Friday, August 05, 2005

The Fog of Withdrawal, Part Three

One thing Gedda neglects in his account [of why George H. W. Bush decided not to invade Iraq during Gulf War I] is the enormous pressure the first Bush administration received from Middle East allies not to go in. The Saudis were afraid the Shiites would take over, strengthening Iran and perhaps becoming influential in the oil-rich al-Hasa province of Saudi Arabia, which traditionally had a Shiite majority. The Turks were afraid of Kurdish nationalism being unleashed, such that it might spread back to Turkey. The Jordanians were also afraid of chaos, which might blow back on them....

Even more recently, in 2002 - 2003, King Abdullah II would have much preferred that the war had never been fought. He warned Bush that it might cast the entire region into flames. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak warned that it would produce a thousand Bin Ladens. Was he wrong?

Juan Cole August 25, 2004
To Iran With Love

Not surprisingly, the Saudis had a better understanding of the region's dynamics than some of the "illusionists" populating the upper echelons of the foreign policy apparatus in the Bush administration - where, ironically enough, expertise was continually shunned in favor of ideological purity and a doctrinaire adherence to an increasingly disconnected groupthink which told of candies, flowers, democratic dominoes and a host of other improbables normally the fare of quixotic dreamers, delusional poets or manipulative cynics. Saudi Arabia's concerns, voiced more than a decade ago to our then-current President Bush, appear prophetic given the direction which Iraqi political life has moved over the past two years - reinforced by the perceivable trend going forward. To oversimplify, slightly, the invasion of Iraq has greatly augmented Iran's influence in the region. This golden opportunity presented by our military campaign has not been lost on Tehran.

From the onset, Iran has taken advantage of the newly minted chaos next door to infiltrate what were once reasonably secure borders and enhance their influence-peddling amongst the suddenly ascendant Shiite majority - now unshackeled by decades of Sunni-based political repression and free to exert their majoritarian will. The slow and steady progress Iran had been cultivating for decades took a drastic turn upward, but now it is gaining a full head of steam, not only because of the Baath Party's ouster, but also an additional impetus. Call it the cherry on top: As the Bush administration begins withdrawing assets and military personnel, Iran will more aggressively step into the vacuum, thus cementing their considerable influence over their erstwhile enemy to the West. Iran's imprint can be seen in the early drafts of the constitution - heavy with religious dogma and a curtailment of rights - as put forth by the ruling Shiite coalition discussed in
Part Two of this series. Though recent developments provide hope that a more progressive document could be the eventual outcome. We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, the two groups have been growing so comfortable in their new found amity, that they even let slip
a little detail contained in a recently signed mutual aid/military cooperation memo of understanding - that Iran would help train and equip the new Iraqi military. After a less than enthused reaction on the part of the Bush administration, Iraq's defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, went public with some damage control insisting that the final agreement would not, in fact, include provisions on training and equipping the Iraqi army. His reaction at the actual press conference when Tehran's defense minister described the terms was decidedly less contradictory. Again, we will have to wait and see.

This military cooperation is not that far-fetched a notion, however. Iran already provides training, support and equipment to some of the largest Shiite militias including the Badr Corp. - which may or may not be officially incorporated into the Iraqi army at some point in the future. So it is not improbable that a Shiite dominated government would seek to expand this mutually beneficial relationship. Any such tendency would only be given a greater sense of urgency by the feelings of insecurity provided by the raging insurgency - especially when the violence continues against the backdrop of American military forces disengaging from the theater. We are making the decision to court Tehran an easy, attractive and, to some degree, necessary one for the Shiite political groups to make.

Nor has Iran's rush to fill the gap been limited to military affairs. This
article details Iran's varied approach aimed at becoming the major player in next-door Iraq (via Praktike):

At a news conference on June 21, Mr. Jaafari said Iran's government would spend about $1 billion to build schools, hospitals and libraries in Iraq. He also said he and 10 ministers met with top clerics and politicians in Tehran and discussed border security and promoting religious tourism to Najaf and Karbala, the two Shiite holy cities south of Baghdad.

Under an agreement announced this month, Iraq and Iran are to build an oil pipeline between Basra and Abadan in Iran, through which Iran would receive Iraqi crude oil to refine, in return for exporting an equal amount of oil on Iraq's behalf through the Iranian port at Kharg Island.

