Blowback in Iraq
In an eye-opening interview with Aaron Glantz, a Pacifica Radio reporter and author of How America Lost Iraq, Iraqi Minister of Civil Affairs Ala’a al-Safi echoes the demand that many in Congress, and certainly those of us who opposed this war from the beginning, have been advancing for quite some time:
“Now we are asking for the Americans to draw a timeline of leaving Iraq, and we will make it a priority too, if they force us to make a bad relationship with our neighbors.”
What is striking about this interview, which appeared exclusively on Antiwar.com, is how quickly a government installed by American force of arms is turning against its creators. Not that we are literally its creators, since it was the Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq’s Shi’ite spiritual leader, who forced the occupation authorities to abandon plans to install U.S. sock puppets, led by Ahmed Chalabi, at the helm. It was Sistani who demanded real elections, which carried the largely Shi’ite United Iraqi Alliance slate to an overwhelming victory.
Usually, it takes more than a few years for the consequences of our foreign policy to blow back in our faces – as in Afghanistan, where our errors percolated for a good decade before they finally mutated into what we now know as al-Qaeda, and yesterday were calling the Afghan “freedom fighters.” By invading Iraq and shattering the Sunni monopoly on state power, we unleashed forces we can neither control nor, in good conscience, support.
In this case, however, they are turning on us quickly, and with a vengeance. We are seeing the sort of instant “blowback” we seem to be experiencing all too frequently of late, as in the London bombings, where Western hubris immediately boomerangs into some disastrous event. Dwarfing even our apparent inability to defeat the burgeoning insurgency, America’s biggest failure is “liberated” Iraq’s growing ties with the government of Iran. This is a policy boomerang of epic proportions.
The debacle is underscored by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari‘s recent trip to Iran, where he laid a wreath at the tomb of the Ayatollah Khomeini, concluded an economic cooperation pact that links up Iraq’s oil fields with Iranian refining facilities, and made noises about a future security pact that has American policymakers plenty worried.
Not that this turn of events was entirely unexpected. When the Iranian foreign minister made a trip to Baghdad in May, he met with the Ayatollah Sistani – a courtesy the spiritual leader and de facto ruler of the country hasn’t once extended to the American occupiers. The week before Jaafari’s arrival, Iraq’s new defense minister, Saadoun Dulaimi, showed up in Tehran for preliminary talks aimed not only at securing the porous Iraqi-Iranian border, over which militants of one sort or another pass frequently, but to explore the possibility of Iranian military assistance in bringing Iraq’s nascent security forces up to par. As Juan Cole put it:
“One can only imagine that Washington went ballistic and applied enormous pressure on Jaafari to back off this plan. The Iraqi government abandoned it, on the grounds that an international agreement had already specified that out-of-country training of Iraqi troops in the region should be done in Jordan. But the Iraqi government did give Tehran assurances that they would not allow Iraqi territory to be used in any attack on Iran – presumably a reference to the United States.”
Jaafari’s return to Tehran – he spent the 1980s there, as an exile leader subsidized and supported by Iran’s mullahs – symbolizes the future of the region, which we have delivered into the hands of the Shi’ite theocracy. Khomeini’s heirs are the real victors in this war, and Jaafari’s visit was a formal acknowledgement of the new strategic reality – a disaster of our own making.
The biggest winner of Iraq’s elections, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was personally created by Khomeini when he demanded that the Iraqi Shi’ite exiles unite in a single organization. Jaafari’s party, Da’wa, is a nominally independent offshoot of the SCIRI. As Jaafari laid a wreath of flowers at the old tyrant’s grave, the Tehran Times reported,
“He called the late Imam Khomeini the key to the victory of the Islamic Revolution, adding, ‘We hope to eliminate the dark pages Saddam caused in Iran-Iraq ties and open a new chapter in brotherly ties between the two nations.’”
The real power relations in occupied Iraq are just beginning to manifest themselves: we may have 130,000 or so troops in the country, but Iran has the political and religious allegiance of the Shi’ite leadership and the weight of the Shi’te majority behind them.
Politically, the influence of revolutionary Khomeini-ism is being felt in the struggle over the Iraqi constitution, which must be submitted in August in order for a referendum to be held, along with new elections for the National Assembly, at the end of this year. We keep getting different versions of that document [.pdf]: no sooner had I analyzed the Khomeini-ite text and spirit of one proposed version when another version came out, somewhat toned down but essentially the same, explicitly based on Islamic law and putting the entire realm of personal legislation – the social issues, such as the role and legal status of women – under the authority of Islamic courts composed of Shi’ite legal scholars. In addition, freedom of speech and of the press are conditioned on the “ethics” of such expression, and may be regulated in accordance with “the law.” The Shi’ite majority in the National Assembly is pushing hard to make Iraq’s status as an “Islamic Republic” official by enshrining sharia law in the constitution – with secular forces, led by the Kurds, pushing back.
