12 Answers to Questions No One Is Bothering to Ask about Iraq

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    Posted April 20, 2008 Tomgram: 12 Reasons to Get Out of Iraq

    Unraveling Iraq
    12 Answers to Questions No One Is Bothering to Ask about Iraq
    By Tom Engelhardt

    Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been
    unraveling? And here's the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent
    information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe,
    despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and
    out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the
    "success" of the President's surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly
    well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans "say the
    United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further
    casualties" and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since
    January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what
    might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of
    affairs in Iraq -- and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to
    unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to
    questions which should be asked far more often in this country:

    1. Yes, the war has morphed into the U.S. military's worst Iraq nightmare:
    Few now remember, but before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in
    March 2003, top administration and Pentagon officials had a single
    overriding nightmare -- not chemical, but urban, warfare. Saddam Hussein,
    they feared, would lure American forces into "Fortress Baghdad," as
    Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled it. There, they would find
    themselves fighting block by block, especially in the warren of streets that
    make up the Iraqi capital's poorest districts.

    When American forces actually entered Baghdad in early April 2003, however,
    even Saddam's vaunted Republican Guard units had put away their weapons and
    gone home. It took five years but, as of now, American troops are indeed
    fighting in the warren of streets in Sadr City, the Shiite slum of two and a
    half million in eastern Baghdad largely controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's
    Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military, in fact, recently experienced its
    worst week of 2008 in terms of casualties, mainly in and around Baghdad. So,
    mission accomplished -- the worst fear of 2003 has now been realized.

    2. No, there was never an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush
    administration never intended to leave -- and still doesn't: Critics of the
    war have regularly gone after the Bush administration for its lack of
    planning, including its lack of an "exit strategy." In this, they miss the
    point. The Bush administration arrived in Iraq with four mega-bases on the
    drawing boards. These were meant to undergird a future American garrisoning
    of that country and were to house at least 30,000 American troops, as well
    as U.S. air power, for the indefinite future. The term used for such places
    wasn't "permanent base," but the more charming and euphemistic "enduring
    camp." (In fact, as we learned recently, the Bush administration refuses to
    define any American base on foreign soil anywhere on the planet, including
    ones in Japan for over 60 years, as permanent.) Those four monster bases in
    Iraq (and many others) were soon being built at the cost of multibillions
    and are, even today, being significantly upgraded. In October 2007, for
    instance, National Public Radio's defense correspondent Guy Raz visited
    Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, which houses about 40,000 American troops,
    contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees, and described it as
    "one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures
    going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with
    an eye toward the next few decades."

    These mega-bases, like "Camp Cupcake" (al-Asad Air Base), nicknamed for its
    amenities, are small town-sized with massive facilities, including PXs,
    fast-food outlets, and the latest in communications. They have largely been
    ignored by the American media and so have played no part in the debate about
    Iraq in this country, but they are the most striking on-the-ground evidence
    of the plans of an administration that simply never expected to leave. To
    this day, despite the endless talk about drawdowns and withdrawals, that
    hasn't changed. In fact, the latest news about secret negotiations for a
    future Status of Forces Agreement on the American presence in that country
    indicates that U.S. officials are calling for "an open-ended military
    presence" and "no limits on numbers of U.S. forces, the weapons they are
    able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far
    beyond long-term U.S. security agreements with other countries."

    3. Yes, the United States is still occupying Iraq (just not particularly
    effectively): In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), then
    ruling the country, officially turned over "sovereignty" to an Iraqi
    government largely housed in the American-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad
    and the occupation officially ended. However, the day before the head of the
    CPA, L. Paul Bremer III, slipped out of the country without fanfare, he
    signed, among other degrees, Order 17, which became (and, remarkably enough,
    remains) the law of the land. It is still a document worth reading as it
    essentially granted to all occupying forces and allied private companies
    what, in the era of colonialism, used to be called "extraterritoriality" --
    the freedom not to be in any way subject to Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever.
    And so the occupation ended without ever actually ending. With 160,000
    troops still in Iraq, not to speak of an unknown number of hired guns and
    private security contractors, the U.S. continues to occupy the country,
    whatever the legalities might be (including a UN mandate and the claim that
    we are part of a "coalition"). The only catch is this: As of now, the U.S.
    is simply the most technologically sophisticated and potentially destructive
    of Iraq's proliferating militias -- and outside the fortified Green Zone in
    Baghdad, it is capable of controlling only the ground that its troops
    actually occupy at any moment.

