I say this to the evil Bush – leave my country.
We do not need you and your army of darkness.
We don’t need your planes and tanks.
We don’t need your policy and your interference.
We don’t want your democracy and fake freedom.
Get out of our land.
– Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraqi Shi’ite leader
The George W Bush-sponsored Iraqi “surge” is now one year old. The US$11 billion-a-month (and counting) Iraqi/Afghan joint quagmire keeps adding to the US government’s staggering over $9 trillion debt (it was “only” $5.6 trillion when Bush took power in early 2001).
On the ground in Iraq, the state of the union – Bush’s legacy – translates into a completely shattered nation with up to 70% unemployment, a 70% inflation rate, less than six hours of electricity a day and virtually no reconstruction, although White House-connected multinationals have bagged more than $50 billion in competition-free contracts so far. The gleaming reconstruction success stories of course are the Vatican-sized US Embassy in Baghdad – the largest in the world – and the scores of US military bases.
Facts on the ground also attest the “surge” achieved no “political reconciliation” whatsoever in Iraq – regardless of a relentless US corporate media propaganda drive, fed by the Pentagon, to proclaim it a success. The new law to reverse de-Ba’athification – approved by a half-empty Parliament and immediately condemned by Sunni and secular parties as well as former Ba’athists themselves – will only exacerbate sectarian hatred.
What the “surge” has facilitated instead is the total balkanization of Baghdad – as well as the whole of Iraq. There are now at least 5 million Iraqis among refugees and the internally displaced – apart from competing statistics numbering what certainly amounts to hundreds of thousands of dead civilians. So of course there is less violence; there’s hardly any people left to be ethnically cleansed.
Everywhere in Iraq there are myriad signs of balkanization – not only in blast wall/partitioned Baghdad. In the Shi’ite south, the big prize is Basra, disputed by at least three militias. The Sadrists – the voice of the streets – are against regional autonomy; the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC)- which controls security – wants Basra as the key node of a southern Shi’iteistan; and the Fadhila party – which control the governorate – wants an autonomous Basra.
In the north, the big prize is oil-rich Kirkuk province, disputed by Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkmen; the referendum on Kirkuk has been postponed indefinitely, as everyone knows it will unleash a bloodbath. In al-Anbar province, Sunni Arab tribes bide their time collaborating with the US and controlling the exits to Syria and Jordan while preparing for the inevitable settling of scores with Shi’ites in Baghdad.
Obama and Hillary vs Iraqis
Meanwhile, in the Democratic party presidential race, Hillary Clinton, who voted for the war on Iraq, viciously battles Kennedy clan-supported Barack Obama, who opposed the war, followed at a distance by John “can a white man be president” Edwards, who apologized for his initial support for the war. Obama, Edwards and Clinton basically agree, with some nuance, the “surge” was a fluke.
They have all pledged to end the war if elected. But Edwards is the only pre-candidate who has explicitly called for an immediate US troop withdrawal – up to 50,000, with nearly all of the remaining out within a maximum of 10 months. Edwards insisted Iraqi troops would be trained “outside of Iraq” and no troops would be left to “guard US bases”.
For their part, both Clinton and Obama believe substantial numbers of troops must remain in Iraq to “protect US bases” and “to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq”. This essentially means the occupation grinding on. Both never said exactly how many troops would be needed: they could be as many as 75,000. Both have steadfastly refused to end the “mission” before 2013.
It’s hard to envision an “occupation out” Obama when among his chief advisers one finds former president Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski – the “grand chessboard” ideologue who always preached American domination of Eurasia – and former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, who always fought for Israel’s dominance of the “mini-chessboard”, the Middle East.
So far Obama has not given any signs he would try to counter the logic of global US military hegemony conditioned by control of oil; that’s why the US is in Iraq and Africa, that’s the reason for so much hostility towards Venezuela, Iran and Russia. As for Clinton – with the constant references to “vital national security interests” – there’s no evidence this twin-headed presidency would differ from Bush in wanting to install a puppet, pliable, perennial, anti-Iranian, peppered-with-US-military-bases regime in Iraq.
But more than US presidential candidates stumbling on how to position themselves about Iraq, what really matters is what Iraqis themselves think. According to Asia Times Online sources in Baghdad, apart from the three provinces in Iraqi Kurdistan, more than 75% of Sunnis and Shi’ites alike are certain Washington wants to set up permanent military bases; this roughly equals the bulk of the population in favor of continued attacks against US troops.
Furthermore, Sunni Arabs as a whole as well as the Sadrists are united in infinite suspicion of the key Bush-mandated “benchmark”: the eventual approval by the Iraqi Parliament of a new oil law which would in fact de-nationalize the Iraqi oil industry and open it to Big Oil. Iraqi public opinion as a whole is also suspicious of what the Bush administration wants to extract from the cornered, battered Nuri al-Maliki government: full immunity from Iraqi law not only for US troops but for US civilian contractors as well. The empire seems to be oblivious to history: that was exactly one of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s most popular reasons to dethrone the Shah of Iran in 1979.
