Considering Iraq

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the day the US "transferred" sovereignty to Iraq, it seems like a good time to stop and consider the entire Iraq enterprise. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is in the US this week to try to rally the troops (ours, that is) in the face of flagging poll numbers, hoping to keep the US engaged long enough to bring some sense of stability.  Some Democrats are demanding a pull-out, and even some Republicans are asking for a timeline.  Meanwhile, in a case of poor spin or delusion, Dick Cheney is busily ignoring reality and declaring the insurgency is in its last throes

The facts are indeed grim: even while we spend billions a year, the violence in Iraq worsens.  Over 1700 Americans have been killed (dozens from or with connections to Oregon), and something on the order of 25,000 - 100,000 Iraqis have been killed.  The political situation is far from stable, as Kurds, Shi'ites, and Sunnis jockey for control.  Yesterday, American commander John Abizaid declared that, far from being in its last throes, the insurgency is at least as strong as it was six months ago, and there are more foreign fighters in Iraq now.  Whatever Iraq was before the US invasion, it now is the locus of terror in the Middle East.  To combat all of this, the US has had to dig deeper and deep into its Army reserves, and now the specter of a draft looms.

But just because things are going badly doesn't mean withdrawal is the answer.  It is politically expedient to demand withdrawal, but is it the wise course?  Is the US morally committed to an Iraqi populace that must deal with the aftermath of our invasion?  What responsibility does the international community have to help ensure Iraq doesn't descend into civil war?  Liberals who didn't want the war in the first place now have it--what should our position be?  It's clear that the one-year anniversary of Iraqi sovereignty will not be greeted with peace.  Where do we go from here?


  • Bill Holmer (unverified)

    The problem as I see it is that we have given Turkey veto power over our foreign policy. Whaaaat? you ask. Democracy in Iraq will only work if the Iraqi's want to live together. Iraq as a country goes back to the earlier world wars as part of the West's divide and conquer strategy for the Middle East. The three major ethnic and religious groups in Iraq are the Sunni's, the Shiite's, and the Kurd's. The only solution I see is to divvy up the country along those lines, and then I think you would find peace and stability emerge. And if they want a democratic government, so much the better. But this is where Turkey comes in. They don't want an independent Kurdish nation on its southern flank for fear of a move toward independence from the Kurds in southern Turkey.
    We stood up to French and the Germans. Now its time to stand up to the Turks.

  • activist kaza (unverified)

    Hear, Hear Holmer! Our problem in Iraq has been the political solution. Trying to force these three factions together is impossible, and we should have learned from Britain's colonial past and recognized it wouldn't work. The "insurgency" is one-part reaction/rebellion against US troops and two (or three) parts precursor to Civil War. And our presence in Iraq is destabilizing enough...for those worried about setting a timetable, really, how much worse can it get? The US can defuse tensions (about us) by announcing our intentions to leave, in an orderly fashion, over several years. The announcement gives the Iraqis a definitive timeframe to work towards, and to get their house in order. But as Mr. Holmer says, we ought to begin to seek a decentralized federation, otherwise, even in a best-case scenario, we get the Shias running the show. Someone forgot to tell the President that democracies can be ugly. We have more than fulfilled our obligation (militarily) in Iraq. Release the remaining $16b or so for reconstruction and bring our men & women home. We may have other (real) wars to fight soon...

  • (Show?)

    I agree with both of you. Turkey isn't the only problem, either. Shi'ites and Sunnis also live in a regional context, and neighboring countries have a horse in their race, too.

    We're in a tough paradox: we can't leave because it's a sure prescription for a descent into chaos and civil war (I find myself in the odd position of an anti-war pacifist who thinks we owe it to the tens of thousands killed by our invasion not to abandon them to tribal warfare); we can't stay as the sole occupier because we are gasoline to an already roaring fire; and we can't divide up the country because of regional players.

    The best solution I can foresee is to take our hat in hand and return to the international community with a plea to make the reconstruction legitimate. While I'm persuaded that the three factions have long and deep resentments, I don't think that is reason enough to abandon a unified Iraq. India, an even more recently-mapped creation, has a diverse and divided population but has successfully used those differences to strengthen the nationwide belief in democracy.

