Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 26, 2004
WAR: A Shiite Sakharov?

The Washington Post identifies Hussain Shahristani as the likely prime minister of the new Iraqi provisional government that will rule from June 30 until elections can be held. The Post profile makes Shahristani out as a sort of Shiite Sakharov:

Shahristani, who has a doctorate in nuclear chemistry from the University of Toronto, served as chief scientific adviser to Iraq's atomic energy commission until 1979, when Hussein became president. When he refused to shift from nuclear energy to nuclear weaponry, he was jailed. For most of a decade, he was in Abu Ghraib prison, much of it in solitary confinement. He escaped in 1991 and fled with his wife and three children to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and, eventually, Iran, where he worked with Iraqi refugees. He later moved to Britain, where he was a visiting university professor.

But unlike other exiles, Shahristani was not active in opposition parties, choosing instead to focus on humanitarian aid projects. He does, however, have a critical connection: He is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite cleric, whose support is essential for the viability of an interim government.

That would be the nuclear weapons program that didn't exist, of course; Saddam put scientists in jail for refusing to participate in it even though it didn't exist.

Shahristani's ties to Sistani are a double-edged sword, although there's really no denying Sistani's positive influence (or, more importantly, his influence, period) thus far. You can read Shahristani's own thoughts, in one of his Wall Street Journal op-eds urging faster elections, here:

Al-Sistani is perhaps the only person who can realize both the dreams of the majority of Iraqis, and the declared goal of the U.S.: to create a stable democracy that could potentially transform the Middle East. The U.S. should value the role the Grand Ayatollah is taking to lead the Iraqi people away from militancy and toward the international system of democracy. If Washington plays it right, this path that Al-Sistani spearheaded in Iraq could prove to be the most significant victory in a war on terrorism. Let us hope--and pray--that Washington has the wisdom to seize it.

The most practical way to help Iraq now is to allow the U.N. to work with representatives of all constituents of the Iraqi society to develop a formula for early direct elections--an achievable task. Elections will be held in Iraq, sooner or later. The sooner they are held, and a truly democratic Iraq is established, the fewer Iraqi and American lives will be lost.

Interesting side note: the WaPo article says that another one of Shahristani's WSJ op-eds (subscription only) was what called the attention of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to Shahristani. I'm sure the WSJ op-ed editors are smiling at the opportuinity to play kingmaker, as it were. Here's a selection from that article:

[The transfer of power after June 30] must be immediately followed by rigorous and visible preparations for the election of a national assembly.

The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, rightly pointed out in his press conference on April 14 that "There is no substitute for the legitimacy that comes from free and fair elections. Therefore, Iraq will have a genuinely representative government only after [such elections]." He also explained that "[T]here is a general legal principle, and that is that the elected body, especially if it is entrusted with drafting the constitution, should not have its hands tied by anything, but should be independent. It should be able to draft the constitution with unfettered freedom."

The new provisional government should only be a caretaker government to prepare for elections. It should not indulge in negotiating military, economic or political treaties or agreements that will bind legitimately elected governments in the future. To do so will convince even those Iraqis who still have faith in the American good will that the U.S. troops are there not to help Iraqis to build a free and just society and develop a democratic political system, but to extort from them military concessions and exploit their oil reserves.

At stake today is not just Iraq's political future, but America's credibility throughout the Middle East. Having pledged to bring democracy to Iraq, the Bush administration needs to respect the desire of the majority of Iraqis to elect a representative and accountable government that serves its people and observes human rights.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:21 AM | War 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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