In today's blog, he discusses a three-hour conversation in what he believes will be the most important meeting of his trip.
This is long, but the ideas and solutions proposed by "the Sheik" are quite worth the time to read.
Monday June 5, 2007 at Mohammed's House
Today, my first full day in Amman, Jordan started off sharply. I metthe most important person I will meet during this trip. And I was thefirst American he has agreed to meet with.
This in itself shows that the winds are slowly changing as he himself pointed out during our conversation.
This meeting required a suit and very good manners. I practiced thecustom of holding your hand to your heart and saying: Assalamu Alaikum(Peace be with you). (Note: If someone says this to me, my response is"Wa Alaikum Assalam," Upon you be Peace.) I've been asked to hold offreleasing his name until I have finished meeting some other peoplebecause they might not want to meet me if they knew. Thus, I willsimply call him the Sheik and tell you he has influence over theResistance.
Unfortunately I was not allowed to videotape or even record theconversation. Since my mission is to introduce Americans to othervoices in Iraq, that meant I spent the entire time furiously writingdown exactly what he said.
"The Problem Is the Occupation"
The Sheik wasted no time to get to his point. The problem is theoccupation, he said. The American Administration should have left assoon as they discovered there were no chemical weapons or weapons ofmass destruction. But they continued the error - for the protection ofIsrael. There was an imagined danger that the Iraqi Army posed a threatto Israel.
(My note: Is this why Bremer sent the Iraqi Army home? A complaint of every Iraqi I have heard from since last August. )
The Sheik explained that the occupation continued because ofarrogance and stubbornness. This lead to all the losses suffered byboth the Iraqis and the Americans. Iran profited from it.
Is There a Civil War?
I asked him whether a civil war was now raging in Iraq. He said thatthe Iraqi people were pushed to have a civil war since the occupation.In the past two years, the American Administration, with ZalmayKhalilzad involved, pushed this. The leaders of the Shia and Kurdishgroups - not the Kurdish people - pushed this.
They followed the idea of divide and rule through the politicalparties. This was political sectarianism, not religious sectarianism.These people manipulated ignorant, simple people.
"What leaders," I asked.
The Sheik said, "The leaders of the Badr and Dawa political parties.The Jafari and Maliki governments promoted this. It was the Bahdi,Mehdi, and Dawa militias.
He went on.
The majority of people, Sunni, Shia and Kurd - 80 percent of them -don't want this occupation. Nor do they want this government (My note:Maliki). They are fed up with the militias. The sectarian militias donot represent the Shia. Now there is a problem in the south of Iraq.Arab Shia are fighting the Safawids (My note: Persian Shia) who arebacked by Iran.
I asked about al-Qaeda's role in this.
The Sheik said that al-Qaeda does not represent the Iraqi NationalResistance. Only 10% of the resistance is al-Qaeda. The IraqiResistance is temporary. Its only aim is to liberate Iraq. There is noaim to rule Iraq. As to the Americans, al-Qaeda exists to resistAmericans anywhere in the world. If the occupation ends, al-Qaeda willleave. Al-Qaeda is refused by Iraqis.
(My note: As many of us know, the bombing of the Great Mosque ofSamarra last February ignited Shia/Sunni sectarian strife in Iraq. Iheard all sorts of rumors about this and personally concluded it musthave been al-Qaeda who was interested in promoting civil war among theIraqis.)
Calmly, the Sheik said that al-Qaeda and the National Resistance arenot guilty as the wolf was not guilty of devouring Joseph, the son ofJacob. He went on to say that the Jafari Government, through theMinistry of Interior perpetrated this attack, headed then by BayanJabber (My note: Whom everyone I've heard from accuses of havingallegiance to Iran). The aim was to cause sectarian strife to startcivil war. This bombing was a highly professional job. After theexplosion, the Minister of Housing declared it would take 10 hours toset it up. He sees Iran in the background of this project. He said Iranplayed this same game in 1996. They exploded the Ridha Shrine inMash'had to stir up people against each other.
The Sheik confirmed to me something I had heard before. The firstjournalist to arrive at the scene was a young woman named Atwar Bahjat.She videotaped it. She was killed on the way out of Samarra that dayand the suspected murderers were people from the Ministry of Interiorof the Jafari Government. They kept her body for two days. Theexplosion was Wednesday and they buried her on Saturday. Despite thefact that the family did not want any protection from the Ministry ofInterior for the burial, they were told they had no say in the matter.Her coffin was accompanied by soldiers and armored cars.
