Now we will have the bizarre spectacle of the US joining Iran in strengthening the Al Maliki regime against the ISIS threat, while trying to bring down Iran’s Syrian ally, President Bashar Al Assad, a goal Washington shares with ISIS
June 19, 2014
The pharaoh is having the last laugh. I mean Hosni Mubarak, the disgraced former president of Egypt. He has a lot to laugh about. Nominally in detention, he actually now lives in comfortable retirement in a military hospital, well looked after by the many field marshals and generals whom he promoted and patronised over three decades and who now control Egypt. And those who brought about his downfall languish in jail, Islamist and secular alike.
And then there is the issue of Iraq too. When President George Bush was bracing to invade Iraq, Mubarak had publicly warned against it, saying that if Iraq was invaded, “all hell will break loose”. And then he had warned against an early US withdrawal as well. Well, the old man, whom many called ‘the pharaoh’, was right. Yours truly was among those who were wrong on this issue, but of that at another time. Mubarak had opposed the invasion not out of sympathy for the people of Iraq or Saddam Hussein, nor even as a friend of the US but, knowing the country well, he feared for the long-term consequences of a western invasion.
All hell has indeed broken loose in Iraq. What is happening in Iraq now is closer to fiction than fact. The al Qaeda offshoot, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which seeks to create an Islamic caliphate straddling both Iraq and Syria, has suddenly gained a large swathe of territory north of Baghdad with a speed that matches, even surpasses, the sweep of the US army against Saddam’s vaunted army. The Iraqi government forces, 270,000-strong, equipped by the US with over 300 tanks, close to 4,000 Armored Fighting Vehicles, 49 Self-Propelled Guns, Blackhawk helicopters and much more, could not stop a ragtag force of a couple of thousand jihadis with black banners from seizing Mosul, the second largest city. Thirty thousand Iraqi troops fled the city leaving behind large stockpiles of arms, some shedding their uniforms as they ran!
What the hell is going on? For a start, ISIS is an inspired, fearless and battle-hardened military force. Its fighters are operating in Sunni territory, whose inhabitants view them as liberators, in spite of their extremism and religious fanaticism, because Sunnis have been effectively disenfranchised by the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.
Recall that the senior-most Sunni member of the Iraqi government, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, fled from Baghdad in 2012 after being accused of murder. He was later sentenced to death in absentia. Maliki is now in the ninth year of his unfolding ‘reign’ and looks poised for many more.
The Iraqi army is a force divided against itself. The Shia personnel (mostly from the south) based in Sunni areas feel isolated and threatened while the Sunni ones feel alienated from the government. The invasion of Iraq must rank as the most stupid military adventure that any major power has launched anywhere in modern history. Quite apart from the fact that it was based on a fib — that of Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction — it has had the result of turning the US’s enemy’s enemy into its enemy’s friend (turning Iraq, a long-time enemy and counterweight to Iran, into its ally). It also transformed a secular, stable, if dictatorial, Middle Eastern country into a volatile, unstable and quasi-theocratic state.
And at what cost to the US? Nearly 5,000 US troops killed, 32,223 wounded and billions of dollars down the drain. How many billions exactly? We will never know but a Brown University report estimates the total cost to date of the Iraq War as being close to one trillion dollars, with the department of defence’s direct spending on Iraq totalling at least $ 757.8 billion.
And now we will have the bizarre spectacle of the US joining Iran in strengthening the Al Maliki regime against the ISIS threat, while trying to bring down Iran’s Syrian ally, President Bashar Al Assad, a goal Washington shares with ISIS. At the same time, the US remains totally committed to nuclear-armed Israel to prevent Iran from ever reaching military parity with Israel. Too complicated? Yes. Makes sense? No.
Many in the west jumped up and down with triumphalism after the implosion of the Soviet Union. Francis Fukuyama even declared the “end of history”, whatever that meant. Bush’s neo-cons believed that the US could now do just as it pleased and however Washington chose to intervene anywhere around the world, invasion included, it would be for the latter’s own good!
Stalin once said about President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia that he would only have to lift his little finger and Tito would be no more. Tito ruled long enough to see Stalin denounced in his own country. In the manner of Stalin, the US’s neo-cons believed that in this ‘post-history’ era, all the US had to do was to inflict “shock and awe” on another country with its stealth bombers and cruise missiles for that country to do its bidding and transform itself in the US’s image. Saddam is probably rolling in his grave from laughter.
To his credit, Barack Obama is more realistic and has a better sense of history. Remember the fine speeches the US president gave to cheering Muslim university students in Cairo, Jakarta and Istanbul early in his presidency? If only speeches, interspersed with Islamic greetings, sufficed! They do not.
As I write, the US’s ‘eternal ally’, Israel, has let its troops run amok in the occupied West Bank because three young Israelis have not returned home from a hike. They have arrested hundreds of Palestinians, including the speaker of parliament. Robert Fisk, a well-known writer on the Middle East, now based in Lebanon, thinks that the recent events in both Syria and Iraq threaten the political map of the Middle East drawn by European powers. He quotes Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, as telling him that “Sykes-Picot is dead”. The reference is to Mark Sykes, British traveller and politician, and François Picot, a French diplomat, who sliced and carved ancient lands, obliterated and redrew timeless frontiers, and cut and slashed age-old trade routes in the Middle East to suit the economic and political interests of the Anglo-French colonial powers after the First World War.
How times have changed!
All hell is breaking loose.