THE ROVING EYE: IRAQ FIVE YEARS ON
By Pepe Escobar
Future non-biased historians may well regard March 19, 2003, as a crucial mark in the annals of Western imperial arrogance. Five years later, the pre-emptive war celebratory fireworks have turned to dust. For months now Iraq has been an invisible American war. It's seldom on TV. It does not "sell". Thus, it does not exist. US Vice President Dick Cheney, one of its key architects, has just been to a whirlwind Baghdad tour. He said he sensed "phenomenal changes" since his last whirlwind tour 10 months ago. He praised security progress as "dramatic".
The "dramatic" progress was celebrated in style by a Sunni Arab female suicide bomber who managed to detonate her payload under her black abaya near the ultra-protected Imam Hussein shrine in holy Karbala, killing at least 42 Shi'ites and wounding 73.
Cheney did not see the real Baghdad, drowning in sewage, desperate for water and plunged in the dark - lacking 3,000 megawatts of electricity (it may take as many as 10 years before the city gets power 24 hours a day; so much for "reconstruction"). As no US official was suicidal enough to take Cheney, for instance, to a real life suicide bomber-targeted vegetable market in Sadr City - or to Imam Hussein's shrine in Karbala for that matter - these "phenomenal changes" warrant examination.
Cheney seems not to be very fond of the humongous Pentagon study based on more than 600,000 Iraqi documents which proved that there was no link whatsoever between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. In a curiously sedate propaganda effort, the report will not be posted online and will not be e-mailed by the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia; any reporter who wants it will have to ask it to be sent via CD in the mail. That's quite a "phenomenal change" with regard to the George W Bush administration's hyped 2002 build up towards war.
British agency Oxford Research Business has recently updated its estimate of "additional deaths" caused by the war to 1.3 million Iraqis - not including the top killing fields, the provinces of al-Anbar (Sunni) and Karbala (Shi'ite). At least 4 million Iraqis have been internally displaced or become refugees, mostly in overburdened Syria and Jordan, now desperately running out of money and resources. As for any Sunni or Shi'ite proud of his historical memory, the US occupation has been regarded as more devastating than the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. Talk about a historical "phenomenal change".
Baghdad - following the strategy of counterinsurgency ace General David Petraeus - has been reduced to a rotten, amorphous, bloody and dangerous stockpile of blast-wall ghettos controlled by local warlords and militias. This "strategy" is being financed by US taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars a month.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes, in their book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, estimate that by 2017, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost between $1.7 trillion and $2.7 trillion. Republican presidential contender John McCain wants this to last indefinitely as millions of Americans finally realize this avalanche of funds could instead provide them with better public schools, better health insurance and better projects to repair crumbling US infrastructure.
Petraeus' "surge" is gone - replaced by a "pause", defined by the general to the Army Times as "sensible" and "prudent". Recently resigned Admiral William Fallon, the CENTCOM commander, was dead set against Petraeus' "pause". He wanted to start drawing down troops - immediately. The Bush administration evicted him.
Up to the US presidential election, for political reasons, many would be led to believe nothing moves on the US front. At least nothing visible. Because in Kuwait, the Pentagon is busy building, in virtual secret, a mammoth permanent command structure to project "full spectrum dominance" not only in Iraq but all over the arc from the Middle East to Southwest Asia. Lieutenant General James J Lovelace minced no words to the Middle East edition of Stars and Stripes. It will be a "permanent presence" - of course compounded with all those extra permanent bases in Qatar, Bahrain the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Be it under pro-withdrawal Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, or pro-"surge" McCain, the "war" in and on Iraq will go on - supported from Kuwait and the Gulf petro-monarchies.
It's alright Ma, I'm only dyin'
Baghdad is not only the 21st century heart of darkness. It is Fear Central - a desert sand nightmare frozen in fear, a direct consequence of the soggy mix of Petraeus' "surge" profiting from the uneasy Shi'ite Mahdi Army truce and the proliferation of the 80,000-strong anti-al-Qaeda movement dominated by Sunnis, Sahwa (Awakening).
As middle class Shi'ite professionals tell Asia Times Online, rape and pillage and widespread killing is down (65 Iraqis killed daily in August 2007, 26 killed daily in February 2008) because most neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed. Baghdad is only "safer" - as the current official mantra in Washington goes - if compared to horrific post-February 2006 after the bombing of the Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, during the battle of Baghdad, when as many as 3,000 people were being killed every single month.
