ROVING EYE The ultimate
quagmire By Pepe Escobar
Iraq is a giant, messy albatross hanging
from President George W Bush's neck. The
faith-based American president believes "we are
winning the war in Iraq". The reality-based global
public opinion - not to mention 59% of Americans,
and counting - know this is not true.
felt that "God put me here" so he could conduct a
"war on terror". Somebody up there must have a
tremendous sense of
humor - once again manifested
in the way He allotted winners and losers in
Iraq's December 15 parliamentary elections.
United we stand The Shi'ite
religious parties in the United Iraqi Alliance
(UIA) were the big winners - from 70% to 95% of
the vote in the impoverished southern provinces;
59% in Baghdad; and nationally, well over 40% of
the total (they've won in nine of Iraq's 18
provinces plus the capital). It's a relatively
unexpected success considering the dreadful record
of Ibrahim Jaafari's Shi'ite-dominated government.
All those intimately allied with the US
invasion and occupation were big losers. The Iraqi
National List of US intelligence asset and former
prime minister Iyad Allawi, also known as "Saddam
without a moustache", the man who endorsed the
Pentagon bombing of the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf
and Sunni Arab Fallujah - got a pitiful 14%.
Convicted fraudster and former Pentagon
ally Ahmad Chalabi received less than 1% in
Baghdad. The neo-conservatives of the American
Enterprise Institute were predicting 5% for
Chalabi (their overwhelming favorite) and 20% for
Allawi; that's proof enough they have no clue
about what's going on in Iraq.
Iraq is pro-Iran. It will not recognize Israel.
And it wants the Americans out; one of the first
measures of an emerging, powerful parliamentary
alliance between roughly 38 Sadrists of Shi'ite
nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and roughly 50
Sunni Arabs will be to call for an immediate end
of the occupation.
The details to be
ironed out hinge on whether the UIA majority
aligns itself with the Sunni Arabs, the Kurds, or
with both in a government of "national unity" - as
it is being called by the current vice president
Abdel Mahdi (a free marketer) as well as current
president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.
"National unity" is improbable; the
Shi'ites simply won't forgo their majority. The
Kurds for their part know it will be a foolish
move to try to break their strategic alliance with
the UIA. Sunni Arab votes were split between the
neo-Ba'athist National Dialogue Council of Salih
Mutlak and the Islamist, Sunni National Accord
Front of Adnan Dulaimi. But what matters is that
they are both part of the Sunni Arab resistance.
Their common line is that their presence in
parliament develops a new political front - what
we have called the Sinn Fein component of the
Sunni Arab resistance.
happened The big problem is that once
again in Iraq Shi'ites voted for Shi'ites, Sunnis
for Sunnis (they won in four provinces, Anbar,
Salahuddin, Nineveh and Diyala, but got only 20%
in Baghdad) and Kurds for Kurds (they also won in
four provinces, including Kirkuk). Liberal
democrats who were dreaming of a democratic,
federal, anti-sectarian Iraq have been totally
sidelined. Arguably no politician in Iraq is
thinking about the future of the country as a
whole. No national projects are being discussed.
The constitutional vote in October had
already institutionalized the sectarian division -
80% of the Sunni Arabs in the four main Sunni
provinces voted against what they saw as an
American-designed charter. Washington believed the
vote would undermine the resistance. The exact
opposite happened. The December elections now
paint a vivid picture of a country fractured on
sectarian lines. But this is what the Americans
wanted in the first place.
Elections or no
elections, Iraq enters 2006 mired in the same,
usual, gruesome rituals. The Pentagon believes it
can subdue the Sunni Arab resistance by bombing
them to death while the resistance keeps bombing,
suicide bombing and assassinating en masse.
So the endless, gory stream will continue,
not even making headlines - explosions at police
stations, assassinations of "Baghdad officials",
executions of collaborators, mortars over the
Green Zone, scores of innocent civilian victims of
car bombings, Marines killed in the Sunni
triangle, Shi'ite death squads, Turkmen fighting
Kurd for Kirkuk ...
