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December 13, 2006


Are you from that planet Spock was from?
Let's see your ears.

Some more observations on this.

First, Hadley's memo now looks to be the approach they're adopting. Use Hakim to oust Maliki and, in the process, disempower Moqtada al-Sadr. So the leak must have been an attempt to stop that approach.

Second, I'm not entirely sure whether the Hakim for Sadr approach will appease the Saudis. I suppose it will if it means the Sunnis take on relatively more weight in Iraqi affairs.

Third, I think there's no way the Olmert fuckup and the Gulf State call for nukes doesn't derail efforts to sanction Iran at the UN. How can we sanction Iran when Saudi Arabia is adopting the same thing and, technically, Olmert's admission should require Congress to cut aid to Israel (not gonna happen, of course). So basically, it seems like the Middle East is collectively saying, to hell with the UN, we'll settle this our way.

The timing of Dick's Shiite tilt is odd. It precedes--yet continues after--his "summoning" to Saudi Arabia. Is Dick still going to pursue this strategy?

I was considering that in light of the insane neocon Middle East vision described here by Josh Marshall (second paragraph from the end.) Perhaps in response to being sidelined by the Bush dynasty through the ISG, Dick is/was trying the route that will get him strong support from the wingnut think tank crowd? Perhaps he figured that Junior would go for a "bold" action like this in a big way, and consign daddy's advisors to the trash can.

(And may I say that you remain the absolute mistress of timelines, EW? :-)

Thanks for this chronology, EW! Most helpful.

ew, I think you've nailed it, as per usual. I think Steve Gilliard's Disaster in the making at Jane's buttresses your concerns about the Saudi's. Bush is taking an enormous risk by attacking the Mahdi Army, because all our supply lines/escape route are Shia controlled.

Interesting whilst we're at it to also look at how busy the Saudis have been in their thumping of the Brits as well. Nov 19 the report came out that a personal missive was delivered by a Saudi envoy up to Downing Street which threw down the gauntlet to Blair that if he didn't intervene in the 2 year long investigation of the Royal Family Slush fund set up in conjunction with the huge Al Yamamah deal won by BAE ($40 billion pounds +/- & 10,000 Brit jobs) that the Saudis would suspend diplomatic relations. Seems Bush & Blair share more than one common problem.

If places like Iran and Saudi Arabia are so darned concerned about their affiliated communities in Iraq, why can't they all go in there, occupy the place, and straighten this crud out? Why does the US have to sit around in the middle while they arm/fund their respective militias to battle it out over the next decades? Sorry EW, I'm feeling grumpy at the moment.


Understand they're not strictly "affiliated" communities. If Saudi Arabia intervenes with the Sunnis, they'll basically be funding Al Qaeda, which of course wants to take down the Saudis. And while Iran has influence with the Shiites, Iranians are largely Persian, Iraqis Arab. So any influence they'll play will not be so easy as all that.

Besides, Iran and Saudi Arabia aren't the ones who decided to invade uninvited.

I'm just saying if they're all going to bang the drums, do battle, and take sides, let them... and get out of there. Besides, it seems that local allies with similar cultures would want to help out and would be better at finding a solution than we would be.

Is that right that the Iraqi Shia are Arab? I figured it was all genetic (who's related to which of the Prophet's decendents) and the Iraqi Shia are Persians who live in Iraq.

This is very informative.

I could see Cheney sticking to the Shiite tilt plan. If he wanted to invade Iraq in the first place because he wanted to secure oil reserves outside of KSA/OPEC control, then he may think that backing the Shiites may be the best bet for getting in good with the side that will dominate Iraq in the future, perhaps even (this sounds absurd as I'm writing it, but this is Dick Cheney) leveraging US support to drive a wedge between the Iraqi Shiites and their old patrons in Iran.

At least, he may think it's the least worst option for hedging against Iranian dominance over Iraqi territory and resources, again on the theory that express US support for Dawa/SCIRI at this juncture could somehow draw them away from Iran and towards the US. (again, sounds crazy but this is Dick Cheney)

Iraqi Shia are Arabs. They fought the Iranian Shia (at the behest of Saddam Hussein, of course) in the Iran-Iraq War.

The timeline is great, EW, and very helpful. It ought to be considered that more than one person here may be playing a double game, or using disinformation. Probably not everything should be taken literally.

