The ‘Coup’ That Wasn’t

by , December 23, 2008

If anything underscores the tragic absurdity of the armed effort to "export democracy," it’s the comic opera that played out the other day in Baghdad. I realize that’s an ambiguous statement, because there’s lots to choose from in that arena, but, no, I don’t mean our hapless president’s encounter with a shoe-throwing Iraqi reporter. On a much deeper and more substantive level, the news of the recent coup attempt – or was it a political setup? – illustrates the tragedy and futility of the Iraq war. Last week’s announcement that 24 officers of the Iraqi army – the army that we have spent billions recruiting, arming, and training – had been arrested on charges of planning a coup were supposedly buttressed by allegations that the detainees had links to al-Awda ("the Return"), a shadowy guerrilla group that seeks to reconstitute the old Ba’ath Party apparatus.

This, at least, was the initial announcement, made by a government spokesman, but then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki got into the act, denying that there had been a coup attempt and praising the still-jailed senior officers – including top Interior Ministry officials, senior level military personnel, including a general or two, and a couple of high-ranking traffic cops – as having "a patriotic spirit." Why they were arrested, exactly, and under what charges is becoming increasingly murky: what isn’t in dispute, however, is that they were detained by a military unit under the personal control of none other than… Maliki, the very one who hails them as "patriots." Is that why, as of Sunday, some of them were still in jail? Well then, where else would one expect to find Iraqi patriots, these days, except in an Iraq jail or in exile? Just ask Muntadar al-Zeidi.

What kind of a "democracy" is it where high-ranking military officials are routinely arrested, without any credible explanation? The kind that over 4,000 Americans have given their lives for.

In the meantime, relatives and fans of the shoe-throwing journalist, who has become a national hero, have staged a sit-in in a park adjacent to the Green Zone, and their numbers are growing. Army tanks and helicopters surrounded the 400 protesters and demanded they disband, but authorities were apparently persuaded that Iraq didn’t need its own Tiananmen Square massacre, so the protest continues. Indeed, al-Zeidi has become a unifying figure for an Iraq split along a deep sectarian divide, with Sunnis from Samarra reportedly joining the predominantly Shi’ite supporters of the shoe-thrower. At last report, the two groups were sitting side by side eating lamb and vegetables, with the soldiers guarding them joining in.

Could this be the start of something big for Iraq? Possibly so – that is, if the now famous al-Zeidi doesn’t meet up with an unfortunate "accident" in jail. He is said to have offered the prime minister an apology and begged for mercy, although his relatives hotly deny this. However, it seems to me that if he has anything to apologize about, it’s for failing to hit his target despite two well-aimed tries.

The crew that brought us this war and the subsequent occupation deserve to go down in history as far worse than mere incompetents: we hear much about how the top Bush administration officials who ordered subordinates to engage in torture, up to and including the president and vice president, have to be brought to justice, and that’s all well and good. But what about the pack of lies they told us to justify a war that is nothing short of the worst strategic disaster in American military history? Why don’t they begin investigating who lied, who forged "evidence" of Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction," and who deliberately did an end run around the mainstream intelligence agencies and fabricated an elaborate mythology, none of which turned out to be based on anything other than the imaginative powers of Ahmed Chalabi and his neocon enablers in the Pentagon?

These hearings are long overdue, but I doubt they’ll ever be held, for a number of reasons. One, this war resulted from bipartisan complicity in a campaign to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people. Democrats, as much as congressional Republicans and the Bush administration, engaged in a cooperative effort to unleash the dogs of war. Not only that, but it was the Clinton administration, you’ll remember, that originated and pushed for passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, which formally set the process in motion and sent us down the road to war.

Second, the Obama administration is scheduled to launch a "surge" of its own, in Afghanistan, which will very likely spill over into neighboring Pakistan. Hearings debunking the rationale for the last war are bound to reflect unfavorably on the current war effort, and thus will likely be scotched before they can even be proposed.

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