Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Poor excuse for Iraq occupation

(The name of) Osama bin Laden was used for another political ploy as President George Bush once again affirmed Iraq as the central battleground of the "war on terror".

Bush's speech...was part of a White House campaign in recent weeks to portray the violence in Iraq as primarily a function of al-Qaeda -- and playing down the internal divisions within Iraq. The apparent hope is to regain some political support for an endeavor that has become deeply unpopular among the American people, since fighting terrorists is seen as more acceptable than policing a civil war. Bush on Wednesday said the "most destructive" force trying to sink the U.S. strategy in Iraq is al-Qaeda.

Contrary to what the White House says, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is not a danger to the US homeland. AQI is a relatively small ("Numerous estimates show that the group called “al Qaeda in Iraq” (AQI) comprises only 5 to 10 per cent of the Sunni insurgents’ forces.") and fractured group overrepresented in power by the daunting calls by politicians on both sides of the aisle for a fight against it.

How long will politicians be able to say the word 'terrorism' and scare the public into submission for their policies?

Here's part of a good article on Iraq from Prospect Magazine by Robert Dreyfuss (I know, it's a long quote):
To understand why it is a mistake to assume the worst [about troop withdrawal from Iraq], let’s begin with the most persistent, Bush-fostered fear about post-occupation Iraq: that al Qaeda or other Islamic extremists will seize control once America departs, or that al Qaeda will establish a safe haven in a rump, lawless “Sunnistan.”
The doomsayers’ second great fear is that the Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war could escalate, reaching near-genocidal levels and sucking in Iraq’s neighbours. But let’s look at the countervailing factors—and there are many. First, the US is doing little, if anything, to restrain ethnic cleansing, either in Baghdad neighbourhoods or Sunni and Shia enclaves surrounding the capital. Indeed, under its current policy, the US is arming and training one side in a civil war by bolstering the Shia-controlled army and police.
Second, although battle lines are hardening and militias on both sides are becoming self-sustaining, the civil war is limited by physical constraints. Neither the Sunnis nor the Shias have much in the way of armour or heavy weapons—tanks, major artillery, helicopters and the like. ... Presuming neither side gets its hands on heavy weapons, once you take US forces out of the equation, the Sunnis and Shias would ultimately reach an impasse.

Even if post-occupation efforts to create a new political compact among Iraqis fail, the most likely outcome is, again, a bloody Sunni-Shia stalemate, accompanied by continued ethnic cleansing in mixed areas. But that, of course, is no worse than the path Iraq is already on.

A third countervailing factor is that neither Shia Iran nor the Sunni Arab countries would want to risk a regional conflagration by providing their Iraqi proxies with the heavy weapons that would enable them to wage offensive operations. The only power that could worsen Iraq’s sectarian civil war is the US. Washington continues to arm and train the Shias, although so far it has resisted pleas to provide Iraq’s Shia-led army and police with heavy weapons, armour and an air force. Only if that policy changed, and the US began to create a true Shia army in Iraq, would the Sunni Arab states feel compelled to build up Iraq’s Sunni paramilitary militias into something resembling a traditional army.

Thus even if we assume that Iraq’s parties cannot achieve some sort of reconciliation as the US withdraws, an American pullout is hardly guaranteed to unleash chaos. On the contrary, each year since 2003 that American troops have remained in Iraq, the violence has escalated steadily.

The third great fear about a post-occupation Iraq—although it gets less attention than it deserves—is the possibility of a crisis triggered by a Kurdish power grab in Kirkuk, the city at the heart of Iraq’s northern oil fields. Since 2003, the Kurds have been systematically ethnic cleansing, packing Kirkuk with Kurds, kidnapping or driving out Arab residents (many of them settled there by Saddam), and stacking the city council with Kurdish partisans.
It’s hard to exaggerate the dangers inherent in a Kurdish grab for Kirkuk. Such a move would inflame Iraq’s Arab population (Sunnis and Shias), impinge on other minorities (including Turkmen and Christians) and provoke an outburst of ethnic cleansing in the city. Iraq’s two-sided civil war would become three-sided.
Conversely, under the US occupation the Kurds apparently feel emboldened to press their advantage in Kirkuk.
Not only is the worst-case scenario far from a sure thing in the event of an American withdrawal, but there is also a best-case scenario. Precisely because the idea of all-out civil war and a regional blow-up involving Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are so horrifying, the political forces inside and outside Iraq have many incentives not to go there.

And though things have gone horrendously awry since the 2003 invasion, there are many factors that could provide the glue to put Humpty back together again. Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington, Iraq is not a make-believe state cobbled together after the first world war, but a nation united by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, just as the Nile unites Egypt. Historically, the vast majority of Iraqis have not primarily identified themselves as Sunnis or Shias. Of course, as the civil war escalates, more Iraqis are identifying by sect. But it is not too late to resurrect some of the comity that once existed. The war is not a conflict between all Sunnis and all Shias, but a violent clash of extremist paramilitary armies. Most Iraqis do not support the extremists on either side. According to a poll conducted in June 2006 by the International Republican Institute, “78 per cent of Iraqis, including a majority of Shias, opposed the division of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines.”

What most Iraqis do seem to want, according to numerous polls, is for American forces to leave. Even within the current, skewed Iraqi political system, a majority of Iraq’s parliament supports a US withdrawal.
This shared desire could be another crucial force in helping maintain the integrity of Iraq. The catch-22 of Iraqi politics is that any Iraqi government created or supported by the US is instantly suspect in Iraqi eyes. By the same token, a nationalist government that succeeds in ushering US forces out of Iraq would have overwhelming support from most Iraqis on most sides of the conflict. With that support, such a government might be able to make the difficult compromises—like amending the constitution to give minority protections to Sunnis—that the current government has been unable or unwilling to make, but that most observers believe are crucial to any lasting political settlement.

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