Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Iraq Policy: Washington’s Puzzle Palace Keeps Getting Curiouser

MUST READ By David Stockman

Let’s count the ways. It goes without saying that Obama is now busily bombing American military equipment. Some of that equipment is pretty high tech gear and especially lethal—not the kind that jihadists ordinarily train with in their desert lairs or mountain redoubts.

But then again, ISIS got provisioned by none other than the Iraqi Army. The latter not only dropped its uniforms for civvies during the battle for Mosul, but also left behind armored Humvees, heavy artillery, night vision systems, state of the art firearms and much else of like and similar nature. Nor was this the first time that the Iraqi Army disarmed itself unilaterally. A while back they also surrendered their uniforms and guns when another American President—George W. Bush—-bombed them.

That was called “shock and awe”. Afterwards, the remnants of the Iraqi army must have found it indeed shocking and awesome that Washington immediately pivoted— after hanging the country’s leader—and spent $25 billion re-equipping and training them in brand new uniforms and with far better weapons.

Fast-forward to 2014.
The hasty hand-off of these American weapons to ISIS during its June blitzkrieg was easy enough to explain. On their way out of Baghdad, the Washington “nation builders” had equipped and trained a native army so that it could defend a “nation” which did not exist. What passed for “Iraq” was some very long, straight lines drawn on a map exactly 98 years ago by the British and French foreign offices as they carved up their winnings from the Ottoman Empire. What passed for governance within these so-called Sykes-Picot boundaries was a series of kings, generals and dictators—- culminating in Saddam Hussein—-who ruled from the barrel of whatever gun had been supplied by the highest bidder among the Great Powers.

Thus, Brezhnev gave the Iraqi generals weapons in the 1970s. In the 1980s, President Reagan joined in, green lighting exports of the components and precursors for chemical weapons and providing Saddam with the satellite-based intelligence to practice using them on his “enemies” ( i.e. teenage boys in the Iranian Army) before he used them on his own people (i.e. the Kurds and the Shiite).

Not surprisingly, after the US had “liberated” Iraq from 90 years of dictatorship—democracy took hold with lightening speed subsequent to the 2011 departure of American GIs. The “rule of the majority”—that is, the Shiite majority—-soon ripped through most governmental institutions, but especially the military. In short order the “Iraqi” army became a Shiite army. Hence the precipitous surrender and flight from the battles of Mosul and other northern cities. That was Sunni and Kurd territory—–not a place where Shiite soldiers wanted to be shot dead or caught alive.

The more interesting mystery is how the ISIS fighters learned how to use Uncle Sam’s advanced weaponry so quickly. Perhaps the CIA knows. It did train several thousand anti-Assad fighters in its secret camps in Jordan in preparation for Washington’s “regime change” campaign in Syria. Undoubtedly, in the fog of war—-especially the sectarian wars in the Islamic heartland that have been raging for 13 centuries—it is difficult to have friend and foe vetted effectively.

But effective vetting or no, the purpose of training Sunni fighters in Syria was to achieve a key Washington strategic objective. Namely, to breakup and disable the fearsome “Shiite Crescent”, ranging from Hezbollah in Lebanon through Assad’s Alawite-Shiite regime in Syria to the seat of the Axis-Of-Evil itself—-the purportedly nuke seeking Shiite theocracy of Iran.

To be sure, the CIA had re-certified as recently as 2008 that the Iranians had disbanded a few incipient nuclear weapons experiments years earlier. Likewise, the medieval mullahs who rule Iran had issued fatwas against a nuclear weapons program in any form. But so great was the Shiite threat deemed to be by Washington that both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the peace president himself announced the Assad “must go”  peacefully or Washington would wage war against him. And this was all part of the grand scheme of disabling the fearsome Shiite Crescent.

