Iraq, October 2006

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In every state Iraq is an issue — sometimes the issue — in the 2006 midterms. Do we run the danger, standing before the possibility of the overturn of both houses of Congress, of treating Iraq as just that, an issue? Iraq is not what it was this summer, even. October was the deadliest month for US troops in Iraq since November 2004. Baghdad, said journalist Patrick Cockburn on the phone this afternoon, isn’t really a city any more, it’s more than a dozen different districts. It reminded him of Lebanon’s civil war.

Sectarian violence in Iraq is so bad that, as The Boston Globe reported today, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is calling for calm. Even President Bush this afternoon revealed that he’s “not satisfied” with the situation in Iraq. So what is the situation?

Who, right now in October of 2006, is fighting whom? What populations are moving where? Where are US troops, and if we are indeed going to — as RNC Chair Ken Mehlman said — “win by adapting,” how exactly are we going to adapt?

Patrick Cockburn

Baghdad correspondent, The Independent and The London Review of Books

Author, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq

Zeyad

(Anoymous) Blogger, Healing Iraq

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  • Old Nick

    If you haven’t finalized your guest roster yet, may I suggest Peter Galbraith?

  • pryoung

    you want us to engage a Ken Mehlman slogan?

  • gwf

    My premise in this discussion is that from a cultural and historical perspective Iraq was never a country (a modern nation-state) to begin with. (John Tierney’s recent piece is a great leaping off point here). Iraq was a Hobbesian hornet’s nest, full of disparate ethnic, tribal, and religious loyalties, but without any allegiance to the nation of Iraq.

    In one of the most audacious and liberal foreign policy decisions in our country’s history, we slaughtered the Leviathan and tried to create a democracy. Obviously so far we’ve had lots of blood but little success in inventing the nation of Iraq. The questions I have now are:

    Is it possible to invent an Iraqi nation, as presently constituted?

    How long will it take and at what cost?

    And, of course, what role can the US play? What are our obligations? What good can we do?

    I’m interested to hear the perspective of intellectual historians or anthropologists.

  • nother

    I find it curious that in all the analysis I hear about Iraq, from NPR to Fox News, I rarely here an in depth discussion about that black gold at stake – It’s like the elephant (pun intended) in the room. From a pragmatic, non-partisan perspective, I want to know what will happen to the oil when (crossing my fingers) we leave. While you’re at it, tell me what’s happening to that oil right now.

    Everyone chalks the sectarian strife up to centuries of grudges, but come on now, if the Sunnis are in power they control a lot of the oil, same goes for the Shiite.

    The Republican say they don’t want to send the wrong message by setting a timetable for withdrawal, but wouldn’t one the reasons be that by setting a timetable they are taking away our leverage in the inevitable negotiation for oil control. The Iraqis will say, hey your leaving anyway so we’re not going to give up as much oil.

    The Democrats don’t even want to bring up oil and I’m not as clear as to why. I guess they don’t want to remind us that by withdrawing from Iraq we are withdrawing our economic leverage in the region and that might mean even higher gas prices in the future.

    Someone please be straight with me on the oil issue.

  • Old Nick

    For a detailed but easily readable treatment of the recent past, responsibility for the deplorable present, and the likeliest future of the pastiche ‘nation’-state called Iraq, I recommend Peter Galbraith’s, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End.

    Its gist is summarized here:

    Our Corner of Iraq By PETER W. GALBRAITH

    Published: July 25, 2006

    (quote)

    WHAT is the mission of the United States military in Iraq now that the insurgency has escalated into a full-blown civil war? According to the Bush administration, it is to support a national unity government that includes all Iraq’s major communities: the Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. O.K., but this raises another question: What does the Iraqi government govern?

    In the southern half of Iraq, Shiite religious parties and clerics have created theocracies policed by militias that number well over 100,000 men. In Basra, three religious parties control — and sometimes fight over — the thousands of barrels of oil diverted each day from legal exports into smuggling. To the extent that the central government has authority in the south, it is because some of the same Shiite parties that dominate the government also control the south.

    Kurdistan in the north is effectively independent. The Iraqi Army is barred from the region, the Iraqi flag prohibited, and central government ministries are not present. The Kurdish people voted nearly unanimously for independence in an informal referendum in January 2005.

