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So What Next For Iraq

Iyad Allawi (pictured), Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the current prime minister Nuri al-Maliki have all come under severe criticism from the US Administration. Allawi, a former Baathist, was accused of corruption.
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Washington (UPI) Jan 22, 2007
Is the current morass in Iraq a reflection of the Bush administration's incompetence in dealing with the situation, or is Iraq in its current configuration simply ungovernable? Weakened by the war in Iraq and the loss of the Republican majority in Congress, President George W. Bush prepares to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday. Iraq, no doubt, will be a major component of his speech to the nation.

One thought the president might ponder as he spends part of Monday fine-tuning his address might have him asking why all three Iraqi prime ministers to have held office since the U.S. invasion -- all Shiites -- have had a difficult time dealing with the Bush administration.

The three who served as prime ministers -- Iyad Allawi, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the current prime minister Nuri al-Maliki -- all came under severer criticism from the U.S. Allawi, a former Baathist, was accused of corruption; Jaafari, who is from the DAWA party (as is Maliki) was feared to be too pro-Iranian and Maliki's latest spat with Bush comes after comments made by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Maliki's government may be living on borrowed time. Maliki retorted that it was the American government which was living on borrowed time.

Add to that list of disenchanted Shiite leaders the name of Ahmad Chalabi, once the darling child of the Bush administration. Chalabi played a major role in convincing the Bush administration to intervene in Iraq and overthrow Saddam.

Although Chalabi never became prime minister, in the initial stages of the war he carried much clout with the U.S. administration until the United States began suspecting him of having relations with Iran deemed a tad too close for comfort.

One might question if these ongoing problems are indeed a reflection of the Bush administration's incapacity in dealing with the complex situation that is Iraq today, or is Iraq in its current configuration simply impossible to manage. Or a combination of the two, perhaps?

"The Americans created a beast they cannot control anymore," said an observer with a Washington think tank who manages several projects in Iraq, and who asked not to be identified. "I'm not sure they (the Americans) have a say anymore.

"There seems to be a purge of the Sunni intelligencia that is taking place. There is an insurgency that is an equal opportunity killing. Killing Shiites for the sake of killing Shiites, but here is an actual targeted assassination to remove people of certain professional classes. It seems as though the machine has gotten out of control."

In its haste to get to Iraq the administration seems to have overlooked Iraq's turbulent history. The Bush administration considered Iraq as a single entity called Iraq, when in reality there are three very different Iraqs. Quite possibly four Iraqs.

There is the Iraq of the Kurds in the north, a region that has greatly prospered thanks to political and economic stability the Kurds have enjoyed since the end of the last Gulf war in 1991. The United States imposed a "no fly zone" over Kurdistan, banning Saddam's helicopters the air space over Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is oil-rich and the have been unable to extract the oil due to attacks and sabotage by guerrilla forces.

There is the Iraq of the Sunnis in the middle, who despite being a minority in the country, have for centuries been a dominant minority, ruling -- often with an iron hand -- the other communities. Since the Ottoman Turks took Baghdad from the Persians in 1535, then lost it to the Iranian Safavids in 1509 but managed to win it back in 1632, the Sunnis remained the dominant factor. The Ottomans rule over Iraq lasted until World War I when they sided with Germany and the Central Powers.

The Ottomans were forced out of Iraq by the British who lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. The exact number of casualties suffered by the Ottomans is unknown, but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918 the British had deployed 410,000 men into the area though only 112,000 of them were combat troops.

There are Assyrian, Chaldean and other Christian minorities Iraq, Christians struggling to survive amid an overwhelming Muslim majority. The Assyrians, one of the oldest communities in Iraq, speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

And then there is the Shiite Iraq -- the majority -- who comprise about 65 percent of the population, and sit on most of the country's oil reserves in the southern part of the country. For decades the Shiites were oppressed under Saddam, and for centuries before under the Ottoman Turks.

For three out of four centuries of Ottoman rule, the vilayets of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra were administered from Baghdad. The British, who took over the administration of Iraq after the departure of the Turks had to repeatedly put down rebellions by using armed force.

Yes, there existed a unified Iraq prior to Saddam but it was constantly liable to coups and counter coups. There existed a unified Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but at what cost? Saddam massacred tens of thousands of people, especially among the Kurds and the Shiites.

And the Ottoman Turks also imposed a pax Ottomana, not hesitating to deploy force whenever needed.

Much like the Ottomans and the Brits before him, Bush had to send in more men. Since the surge of additional troops began, so too has a new offensives by the insurgency. As of last Saturday 25 American troops were killed in Iraq, making it one of the bloodiest day for U.S. forces since the war began almost four years ago.

