Latest mess in Iraq

Cast of characters:

Ngô Đình Diệm Jean Baptiste ran South Vietnam for the Americans, assassinated in 1963 when he failed to fight the North Vietnamese/Vietcong in the manner that the Americans wished him to.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari is the current legitimately elected Prime Minister of Iraq

Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani was asked for assistance against Jaafari

Muqtada al-Sadr supports Jaafari

The headline on 27 March said: Iraq ruling Shi'ites demand control over security. The provocation was what the Iraqi government called " 'cold-blooded' killings by troops of unarmed people in a mosque." After waiting 24 hours, "US commanders mounted a media offensive to deny Shiite accounts". Obviously, the Bush Administration didn't take very kindly to the suggestion that US troops leave Iraq, because on 29 March, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran the following article:

A U.S. call for cleric's help
By Nancy A. Youssef and Warren P. Strobel / Inquirer Foreign Staff
U.S. officials sent a message this week to Iraq's senior Shiite cleric asking that
he help end the impasse over forming a government and strongly implying that the
prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, should withdraw his candidacy for reelection,
according to U.S. officials. ... reach out to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani
suggested how eager the Bush ...

And Sistani's answer?

Iraq cleric will not read Bush letter
An aide to Sistani said the Shiite was unhappy with what he saw as American meddling
in Iraqi politics.
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra
Associated Press

BAGHDAD - A hand-delivered letter from President Bush to Iraq's supreme Shiite spiritual
leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, sits unread and untranslated, a key
aide to Sistani said yesterday.

The aide - who has never allowed use of his name in news reports, citing Sistani's
refusal to make any public statements himself - said Sistani had laid the letter
aside and did not ask for a translation because of increasing "unhappiness"
over what senior Shiite leaders see as American meddling in Iraqi attempts to form
their first permanent post-invasion government.


The messenger also was said to have explained that the letter reinforced the American
position that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, should not be given a
second term.


The United States is believed to oppose Jaafari because of his close ties and strong
backing from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has a thousands-strong heavily
armed militia that was responsible for much of the violence that hit the country
after the Feb. 22 bombing of an important Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

A bit of background: Jafaari is serving a single one-year term. A second term for him would mean that he serves a full four years. Is he legitimately in office? Was he properly elected? Juan Cole says: "He maintains he was elected fair and square by his party. Hard to argue with."

So what are the options for the US? The US obviously doesn't want to repeat the mistake President Kennedy made with Ngô Đình Diệm. Diệm was not performing satisfactorily as South Vietnams' first President. Essential problem was "Hồ Chí Minh and his communist policies were popular, and Diệm was not." So when the US ambassador heard that South Vietnamese generals wanted to overthrow Diệm, no objection was made. The good news was that the US could now work with a more pliable government that did what it was told. The bad news was that the new government was no more popular than the old one was. So, it appears the US is trying to get his fellow Iraqis to push Jaafari out.

Iraq Shi’ites Call For Jaafari to Step Down

“I call on Jaafari to take a courageous step and set a fine example by stepping down," Kasim Daoud, a senior member of the independent group within the Alliance, told Reuters. Other senior Alliance officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed that four of seven main groups within the bloc wanted Jaafari to give up the nomination for a second term if, as is all but certain, he fails to persuade minority Sunni and Kurdish parties to drop their refusal to serve in a cabinet under him.

Slight problem with that idea, though:

Iraqis Rally Support for Jaafari

People rally in Baghdad in support of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Nearly one thousand people marched through the streets of the predominantly Shi'ite neighbourhood of Kadhimiya on Saturday (April 1) to show support for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The protest came in response to a public call for the first time by leaders of Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Alliance bloc for Jaafari to step down as prime minister to break weeks of deadlock over a national unity government. The protesters, mainly supporters of the radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched through the street chanting slogans in support of Jaafari. Sadr's support enabled al-Jaafari to win the nomination by a single vote in a Feb. 12 caucus of Shiites who won election to the new parliament December 15. The protesters carried two black coffins representing democracy and election.

And it appears that the US Ambassador is not popular enough to have any leverage:

US Ambassador Reportedly Shunned by Iraq Leaders

The al-Sistani aide said Shiite displeasure with U.S. involvement was so deep that dignitaries in the holy city of Najaf refused to meet Khalilzad on Wednesday during ceremonies commemorating the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Of course it doesn't help when "At a time when we send Condi to Iraq to plead with them to uphold their commitments, the United States is abandoning our commitment to build hundreds of primary health care clinics in the country."

As of 5 April, "Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw pleaded with [Jaafari] and his rivals for an immediate agreement to prevent a slide to civil war - Ibrahim Jaafari insisted he would continue to carry out his duties." Is Jaafari now regretting his closeness to Muqtada al-Sadr? Not at all:

"It's a great success that the Sadrists are part of the political process. Can you imagine what would have happened after Samarra if the Sadrists were not part of it?" he asked. Indirectly attacking the Americans, he pointed out that three years ago he was already calling on Sadrists and Sunnis to be brought into the fold at a time when Washington was against it.

So it seems the US is stuck dealing with an Iraqi Prime Minister who doesn't have a whole lot of use for the US troops occupying his country.

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