    And in the Sunni center of the nation and Baghdad, the government has virtually no control beyond the American-protected Green Zone. The Mahdi Army, a radical Shiite militia, controls the capital’s Shiite neighborhoods, while Qaeda offshoots and former Baathists are increasingly taking over the Sunni districts.

    While the Bush administration professes a commitment to Iraq’s unity, it has no intention of undertaking the major effort required to put the country together again. During the formal occupation of Iraq in 2003 and 2004, the American-led coalition allowed Shiite militias to mushroom and clerics to impose Islamic rule in the south, in some places with a severity reminiscent of Afghanistan’s Taliban…

    (unquote)

    Read the rest at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/25/opinion/25galbraith.html?ex=1311480000&en=84dd7eac808f8969&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

  • Old Nick

    On the misunderstood and bitter division between Sunnis and Shiites: First, Wikipedia’s very neutral, inoffensive, politically correct article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Shi%27a-Sunni_relations

    Then, Irshad Manji’s no-bullsh*t exposé from her The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith:

    (quote)

    In his anointed capacity (as Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines), (the Saudi king) pretends to represent Muslims of every color, gender, and creed. The real picture, however, isn’t so pretty. How Riyadh treats Shias, Islam’s second largest denomination, can be summed up with one fact: According to official Saudi teachings, Shias are a Jewish conspiracy. Apparently, a Yemeni Jew schemed with other Jews to divide Islam and plant talmudic ideas in the minds of confused Muslims. The duped went on to become Shias.

    As an offshoot of Judaism, the Shias rank as dhimmis, don’t they? Logically then, that’s the status they have in Saudi Arabia. Recently, a Shia Muslim testified to the US Congress about what happened when the Saudis annexed his hometown of Najran. “Not only were the Najrannis religiously subjugated,” said Ali Alyami, “but the means of their livelihood were reduced drastically. Most of their fertile farmland was expropriated by the Wahhabi governors, emirs, and judges. In addition, Wahhabis forcefully took half of what Ismailis produced from their farms and animals…” Notice the eerie echoes between this scene and what the Jewish peasants of Muhammad’s time endured. It’s all “permissible” if you believe Shia Muslims are actually Jews.

    (unquote, Manji, p.151)

    Add to that final quoted sentence our awareness of the notorious, virulent anti-Semitic polemics within Wahhabist literature. Then, add to that sum the undeniable knowledge that Wahhabism is the most heavily funded (from American petrodollars, no less) form of Islamic fundamentalism. Wahhabism is exported, using petrodollars, to the rest of the Sunni realm. (It’s the ‘brand’ of Islamism taught, for example, in Pakistan’s infamous madrassas.)

    What does it all add up to? The idea among Sunnis that Shias are tantamount to Jews, and deserve the same fate: a place with Satan in the fires of hell.

    Now spin it all around: imagine being a Shiite accused of being a Jew. Remember that Iran is Shiite. We all know, don’t we, how the ayatollahs esteem the Jews?

    Imagine feeling as if a majority of Muslims (the Sunnis) snidely class you and your minority people as the Muslim equivalent of “Satanic, blood-sucking Jews”.

    The final sum of all this ignorant bigotry is that the fight in Iraq between Sunnis and Shias is just about as bitter as the strife near the eastern shores of the Mediterranean a few hundred miles to the west.

    I didn’t post this to be irresponsibly incendiary. Honest. Instead, I want to set up the following…

    With that ugly sectarian division of the ummah in mind, please read this from Peter Galbraith’s The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End:

    (quote)

    A year after his Axis of Evil speech, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans: the author Kanan Makiya; Hatem Mukhlis, a doctor; and Rend Rahim, who later became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. As the three described what they thought would be the political situation after Saddam’s fall, they talked about Sunnis and Shiites. It became apparent to them that the president was unfamiliar with these terms. The three then spent part of the meeting explaining that there are two major sects in Islam. (I heard this story directly from two participants in the meeting.)