Pinter pulled a Beckett at his Nobel lecture. He
offered to be Bush's speechwriter. Then Pinter
impersonated classic Bush: "My God is good.
[Osama] bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God.
Saddam Hussein's God was bad except he didn't have
one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians."
And this was even before Bush mixed up Saddam with
bin Laden in a "we're winning in Iraq" speech.
Pinter observed, "The United States
supported and in many cases engendered every
rightwing military dictatorship in the world after
the end of World War II." He gave a lot of
examples. But then, with devastating irony (a
concept seemingly absent from the White
House/Pentagon axis), he said: "It never happened.
Nothing ever happened. Even while it was
happening, it wasn't happening. It didn't matter.
It was of no interest."
Just like the
suffering of Iraqis never happened. Robert Fisk,
in his masterful The Great War for Civilization
(Fourth Estate, London) remarks, "The
sanctions that smothered Iraq for almost 13 years
have largely dropped from the story of our Middle
East adventures ... When the Anglo-American
occupiers settled into their palaces in Baghdad,
they would blame the collapse of electrical power,
water-pumping stations, factories and commercial
life on Saddam Hussein, as if he alone had
engineered the impoverishment of Iraq. Sanctions
were never mentioned. They were 'ghosted' out of
the story. First there had been Saddam, and then
there was freedom'."
But Iraqis as a whole
have not forgotten the sanctions - imposed by the
US, carried out by the "international community"
and responsible for the death of thousands of
children. As much as the Shi'ites have not
forgotten their betrayal by George Bush senior,
who called for a Shi'ite uprising in early 1991
and then left thousands of men, women and children
to be massacred by Saddam's gunships. There's no
way these impoverished masses can trust anything
related to American promises of "freedom".
How Bush is winning There's
some evidence that the murderous chaos unleashed
by Shi'ite death squads may not be "an accident"
but part of a carefully crafted American strategy,
as the Bush administration has constantly added
fire to the ethnic furnace as the best diversion
to not address Iraq's tremendous social tensions.
An atomized and terrorized society is much
easier to manipulate, while at the same time the
non-stop bloodshed is the perfect justification
for "staying the course". The incessant chatter in
the US about a partial "withdrawal" is just
Already in June 2003, proconsul L
Paul Bremer's coalition hands were hiring Saddam's
Mukhabarat pals for "special ops" against the
Sunni Arab resistance, while "torture central",
Abu Ghraib, was again operating in full force
under American management.
In the Shi'ite
south, the Badr Organization - the Supreme Council
for Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI's) militia
- as well as Muqtadar's Mahdi Army were gaining
ground. The Badr was finally formally incorporated
into the Interior Ministry, where Sunni units had
also been carving up their own turf (under the
protection of Allawi).
Ba'athist Sunnis - and later the Shi'ites -
benefited from the invaluable knowledge of
American "counter-insurgency" experts who
organized death squads in Colombia and El
Salvador, as well as retired American Special
Forces soldiers. Commandos operating in the
"Salvador option" manner have been very much in
the cards from the beginning, responding to a
sophisticated, state-of-the-art command, control
and communications center even while the majority
of the Iraqi population had no electricity, no
fuel and no medicine.
The pattern was and
remains the same; people "disappearing" after they
are accosted by groups of men armed to the teeth,
in police commando uniforms, with high-tech radios
and driving Toyota Land Cruisers with police
license plates. Needless to say, the resulting
murders are almost never investigated.
objectives, from the point of view of the Bush
administration, also remain the same; keep the
Pentagon and its military bases inside an Iraq
mired in sectarian bloodshed and with a weak
The "follow the money"
trail leads to an array of profitable
privatizations, and the upcoming sale of Iraq's
fabulous oil reserves to a few, select foreign
investors. Abdel Mahdi of SCIRI, one year ago in
Washington, had already laid down the script. He
is a key player to watch.