Needless to say, Washington’s war on the Shiite Crescent caused a certain awkwardness in the newly “democratic” nation of Iraq. The political forces that had done the democratizing—al Maliki’s Shiite coalition—-hailed from the southern regions of the Sykes-Picot map located at the headwaters of the Persian Gulf’s hydrocarbon infused sediments. Not only did this Shiite homeland have most of Iraq’s oil reserves and host all the crucial Shiite shrines of the 7th century battles which gave rise to the great Islamic schism, but it was also geographically the crucial land-bridge between the Iranian power to the east and the balance of the Shiite Crescent to the west.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the rise of ISIS earlier this year did not result in a plea to Washington from the al-Maliki government for help. Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Sistani not only opposed American re-entry, but issued the first fatwa since the 1920s calling upon the Shiite militias to repel the ISIS invader—just as they had been called to arms against the British 90-years back. Likewise, the al-Maliki government’s Iranian allies loudly announced “no thanks” to Washington’s offers of help, as did leaders of the Shiite street like the firebrand preacher, Motqua al-Sadr.

So the tangle thickened. Making war on the Shiite Crescent, Washington was poorly positioned to repel the ISIS hordes through local proxies because most of the candidates were aligned with the wrong side or entangled in the fictional state of Iraq. Obviously, Assad of Syria and the mullahs of Iran—-the natural state enemies of the emerging Sunni Caliphate—were not going to help because they knew full well that they were on Washington’s enemies list.

But the internal Iraqi entities were no more available. Yes, the Kurds have an army called the Peshmerga, which is comprised of motivated, seasoned fighters who’s battlefield exploits reach all the way back to the time of Saddam’s genocidal campaign against the Kurds led by his cousin, “Chemical Ali”.

However, the Kurd army is, unfortunately, illegal under the Iraqi constitution. So now the Obama Administration’s belated attempt to bolster the peshmerga will require a convoluted maneuver. To not offend the Iraqi government in Baghdad and its constitution, the Kurdish fighters will not be supplied with advanced American weapons like those being used by its ISIS enemy. Instead, they will be “unofficially” supplied with Russian weapons through a CIA back-channel!

But it probably doesn’t matter. While the ISIS was busy taking Mosul and the Iraqi army weapons from the central government, the Peshmerga was busy doing the same thing a little further south. After years of failing to annex the oil capital of the north—Kirkuk—through legislative action in the Iraqi parliament, they were able to accomplish this in recent weeks on the battlefield. At Kirkuk, the Iraqi Army also shed its uniforms and left its American supplied weapons behind. So the Peshmerga has American weapons after all!

And now the Kurds are ready for the obvious. Namely, to hold a referendum on independence which will be as decisive as that in Crimea. So “Kurdistan” will soon occupy the northeast portion of the Sykes-Picot map that used to be called Iraq.

The virtually certainty of an independent Kurdistan leaves a striking awkwardness with respect to the struggle over control and the constitution currently raging in Baghdad.  Al-Maliki has been dismissed by the Iraq’s president and has been urged to go quickly into the night by Washington’s leaders and strategists including the President and John Kerry. But the President of Iraq is a Kurd who claims to be upholding the nation’s constitution—-at the very moment that his countrymen are fixing to secede from the union, so to speak.

That leaves al-Maliki to defend himself against a constitution upholder who represents a multi-million person enclave of people who despise the Iraqi constitution, its government organs in Baghdad and its historic appropriation of the region’s considerable oil revenues. So the Iraqi “constitutional crisis” is everything the phrase implies, and much more.

Nevertheless, al-Maliki may be able to defend himself. His militia and special forces are equipped with the latest and greatest American weapons! If need be, they can be turned against his designated successor. And, oh, he’s a militant Shiite too—–who spent most of his adult life in London, presumably on the Iranian payroll. Either way, therefore, the nascent Shiite state in the southern regions of the Sykes-Picot map will remain an integral part of the Shiite Crescent.

So there are no proxies and there is no functioning Iraqi state. If the Washington war party decides to keep bombing just exactly what purpose will be served—other then defending a map which is now heading for the dustbin of history?

David Stockman was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget during part of the Reagan Administration, from 1981 to 1985. He is the author of The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitaism in America and The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed.

 The above originally appeared at David Stockman's Contra Corner and is reprinted with permission. 

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