    The problem for the present is that Iraqis have no experience of cooperative government, no experience that democracy is a good solution. That's an experience that generally takes decades to develop. As long as we function as an extra-democratic authority, the Iraqi experience will not be of democracy. What's happening now looks a whole lot like what happened at the turn of the last century and again at midcentury. Authoritarian leaders who promise freedom but deliver bullets? Yeah, that one they know.

  • Ed Bickford (unverified)

    I can't see how dividing up Iraq is workable, it being an oil-producer. I don't want to see the factional fighting over resources. This isn't Yugoslavia, which was already divided up into mini-republics, and was still no picnic!

    Underlying all is the fact that what seemingly lured the Shrubs into war there was control of that same resource. I don't believe they would be willing to parcel it out to successor states. Remember how that oil revenue was going to enable Iraq to pay us for their "liberation"? The reason it hasn't is that US corporations are getting that money! They need a client state to hold onto that.

    What about Halliburton et alii, the contractor corporations that are raking billions out of Iraq, unfettered by competition from those reasonable nations that refuse to go to war there on obviously fabricated justifications? They wouldn't let Bush make nice with them again if he wanted. We are sunk trying to make an honorable exit from Iraq while still having an utterly corrupt administration at home.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    There is no good option in this. The best we can hope for is to choose the least worst. For starters, I would recommend reading articles by Robert Fisk and Dahr Jamail (check The Independent (UK) for Fisk and Common Dreams and ZNet for both) and Juan Cole to anyone interested in understanding this problem. They know more about Iraq and the Middle East than most of us can ever hope to, which certainly includes Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their neocon friends and sycophants. Whatever, ignore anything Thomas Friedman and David Reinhard have to say in writing about their delusions of remodeling the Middle East.

  • Kent (unverified)

    The problem with dividing up Iraq is several-fold.

    First, the majority Sunni areas in the center of the country have no oil. Iraq's major oil fields are in the Kurdish north and Shiite south. So a 3-state solution would be economically unworkable.

    Second, major Shiite populations live in the center, especially Baghdad. Either you have the problem of large minority populations in each ethnically-based state. Or you have massive partitiion and refugee problems on the scale of the India-Pakistan partition.

    Third, Iraq's infrastructure is not designed around a 3-state structure. Basically all roads lead through Baghdad.

    My own fear is that we'll not be out of Iraq for a decade or more. There simply is no force that can take our place. This insurgency can take out American M1A1 battle tanks and Apache helecopters. Recently the NYT reported that they are now using shaped charges and have literally vaporized armored humvees with large IEDs. What other army is equipped to step in and do what even the American Army and Marines can't do? Certainly not poorly-equipped UN troops from places like Nigeria or Pakistan.

    I honestly think the only exit solution at this point is to create a new Saddam who is eqipped and willing to be equally ruthless. And then one really has to wonder what was the point. I guess it would be our Saddam, just like the other one was up until about 1990. Otherwise we leave chaos and civil war that will spread throughout the region.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Recommended web site: worldtribunal dot org

  • LT (unverified)

    Please do not insult Friedman who has lived in the Middle East with Reinhard who is a legend in his own mind. I don't always agree with Friedman but he has a more balanced approach than Reinhard (sees some things as 51/49 splits rather than black and white) and at least has the experience of living in the Middle East to inform his opinions. And he writes in an informative manner, not with the intention to insult which Reinhard often uses.

  • Grant E. Remington (unverified)

    Well, well, well. war talk and what to do about it. Its about freaking time this subject appeared on this site. Let me preface my remarks with this quote from Ronald Reagan's head of the NSA, Lt. General William Odom (retired). "We have already failed. Staying in longer makes us fail worse."

    When murderers, banks robbers, sexual predators, and con artist who prey on seniors are on the loose in Portland, there is a call to action to hunt them down. We unleash our outrage and demand justice. Stories are written in the press about the efforts of law enforcement agencies to bring these criminals to justice. Stories of tenacious detectives running down leads in search of missing children. Stories of the ongoing fight against meth labs and street gangs by special taskforces. We have “Amber alerts”. We have “Crime Stopper” public service announcements. This is good. We should be outraged and demand our system bring these criminals to justice.

    It is time we do the same with the criminals of the Bush administration. For that is what they are, criminals. They are international outlaws. They have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. So what are you going to do about it? How about stopping the war perpetrated by this administration against the people Iraq?

