Juan Cole: Top Ten Catastrophes of the Third Year of American Iraq





The American war against Iraq began on March 20, 2003, so today is the third anniversary. The Himalyan mistakes of the American administration of the country in its first two years have by now been much analyzed -- the punitive steps against even low-level Baath Party members, the firing of tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs, the dissolution of the army, the permitting of looting on a vast scale, the failure to understand tribal honor, the failure to get a handle on the early guerrilla war, the failure to understand Shiite Islam, the torture at Abu Ghraib, the failure to get services on line, the destruction of Fallujah, the ill-timed and ill-advised attempt to "kill or capture" Muqtada al-Sadr, the adoption of an election system that allowed the almost complete exclusion of the Sunni Arabs, etc., etc.

Here, let us examine the top disasters of the third year in American Iraq.

1. The Shiite religious parties, having won a majority in parliament, took over the Ministry of the Interior and drew, for its special police commandos, on members of the Badr Corps. Badr is the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and it was trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. These special commandos set up secret prisons and tortured Sunni Arabs they suspected of being in the guerrilla resistance to the new order.

2. The constitution drafted by the elected parliament enshrines Islam as the religion of state and stipulates that the civil parliament may pass no legislation that contravenes the established laws of Islam. It hints that clerics and ayatollahs will be appointed to court benches. The constitution has brought Iraq to the brink of being an Islamic Republic, with potentially harmful effects on the rights of women, gays, Christians and others. Since the Shiite religious parties had won the January 30, 2005 elections, this outcome was predi ctable.

3. The constitution allows provinces to establish provincial confederacies. This provision reflections the model adopted by the Kurds in the north, which is now attractive to Shiite parties in the south. These confederacies can claim 100 percent of the revenues from all future petroleum, natural gass and other natural resource finds. The loose, weak federal government, like the early American state under the Articles of Confederation will be robbed of sovereignty (and income) by ambitious provincial elites. It is possible that these provincial confederacies may break up the country.

4. The US military used Kurdish and Shiite troops to attack the northern Turkmen city of Talafar in August. Kurdish troops, drawn from the Peshmerga militia, were allowed to paint lasers on targets in the city, which were then destroyed by the US air force. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed, and much of the population was displaced for some time. Shiite troops and local Sh iite Turkmen informants were used to identify and interrogate alleged Sunni insurgents. Turkey was furious at the attack on ethnically related Turkmen and threatened to halt its cooperation with the US. Although the attack was allegedly undertaken to capture foreign forces allegedly based in the city, only 50 were announced apprehended. The entire operation ended up looking like a joint Kurdish-Shiite attack on Sunni Turkmen, backed by the US military. Turkmen and Kurds do not generally get along, and Turkmen accuse Kurds of wanting to ethnically clense them from Kirkuk. The entire operation was politically the worst possible public relations for the US in northern Iraq, and seems unlikely to have put a signficant dent in the guerrillas' capabilities.

5. All three Sunni Arab-majority provinces rejected the new constitution by a sound margin, two of them by a two-thirds majority. The Kurdish and Shiite provinces overwhelmingly approved the charter. Iraq thus has a perm anent constitution that is absolutely unacceptable to the country's most powerful minority.

6. British government leakers revealed that George W. Bush told British PM Tony Blair in April, 2002, that he was seriously considering bombing the HQ of the Aljazeera satellite news channel. Bush's reputation, already low in the Arab world, took another hit.

7. Iraqi petroleum exports fell to an average of only 1.8 million barrels a day during the past year, down from 2.8 million barrels per day before the war. In recent months the exports have been as low as 1.1 million barrels a day.

8. Guerrillas have managed to surround and cut off Baghdad, the capital and a population center with 1/4 of the country's inhabitants, from much fuel and electricity.

9. Widespread hopes, fanned by the Bush administration, that Sunni Arab participation in the parliamentary elections would lead to a reduction in guerrilla violence proved completely untrue. The various Sunni A rab lists garnered 58 seats of 275. The Sunni Arabs have now adopted a two-track strategy, working in parliament to play the Kurds and the Shiites off against one another while its paramilitary wing continued to blow things up with unrelenting ferocity.

10. Guerrillas in Samarra on February 22 blew up the Askari Shrine, holy to Shiites because of its association with the hidden Twelfth Imam, whose Second Coming many await. The Sunni Arab guerrilla movement has been trying to provoke popular attacks and sectarian reprisals, but this is the first time it met with a measure of success. Enraged Shiites attacked 100 mosques, damaging between two and four dozen, killing some Sunni clerics, and murdering hundreds of Sunnis. Iraqi clerics, both Shiite and Sunni, helped bring Iraq back from the brink of hot civil war. The US troops in the country proved generally unuseful in this crisis.


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