Muhammad al-Waeli, the governor of Basra and a devout Shiite, said in an interview that the Iraqi government was also trying to work out a deal with Iran to buy electricity for his region, because the Americans and British have been too slow at reconstruction.

All this amounts to a multi-pronged Iranian effort to reinforce the Shiite powers in Iraq. Many Iraqis distrust Iran because of the Iran-Iraq war, which took up to 1 million lives on both sides, but they also realize that Iran has been the historical defender of the minority Shiite branch of Islam against the Sunni Arab masses. [emphasis added]
To paraphrase Praktike, the costs of the incompetence of the CPA, stemming at least in part from the decision to place ideological purity above actual knowledge or skill, will be felt in terms of an increased role for Iran - a nation that Bush placed squarely on the "Axis of Evil." Iran's role in reconstruction and economic affairs will only grow in size as the Bush administration carries out the imminent withdrawal. A glimpse at the incompetence in action:

Talib Abu Younes put his lips to a glass of tap water recently and watched worms swimming in the bottom.

Electricity flickers on and off for two hours in Muthana Naim's south Baghdad home then shuts off for four in boiling July heat that shoots above 120 degrees.

Fadhel Hussein boils buckets of sewage-contaminated water from the Tigris River to wash the family's clothes.

The capital is crumbling around angry Baghdadis. Narrow concrete sewage pipes decay underground and water pipes leak out more than half the drinking water before it ever reaches a home, according to the U.S. military.

Over 18 months, American officials spent almost $2 billion to revive the capital ravaged by war and neglect, according to Army Gen. William G. Webster, who heads the 30,000 U.S. and foreign troops and 15,000 Iraqi soldiers known collectively as Task Force Baghdad. But the money goes for long-term projects that yield few visible results and for security to protect the construction sites from sabotage.

As a result, Iraqis have seen scant evidence of improvement in their homes, streets or neighborhoods. They blame American and Iraqi government corruption.
Even former darling of the "illusionists," and noted weather-vane, Ahmad Chalabi, is hopping on the Iranian bandwagon/gravy train (via Juan Cole):

The spokesman for Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmad Chalabi, said here Monday that Iran plays an important role in fostering peace and stability in Iraq.

In an exclusive interview with al-Alam internet site Entifadh Qanbar said "we have the longest border with Iran and share many commonalities and together we can establish security, and embark on political and economic cooperation."

So much for Chalabi ushering in an era of normalized relations with Israel and constructing a pipeline carrying Iraqi oil to Haifa, Israel. The pipeline will be built, but it's route has taken a detour from Israel to Abadan, Iran - a sign of the shifting political fortunes of Iraq. A politician with as many lives as the unsinkable Ahmad Chalabi has based his very survival on his ability to detect which way the wind is blowing and tack accordingly. This is not a positive sign for us.

The Sum Of All Fears

As the final chapters in George Bush's
Ulysses, those covering the hero's beleaguered voyage home, are being played out on the world stage, I am still scratching my head trying to decipher the dense prose. Though sycophants like John Hinderaker assure skeptics like me that this is yet another Bush masterpiece, a work of rare genius whose meaning is lost on the intellectually limited, I admit to my inability to grasp the beauty or wisdom of the invasion of Iraq.

As the trumpets sound the call for withdrawal, it appears as if we will be settling for a situation in Iraq far from the peaceful, stable, democracy that was going to set the entire region alight with the warm glow of democratic revolutions. On the contrary, the siren's song of sectarian identification lures the denizens of Iraq to the rocky shores of civil war, as the various militias continue to grow in strength undiminished by any US action. But soon the US military will not be in the middle to mitigate the violence, and firebrands like Moqtada al-Sadr will weave intoxicating tales with the skill, and malice, of Circe. The constitution, that was supposed to change the course of the world's history, is being hurried along by a Bush team that is so focused, like a Cyclops, on the August 15th benchmark, that they are losing sight of the finished product - leaving the parties involved to try to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of federalism, civil rights and the co-mingling of religion and state without the time to forge an accord that will satisfy all parties. And all the while, the mullahs in Iran are busy trying to ponder all the presents left, magnanimously, on their doorstep like hollow Trojan Horses with no hidden drawbacks. Oh Goddess of Inspiration, help me to see the real George Bush, toiling away in his unrecognized and misunderstood brilliance. For now, I'm as blind as Homer.

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