A Good Analysis of How Bad Things Are In Iraq

August 10, 2007 at 1:27 pm | Posted in American politics, Iraq, Military | Leave a comment

They come few and far in between, but occasionally we do get an excellent analysis of how bad things really are in Iraq, this time from the Financial Times.

Two ostensibly benign by-products of the US invading Iraq were: the empowerment of the Shia majority there, giving the sect, a dispossessed minority within Islam, rights denied for centuries; and the welcome panic of an ossified Sunni Arab order based on a toxic mix of despotism and social inequity that incubated extremism. But Iraq’s Shia politicians seem unwilling to put state above sect. Such is the Sunni, jihadi-abetted backlash, and the intra-Shia fight over the spoils, that the Shia have not so much come into their inheritance as entered a new circle of hell.

The Shia-led government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has ceased to pursue even a communalist agenda, preferring the narrower sectarian interest of his faction of the Da’wa party. With the withdrawal of 17 of 38 members of Mr Maliki’s cabinet – including all the Sunnis and two big Shia factions – government has for most practical purposes ceased.

To believe any policy might work in these circumstances – let alone a slow-motion surge – requires heroic optimism. Some of that was placed in Gen David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq. At least until this week.

It turns out those Kalashnikovs went missing on his previous watch, as trainer-in-chief of the still barely existent Iraqi army. Gen Petraeus, a student of counterinsurgency with a PhD from Princeton and a gift for PR, had been lionised for his command of the 101st Airborne division in 2003-04, and especially his “hearts and minds” campaign in the north. After his withdrawal, however, two-thirds of Mosul’s security forces defected to the insurgency and the rest went down like fairground ducks. His forces appear not to have noticed, moreover, that Saudi-inspired jihadis had established a bridgehead in Mosul before the war had even started.

But US commanders seem to have no trouble detecting the hand of Tehran everywhere. This largely evidence-free blaming of serial setbacks on Iranian forces is a bad case of denial. First, the insurgency is overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni, built around a new generation of jihadis created by the US invasion. Second, to the extent foreign fighters are involved these have come mostly from US-allied and Sunni Saudi Arabia, not Shia Iran. Third, the lethal roadside bombs with shaped charges that US officials have coated with a spurious veneer of sophistication to prove Iranian provenance are mostly made by Iraqi army-trained engineers – from high explosive looted from those unsecured arms dumps.

Shia Iran has backed a lot of horses in Iraq. If it wished to bring what remains of the country down around US ears it could. It has not done so. The plain fact is that Tehran’s main clients in Iraq are the same as Washington’s: Mr Maliki’s Da’wa and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq led by Abdelaziz al-Hakim. Iran has bet less on the unpredictable Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, which has, in any case, largely stood aside during the present troop surge.

So, in sum. Having upturned the Sunni order in Iraq and the Arab world, and hugely enlarged the Shia Islamist power emanating from Iran, the US finds itself dependent on Tehran-aligned forces in Baghdad, yet unable to dismantle the Sunni jihadistan it has created in central and western Iraq. Ignoring its Iraqi allies it is arming Sunni insurgents to fight al-Qaeda. And, by selling them arms rather than settling Palestine it is trying to put together an Arab Sunni alliance (Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) with Israel against Iran. All clear? How can anyone keep a straight face and call this a strategy?

Where have the conservative realists gone? Under what rock are they hiding?

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