I was somewhat dismayed to hear this story because our government supported the Jafari Government back then.
What Will Happen If We Leave?
I pressed him with the question: "Will there be a civil war shouldAmericans leave?" He answered that there would be no civil war andcontinued, "was there a civil war when you left Vietnam? No."
I said: "You said that al-Qaeda was not involved in the bombing ofthe Great Mosque of Samarra. Isn't al-Qaeda fomenting civil war inIraq?" I have heard of them driving through mixed villages shooting atboth sides of the car.
The Sheik said that all Iraqis oppose al-Qaeda. The cards beingplayed in this game are mixed. There are a lot of players. Theinterests are clashing. Iraq will not clear up unless the Occupation isended. When al-Qaeda attacks a local market, they attack because thereare army personnel or police present who are approved by the Malikigovernment or by Americans.
I asked if he was seeking an immediate withdrawal. He said, "We wishthe Americans to leave today, before tomorrow. But if the Americansdon't want to leave this way because it would be degrading to them, thebest way is to announce a scheduled withdrawal. Then build a new strongIraq Army to take the place of the currently made army and themilitias. The present army has no loyalty to Iraq. It is not concernedwith the good of the people or security. For this reason the advantagefor both of us is for the Americans to have honor and leave behind astrong Iraq Army that imposes security."
A New Iraqi Army
I thought for a moment, understanding that this isn't done simply. Iremember asking Lee Hamilton if he thought bringing the Iraqi Army backwas a good solution. He said that it would take forever, since youwould have to vet every one of the returning soldiers.
"How do you build a stronger Army?" I asked the Sheik.
He said that if we were serious that doing so would be very possibleand easy. "Contact Mohammed (al-Dynee) and the army will be built fromthe old Iraq Army."
I asked whether the army would need amnesty from the Americans. He said no, it was let go by Bremer.
The Sheik continued: The old Iraq army has 250,000 soldiers whopresently are fighting the American troops. Yes, there are secret talksbetween the Iraq Army and the Resistance going on right now. TheResistance and old army do not think the talks are serious. If they (mynote: the U.S.) want to start building a new army, they should take thesecurity ministries into their own hands, appoint the old Iraqcommanders, and give them the freedom to bring back the professionalIraqi soldiers. They are excellent officers - including Sunni, Shia,Kurds, Turkamen, Yazids, etc.
He went on. If the Americans don't want to supply the Army, then allow the Arabs states to arm it.
"The Beginning of the Solution"
I asked whether doing this would mean that the AmericanAdministration was interfering with the Iraqi government. He laughed.(I guess he meant, "What's new and why not?") He said, "This is thebeginning of the solution."
I've been concentrating on ending the violence in Iraq and wonderedaloud if it would be a good first step be to make sure that the prisonsin Iraq were secure, that prisoners would not be tortured and killed inthe jails. He said yes.
I asked about the U.S. withdrawing its support of the Malikigovernment and wondered if they did whether the Parliament wouldreplace it. The Sheik said, "You would still have the militias and nosolution. You must change the direction of the winds to stop thebloodshed. The Maliki government is not serious about changing Americandependence or Iraqi reconciliation."
He also noted that the Parliament is a forced one. Eleven of themembers are Iranian. There are governorates not represented by a singlemember of Parliament. Their votes went to the Shia alliance. "Godforbid the U.S. was occupied. Would you support elections held duringthis occupation?" he asked.
The Role of Parliament
I asked him about members of Parliament who never attend themeetings since Mohammed had told me that there are those who don't go,who still get their salaries. Some have not even pledged their oath.There are 70 or so outside the country who don't go because thegovernment terrorizes them. The Sheik said that some of Maliki'sgovernment officials paid for their appointments and added that somehave no education.
"Don't you need the Parliament?" I asked.
The Sheik said that the Iraqis don't recognize the legality of thepolitical process. But since they want to solve the problems, there arethree possible solutions:
- The Americans leave and Iraqis will settle their own problems.
- There is a military coup.
- You change the government through the Parliament.
I objected to the idea of a military coup and he said that he was not advocating for it, but just explaining the options.
He went on to discuss working through the Parliament. Some of his suggestions included:
- Scaling down the government's authority;
- Balancing the authority of the President and Prime Minister;
- Security would be the responsibility of the people who created the National Army, which would get rid of the militias.
