The recent increase in fighting around Basra, which is rapidly spreading to Baghdad, has the punditariat in a lather. Their sacred Surge has turned into a mere splurge of resources, lives, and misplaced hope. Well, I could have told you that, and, indeed, I did. But never mind the chattering classes, their delusions of American omnipotence, and my own unfortunate penchant for self-congratulation. What’s really fascinating about this story is how it underscores the central mystery of our Iraq war policy: why in the name of all that’s holy are we supporting the pro-Iranian parties and factions in the Iraqi government, whilst Our Glorious Leader is coupling Tehran and al-Qaeda as “twin” evils to be fought and defeated in Iraq?
We have placed our chips on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose party, Da’wa (Islamic Call), in alliance with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), now known as ISCI, was one of the few Iraqi resistance groups to refuse all U.S. aid in the run-up to the invasion, and wasn’t all that cooperative as the occupation regime was established. Together with their partners in government, the Da’wa Party, SCIRI/ISCI took refuge in Iran during the Ba’athist era and received military aid and training from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The extension of Iranian influence into Iraq was a direct consequence of the Iraq war, and the recent visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Baghdad has underscored this and provided plenty of grist for those who are pointing at the so-called Shia Crescent with alarm.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. The original plan of the neocons was to install Ahmed Chalabi, their own personal Iraqi puppet, but that soon fell through and Chalabi, it turned out, had strong links to Iranian intelligence agencies. Accused of divulging American secrets to Tehran, Chalabi had his Iraq headquarters raided by Iraqi and U.S. personnel. Unfortunately, the horse was already out of the barn.
In any case, what the neocons who knew (and know) nothing about Iraq or the Middle East didn’t anticipate was the awakening of the Shi’ite giant, whose rising took the form of Iranian-born Shi’ite religious leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shi’ite version of the pope. It was he who scuttled the neocon-devised “caucus” system, which would have convoked assemblies of handpicked U.S. stooges in the provinces, who would, in turn have elected a national constituent assembly, with the result easily manipulated by Washington’s expert ventriloquists. Sistani called his followers out into the streets, and that’s when things really started to veer out of Washington’s control.
When Chalabi’s shenanigans were exposed to the light of day, and his extensive interactions with the Iranians were revealed, a theory was floated by several in the intelligence community that we were basically suckered into the Iraq war by its chief beneficiaries, the Iranians. Using their chief asset, the double agent Chalabi, they and their neocon allies fed us ersatz “intelligence” via the various Iraqi “defectors” rounded up by the Iraqi National Congress and paraded across the front page of the New York Times by Judith Miller and her editors.
“One of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history” is how one intelligence officer described the run-up to the invasion of Iraq to a Newsday reporter. Looked at this way, U.S. policy in Iraq begins to make a kind of twisted, Bizarro World sense.
From the very beginning, U.S. policymakers were determined to go after militant Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the son of a prominent cleric, whose Mahdi Army is the only significant indigenous opposition to the pro-Iranian militias and the Tehran-influenced central government. Sadr is critical of both the U.S. and the Iranians, and, as such, represents a direct threat to the occupation and the Iraqi status quo. U.S. efforts to paint the Sadrists as tools of Tehran backfired for lack of evidence, and are, in any case, counterintuitive as Sadr is an ardent Iraqi nationalist who decries the country’s breakup and opposes all foreign influence.
The consolidation of a strong Iraqi state is the last thing the Americans want, for that would threaten their occupation and lead to their swift exit from the country. It is also in the Iranian interest to keep Iraq divided and stop the nationalist Sadr and his brutal militia from taking power in Baghdad. And, as Robert Parry points out, another factor played a key role in tricking us into war:
“Israeli governments have long made a high priority out of forging alliances with countries like Iran on the periphery of the Arab world to divert Arab antipathy that otherwise could be concentrated on Israel. Plus, Israel and Iran had an important enemy in common: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Both Israel and Iran had a lot to gain by convincing the United States to remove their hated adversary.”
As Parry notes and professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt showed in their trailblazing book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy the neoconservatives, strategically positioned inside the national security bureaucracy, and the Lobby pushed this agenda, touted Chalabi, and relentlessly campaigned for war with Iraq. Parry’s review of the long-standing ties between the Israelis and the Iranians is quite educational, and it explains a lot about what is happening in Iraq today and, perhaps, what will happen tomorrow.
I think I pretty much summed up here the scenario that is now unfolding:
“I have to laugh when I hear criticisms from the Democrats and the growing number of antiwar Republicans in Congress who complain that we don’t belong in Iraq any longer because, you know, it’s a civil war. This is largely seen as an unintended consequence of the American invasion but what if it was intended?
“It would, after all, make perfect Bizarro ‘sense.’ If, instead of trying to build a stable, democratic Iraq, you’re trying to wreak as much destruction as possible and turn Arab against Arab, Muslim against Muslim, and the Kurds against everyone else, then the invasion and occupation of Iraq was the right thing to do.”
That was last May, when the Surge was being hailed as the solution to all our problems in Iraq, and it’s little wonder that this strategy is now being pronounced a failure. What you have to understand, dear reader, is that, in the Bizarro World alternate universe we seemed to have slipped into, failure is success.
“Another such victory over the Romans, and we are undone.”
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I‘ll be speaking in Rockport, Maine, on Monday April 21 (a Monday), at the monthly luncheon of the Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations, at Chez Marcel restaurant in the Samoset Resort. The program lasts from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., including a brief soiree for socializing, my talk “The Middle East: Turning the Page on U.S. Foreign Policy” a question-and-answer session, and luncheon. Call 207-236-8288 for more information.
I’ve been blogging up a storm over at the new, completely revamped Taki’s Magazine, where I say all the naughty things they won’t let me get away with at Antiwar.com. At any rate, go check out this one, in particular. I’m having major fun with the graphics.