The inept Nuri al-Maliki government in Baghdad knows little of what's really going on - as it drags on in imperial seclusion behind the Green Zone, defended by valiant mercenaries from Georgia, Peru and Uganda. If Maliki and his entourage decide to go for an armored convoy stroll in formerly bustling al-Mansur neighborhood, for instance, the area has to be extensively searched as if this was a US presidential visit.
No matter what Washington decides or spins, it won't alter two major facts on the ground. Of all the major overlapping wars in Iraq, the Sunni Arab resistance has for all practical purposes stalemated the US occupation to the edge of defeat. And on a sectarian level, the Shi'ites have defeated the Sunnis as a whole - as they now control, allied with the Kurds, the government, Parliament, the army (13 divisions, half of them militias aligned with Iran) and the police.
The anti-al-Qaeda Sahwa, which the Americans dubbed "Concerned Local Citizens" and then "Sons of Iraq", are the same old Sunni Arab guerrillas, many of them former Saddam army officers who former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld described as "remnants of the old regime" who were killing Americans before they decided to rake some cash ($300 a month, an excellent salary in 70% unemployment Iraq) and do their own version of a "pause".
After all, they could not fight the US Army, al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government at the same time and believe they would win it. They are, of course, anti-majority Shi'ite Iraqi government (although the American public relations machine would never let this cat out of the bag). They're still one more militia in a cornucopia of militias - the US Army itself being nothing more than a heavily armed militia.
In a sense, the old imperial divide and rule tactic has worked - as Sunnis and Shi'ites are more deadly polarized against each other than against the occupiers. But at the same time they all unite on the key issue: occupation out. The answer as to why no Iraqi militia organizes a Tet-style anti-American onslaught is political positioning.
Everyone's got militias - the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Mahdi Army, the Badr Organization, the Sahwa. Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army's objective is to conquer political power in the next legislative elections. The Kurdish Peshmerga worry about defending Kirkuk after a referendum that could see it incorporated into the Kurdish north. Badr does not want to lose the government power it already enjoys; Hadi al-Amri, the dreaded leader of Badr, says he will respect the truce with the Mahdi Army. And Sahwa is just waiting to pounce against the Shi'ites. In this lethal cobweb, the Americans are just marginal, puzzled onlookers.
Stuck inside of Baghdad
This country is no more. This is an ex-country. It has gone to meet its maker (the Sumerians, presumably). The "surge" is a public relations-created illusion - as ghostly as those abandoned, burned out Iraqi tanks littering Baghdad's empty, dirty boulevards in April 2003; after all there was no war to speak of, the Iraqi army having preferred to flee.
The Turkish army, for its part, has just proved its point; Ankara can invade Iraqi Kurdistan any time it sees fit - as if it was Gaza. And this is nothing compared to what may happen after the endlessly postponed Kirkuk referendum, when Iraqi Kurds will finally have full control over their oil wealth and rekindle their independentist dreams. If East Timor and Kosovo can do it, why not us?
Muqtada has - literally - vanished, after lamenting an Iraq "characterized by social turmoil". He disappeared just like the 12th Imam, Imam Mahdi - and that's a really huge thing for pious Iraqi Shi'ites, not to mention a masterful political ploy. Muqtada has transferred to the US Marines the task of carrying a pogrom of the Mahdi Army. He's aiming at the polls - he wants the Sadrists to take over the Shi'ite provincial governments in the south in the next election. Sooner or later "anti-American" occult Muqtada will be the lord of what remains of Iraq - and there's nothing Washington can do about it.
As an internal US issue, neither Clinton nor Obama has provided any concrete evidence they want to totally scrap the US "mission" in Iraq - or at least roll back the worldwide empire of military bases still heavily supported by Cheney and an array of corporate/industrial-military interests.
As a global issue, millions of Iraqis lost their homes, their jobs, their families, their dreams and in countless cases their own lives because of a pre-emptive war (or "successful endeavor") built on lies. Shocked, awed and utterly destroyed, their ancestral land beheaded like a stray dog, Iraqis deserve at least the world's respect in their hour of darkness.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge . He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.