In Afghanistan as in Iraq, the West had no easy options after 9/11

In Afghanistan as in Iraq, the West had no easy options after 9/11
Two US soldiers inspect the damage after a small explosive charge was used to blow the door off a store in the industrial section of Samarra, 17 December, 2003. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 September 2021

In Afghanistan as in Iraq, the West had no easy options after 9/11

In Afghanistan as in Iraq, the West had no easy options after 9/11
  • After failures in both countries, banishing such grandiose policy goals as “nation building” might prove wise
  • Installing governments, holding elections and propping up economies created dysfunctional democracies

MISSOURI, USA: The global war on terror launched by the administration of US President George W. Bush began with Afghanistan in 2001, shortly after 9/11, and expanded into Iraq two years later.

The respective regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were toppled, the autonomy of the Kurdish region of Iraq was legally recognized, and for a brief moment Afghans and Iraqis enjoyed hitherto unheard-of freedoms. But neither country would end up being saved.

As the Americans finally withdrew from Afghanistan last month, the world watched the Taliban retake the country much more quickly than most people could have imagined. Meanwhile, Iraq increasingly looks like a forgotten, broken land — a playground for militias backed by Iran.

One might conclude that both the Afghan and Iraq wars were nothing more than a colossal waste of blood and treasure. Some commentators in Washington are now suggesting that phrases such as “nation building” and “we will install a new government” should be struck from the lexicon of American policymakers.

Banishing such grandiose policy goals from the American imagination might prove wise, indeed. The ethnic and sectarian divisions in both Afghanistan and Iraq were never something that the US or other Western powers could “fix.”

Installing new governments, holding elections and injecting huge sums of aid money in a short space of time created kleptocracies in both countries, rather than functioning democracies.




An Iraqi man passes in front of a disfigured mural of ousted president Saddam Hussein titled "Saddam, the glory of the Arabs" at an entrance of the former military training camp in Samawa, 270 kms south of Baghdad, 24 February 2004. (File/AFP)

These new democracies lacked a genuine shared national identity that superseded local, tribal, ethnic and sectarian loyalties. And with the overthrow of the previous regimes, they also lost any institutions they might have had to manage themselves. Flush with outside cash, or “aid money,” they quickly became elaborate, and very corrupt, patron-client systems.

Traditionally dominant groups who found themselves demoted within, and even excluded from, the new corrupt, neo-patrimonial system — the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Sunni Arabs in Iraq — led insurgencies against the new states.

These insurgencies made the productive use of aid money — to build schools, electricity grids and bridges, for example, or sustain agriculture — that much more difficult and uncertain. Elected leaders instead used their time in office to enrich themselves and members of their clans or sects.




Two US soldiers from the 1st Brigade of 4th Infantry Division show the hole where toppled dictator Saddam Hussein was captured in Ad Dawr, near his home town of Tikrit, 180 kms (110 miles) north from Baghdad, 15 December 2003. (File/AFP)

Whereas the Taliban eventually were able to use the resulting popular frustration (as well as Afghanistan’s very rough terrain and proximity to backers in Pakistan) to take back power 20 years after their overthrow, Sunni Arabs in Iraq will probably never rule the country like they did before. Since Shiites and Kurds make up about 80 percent of Iraq’s population, that is probably a good thing.

The more problematic result of regime change in Iraq is the overwhelming Iranian influence in the country now. If Daesh represented the last Sunni Arab effort to regain power in Iraq, it also provided Iran and Iraqi Shiites with the impetus to form unaccountable Shiite militias, which now run rampant across the Arab parts of the country.




Smoke billows from an explosion in the presidential compound in Baghdad 27 March 2003 following a US-British air raid. (File/AFP)

Just like in Lebanon and Yemen (other countries now largely run by Iran’s proxy Shiite militias), the Iraqi state now looks like a hollow shell, unable to provide services for its people and run by the AK-47-toting Partisans of Ali who man checkpoints all across the country.

The predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces seem impossible to dislodge, especially having won legal recognition and a salary from the state — even though Iraq’s elected government does not control them.

In the Kurdish north of Iraq, the two main ruling families have done a better job of building a decent, functioning administration. Yet they, too, hold onto their own family-run armed forces, the Peshmerga, and are responsible for a fair amount of corruption.

Could things have been different? What if the Americans had not stayed on to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq after toppling the Taliban and Saddam?

Both of the wars initially went very well for US forces. In a matter of weeks, and with next to no casualties, the Americans removed both the Taliban and Saddam’s Baathists from power.

