laid to rest. 1) The majority of Iraqis did not wish to establish theocracy. 2) The majority of Shi’ites do not want a civil war with the Sunni Arab minority.

So far so good.

One of the Iraqis I spoke to in Washington last weekend (I’m sorry, but I don’t remember exactly who it was) said he thought Ayatollah Sistani’s endorsement of one list over the others is bad for both Iraq and Sistani himself. That may be. It tells us something useful, even so. Since Sistani endorsed who appear to be the victors, knowing who Sistani himself is tells us something about the likely victors, as well. I think it's reasonable to assume he endorsed people who share his basic philosophy.

Now is a good time to revisit an article Johann Hari published a few months ago in Britain’s Independent.
A democratic ayatollah? At first, the idea sounds preposterous, like a black Ku Klux Klansman, a Jewish Nazi or an intellectual member of the Bush family. The Ayatollah Khomeini is still the West's mental template, a tyrannical theocrat who slaughtered more than a million Iranians and issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

But democratic instincts spring up in the strangest of places. Many Shias insisted that Khomeini was an anomaly, a radical departure from the millennium-old Shia tradition of "quietist" clerics who did not seek personal political power. I was always pretty sceptical, and I'm instinctively hostile to religious authorities - but the behaviour of Sistani since the fall of Saddam has proved them right. From his home in Najaf, Sistani has been an absolutely consistent campaigner for a free and democratic Iraq, while scrupulously avoiding any temptation to seek power for himself.

[…]

Read his book A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West. It is - in Muslim terms - a startlingly progressive text. Sistani stresses the importance of respecting democracy, arguing that Muslims should participate in electoral politics - as voters and candidates - on an equal basis with non-Muslims. This might sound like a platitude, but compare it with the message preached across the Arab world by Islamofascist groups like al-Muhajaroun, who argue, "Muslims must not vote for anyone in elections... It is idol-worship. There is no legislator but Allah, and the only law should be Sharia".

Before the war, some of us argued that, in a Saddam-free Iraq, democratic strains of Islamic thought would begin to emerge. We were right - but the violence has been so terrible that nobody noticed. Reuel Marc Gerecht, an expert in Shia political thought, says that Sistani's philosophical arguments for democracy are "almost unprecedented in their scope. He speaks the language of inalienable rights: one man, one vote, and a constitution written by elected representatives and approved by popular referendum. Sistani has managed to launch a project that Muslim progressives have only ever dreamed of: establishing a democratic political order sanctioned and even protected by the clergy." Here are the slow, tentative roots of the Islamic Reformation so badly needed in the Middle East.
Thank Allah for Ayatollah Sistani. I didn’t know what to make of him for some time. But I’ve slowly come to trust him, and he hasn’t let me down yet.

If I were Iraqi I almost certainly would vote for a more secular party to the left of the United Iraqi Alliance. I’m instinctively distrustful of religious parties, even when they’re democratic. Still, Iraq can do a lot worse than having a democratic small-c conservative party like Ayatollah Sistani’s running the show. Iraqis could have voted for war and dictatorship – and they didn’t.

Besides, it’s none of my business how they choose to govern themselves – as long as they really do choose how to govern themselves and don’t opt for anti-American war-mongering tyrants to make the decisions for them instead. It looks like they probably cleared that hurdle, and the case for optimism is now higher than it recently was.

UPDATE: Mary Madigan thinks Sistani might be an Islamist. She cites evidence from her archives (1, 2, 3, 4), but it's all older than what I cited. Hmm. I wish I knew more about him than I do.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 7, 2005 06:39 PM
Comments

I was reprimanded on an earlier thread when I said that the 'statements'issued by the Shia clergy in Najaf might as well have been written by the neo-con conspiracy.
Evidently the neo-cons failed to account for the role of Islam in this grand project.As time has shown,without participation by 'Islamic Thought',there can be no stable 'democracy'in the Mid-East.I would have it otherwise as most of the religion is caught in a time-warp,but since we are rolling-the-dice anyway,we might as well just bet the house and the groceries while we are at it.
The Grand Ayatollah has been on the right side of history so far,and frankly we probably could not do better than him as a 'willing and viable'participant-leader in the next critical phases.He might be the FATHER of Iraqi Democracy.
Allah or something else is either smiling or laughing at us.I vote for smiling.

Posted by: dougf at February 7, 2005 07:14 PM

Everyone seems to speak very highly of Sistani. He will help keep Iraq from going to total Islamic Law rule but they will not escape the influence. Also, despite the 'many different colored heads' at the table, there are still the minorities of the minorities, such as the Assyrians which will continue to find just as many difficulties in the new Iraq.

Posted by: Zed at February 7, 2005 07:22 PM

"Besides, it’s none of my business how they choose to govern themselves – as long as they really do choose how to govern themselves and don’t opt for anti-American war-mongering tyrants to make the decisions for them instead."

That'll do for me.

Posted by: TmjUtah at February 7, 2005 07:37 PM

I want to know how al-Sadr made out. Is he in on this United Iraqi Alliance?

John Quiggin wants to know, and I want to tell him.

Posted by: dipnut at February 7, 2005 08:27 PM

At first glance, it appears al-Sadr took the anti-democracy route, rejecting the United Iraqi Alliance in the process. That's a relief; I hadn't had time to keep up with the business.

Quiggin predicted a strong showing for al-Sadr. I'm sure he'll be delighted to hear from me.

Posted by: dipnut at February 7, 2005 08:36 PM

Dipnut,

Who is John Quiggin?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 7, 2005 08:39 PM

Al Sadr decided to sit this one out. He told his supporters they could vote if they wanted to and they could run for office if they wanted to; some of them ran and I think some of them won -- we'll see.

If the elected government does well then Al Sadr won't do particularly badly. If it comes out looking like another US puppet he'll be on record not supporting it and he'll do extremely well assuming we don't manage to kill him.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 7, 2005 09:18 PM

J Thomas,

I think it is fair to assume that al-Sadr has already awoken to find a horses head in his bed. Possibly with a little note from al-Sistani himself.

Posted by: Rick Ballard at February 7, 2005 09:24 PM

Michael

and expectations are they won't be strong enough to govern on their own. (AP)

This is simply nonsense anyway.

The Iraqis did not vote for a government.

Posted by: Benjamin at February 7, 2005 10:19 PM

Benji, what'd they vote for.

Posted by: David at February 7, 2005 10:29 PM

Benjamin, for that matter neither did we. We voted for individual elements that would have to work together to make a government. Bush could have won the White House, the Dems everything else. And vice versa.

Grow up, bold boy.

Posted by: Mark Poling at February 7, 2005 10:35 PM

Many apolgies for the last comment. Bush <> Republicans, and a correct logical statement would have been:

"Republicans could have won the White House, the Dems everything else. And vice versa. And anything in between."

All your bold are belong to us.

Posted by: Mark Poling at February 7, 2005 10:44 PM

Mark Poling

You are unaware of the basics regarding Iraq, which differ substantially from your comparison with the US.

