Voters Must Not
By Ramzy Baroud
30 October, 2006
critical is the situation in Iraq? It depends on who you ask and when.
Common sense tells us that the situation there has always been critical.
In fact, one could dare claim that the country has been stricken with
political and social upheaval since the early 1990s, when the US led
its ‘coalition of the willing’ to liberate Kuwait.
Unfortunately, since American
intent was hardly freedom for Kuwait for its own sake, the violent episode
didn’t end right there and then. The war established a completely
different mood in the region where a permanent American military presence
and subsequent built ups threatened a second, and much larger war.
Unlike the dominant narrative,
however, the 1990-91 war never brought peace or tranquility to the region;
rather, it agitated internal strife within Iraq, positioning the entire
region through the barrel of a gun. Over the next decade, US-led UN
economic sanctions wrought untold destruction to the very fabric of
Iraqi society, as hundreds of thousands perished because of lack of
medicine and food. The US government calculated that a weary Iraq could
not withstand a future military action, and that ravished Iraqis would
welcome the toppling of the Iraqi dictator.
Much of that came to fruition
in March 2003. Although the televised statue toppling near the Palestine
Hotel was at best cheesy military propaganda. In truth, many Iraqis
were indeed content to see the end of the Saddam era, while some felt
utterly uneasy about replacing an Iraqi dictator with an American one;
But there was no honeymoon
to speak of, even during those early stages of occupation. The fact
that Shia areas initially welcomed the Americans and largely Sunni population
centers fought them, tells us more about the sectarianism of Iraqi society
than a particular event that served as a turning point in the anti-occupation
struggle. Sectarianism in Iraq is deep-rooted indeed, but it was even
further infuriated by a determined US policy that sought an alliance
with Shias and Kurds to achieve what it termed ‘Debaathification
of Iraq’, similar to the ‘Denazification of Europe’
decades earlier. This policy was founded on the misguided hypothesis
that the Baath party was largely an ‘anti-Shia and Kurd’,
exclusively Sunni club. The process entailed the dismantling of the
Iraqi army — an icon of stability and order in Iraq — and
replacing it with an army that consisted largely of Kurdish militias
in the north and Shia militias everywhere else; both groups had vengeful
and murderous intents.
Like always, the situation
was critical then, as it continues to be so, but Iraq, nonetheless,
was losing its appeal as a primary news item, for those who were being
killed were simply members of the crowd most hostile to the occupation,
even if civilians. Only when Al Qaeda militants capitalized on the Sunni
communities’ feeling of betrayal, vulnerability, ceaseless demonization
and eventually being factored out of the political equation altogether,
did the Iraq story regain its sense of urgency. It’s much easier
to sell the American public a fight against Al Qaeda than one against
disfranchised Iraqi Sunnis, for obvious reasons.
The Bush administration,
its faithful strategists and PR managers have done their utmost to carry
out the president’s vision for a new Iraq that would serve as
an icon of democracy for a new Middle East, and have worked tirelessly
to sell the ‘achievements’ of the administration to an unimpressed
public, who slowly but determinately realized that that the Iraq war
was a colossal mistake.
I do remember the days when
I predicted similar scenarios to what is taking place today, only to
be shouted out by right wing radio show hosts, for my apparent lack
of patriotism. Now the president himself, accompanied by leading army
generals and senators, is saying more or less what progressive writers
and intellectuals have contended for years: Bush is finally seeing some
similarities between Iraq and Vietnam, and top American officials are
candidly talking of Iraq as a ‘’problem’ and a ‘very
difficult’ one at that. (A similar storm was unleashed in Britain
when General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, said in
a newspaper interview that the presence of foreign troops might be "exacerbating"
the situation in Iraq.)
But why did it take the Bush
administration all of this time to reach such a simple conclusion, that
was deduced by almost three quarters of the US population before it
was inferred by the administration itself? Did 650,000 Iraqi and nearly
2,800 American lives have to be wasted in order for the president to
summon General John Abizaid, overall US commander for the Middle East,
and General George Casey, in command of the American troops in Iraq,
to discuss the country’s other options out of the quagmire?
The bipartisan Iraq Study
Group, appointed by the US Congress and co-chaired by former Secretary
of State James Baker to examine alternative solutions to the growing
Iraqi nightmare, will not reveal its findings and recommendations until
next January. Leaks made to the media predict that the very gloomy report
could make extraordinary recommendations, including phased withdrawal,
diplomatically engaging Iran and Syria, among other options. But even
with such a dramatic shift in approach, Baker warns “there’s
no magic bullet for the situation in Iraq. It’s very, very difficult.”
President Bush meanwhile
continues to wow his ardent followers with tired speeches of wars that
must be won, democracies that must be achieved and is still industriously
infusing his preverbal ‘cut and run’ mantras, knowing deep
inside that his dream of a clean Iraq victory is long gone.
At the time of the drafting
of this article, Al Sadr militants seem to be controlling the streets
in Amara, south of Baghdad, ready to ‘liberate’ other cities,
while British forces are preparing a grim return to a city they victoriously
handed over to the Iraqi police. America’s allies, the militias
and their deaths squads, are increasingly determined to fight the ‘occupiers’;
as if the Iraq nightmare could possibly get any more frightening.
But I am still not sure why
the situation is critical now, as opposed to last March, for example.
Is it a last resort change of strategy prior to the US legislative mid-term
elections? The Republicans are trailing in the polls and a deciding
factor in that is their botched Iraq strategy; maybe a more pragmatic
president who appreciates the intensity of the crisis and is doing his
outmost to face it is the best image that Bush’s advisors can
conjure up at such short notice. It’s anything but one of Karl
Rove’s other ‘genius’ ideas, but is certainly worth
the effort. On November 7, however, only the American voter has the
power to decide: whether to reward failure or to gracefully search for
a way out.
latest book: The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s
Struggle (Pluto Press, London) is available on Amazon.com.
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