Iraq: Taking Stock Five Years On

On Seumas Milne, ‘Blowback all over again’, Guardian Comment, March 21, 2008

Deepak Tripathi  

The architects of the war in Iraq are congratulating themselves, equipped with new ‘public opinion surveys’ and ‘figures’ demonstrating that the ‘surge’ has reduced violence in the country. Seumas Milne’s excellent article brings a much-needed perspective to the debate.

As Milne points out, behind the surge, in large part, are the Sunni militiamen in the Awakening Council, an American creation, which is showing signs of falling apart. The militia was as big as 80,000 strong I did not know and I thank Milne for bringing the size to my notice. A disaffected parallel army of this size is a time bomb. What can be expected of a militia consisting of hired gunmen, on daily wages, who have not been paid?

Future threats aside, and there are many, Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution in Washington presents a noteworthy analysis today of the Iraq war. Someone with a critical mind, instead of buying the propaganda, would do well to put Riedel’s analysis alongside President Bush’s claim that the war has been a strategic victory for America.

Just who have been the winners? It is widely acknowledged now that Iran is a big winner. Iran’s enemy number one in the region, Saddam Hussein, has gone and the secularist Baathist Party has been dismantled by none other than Paul Bremer – Bush’s first ‘Viceroy’ in Iraq. Iran’s relations with Baghdad are steadily improving, to the extent that President Ahmadinejad, whose country Bush threatens to bomb from time to time, visited the US-occupied Iraq just before the fifth anniversary of the invasion. Iraq is now a Shi’a-ruled country – something that weakens America’s closest allies, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan. The high price of oil suits Iran very well. Iranian businesses and intelligence in the Shi’a-dominated southern Iraq thrive. It has significant oil reserves and the only outlet to the sea.

The Kurds are winners, because they have an independent state in all but name. It points to some nightmarish prospects for Turkey, which is becoming increasingly edgy. A strong and confident Iran is bad news for Israel in Hamas-dominated Gaza and Lebanon, where Hezbollah thwarted an Israeli invasion two years ago.

It looks like a strategic victory, but not for America. Meanwhile, Washington continues to arm Sunni militias in a flawed strategy to fight Al-Qaeda. In a country where corruption is rampant and loyalties can change overnight, such short-termism is a recipe for further trouble.

Not long ago in the 1980s, the United States armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and the results are all here to see. A large militia like the Awakening Council, with tens of thousands of hired men, in effect on daily wages, is a sign of things to come. Clearly, Bush and Cheney live in oblivion.