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Articles after 2012
After the "liberation" many winners and one loser
Articles on Iraq before 2012

  • (june 2012) After the "liberation" many winners and one loser.
    The radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was probably behind the killing of thousands of USA troops, and then behind the killing of thousands of Sunni civilians. Sunni extremists (loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda) killed thousands of Shiites. When the civil war reached a peak of violence, the Sunni extremists lost the confidence of their population, and many Sunnis decided to side with the USA or with the democratically elected prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, the leader of the largest (but moderate) Shiite party. Sadr left Iraq and spent three years in exile in Iran (Iran is widely believed to be the main sponsor of the Sadr militia), probably a sign that, once Maliki had garnered the support of Sunnis and Kurds, Sadr was not needed anymore. Now Sadr has decided to return to Iraq. One very pragmatic reason is that the USA have left Iraq, so it will be much harder for them to do to Sadr what they did to Osama bin Laden; but there is also a political reason: Sadr has returned to ally with Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who leads the largely Sunni bloc called Iraqiya, and with Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, both of whom have called for Maliki's resignations.
    It was said that it takes at least a decade to figure out the effects of a major war. It probably takes a lot longer. It took a few decades to figure out that Britain had lost its empire by winning World War II and only now are we beginning to see that Germany was not defeated after all.
    The war in Iraq was viewed by many as an imperial war: the USA acting just like Britain and France used to act in the old days. The USA invaded Iraq not because Iraq had attacked or intended to attack the USA but simply out of geopolitical considerations. Officially, it was the fear that Saddam Hussein could develop weapons of mass destruction and that he could ally with "terrorists", but of course that excuse never worked back then and it looks even more untenable today. Saddam Hussein was not the only dictator armed with dangerous weapons, and later much crazier ones have been allowed to get away with them (North Korea to name one much closer to the USA); Saddam Hussein was as much likely to support terrorism against the USA as Pakistan has actually done. Clearly the main reason to strike at Iraq was strategic: conquer Iraq and you own the Middle East, from Israel to Saudi Arabia.
    If geopolitics was the real game, the verdict is still out. There is no question that the immediate beneficiary of the double war fought by the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan has been Iran: Saddam Hussein was Iran's worst enemy (they fought a decade-long war that killed close to one million people) and the Taliban were Iran's second worst enemy (in fact, Iran was the only country that tried to contain them militarily, way before George W Bush could even spell the word "Afghanistan"). Removing the Taliban from power and removing Saddam Hussein from power must have seen as gifts from Allah from the viewpoint of the Iranian regime.
    However, there is one effect of the invasion of Iraq that for a while seemed wishful thinking and instead did happen: the domino effect. Not many in the Arab world are willing to admit it, but Saddam Hussein was the first of those godlike dictators to fall miserably. A few years later the powerful dictator of Libya was killed like a dog and the powerful dictator of Egypt was imprisoned like a thief. Dictators were deposed in Tunisia and Yemen. Whether the new emerging democracies will align with the USA rests to be seen, but certainly they won't align with Iran. I suspect that it is just a matter of time before this wave of revolutions succeeds in Iran. If i am right, what initially appeared to have benefited the ayatollahs of Iran will turn out to have caused their demise.
    Iran aside, the USA is learning what Britain learned over a couple of centuries of world domination: whenever you try to solve a problem (real or imaginary), you will forever bear the responsibility for the consequences (real or imaginaty). The USA did succeed in removing a vastly unpopular dictator, but nobody is saying "thank you". Iraqis who saw the invasion as a liberation resent that the USA withdrew before the country was stabilized; and Iraqis who saw the invasion as an occupation resent that the USA did not withdraw sooner. Both sides blame the USA for 100 thousand civilians killed, for political chaos that continues to this day and for economic disruption that has never brought back the relative prosperity of the Saddam Hussein days.
    Worse: the neighboring countries (even those who pushed the USA towards the invasion of Iraq) are secretely amused that the USA got kicked out of Iraq in such a humiliating manner. And this too is typical of what happens to imperial powers: if you win, everybody sees you as bullying and arrogant; if you lose, everybody enjoys the sight of a bully being humbled.
    The USA also learned another lesson that Britain learned too late: empires are terribly expensive. It is a myth that empires make you richer and stronger. Empires are very expensive propositions, that typically weaken (not strengthen) the imperial nation. The Great Recession of George W Bush was partially caused by the trillions of dollars that the USA invested in the various wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, the drug war in Latin America, proxy wars in places like Somalia and Philippines, and countless military bases around the world). Often the economic benefits that an empire is supposed to provide remain a chimera that never materializes. Those who hoped that the Iraqi oil would pay for the invasion are still waiting for the price of gasoline to return to what it was before the invasion, and will probably wait forever.