Someone asked on the earlier thread what was thicker, blood or religion? Neither, it seems to me. After looking at your proposed lineup for the ME Cold (we hope) War that power is the common denominator--who has it and fears losing it vs. who wants more than they have. Who benefits from order and who benefits from chaos. And there are class dimensions too, for want of a better phrase.

The Shia leaders purport to speak for the downtrodden and those with rising expectations. The Saudis, Israelis and non-Shia Lebanese are the current ME power structure, more or less, wanting to stay that way.

Where does the US fit in? We used to be allied with the Sunnis and with the Israelis. The neocons could only opt for the Shia in this dichotomy if they truly believed those fantasies Chalabi used to spin about a pro-Israel government in Iraq after the invasion, complete with pipeline to Israel. (Now there's someone without divided loyalties--he values only himself.)

This whole situation is probably the grandest demonstration in my lifetime of the maxim "be careful what you wish for." Or maybe "let sleeping dogs lie." Whatta mess we "find ourselves" in, as Bush would say.

And anyone who hasn't read Mark Danner's NYRB piece, do so.

I get the feeling that there's something else out there which we wouldn't even think of adding right now, because it seems so preposterous, something like Iran-Contra. I remember how stunned I was at the time when I got off a plane and my father told me what had been unearthed. Up until then, I don't think I'd ever used Iran and Nicaragua in the same sentence. I have no idea what that link would be now though and realize that by merely asking the question I'm changing the very nature of the game.

Saltinwound: That's what scares me about all the "double down" strategies, and Bush's propensity for the grand gesture.

Here's another dimension. The dichotomy is also between hubris (ours, mostly) and humilitation (theirs,almost entirely). Peter Bergen and Michael Lind have a piece on the role of humiliation in fueling revolutionary violence and terror. Jessica Stern also drew similar conclusions from her studies of terrorists, IIRC, though she is not cited.

Particularly if it is not an issue for you, it is easy to forget how important humiliation is in provoking violent responses, from the gang member on the street who feels "dissed" to the revolutionary who plots for decades. It is hard wired, particularly for men, according to Daniel Goleman in "Emotional Intelligence." Something I think we ignore much too much, at our peril, in formulating our strategies.

Asia Times has a piece by Pepe Escobar
saying that Bush's move to a Jan "plan" is based on the Iraq new Oil Law. Makes the most sense yet.

Mimikatz, thanks for that Bergen-Lind link; excellent article.

FWIW, IMHO, it's not that all Shia and Sunni want to kill each other. Osama is a Sunni supremacist and Al-Queda wasn't welcome in Iraq until Bush decided to invade. The US has created a situation where the extremists in both religions have infinitely more authority than they did before. Now, everyone has to pay them tribute/taxes just for protection. Under Saddam, there was a lot of intermarriage between Sunnis and Shia.

Thanks for this terrific timeline, ew. In trying to pay more attention lately to events on the ground, I've only lately noticed the strangeness of those, er, up in the air.

Lessee how doest this fit … Cheney's "Shia tilt" specifically a tilt toward SCIRI/Hakim and not Sadr? Then if the Saudis can be persuaded to tolerate a coalition between the Sunnis and SCIRI—the article by Obeid, apparently taking one for the King, suggests this—that could lead the way to cutting out Sadr, despite the fact that Sadr is actually the one who has given lip service to a multisectarian state. Yep, this is the Hadley plan, basically. Contrasting with what ew summarizes from the Rumsfeld memo, and you can see how the old buzzard might have been fired. Sadr's military resources and other support would then be the target of the offensive that I suspect is at least part of the reason for Bush's speech delay.

I would not assume that Turki lost anything by his departure. He strikes me as being as much a wartime kind of guy as we see of Saudis abroad. Maybe the message he was put in place for, got sent—so there's no reason for him to stay. I remember him for an interview excerpt from Frontline a couple of years ago, that showed off his style of plain speaking (here; start at first mention of Prince Turki al Faisal). If one's been used to dealing with Bandar for a long time, I suspect Turki would seem like a fresh January breeze in the Rockies.

I know he's an old man and all, but my gut told me that Jimmy Baker leaked either the Hadley memo or the Rummy one. Both served to embarrass the admin. at critical times and to discredit. At the end of the day, Baker has known the house of Saud longer even than Cheney has.