What if, immediately after these swift victories, the Americans had brought leaders from all the relevant communities to the negotiating table and told them: “We’re leaving in two weeks — work it out among yourselves in a decent way or we will be back?”

In Afghanistan, the result would probably not look so different. The Taliban would have retaken power in short order, although perhaps not in the north where Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Northern Alliance could have made some gains.

Ironically, the Taliban now control more of Afghanistan than they did 20 years ago at the time of the 9/11 attacks. At least in a “quick departure” scenario after the early successes in 2001, the US and its allies would not have squandered so many lives and so much money in a futile “nation-building” effort.

In Iraq, a swift coalition departure after toppling Saddam in 2003 would probably have led to an equally bad result. In response to Kurdish gains — the Kurds were the most organized and well-armed Iraqi group immediately after the fall of Saddam’s regime — Turkey would probably have invaded Iraq, much as it did Syria in 2019 and 2020.

Threats against Shiite Iraqis by Sunni Arab extremists and former Baathists would have led to an Iranian intervention — again, much like in Syria — and the bloodletting would probably have been worse than it was in 2006 or 2014. Decades of Baathist repression in Iraq had created too much friction between the communities, which no amount of US involvement could have rectified.




Two US soldiers from the 1st battalion, 22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division secure the parameters during a foot-patrol along a street of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit, Baghdad, 27 December 2003. (File/AFP)

Alternatively, what if after 9/11 the US had not invaded Afghanistan or Iraq at all? At the very least, more than 7,000 young American soldiers would still be alive today, a great many more would not have been wounded, and the US treasury would be in much better shape than it is.

Some heavy-duty bombing raids on Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan might have quenched the American thirst for justice, or vengeance, following 9/11, although it probably would not have been enough to satisfy many. Al-Qaeda might have remained a much stronger force than it is today.

Iraq presented a more complex problem, as the country was on the verge of successfully beating the sanctions imposed on it in the 1990s, along with other Western attempts to contain Saddam.




US soldiers check Iraqis men in the southern Iraqi city Nassiriyah 17 December 2003 before they enter the Talil base in order to deposit a complaint against the US army for material damage caused by coalition forces during their intervention. (File/AFP)

One could easily imagine Saddam exploiting such a political victory in the same way Gamal Abdel Nasser used his military defeat in the 1956 Suez Crisis. Although Nasser lost the war, the political victory he gained from forcing the British, French and Israelis to withdraw made him a hero throughout the Arab world and beyond.

A similarly reinvigorated Saddam might have restarted his nuclear program and gone on to cause untold trouble for his Gulf neighbors, his own people (massacring a great many as he did before) and for the region as a whole.

In the end, not even 20 years of hindsight can offer 20/20 vision as we look back at the events that followed 9/11. Sometimes there are no good choices, only bad ones and less-bad ones.

Twenty years of “nation building” in Afghanistan was probably a bad choice. Overthrowing Saddam and trying to remake Iraq, on the other hand, might have been the less bad choice — but still a pretty bad option nonetheless.

 

* David Romano is Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University


Syria says Israeli warplanes attacked Latakia port

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 25 min 43 sec ago

Syria says Israeli warplanes attacked Latakia port

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
  • Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations

DAMASCUS, Syria: Syria’s military said Israeli warplanes fired missiles on the port of the coastal city of Latakia early Tuesday without inflicting any human losses.
Syria’s state media quoted an unnamed military official as saying that several missiles struck the containers area in the port setting some of them on fire. The official gave no further details.
It was a rare attack on the port of Latakia, a vital facility where much of Syria’s imports are brought into the war-torn country.
Syrian state TV reported that five explosions were heard in the port and a huge fire erupted in the containers area and fire engines have rushed to the port.
There was no comment from the Israeli military.
Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. Some of the strikes in the past had targeted the main airport in the capital Damascus.
Israel has acknowledged, however, that it targets the bases of Iran-allied militias, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah group that has fighters deployed in Syria. It says it attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for the militias.
Hezbollah is fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the decade-old civil war.
Israel says Iranian presence on its northern frontier is a red line, justifying its strikes on facilities and weapons inside Syria.


Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard
Updated 07 December 2021

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager who drove his car into an Israeli security checkpoint in the occupied West Bank was shot dead on Monday by a security guard at the scene, officials said.

The car-ramming occurred after 1 a.m. at the Te’enim checkpoint near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, an Israeli Defense Ministry statement said, adding that the assailant had been “neutralized.”

It was not immediately clear if the alleged attacker was killed, but the official Palestinian news agency Wafa later reported that 15-year-old Mohammed Nidal Yunes died from injuries after being fired on at a checkpoint.