    So two months before he ordered U.S. troops into the country, the president of the United States did not appear to know about the division among Iraqis that has defined the country’s history and politics. He would not have understood why non-Arab Iran might gain a foothold in post-Saddam Iraq. He could not have anticipated U.S. troops being caught in the middle of a civil war between two religious sects he did not know existed.

    I recount this story not to illustrate the president’s ignorance, but because it underscores how little the American leadership thought before the war about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems the United States would face after it overthrew Saddam Hussein. Even in 2006, with civil war well under way in Iraq, the president and his top advisors speak of an Iraqi people, as if there were a single people akin to the French or even the American people.

    (unquote, Galbraith, p.83)

    The disgraceful debacle unfolding in Iraq is a direct consequence of the arrogance of the Bush administration, stemming directly from their jingoistic belief in American exceptionalism.

    But have they learned anything? No, of course not. The administration’s foreign policies, from Abu Gharib to Guantanamo and every stop in between, are utterly rotten with American exceptionalism.

    Worse yet, the real culprits aren’t them but us, the voters. We’re the ones whose collective, infantile, and lazy desire for a tough-guy ‘daddy’ to take care of us against all those ‘nasty foreigners’ meant the election to high office of arrogant, ignorant scoundrels like the Bushies.

    It’s said that in a democracy the people get the leaders they deserve. I can’t sense a plausible argument against that platitude. But I can decry the ignorance of the millions of American voters who settle for a political system this intellectually bankrupt, inept, corrupt, and irresponsible.

    It’s on us, folks.

    Changing the system is on us, too.

  • carlosjr

    I hope that your guest, Patrick Cockburn is familiar with the term “the El Salvador Option”. re The CIA organized death squads in El Salvador incite a feeling of terror in order help defeat the popular uprising against the US supported puppet government.

    Some of the same CIA people are no in Iraq. Why is it that the corporate and usually NPR US media always accepts our governments statements at face value. It has lied from the very beginning about Iraq. It is losing the war in Iraq, and it has now resorted to “divide and conquer” by training and unleashing death squads within Iraq.

  • Igor

    Come on, now, is it all American voter’s fault? This is not a democracy, you know, it’s a polyarchy (at best) or an oligarchy (more realistically).

    And how can a “system” be “intellectually bankrupt, inept, corrupt, and irresponsible”? It is not a person, you see, with systems it’s a little more complicated.

    And are you sure it really is all this? Let’s turn it around, this “system” lead the nation into a criminal war against the wishes of a large part of if not a majority of population, in the process looted US treasury not to mention Iraq, made huge profits in some quarters, etc., etc., and you call it a failure? As if they care about GIs being killed, and, again, forget Iraqis…

    In a nutshell, we cannot judge system’s performance withouth knowing its goals, and the goals are obviously not those being proclaimed. And if we consider realistic goals, the performance is not that bad, really…

  • Old Nick

    Igor, my beef is with the American system of government — which many people rightly seem to loathe — that is created by the 18th century constitiution few Americans are capable of looking at critically.

    You wrote: “This is not a democracy, you know, it’s a polyarchy (at best) or an oligarchy (more realistically)…

    Let’s turn it around, this “system” lead the nation into a criminal war against the wishes of a large part of if not a majority of population, in the process looted US treasury not to mention Iraq, made huge profits in some quarters…

    …and I do NOT disagree.

    As Daniel Lazare writes, “Americans have been praising the constitution yet cursing the government it creates almost since the ratification.”

    To that, I add, what’s the big mystery here?

    The republican government created by the Constitution is unresponsive to the people. Its primary influences are heavily funded lobbyists. The result is a system corrupted, beholden to the wealthiest. To the rest of us — those like you and me who want to belive our votes count for something meaningful — the two party state (unintentionally) promoted by the Constitution can only seem “intellectually bankrupt, inept, corrupt, and irresponsible”.

    Or, at least, so it seems to me.

    Anyway, on the whole, I share your obvious disgust. I just wish we’d get our jingo-addled ostrich heads up out of the sands long enough to understand the structural/constitutional flaws that deny us anything remotely equivalent to the multiparty, responsive and (mostly) responsible democracies of the happier parts of Europe.

