The recently released Iraq Study Group Report lists as a key recommendation
dialogue with Iraq's neighbors, including longtime US pariahs Syria and Iran,
toward stabilizing the war-torn country invaded by the US in 2003. But many
have expressed severe doubts that the administration of President George W Bush
will bring Syria or Iran to the table, even as the Iraq situation
deteriorates by the day. There is much history behind this attitude.
Throughout the Iraq debacle, needing scapegoats to distract attention from
bankrupt US policies, occupation officials in Iraq have continued to try to
link Iran and Syria with al-Qaeda as evil allies in a coordinated attempt to
tear Iraq apart and prevent the United States from establishing a stable
democracy there, even long after declassified official US intelligence
dismissed any such connection between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda or
between secular Syria and Islamist fundamentalist terrorists.
A few days before the mid-term US congressional elections on November 7, US
Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and four-star General George W Casey Jr,
the commander of US forces in Iraq who two years earlier replaced
Lieutenant-General Ricardo S Sanchez amid an overhaul of the command structure
and disturbing questions about Sanchez' oversight of the military's treatment
of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, called a joint news conference in
Baghdad to counter rising criticism back home of US strategy in Iraq. They
accused Iran and Syria, two of Iraq's major immediate neighbors, of supporting
armed insurgent groups against US occupation and the new US-installed Iraqi
government, as well as supplying competing sectarian militias responsible for
much of the bloodshed.
Iran, which has strong faith-based ties to Iraq's 60%-majority Shi'ite
population, and Syria, largely Sunni Muslim but solidly secular, both denied
supporting sectarian insurgents in Iraq. However, neither of the neighboring
governments finds it necessary to apologize for their separate sympathy for
anti-US-occupation insurgency. Khalilzad said the US had asked friendly Sunni
Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan to
persuade Sunni insurgent groups to end the violence and join the stalled
political process in Iraq.
Khalilzad and Casey had previously appeared together at a news conference in
Baghdad on June 8 to highlight occupation "success", after the US air-strike
killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom they falsely identified as the Sunni
leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The US Central Intelligence Agency, concluding that
he was a rival to Osama bin Laden and had acted independently, had long
rejected Zarqawi's alleged ties to al-Qaeda. The CIA was in a position to know,
for it had trained both bin Laden and Zarqawi during the Cold War. Every
anti-terrorism expert knows that al-Qaeda does not have a global monopoly on
Then-US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself conceded that Zarqawi's ties
to al-Qaeda might have been "ambiguous", and that Zarqawi might have been more
a rival than a deputy of bin Laden. Zarqawi "may very well not have sworn
allegiance" to bin Laden, Rumsfeld admitted. Newsweek had reported four months
earlier, on June 23, 2004, that Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing: "Someone
could legitimately say he's not al-Qaeda."
Still, General Casey warned that even with the death of its leader, the Zarqawi
group had only been temporarily weakened but remained lethal, admitting that
the insurgency could not be eliminated by merely killing its leaders. A
document captured from Zarqawi's safe house revealed that the Sunni group was
trying to provoke a US invasion of Shi'ite Iran to broaden the insurgency in
the region and to drain US forces away from Iraq into a larger regional arena.
On this Machiavellian objective, Zarqawi and the neo-cons in Washington were
unwittingly working for opposite purposes toward a common goal of instigating
US state terror against Iran.
Khalilzad depicted the utopian US plan to build a united, democratic Iraq as
"the defining challenge of our era" and claimed it would shape the future of
the Middle East and global security. Yet what makes the US plan for Iraq
utopian is the assumption that democracy can be built through foreign military
occupation. The reality in Iraq shows that the goal of "a united, democratic
Iraq" will be more elusive with continuing US occupation with unwanted and
unhelpful meddling in Iraqi affairs.
Henry Kissinger, whose advice is sought by some in the Bush administration,
told the press that "the evolution of democracy ... usually has to go through a
phase in which a nation [is] born. And by attempting to skip that process, our
valid goals [in Iraq] were distorted into what we are now seeing." Democracy to
politics is like vitamins to health; excessive doses in a hurry can result in
negative results. Democracy delivered through militarism is like the forced
feeding of vitamin overdose.
Kissinger said he would have preferred a post-invasion policy that installed a
strong Iraqi leader from the military or some other institution and deferred
the development of democracy until later. That raises the question of why the
US invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein in the first place.
As for freedom, President Bush repeats at every opportunity his declared reason
for hunting down terrorists on Islamic soil: "They hate us for our freedom."
Actually, what Islamic terrorists hate is not US freedom as such but
unrestricted US freedom to act as it pleases in Islamic lands.
The Bush administration has adopted a strategy of building democracy by
military means. Some administration officials have privately acknowledged that
the goal of building a democratic Iraqi government supported by Sunnis,
Shi'ites and Kurds has become increasingly unrealistic in the face of
unremitting sectarian violence. Kissinger is known to have advocated the
devolution of Iraq into a "confederate state in which Sunni, Shi'ite and
Kurdish regions would govern themselves" with substantial autonomy by convening
an international "contact group" including Iran, Syria and Turkey to try to
create a stable balance among Iraq's factions. Senator Joseph Biden, Democratic
incoming chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has adopted
Kissinger's proposal of dividing Iraq into three autonomous sectors along
ethnic and religious lines.
Kissinger proposes a process to "reflect some balance of forces and some
balance of interests". Instead of holding elections and trying to build
democratic institutions from the ground up, Kissinger proposes that the US
should focus on more limited goals: preventing the emergence of a
"fundamentalist jihadist regime" in Baghdad and enlisting other countries to
help stabilize Iraq. That of course was the role Iraq under Saddam and his
Iraqi Ba'ath Party played as an effective secular force in curbing
Until the Republican defeat in US elections last month, the Bush administration
had firmly dismissed as a retreat from "moral clarity" the idea of talking to
Iran or Syria to offer them formal roles in stabilizing Iraq. The US had
offered to talk with their governments only about US complaints of Iran
supporting Shi'ite militias in Iraq and Syria aiding Sunni insurgents. Former
secretary of state James A Baker, co-head of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton
Commission to recommend new options for US policy on Iraq, has also said he
favors bringing Iran and Syria into diplomatic dialogue, and the commission
itself now has confirmed that view.
Kissinger has long being skeptical about making democratization the primary
goal of US foreign policy. Enlarging democracy overseas can only be
realistically achieved on a measured timetable. The direction can be set as a
long-term policy goal, but the implementation requires longer historical
periods than the tenure of one US presidency.
It is necessary to remember that the confederation of Iraq is not a goal shared
by pan-Arab activists, who see it as a neo-imperialist attempt to split the
Arab nation from its current 22 parts into