Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Patrick Cockburn on the Iraq War at the start of Year 5

See? Even Bush's shadow looks like Churchill's! (Bush at "Churchill and the Great Republic" exhibit 06/26/04)

One of the best reporters on the Iraq War has been Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent. In this report, he talks about the state of the war with particular reference to conditions in Diyala province:
Iraq: A country drenched in blood Independent 03/20/07. His overall assessment is blunt: "The invasion four years ago failed. It overthrew Saddam but did nothing more" i.e., nothing else positive. He continues:

It destabilised the Middle East. It tore apart Iraq. It was meant to show the world that the US was the world's only superpower that could do what it wanted. In fact it demonstrated that the US was weaker than the world supposed. The longer the US refuses to admit failure the longer the war will go on. (my emphasis)
That's the reality that came from all those comparisons to "Munich" and all the posturing from our Chuchill wannabes. They were going to show The Terrorists and all the "rogue states" that they United States wasn't going to mess around with no wimpy diplomacy stuff.

As the neocon theorist, Iran hawk and Iran-Contra operator Michael Ledeen
famously put it, "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." The fact that it has become a total disaster in Iraq is unlikely to prevent most of the neocons from continuing to advocate such blowhard nonsense.

Cockburn rightly points out that theofficial US spokespeople have been consistently misleading in their claims about alleged progress in the Iraq War:

A difficulty in explaining Iraq to the outside world is that since 2003 the US and British governments have produced a series of spurious turning points. There was the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, the supposed hand back of sovereignty in June 2004, the two elections and the new constitution in 2005 and - recently - the military "surge" into Baghdad. In all cases the benefits of these events were invented or exaggerated.

After Sunni fundamentalists blew up the golden-domed Shia al-Askari shrine in Samarra in February last year, central Iraq was torn apart by sectarian fighting. Baghdad broke up into a dozen hostile cities, Sunni and Shia, which fired mortars at each other. Government ministries, if controlled by different communities, fought each other. The Shia-controlled Interior Ministry kidnapped 150 people from the Sunni-held Higher Education Ministry and killed many of them. (my emphasis)
This is the way a "credibility gap" is made.

And the problems were there to see from the first:

No sooner had Saddam Hussein fallen than Iraqis were left in no doubt that they had been occupied not liberated. The army and security services were dissolved. As an independent state Iraq ceased to exist. "The Americans want clients not allies in Iraq," lamented one Iraqi dissident who had long lobbied for the invasion in London and Washington.

Guerrilla war against the US forces by the five million strong Sunni community erupted with extraordinary speed and ferocity. By summer 2003, whenever I went to the scene of a bomb attack or an ambush of US soldiers I would find jubilant Iraqis dancing for joy around the pools of drying blood on the road or the smouldering Humvee vehicles. ...

So dangerous is it to travel anywhere in Iraq outside Kurdistan that it is difficult for journalists to provide evidence of the slaughter house the country has become without being killed themselves. Mr Blair and Mr Bush have long implied that the violence is confined to central Iraq. This lie should have been permanently nailed by the Baker-Hamilton report written by senior Republicans and Democrats, which examined one day last summer when the US military had announced that there had been 93 attacks and discovered that the real figure was 1,100. In other words the violence was being understated by a factor of 10. (my emphasis)
A key moment in the complete collapse of the Iraqi state authority was the massive looting in Baghdad that took place while US troops watched and didn't intervene - except of course at the Oil Ministry. It was obvious to pretty much anyone who watched the news reports of the looting at the time that this was a big deal and a bad, bad sign for the future. And the significance of the looting and the long-term harm it did are themes that appear over and over in the histories of the war.

Juan Cole lists that as the third-worst mistake the Cheney-Bush administration made in the Iraq War (
Bush's Top Ten Mistakes in Iraq during the Past 4 Years Informed Comment blog 03/20/07):

Allowing widespread looting after the fall of Saddam Hussein on April 9, 2003, on the grounds that "stuff happens," "democracy is messy," and "how many vases can they have?" [the allusion is to Rummy's ditsy ranting about how the looting was no big deal] - and thus signalling that there would be no serious attempt to provide law and order in American Iraq. (my emphasis)
(Cole's view of the worst mistake? "Invading Iraq.")

Toby Dodge in
Staticide in Iraq in Le Monde diplomatique Feb 2007 emphasizes the key role that the collapse of the Iraqi state, not just the defeat of their armed forces but the collapse of the police and civil institutions, played in producing the insurgency and the conditions that led to the multiple conflicts of today:

In explaining the evolution of violent instability in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the collapse of the Iraqi state is of far greater significance than the upsurge of communal antipathies or indeed the ineptitude of Iraq’s new ruling elite.

The entrance of US troops into Baghdad in April 2003 resulted in the death of the Iraqi state. Faced with the widespread lawlessness that is common after violent regime change, the US didnot have the numbers of troops needed to control the situation. After three weeks of violence and looting, the state’s administrative capacity was destroyed; 17 of Baghdad’s 23 ministry buildings were completely gutted. Looters first took portable items of value such as computers, then furniture and fittings.

By the time I reached Baghdad a month after the US forces, looters were systematically stripping electric wiring from the walls of former government buildings to sell for scrap. Following the destruction of government infrastructure across the country, the de-Ba’athification process then purged the civil service of its top layer of management, leaving 20,000-120,000 people without work. The administrative capacity of the state had been shattered by over a decade of sanctions, three wars in 20 years and three weeks of uncontrolled looting. De-Ba’athification removed what was left: its institutional memory and a large section of its skilled personnel.

Iraq today is a state in a situation of failure. (my emphasis)
And that's where we are after four years, longer than the US participation in the Second World War that our little Churchills all love to remember and associate with their grand adventure in Iraq. We've turned a nasty but functioning secular Sunni dictatorship into a Shi'a-dominated failed state. Making Iran the dominant power in the region in the process.

Our Churchills are doing a heckuva job!

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