    4. Yes, the war was about oil: Oil was hardly mentioned in the mainstream
    media or by the administration before the invasion was launched. The
    President, when he spoke of Iraq's vast petroleum reserves at all, piously
    referred to them as the sacred "patrimony of the people of Iraq." But an
    administration of former energy execs -- with a National Security Advisor
    who once sat on the board of Chevron and had a double-hulled oil tanker, the
    Condoleezza Rice, named after her (until she took office), and a Vice
    President who was especially aware of the globe's potentially limited energy
    supplies -- certainly had oil reserves and energy flows on the brain. They
    knew, in Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's apt phrase, that Iraq
    was afloat on "a sea of oil" and that it sat strategically in the midst of
    the oil heartlands of the planet.

    It wasn't a mistake that, in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney's semi-secret
    Energy Task Force set itself the "task" of opening up the energy sectors of
    various Middle Eastern countries to "foreign investment"; or that it
    scrutinized "a detailed map of Iraq's oil fields, together with the
    (non-American) oil companies scheduled to develop them"; or that, according
    to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, the National Security Council directed its
    staff "to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the
    'melding' of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: 'the review of
    operational policies towards rogue states,' such as Iraq, and 'actions
    regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields'"; or that the
    only American troops ordered to guard buildings in Iraq, after Baghdad fell,
    were sent to the Oil Ministry (and the Interior Ministry, which housed
    Saddam Hussein's dreaded secret police); or that the first "reconstruction"
    contract was issued to Cheney's former firm, Halliburton, for "emergency
    repairs" to those patrimonial oil fields. Once in charge in Baghdad, as
    sociologist Michael Schwartz has made clear, the administration immediately
    began guiding recalcitrant Iraqis toward denationalizing and opening up
    their oil industry, as well as bringing in the big boys.

    Though rampant insecurity has kept the Western oil giants on the sidelines,
    the American-shaped "Iraqi" oil law quickly became a "benchmark" of
    "progress" in Washington and remains a constant source of prodding and
    advice from American officials in Baghdad. Former Federal Reserve chief Alan
    Greenspan put the oil matter simply and straightforwardly in his memoir in
    2007: "I am saddened," he wrote, "that it is politically inconvenient to
    acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." In
    other words, in a variation on the old Bill Clinton campaign mantra: It's
    the oil, stupid. Greenspan was, unsurprisingly, roundly assaulted for the
    obvious naiveté of his statement, from which, when it proved inconvenient,
    he quickly retreated. But if this administration hadn't had oil on the brain
    in 2002-2003, given the importance of Iraq's reserves, Congress should have
    impeached the President and Vice President for that.

    5. No, our new embassy in Baghdad is not an "embassy": When, for more than
    three-quarters of a billion dollars, you construct a complex -- regularly
    described as "Vatican-sized" -- of at least 20 "blast-resistant" buildings
    on 104 acres of prime Baghdadi real estate, with "fortified working space"
    and a staff of at least 1,000 (plus several thousand guards, cooks, and
    general factotums), when you deeply embunker it, equip it with its own
    electricity and water systems, its own anti-missile defense system, its own
    PX, and its own indoor and outdoor basketball courts, volleyball court, and
    indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, among other things, you haven't built an
    "embassy" at all. What you've constructed in the heart of the heart of
    another country is more than a citadel, even if it falls short of a
    city-state. It is, at a minimum, a monument to Bush administration dreams of
    domination in Iraq and in what its adherents once liked to call "the Greater
    Middle East."

    Just about ready to open, after the normal construction mishaps in Iraq, it
    will constitute the living definition of diplomatic overkill. It will,
    according to a Senate estimate, now cost Americans $1.2 billion a year just
    to be "represented" in Iraq. The "embassy" is, in fact, the largest
    headquarters on the planet for the running of an occupation. Functionally,
    it is also another well-fortified enduring camp with the amenities of home.
    Tell that to the Shiite militiamen now mortaring the Green Zone as if it
    were. enemy-occupied territory.

    6. No, the Iraqi government is not a government: The government of Prime
    Minister Nouri al-Maliki has next to no presence in Iraq beyond the Green
    Zone; it delivers next to no services; it has next to no ability to spend
    its own oil money, reconstruct the country, or do much of anything else, and
    it most certainly does not hold a monopoly on the instruments of violence.
    It has no control over the provinces of northern Iraq which operate as a
    near-independent Kurdish state. Non-Kurdish Iraqi troops are not even
    allowed on its territory. Maliki's government cannot control the largely
    Sunni provinces of the country, where its officials are regularly termed
    "the Iranians" (a reference to the heavily Shiite government's closeness to
    neighboring Iran) and are considered the equivalent of representatives of a
    foreign occupying power; and it does not control the Shiite south, where
    power is fragmented among the militias of ISCI (the Badr Organization),
    Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and the armed adherents of the Fadila Party, a
    Sadrist offshoot, among others.