The election was to elect a transitionary national assembly to write the constitution. The govt will continue largely unchanged.

It is simply factually incorrect to suggest the Iraqis were voting for a govt. They were not.

You are wrong.
Your comparison with the US situation is incorrect.
I trust you will correct yourself.

Posted by: Benjamin at February 7, 2005 11:23 PM

I will help you out Mr Poling, as regards your daft comparison:

The US people do not vote for a transitionary body whose main task is to write the constitution, the Iraqis were... etc etc etc

Posted by: Benjamin at February 7, 2005 11:31 PM

Besides, it’s none of my business how they choose to govern themselves – as long as they really do choose how to govern themselves and don’t opt for anti-American war-mongering tyrants to make the decisions for them instead.

PLEASE NOTE:

"Anti-American" is the operative word.

Posted by: Benjamin at February 7, 2005 11:39 PM

No, Benjamin, all the words are operative, and the latter adjectives especially so. An anti-American, pacifist, and democratic government we can handle. We aren't going to war with Spain any time soon. Get my drift?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 8, 2005 12:26 AM

Sure, but what strategic conflicts do we have with Spain?

Posted by: Kimmitt at February 8, 2005 01:48 AM

Kimmitt,

We don't have any strategic conflicts with Spain. And we won't have any strategic conflicts with Iraq, either, if it becomes democratic and pacifist, just as we don't have any conflicts today with democratic pacifist Germany.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 8, 2005 02:05 AM

I feel very confident asserting that Iraq will tend to be a secular nation. The majority seem to be interested in obtaining a decent standard of living. Such a desire directly clashes with Islamic nihilism. Moreover, we should be declaring victory in Iraq! The conflict is essentially over. There are just a few terrorists remaining. Other than that, the news is getting better every day.

Posted by: David Thomson at February 8, 2005 02:25 AM

I am in agreement with Mary's sentiments as stated in her archives. A Constitution based on Sharia law is not acceptable. If that's what Iraq gets then Bush will have pulled a Jimmy Carter. Right now, however, we seem to be getting conflicting news reports. The ITM brothers are reporting (under a post appropriately titled "A new form of tyrrany?)that a senior Sistani spokesman denies that Sistani made any such statement about basing the Constitution strictly on Islam. It's hard to know what the hell is going on right now! As noted in posts above, this isn't so much about who will govern as it is about what the constitution will look like.

Posted by: Caroline at February 8, 2005 04:02 AM

It is simply factually incorrect to suggest the Iraqis were voting for a govt. They were not.

Thanks Benji, this whole exercise of an "election" in Iraq was just a fraud after all. You Lefties got it right, again! I'm so glad that you can scour Lefty websites for us and bring back to us the real truth of what actually happened.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 05:37 AM

Caroline:
There are two possible courses for the modernisation of the Arab-Islamic world; democratic and autocratic.

The latter can abrogate Sharia, the former would probably not wish to.
However, if imposition of a desired system by fiat is a cure, it has arguably worse problems than the disease.
It seems difficult to uphold the fiat without the system tending away from democracy.
Capture of the state by exploitative and tyrranical families (royal - Saudis & Gulf sheikhs or otherwise - eg Assads), parties, ethnicities, militaries, clans.
These have overwhelming interest in the perpetuation and entrenchment of their power, which often dominates both state and economy. They can be ruthless about the means of sustaining their rule.
The only state which has really succeeded in this has path been Turkey. Barely.

Repressive rule, especially where identified as Western-backed regimes, tends to generate Islamist reactions, and/or the rulers stimulate externally directe radicalism in an attempt to proove their Arab/Muslim bona fides, divert discontent, and buy off organised radicals like Al Qaeda.

It is possible that after decades of secularised rule, a majority constituency will build up against the restoration of Sharia when these regimes eventually fall. I wouldn't bet on it though.

Perhaps better would be to take the democratic route, attempt to implant sufficient safeguards in the emerging systems for liberty and dissent to persist and accept the corollary: if the majority want Sharia, they will have it. Trying to devise a system of law that can make Sharia minimally compatible with civil state and liberties is the task.
Not an easy task, certainly, but if successful one with potential for modification over time.

But simply saying "You cannot have the legal system you want; we Americans forbid it" seems unlikely to succeed.
The route of directed development was the one that the British mandates, and other European regimes took, often for the highest motives.
It was a mistake.

Posted by: John Farren at February 8, 2005 05:41 AM

John - thank you for that thoughtful reply. The crux of it lies in those "sufficient safeguards" you refer to. I was worried about the issue of the extent to which the constitution would be set in stone as opposed to admitting of “modification over time”. I’m not an expert on constitutional law (well – actually not much of an expert on anything) – so I do wonder what that would (or should) look like in practice.

Posted by: Caroline at February 8, 2005 06:23 AM

Thanks Benji, this whole exercise of an "election" in Iraq was just a fraud after all. You Lefties got it right, again! I'm so glad that you can scour Lefty websites for us and bring back to us the real truth of what actually happened.

I never said it was a fraud. I just said it was not to elect a government.

Posted by: Benjamin at February 8, 2005 06:58 AM

No, Benjamin, all the words are operative, and the latter adjectives especially so. An anti-American, pacifist, and democratic government we can handle. We aren't going to war with Spain any time soon. Get my drift?

Indeed I do catch your drift.

That is (not) anti-American is the operative word.

Check out.... the world.

Posted by: Benjamin at February 8, 2005 07:02 AM

Check out.... the world.

Everybody's on notice as far as I'm concerned. Love us, hate us, fear us. That's ok. Just don't f--k with us and we'll get along just fine.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 07:04 AM

Benjamin:
The transitional national assembly of Iraq is BOTH a constitutional convention AND a governing body.
Once results are determined the assembly will select a president and two vice presidents (I assume the set-up is Shi'a president, Sunni and Kurd vice-presidents). This council will then appoint a prime minister, who will in turn select his cabinet.

Then the assembly will draft a constitution, to be finished by mid August, and submitted to a referendum by mid October.
If passed, elections for a permanent government will be held on at the end of 2005.

Posted by: John Farren at February 8, 2005 07:10 AM

The state of things to come...

It hurts to do this... but Benjamin is right. A group has been chosen in Iraq to construct what will become the Iraqi Constitution. Yes, IMO the elections were successful. Yes, it was an absolutely fantistic day. Yes, it was a success for President Bush. But they did not elect a government. That will happen later this year. Even then we need to wait for the SECOND election. That will determine whether or not they are a democracy.

What Carlos said

Semper Fi

Posted by: RickM at February 8, 2005 07:15 AM

Thanks for the link :-) I think Sistani is an Islamist. I also think that he’s a very intelligent, patient and diplomatic person who knows that he can’t get away with imposing an Iranian or Saudi-style theocracy on Iraq. The Iraqi people wouldn’t tolerate it.

If Sistani could get away with imposing a theocracy, I’m sure he would. I don’t trust him one bit, but I do trust the Iraqis and their hatred of tyranny. The news is full of reports of Iraqis helping the police catch the Talibanesque “insurgents.” They're tired of bullies and tyrants.