The Americans have no right to complain. In April 2003, I wrote in this space:
“In view of Iran’s growing sphere of influence in Iraq, it seems rather disingenuous to destroy the Sunni minority government run by the Ba’ath Party and then deny any responsibility for the Shi’ite-y outcome. The U.S. has made a gift of Iraq to Tehran, reigniting the religious passions that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran and propelled Khomeini to power.”
The month before, I ventured that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and its growing sphere of influence made it
“Ha’aretz informs us that the Israelis are already eagerly anticipating our next move, lobbying for an escalation of what is fast turning into a civilizational war on Islam:
“‘After the war in Iraq [writes Ha'aretz], Israel will try to convince the U.S. to direct its war on terror at Iran, Damascus and Beirut. Senior defense establishment officials say that initial contacts in this direction have already been made in recent months, and that there is a good chance that America will be swayed by the Israeli argument.’”
Now the rest of the world seems to be catching up with this analysis. Writing in Corriere della Sera, Franco Venturini avers:
“We can thus discern two possible and contrasting outcomes for the game that has just started. The positive scenario sees Iran concluding an agreement with European negotiators on the exclusively civilian use of nuclear energy, and encouraging the recovery of the Sunnis by Iraqi Shi’ites, thus pulling the carpet from under the feet of local terrorists and facilitating the exit strategies of foreign forces. In the negative scenario, there will be no nuclear agreement, and the confrontation between Tehran on the one hand and Europeans and Americans on the other will intensify. In Iraq, it will be easier to stoke the fires of a creeping civil war that is already being waged, and could lead to the break-up of the country.”
The creation of a Shi’ite mega-state in the heart of the Middle East has the entire region boiling over with religious and nationalistic antagonism, making it not only the seedbed of a worldwide Islamic insurgency directed against the U.S. but also the launching pad of a new global war, what the neocons call “World War IV.” The triumph of revolutionary Shi’ism in Iraq was entirely predictable, so much so that one can only ask if the creation of a new “Islamic Republic” by U.S. force of arms wasn’t deliberate, rather than the outcome of sheer incompetence and ignorance. Could the aim be to provoke a worldwide Shi’ite-Sunni civil war within Islam, so as to take the pressure off the West and Israel?
Surely our leaders aren’t that crazy – are they?
That’s one question my inquiring mind would rather not know the answer to. However, the Defense Intelligence Agency has already drawn a similar conclusion, as Newsday reports:
“Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.”
“‘Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein,’ said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency’s conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.
“The Information Collection Program also ‘kept the Iranians informed about what we were doing’ by passing classified U.S. documents and other sensitive information, he said. The program has received millions of dollars from the U.S. government over several years.
“An administration official confirmed that ‘highly classified information had been provided [to the Iranians] through that channel.’”
The article goes on to cite Patrick Lang, former director of the DIA’s Middle East desk, who “said he had been told by colleagues in the intelligence community that Chalabi’s U.S.-funded program to provide information about weapons of mass destruction and insurgents was effectively an Iranian intelligence operation”:
“‘They [the Iranians] knew exactly what we were up to,’ he said. He described it as ‘one of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history.’ ‘I’m a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work,’ he said.”
The Iranians didn’t do it all by their lonesome selves, however: they had to have help inside the U.S. government. It wasn’t just Chalabi, acting in tandem with Tehran, who lied us into war: his fellow liars, otherwise known as the neoconservatives, channeled disinformation to the White House, the Congress, and the American people, in an all-out campaign of deception waged on several fronts at once.
The War Party that dominates this administration is pursuing a course of “regime change” in the Middle East, part and parcel of what neoconservative guru Michael Ledeen calls a policy of “creative destruction” – essentially a plan to level, and remake, the entire region. Such a strategery would entail precisely the kind of “blowback” we are currently experiencing, at an ever-accelerated pace. A global reign of terror, state-sponsored as well as freelance, would be unleashed. Muslim communities everywhere would become the battlegrounds of an increasingly vicious internecine struggle, pitting both sides against the West as well as against each other. The London bombings, and those in Egypt, are only the beginning: by the end of it, most of the Middle East and even some parts of the West may lie in ruins. The War Party will be in the saddle, sweeping away all blame for having lied us into war in Iraq by generating a tidal wave of fear and jingoistic hysteria, wiping out what’s left of our civil liberties with a spate of “emergency” measures that won’t be repealed for a generation, if ever.
A bleak picture – yes. However, this scenario is still avoidable if we act now. We must get out of Iraq, and out of the Middle East, totally and without the least amount of hesitation. Unless we want to get caught up in the coming conflagration, we have no choice but to get out of the way. Do we really want to get sucked into a conflict with Iran and unite the Muslim world against us? We will not benefit one iota from such a mad policy. Instead, we will come to regret it just as surely as the majority of Americans now regret invading Iraq in the first place. This is no time for half-measures: it’s out now, or we’re out of luck.
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