Iraq: RIP?

Time to face unpalatable facts

There was a time when Iraqis were able to look forward to a reasonably bright future, not perfect perhaps but one marked by steady progress. There were good grounds for this confidence. Iraq has a vast reservoir of natural wealth, not simply oil. Moreover, Iraq’s social capital is equally impressive; a well-educated and resourceful population.

When the monarchy was overthrown in the 1958 coup  hopes lifted even higher. Driven by democratic republican ideals, the army takeover was expected to bring to a halt external colonial interference and internal religious and ethnic divisions.

We now know better. Successive ‘leaders’ killed off the fledgling shoots of democracy that were struggling to take root. Political parties were abolished, opponents were imprisoned and tortured. The lucky ones were killed outright. It is heart breaking to read cabinet minutes of successive governments during the ‘extinct era’ of the monarchy and to look through published annual budgets. These niceties died with the king and his family.

And in the last three decades regression accelerated rapidly. Brutal rivalry between those at the top turned into naked oppression of opponents. That escalated to mass murder by poison gas and other means. Iraq was then pushed into the era of madcap wars separated by thirteen years of punishing sanctions. Iraq was finally ‘led’ to the back row of the development league.

The April 2003 war was only a matter of time. The chosen trigger was weapons of mass destruction, but any excuse would have done just as well. An argument is raging in the USA and Britain about the failure to unearth any of these dreaded weapons. No such argument has emerged about the reluctance of the regime in Iraq to open its doors to inspectors with unfettered powers to go where they wished. It seems the inspired leadership decided to make a fight of it with the results that Iraqis now endure on daily basis. What of the ‘leadership’? They are dead, imprisoned or running from one hiding place to the next.

Iraq was occupied. This inevitable outcome was a predictable consequence of the use of ‘overwhelming force’; an expression used first by Churchill when America decided to enter the second world war on the side of the allies. The far-seeing ‘leadership’ did not anticipate this self-evident end. Now Iraq is ruled by a high commissioner dispatched by a Bush administration dominated by neo-conservatives with a distinct Israeli bias. He is supported by a so-called Governing Council of Iraqis chosen by him on the basis of religious and ethnic affiliations. Divide and rule is not a new colonial ploy, but the 25 people appointed by the high commissioner are obviously unaware of this means of control. They are quite happy to dance to the occupiers’ tune.

It is not unreasonable, therefore, to assign the epitaph RIP (Rest in Peace) to Iraq. The country is virtually dead, certainly for the foreseeable future. The French left the ‘frozen accident’ of religious factionalism in The Lebanon. Like all frozen accidents (a feature well recognised in evolutionary science) it has endured to wreak havoc with that country. The same process has just been launched in Iraq by the Americans. Iraqis have other problems to contend with. They are simply trying to exist in a lawless occupied country at temperatures in excess of 50 C. with little water and electricity. Public services have disintegrated, in some cases as a deliberate policy by the occupying forces. Iraq is at the mercy of a foreign cabal with an agenda.

They are not so stupid

It is fashionable to accuse the Americans of being incompetent, or downright mad. Their behaviour in Iraq before, during, and after the latest war lends support to this viewpoint. Anecdotal evidence attests to a high degree of American incompetence, verging on eccentricity or a disturbed state of mind.

Kate Adie, BBC’s Chief News Correspondent, reported the first Gulf war from the frontlines and related her experiences of that war in her autobiography, The Kindness of Strangers. She wrote:

“We spent an entire morning with several thousand American GIs- 10 per cent women, 30 per cent black, and 100 per cent dim… The US army takes unpromising material and moulds it ruthlessly into a dull unit that responds to orders, or…’does its dooty’.”

One of the stumbling blocks in communicating with the GIs, Kate Adie reported, was not a political or philosophical conundrum, about the word ‘here’.

“They knew they were not in America, yessir. Some were faintly aware they might not be in that place where they were based- er- um- yes, Germany. Some thought they were in Israel, a country they thought constituted most of the Middle East.”

Other remarks were equally revealing. She came across another American unit in Kuwait:

“[A] set of South Carolina National Guard who were gung-ho and up for it, but were going to war in the wrong direction, heading south for Saudi Arabia.”

Kate Adie is not alone in holding a low opinion of those in charge of America’s considerable instruments of power. Bill Bryson, in Notes from a Big Country, described the CIA, FBI and other US law enforcement agencies as being “dangerously inept”. He illustrated his views by citing typically amusing, and highly worrying, actual incidents that seem at times to be stranger than fiction.