    Back to geopolitics, it is hard to tell if the USA's position in the Middle East will be strengthened or weakened. First of all, one has to set a reference point: compared to whom? Compared to the Europeans, there is little doubt that the USA has gained more influence. Nobody in the Middle East bothers too much about what the Europeans say: we have learned that the USA is the one that really matters (Sarkozy almost changed that perception when he helped bomb Qaddafi out of power, but the French rapidly replaced him with a far less imperial president). Compared with Russia and China, the gain by the USA appears even greater: if the Arab Spring is, directly or indirectly, a consequence of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, then Russia and China have been the big losers. Both the regimes and the public opinion of the Middle East has turned dramatically against them, the only powers that defended Qaddafi in Libya and now defend Assad in Syria. Neither has gained anything from the withdrawal of the USA from Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA has lost influence only to the middle regional powers, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
    Other than the economic price, the other price that the USA has paid is harder to define but it is a very high price. The world has witnessed an amazing show of incompetence and cruelty by the George W Bush administration that Obama and his successors will not easily erase from the world's collective unconscious. It is not the conspiracy theories: those are obviously just theories. It is the more prosaic facts, like that Bush did not know that Iraq is divided between Sunni and Shia Islam (and that the two hate each other passionately), or that defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld dumped in the wastebasket a lengthy study on how to reconstrut Iraq (at the same time that he was denying there was any problem in Iraq). Some of these might just be anecdotes (although never denied by the protagonists), but there is little doubt that the USA failed miserably at nation-building and turned the experiment into a grotesque circus of corruption. Friends of the president and the vicepresident got immensely rich by helping reconstruct Iraq (a reconstruction that no Iraqi ever saw) while 100 Iraqi civilians were dying each day in the streets. There is little doubt what the Iraqi would do if the USA delivered the two men who are responsible for all that corruption and incompetence: Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld would be hanged just like Saddam Hussein was (Bush and Condi Rice are usually given the benefit of the doubt and would probably just get a lot of shoes in their face).
    The USA removed Saddan Hussein from power but basically turned Iraq into another Afghanistan: an endless civil war largely fueled by religious fanatics. It basically did to Iraq what the Soviet Union had done to Afghanistan. Now there are two disintegrating nations, not one, in the Islamic world. (At least the Soviet Union did not spend a fortune trying to "rebuild" the country that it had just destroyed so the Russians can claim that they just didn't have the money).
    We rapidly forget the headlines and most of us already forgot the most stunning feature of the "insurgency": the virtually unlimited supply of suicide bombers. To this day there has been no comprehensive study about that phenomenon. The only other place that had so many suicide bombers was Palestine, but those were Palestinians fighting for their land. The suicide bombers in Iraq were international: Muslims flocked to Iraq from all over the world (Western Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, even Bosnia) to blow themselves up in the name of fighting the USA. The Islamic world can indulge in all sorts of conspiracy theories about what happened, but it cannot deny that thousands of Muslims blew themselves up to kill scores of ordinary civilians in the name of simply killing as many people as possible. How the USA involuntary triggered that phenomenon and what that phenomenon has done to the psyche of the Islamic world has still to be analyzed. I suspect that the horror caused worldwide was tacitly shared by one billion Muslims (although they would never admit it publicly and would never march in the streets against a "martyr" the way they would march in the streets to protest a Mohammed cartoon), and that indirectly that horror helped create a more moderate view of Islam, the one that has seized power in Turnisia and Egypt. Put it this way: the first wave of suicide bombers took place in Iran during the war against Iraq of the 1980s and it succeeded in defeating the enemy (that very Saddam Hussein); the second and third waves of suicide bombers took place in Lebanon and Palestine and they were sold as succeeding in at least protecting the Muslim populations; the fourth wave took place in Afghanistan and it succeeded in expelling the Soviet Union; and these four waves constructed the myth that martyrdom was morally justified and politically effective. But one has to be greatly delusional to believe that the fifth wave, in Iraq, was nothing but insanity on a very large scale. It will be a long time before suicide bombers become as popular as they were at the peak of the Iraqi civil war. What has succeeded (with the explicit approval and sometimes military support of the Western democracies) are the mass demonstrations of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
    What has also succeeded, on the other hand, is the Muslim Brotherhood, that harbors ferocious hostility towards the USA (a well-deserved one, since the USA was the main sponsor of the likes of Mubarak). What might succeed in Iraq is Sadr: transforming himself into the astute politician, he might be about to seize power in an alliance with Kurds and Sunnis, in what would be the ultimate humiliation for the USA: an Iranian-funded anti-USA terrorists who becomes the leader of the country that the USA "liberated" from a (very anti-Iranian) dictator.
    Was it worth it? It is still too early to answer, but certainly the answer would have been a lot easier if the whole affair had not been hijacked in Washington by a small group of arrogant, corrupt and incompetent politicians.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on Iraq before 2012

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