    In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been derisively nicknamed "the
    mayor of Kabul" for his government's lack of control over much territory
    outside the national capital. It would be a step forward for Maliki if he
    were nicknamed "the mayor of Baghdad." Right now, his troops, heavily backed
    by American forces, are fighting for some modest control over Shiite cities
    (or parts of cities) from Basra to Baghdad.

    7. No, the surge is not over: Two weeks ago, amid much hoopla, General David
    Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent two days before Congress
    discussing the President's surge strategy in Iraq and whether it has been a
    "success." But that surge -- the ground one in which an extra 30,000-plus
    American troops were siphoned into Baghdad and, to a lesser extent,
    adjoining provinces -- was by then already so over. In fact, all but about
    10,000 of those troops will be home by the end of July, not because the
    President has had any urge for a drawdown, but, as Fred Kaplan of Slate
    wrote recently, "because of simple math. The five extra combat brigades,
    which were deployed to Iraq with the surge, each have 15-month tours of
    duty; the 15 months will be up in July. and the U.S. Army and Marines have
    no combat brigades ready to replace them."

    On the other hand, in all those days of yak, neither the general with so
    much more "martial bling" on his chest than any victorious World War II
    commander, nor the white-haired ambassador uttered a word about the surge
    that is ongoing -- the air surge that began in mid-2007 and has yet to end.
    Explain it as you will, but, with rare exceptions, American reporters in
    Iraq generally don't look up or more of them would have noticed that the
    extra air units surged into that country and the region in the last year are
    now being brought to bear over Iraq's cities. Today, as fighting goes on in
    Sadr City, American helicopters and Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones
    reportedly circle overhead almost constantly and air strikes of various
    kinds on city neighborhoods are on the rise. Yet the air surge in Iraq
    remains unacknowledged here and so is not a subject for discussion, debate,
    or consideration when it comes to our future in Iraq.

    8. No, the Iraqi army will never "stand up": It can't. It's not a national
    army. It's not that Iraqis can't fight -- or fight bravely. Ask the Sunni
    insurgents. Ask the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr. It's not that
    Iraqis are incapable of functioning in a national army. In the bitter
    Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, Iraqi Shiite as well as Sunni conscripts, led by a
    largely Sunni officer corps, fought Iranian troops fiercely in battle after
    pitched battle. But from Fallujah in 2004 to today, Iraqi army (and police)
    units, wheeled into battle (often at the behest of the Americans), have
    regularly broken and run, or abandoned their posts, or gone over to the
    other side, or, at the very least, fought poorly. In the recent offensive
    launched by the Maliki government in Basra, military and police units up
    against a single resistant militia, the Mahdi Army, deserted in sizeable
    numbers, while other units, when not backed by the Americans, gave poor
    showings. At least 1,300 troops and police (including 37 senior police
    officers) were recently "fired" by Maliki for dereliction of duty, while two
    top commanders were removed as well.

    Though American training began in 2004 and, by 2005, the President was
    regularly talking about us "standing down" as soon as the Iraqi Army "stood
    up," as Charles Hanley of the Associated Press points out, "Year by year,
    the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed to
    always slip further into the future." He adds, "In the latest shift, the
    Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when
    local units will take over security responsibility for Iraq. Last year's
    reports had forecast a transition in 2008." According to Hanley, the chief
    American trainer of Iraqi forces, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, now estimates that
    the military will not be able to guard the country's borders effectively
    until 2018.

    No wonder. The "Iraqi military" is not in any real sense a national military
    at all. Its troops generally lack heavy weaponry, and it has neither a real
    air force nor a real navy. Its command structures are integrated into the
    command structure of the U.S. military, while the U.S. Air Force and the
    U.S. Navy are the real Iraqi air force and navy. It is reliant on the U.S.
    military for much of its logistics and resupply, even after an investment of
    $22 billion by the American taxpayer. It represents a non-government, is
    riddled with recruits from Shiite militias (especially the Badr brigades),
    and is riven about who its enemy is (or enemies are) and why. It cannot be a
    "national" army because it has, in essence, nothing to stand up for.