  • I chat regularly (during the 4 hours of electricity a day) with an Iraqi friend living in Baghdad. He used to be an interpreter for the UN and now tries to make a living through an import business in auto parts and paint. I always get a mixed message from him when I ask how he is doing. He tells me business is not good and that his neighbourhood has become much more dangerous. Especially he fears the Sunni militia groups who kill innocent people to destabilize the economy and society. Because of threats, shops and businesses often have to stay closed. On the other hand, he tells me that the situation in Iraq is improving, though he never provides much detail. I wonder is this is just wishful thinking on his part.

    He wants the US military to remain in Iraq for security reasons, though he doesn’t agree with the occupation. As he says, it is all so complex. We have discussed the changing mood among the US electorate and the possibility of a draw-down or pull out if the democrats are elected, but he doesn’t think they would change much and that it’s just election time rhetoric. I said I’m not so sure.

    What do the guests think? Will the US radically change policy if the Dems are elected? Can the US really pull out?

  • plnelson

    “Come on, now, is it all American voter’s fault? This is not a democracy, you know, it’s a polyarchy (at best) or an oligarchy (more realistically).”

    To the extent that it’s a “polyarchy” or “oligarchy”, that’s STILL the American voters’ fault, because they are the ones who’ve happily ceded power to these groups.

    In any case, every serious poll prior to the invasion shopwed OVERWHELMING support for the invasion. Most numbers were in the 70% range. Those of us opposed to the war were in a tiny minority.

    But the supporters of the invasion had access to all the same facts that we did; we weren’t privy to some special, secret information that cast any different light on the prospects for a successful outcome. When I posted, publically, on the eve of the invasion that “If we invade Iraq we had better learn what the Arabic word for ‘quagmire’ is”, I didn’t base this on any data or analysis that was not available to every American.

    The American voters CHOSE to believe the President’s rationale for the invasion and his giddy optimism about a successful result. While it’s true that Fox, CNN, et al, were remarkable UNskeptical of the Administration’s claims, no one holds a gun to anyone’s head and forces them to rely on major, coroporate TV news outlets for their understanding of the world.

    Both in foreign and domestic policy, the American voters have asked for it, and they’re getting it good and hard.

  • plnelson

    “The result is a system corrupted, beholden to the wealthiest. To the rest of us — those like you and me who want to belive our votes count for something meaningful — the two party state (unintentionally) promoted by the Constitution can only seem ‘intellectually bankrupt, inept, corrupt, and irresponsible’.”

    How do you feel that the Constiution promotes a “two party system”?

    I would argue that a parliamentary system is much more favorable to a two-party result than our system, because there’s such a huge penalty to pay if no party has a majority in the legislature – namely the need to sustain the messy unstable process of forming a coalition government. But they do it anyway.

    By contrast, the US system doesn’t even NEED parties. In theory every member of Congress could come from a separate party and it would all still work.

  • plnelson

    “The republican government created by the Constitution is unresponsive to the people. Its primary influences are heavily funded lobbyists.”

    Congressional districts are typically around a half-million people and close congressional elections often hang on just a handful of votes. So citizens have every opportunity to “own” their Congressman and see to it that he represents THEIR interests and not those of lobbying interests. The ONLY reason this doesn’t happen is because the average American would rather watch “American Idle” or “Survivor” on TV than pay the SLIGHTEST interest in the voting records of their politicans.

    I’m a supporter of all kinds of organizations that maintain lobbying efforts on various business, political, and environmental issues. I have a day job, so I can’t spend all my time in Washington, but I can help hire a lobbyist who CAN spend time there promoting my issues in front of Congress. Franky, if I CARE enough to support a lobbying effort, and that promotes my legislation, and the average voter can’t be bothered to pay attention, then that’s probably how it SHOULD work!

    People keep forgetting that the key word in “special interest” is “interest”. The average voter is not INTERESTED. I AM? So why shouldn’t that fact result in my having more influence? ‘m simply exercising my Constitutional rights- freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, right to petition, etc.

  • plnelson

    In my previous post “I AM?” s.b., “I AM!”