Too many fish in the sea
It’s impossible to overestimate the widespread anger in Baghdad, among Sunnis and Shi’ites alike, for what has essentially been the balkanization of the city as negotiated by US commanders with a rash of militias; the occupiers after all are only one more militia among many, although better equipped. Now there are insistent rumors – again – in Baghdad that the occupation, allied with the government-sanctioned Badr Organization – is preparing an anti-Sadrist blitzkrieg in oil-rich Basra.
The daily horror in Iraq has all but been erased from US corporate media narrative. But in Baghdad, now virtually a Shi’ite city like Shiraz, Salafi-jihadi suicide bombers continue to attack Shi’ite markets or funerals – especially in mixed neighborhoods, even those only across the Tigris from the Green Zone. Sectarian militias – although theoretical allies of the occupation, paid in US dollars in cash – continue to pursue their own ethnic cleansing agenda. And the “surge” continues to privilege air strikes which inevitably produce scores of civilian “collateral damage”.
The Sunni Arab resistance continues to be the “fish” offered protection by the “sea” of the civilian population. All during the “surge”, the Sunni Arab guerrillas always kept moving – from west Baghdad to Diyala, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces and even to the northern part of Babil province. After the collapse of fuel imports from Turkey used to drive the Iraqi power grid, Baghdad and other Iraqi major cities are most of the time mired in darkness. Fuel shortages are the norm. In addition, the Sunni Arab resistance makes sure sabotage of electricity towers and stations remains endemic.
Contrary to Iraqi government propaganda, only very few among the at least 1 million Iraqis exiled in Syria since the beginning of the “surge” – mostly white-collar middle class – have come back. They are Sunni and Shi’ite alike. People – mostly Sunni – are still fleeing the country. The Shi’ite urban middle class fears there will inevitably be a push by the Sunni Arab resistance – supported and financed by the ultra-wealthy Sunni Gulf monarchies – to “recapture” Baghdad. This includes of course the hundreds of thousands of Baghdad Sunnis forced to abandon their city because of the “surge”.
As for the Sadrists, they are convinced the 80,000-strong Sunni Arab “Awakening Councils” – al-Sahwah, in Arabic – gathered in Anbar province are de facto militias biding their time and practicing for the big push. It’s fair to assume thousands still keep tight connections with the Salafi-jihadis (including most of all al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers) they are now supposedly fighting.
Considering the sectarian record of the US-backed Maliki government – which, as well as the Sadrists, considers the Awakening Councils as US-financed Sunni militias – there’s no chance they will be incorporated into the Iraqi army or police.
One of the Awakening Council leaders, Abu Marouf, a Saddam Hussein “security officer” before the 2003 invasion and then a commander of the influential Sunni Arab guerrilla group the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades, all but admitted to The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn the consequences will be dire if they are not seen to be part of the so-called “reconciliation” process. All this amounts to a certainty: a new battle of Baghdad is all but inevitable, and could happen in 2008.
Occupied of the world, unite
As the occupation/quagmire slouches towards its fifth year, it’s obvious the US cannot possibly “win” the Iraqi war – either on a military or political level – as Republican presidential pre-candidate John McCain insists. Sources in Baghdad tell Asia Times Online if not in 2008, by 2009 the post-“surge” Sunni Arab resistance is set to unleash a new national, anti-sectarian, anti-religion-linked-to-politics offensive bound to seal what an overwhelming majority of Iraqis consider the “ideological and cultural” US defeat.
Already now a crucial Sunni-Shi’ite nationalist 12-party coalition is emerging – oblivious to US designs and divorced from the US-backed parties in power (the Shi’ite SIIC and Da’wa and the two main Kurdish parties – the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party ). They have already established a consensus in three key themes: no privatization of the Iraqi oil industry, either via the new oil law or via dodgy deals signed by the Kurds; no breakup of Iraq via a Kurdish state (which implies no Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk); and an end to the civil war.
The 12-party coalition includes almost all Sunni parties, the Sadrists, the Fadhila party, a dissidence of Da’awa and the independents in the Iraqi Parliament. And they want as many factions as possible of the Sunni Arab resistance on board – including the crucial tribal leaders of Awakening.
The ultimate success of this coalition in great measure should be attributed to negotiations led by Muqtada al-Sadr. The Sadrists are betting on parliamentary elections in 2009, when they sense they may reach a non-sectarian, nationalist-based majority to form a government. This would definitely bury Iraq’s Defense Minister Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim’s recent estimate that a “significant” number of US troops would have to remain in Iraq at least for another 10 years, until 2018.
Even barring a possible Dr Strangelove-like attack on Iran, Bush is set to leave to Obama or Clinton, apart from a nearly $10 trillion black hole, a lost war in Afghanistan, total chaos in Pakistan, an open wound in Gaza, a virtual civil war in Lebanon and the heart of darkness of Iraq.
Both Obama – still unwilling to defend progressive ideas on progressive grounds – and drowning-in-platitudes Clinton owe it to US and world public opinion to start detailing, in “the fierce urgency of now”, how they realistically plan to confront such a state of (dis)union.