The United States lost the war in Vietnam – which, for the Vietnamese, is more appropriately known as the American War – on the ground. But Hollywood won the war on screen – displaying back-to-back masterpieces from Apocalypse Now to The Deer Hunter.
Now history repeats itself as – what else – farce. The US for all purposes has lost the war in Iraq. But forget about former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz getting an Oscar for Worst Screenplay, ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld getting an Oscar for Worst Director and former president George W Bush and assorted neo-conservatives stepping to the podium at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles as producers to accept the Oscar for Worst Picture – the war itself.
Instead we have The Hurt Locker as Best Picture and Kathryn Bigelow – an otherwise terrific indie filmmaker – as Best Director. Iraqis themselves are not even allowed a cameo as extras in one of those corny Oscar night dance numbers. The Hurt Locker is a mere unintended (and ultimately profitable) by-product of an invasion and occupation that destroyed a nation and killed, directly and indirectly, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who, unlike “our man and women in uniform” do not even merit a mention from Bigelow in her moment of glory. The fact that Hurt Locker won over Avatar – the most elaborate and the highest-grossing anti-war movie of all time – speaks volumes of improvised explosive devices about America’s supposed “cultural” elite.
The coalition locker
Oscar night in real-life Baghdad though is far from over. It boasts its own Avatar versus Hurt Locker race – pitting former prime minister Iyad Allawi, formerly known in Baghdad as “Saddam without a mustache” against current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. None boasts Bigelow’s charm and technical skills, but both sure know how to shoot a war scene.
Following Sunday’s parliamentary elections, Hollywood – that is, Washington – is betting on its own horse, former Central Intelligence Agency asset and Ba’athist Allawi and his coalition of the more-or-less willing known as the Iraqi National List. If Allawi wins it will be 2004 all over again, those days when the occupation was going swell, at least according to the official Pentagon narrative.
It does not matter that in 2004 Allawi was also behind the bloody attack on Fallujah, a Sunni bastion. Allawi’s allies today are essentially Sunni Arab nationalists aligned with those purist models of Western liberal democracy, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Their bogeyman is Shi’ite Iran. No wonder they’re Hollywood – oops, Washington’s – favorites.
On the other hand to have Maliki, a Shi’ite from the Da’wa party reaffirmed in power, is an infinitely less savory proposition. This spells out the continuity of an informal Baghdad-Tehran alliance, much to the discomfort of the Washington-aligned House of Saud as well. Not even the sands of Mesopotamia can tell what Washington’s alleged troop “withdrawal” from Iraq will actually mean in practice; but that would certainly implicate even more ascendancy from Tehran.
And all this while not even considering the touchy Kurdish question – around which any tremor detonates the red alarm of civil war. The Kurds predictably voted for their own Kurdish parties. Allawi and his Sunni backers will never allow the Kurds to take over the oil-rich Kirkuk area, not to mention get deeper into both Diyala and Nineveh provinces. The Kurds may not think the world of Maliki – but Maliki’s troubles are even more acute regarding the Sunnis in the northern big city of Mosul. As far as the Kurds are concerned, he would be ready to discuss an overall deal, and that in itself would not exactly displease the Sunnis.
The bottom line is that whatever happens during these next few weeks – final results will only be announced on March 18 – Allawi won’t get anything near a majority in the Shi’ite south and thus won’t get enough firepower to drive a coalition with Maliki, the Kurds or the National Iraqi Alliance, which congregates the Shi’ite religious parties. Maliki’s State of Law Coalition is anti-Ba’athist to the core. And the National Iraqi Alliance would never align with an anti-Shi’ite former CIA asset.
The key to the National Iraqi Alliance is the Sadr faction. To get the Sadrists on board, Maliki will have to speed up the end of the occupation. For the Sadrists, this is sacred: end of the occupation means no more US troops in Iraq, period. So one may be heading to a probable scenario of a grand Maliki coalition including the Shi’ite religious parties, sundry smaller parties, independents and a working agreement with the Kurds.
And what did Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani – the most influential and authoritative marja (source of emulation) in Iraq – have to say about all this? He said everyone should vote – otherwise that would “allow some to achieve illegitimate goals”. The majority of Shi’ites even in Iran recognize Sistani – and not Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – as their marja. Sistani did not exactly endorse Iran with his statement. But certainly he did not endorse former CIA asset Allawi.
Once again the unintended – or, as a matter of fact, intended – end result of Washington’s “Western liberal democracy” imposed by the barrel of a gun will be sectarianism. The specter of civil war in Iraq will remain – much to the delight of Washington’s full spectrum dominance crowd, which would love nothing better than a balkanization of Iraq to enfeeble both Iraq and Iran.
Sadrists are already alarmed about potential fraud and vote-rigging. Allawi, always a sore loser, is already crying foul. But ultimately it seems likely that Maliki and associates will win for Best Picture and Best Director in Baghdad’s real-life version of the Oscars. Don’t bet on them trekking to Washington, oops Hollywood, next year to receive their Oscar for Best Foreign Film.