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    Middle East
     Mar 25, 2006
A balance sheet for America's Iraq
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Three years after the US invasion of Iraq, one cannot but wonder how the Americans missed a golden opportunity to create a secure democracy in the country to replace the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Optimists in the Arab world, especially pro-Western and particularly pro-American Arabs, defended the United States until

curtain fall, saying that it truly would root out terrorism from Iraq, and bring both stability and democracy to the Iraqi people.

Every one of those beliefs has been shattered - over and over again, since March 2003. As Iraq enters its fourth year since the  war began, it is safe to ask: What has been achieved?

Apart from the downfall of Saddam, not a single achievement in Iraq is noteworthy. The country today is a "democracy" in civil war - a democracy where human life is being wasted, along with the dreams and security of the Iraqi people. Inasmuch as free elections are a great asset of which all oppressed people dream, they mean nothing if security is lacking.

Liberating a country is one thing, and keeping it in order is another. History will not remember the free elections that took place in January and December 2005 as much as it will remember the notorious pictures of the torture at Abu Ghraib prison. The killings and the death squads that haunt the streets of Iraq will live much longer in the minds of Iraqi people than the image of Saddam's statue falling in Baghdad.

So where did the Americans go wrong? Amid a multitude of mistakes, many points stand out. First and foremost is the dismantling of the Iraqi army and security services after the fall of the Ba'athist regime. This unleashed uncontrollable chaos. Those responsible for this drastic mistake include US administrator L Paul Bremer and US stooge Ahmad Chalabi.

Other mistakes include persecution of all Ba'athists - even petty officials who had joined the party dreaming of professional development to make a better living - making them permanently vengeful of the new order. Other blunders include the permitting of looting after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, and the failure to deliver basic services such as health, electricity, sanitation and infrastructure.

Other mistakes include persecuting and firing hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs, making them collectively pay the price for Saddam's madness, although the Sunnis suffered under Saddam almost as much as the Kurds and the Shi'ites. The Americans misunderstood the Shi'ites, who they believed were their prime allies in the new Iraq, forgetting - or ignoring - Shi'ite ties to Iran.

The bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on February 22, which can be blamed on the poor security situation, led to reprisals by Shi'ite militias on the Sunni community, accusing its leaders of ordering the attack, and the destruction of more than 100 Sunni mosques in revenge, in addition to the killing of more than 200 Sunnis.

Winners and losers
Three years after the war, one should ask, who has benefited most from the fall of Saddam? Ironically, the answers prove the exact opposite of what the Americans believed in 2002-03.

The first and ultimate victor is the Islamic Republic of Iran. What more could Iran want than the downfall of a dictator against whom it had fought for eight years in the 1980s, and his replacement with Shi'ite politicians who had been created by and in Iran in the 1980s?

The mullahs of Iran once viewed Iraq as a dangerous and aggressive neighboring country, ruled by a hostile and brutal dictatorship. Today, Iraq is viewed as a friendly neighbor, ruled by loyal allies who want to advance Shi'ite nationalism, export the Islamic revolution and strengthen Iranian-Iraqi relations.

Some of those in power in Iraq, such as Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), are more Iranian than they are Iraqi. Hakim, after all, fought with Iran against the army of his native Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War.

The second victor is Iraqi Shi'ites, who have been transformed from a suppressed majority into a power group that controls key posts in the government and military, as well as the powerful job of prime minister.

The Americans courted them in 2003, but when they realized that Shi'ite loyalties were rooted in Iran (an obvious fact for anybody familiar with the Arab world), they decided to abandon them, weaken them, and replace them with the Sunnis, whom they had persecuted since 2003.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "I have tasted command. I love it. And I will never give it up." That is exactly the case with the Iraqi Shi'ites. They will never abandon the powerful posts they attained after the fall of Saddam, preferring to fight and plunge Iraq into civil war rather than submissively accept returning to rule of the Sunnis.

