If you were an Iraqi today who cares deeply for his country, what would you do? Your country, previously one of the most modern in the Arab world, has been reduced to rubble. A weak government, installed by the United States, desperately tries to enforce order in a society wracked by sectarian violence and an anti-imperialist guerilla war. This government cannot exist a day longer without US military support. Would you ask the American troops to leave? Or would you ask them to stay until they have cleaned up the mess they created when they invaded your country?
We do not hear the voice of the Iraqi people in this war, nor do we feel their pain. It is as if the whole world has mindlessly taken the experience of America as its own. And so the problem of Iraq is framed solely in terms of how the war can be brought to an acceptable end without further expenditure of American money, lives, and pride. Hardly anyone thinks of the future of Iraq from the perspective of the Iraqi people themselves.
It is interesting that we are told exactly how much has been spent in this war ($400 billion), how many American soldiers have been killed (3000), and what percentage of the American people believe their country is losing the war in Iraq (57%). Yet we have do not have the faintest idea what the total damage to Iraqi property and facilities has been so far, how many Iraqi lives have been lost since the US invasion, and how many Iraqi people today still believe they have a country they can call their own.
To all intents and purposes, the nation-state that is Iraq is no more. The government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki bears all the markings of a puppet government. It has military control in only 3 out of 18 provinces. It has no administrative presence in these provinces. It cannot even maintain order in Baghdad, the seat of government.
If the Americans abandon Iraq today, chances are it will be dismembered. The Kurds will declare a separate state; so will the Sunnis. The Shiite majority will be torn between those loyal to Iran and those dependent on America. As in the past, the oil wells remain the principal object of contention in this war. The US is fully aware that control of Iraqi oil, an unacknowledged objective of the invasion, would slip from its hands once the territorial integrity of Iraq is breached. George W. Bush assumed that Iraq’s neighbors had an interest in preserving the wholeness of Iraq. He was wrong. Not one among them seems bothered by the grim scenario he paints: which is, that once the US-backed post-Saddam government fails, radical Islamic terrorists would use Iraq as a base from which to destabilize the rest of the moderate governments in the Arab region.
Bush tapped into a vein of American paranoia when he issued the order to invade Iraq in March 2003. The line he peddled to the American people was that the Iraqi government was a threat to all Americans and to their way of life. He accused Iraq of harboring weapons of mass destruction, and of being the main financier of the September 11 attacks. All these were later proven false. But the die is cast. Global propaganda for the US invasion made Saddam Hussein, this monstrous oppressor of his own people, the public face of the whole Iraqi nation.
Two months after the US invasion of Iraq, Bush announced “mission accomplished” in Iraq. “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror,” he said. He forthwith proudly declared the inauguration of Iraqi democracy. Today, nearly four years later, Bush admits that the war is far from won, and that it is necessary for the US to augment its present troop levels to complete the mopping-up operations against sectarian militias and insurgents. When that is done, he says, the Iraqi government must assume the burden of completing the unfinished business of maintaining order and rebuilding the country.
How do you deal with a thoughtless man like this? On a shallow pretext, he led his country to war. He told them it was going to be a short and swift engagement. He now says he miscalculated. But instead of admitting that the war was a gigantic mistake from the start, he argues that pulling out now would be very costly. He blames the puppet government for inefficiencies in the field. He pleads for more money and troops to undertake one final “surge”.
My prediction is that the insurgents and the militias will only burrow deeper during the surge, assuming the US Congress will not stop Bush’s surge of madness. A semblance of peace and order will be momentarily achieved in and around Baghdad, and then the withdrawal of troops may start with American pride intact. But the civil war will resume even before the last Coalition soldier will have left. This is the quagmire that is Iraq today. This is the scandal that the world should never have allowed.
Many countries today are run by tyrants like Saddam. In our part of the world, Burma’s generals easily come to mind. But, like it or not, they hold the nation together, and, in not a few instances, may even lead the country to some level of economic prosperity. We know that their “success” can never justify the oppression of their own people. Yet it is absurd to bring democracy to such societies by invading them, or to hope to build effective governments upon their ruins. For people to become active participants in their own liberation, the yearning for freedom must first take root in their hearts. The ramparts of a democratic nation are always built in the course of the struggle for freedom itself. They cannot be raised overnight, or, much less, assembled from without.
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