    How anyone can think that this administration, which is the most incompetent, irresponsibile bunch of liars that have ever occupied the White House, can come up with a viable plan for a solution to this mess, are delusional. They, the White House crew, haven't a clue. Their malfeasance knows no bounds. They are useless. Someone upthread mentioned Thomas Friedman as a source for info. The guy's a hack who was a cheerleader for the war and now twists himself into a pretzel trying to justify his position and offers simplistic remedies for "success". We have failed. Nothing can remedy that. The Bush administration has failed. Nothing can change that fact.

    This is a fact. "I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these [Third World] nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own.... And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the "haves" refuse to share with the "have-nots" by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans." General David M. Shoup, former US Marine Commandant and recipient of the Medal of Honor after Tarawa, 1966

    The administration has tried to cram the "American style" down the throats of the Iraqi people and they aren't having it. They are a tribal society, always have been and it works for them. All this talk about "civil war" is ridiculous. I was at the Iraqi Labor Leaders tour event on Wednesday. One of the men addressed this very issue by saying, "I'm a shia, my wife's a sunni, what am I going to do kill her?" He rejected the notion that there is a divide between the various religious factions. They, he said, would have no problem living together in peace if the occupation ended. Ask when that should be, he answered, "now". They just want an end to the occupation so they can go about the rebuilding of their country. The power structure will develop out of "their" system, not one forced on them by us. And we should pay through the nose to help them rebuild. When asked about the missing reconstuction money, this same man said with a smile, Iraq would be a "paradise" if they had been able to use it instead of the CPA. They are not stupid or lazy people, they have they skills and manpower to do everything that needs to be done. Get out and let them do it.

    Until there is an immediate withdrawal, nothing but death and destruction will continue. I've been to war, I have looked this abomination in the eye and found it a false God worshipped by warmongers and poll watchers. A false God worshipped by the mediawhores who wish to be bathed in its reflected glow. A false God worshipped by those who have never seen, heard, smelled or touched the obscenity of violence they glorify.

    Until you demand an immediate withdrawal, the administration is allowed to continue killing people in your name. I will not allow them to do it in my name. War is obsolete, wage peace.

    Grant E. Remington, President Veterans for Peace Chapter 72

  • Jim Holman (unverified)

    Kent writes: "My own fear is that we'll not be out of Iraq for a decade or more. There simply is no force that can take our place."

    Absolutely correct. The Iraqi military has a long tradition of poor leadership, low morale, low pay, desertions, poor decisions driven by internal politics, etc. And this goes back 30 years or more, even before the 1980s when Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world and was the world's largest purchaser of military equipment.

    So what to do? Either you spend years growing a new officer corps from the ground up, or you call back some of the old guys, build the new army on top of their proven incompetence, and then spend years trying to move them from incompetent to adequate. God knows what the "timetable" would be for either option, or the chances of success.

    Look at it this way: think about the worst company you ever worked for -- the one with the managers that were both clueless and arrogant, that exploited people, that made consistently bad decisions, that punished the good people and rewarded the ass-kissers, and so on. You what know I'm talking about; you've worked there before. Now -- think how long it would take to transform that company into into a highly-competent and successful organization. That's how long it will take to build an Iraqi army with good leadership.

    We're talking about a years-long project during which we would have to provide security. That means instituting a draft, spending yet more hundreds of billions of dollars, and having our nice young people coming home sans life or body parts for years to come. Given that option, "cut and run" looks pretty attractive. Of course, all of this was completely predictable, and was in fact predicted.

  • (Show?)

    There are a lot of experts out there, but I've observed the following. I've left a few things out for the sake of brevity, but broadly outlined it goes like this:

    Post WWI Europeans carved up the rotting carcass of the Ottoman Empire to suite their own contemporary finacial and colonial interests. They left out a few ethnic groups like the Kurds and Armenians.

    Post WWII the British and Americans, wracked with guilt over the Holocaust, gave the Jews title to land that had been owned for over 2000 years by Palestinians and tacitly condoned terrorism to achieve the new homeland.

    In the '60s the Israelis, British, and Americans tapped into Islamic fundamentalism and financed and trained Hamas, The Islamic Brotherhood, and the Baath Party to counter the Marxist tendencies of the various other Arab Nationalist factions, like the PLO.

