Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bloody Iraq

Blair's comments on Iraq were clapped by the Labour conference. I couldn't help thinking of performing seals - bark, bark, bark, bark. The attendees have essentially been hand picked for exactly that purpose, of course.

He didn't once mention Iraq without also mentioning Afghanistan. These constant attempts to conflate Iraq and Afghansitan are particularly loathsome. Whatever you think of British involvement in Afghanistan, Al Qaida was there. Almost no-one disputes that there was a genuine reason for what has happened there after the September 11th attacks (whether you agree or disagree with what's happened is a seperate point).

But Iraq was a war of choice unrelated to the "war" on terror. It was a war not sanctioned by the international community, one the Secretary General of the UN has described as illegal. Blair and Bush decided to make Iraq part of the "war" on terror. Not bin Laden or Zarqawi or Saddam, Bush and Blair. Any suggestion that British action in Iraq is comparible to that in Afghanistan is deliberately misleading. As such, I've taken out his references to Afghanistan for the purposes of discussing his attitude to Iraq.

So why are British troops in Iraq, Mr Blair?
They are there... at the specific request of the first ever democratically elected Government...
Leaving aside the back to front nature of this nonsense, Juan Cole always does an excellent job of reporting on the reality of Iraqi politics, the reality which Blair seems completely detached from. Yesterday, he translated an Arabic report on reaction to President Talibani's recent suggestion that the US should retain a permanent military presence in Iraq (Talibani is Kurdish). The Iraqi Accord Front (fundamentalist Sunnis), the Sadrists (fundamentalist Shiites) and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue (secular Sunnis) have all spoken out against this possibility. Most notable is the fact that "the al-Malik government [has] promised to study the document signed by 140 MPs asking for a timetable for withdrawal and for no further extension of the American military presence in the country".

Iraq's National Assembly has a total of 275 MPs. Over half of Iraq's democratically elected MPs have explicitly asked for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Bush and Blair's refusal to even consider such a move tells you all you need to know about their faith in Iraqi democracy. Full sovereignty indeed.

In the meantime, the US military continues to pour money into the building of large bases. And, earlier in the year, when Bush was asked whether there would eventually be a full withdrawal, this is what he said:
Q: Will there come a day -- and I'm not asking you when, not asking for a timetable -- will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq.
So, not only will he not commit to a timetable as is being requested by a majority of Iraqi MPs, he won't even commit to a theoretical full withdrawal at some future point (note that "an objective" is an entirely meaningless phrase). He certainly has no intention of a full withdrawal during his remaining two years in office. Is this in line with the wishes of the Iraqi people as expressed by the MPs they elected? Only in Bush and Blair world.

In Blair's conference speech, he also made a point about what would happen if US and UK forces were "defeated" in Iraq.
If we retreat now, hand Iraq over to Al Qaeda and sectarian death squads... we won't be safer; we will be committing a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the deepest peril.
In other words, there is a risk that Iraq will actually become what it was spuriously claimed to be before the invasion, a safe haven for terrorists and a threat to national security. This is a risk created by our intervention; it did not exist before.

And, he may be right to an extent. The declassified parts of the NIE, obviously cherry picked by Republican favourite John Negroponte, suggests that "perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere". This isn't unlikely and it is certainly possible that Sunni fundamentalists will continue to control parts of the north west of the country. Again, it must be stressed that his is an opportunity which has been created by the invasion.

The idea that al Qaida jihadists could take over the whole country however, is ridiculous. Most of the south, and Baghdad itself, would certainly continue to be dominated by religious Shiite groups. These groups are friendly with Iran but would certainly not allow Sunni fundamentalists to operate freely. Iran, remember, actually helped remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. After the devastating attacks on the Shia community in Iraq launched by Zarqawi and his associates, the idea that Iraqi Shiites would co-operate with Sunni extremists is more far fetched than ever. They are essentially at war.

And yet still Blair spouts his simplistic nonsense about a unified global ideology. They're not on the same side. They're killing each other in Iraq in ever increasing numbers; could it be any clearer that they don't like each other?

But what are facts when you've got "very strongly held views" to guide your actions?