I don’t think Sistani is leading, I think he’s following, and that’s a good thing. We should give credit where credit’s due – to people like Omar who said:

"Bottom line is, the last word will be the people's from now on in Iraq and Iraqis will never accept a one man rule no matter what; They're tired of being controlled and they will never, ever approve a new kind of tyranny under any name."

Posted by: mary at February 8, 2005 07:28 AM

Rick, think of Sistani as something like a supreme court judge, chosen by acclaim. He is not going to be involved in assassination threats. It isn't his role.

Al Sadr might indeed be getting death threats from iraqi parties as well as from the US. It's convenient for them that we vowed to kill him; if they do it they can blame it on us. However, he has some of the screwiest shia behind him, and they mostly stop doing screwy things when he tells them to stop. Kill him and they're likely to go off on their own tangents. Note too that Al Sadr's central stands -- get the americans out and get a religous government -- are supported by most shia. Since they intend to do what he wants anyway, why bother to kill him?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 07:33 AM

"I feel very confident asserting that Iraq will tend to be a secular nation. The majority seem to be interested in obtaining a decent standard of living. Such a desire directly clashes with Islamic nihilism."

Muslims disagree. I strongly doubt they will think they have an either/or choice between islamic government and a decent standard of living. Whether you're right or not is irrelevant to that -- they don't believe you're right so they won't act on your beliefs.

"Moreover, we should be declaring victory in Iraq!"

Absolutely. Now is the best time. Declare victory and get out now. There will probably never be a better time.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 07:43 AM

"Everybody's on notice as far as I'm concerned. Love us, hate us, fear us. That's ok. Just don't f--k with us and we'll get along just fine."

Carlos, I fully agree! Well stated.

It's unacceptable for these guys to attack US soil or US embassies. If we don't f--k with them they shouldn't f--k with us.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 07:51 AM

If we don't f--k with them they shouldn't f--k with us.

J Thomas,

I'm glad we can agree on the basic premise. But does your added postulate always follow?

For instance, if somebody considers exporting MTV and Desperate Housewives as an attack on their culture/religion, are they entitled to f--k with us?

To me, it's commerce, but to them it's an act of war. It's a lot harder to get along with sickos than you might think.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 08:03 AM

"It hurts to do this... but Benjamin is right. A group has been chosen in Iraq to construct what will become the Iraqi Constitution."

Rick, I don't know where this canard came from, but I've seen it several times now. The document that defines the Transitional Government says they have full rights of government for one year. They can make treaties, they control the central bank and the iraqi army (in theory), they can rescind CPA directives. However, the iraqi army is considered part of the coalition forces and is under unified command until the next election. Similarly, the transitional government can make new agreements about the coalition forces but they can't change the coalition forces' rights under UN resolutions.

It's just wrong to say they are supposed to make a permanent constitution and nothing else. I don't know where that idea came from but it gets repeated. Usually I hear it from uninformed wingnuts, but this time it seems to be from the other side.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 08:20 AM

"For instance, if somebody considers exporting MTV and Desperate Housewives as an attack on their culture/religion, are they entitled to f--k with us?"

Carlos, you may remember that the last time we invaded panama it was officially because we said the panama top leader Noriega had been smuggling drugs into the USA, against US law, and we wanted to try him in a US court for that US crime. Were we entitled to f--k with them to that extent for that reason?

"To me, it's commerce, but to them it's an act of war. It's a lot harder to get along with sickos than you might think."

Yes, no doubt to Noriega it was just commerce.

My general inclination is to figure that if some other nation makes it illegal to view MTV or Desperate Housewives, we should honor their wishes and not broadcast it to them unencoded. Unless, that is, we decide we want to f--k with them and we're willing to take whatever consequences come.

It seems like basic politeness not to condone smuggling illegal stuff into other countries that we aren't trying to f--k with.

When it's crackpot minorities in the other countries who don't want us to sell their countries stuff, that's harder to deal with. Let them arrange boycots and demonstrations etc, and try to persuade their government to make it illegal. We can't please everybody. And if civilian groups attack us for things that our businesses do that aren't illegal anywhere, they are criminals and deserve to be hunted down with all the force of international law. That's true whether they're american criminals bombing legal abortion clinics or arab criminals bombing american stockbrokers or whatever.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 08:45 AM

We can't please everybody.

No, we can't. And that's my basic point.

But we aren't going to f--k a country just because they have crackpots taking shots at us, unless of course that country actively encourages them and uses them as proxies. Then we will hold them accountable. And if rude, unencoded sattelite gives them the license to take a shot at us, then what can I say. They're entitled, but they need to know it's going to cost them their lives.

I'm not sure what your Noriega example has to do with it though. He obviously f--ked with us, so we took him out. My advice to him would have been, whatever you're doing, stop doing it. Same advice to Saddam, and to anybody really. Whatever you're doing that's pissing off the powers that be, stop doing.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 08:55 AM

Here's some very encouring news about Sistani just out :

http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/02/19f603d8-bf9d-4388-a798-77ad427b1b0b.html

8 February 2005 -- A spokesman for Iraqi Shi'a Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said today that al-Sistani is not demanding the country's new constitution be based on Shari'a, or Islamic law.

Hamid al-Khafaf said al-Sistani maintains his previous position that the new constitution should respect the Islamic cultural identity of the Iraqi people.

Al-Khafaf said al-Sistani has not changed his position on that and that the details of the constitution are a matter for elected representatives of the Iraqi people.

A recent report in "The New York Times" said that leading Shi'a clerics in Iraq, including al-Sistani, were pushing for the new Iraqi constitution to be Islamic in nature.

Of course, acts matter more than words, but the above press release is encouraging news.

It is only natural that Muslims will want to see their constitution reflect some of their culture, but if the above press release is to be belived, Sistani is certainly not calling for an Islamic state, or even for Sharia law to form the basis of Iraqi law.

I'm optimistic about Sistani. We'll see what the future holds.

Posted by: MisterPundit at February 8, 2005 09:09 AM

Me then:
What results from the election would go to show that Iraq the Model speaks for the majority? I assume this means you predict a victory for Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party, or is it that you think that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani holds views in line with ItM and FoD?

You then:
Sistani's views overlap Omar's and Mohammed's a great deal whether they adhere to the same partisan list or not.

You need a new handle. "Factcheck" is incredibly arrogant and obnoxious.

You now:
I wish I knew more about [Sistani] than I do.

Who do you owe an apology to, exactly?

Posted by: FactCheck at February 8, 2005 09:10 AM

What's with all the weird speculation about al Sadr? I mean stuff like this...

At first glance, it appears al-Sadr took the anti-democracy route, rejecting the United Iraqi Alliance in the process.

...and this...

Al Sadr might indeed be getting death threats from iraqi parties as well as from the US.

...and this...

I think it is fair to assume that al-Sadr has already awoken to find a horses head in his bed. Possibly with a little note from al-Sistani himself.

