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Friday, March 03, 2006

"IRAQ'S MOMENTOUS ELECTION, ONE YEAR LATER"
Iraq War Supporters Are Running For Cover
James S. Henry

Image532d3700a1c2427ba5bfefe7f6f417c0_1For those who have not been paying attention in class, the so-called "Iraq War" has recently been setting new records for violence, brutality, and terror -- with at least 379 to 1300 iraqi fatalities in the last week alone, in the wake of the bombing of the 1,062-year old Al-Askariya shrine at Samarra.

Nor did the apprentice Iraqi Army -- with its 20,000-man force, trained by the US military at the phenomenal cost of $15 billion to date, or $750,000 per soldier -- prove to be much help in quelling the violence. This is not really surprising --  after all, this Army shares the same divided loyalties as the population at large.

While a few senior US military officers have issued  Westmoreland-like statements assuring us that "the crisis has passed," and that this is not -- I repeat --  not a "civil war," it is hard to know what else to call it.

Iraq_cupola_samarra200x150_2A few journalists have speculated that, ironically enough,  all the increased violence and polarization may undermine the Pentagon's "hopes" to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq to 100,000 by year end.

Those "hopes," however,  are vague. One suspects that they have always been mainly for public consumption,  including the morale of US troops. We only began to hear about them last fall when opposition to the war really soared in the US.

Images2_2The Pentagon's not-so-secret hope -- among senior planners, at least -- is different. This is to turn Iraq into a neutered or even pro-US -- better yet for cosmetic purposes,  "democratic" -- regime right in the heart of the Middle East, complete with permanent basing rightsimmunity for US personnel from war crimes prosecution by the International Criminal Court, and, naturally enough, the occasional juicy construction, security, arms, and oil contract for friendly US and UK enterprises  -- at least so long as they are not owned by Dubai. 

ALL AGAINST ALL?

Ph2005071302301It is this vision that is most threatened by the recent surge in Iraqi violence.  Clearly this is no longer just a "foreign terrorist/ dead-ender-led insurgency" against the US and its apprentice army.

Nor has the US-guided constitutional process, and continuous interventions by our heady Ambassadors in Baghdad -- safe behind the walls of the world's largest US embassy -- succeeded in stabilizing the country.

Rather, Iraq is now engaged in a complex, multi-sided bloodbath, fought along age-old religious, ethnic, and clan lines by well-armed groups. While American battle deaths continue, almost all the casualties are now Iraqis felled by Iraqis.

Furthermore, this inter-Iraqi violence goes well beyond the suicide bombings that still garner most of the media's attention. It escalated sharply in the last year, long before the Samarra bombing, and even as the vaunted constitutional process was unfolding.

For example, as reported by the Guardian this week, the former director of the Baghdad Morgue recently fled the country, fearing for his life after reporting that more than 7000 Iraqis had been tortured and murdered by "death squads."

According to the former head of the UN's human rights office in Iraq, most of these victims had been tortured by the Badr Brigade, the military wing of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

As we reported over a year ago on this site, SCIRI is not just some fringe element. It is one of Iraq's two key Shiite-led political factions, and one of the principle victors in the December 2005 parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, our expectations have been fulfilled. Upon acquiring power, SCIRI has behaved exactly as anyone familiar with its history -- but apparently not the US military -- would have expected.

TOUGH LIBERALS?

Meanwhile, among America's befuddled liberal intelligentsia, hard-nosed realism has been sorely missing.  The December election and its January 2005 predecessor were events that most neoliberal observers --  for example,  the American Prospect  -- could not praise highly enough:

Iraqis have concluded one of the most successful constitutional processes in history. Rarely, if ever, before has an important country moved from tyranny to pluralism so quickly, with so little bloodshed, and with such a quality and degree of popular participation.

This assessment was spectacularly wrong. Iraq's constitutional process has not led to "pluralism," much less staunched the bloodshed. 

Rather -- no doubt with ample assistance from Iranian secret agents,  "foreign fighters," and other officious intermeddlers  --  the process has exacerbated social and religious  divisions --  divisions that Iraq was always noted for mitigating.