Having thought about this long and hard, the conclusion that we cannot "win" in Iraq is unavoidable. It may very well be the case that "defeat" would inspire some fighters to continue the struggle but that is the price which will have to be paid for Bush and Blair's decision to import their "war" on terror to Iraq. Most of the violence in Iraq is not conducted by al Qaida jihadis and it is this other violence which makes the situation irretrievable for the "coalition of the willing". It is the violence caused by Saddam's oppression and its subsequent removal, the violence which informed analysists warned would make Iraq such a dangerous place, which has "defeated" the occupation. The underlying differences between the sectarian groups, federalism and the distribution of oil revenues, the status of Kirkut, and the festering hatreds caused by Saddam's rule, made the country fragile in the extreme. Importing the "war" on terror into such a country and thus encouraging Jihadi provocateurs to add to Iraq's troubles, was always going to be a disaster.

Colin Powell's prescient "Pottery Barn Rule" was once ridiculed by those who thought they knew better. It has now become a reason to stay for some; we broke it so we can't leave till we've fixed it. I've been known to lean towards that sort of thing myself; I believe that we should always try to face up to the responsibilities created by our previous actions. Sadly, it has become increasingly clear that we simply do not have the ability to rescue Iraq from the hell we unleashed when we invaded. Our troops could stay but it would be a display of penance, nothing more.

A while back, I said that I expected the Bush administration would start to draw down troops this year before the Congressional elections in November. They show no sign of doing so.

Where I got it wrong was not in underestimating the resolve of the administration to do the right thing. I believe the issue is the payback or rather the lack of payback. The over-optimistic idiots who planned this fiasco expected a major payback from Iraqi oil. Iraq had, and still has, the largest known quantity of unexploited oil reserves of any country in the world. That the US government has attempted to force Iraq to open these reserves up to exploitation by Western oil companies is no secret. The geo-political desire to aquire control over these untapped oil reserves has always been a major factor in the invasion.

That's the payback Bush and his cronies are still determined to cash in on and that's the reason why they are so determined to "stay the course". If you seriously think anyone in the Bush adminstration cares about the lives of ordinary Iraqis, I worry for you. Did you know that the OED forgot to include the word "gullible" in this years dictionary? The anger generated in Iraq by the US government's attempt to exploit Iraqi oil reserves is one of those things which Blair would no doubt describe as part of a "totally false sense of grievance".

(I also didn't fully appreciate the scale of the US media's compliance with the wishes of the Whitehouse at election time. That slighty negates the need for the administration to demonstrate "progress". )

In truth, the continued presence of foreign troops in Iraq serves no useful and certainly no honourable purpose. If there was an honourable purpose and a possibility of success, the increased threat from terrorism we now face as a result of the occupation could, possibly, be justified. But our misadventure in Iraq today lacks either. It is all pain and no gain.

The best possible outcome for Iraq is relative stability in most of the country at some distant future point. If that happens Iraq will emerge as Shiite religious dominated new ally for Iran. That's the best outcome. The worst is that the country rips itself apart.

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sam_m said...

Re: the "Pottery Barn Rule". I kinda got the impression you were old enough to know that not all damage can be repaired, not all wounds can be healed and not all ills can be cured.

As for "why are British troops in Iraq"? That debate was lost in '05 when the UK electorate returned Blair to power. The people who put him there are as culpable as TB. The "payback" for that is that the whole population will have to take responsibility for that result.

Iraq can not be won and the prognosis is bleak.

. said...

There's only reason why the Americans pulled out of their bases in Saudi Arabia - because they intend to build new ones in Iraq. They're not going anywhere.

CuriousHamster said...

sam, you're probably right regarding the Pottery Barn Rule. For a while, I clung to the notion that there might be something we could do to help even though I also knew that the foreign military presence was making the situation worse. Perhaps a slight problem with wishful thinking over reality there.

The latest opinion poll of Iraqis shows that 71% want foreign troops withdrawn within a year. Only 9% support Bush and Blair's stated policy of withdrawal based on improvements in the security situation. They know foreign troops won't help. It's time our leaders faced up to that too.

CuriousHamster said...

As for permanent military bases, I agree and it looks like most Iraqis do too. From the link in the previous comment:

Asked whether they think “the US government plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq or to remove all its military forces once Iraq is stabilized,” 77 percent of respondents say that the US plans to have permanent military bases...

Perhaps more significant, approximately the same number—78%—believe that “If the new Iraqi government were to tell the US to withdraw all of its forces within six months,” the US would refuse to do so.

That'll be a good part of the reason why 6 out of 10 Iraqis now support attacks on coalition troops.

(Do you have a preference as to your name btw? Obsolete? Semi-colon?)

. said...

I don't mind, Rachel called me spot, which seems the nicest thing I've been named.