This stuff is seriously off the mark. al Sadr is a popular figure amoung the Shia because of the longtime outright opposition to the Baathists by his family. It should be remembered that al Sadr's uncle, father, and several brothers were all assasinated by Hussein's goons. And while he was not running in the elections himself, he had respresentatives who did.

Also, as I posted in a comment here a couple of days ago, there's this:
I will bring al-Sadr into government, says the man tipped to be Iraq's new PM

A leading contender to become Iraq's new prime minister has offered to welcome Moqtadr al-Sadr, the demagogic Shia cleric behind bloody uprisings against coalition forces, into a new government expanded to include those who boycotted the election.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a moderate Shia whose United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) list is certain to top last weekend's poll, told The Telegraph that Sadr, wanted for alleged involvement in the hacking to death of a fellow cleric, was "a good person" who could play a constructive role in the new Iraq. "Moqtadr Sadr's father was killed by Saddam Hussein," he said. "He has a large number of followers. We can involve them. If they are not killers, and if we have no evidence against them, then we can give them a chance to share in the political process."

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 09:22 AM

I don't know a lot about Sistani either, but I do know that if he wanted to seize absolute power for himself he probably would have done so by now.

Last spring, the US forces were reeling from the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Sunni assault on Falluja, and Al Sadr's revolt in Baghdad. Bush's approval rating were at his low point, and support for the mission had rapidly deteriorated in the US. If Sistani had made his move then, support for our mission in Iraq would have probably sunk to such a level that Kerry could have won the US election in November (not to mention Latham in the Australian election). And if Kerry was being sworn in in the middle of a full scale revolt I have little doubt he would have pulled our forces out, leaving Sistani in likely control of the entire country.

Anyway, maybe it would have worked out that way, and maybe it wouldn't. But if Sistani truely wanted absolute power (like Khomeni or Khameni) this would have been greatly preferable than endorsing a slate of candidates that would have to stand before the voters and, even if successful, still have to comromise with Sunni Arabs and Kurds (not to mention Sufis, Christians, and Zoroastrians) to put together a temporary electoral coalition. The fact that he opted for this route says a lot more about his genuine intentions, I think, than any idle speculation on our part.

Posted by: Sean at February 8, 2005 09:57 AM
Benjamin:
It is simply factually incorrect to suggest the Iraqis were voting for a govt. They were not. You are wrong.
Your comparison with the US situation is incorrect.
I trust you will correct yourself.

John Farren's rebuttal to this was quite elegant, so I shan't bother restating it.

On the other hand, I believe the gist of your argument was that the elections were a sham, and I will continue to mock it. For the first time Iraqis got to vote for representatives. And those representatives are going to have to tussle among themselves to come up with solutions that are in the interests of the voters they represent. That's a big deal. And your sneering disdain for the process reflects badly upon you.

Iraq is in transition. I can't quite figure out what you believe should have been done differently. If you'd care to tell us your better ideas, please do so.

Posted by: Mark Poling at February 8, 2005 10:00 AM

Anyone have any guesses to Sistani's thoughts on the Palestinian issue?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 10:19 AM

Double plus,

it's not hard to guess.

Which makes the Lefty argument that we did it for "Israel" ridiculous on its face.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 10:36 AM

"Anyone have any guesses to Sistani's thoughts on the Palestinian issue?"

I'm guesssing he's on the Palestinian side of the issue, if for no other reason than it would be political suicide for him not to be.

Posted by: MisterPundit at February 8, 2005 10:40 AM

Factcheck,

I do not owe you an apology for claiming your handle is arrogant and obnoxious. It is. When you quote me saying I wish I knew more about something than I do know, you're only demonstrating that I, unlike you, do not claim to know everythingg.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 8, 2005 11:34 AM

I trust Sistani, he's done everything to achieve democracy in Iraq peacefully that he could have possibly done.

Somebody's compared his role to that of the Pope in Poland. No comparison of that kind is ever anywhere near perfect, but I agree with the thought.

Sistani, more than anybody else, has contributed to success in Iraq over the last two years, and that record has earned him a lot of credibility with me.

Posted by: Heiko Gerhauser at February 8, 2005 11:58 AM

"Anyone have any guesses to Sistani's thoughts on the Palestinian issue?"

If his position is like his position on iraq, he'd want a secular state that reflects the islamic sensibilities of the majority of citizens, and also protects the legitimate rights of the jewish and christian minorities.

But of course this is unrealistic as the israelis would never accept it. They will do anything to ensure a jewish majority in a separate zionist israel.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 11:58 AM

But of course this is unrealistic as the israelis would never accept it. They will do anything to ensure a jewish majority in a separate zionist israel.

as would the Arabs do anything to ensure a majority arab state. And ps., zionism is a secular philosophy, as is the State of Israel.

There's plenty of arab land elsewhere for their majority Arab states.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 12:05 PM

"Which makes the Lefty argument that we did it for "Israel" ridiculous on its face."

Carlos, when we went in we were talking about molding iraq into just exactly what we wanted it to be. We specifically didn't allow early local elections because we thought too many of them would result in islamic candidates winning.

Now that we're taking what we can get, it's a different ball game and says very little about what we were trying to do when we first decided to colonise iraq.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 12:05 PM

When you quote me saying I wish I knew more about something than I do know, you're only demonstrating that I, unlike you, do not claim to know everythingg.

When did factcheck claim to know everything?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 12:12 PM

We specifically didn't allow early local elections because we thought too many of them would result in islamic candidates winning.

J Thomas,

that's interesting, considering the neocons wanted elections sooner rather than later, and the Lefties wanted to hold off elections until later.

So Lefties got to blame neocons for having elections too soon, and now they get to blame neocons for not holding them sooner. I can see how that works for you!

Not that I care if your assertion is true. We didn't go there to hand power to a bunch of jihadists.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 12:16 PM

Carlos, the topic was predicting Sistani's position, which I did based on what he's said about iraq.

I'm not ready to argue how "secular" zionism is. It would involve a question whether judaism is a religion or a race or an ethnicity, and I see no particular value in discussing such things now.

[deleted]

Looking back, I shouldn't have written this much. It's a useless side issue. So I delete and attempt to stay on topic.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 12:20 PM

Carlos, I didn't know the neocons actually wanted early elections. What I saw was that Garner started doing early elections and Bremer stopped them. Was Garner a neocon and Bremer a Lefty?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 12:22 PM

FYI, further to my post earlier, here is some more news regarding the NYT's and AFP's claims about Sistani and his supposed desire to impose Sharia law :

BBC LINK :

"Reports at the weekend that prominent Iraqi Shia clerics were now pushing for a constitution based solely on Islamic Sharia law caused concern among Iraqi secular and Kurdish leaders.

BBC regional analyst Sadeq Saba says the statement by Ayatollah Sistani's spokesman suggests that the ayatollah has no intention of turning Iraq into an Iranian-style theocracy."

In other words, the whole "Sistani calls for an Islamic state" controversy that dominated the news over the weekend and Monday seems to have been wholly manufactured by Western media.

