Iraq remains a mess

Iraq remains a mess

Is the Obama administration, like its predecessor in the White House, still “fighting evil” and “hunting evildoers” in Iraq, almost exactly two years after US troops left the country? Looks like it.
The problem with fighting this kind of putative evil and hunting those who practice it is that the war you fight against them may boomerang against you. In its long career as a superpower since the middle half of the 20th century, the US has discovered the sorry truth in countries that it had militarily intervened or meddled in, all the way from Vietnam in in the 1960s to Chile in the 1970s, and myriad other places in between.
But no overseas adventure by Washington is a better testament to this law of unintended consequences than the one it pursued in Iraq, which resulted in that country’s emergence as a state ruled by a sectarian Shiite regime allied with Iran, that has adamantly opposed genuine Sunni participation in the political process, which any sociologist will tell you is a true prescription for social turmoil and armed conflict.
Iraq today is experiencing a kind of national vertigo, as if every subsystem of its social system is out of tune with the other. Iraqi Kurds are angling for the progressive transformation of their semi-autonomous region in the north into an independent state. A relentless Sunni insurgency has already led, this year alone, to the deaths of 8,000 Iraqis, an insurgency whose cadre have become so potent a force that last week they killed the commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers as they raided a rebels’ training camp camp — but also an insurgency that has itself become increasingly sectarian in nature.
According to news reports last Wednesday, a church in Baghdad was attacked by rebels who managed to kill at least 26 people and injured 38 others, while on a highway southeast of the capital, gunmen attacked two buses carrying Shiites, killing in all 22 people, including women and children. And so it goes.
Enters the US. Again, though, mercifully, this time not with shock and awe. It was revealed earlier this week that Washington has committed itself — a commitment it began to act upon following Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s visit to Washington in November — to sending Baghdad dozens of Apache helicopters, Hellfire missiles and ScanEagle surveillance drones (though not the more lethal Predators) to help government forces combat the insurgency.
It is doubtful that sending weapons to Al-Maliki government will scare the insurgents, change the political calculus or end inter-sect alienation. The Iraqi saga is clearly more complex than that. And the US knows as little about the country today as it did when it invaded in 2003, or when it packed up and left in 2011. In short, the US was flying blind at the outset of war and equally blind at its conclusion, having effectively learnt nothing about that ancient land’s political culture and its ethnic, sectarian and tribal ethos. And today it is flying equally blind as it sends weapons to shore up Al-Maliki’s regime.
To add to the mix, in a fit of collective amnesia, the American people, along with their media pundits, have opted to altogether forget Iraq, forget that they had fought there for almost nine years, at a heavy cost to them in life and treasure. As Chas Freeman, the former US ambassador to the Kingdom has said, on more than one occasion, “We did not invade Iraq, we invaded the Iraq of our dreams.”
Meanwhile, Al-Maliki, who has been in office since 2006, and has plans to be prime minister for yet another term, has shown increasingly authoritarian, sectarian and non-democratic tendencies, marginalyzing, even more openly and brazenly, the country’s Sunnis, and resorting to the use of ruthless tactics to impose his will, while he quietly helps Bashar Assad’s embattled regime. And though the oilfields are pumping oil, and oil revenue is pouring in, his government has yet to improve public services and appreciably raise the standard of living of ordinary Iraqi families.
The Iraq war — and, yes, the Iraq war drags on, albeit sans American boots on the ground — has already become an “entrenched conflict,” where both sides are committed to their goals, and listening has stopped. Where and when this conflict will conclude is a controversial subject from which even columnists, who earn their living as political commentators, would do well to abstain.
And no, Apache helicopters, Hellfire missiles and Predator drones -— despite, respectively, their racist and sinister names — will not solve the problem.
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