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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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