PS : I couldn't help but notice that a lot of the "Sistani calls for Islamic state" reports quoted our dear friend Juan Cole to support their arguments (the same guy who predicted a 30% voter turnout in the elections). Cole's reputation (LOL, yes I know) seems to be disintegrating before our eyes.

Posted by: MisterPundit at February 8, 2005 12:35 PM

Carlos, you're having memory failure. Sistani was pushing for a constitutional convention and direct elections in 2003. When Bremer refused, he even insisted that the UN conduct an analysis to determine if conditions in Iraq were condusive to holding an election.

The NeoCons were not pushing for early elections, and the left, well, liberals and the left don't have an official voice, so I don't know what they were calling for. Me, I thought along the same lines as Bremer, that the situation was too unstable to hold fair elections.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 12:35 PM

DPU: When did factcheck claim to know everything?

It's implied in his handle: FactCheck. It grates on me, but perhaps it's just me.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 8, 2005 12:37 PM

MisterPundit: In other words, the whole "Sistani calls for an Islamic state" controversy that dominated the news over the weekend and Monday seems to have been wholly manufactured by Western media.

I think that you've misinterpreted something. No one said he was calling for an Islamic state, they was saying that the basis of the constitution would be Islam. While that's a bit vague, it definitely indicates that there will not be a division of church and state, and if I were a Iraqi woman, I'd be worried about losing quite a lot of civil rights.

Not to mention what the liquor store owners must be thinking about now...

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 12:40 PM

It's implied in his handle: FactCheck. It grates on me, but perhaps it's just me.

I doubt that it's just you that factcheck grates on, but I find his or her posts fairly intelligent and to the point. Then again, that may be because I agree with most of factcheck's posts.

Thene again again, I've found by experience that it isn't a good idea to grate on you host. Makes their blogs less fun for them.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 12:45 PM

"I think that you've misinterpreted something."

No, I'm not misinterpreting anything. The media was clearly misrepresenting Sistani's views, otherwise he won't be REFUTING them tody.

Posted by: MisterPundit at February 8, 2005 12:49 PM

Double, J Thomas,

I guess I just don't remember that far back then.

But is it true, as J Thomas asserts as fact, that it was to forestall Sistani? Sistani won guys. I see no difference in the results, and everybody seems pretty ok with it.

I think if Bremer said no, it was for the logical reasons you stated Double.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 12:57 PM

I think you're both right. In 2003 shortly after the invasion there was a tussle between the US admin and Sistani about elections. Sistani wanted it almost immediately, but Bremer felt it should be posponed till later. Bremer won out and for good reason.

However, once the date was agreed upon, liberals started pusing for it to be postponed even further. From mid 2004 onwards the postponement of the Iraqi elections became a leftwing battle cry.

Posted by: MisterPundit at February 8, 2005 01:00 PM

MisterPundit - No, I'm not misinterpreting anything. The media was clearly misrepresenting Sistani's views, otherwise he won't be REFUTING them tody.

No need to get steamed and resort to capital letter, Mr. Pundit. Could you cite the media pieces where Sistani is refuting the news yesterday? Or could you cite the articles you mention that were saying that there was going to be an Islamic state in Iraq (by which I assume youi mean a theocracy)?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 01:15 PM

MisterPundit: From mid 2004 onwards the postponement of the Iraqi elections became a leftwing battle cry.

I must of missed that battlecry, as I don't remember it. Although I did think they should be postponed because of the insurgency. If the elections are held, and a significant proportion of the population cannot or will not vote, then that gives credence to battlecries of "the election was unfair" or "the Iraqi government is not representative." As the currently elected body underrepresents Sunnis, that may have long-term undesireable consequences.

Now, that view may not turn out to be accurate, but I think it's a legitimate point to bring up.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 01:20 PM

I must of missed that battlecry, as I don't remember it.

Double plus,

then you must not listen to NPR or read Juan Cole or any number of Lefty second guessers who were saying it had to be postponed, for various reaons, i.e., insurgent violence or sunni intrasigence, etc. Or maybe you were just under a rock the whole time? The Bush administration had to wade through neck deep quicksand in the face of all the opposition to his elections timetable.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 01:29 PM

Carlos. So when Bremer says the elections need to be postponed because of unsafe conditions, that's good. When anyone else says it, they're second guessers and that's bad. And when I say I don't remember the "battlecry", I'm living under a rock.

Got it.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at February 8, 2005 01:38 PM

When did factcheck claim to know everything?

On September 28, 2004 06:12 AM

FactCheck would like to note that SoCalJustice attributes the article he links to to "Knight Ridder." This is not accurate. The article he links to was authored by "Stephen Johnson, a senior policy analyst for Latin America at The Heritage Foundation." It was distributed by Knight Ridder.

The Heritage Foundation is "A think tank whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies."

FactCheck. We're always right.

Posted by: FactCheck at September 28, 2004 06:12 AM

Claiming to know everything is arrogant. That plus a tendency to refer to oneself in the third person is generally recognized as an obnoxious trait.

It's a fact that human beings make mistakes. Unless FactCheck can prove that he's not a member of the human race, I believe he "owes the truth an apology for having butchered it"

Posted by: mary at February 8, 2005 01:41 PM

double-plus,

Can you point to any recent, reliable info regarding al-Sadr, his current prospects, relationship with Sistani, etc.? That'd be helpful.

Posted by: dipnut at February 8, 2005 01:52 PM

"Could you cite the media pieces where Sistani is refuting the news yesterday?"

There's a link to such an article right there in the same post you orginally responded (BBC link). I quote from that article :

"A spokesman for Iraq's most influential Shia cleric has denied reports that the cleric is demanding that Islam be the country's sole source of law."

I must of missed that battlecry, as I don't remember it.

Well, it happened. Sorry. For example, here is John Kerry in September 2004 :

"Kerry also took issue with Allawi's statement to Congress that elections could take place in Iraq by January. "The United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq," Kerry said. "There are no-go zones in Iraq today. You can't hold an election in a no-go zone."

That's what a lot of people on the left were saying. It's laughable to deny it.

Posted by: MisterPundit at February 8, 2005 01:56 PM

When anyone else says it, they're second guessers and that's bad.

I didn't say it was bad, I said it was wrong.

Bremmer was right when he said no to elections back then. And Bush was right when he said now to elections today. It's about timing. Getting it right. Too early--wrong. Too late--wrong.

AND I was merely pointing out that Lefties wanted it both ways (as usual), criticizing neocons for holding off elections (see Bremmer), and then for rushing the elections (see Bush).

It's about getting it just right and not always wanting it both ways.

Got it?

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 01:59 PM

Anyone have any guesses to Sistani's thoughts on the Palestinian issue?

I’d assume that he’s opposed to a Jewish state on the basis of his view (common among Islamists) that non-Muslims are unclean, or najis.