An Israeli security official confirmed to AFP that the driver of the vehicle was killed.

The Defense Ministry said that a security guard was “seriously injured” in the attack.

Israel’s Sheba Hospital said the guard’s injuries were not life threatening.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and the Palestinian territory is now home to roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers living in communities widely considered illegal under international law.

Attacks on checkpoints are common, often carried out by individual Palestinians armed with knives, as well as attempted car-rammings and occasional shootings.

Monday’s incident came after a Palestinian assailant stabbed an Israeli civilian and attempted to attack police on Saturday near the Damascus Gate entry to the Old City in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

The assailant was shot dead by officers who appeared to fire on the suspect after he was on the ground, stirring debate about excessive force.

Israeli authorities have insisted the officers acted appropriately.

BACKGROUND

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and the Palestinian territory is now home to roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers living in communities widely considered illegal under international law.

On Sunday, Israeli authorities freed a prominent Palestinian prisoner, two weeks after striking a release deal that ended his marathon 131-day hunger strike.

Kayed Fasfous, 32, had remained in an Israeli hospital since ending his strike on Nov. 23.

He was the symbolic figurehead of six hunger strikers protesting Israel’s controversial policy of “administrative detention,” which allows suspects to be held indefinitely without charge.

Israel claims the policy is necessary to keep dangerous suspects locked away without disclosing sensitive information that could expose valuable sources.

Palestinians and rights groups say the practice denies the right of due process, allowing Israel to hold prisoners for months or even years without seeing the evidence against them.  The law is rarely applied to Israelis.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a group representing former and current prisoners, confirmed Fasfous had returned home to the occupied West Bank through a military checkpoint near the southern city of Hebron on Sunday afternoon.

Online footage showed the former prisoner in a wheelchair celebrating his return to his southern hometown of Dura before being taken to a hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The plight of the six hunger strikers ignited solidarity demonstrations across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza in November mounting pressure on Israel to release the detainees.

At least four of the five other hunger strikers have since ended their protests after reaching similar deals with Israeli authorities. They are expected to be released in the coming months.

Hunger strikes are common among Palestinian prisoners and have helped secure numerous concessions from Israeli authorities.

The nature of these strikes vary from individuals protesting detention without charge to groups calling for improved cell conditions.

Around 500 of the 4,600 Palestinians detained by Israel are held in administrative detention according to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner rights group.


Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga retake northern village from Daesh

Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga  retake northern village from Daesh
Updated 07 December 2021

Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga retake northern village from Daesh

Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga  retake northern village from Daesh
  • More reinforcement forces dispatched to the area to prevent further attacks

BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have recaptured a village in northern Iraq on Monday after Daesh terrorists took it over the previous day, security and police sources said.

Elite Iraq Interior Ministry forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters managed early on Monday to control Luhaiban village, though the terrorists have left some houses booby-trapped with explosive devices, the sources said.

In a separate attack on Sunday, Daesh killed four Peshmerga soldiers and a civilian, and wounded six other people when they attacked Qara Salem village in northern Iraq, security sources said.

The Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs said in a statement that the attack caused casualties, but did not confirm the toll.

Peshmerga are the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

One Peshmerga colonel said Daesh was using hit-and-run tactics in night attacks on their positions.

FASTFACT

Daesh killed four Peshmerga soldiers and a civilian, and wounded six other people when they attacked Qara Salem village in northern Iraq, security sources said.

“They avoid holding the ground for longer time ... More reinforcement forces were dispatched to the area to prevent further attacks,” the colonel said.

Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters reinforced their troops in the area on Monday where the attacks had been carried out by militant group with Iraqi military helicopters flying over to chase militants, two Iraqi security sources said.

The two villages are in remote territory claimed by the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the government of the autonomous northern Kurdish region in Irbil where there are regular attacks by Daesh.

But it is a rare incident of Daesh controlling a residential area near a main road, a highway that links Irbil to the city of Kirkuk.

Iraq declared victory over the hard-line group in December 2017.

Although the group has largely been defeated, it continues to carry out sporadic attacks and operate limited cells in the country, particularly in the north.


Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement

Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement
Updated 07 December 2021

Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement

Israel stops plan for contentious east Jerusalem settlement
  • The decision to halt the Atarot settlement plan came in the wake of heavy US opposition to the project
  • Plans for the Atarot settlement called for building 9,000 housing units marketed to ultra-Orthodox Jews

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem municipal officials on Monday froze plans to build a contentious large Jewish settlement at an abandoned airport in east Jerusalem.
The decision to halt the Atarot settlement plan came in the wake of heavy US opposition to the project.
Plans for the settlement called for building 9,000 housing units marketed to ultra-Orthodox Jews in an open area next to three densely populated Palestinian communities, one of which is behind Israel’s controversial separation barrier.
The municipality’s planning commission said that it had been favorably impressed with the plan but that an environmental impact survey should first be conducted before it could be approved.
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a deputy mayor, said the process is expected to take about a year.
The anti-settlement group Peace Now had waged a public campaign against the plan, citing the proposed settlement’s problematic location.
“Let’s hope they will use the time to understand how illogical this plan is for the development of Jerusalem and how much it damages the chances for peace,” said Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now researcher who attended the meeting.
Earlier on Monday, Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, indicated the Israeli government was in no hurry to approve the plan.
Speaking to reporters, Lapid said the plan ultimately requires approval by the national government, with “full consensus” of the various parties in the coalition.
“This will be dealt with at the national level and we know how to deal with it. It is a process and will make sure it doesn’t turn into a conflict with the (US) administration,” he said.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel also seized in that war.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as its unified capital and says it needs to build housing to address the needs of a growing population.
The Palestinians view the continual expansion of Israeli settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace, a position with wide international support. The Atarot project is considered especially damaging because it lies in the heart of a Palestinian population center.
The Biden administration has repeatedly criticized settlement construction, saying it hinders the eventual resumption of the peace process, but Israel has continued to advance settlement plans.
More than 200,000 Israeli settlers live in east Jerusalem and nearly 500,000 live in settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank. Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a strong supporter of settlements and is opposed to Palestinian statehood.
There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.


Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon
Updated 07 December 2021

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon
  • Interior minister says steps will be taken to prevent smuggling and combat the drugs threat

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Monday held a number of meetings designed to help restore Arab trust in Lebanon, and the country’s diplomatic and economic relationships with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

It followed an agreement, announced in Jeddah on Saturday, by French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to work together to help the people of Lebanon.

The participants in extended meetings at the Grand Serail, the prime minister’s headquarters, included Defense Minister Maurice Selim, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan and Industry Minister George Boujikian.

Other officials who took part included Acting Director-General of Lebanon Customs Raymond Al-Khoury, Mohammed Choucair, the head of the Lebanese Economic Organizations, and representatives of the Federation of Lebanese-Gulf Businessmen Councils.

Choucair, who is also a former minister, stressed the need for the organizations to work on resuming exports to Saudi Arabia and said: “We discussed new ways of doing that.”

During the meeting, Mikati said that “Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are fed up of hearing slogans that are not implemented.”

A number of people who were present told Arab News that Mikati stressed the “need to address the gaps,” and that “some issues the Gulf states are complaining about are right. We must recommend measures to address them, such as the establishment of additional towers on the borders with Syria in order to control the border.”

FASTFACT

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that ‘Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are fed up of hearing slogans that are not implemented.’

Mawlawi said that discussions had focused on the issue of exports to Saudi Arabia and concerns about smuggling.

He said: “We will take practical measures for anything that might pose a threat to our relations with the Arab states, and I will follow up on all judicial proceedings related to smuggling and combating drugs and captagon.

“We must all take prompt action to control the borders, airport, port and all crossing points, and we must (address) the smuggling happening through Lebanon. We do not disclose all smuggling operations we bust.”

Mawlawi added: “We intercepted a captagon-smuggling operation on Saturday. We are following up on it, and the people involved have been arrested.

“We will give practical answers to the smuggling taking place, and what might pose a threat to our relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in this regard.”

He also noted that “in the case of seized narcotic substances, even if they are manufactured outside of Lebanon and brought to Lebanon to change the manufacturing company’s name and repackage them, the company’s license will be revoked, its work discontinued and its name announced.”

Regarding a call for the restriction of weapons to Lebanese state institutions as a condition for the restoration of Saudi-Lebanese relations, Mawlawi said: “We are implementing the Lebanese state’s policy and highlighting its interests.”

Nicolas Chammas, head of the Beirut Traders’ Association, said that “the biggest problem remains contraband.” He added: “We will work to make Lebanon, once again, a platform for the export of goods, not contraband. We are required to take swift, serious measures and we will take successive measures in this regard.”

Fouad Siniora, a former president of Lebanon, described Saturday’s Saudi-French statement as being “of exceptional importance in these delicate circumstances.”

It “resolves the controversy regarding many issues raised in the Arab region, especially with regard to Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon,” he added.