The above impressions of the fragility of America’s hold on commonsense and competence have multiplied many fold since the ‘end’ of the second Gulf war. The Americans seem to be behaving like uncouth savages in their dealings with the people they ostensibly came to liberate and democratise. Their abysmal lack of knowledge of the area, their ostentatious  disregard for its people and their traditions, and their inability (or unwillingness) to communicate properly with the local people is now a major cause for the problems (and losses) experienced by the American forces.

However, presumed incompetence could hide a multitude of sins, as Bush has found to his benefit. Those who pushed the cause of war, as opposed to the expendable people who actually fought the war, seem to be achieving their principal aims. Many explanations have been advanced for US government’s eagerness to launch the war and its willingness to suffer casualties and hostility; oil, contracts, global hegemony, Israeli machinations, etc. In truth, all these were significant factors.

One thing is beyond doubt however: Iraq, and Saddam Hussein, paused no threat whatsoever to American interests and security. On the contrary, every turn of events in Iraq over the last forty years resulted in the promotion of America’s, and therefore Israel’s, interests in the region. Basically, the Bush cabal went to war at great cost to ordinary Americans because a few powerful individuals felt such an adventure would serve their diverse purposes.

Recent events in Iraq show that these aims are being achieved. The American appointed Governing Council could do anything it wished as long as it did not govern Iraq. Governing is Bremer’s domain. The Council was formed on strictly ethnic and religious lines. This will ensure it could not go beyond parochial squabbles; a tactic used well by the British during the mandate years (see Iraq Under Mandate). Large sections of the population have obligingly followed suit. They divided into the requisite warring factions. The US administration, incompetent, stupid, or however it is described, has managed to plant discord amongst the Iraqi people for years to come. One principal aim achieved.

Contracts are being awarded by the American rulers of Iraq, in the main to firms with good links to the Bush cabal. Nothing illegal is being done but the final outcome is nonetheless most welcome. Bush’s re-election chest is overflowing with campaign funds and a few well-connected individuals are becoming wealthier all the while. Another principal aim achieved.

Above all else, an Arab country that could have presented a degree of challenge to Israel, technologically and commercially rather than the traditional empty threat of military action, is reduced to a pathetic nation of ill-fed, diseased, disorganised, and divided people. Appallingly, they have lost their ability to act. Unlike the aftermath of the first Gulf war when services were restored within a few weeks (see Ghazi Sabir-Ali, The Guardian, 1 August 2003), nothing is working. Iraqis are being conditioned to look to their occupiers to help them out of the mess in which these same occupiers placed them.

Oddly enough, Jordan’s prime minister stepped in dutifully and on cue to reinforce that utter feeling of helplessness and futility. He advised the Iraqis to look on their occupiers as their only hope to avoid possible dismembering of Iraq and a drift towards civil war. Where did we hear that before? Yes, the British used the same bogyman during the mandate years by constantly reminding Iraqi leaders that they are the only force able to prevent Turkey from taking the city of Mosul and some of the oil-rich north of Iraq. Nowadays, the Americans are not in a hurry to change the parlous situation in Iraq. What is the sense of reviving a country that they planned to destroy? Yet another principal aim achieved. Israel is left with no potential challengers in the Arab world. The ‘road map’ to nowhere?

Could Iraq pull back from the abyss?

Anything is possible, but the omens are not promising. One has to admit, with deep regret, that simple patriotism is not fashionable in the Arab world at the present. Current conventional wisdom suggests that leaders have to be ‘realistic’ and should ‘learn to live with the new world order’. This is a godsend let out for weak and vacillating leaders. It is even more welcome news for those willing to toe the US line come what may as long as they are rewarded well. In this way leaders can have their cake and eat it: uselessness, self-interest, or downright corruption presented as far-seeing wisdom!

The way forward is seen, therefore, as a choice between three options; work with the USA, align yourself with the European Union, or put your faith in the United Nations. In short, rely on others to solve your problems. However, history shows over and over again that nations have to rely on themselves first and foremost.

What is needed in Iraq? Simply a leader who is prepared to announce that he or she is an Iraqi leader with no interest whatsoever in factionalism. Iraq is one nation and all people are of equal standing regardless of ethnic or religious affiliations. He or she would focus on unity and reconciliation, yes even with those who served the previous regime. Iraq needs all its talented people. Numerous highly qualified and experienced people are living abroad. In the meantime American ‘experts’ are lecturing those left behind on how to teach, manage, and run businesses!

Is there an Iraqi Mandela waiting in the wings? I hope so.