This is a Muslim explanation of why we, our children, our parents and our ancestors, the Buddhists, the Jews, etc. are unclean (or najis or "one of the najasat")
One of the najasat is a kufr, an unbeliever. It is needless to say that a kaffir is considered najis not because of his physical state, rather because of his spiritual state-kufr, disbelief. By declaring the kaffir as najis, Islam wants to draw our attention to a terminal spiritual disease known as kufr.

What is kufr? Kufr literally means a cover. In Islamic terminology, it is mostly used for a person who disbelieves in God; and so "kafir" means an unbeliever. By using the word "kafir" for an unbeliever, Islam is implying that the unbeliever is a person who covers or hides the truth. What can be more true than God, the Creator?! It also means that a kaffir is a person whose soul has been completely covered by darkness.

Kufr-the rejection of God-is such a strong spiritual disease that it affects entire body of the kaffir and renders that it effects the entire body of the kaffir and renders it najis. Even if a kaffir washes himself thoroughly hundred times and dresses up in very clean clothes, still he will be considered ritual najis. Nothing can cure this spiritual disease,nothing can purify the soul

You can learn a lot about Sistani from his website at http://www.sistani.org/

On the question of how to act in foreign countries:

Question: Is it permissible to harass a Jewish, or a Christian, or an Atheist neighbour?

Answer: It is not permissible to harass them without justification

..Sistani's not entirely opposed to harrassment of the najasat, but in another question & answer session, he is completely opposed to stealing office supplies.

Posted by: mary at February 8, 2005 02:24 PM

He is, however, expected to insist that the constitution drawn up by the new National Assembly upholds Iraq's Muslim traditions and not include freedoms or practices violating the faith's basic tenets.

Personally, the tell tell of what Sistani expects was in this sentence. What you won't see is a body of mullahs who have direct authority, but what you will see is a body of mullahs that have influence.

What they are expecting, from the Sistani point, maybe to legislate laws such as no alcohol sales and decency laws, possibly not as strict as Saudi Arabia, but moving in that direction. There are already hints that women in Basra and other mixed communities are being exhorted (maybe even forced) to wear the hijab. We can't put that down to only sunni/wahabi extremist. The largely traditional shi'ite population of Iraq practice this already as do the shi'ites of Iran (of course, through theocracy, but putting those laws in the constitution would constitute the same without a mullah council).

However, the question will be, as Omar from ITM points out, is the party of the UIA strong enough in it's internal alliances with the other parties to get these kind of laws instituted? My guess is that, while there may have been some pre-election wrangling about who appears at what position on the list and what the coalition would support, when it gets down to brass tacks, some of them may not go along with the rest of the body. And, without that entire block, their power is mitigated unless they can make other alliances.

The party itself may receive somewhere around 50-55% of the seats on the council, but at least 15% or more of those seats will be inhabited by less theocratically ideological candidates who can make alliances with other groups to push their part of their agenda. I also look for the Kurdish, Allawi and Yawar parties to make some strong alliances because they are faced with such a large opposition block.

Lastly, it will have to go through a public referendum which can be rejected by either not obtaining a popular majority as a whole or not receiving a majority in three or more provinces. This gives the minorities like the kurds and some sunni districts power to control the final outcome. If only they will realize that their future depends on voting and get out and vote on the popular referendum.

I originally did not understand this process and thought what a messed up representative system that was, but it was actually kind of brilliant. The minority rights are protected in several fall back positions.

Posted by: kat-missouri at February 8, 2005 02:48 PM

Michael, you jumped down my throat because I dared ask mary a question about what she foresaw this election being - she said - "Iraq the Model and the Friends of Democracy ... speak for the majority [of Iraqis]." I wanted to know how this worked out, as I see ItM and FoD (correct me if I'm wrong) more in line with Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Either she sees them as "Islamists" (her word), more in line with her perception of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, or she believes that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani isn't going to win the election, or I'm just confused about what she was trying to say with her statement that "Iraq the Model and the Friends of Democracy ... speak for the majority [of Iraqis]."

Like I said - you ask a simple question around here, and you get your head bitten off. Given that you don't seem to know what Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stands for (I certainly don't), but you do know what ItM/FoD stand for (as do I), it's pretty clear that your strong statement that "Sistani's views overlap Omar's and Mohammed's a great deal whether they adhere to the same partisan list or not," can't be accurate, given that you admittedly don't know what Sistani's views are.

Perhaps it's my background that makes me form logical arguments from point to point to point instead of trying to persuade people to like and agree with me, but I'd rather be right.

If you don't like my handle, I'm happy to change it. There.

Now, on to the less substantive sniping from mary-

"We're always right" doesn't mean "we know everything," it means we don't talk about things we don't understand except to ask questions. I know it's a subtle difference for 3 right-turns to grasp, but I think the rest of the people here would get it.

Also, learn to take a joke, for c-sake. It's telling that the only rebuttal that someone who dosen't capitialize their name has to my points is that I can't spell.

Posted by: Logical Argument Above at February 8, 2005 03:17 PM

FactCheck/LogicalArgument: Like I said - you ask a simple question around here, and you get your head bitten off

Sorry. The head-biting was mostly directed at your handle, not your question. I'm probably over-reacting, I'll admit that, and I'm glad you changed it, but it's still obnoxious. :)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 8, 2005 03:45 PM

I haven't seen a leftist argument that it's too early for elections. What I've seen from leftists is generally that whatever the US government is doing in iraq, will have no good result for the USA. They seem to think that we've dug the hole so deep that there's no good way out. I tend to agree though I'm no leftist.

I think early elections would have been a good thing back before the security problem got so bad. But Bremer didn't want it, because first the exile iraqis he was backing would have lost, and second the islamists would have won some, and third Bremer wanted to run things himself. So Bremer's plan was to have a caucus for another "advisory" government, and this and that, and after more years have real elections for a real constitutional convention. Sistani agreed to put off elections for just one year, and then wouldn't agree to any more delays. The "interim governing council" went along with that too; their document allows no room for delay in either the first election, or the deadline to complete the constitution, or the second election.

After the security went south elections looked hard. I think it needn't have been that hard -- they could have gone to each city and asked who was running things, and asked if whoever was running things there would guarantee safety for elections. Some cities would have had insurgents protecting the polling places but the elections might have gone pretty well. But we didn't want to give the insurgents that status, so we destroyed Fallujah and talked about destroying all the other insurgent cities. But then we had so much trouble with Fallujah that we didn't get around to destroying any other cities.

So now they've had the elections that they could have had last year. Now what? Of course shia mullahs are talking about an islamic government, and of course Sistani is saying that those stories are exaggerated. Aren't both of those utterly predictable?

My guess is that the Constitution won't specifically say it's an islamist government. But with a majority who consider themselves shia (not just nominally like so many american christians go to church easter and christmas and otherwise don't do anything much christian) they're going to get a degree of islamist government. If we had as many fundamentalist christians as they have fundamentalist muslims we'd have a lot of christian legislation. Where they might compromise is with a federal system. Let the indvidual provinces choose their individual legal systems, leading to some provinces with shia muslim justice, some with sunni muslim justice, and some secular. Democracy in action. It isn't particularly any business of americans except to the extent we let our own prejudices get in the way and we try to obstruct democracy in iraq.

