The Die is Cast in Iraq

US Military Assistance Will Not Work


Just a quick word on Iraq.

The situation in Iraq may be ugly, but it’s a fairly easy mess to understand sociologically.

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire shortly after World War I, the cards have always been stacked against Iraqi stability. Iraq could be understood as a national boundary drawn around very disparate cultural elements, most notably Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurd, but also smaller elements. The power imbalance between this big three, however, is the most pressing. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was a monarchy under the imperialist thumb of Britain and American oil companies. When the monarchy was overthrown by Abdel-Karim Qasim (Kassem), a Nasser inspired Iraqi nationalist, the United States and Britain became nervous of his soviet style leanings. The CIA supported the Ba’athists, an Arab version of the fascists of Europe. True, they may have been brutal authoritarians, but they were anti-communist brutal authoritarians, and in the Cold War west, that’s all that mattered. From the Ba’athist Party rose one Saddam Hussein.

Hussein, a Baathist CIA “asset” took power in 1979, the same year as the Iranian Revolution. The next year, fearing Iranian influence among the Shi’ite majority in Iraq, Hussein invaded Iran and suppressed Iraqi Shi’ites. When it appeared he would lose the war, the United States, under the still classified NSDD 114 (National Security Decision Directive) vouched any “necessary and legal” support for Iraq’s war effort. The Reagan Administration emphasized the “necessary” more than the “legal.” The US provided intelligence, money and weapons, including weapons grade anthrax, to Hussein. With US help, Saddam held the disparate groups in Iraq together with an iron fist.

In 1991, having been told by US Ambassador April Glaspie that the US had “no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts,” Hussein over-reached and invaded Kuwait. Clearly, Glaspie was mistaken. The United States responded with its full military potential, quickly and brutally driving the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. Yet American officials remained unwilling to unseat their wayward dictator. When Kurds and Shi’ites responded to the 1991 Persian Gulf War by rising up against a humiliated and defeated Saddam, the first Bush Administration did nothing while Hussein slaughtered his opposition.

Similarly, ten years of inhuman sanctions imposed by the West after the war only served to reinforce Hussein’s position and spread misery throughout the country. Saddam Hussein consolidated resources for himself and his allies while perpetuating his power by shaking his fist, albeit in futility, at the United States.

Consequently, the violent Hussein dictatorship was the only source of stability in Iraq for over a generation by the time the United States invaded the country on false pretenses in 2003. When Hussein was overthrown and ultimately hanged, this left a huge power vacuum in a nation with three armed and organized power factions. The ensuing civil war was easy to predict. The only people to express surprise were the very architects of the war. Whether these officials were delusional or cynical is subject to debate. Perhaps a combination of both.

Regardless, the United States tried to fill this vacuum by installing a friendly “republican” government. Most Iraqi’s, however, disapproved of this new government, seeing it as nothing more than a puppet for the US government. They believed this because the Maliki government was, in fact, a US puppet. The status of the Maliki government cannot be improved by the US sending “military advisors” to Iraq. This can only reinforce the certainty that the US continues to pull the strings in Baghdad. Of course, the Iraqi people will not be wrong in this assumption; the advisors are there to secure the strings on this oil rich marionette—with or without Maliki.

So an assessment of Iraq’s problems is pretty clear. First, the biggest factor responsible for instability in Iraq is the recent history of US involvement. Iraq is our fault. Period. That’s something for which all Americans must accept a deep sense of shame. Secondly, had it not been for western interference in their historical development, the Iraqi people would have resolved this conflict almost a hundred years ago. Perhaps they would have created a coalition or federation government that offered proportionate representation. Perhaps they would have formed a secular, constitutional monarchy. Perhaps they would have decided that splitting the nation into three independent, cultural entities was the best course of action. Perhaps there would have been instability and violence the likes of which we are seeing now. Regardless, had Iraq been left to its own designs, its national identity would be secured by now.

The real problem is that for a hundred years, if not longer, the people living in Iraq have had little say in how they are governed or in the very structure of their nation. The existing power elements in the Fertile Crescent have never been allowed to hammer out their differences and decide upon the direction that best suited them. Iraq has always been a pawn for larger powers, from the Ottomans to the Americans, without reprieve.

Now they are taking on the challenge of building a national identity, or identities as the case may be. This they must be allowed to do without further interference. The international community should be prepared to help Iraq find a peaceful settlement to these volatile conflicts, but US interference in support of a favored government and the use of “military advisors” to help crush an undesirable uprising is not the answer. Only an environment that cultivates diplomacy and negotiation can bring stability to Iraq. Ultimately, only the Iraqi people can build a functional society.


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