    You can count on one thing, as long as we are "training" and "advising" the
    Iraqi military, however many years down the line, you will read comments
    like this one from an American platoon sergeant, after an Iraqi front-line
    unit abandoned its positions in the ongoing battle for control of parts of
    Sadr City: "It bugs the hell out of me. We don't see any progress being made
    at all. We hear these guys in firefights. We know if we are not up there
    helping these guys out we are making very little progress."

    9. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and fragmentation: The
    U.S. invasion and the Bush administration's initial occupation policies
    decisively smashed Iraq's fragile "national" sense of self. Since then, the
    Bush administration, a motor for chaos and fragmentation, has destroyed the
    national (if dictatorial) government, allowed the capital and much of the
    country (as well as its true patrimony of ancient historical objects and
    sites) to be looted, disbanded the Iraqi military, and deconstructed the
    national economy. Ever since, whatever the administration rhetoric, the U.S.
    has only presided over the further fragmentation of the country. Its
    military, in fact, employs a specific policy of urban fragmentation in which
    it regularly builds enormous concrete walls around neighborhoods, supposedly
    for "security" and "reconstruction," that actually cut them off from their
    social and economic surroundings. And, of course, Iraq has in these years
    been fragmented in other staggering ways with an estimated four-plus million
    Iraqis driven into exile abroad or turned into internal refugees.

    According to Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, there are now at least 28
    different militias in the country. The longer the U.S. remains even somewhat
    in control, the greater the possibility of further fragmentation. Initially,
    the fragmentation was sectarian -- into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia regions,
    but each of those regions has its own potentially hostile parts and so its
    points of future conflict and further fragmentation. If the U.S. military
    spent the early years of its occupation fighting a Sunni insurgency in the
    name of a largely Shiite (and Kurdish) government, it is now fighting a
    Shiite militia, while paying and arming former Sunni insurgents, relabeled
    "Sons of Iraq." Iran is also clearly sending arms into a country that is, in
    any case, awash in weaponry. Without a real national government, Iraq has
    descended into a welter of militia-controlled neighborhoods, city states,
    and provincial or regional semi-governments. Despite all the talk of
    American-supported "reconciliation," Juan Cole described the present
    situation well at his Informed Comment blog: "Maybe the US in Iraq is not
    the little boy with his finger in the dike. Maybe we are workers with
    jackhammers instructed to make the hole in the dike much more huge."

    10. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and civil war: As with
    fragmentation, the U.S. military's presence has, in fact, been a motor for
    civil war in that country. The invasion and subsequent chaos, as well as
    punitive acts against the Sunni minority, allowed Sunni extremists, some of
    whom took the name "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia," to establish themselves as a
    force in the country for the first time. Later, U.S. military operations in
    both Sunni and Shiite areas regularly repressed local militias -- almost the
    only forces capable of bringing some semblance of security to urban
    neighborhoods -- opening the way for the most extreme members of the other
    community (Sunni suicide or car bombers and Shiite death squads) to attack.
    It's worth remembering that it was in the surge months of 2007, when all
    those extra American troops hit Baghdad neighborhoods, that many of the
    city's mixed or Sunni neighborhoods were most definitively "cleansed" by
    death squads, producing a 75-80% Shiite capital. Iraq is now embroiled in
    what Juan Cole has termed "three civil wars," two of which (in the south and
    the north) are largely beyond the reach of limited American ground forces
    and all of which could become far worse. The still low-level struggle
    between Kurds and Arabs (with the Turks hovering nearby) for the oil-rich
    city of Kirkuk in the north may be the true explosion point to come. The
    U.S. military sits precariously atop this mess, at best putting off to the
    future aspects of the present civil-war landscape, but more likely
    intensifying it.

    11. No, al-Qaeda will not control Iraq if we leave (and neither will Iran):
    The latest figures tell the story. Of 658 suicide bombings globally in 2007
    (more than double those of any year in the last quarter century), 542,
    according to the Washington Post's Robin Wright, took place in occupied Iraq
    or Afghanistan, mainly Iraq. In other words, the American occupation of that
    land has been a motor for acts of terrorism (as occupations will be). There
    was no al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia before the invasion and Iraq was no
    Afghanistan. The occupation under whatever name will continue to create
    "terrorists," no matter how many times the administration claims that
    "al-Qaeda" is on the run. With the departure of U.S. troops, it's clear that
    homegrown Sunni extremists (and the small number of foreign jihadis who work
    with them), already a minority of a minority, will more than meet their
    match in facing the Sunni mainstream. The Sunni Awakening Movement came into
    existence, in part, to deal with such self-destructive extremism (and its
    fantasies of a Taliban-style society) before the Americans even noticed that
    it was happening. When the Americans leave, "al-Qaeda" (and whatever other
    groups the Bush administration subsumes under that catch-all title) will
    undoubtedly lose much of their raison d'ĂȘtre or simply be crushed.