The other big issue is whether the new government tells us to go away. That's overwhelmingly popular. But the assembly can't pass anything except after two readings separated by 3 days. So if they do try to tell us to leave we have 3 days to decide what to do -- we can persuade them to withdraw the bill, or kill the proponents and blame it on insurgents, or dissolve the assembly, or whatever. Or we can leave.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 04:59 PM

There was plenty more:

Diamond Warns of Dangers of Early Elections in Iraq in NY Times Op ed

http://cddrl.stanford.edu/news/397/

Dead Wrong on the Iraqi Elections -- Juan Cole

http://www.antiwar.com/cole/index.php?articleid=4070

You Can't Hurry Democracy

http://www.womenwagingpeace.net/content/articles/0411a.html

UN envoy: Iraq too dangerous for polls

http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/54FC759B-9F9A-4020-A339-196285325139.htm

Premature elections risk further Iraq polarization

http://www.harktheherald.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=42200

Too Early for a Vote in Iraq, Says Former Election Observer

http://www.collegenews.org/x4079.xml

Iraqi elections are coming too soon

http://www.thesantaclara.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/01/13/41e616856a408

January too soon for Iraq elections

http://www.ucfnews.com/news/2004/11/29/Opinions/January.Too.Soon.for.Iraq.Elections-815445.shtml

We don't take you naysayers seriously anymore. You're always wrong.

Posted by: Carlos at February 8, 2005 05:35 PM

“Logical Argument Above” - Michael is a lot nicer than I am. At least he takes the time to answer your ‘questions’. I guess it’s part of being the host of the blog.

When I’m a guest host, I should also try to be nice. But I’m not right now, so –

LAA, your arguments basically boil down to this –
“I don’t agree with what you say and you have to convince me that you’re right. Get to work fetching links for me right now!”

When links are proffered, say “I still don’t agree. Go fetch me more.”

It’s a very simple way of annoying, frustrating and boring opponents while at the same time hiding your bias by not having to make a counterpoint.

In any case, of all of your aliases, George fits best.

Posted by: mary at February 8, 2005 06:05 PM

If you think about how rigid the US is on drug laws and punishments, you have to admit that we are living under a variety of Sharia ourselves. An awful lot of religion and religious intolerance is tacitly approved and occasionally legislated. I think we may have one of the most liberal legal systems in the world, but it's far from perfect, and we have to fight constantly to maintain its ancient virtues.

If Iraq chooses to impose any religious rules they wish, we don't have the moral authority to tell them they are wrong. If they tolerate religious police imposing moral prohibitions, we can't say we haven't done the same. I certainly hope that they choose to have a Bill of Rights, protection of minorities, religious tolerance and sex equality, but I won't be terribly disappointed if they don't. As long as they maintain the crucial elements of democracy, the eternal balanced contest, they will evolve into a better place over time.

Posted by: jj at February 8, 2005 07:22 PM

I was the second person to comment on this post, and no one has responded to the Assyrain cause, and I'm dunk enough to point out that that is a prime e3xample of why people suck and minorities lose.

p.s. Michael, it is pretty cool that you got to hang out woth Hitchens, I envy you damit

Posted by: Zed at February 8, 2005 08:19 PM

And we won't have any strategic conflicts with Iraq, either, if it becomes democratic and pacifist, just as we don't have any conflicts today with democratic pacifist Germany.

And like we don't have any conflicts with democratic pacifist Venezuela, except when we approve of military coups there.

Seriously, do you really think that God comes down from Heaven and annoints a government "democratic," at which point political conflicts between nations cease taking place? How'd that work out for the Third Republic and Weimar Germany? Or the US and Allende Chile? Or the Finns and the Brits during WWII? Or India and Pakistan in 1947? Or Croatia and the former Yugoslavia? Or Ecuador and Peru in 1995? Or India and Pakistan again in 1999?

Why, it is almost as though democracies, like other nations, conflict with one another when their interests do not align! Stop the presses!

Seriously, where do you get this stuff?

Posted by: Kimmitt at February 9, 2005 12:28 AM

Kimmitt, people want to believe that democracies never attack each other. And so there are actual published studies that reach that conclusion. What it takes is to tighten up the definition of what a real democracy is until there aren't enough real democracies left to get a war. So for example we can throw out the Confederacy because they had slaves, and then throw out the entire USA pre-1865 for the same reason, etc. Throw out democracies until they've had a change of government -- it isn't a democracy unless they actually give up power from an election. Etc. By the time you reduce the number of democracies to, say, 10% of the total then it's unlikely that they'll fight each other because if nations fought each other at random only 1% of the wars would be between democracies. And if they tend to fight their nearest neighbors then you get something peculiar -- democracies that fit the stringent standards tend to be clustered together. There's the USA and canada, who haven't fought a war since the time they both qualified as stringent democracies. And there's western europe which hasn't had a war since WWII. (Little things like the Cod Wars don't count.) Then there's japan which has no democratic neighbors. (Taiwan and south korea aren't democracies by the most stringent standards and anyway japan hasn't fought them since it became a stringent democracy.)

There are actually people who spend time arguing out all the little details. You can actually claim that democracies don't fight each other with a sufficiently restricted definition of democracy. It doesn't have any practical significance except for this - that people take the argument out of context and get the idea they want to conquer all the nondemocracies and turn them into democracies so they'll be peaceful.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 9, 2005 12:48 AM

Established democracies don't fight wars with each other, and it's not true that those just make up 10% of the world's nations (or population).

The nations now in the EU fought many wars against each other before they became established democracies. Now there is peace there, enduring peace.

Even non-democracies don't fight wars very often today, not least because democracies are making it very hard for them to gain anything. The US didn't "support" Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. Their stated policy was to ensure that neither side would win. That policy aim was achieved, and there is a significant disincentive for dictators to engage in wars of territorial conquest, now, they are unlikely to win.

For decades, no established state has managed to win a war of territorial conquest against another that involved a significant, and permanent loss of territory on the side of the loser.

Posted by: Heiko Gerhauser at February 9, 2005 01:23 AM

Well Kimmitt, there's a perfect example of what I was talking about. And it includes the latest fold -- maybe democracies used to fight each other but they don't any more. That takes care of the historical examples and leaves us mostly with europe that doesn't have wars for whatever reason.

Here are a couple of links.
link1

link2

Posted by: J Thomas at February 9, 2005 02:14 AM

Mary, when I have an "argument," it will be clear from the body of my text. Sentences ending with "?" are questions, not arguments.

I know in the world of partisan polemics you seem to be taking 3 right turns in, all questions are designed to further an argument, rather than garner information. Here in the rest of the world, however, you're allowed to ask a question.