Third on the victory list - much to the surprise of the Americans - are some of the Arab regimes that neighbor Iraq. These countries were expected to collapse, according to the domino theory, once the Iraqi Ba'athists were toppled and replaced by a true democracy. Had democracy been successful in Iraq, then these regimes would have faced the wrath of their own people, who would have aspired to create similar democracies in their own countries.

But Iraq today is an ultimate failure, giving ammunition to Arab regimes that are telling activists in their own countries: "Look at what the Americans achieved in Iraq. Is this the democracy you want? It is a democracy where 30,000 people have been killed, by war and sectarian violence."

Inasmuch as some Arabs want democracy, they will always vote for stability as a high priority. It would be great if they could achieve both, but if it is a choice between a democracy with no stability and a dictatorship with stability, they will chose the latter option.

Under Saddam, an Iraqi citizen who minded his own business, who did not involve himself in politics, and who cared only for the livelihood of his family could live a secure life.

Today, an Iraqi citizen with the same characteristics runs a high risk of sending his son to school and never seeing him again because he happened to walk by a car loaded with explosives. Or he runs the risk of being in the wrong place, with the wrong people, and being blown to pieces by a terrorist attack.

On March 13, a staggering 34 corpses were discovered in Iraq. All of them had been executed "recently" - since the bombing of the Golden Mosque. The next morning, 15 more men aged 22-40 were found in the back of a pickup truck in the al-Khadra district in west Baghdad. They, too, had been executed by hanging. By daybreak, another 40 dead were found in the Iraqi capital. Finally, a massive grave, similar to the ones under Saddam, were found in a Shi'ite slum in east Baghdad. It contained the bodies of 29 men, all stripped to their underwear, who had been shot while bound and gagged.

In all, 87 bodies were discovered in Baghdad over 24 hours. Last week, Iraqi insurgents stormed a jail in a Sunni neighborhood, killing 19 police officers and a courthouse guard, freeing prisoners as they went along. Ten of the attackers were killed in the rampage and 33 prisoners were released. Another 100 insurgents stormed a judicial compound in Muqdadiyah, northeast of Baghdad. These people were a combination of Sunnis and Shi'ites, killed in attacks and counterattacks that have erupted all over Iraq since February.

The White House, taken aback by these horrific attacks on the third anniversary of the invasion, embarked on five days of public relations, defending the war as having been justified.

President George W Bush said US troops would remain in Iraq well after his presidential term ended in January 2009, saying the issue of troop withdrawal would be dealt with by "future presidents" of the United States and future Iraqi governments. "I believe we can succeed. Let me put it to you this way. If I didn't think we'd succeed I'd pull our troops out."

Iraqis immediately began asking: What kind of success did Bush have in mind, with all the blood being wasted? And Americans have their doubts too, with 65% of them, according to a survey, saying they are not satisfied with Bush's handling of the war.

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi said that 50-60 Iraqis were dying a day because of the conflict, adding that it was a civil war, despite Bush's assurances that it was not: "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Allawi was probably the only person capable of pulling Iraq together, because he is a strong man, with strong connections to the West and the Arab World. He is secular and strong, but he lost the race for the premiership by to the current prime minister-designate, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The United States went to war with many interests. Part of it was to redraw the map of the Middle East. Another part was to show the world that it was still avenging the attacks of September 11, 2001. Other unannounced objectives were to control a new revenue of Arab oil, further establish itself in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf, obtain reconstruction contracts for giants such as Halliburton and Bechtel, create a new puppet state in the Arab world, further secure Israel's security, and expand the influence of US corporate companies into the Middle East.

But the Americans greatly underestimated how powerful the insurgency would be. The Institute for Foreign Policy said 48 suicide attacks took place per month in 2004, compared with only 20 a month in 2003. So the longer the US stays in Iraq, while failing to deliver, the more anti-American feeling has soared.

In August 2003, a poll conducted by Zogby International showed that two-thirds of Iraqis wanted the Americans to stay in Iraq for at least another year. Seven months later, USA Today and CNN conducted another poll, showing that one-third of Iraqis believed that the Americans were doing more harm than good. It added that 57% wanted them to withdraw immediately.