As President Bush takes the lectern on Capitol Hill Tuesday night the war in Iraq remains clearly his main preoccupation, as it does for 34 percent of Americans, according to a new Zogby poll.

earlier related report
Dont Ignite The Shiites
by M.D. Nalapat
UPI Outside View Commentator Delhi (UPI) Jan 22 - The origins of al-Qaida can be traced to the decision taken by the British sometime in 1911 to back the raggedy assembly of Bedouins led by the al-Saud clan against the Turks. The add-on to this was the support it gave to Wahabism, a creed that had originated two centuries before, and which sought to smother the Muslim faith in its primitive desert beliefs and practices.

In 1932, London served as midwife to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a Wahabi outpost in a sea of moderate Sufi peoples, and has backed it ever since, being joined by the United States soon after World War II. If then the reason for this support was Turkey, from the 1960s till 1979 it was Arab nationalism, exemplified first by Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and by the secular if thuggish Baath regimes in Syria and Iraq.

That year, Moscow made the mistake of invading Afghanistan, and then-CIA Director William Casey, followed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, accepted the Saudi suggestion that they use Pashtun Wahabis trained in Pakistan to drive out the Soviets, rather than the far more numerous Pashtun nationalists. Of course the nationalists loathed Pakistan, while the Wahabis were dependent on that state's jihadi army.

Although the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States made obvious the consequences of this strategy of using the devil to kill a snake, the influence of the Saudi establishment has sufficed to ensure that the world's pre-eminent power, the United States, continues to pursue a policy related less to Western security interests than to the needs of the al-Sauds. In brief, Washington is the primary buttress behind the Saudi effort to retain its grip over a great faith and its billion-plus adherents.

If U.S. forces are gasping for breath in Iraq, it is in large part due to the deliberate decision of previous U.S. administrations to see Arab nationalism as a threat to Western primacy, whereas in fact, the principal target of this ideology is what may be called the "Wahabi International." In Iraq, the skeletal clusters of al-Qaida are able to operate on the present scale only through their opportunistic alliance with Iraqi nationalists, most of whom loathed Saddam Hussein for his clannish and cruel rule, even as circumstances forced them to join the Baath Party.

Today, however, U.S. policy in the Middle East is in danger of igniting a threat that in its future effects could dwarf that posed by Wahabi terrorism. This is the Shiites. Unlike Sunnis and even Wahabis, who need to be nudged toward "martyrdom," believing Shiites would need far less motivation to persuade them to put on human bomb jackets. The war on terror would face a new front, and the modern Napoleons in the White House their Moscow winter.

Conspiracy theorists among the Shiites believe that it is Saudi links with the Bush family and well-connected others that are fuelling what is unmistakably a U.S. policy that places Saudi Wahabi interests above those of the West.

For example, U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has been unrelenting in demanding of the Shiites in the south that they agree to give a "fair" proportion of Iraq's oil revenue to the Sunni regions in the center and west. However, as yet, no Bushman has demanded of the Saudis that they transfer any share of the wealth created by oil flowing overwhelmingly from the Shiite-populated regions in the east and south of that country ruled by an absolutist monarchy.

And if Washington is concerned about the marginalization of the Shiites even in countries such as Bahrain, where they form the bulk of the population, that is yet to be communicated, even as the Khalilzads bully the Shiites into giving a disproportionate share of power to the Sunni, especially that faction owing allegiance to the Wahabi faith.

Unless George Bush shows as much concern for the Shiites in countries where they are disenfranchised and discriminated against, their anger against the country he leads will grow to levels that could tip them toward a Wahabi-style jihad against the West, an outcome that would spell catastrophe for the globe.

In order to retrieve the situation, policymakers in Washington and elsewhere need to act on the evidence that the primary threat to their interests comes from Wahabism, and that the sheet-anchor of this retrogressive faith is the Saudi royal family. Rather than pull away from the promotion of democracy in the Middle East, George Bush needs to expand his vision to cover the country where his family has such substantial business experience -- Saudi Arabia -- and work toward giving the Shiites and other non-Wahabis in that country the same rights that he is demanding from the al-Maliki regime for Iraqi Sunnis.

Ultimately, it is not the West that is the foe of the Shiites, but the Wahabi, and it is to that direction, not toward the West, that the attention of this long-persecuted people needs to turn.

But that can happen only in a context in which (a) the Wahabis are isolated, together with the Khomeinists and (b) the United States follows an even-handed policy between the Shiites and the Sunni, not just in Iraq but in the region.

The present borders of the countries there reflect only the perceptions of France and Britain in the early part of the last century as to what their interests were. By seeking to preserve the poisonous legacy of their 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, President George W. Bush may leave for his successors a foe even more lethal than that left by Casey and Brzezinski to their successors.

The Shiites have, in Mao Zedong's words, "stood up." It is time to show that the West is their ally and not part of the ongoing Wahabi campaign to batter them back into submission.

(Comments may be sent to

(Professor M.D. Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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