With the American raid on the Mustafa mosque, the occupation of Iraq is rapidly reaching a point at which it is no longer tenable: as the Shi’ite giant awakens, the country is about to become a battleground in a much larger war, one that will envelop much of the Middle East.
The raid has provoked outrage, not from our ostensible enemies the Sunni-led insurgency, al-Qaeda, and the rest but from our supposed allies, the elected government whose installation was hailed by George W. Bush only a few months ago as the epitome of his much-touted "global democratic revolution." Abd al-Karim al-Enzi, the security minister, gave this account:
“At evening prayers, American soldiers accompanied by Iraqi troops raided the Mustafa mosque and killed 37 people. They [the victims] were unarmed. They went in, tied up the people, and shot them all. They did not leave any wounded.”
“Entering the mosque and killing worshippers was a horrible violation. Innocent people inside offering prayer at sunset were killed.”
The governor of Baghdad, Hussein Tahan, announced:
“The Baghdad provincial council has decided to stop dealings in regards to services and politics with the coalition forces because of the cowardly attack on the mosque."
While all these officials belong to various Shi’ite parties Da’wa, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), etc. they are united in their outrage at the American aggression and wanton murder on a holy site. Iraqi state television ran shocking footage of the bodies piled on the ground and described the scene as a massacre: only later did they give an American official airtime to dismiss the charges as just "rumors."
There is, naturally enough, much dispute as to what actually happened: the Americans say they were fired upon first, and that the mosque was a base used by the Shi’ite militia to store weapons and hold hostages, while the Iraqis say the murdered were unarmed and simply praying. The Americans are now claiming the Iraqis "staged" the massacre and moved the bodies to make it look like unarmed worshippers were set upon and wantonly killed.
Whatever the truth of the matter, this much is clear: the Americans have crossed the Rubicon, and are in for a head-on collision with the Shi’ite majority, the very forces their invasion and occupation have brought to power. The volatility of this incident is ramped up by its context: a looming political confrontation between U.S. officials and the Shi’ite Alliance, which has a majority in the newly elected parliament. The Americans are not too keen on having the Da’wa Party’s Ibrahim Jaafari installed as prime minister, and have been bringing pressure on the coalition to find someone else. But the Shi’ites must have been listening to President Bush’s many speeches about the wonders of capital-D Democracy, because they have insisted on keeping Jaafari, and, what’s more, have defied the Americans’ preference for a decentralized political structure, much to the chagrin of the Kurds.
The Americans, it seems, are turning on their one-time allies and launching a two-front war against both the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. This seems like a military strategy straight out of the Bizarro World version of Clausewitz. It makes no sense unless, that is, the Americans are planning on extending the war into Iran.
They have certainly set the stage, on the diplomatic front, with a full-scale assault on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in the UN. On the political front, they are accusing the Iranians of interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs an odd charge, coming from the overseers of a military occupation and of sending arms to their Iraqi proxies.
The big problem for the Americans, however, is that these proxies constitute the elected government of Iraq, which was supposed to be a model for the entire region to follow. Did American soldiers fight and die to say nothing of the tens of thousands of dead Iraqis so that we could declare Iraq’s fledgling democracy a spoke in the Axis of Evil?
This policy pivot will prove bewildering to the American people, who have been told that our big enemy in Iraq is Zarqawi and al-Qaeda, but only for a little while. The situation will clarify itself as the new enemy Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes the place of the old Ba’athist bogeyman, embodied by Saddam Hussein. Now that Saddam is safely stowed away in a prison cell awaiting rough justice, and his alleged "weapons of mass destruction" have dissolved like desert mirages, we’ll be served up images of the mad mullahs of Tehran wielding nukes. That these nukes which are 10 years away, in any event will be aimed at Tel Aviv, and not Toledo, matters little, at least to American policymakers. As John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt point out in a pathbreaking paper [.pdf] published by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, our governing classes consistently favor the former while ignoring the clear interests of the latter.
The battle will not be joined all at once, however: don’t expect a full-scale frontal assault on Iran any time soon. The struggle will break out between Iranian proxies the Shi’ite party militias, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iranian-backed factions based in Syria and the U.S. and its allies in the region, including not only the Israelis but also the Kurds and the Christian Lebanese factions.
Eric Haney, a founding member of Delta Force, the U.S. military’s elite covert counter-terrorist unit, and author of Inside Delta Force, succinctly summed up where we are in a recent interview. Asked his assessment of the war in Iraq, he averred:
"Utter debacle. But it had to be from the very first. The reasons were wrong. The reasons of this administration for taking this nation to war were not what they stated. [Army Gen.] Tommy Franks was brow-beaten and pursued warfare that he knew strategically was wrong in the long term. That’s why he retired immediately afterward. His own staff could tell him what was going to happen afterward. We have fomented civil war in Iraq. We have probably fomented internecine war in the Muslim world between the Shias and the Sunnis, and I think Bush may well have started the third world war, all for their own personal policies."
The great mystery of how and why we got ourselves bogged down in this quagmire is going to provide scholars, and quite possibly the law enforcement community, with enough to do for quite some time. There are two ways to look at this question: if we accept the official version, then our invasion of Iraq based on the "certainty" that Saddam possessed WMD, and otherwise represented a direct threat to us and to his neighbors, was the consequence of a massive failure in our intelligence-gathering and evaluation procedures. And of course we couldn’t have known that the invasion, conquest, and military occupation of the country would spark a persistent guerrilla resistance could we? After all, it’s not like anybody in the top echelons of military intelligence and policymaking circles knows any history, and as for having common sense well, let’s not go there.
The other, unofficial, version and the one I wholeheartedly endorse is this: the U.S. knew perfectly well what it was doing when it charged into Iraq, guns blazing. They knew the Sunnis and Shi’ites would soon be at each other’s throats, they anticipated the insurgency and the depth of Iranian influence in post-war Iraq, and their attitude toward all this was expressed by none other than the president, albeit inadvertently, when he infamously bellowed: "Bring it on!"
Well, now it has been brought on, and in spades and that’s just what the neoconservatives in the administration were hoping for. Phase two of their war to "liberate" the Middle East is about to begin and it promises to be far bloodier, and to encompass a much bigger battlefield, than the initial stage of what Haney calls the third world war.
Actually, the proponents of launching this twilight struggle call it "World War IV," as Norman Podhoretz and his fellow neocons would have it. World War III was the Cold War, which they wanted to turn hot, and the fourth, they hope, will be a "war of civilizations" which, in their view, is already in progress.
Whether that is just wishful thinking on their part, or a horrific reality, we will see in the next few months. As American forces begin to take on the Shi’ites in Iraq, and Iran is drawn into the conflict, this new turn as I predicted here, and quite a while ago here could not be more ominous. If you thought the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a major military production, with more shock and awe than anyone was prepared to withstand, then wait until you get a gander at what’s coming next. All I can say is: fasten your seat belts, because it’s going to be a very bumpy ride.