No wonder that
the real composition of the next Iraqi government
will not be determined by the polls - at least not
exclusively. The real kingmaker is the US
ambassador, the White House pet, Afghan Zalmay
The Bush administration will
pull no punches to safeguard its "follow the
money" interests, as well as its precious military
bases. Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in
Baghdad on December 18, only three days after the
election. He didn't even bother to tell Jaafari
that he was in the country. First Cheney talked to
Khalilzad and assorted American generals, and only
then were Jaafari and President Talabani summoned
to his presence.
How Bush lost it The uprising of Muqtadar's Mahdi Army in 2004
was the definitive nail in the coffin of the Bush
administration's dream of ruling Iraq. At the time
the Pentagon repeatedly said it wanted to "kill or
capture him". It did neither.
became the man to watch much earlier than his
newfound - by American corporate media - prominent
role in post-election Iraq. After the bombing of
Najaf, the Bush administration completely lost the
plot. Then, after the January 2005 elections, the
new Jaafari government quickly embraced Iran,
received a pledge of $1 billion in aid, the use of
Iranian port facilities, and help with refining
Sunni Arab regimes like Jordan
and Saudi Arabia started to be haunted by the
specter of a "Shi'ite crescent". A
neo-conservative Iraq as a base to launch an
attack on Iran disappeared as a mirage in the
desert. As the US has to fight a relentless Sunni
Arab guerrilla war, it cannot possibly risk
alienating the Iraqi Shi'ite masses (more than
they already are) with an attack on Iran.
No wonder military historian Martin van
Creveld, a professor at the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem and the only non-American author on the
Pentagon's list of required reading for officers,
called for Bush to be impeached and put on trial
"for misleading the American people, and launching
the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9
BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them".
Bush and his faithful ally, British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, have been playing the same
scratched CD track: "We're better off now without
Saddam." That is not true. The fall of Saddam led
to the rise of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two
Rivers; and even Allawi admitted that human rights
in Iraq now are no better than under Saddam. Not
to mention that there is no reconstruction,
unemployment is at 70%, and a country which in the
late 1980s had one of the highest standards of
living in the Arab world has been razed to a
Whatever the Americans
do - with "Iraqification" doomed to failure, as
much as "Vietnamization" - the war in Iraq now is
a rampaging beast that threatens to spill all over
the Middle East.
"Bring 'em on," said
Bush, and they did; the result is a new, deadly
generation of global jihadis. Sunni-Shi'ite
antagonism will spill over to oil-rich Sunni Gulf
states (including Saudi Arabia) with huge but
heavily marginalized Shi'ite populations. Kurdish
separatist dreams have tremendous implications for
Turkey, Syria and Iran, especially if Iraq,
through civil war, finally disintegrates.
So the most probable scenario for 2006 and
beyond is a fragile central government in Baghdad
bombarded by an intractable guerrilla movement - a
chaotic and sectarian hornets' nest breeding one,
10, 100 mini (or maxi) al-Qaeda leaders able to
convulse the Middle East. Maybe this is what the
neo-cons meant by "creative destruction".
Al-Qaeda has a masterplan for the Middle
East, and the next stages - apart from the Gulf
emirates - are to be played in vulnerable Jordan,
Turkey, Egypt and even Israel. As for the air war
against the Sunni Arab resistance, it may buy a
few votes at home but will do absolutely nothing
to improve America's dreadful image in the Middle
East - especially because civilian "collateral
damage" will be enormous.
vociferous guy Saddam's trial - the
outcome of which is already determined - will
proceed as a purely sectarian propaganda coup. If
this were a real trial, Saddam would be in The
Hague in front of an international panel of
respected judges, experts in human rights law.
Or the United Nations would have been
commissioned to organize a special tribunal in a
neutral country like Switzerland. Saddam's
secrets, though, are so vast - and so extremely
embarrassing for the US - that he cannot possibly
leave the Green Zone, where he will certainly be
executed. Saddam's trial will become the sorry
mirror image of the sectarian politics let loose
in Iraq at large.
Bush has opened a
Pandora's box with his shock and awe tactics. The
ultimate quagmire will keep mutating and
unleashing its deadly new powers for years on end.
And there is nothing anyone - not even the
"indispensable nation" - can do about it. We have
all been, and will remain, shocked and awed.