Sunday, February 26, 2006

US Training Iraqis For Civil War and "Lebanon-ization" of Iraq

The question of whether U.S. troops are training Iraqi forces to stand up to the insurgency so that the American forces can stand down or are training the Sunni members of the Iraqi army to fight the Shiiite members of the Iraqi police forces (and vice versa) is a good one. Here's the Washington Post on this issue:

Foremost is the question of whether Iraq is moving toward civil war, which could cause the situation to spin out of U.S. control. That in turn raises the issue of whether Iraqi forces believe they are training to put down an insurgency or preparing to fight a conflict that pits Shiites against Sunnis. "I can't argue with that," said Col. James Pasquarette, who shares a base at Taji, north of Baghdad, with the Iraqi army's only tank division.

In an ominous sign of the growing rift within Iraqi security forces, the first thing an Iraqi army battalion staff officer did as he briefed a reporter this month was denounce the Iraqi police and its leaders at the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry. "The army doesn't like the Ministry of Interior," said the officer, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation. "The people don't like the police, either."

The Los Angeles Times notes that the American authorities have tried to integrate the different branchs of the Iraqi police and military with both Shia and Sunnis, but these efforts have failed just the way the American efforts to create a wholly integrated Sunni/Shia/Kurdish Iraqi government have so far failed:

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been trying to persuade Iraqis to appoint apolitical technocrats to head sensitive ministries, such as Interior and Defense. But with the recent outbursts of rage by Shiites and Sunnis, who both perceive themselves as victims, the best U.S. and Iraqi officials may be able to hope for is dividing security forces along sectarian lines.

Parts of west Baghdad are being patrolled by Sunni-dominated army units, and parts of eastern Baghdad by Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry units.

Repeatedly over the last few days, requests to police for information about damage to Sunni mosques in western Baghdad or on the city's outskirts were met with plaintive shrugs: The mostly Shiite police force does not enter certain parts of the city or countryside.

"There has been a lot of movement of people of one sect or another into certain branches of the military or the police," said Walker, the former State Department official who is now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. "We've tried, but it's hard to integrate them. But I don't see that there's any mood to integrate at this point."

The LA Times goes on to say that various ministries within the Iraqi government have become extensions of the various ethnic tribes:

Analysts say one of the major flaws in the attempt to build an Iraqi government has been a reliance on religious and ethnic divisions. Political parties, parliamentary blocs, army brigades and even ministries are breaking down along sectarian lines.

Keen to right discrimination suffered by Shiites and Kurds under former President Saddam Hussein, Washington encouraged the sectarianism in an effort to ensure that all groups would be fairly represented in the government. But many analysts say such governments are inherently unstable. Every political question turns into an existential threat, or a promise to one group or another.


The U.S. hoped that qualified Iraqi politicians and professionals would emerge from the rubble of Hussein's regime to lead Iraq. Instead, Washington has had to rely on once-exiled politicians tied to political parties or militias to run the country.

The result has been a patronage system in which ministries are viewed as cash cows for supporters. Ministries have become rife with corruption and payoffs. Jobs are doled out to political supporters.

"It's expected that you reward your own," Walker said. "It goes down to the tribal base of these societies. You don't have a sense of nationalism."

The LA Times article says that the best the U.S. can hope for in Iraq may be a divided nation where the various tribes look out for their own and battle rivals violently in the streets while outside countries vie for influence upon a weak national government - in other words, the Lebanonization of Iraq:

The outlines of a future Iraq are emerging: a nation where power is scattered among clerics turned warlords; control over schools, hospitals, railroads and roads is divided along sectarian lines; graft and corruption subvert good governance; and foreign powers exert influence only over a weak central government.

The bleak prospects have serious implications for the U.S. Washington wants to tone down its overt political influence in Baghdad and decrease the number of U.S. troops precisely at a time when the fledgling Iraqi government has shown itself incapable of maintaining political or military control.

"This is something that's been leaning in this direction for some time, and the mosque incident has accelerated the process," said Edward S. Walker, a former assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs. "What we're talking about is people looking out for their own. I don't think it can be turned around."