(warning...mixed metaphor alert!!!)

There is something here that just doesn't make sense to me -- the "Cheney tilts toward the Shiites" thing.

Its mostly because the tilt isn't toward "shia", but toward Iran (Hakim is the guy tied to Iran, Sadr is the Iranian nationalist.)

To me, the whole sequence sounds like a game of "chicken" that has gone out of control. i.e....

1) The US pressures Saudi Arabia about its turning a blind eye toward the support of al Qaeda types in Iraq that "private" Saudi citizens are providing.

2) The Saudis don't respond with anything substantive.

3) The US responds with "Well, you know, your people are supporting people who want to kill us AND overthrow the Iranians, and we can't resolve Iraq when you're people are paying al Qaeda's bills, so we may have to switch alliegiences."

4) The Saudis respond with "Go for it. See how far it gets you".

5) The US says "oh yeah?"

...and suddenly memos are leaked, op-eds are written, meetings are held, rumors of coups are spread, and ambassadors resign.

and, of course, both sides are so busy psyching each other out that they stopped worrying about the cliff they will both be driving over.....

In other words, the problem is that the Bush regime demanded something from the Saudi government that it could not provide (stopping support for al Qaeda in Iraq)... and rather than acknowledge the fact that the Saudi's couldn't do what Bush wanted, decided to raise the stakes. Unfortunately for the US, there's a LOT of money on the table, and if the Saudi Royals throw in their hand, they might as well leave the table, because they will be facing a whole crew of players who have far more chips than they do. So the Saudi Royals go all in.... but they've got a losing hand.

I agree with p.lukasiak both about the supposed "Shia tilt" needing explanation, and about why it needs it. But I have a different proposal for how it came about (accident is still involved, as it must be with this gaggle---after all they can't really say this is just how they drew it up).

I think Hakim of SCIRI is viewed as a nice, pliable Shiite who is more sectarian than nationalist. This contrasts him to Sadr, who from the beginning has seemed as if he might be the opposite. So I think the persistently erroneous think that if they can blend SCIRI into a government entity that can stand on its own for a week or two, along with the Kurds and some of the less fish-eyed Sunnis, then they can move on Sadr and somehow fashion it into a heroic gesture of saving democracy in Iraq.

For this to "work," they think they need Maliki, who's understandably pretty fish-eyed himself at this whole thing, no doubt to serve as its public face; that's why so much pressure on him to renounce Sadr.

Once that rickety device is pasted together, I wouldn't be surprised if Josh Marshall's report about the astonishing fantasies of the neocons isn't about correct. At least, they think that if they batter the Mahdi forces a bit into submission (it'll take more than a bit, you suckers) and Hakim restricts his Badr brigade's drilling practices to "proven" Sadrists, then the remaining Shiites will be quiet enough or disorganized enough that the Saudis can be persuaded that the Iraqi-Shiite nationalists near their border are neutralized, while the more up-country and upscale Iranian-oriented Shiite faction is bought and balanced off in the government. The creaking edifice is finished off by having this "Iraqi" government ask the U.S. to keep a garrison or two in country to help preserve stability. That finishes keeping the Saudis from driving down the price of oil below Iran's target, which they might no longer be able to do for long enough subsidizing the Sunni war any further.

This rests on so many misunderstandings and misconceptions of what the news and informed commentary of the last five years have taught us about Iraq, and even about the military possiblities, that it's astounding, but I think it's the kind of thing they think, and the kind of thing they would try to sell the Saudis (who know better).

I think both p luk and prostratedragon may be right. This failed attempt to play chicken. And try to get the Badr brigade to take out the Mahdi army while we're waiting. The thing is, these guys have proved so colosally bad at trying these games, there's almost no way to pull it off.

I'm still waiting for them to sic the Peshmerga on Mahdi. Then we'll know the game is almost up.

The traditional game is "divide and rule." Our current BushCo players are working a more post-modern approach: "divide and fool." Unfortunately for them, this doesn't seem to be working too well anymore on the US populace. Unfortunately for us all - over here and over there - this is probably, at the end of the day, all they've got.