  • plnelson

    “He wants the US military to remain in Iraq for security reasons, though he doesn’t agree with the occupation. As he says, it is all so complex. ”

    I take it that “complex” is the Iraqi word for “irrational”. Your friend sounds like he’s there for the same irrational, emotional reasons as the American government. It’s OK for individuals to do crazy, dangerous, or self-destructive things, but when nations do that the costs and consequences are often far greater, and a lot more innocent people get dragged into it, so we must hold them to higher standards.

    It’s like comparing sky-diving to running a nuclear power plant. If you screw up packing your chute YOU might become an ugly wet spot on the ground, but you are unlikely to hurt anyone else, so have fun. But if you design a nuke plant, and make a math error, a lot more people than YOU could tet hurt so I have a right to demand a higher standard of confidence.

  • Old Nick

    plnelson, I don’t think this is the thread for it, so I’ve posted a ‘condensed’ version of my counter-argument here: http://www.radioopensource.org/electoral-reform/#comment-34478 .

  • plnelson

    “plnelson, I don’t think this is the thread for it, so I’ve posted a ‘condensed’ version of my counter-argument here: http://www.radioopensource.org/electoral-reform/#comment-34478 . ”

    wherein you write . . .

    “The stakes in the battle between the two poles are too high, election after election, to allow third parties any realistic traction.

    The solution is proportional representation.”

    The only way you can have proportional representation is to get rid of the current locale-based system. In a proportional system if the vote is 35% Republican, 35% Democratic, 10% Libertarian, 10% right-wing-wacko, 10% left-wing-wacko then that’s how the Congress would look. I don’t think people would be willing to give up their local Congressman, although I PERSONALLY prefer the at-large approach your system would imply.

    BUT – simply saying that “The stakes in the battle between the two poles are too high, election after election, to allow third parties any realistic traction” doesn’t really explain how other democracies have avoided this problem. The US is almost the only major democracy that seems stuck with only 2 parties.

  • Old Nick

    plnelson, I just found the link to this – http://www.powells.com/review/2006_10_26 – in another of my email accounts. Needless to say, I’ll be ordering that book shortly.

  • plnelson: I take it that “complex” is the Iraqi word for “irrational”. Your friend sounds like he’s there for the same irrational, emotional reasons as the American government.

    My friend is there because he is Iraqi and was born there. He has tried to get permission to go to another country, but no luck so far. 3 of his best friends have been assassinated and he fears for his life, which is not irrational at all.

    By complex I believe he means that there are so many militia now operating and everyone is just trying to survive, so any easy American fast-food style solution won’t work.

    You seem to want to blame it all on the average American voter but I think you expect too much. Like you suggest, they would rather “get lost in that hopeless little screen” (Leonard Cohen, Democracy).

    What I fail to understand is that the educated elite from across the spectrum are so lacking in historical knowledge. Vietnam, Afghanistan, even Somalia: when have occupations worked? When is there ever a simple solution to nation-building, especially when a power vacuum is created? How could the US elite allow this to happen? Or the real question, why did they allow/want this to happen? Are there really two parties? Or just a group of officials bought off by corporate interests?

    plnelson: the American voters have asked for it, and they’re getting it good and hard.

    I would say that the Iraqi people are getting it good and hard and they never asked for it. That is the saddest part of this most recent chapter of America the Nation Once Again Tries and Fails to Come of Age.

    Old Nick is right, time to go back to the founding fathers and wake them from their slumber. There is a new world out here that needs an America with a constitution that gives democracy a chance. The lesson of imperialistic nation-building abroad should be the need for democratic nation-building at home.

  • Edinburgh

    pinelson wrote:” The only way you can have proportional representation is to get rid of the current locale-based system.”

    There is always a trade-off between overall proportionality (large electoral districts) and local representation (small electoral districts), but the STV system of proportional representation allows you to strike a reasonable compromise between the two AND gives the real power to the voters, not to the party machines.

    With STV-PR it would be the voters who decided whether any third (or fourth) party would rise or whether representation should be confined to just two parties. But even then the voters would decide the balance among the various “wings” within those two parties.

    STV-PR puts the voters first – that’s why many politicians don’t like it. But it does offer a practical solution to many of the problems electors are encountering

  • plnelson

    “You seem to want to blame it all on the average American voter but I think you expect too much. ”

    I didn’t say ANYTHING about what I expected.

