Monday, December 25, 2006
clusterfuck theory:
An international incident in the making. Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq, despite the wishes of the (sovereign!) Iraqi government. One "Western official" helpfully explains to the New York Times that the detentions are "based on information." It just gets better and better!

In the raids, the Americans also detained a number of Iraqis. Western and Iraqi officials said that following normal protocol, the two Iranian diplomats were turned over to the Iraqi government after being questioned. The Iraqis, in turn, released them to the Iranian Embassy. An Iraqi official said his government had strained to keep the affair out of the public eye to avoid scuttling the talks with Iran that were now under way. ...

All in the car were detained by the Americans. The mosque’s imam, Sheik Jalal al-deen al-Sageir, a member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim’s party, said the Iranians had come to pray during the last day of mourning for his mother, who recently died. He said that after the Iranians left, the Iranian Embassy phoned to say that they had not arrived as expected. “We were afraid they were kidnapped,” Sheik Sageir said.

But he said he was later informed that the diplomats, whom he said that he did not know well, were in the custody of Americans. “I had nothing to do with that,” Sheik Sageir said. “I don’t know why the Americans took them.”

The predawn raid on Mr. Hakim’s compound, on the east side of the Tigris, was perhaps the most startling part of the American operation. The arrests were made inside the house of Hadi al-Ameri, the chairman of the Iraqi Parliament’s security committee and leader of the Badr Organization, the armed wing of Mr. Hakim’s political party.

Another helpful U.S. official calls this a "clarifying moment" and explains that "It's our position that the Iraqis have to seize this opportunity to sort out with the Iranians just what kind of behavior they are going to tolerate." So, if we understand this correctly: We're going to force the Iraqi Shiites to deliberately insult Iran in order to compel a choice between us and them. We're going to do this at a time when we're trying to use Abdul Aziz al-Hakim as a wedge to gain Shiite support and marginalize Moqtada Sadr.

Now, if I'm Hakim, I seize this opportunity. I denounce the U.S. aggression, demand the release of all Iranian detainees, proclaim my desire for a new era of peaceful coexistence with Iran, etc. Maybe I even demand an American apology. Through the other side of my mouth I tell Washington not to worry; and that if they're for-reals about promoting me as an alternative to Moqtada, I need this to gain some street cred. And if any Sunnis are upset about my closeness with Iran -- well, fuck the Sunnis; they don't vote for us anyway.

But if Bush really wants to "clarify" that he has a willing Shiite vassal, then ignore the above paragraph. On the lounge chair next to the couch, Matt suggests, probably correctly, that the history of imperialism holds that this was probably a spur-of-the-moment decision by some low-level official with no coordination with Washington, and now it's all gone pear-shaped. I buy that for now. Now, Bush and Hakim might in fact be able to use this to their advantage, but it would require a degree of cleverness and prioritizing that's been altogether absent from the occupation so far. So expect the worst! It'll probably happen.

--Spencer Ackerman