In January, when Bush puts forth his plan to put another 20,000 + troops into harms way the Democrat led Congress will be asked to "Buy In" to Bush's war by funding it. A simplistic reason why Bush wanted to wait until after this Rep led Congress had adjourned and the new Dem one was in place to declare his new policy. If he asks for more $ to deploy the troops and Dems say no, Bush will say he had a way to win but Dems were too weak and we lost. Human lives are never part of his consideration.

where in this plan does "nuke riyadh and everything within a 5,000 mile radius" fit in? Becuase that's what I think the Decider really wants to do. That's why nobody has bothered to learn the difference between Shiite and Sunni, or worry too much about the Isreal/Lebanon conflict. The differences between those heathen brown people don't matter when they're ALL dead. Sure there will be backlash in the press, but you know how it works: they create a reality, we talk about the reality, and while we're talking about it they move on and create the next one.

You kids want to fight about who gets the last cookie? I WILL DESTROY THE COOKIE! There, now nobody can have it. Problem solved.

mainsailset: Bush will say he had a way to win but Dems were too weak and we lost.

Not if we impeach him first.

remember who we're talking about here.

Why should we keep paying his salary, even for another week? He should be in prison in The Hague, not suggesting new policy.

This is a fabulous timeline Emptywheel.

I have lived in KSA -- the last time I was there was the late 90s. But one thing which should be recognized is that the Shia form a significant (and quite oppressed) minority in KSA, who are routinely demonized by conservative Saudi clerics and in public school textbooks. They mainly reside in the Eastern Province (Dahran etc) which also happens to be where the bulk of Saudi oil reserves are. The Al Saud's have also been fearful of a Shia uprising which would take over this region and form a Shia state. The Saudi's are also planning to build a super-wall along the Iraqi border, not to stop trafficing (it couldn't) but to stop large movements of Shia's between KSA and the Shia in southern Iraq who are their tribal cousins/brothers.

I personally wondered what the hell was going on when right after the Israeli invasion of Lebenon, a number of Saudi clerics published fatwa's against "supporting" Hezbollah. And condemned it...which seemed very very strange because if the average Sunni Saudi hates/fears any group more than Shias, it would be Israel. The press there (and the educational system) is filled with quotes from the Elder's of Zion, for instance. Jews and Israel are routinely demonized (though there have been some efforts in recent years to put a stop to much of this and to clean up the textbooks).

I thought at the time that the meta-story was that Hezbollah's (which is Shia for those who don't know this) actions against Israel was a kind of strategic testing of the waters, to try to give rise to a much larger Shia political-military effort to take control of Iraq. And of course KSA is terrified that such a movement could spread to its own eastern province.

In other words, this is all about the oil. All about the oil.

Two more things: Abdullah is no fool, and has been widely regarded as a moderating/modernizing influence on KSA. But there is one thing the Al Saud's are unified about it is maintaining their hegemony over KSA' oil resources. So divisions in the family will coalesce around strategy.

But there is also a longer-term question, and that is that the older sons of the Original King Saud are getting very old. At some point, the succession will have to be passed down the the next generation, and Al Turki and Bandar represent two different divisions. And they are both powerful sons of powerful branches of the Al Saud family.

Turki is a son of the late King Faisel. Bander is a son of the son of the current Crown Prince, Sultan (an interesting character in his own right) who is a full brother to the recently deceased King Fahd, and one of the powerful Sudeiri Seven.....

Steve Clemmons has a new post discussing reports that Bandar is pushing Cheney's interest in attacking Iran, something Turki doesn't support.

Thursday December 14, 2006 DoD formal announcement Gitmo 10 SaudiArabian nationals transferred to SArabia; there.

Saturday December 16 AP has a rambling unattributed story of 200+ Gitmo releasees' various fates after transfer to country of origin; there.

I think charts like the one there regarding 'peak oil' remain part of the calculus of politics in the MiddleEast, as well, though this concept is fairly novel, and sometimes elusive when countries authorize expanded exploration for petroleum.

Once, living in a suburb close to a metropolis with consulates, several neighbors were diplomacy corps personnel; and, when politics in the country of origin underwent rapid shifts, occasionally some of these folks launched hasty garage sales, their names appeared in the paper in a notice of status change at the consulate; and a week later the house would look vacant. It is part of service as a diplomat, in some countries.

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