    I DO blame it on the average American voter. But that doesn’t mean I EXPECT him to do any better. The average American voter is intellectually lazy and slothful in his civic habits. He CHOOSES to do those things the same way people CHOOSE to buy new flat panel TV’s and vacations instead of saving for retirement, or to drive too fast and not wear their seatbelts, etc. Those things often have bad consequences, too.

    I fully expect things to get a lot worse before they get better, but there’s not much I can do about it. It’s like having a bunch of juvenile delinquents, doing drugs, skipping school, back-alley-sex, and getting involved in petty crime. You KNOW where it will lead with some of them – major crime, detox centers, dead-end jobs, AIDS/STDs, etc. And you know that a few of them might straighten up and fly right after some horrific experiences, but many of them will NEVER face up to the results of their life choices.

    Likewise, when all the chickens come home to roost WRT our Iraq stretegy, SOME Americans will see the light but many of them will still fail to see how US strategy took a bad situation and made it worse.

  • plnelson

    “STV-PR puts the voters first – that’s why many politicians don’t like it. But it does offer a practical solution to many of the problems electors are encountering”

    American voters are too stupid for STV-PR. I know they already use it in some places outside the US (Scotland and Ireland maybe?) but their voters have higher political IQs and they are already used to the concept of multiple political parties.

    Have you ever been to an American polling site? They have specially-trained guides to direct voters to the actual voting machines because otherwise voters just walk into walls, breaking their noses, or try to stuff ballots into urinals or coat closets. They also count the crayons after the voter has exited the booth to make sure they don’t eat them. And the ballots are weighted so they only orient one way so the voter doesn’t hold them upside down when they vote. And on the ballot they don’t just have the name printed, but they show a little picture of the candidate in a box shaped like a TV screen so the voter can recognize him or her. And they play soothing music on a PA system because American voters are often in a high state of agitation on election day and are apt to have loud outbursts or start crying or laughing hysterically or rip their clothes off run around naked disturbing the other voters.

    Ok, OK, I’m exaggerating a LITTLE, but honestly, the reason why we don’t have a Monster Raving Loony Party on this side of the pond is because it would be redundant. Don’t oversestimate the intellectual capacity of the American voter.

  • Jon

    I have listened to nearly all of Open Source’s programs since its inception. But never do I recall hearing a voice such as Zeyad’s. This program will stay with me and influence my thinking in a profound fashion for a long time to come. Thank you for making this remarkable hour of radio.

  • dieing philosopher!

    Iraq, another Vietnam? failure of any country to invade another is not only natural, but also desirable. . . why can’t we trust other nations to choose their own regimes, their own forms of governments? are we stupid or are we fanatical? of course, when we have advance fighting technology, it won’t pay to keep them as a showpiece, would it now? so we go and invade other nation thinking ourselves to be knights who come thundering to rescue gallantly a dansel in distress, oh, God bless my soul!

  • plnelson

    “failure of any country to invade another is not only natural, but also desirable. . . why can’t we trust other nations to choose their own regimes, their own forms of governments?”

    OK, YOU’RE the ‘philosopher’ – let’s analyze the above statement.

    I see a non sequitur. That is, I don’t see any relationship between whether to invade another country and whether we trust them to choose their own government.

    PLENTY of nations are unable to widely choose leaders. But that’s not a reason to invade them. There is absolutely NO evidence that the Iraqis (or the Pakistanis or the Afghans or most places in Africa) can choose their own governments without choosing brutal, corrupt, inept and tyrannical ones. That’s too bad for them, but it doesn’t justify an invasion.

    The only justification for invading another country is if that other country has attacked you or where such an attack is so obviously and overwhelmingly imminent that a first-strike is the only reasonable military response. Those conditions were not extant in Iraq and the question of trusting the Iraqis to choose their own government has no relevance to the situation.

  • dieing philosopher!

    The only justification for invading another country is if that other country has attacked you or where such an attack is so obviously and overwhelmingly

    imminent that a first-strike is the only reasonable military response. heavens! I’ll do whatsoever pleases me to do, but U can’t, is it?

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