According to Iraqi Body Count, more than 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since 2003, and during the first two years of war, 20% were women and children. Additionally, the US accounted to 37% of civilian deaths, while the insurgency was responsible for 9% only.

Millions of dollars have been stolen from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and during Allawi's interim government in 2004 as much as $2 billion was embezzled from ministries. Shootings at checkpoints, arrests without warrants and torture in prisons have all added to anti-American feeling. The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights showed last October that there were 24,000 detainees in Iraq, 11,500 of them held by the US Army.

The insurgency knows that it cannot win the war, but it wants to continue its guerrilla warfare to weaken the US Army to the point where it cannot afford to stay in Iraq. The more the Americans bomb Iraq, the more this encourages recruitment into the underground.

Iraq is a country scarred by Saddam's brutal dictatorship and inhabited by 25 million people. Ruling them and keeping them under control with 160,000 troops is impossible. If the Americans want to win the war, they will have to increase the number of their troops. Military analysts say the US Army would have to increase to 450,000 troops in Iraq.

They would need to become a new Saddam, and rely on spies, informers and brutal methods to bring people to submissiveness. Adding to everybody's misery in Iraq is the terrible economic condition, the lack of jobs, and the lack of investment in a war-torn country. Iraq's petroleum exports fell to an average of only 1.8 million barrels a day in 2005-06. They were 2.8 million a day under Saddam. In recent months, the number has become a low 1.1 million.

While the world digests all of these realities, the Iraqis remain occupied with the issue of who their new prime minister will be. Jaafari has been a complete failure because he has failed to bring security to the country.

He was chosen by the Iran-backed United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) last month for another term, but a rising coalition of Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shi'ites has been calling on him to step down and the UIA has been asked to nominate another candidate.

The US, which initially welcomed Jaafari because he was the most moderate among existing candidates, recalculated when he was brought to power by a last-minute vote cast by the young rebel Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Muqtada led two rebellions against the Americans in 2004. He is opposed to Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs and refuses to carve up Iraq further and create an autonomous Shi'ite district in the south, similar to the Kurdish one in the north.

He is popular among the poor and the youth, who see him as the only true patriot who has taken action to expel the Americans. But although Muqtada is relatively independent from Iran, he is a cleric with radical views on political Islam and wants to create what he calls "an Islamic democracy" in Iraq, modeled on Iran but independent of it.

This is a red line that the Americans will not cross. Jaafari is a product of an Islamic party as well, being leader of the Da'wa Party, which operated under Iranian auspices in the 1980s.

Opposing the Muqtada-Jaafari alliance are Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, the Sunnis and Allawi. An ongoing point of conflict is over the security ministries of Defense and Interior. The US has conditioned that if Jaafari remains prime minister, he must give them to "non-sectarian" politicians. These ministries have been used to arrest, torture and settle old scores with Sunnis, accusing them all of having benefited under Saddam.

Muqtada, now seen as a kingmaker in Iraq, opposes the US condition to place a non-sectarian official such as Allawi as minister of defense or interior. Muqtada's ambition of placing one of his own followers as minister is being blocked by Allawi and the Kurds, who threaten to boycott the new government if Muqtada gets his way.

Complicating matters is the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who backs the UIA, and Hakim of the SCIRI, who wants to advance Iranian interests in Iraq and insists on maintaining a prime minister from the UIA. If not Jaafari, he wants his man, the current vice president, Adel Abdul-Mehdi, for the job.

The reality of the situation is that as Iraqi politicians bicker among themselves, people are dying every day. These politicians fail to grasp that their duty before history and the Iraqi people is to bring security to Iraq - at any cost. They need a strong man to do that, but they refuse to accept one because it would remind them of Saddam.

Yet sadly, this is probably what Iraqis need - not a Saddam, but a powerful man who has the will and ability to be forceful on all sects and bring everybody under the strict authority of the central government. This is a concept that must be accepted by Iraqi politicians and the US administration.

Otherwise, Iraq will remain in a state of civil war that could become one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 21st century - despite the thundering assurances of Bush.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.

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