    As for Iran, the moment the Bush administration finally agreed to a popular
    democratic vote in occupied Iraq, it ensured one thing -- that the Shiite
    majority would take control, which in practice meant religio-political
    parties that, throughout the Saddam Hussein years, had generally been close
    to, or in exile in, Iran. Everything the Bush administration has done since
    has only ensured the growth of Iranian influence among Shiite groups. This
    is surely meant by the Iranians as, in part, a threat/trump card, should the
    Bush administration launch an attack on that country. After all, crucial
    U.S. resupply lines from Kuwait run through areas near Iran and would
    assumedly be relatively easy to disrupt.

    Without the U.S. military in Iraq, there can be no question that the
    Iranians would have real influence over the Shiite (and probably Kurdish)
    parts of the country. But that influence would have its distinct limits. If
    Iran overplayed its hand even in a rump Shiite Iraq, it would soon enough
    find itself facing some version of the situation that now confronts the
    Americans. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote in the Nation recently, "[D]espite
    Iran's enormous influence in Iraq, most Iraqis -- even most Iraqi Shiites --
    are not pro-Iran. On the contrary, underneath the ruling alliance in
    Baghdad, there is a fierce undercurrent of Arab nationalism in Iraq that
    opposes both the U.S. occupation and Iran's support for religious parties in
    Iraq." The al-Qaedan and Iranian "threats" are, at one and the same time,
    bogeymen used by the Bush administration to scare Americans who might favor
    withdrawal and, paradoxically, realities that a continued military presence
    only encourages.

    12. Yes, some Americans were right about Iraq from the beginning (and not
    the pundits either): One of the strangest aspects of the recent fifth
    anniversary (as of every other anniversary) of the invasion of Iraq was the
    newspaper print space reserved for those Bush administration officials and
    other war supporters who were dead wrong in 2002-2003 on an endless host of
    Iraq-related topics. Many of them were given ample opportunity to offer
    their views on past failures, the "success" of the surge, future withdrawals
    or drawdowns, and the responsibilities of a future U.S. president in Iraq.

    Noticeably missing were representatives of the group of Americans who
    happened to have been right from the get-go. In our country, of course, it
    often doesn't pay to be right. (It's seen as a sign of weakness or plain
    dumb luck.) I'm speaking, in this case, of the millions of people who poured
    into the streets to demonstrate against the coming invasion with an
    efflorescence of placards that said things too simpleminded (as endless
    pundits assured American news readers at the time) to take seriously -- like
    "No Blood for Oil," "Don't Trade Lives for Oil," or ""How did USA's oil get
    under Iraq's sand?" At the time, it seemed clear to most reporters,
    commentators, and op-ed writers that these sign-carriers represented a crew
    of well-meaning know-nothings and the fact that their collective fears
    proved all too prescient still can't save them from that conclusion. So, in
    their very rightness, they were largely forgotten.

    Now, as has been true for some time, a majority of Americans, another
    obvious bunch of know-nothings, are deluded enough to favor bringing all
    U.S. troops out of Iraq at a reasonable pace and relatively soon. (More than
    60% of them also believe "that the conflict is not integral to the success
    of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.") If, on the other hand, a poll were taken
    of pundits and the inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia (not to speak of the
    officials of the Bush administration), the number of them who would want a
    total withdrawal from Iraq (or even see that as a reasonable goal) would
    undoubtedly descend near the vanishing point. When it comes to American
    imperial interests, most of them know better, just as so many of them did
    before the war began. Even advisors to candidates who theoretically want out
    of Iraq are hinting that a full-scale withdrawal is hardly the proper way to

    So let me ask you a question (and you answer it): Given all of the above,
    given the record thus far, who is likely to be right?

    Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com, is the
    co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory
    Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been updated in a newly
    issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in

  • changeling

    Hi darlin!

    changeling :)

  • changeling

    War sucks!

  • yknot

    An oil brat here......

    It is all about money, and paybacks.

    Frankly if it were solely about oil.....we would be in Saudi Arabia.

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