    In the '70s, '80s and '90s, the US trained and armed the radical Islamists in Afghanistan, again to fight the Commies. The US also used Saddam Hussein to get back at the Iranians and (along with the Brits, French, and Germans, sold him the tech and raw materials to become a chem and bio weapon power, and turned a blind eye to the Wahabbi fundamentalists that ran (and continue to run) all aspects of daily life in Saudi Arabia.

    We were obliviously happy to let these bastards kill each other out, but Saddam went a step too far in going after Kuwait which was at the time another of our pet-dictatorships-sitting-on-a-large-pool-of-oil and on 9/11 we started to reap the deadly harvest of our own short sighted foreign policy as some of the other thugs that we'd been supporting turned on us.

    Not having learned a damned thing from the last century of foreign policy mismanagement by European/Americans, we continue to support the Zionists without question and have now created the largest Terrorist Training Camp in the world in Iraq.

    Partition it in such a way that the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds and get a shot at the oil revenues and get the hell out. The Kurds will do just fine. They have a disciplined fighting force and they are now tight with the Israelis, serving as a forward base for intelligence ops inside Iran. Iran will coninue to wield a lot of influence in southern Iraq, but will not be able to outright annex it as the ethnic differences and religious similarities dictate. The Saudis and the Syrians will support the Sunnis and (maybe) keep them from being overrun by revenge minded former minority groups.

  • forethought (unverified)

    The Bush administration is out to get theirs: oil and access. 13 permanent bases in Iraq, and first dibs on Iraqi oil. If they're successful in installing a government, they get both.

    There's good reason to agree with those who say the civil war talk is overblown. There's not enough population that supports the idea, and has been pointed out here, the infrastructure and distribution of natural resources aren't conducive to carving the country up, not to mention that the people don't live in strict enclaves. You can't tell a shia from a sunni by looking at them, which makes their cohabitation unremarkable.

    As for what to do - get out, today, and triple the rate of training of the Iraqi military outside the country. Focus all our resources on getting them up to speed. Yank our contractors and hired thugs, everyone. Buy them the infrastructure pieces we promised and help fund the reconstruction entirely through the use of Iraqi labor.

    This would defuse a lot of the hatred towards us, and cut the legs out from under all but the most embittered of the baathist hardliners. Of course, our Iraq ROI would be -200 billion in this scenario, setting aside the anecdotal local democratization movements that have resulted from our invading a neighboring country.

    This will never happen. Our corporation pandering executive administration would rather see 10 million US men and women die than lose face and break trust with their corporate masters by withdrawing. Our first chance to get out will be in late 2006, if we can get enough talibaptists unseated in congress, and if there are enough republicans willing to cross over and force a firm withdrawal timeline. Just like with Vietnam.

  • Gregor04 (unverified)

    I've got it!!! Since the Iraqis could care less about oil, and this Administration could are less about Iraq, what if we just give the oil recovery program to Halliburton, who already has it, and make the three new states of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis share holders, proportionally. Details can be worked out by a Tri-Nation Committee.

    OK! let's pack up our finest youths and go home before we ruin any more lives.

  • Veteran for God (unverified)

    Here's the deal people:

    1. Terrorist organizations' model is that of an organized crime gang, not a military.

    2. The only way to bring down this type of gang is with undercover agents and informants.

    3. The military is not the answer.

    I'm a veteran and the military is the most ill-equipped, ill-prepared unit to fight this type of enemy. We are designed and equipped to fight an organized, mechanized force, not a clandestine gang. We should all be afraid. The terrorists are much better now because of Iraq. That means their chances of success in future mission are much greater--unless we fight them the way the fight us--in secret & under cover.

    How do we fight this then? With international cooperation between police agencies, that includes undercover cops. Do you think for one minute we can get in the inner circle of Al Qaeda? NOT!! We don't look like them, we don't speak the language well, and we don't have a family history over there. In order to get in, we would have to prove that we belong. Fat chance on that right now.

    We're a bunch of suckers. The President sold this as a war, and we bought it. It is not by definition, a war. It is a conflict, or a fight, but not a war.

    The military industrial complex is rollin' and raking in our tax payer dollars, our young folks are getting killed and maimed, and the terrorists are getting some live action and experience so they can kick our tails even harder next time.

    And what about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? What’s our exit strategy on those? Have we sentenced the enemy combatants to life without a trial or parole?

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