Now, as to an argument? I beleieve that Sistani, though not an Iranian-mold extremist, would govern his country via laws that we would find barbaric, relegating non-islamic citizens, perhaps even islamic citizens of the "wrong" sect to second class status in the law. I remain in doubt as to if the coalition he sponsored will be able to push said adgenda through the constitution. I am shocked to hear that ItM and FoD stand on the same platform as Sistani, as opposed to other, more religiously tolerant coalitions.

I also hope that I am wrong.

Posted by: FC at February 9, 2005 04:51 AM

FC, I'm also willing to guess what's going on in Sistani's mind, though it's only a guess.

The last 30+ years have been a disaster for iraqi shias. Sistani's first priority would be to recover, and to keep it from happening again. To do that he must:

1. Get the infidels out, or at least out of sight and not controlling the government.

2. End the violence.

3. Start reconstruction.

4. Keep a government that will not be taken over by a despot and that allows full civil liberties to shias.

My guess is that he differs from the iranian mullahs in that he doesn't think the religious elite should directly run the government. When they make government mistakes it dilutes their religious authority, plus running governments tends to corrupt people. So he'd rather have the government defer to religious leaders and sometimes maybe ask them what to do, but the religious leaders should have no responsibility for running the government and no responsibility for results.

It makes sense that Sistani's priority would be to take care of his own people -- religious shia. What happens to sunni arabs and sunni kurds would be an afterthought provided they don't mistreat shias. So he would be quite willing to compromise with them and cater to them while the priority is to stop the violence and get the foreigners out. Later they can make whatever arrangements make sense with a solid shia majority and a representative government. He can let nonshia live however they want in their own homes or their own provinces, the important thing is that they don't oppress shia. If it goes the other way that's OK provided it doesn't cause trouble -- it's more important to recover from 30 years (80 years? 200 years?) of bad times than to lord it over people who can make trouble nobody needs.

Shorter: He wants to take care of his own people. He doesn't need to oppress other people -- yet -- because if they get a democracy he'll have a 60% majority for the foreseeable future. If there's a need for that sort of thing they can do it any time. First end the chaos, later decide what comes next.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 9, 2005 06:00 AM

Kimmitt - Democratic, pacifist Venezuela??

My husband does business in Venezuela, he was there during the riots, when Chavez’s police were killing computer programmers.

In some circles, a government that has questionable elections and only kills its own people can be classified as democratic and pacifist, but that doesn’t mean the classification is accurate.

Posted by: mary at February 9, 2005 07:36 AM

FC - I also think that, if he can get away with it, Sistani will govern his people with laws that we, and most of the world’s population, would consider to be barbaric. He’s an Islamist. It’s what they do.

Fortunately, the Iraqi people will do their best to resist tyranny, and I agree with kat-missouri – the representative system will help them with this.

For any group to achieve power, alliances have to be made – I think that’s why the folks from ItM say good things about Sistani. It’s like Democrats rallying behind Kerry. Most of the Democrats I know couldn’t stand him.

Sistani’s an Islamist, but he’s a skilled politician, not a thug like al Sadr. Iraq may wind up with some Shariah laws, but if those laws are restricted to the civil codes, and not to the brutal criminal (hudud) punishments, then there’s some hope. After all, Canada also allows some Shariah civil codes, and they’re still pretty democratic.

Posted by: mary at February 9, 2005 07:58 AM

mary alleges that the election of Hugo Chaves that took place in fall of 2004 was "questionable."

This is not accurate. While there were numerous questions raised by the ultimate losers of the election, the mathematical and sampling presentations behind such questions was substantially disproven by the OAS.

If mary truly believes that any of the questions put up by the opposition remain unanswered, I am happy to point her at the substantial and credible work done by numerous independent experts.

Posted by: FactCheck at February 9, 2005 08:10 AM

mary alleges that "Canada...allows some Shariah civil codes." This is not accurate.

Canada allows private civil arbitrations to be conducted under Sharia if both parties consent. This is very similar to the United States, where private actors acting privately can contract in a manner acceptable to both parties.

Posted by: FactCheck at February 9, 2005 08:16 AM

FactCheck - are you also FC? You have a number of aliases.

If you are FC, it was nice to have a reasonable discussion about Sistani. As for
'Fact Check's other points, whatever.

Posted by: mary at February 9, 2005 09:07 AM

It's interesting to see how the arguments from the "left" have drifted.

It started (well, continued from the "brutal Afghan winter" to "the graveyard of Empires" to "the brutal Iraqi summer" to "we've outrun our supplies" to "the new Stalingrad" to "the looting of the Baghdad museum"....et.al.) with an argument that "the elections will never take place" to "the elections are illegitimate" to "the islamists have won, Bush screwed up".

The goalposts have moved so far, I can't see them anymore.

I guess I should at least be happy they've admitted the elections are legit.

Posted by: TomB at February 9, 2005 09:49 AM

Michael said that he thought FactCheck was putoffish, so I dropped FactCheck except when I wanted to be putoffish. Yes, I'm FC.

Posted by: FC at February 9, 2005 10:11 AM

TomB, the argument about iraq isn't between communists and fascists, or even between far leftists and far rightists.

The argument about iraq is between optimists and pessimists.

Optimists said we'd find the WMDs and turn iraq over to a joyous america-loving iraqi democracy which would welcome US bases and gladly serve as a staging area to liberate other enslaved arab nations. The total cost would be around 3 billion dollars since iraqi oil would pay for almost everything, and we wouldn't take any casualties to speak of. US troop levels in iraq would be down to around 30,000 in six months.

Now the optimists are figuring we can get an america-loving iraqi democracy that will welcome US bases within about 5 years, and with luck we can reduce our troop levels to less than 80,000 in two years. The cost may drop to only $50,000,000,000 a year within a couple of years too. If things work out well we may lose only 20,000 casualties dead and seriously wounded, and we don't make any estimate of iraqi casualties.

But if things don't work out so well it might take ten years.

That's the optimists' view. The super-optimists say maybe iraq will have be peaceful with an america-friendly base-welcoming government in 2 years. There's actually some evidence to support that. Last year a poll showed 80% of iraqis wanted the US military out. This year a poll done by different people showed only 69% of iraqis wanted us out. That's progress.

One of the things that particularly bothered me when we started this war was that we didn't have any goalposts at the time, and we haven't gotten any since. "Whatever it takes" is not a goalpost. We don't have any goalposts to move.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 9, 2005 06:57 PM

LAS VEGAS -- The commander of an Army Reserve detachment is begging friends back home to send food for Iraqi police dogs.
Taken from http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/4050736/detail.html
If anyone need any reliable and accurate dog food information, I would reccommend http://www.dogfood.mypetdogs.com

Posted by: about dog food at February 9, 2005 09:49 PM

Mary, thanx for mentioning the sistani.org site. Do you have any idea why Sistani bans chess?

To note: Shia clergy is known to adapt its religious rulings to advance a political/ economical agenda e.g. the later revoked ban on smoking to support the 1891 tobacco boycott. Similarly the 1993 ruling on shark meat was motivated by … the economy, stupid! (not you !)

I expect Sistani to surprise us all with some creative flip-flopping.

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