31 May 2005 at 4:32:06 AM
A couple of weeks ago Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad. Having helicoptered into the Green Zone, she was photographed with Prime Minister Al-Jaafari wearing a military flak jacket, a sign of just how dangerous the Secret Service thinks Baghdad is for Americans. Three days later (and not to be upstaged), Kamal Kharrazi, Iran's foreign minister, drove, yes, drove to Baghdad to meet President Talabani and Al-Jaafari, and was photographed with them sans flak jacket for the world to see. To add insult to injury (not that we in America noticed), Kharrazi then drove, again yes, he drove to Najaf to see Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, leader of Iraq’s Shiites, who granted him an audience. Neither Ms. Rice, nor indeed any other American, has ever been granted an audience with Ayatollah Sistani, the most important man in Iraq, a point often highlighted in the Middle Eastern press but somehow ignored by ours.
If nothing else, these two separate Iraq excursions by top officials of the U.S. and Iranian governments are telling of our involvement in the region. The Iraqi leadership, most of whom have lived in Tehran off and on for the last twenty years, declared Iran to be a valued and dear friend of Iraq and promised to strengthen ties. The Iranians wanted more and they got it: Iraq's admission that Saddam Hussein started the war with Iran in the eighties and thus should be tried for war crimes. What did we want from the Secretary of State’s visit? A nice photo-op? Well, the flak jacket ruined that. Mr. Kharazzi’s drive through war-zone Iraq should have told us what many of us already know: we don’t need an exit strategy for Iraq, we just need to exit. The Iraqis don’t want us there, our troops don’t want to be there, and we’re not gaining anything from overstaying our welcome. President Bush who rarely appreciated Colin Powell’s advice has seemed to have taken the one silly thing he said to heart: “You break it; you own it.” Well, the Iraqi’s don’t think we own it. And usually when you break something you throw it away; we just keep trying different glues. Oh, we want to give it back, perhaps minus an oilfield or two, but we want to make sure that the glue sticks before we do, and then maybe they won’t notice the cracks.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, wearing a helmet and flak jacket, is followed by a security personnel as she arrives in the northern city of Arbil during a brief visit to Iraq May 15, 2005. Rice met Iraqi leaders on Sunday to discuss the battle against an escalating insurgency, and authorities said they found the bodies of 34 men killed by guerrillas. Picture taken May 15, 2005. REUTERS/Faleh Kheiber
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi (R) and his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari shake hands after meeting in Baghdad May 17, 2005. Kharrazi is scheduled to meet top government officials in Baghdad in the highest-level visit by an Iranian official to Iraqi since Saddam Hussein's ousting. REUTERS/Ali Jasim
Mourners walk with the coffin of Shiite cleric Mohammed Tahir al-Allaq, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, at his funeral in the Sadr City area of Baghdad Thursday, May 19, 2005. Mohammed Tahir al-Allaq was assassinated Wednesday by gunmen. Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi, the highest level official from any of Iraq's six neighbors to visit Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster two years ago, met Thursday with al-Sistani in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
During Kharrazi's historic visit to Iraq, both Shiites and Sunnis were protesting the US occupation.
Thousands of Shiites, many waving Islam's holy book over their heads, protested the U.S. presence in Iraq on Friday after the detention of several supporters of a radical cleric, while Sunnis shut down places of worship elsewhere in a show of anger over alleged sectarian violence against the minority.
The Shiite protests in the southern cities of Najaf, Kufa and Nasiriyah, came as Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced that he will visit Syria, which has been accused of harboring insurgents bent on starting a civil war in Iraq.
The protests, which drew an estimated total of 6,000 demonstrators in the three cities, followed radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's call Wednesday to reject the U.S. occupation of Iraq by painting Israeli and American flags on the ground outside mosques to be stepped on in protest raids against holy places
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