The continued US presence has also helped to legitimize the extremists, letting them fly the "national liberation" flag. We have reached the point where country's armed private militias are expanding faster than the US-trained police and army. 

ITomfriedman109qn this perilous Somalia-like situation, with US troops viewed as part of the problem, and shot at by all sides, it is harder and harder to justify incremental American casualties.

Indeed, about the only thing that all Iraqi factions  -- apart from some Kurds and the country's dwindling minority of remaining secularists -- agree on now is the desire for the US military to leave.  We should respect their wishes.

TOO FEW TROOPS?

By now, even arch-conservative pundits like William F. Buckley have agreed that the Iraq War was a costly mistake, and that a US withdrawal is called for. 

Meanwhile, however, some die-hard US neoliberal defenders of the war -- including tough-guys like the New York Times' Tom Friedman and Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens -- are still denying the existence of Iraq's deep-seated, historically-specific obstacles to democratization and unified self-rule, as well as the overwhelming opposition in Iraq to the US presence.

Images3_1Of course, admitting that local history actually matters might require one to study Middle Eastern history a little more closely, or perhaps even learn Arabic.

Images1_3It might also interfere with certain pet theories, like the "inevitable triumph of technology and free markets over local markets, nations, peoples, customs and practices," or the "inevitable struggle to the death between Islamic extremism and Western democracy."

From the standpoint of these and other warhawks, our only mistake in Iraq was really quite simple -- the Bush Administration sent in too few troops.

On closer inspection, this claim spins itself into the ground faster than a Halliburton drill bit. 

  • One key reason why more troops were not available was the fact that the war's supporters -- not only the Bush Administration, but also leading Democrats like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman,  and their pundit camp followers -- failed to persuade anyone other than Mad Tony Blair that a variety of cockamamie  theories about "democratizing the Middle East," the "connection" between Saddam and al-Qaeda,  and WMDs had any validity whatsoever.
  • Second, while a handful of Pentagon skeptics did support larger troop commitments before the invasion, they were in the minority -- and not just because of Rumsfeld's desire to fight the war with a high-tech army. Most of the war planners and pro-war enthusiasts alike were swept away by Friedman-like naievete about the enthusiasm of ordinary Iraqis for US-backed "liberation." They systematically underestimated the Iraqis' nationalism and their resentment of occupation -- especially by  armies of "Christian" nationals from the US and the UK. In retrospect, it is easy to say that even more troops were needed to maintain order and suppress resistance. But the larger US presence would have provoked even more resistance. 
  • As most US commanders agreed, the "more troops" answer is flawed from a technical perspective, given the nature of the insurgency. It would have provided more targets for suicide bombers, without delivering a remedy for their simple IED and sniper tactics.  While more troops might have provided better border interdiction, Iraq has a larger land mass than Vietnam, and twice as many neighbors. For the "more troops" claim to work with any certainty,  the number would have had to rival Vietnam proportions -- at least 500,000, probably for several years. The US military manpower system has already experienced great strains trying to sustain its 133,000 commitment to Iraq with a volunteer army -- to be effective, the "more troops" approach might well have required a military draft. 

Apart from New York's Congressman Rangle, who may have just been tweaking the establishment's chin for his black constituents, not even the most aggressive neoliberal warhawk has ever proposed that. 

Ever since WMDs failed to turn up and Saddam's connection to al-Qaeda turned out to be a canard, 
the neoliberal warhawks have been running for cover -- worried, quite rightly, that history will not take kindly to their dissembling, and their collaboration with the Bush Administration's neoimperialists.  

For much of the last three years this cover story was provided by the expectation of "nation building," "democratization," and the "training of the Iraqi Army" --  achievements that always seemed to be, conveniently enough, just around the corner.   

As the last week's events have dramatized, these are all more mirages in the desert. We've run out of time and excuses.  

   (c)SubmergingMarkets, 2006.

 

 

March 3, 2006 at 11:28 AM | Permalink

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Iraq War Supporters Are Running For Cover
James S. Henry
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Comments

I find your commentary very intereting. I've bookmarked your site and look forward to hearing more.

Posted by: Ryan Maynard at Mar 5, 2006 11:12:12 PM

great post

Posted by: jr at Jun 30, 2006 4:59:19 AM

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