The Sheik then said, "We (My note: I assume he was speaking for theResistance) will have nothing to do with this. We will help by givingadvice and putting pressure on people to cooperate," which I took tomean stop shooting at American soldiers.
I then asked if he could help Parliament meet securely. He quicklyresponded that the American Administration has the power to order themto meet and is able to provide them security. He said, "I have noauthority over the Parliament."
I then suggested what Senator Chuck Hagel's advisor asked Mohammedto suggest when we visited with him two weeks ago: "Couldn't theParliament decide not to take a vacation?" He repeated, "If theAmerican Administration demands they meet, they will meet."
I suggested to him the solution cannot be solved with the sameprocess that caused the problem. I doubt at this point that anyone inAmerica -- particularly the newly elected Democrats -- wants theAdministration to be interfering in the elected government of Iraq.Mohammed answered this. The Parliament can be made to work. Maliki hasto stop terrorizing the members who are opponents.
The Sheik went on to observe that he is convinced that the AmericanAdministration wants the Maliki government to continue. (My note:maybe, but not with Maliki in charge. The Sheik said there attemptshave been made to build a coalition against Maliki and the AmericanAdministration told the organizers to stop.)
He then told me that he has heard of unofficial quotations fromAmerican officials that two days ago the decision was made to leaveIraq. But now we hear Bush and Gates talking about America staying foran indefinite time as they did in South Korea.
How the Resistance Works
I then tried my naïve pitch: "Why don't you do something unexpected?Bush and Cheney are locked into their decision to stay. Do somethingthey don't expect, such as calling for a cease-fire against theAmerican soldiers. Have a Gandhi moment for Iraq. The American peoplewill surely notice this."
The Sheik explained to me how the Resistance works. He said that we(My note: I assume Resistance Leaders) cannot do anything unless theAmericans announce a plan to leave.
He explained that we had destroyed a complete country and occupiedit, causing the death of over a million Iraqis and creating six millionrefugees who are now outside the country. He said, "You wasted ourmoney and the oil revenues we lost while you were here. I cannot stopthe Resistance. It is the Iraqi people rising up from the ground, notled from the top."
The Sheik's spokesperson who was with in the room said, "If the sungoes down the day ends. If the occupation is over, the violence willend."
Then the Sheik said, "We can only help call others to calm thingsdown if the American Administration announces a schedule to withdraw."
This was a long grueling meeting. We were there for three hours. I brought up Iran.
He said, "Understand Iran interferes in Iraq economically,politically, and has aims in Iraq. Iran claims that it wishes theoccupation to end; in truth, it does not want it."
He explained that Iran wants Americans to be mired down in Iraq, toalways be busy with the problems in Iraq. The meeting that took placerecently between the Ambassador of Iran and the U.S. in Baghdad did nothave any good results. He said that he didn't believe that Iran wouldever do anything to bring security to Iraq. The Iraqi people were notrepresented at this meeting, he said, noting that what made the Iraqipeople angrier is that in fact they met in Baghdad, in the capital ofIraq.
I suggested that he be careful: "You don't want to give Cheney any excuses to bomb Iran."
He said that Bush and Cheney are not concerned about Iran. And whenthe Americans sit with them, they make Iran more important. TheIranians came in because of the American occupation. America isdependent on people connected strongly with Iran.
The Iraqi Oil Law
The Sheik said that a few days ago a British reporter asked, "Whydidn't you pass the oil law? America wants you to pass it at any price."
The Sheik explained that if Parliament passed the oil law, theResistance would attack the members of Parliament. Every one of themwould be in danger. He said, "We know the American Administration willpressure Parliament to pass this law. A member of the U.S. Congress metwith Mashadani (My note: the Iraq Parliament's Speaker). He told themember that the Iraq people think you only want the oil and they arefrightened."
The Sheik concluded our meeting by observing that the AmericanAdministration depended on no one except for a small number of peoplewho have no loyalty to anything except to their own self-interest. Theyhave no care about hurting the Iraqi people or the American people.They have no support of Iraq. They belong to a few political parties -two Shia and two Kurdish. They have misled the American Administration.
I asked whether I had his permission to tell his story directly tothe American people. He said yes. And I asked if he would be willing tomeet me again on my return from Baghdad? Yes.
Do I now understand how important it is that America give a signal that says it does not plan to stay in Iraq indefinitely? Yes.
-- Dal LaMagna