Doomsayers long have warned that Iraq was turning into a failed state like Somalia or Taliban-run Afghanistan, a regional black hole. It's far too early to write Iraq off as a quagmire, analysts say, but the threat of contagious and continuous instability — like in Lebanon — looms.

"The expectations of the United States and its allies have been lowered considerably," said Mark Sedra, a researcher specializing in rebuilding post-conflict countries at the Bonn International Center for Conversion, a German think tank. "Now the main goal is just creating a state that controls instability and contains the high levels of violence that prevail at the moment and prevents that violence from spilling over into neighboring states or destabilizing the region."

The NY Times looks at what a civil war in Iraq might do to the region and concludes that the only winner of an Iraq war outcome where Iraq becomes a failed state is Iran:

If Iraq were to sink deeper into that kind of conflict, Baghdad and other cities could become caldrons of ethnic cleansing, bringing revenge violence from one region to another. Shiite populations in Lebanon, Kuwait and especially Saudi Arabia, where Shiites happen to live in the oil-rich eastern sector, could easily revolt. Such a regional conflict could take years to exhaust itself, and could force the redrawing of boundaries that themselves are less than 100 years old.

"A civil war in Iraq would be a kind of earthquake affecting the whole Middle East," said Terje Roed-Larsen, the special United Nations envoy for Lebanon and previously for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It would deepen existing cleavages and create new cleavages in a part of the world that is already extremely fragile and extremely dangerous. I'm not predicting this will happen, but it is a plausible worst-case scenario."


The pivot of what could become a regional conflict is almost certainly Iran. Shiite leaders close to Iran won the Iraqi election in December, and although American and many Iraqi leaders defend their Iraqi nationalist bona fides, a civil war would almost certainly drive them to seek help from Iran. That stirs Sunni Arab fears of Iranian dominance in the region.

What you have in Iraq is not just a society coming apart like Yugoslavia or Congo," said Vali R. Nasr, a professor of national affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "What is at stake is not just Iraq's stability but the balance of power in the region."

Some observers worry that a failed Iraq state could accelerate a nuclear arms race - in the Middle East!!! Again, the NY Times:

Historians looking at such a prospect would see a replay of the Shiite-Sunni divide that has effectively racked the Middle East since the eighth century and extended through the rival Safavid and Ottoman Empires in modern Mesopotamia and finally into the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's. This time, however, Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions could accelerate a nuclear arms race, with Saudi Arabia likely to lead the way among Sunni nations.

While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proclaimed that the world has isolated Iran more than ever because of its nuclear ambitions, Iran has in fact tightened relationships with it local allies as events in Iraq have played out. In recent months, Iran has been deepening its alliance with Syria and the Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now it appears ready to strike up a friendship, backed by financing, with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

While almost all observers agree that Iran comes out a winner if Iraq devolves into chaos, most also believe Al Qaeda will benefit from it. Many believe there will be also be an intra-Shia civil war as well, since all three major Shiite groups have militias and all have clashed with each other in the past.

The prognosis for Iraq is really, really bleak. If Lebanonization is the best outcome for the Iraq war, then truly the preznit's policy has, in the words of William F. Buckley Jr., failed.

The preznit, the vice preznit and the neocon cabal who cooked up this fucking mess in Iraq (i.e., Kristol, Feith, Perle, Wolfowitz, et al.) must be made to pay a political price for the failure of the war. Not only has the war cost 2290 American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, hundreds of billions of dollars, but it has created a destablized Middle East that empowers Iran, Syria and Hezbollah and enables Al Qaeda to act with almost impunity.

We should note that in the last few months the preznit, the vice preznit and the neocon cabal have been banging the drum for war with Iran. Seemingly unchastened by the total chaos they have created in Iraq, the Bushies seem to want to expand the chaos by fomenting unrest in Iran and/or bombing its nuclear sites/strategic areas.

If we do not make the preznit, the vice preznit, and the neocon cabal pay a political price for this fucking mess, we very well may be facing more messes in Iran and Syria in the very near future.

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