Sunni vs. Shiite; Who are the “Good Guys” ? Movie rental.

In December 2012, the bodyguards of Vice-President of Iraq Tariq al-Hashimi were arrested and beaten. Whatever they said in these comfortable circumstances was used to accuse him of running an assassination squad. He was tried in absentia, sentenced to death, and now resides, safe from extradition, in Turkey.

With confessions obtained by torture and al-Maliki’s sectarian attitude, it should be easy to discount this as a gross perversion of justice.  So it is. So what did al-Hashimi’s political bedfellows have to say about it? Quoting the Seattle Times, “Two of Iraq’s top political leaders voiced muted criticism…”  Muted? Why “muted” ?

In February 2012, the New York Times reported, “In a report offering details of their investigation into the politically divisive case, the nine judges, drawn from all of Iraq’s main ethnic and religious factions, appeared to offer support to terrorism charges leveled by the Iraqi authorities in December against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.”

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, it’s a Zen Predictor’s Exercise. You have a natural desire to identify the “good guy.” This exercise will help you get away from that.

Suppose aL-Maliki knew, somehow, that aL-Hashimi was a plotter. It doesn’t make sense to the Western mind to televise confessions obtained by torture. Torture was used in the recent past in  a desperate attempt to save American lives from the predations of Al Qaeda, but it never occurred to us to decorate judicial proceedings with the results. We forget that torture was an instrument of justice as late as the 1850’s in Switzerland, of all places. We forget that the Miranda ruling was, in part, a guard against “forced confession”, which encompassed torture, i.e., the rubber hose, the telephone book, and much worse.  We have collective amnesia on the subject.

That was a very long, but necessary detour in a post about who’s good/who’s bad in Iraq. Does it make Maliki the “good guy”? The New Yorker has an interesting sketch. Quoting, “Having spent much of his life hunted by assassins, Maliki gives the impression of a man who learned long ago to ruthlessly suppress his feelings. ”

It does not appear that one can qualify an Iraqi politician by Western standards of behavior, since staying alive is such a preoccupation. The U.S. no longer participates in the Iraqi political process, but hypothetically, should we choose based upon who the man is a proxy for? The only certain fact is that Maliki is a Shiite. The uncertainty is such that both Al Jazeera and Middle East Monitor decline to identify his successor.

The most interesting example of “who is this guy working for” is Ahmed Chalabi, blamed by some for getting us into Iraq in the first place. The  history of this man’s alliances, shifts, positions, and alleged betrayals makes fascinating reading. And he’s still alive.

To the Western mind, this is all very peculiar. With our judicial mindset, we want to pick the “good guy”, but it seems as if the actors of the Iraqi political scene  balance only two desires, temporary coexistence, and doing each other in. This should all be familiar to us from the movie, “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” Rent it.