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America’s Dilemma in Iran

Updated: February 2009

The Bush administration wanted, among others, a secular democratic Iraq, closely linked to US corporations and investors,  welcoming to permanent American military bases, and friendly to Israel. They dreamed of Iraq as a beacon of democracy for the Arab world to emulate.
            Six years later, as the Bush administration's days came to an end,  the opposite was achieved. Significantly, a theocratic dictatorship allied to Iran complete with an Islamist constitution tinged with a wilayat al-faqih (rulership of the senior-most Shiite cleric) odor replaced the Arab world’s most secular regime.
Washington’s elimination of the Wahhabi Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam’s regime allowed Iran to become the major power in the world’s richest oil region.
            On April 9, 2003, control in Mesopotamia was transferred to Iraq’s 60% Shiite majority after a thousand years of Arab Sunni control. On April 9, 2003, the U.S. won the battle against a tattered Iraq. But Iran, without firing a shot won the war for Iraq; a triumph for the Khomeini revolution--- one of Shiism’s greatest moments since Saladin ended the rule of the Shiite Fatimid State in Cairo in 1171 A.D., a cataclysmic event that turned Iran into an unstoppable regional powerhouse. The British think tank, Chatham House, concluded in August 2006. “The greatest problem facing the U.S. is that Iran has superseded it as the most influential power in Iraq,” The key to the future of Iraq today is in Tehran.
            From the Abu Ghraib Prison, the image of American decency and fair play was shattered. From the devastated Anbar, Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, Najaf, Ramadi, Samarra, Tikrit, and Tal-Afar, with thousands upon thousands of innocent children, women, and men killed and maimed, in addition to the more than four million displaced Iraqis, Arab and Muslim enmity to American policies, sadly, has deepened to a frightening level.
            In the process more than 4,200 American soldiers were killed, 30,000 injured, US$600 billion spent, possibly three times as much in
terms of economic cost. These figures turned out to be considerably higher than the prewar forecasts. In early January 2003, a few weeks before the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put the number at under $50 billion. "How much of that would be the US’s burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question," Rumsfeld said. Not only were the financial forecasts wildly off, the US Central Command’s war plan postulated in August 2002 that the United States would have only 5,000 troops left in Iraq by December 2006, a far cry from the 140,000 US military personnel on the ground in Iraq at the end of December 2009. In Iraq, “America is living a nightmare with no end in sight” warned the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, retired general Ricardo Sanchez in October 2007.
            Why was the Iraq project undertaken? The simple answer is that the benefits from the project were perceived to outweigh its cost. Groups with different agendas pushed for the removal of Saddam’s regime and the occupation of Iraq in the name of serving the best interest of the United States, but in reality each serving its own parochial interest. All these parties contributed to administering a sugarcoated bitter pill to the American people.
            Leading the charge were the oil men who wanted to control Iraq’s 113 billion barrels in proven reserves and later go after Iran’s 90 billion barrels; the chiefs of the military-industrial complex who were tantalized by new opportunities to sell expensive arms systems and gain huge contracts to reconstruct war-ravaged infrastructure; Israel’s lobbyists who sought to demolish Iraq’s fighting capabilities and, later, those of Iran and Syria; the
evangelical Christians who fantasize over speeding up the return of Christ; the neo-con ideologues who found in the War on Terror a replacement for the Cold War; and Tehran’s cunning Iraqi moles who were bent on luring the US not only to hand them the keys to Baghdad but also hand Tehran control of the predominantly Shiite southern Iraq.
            Notable among those Iraqis was Ahmad Chalabi. Befriending many of the men in the highest offices of the Bush administration, Chalabi provided what later proved to be false information regarding Iraq’s WMDs. In the Spring of 2004, rumors circulated in Washington that Chalabi had been duping the Americans all along while spying for Iran. With the approval and funding from Washington, Chalabi had maintained an office in Iran.
            Abdulaziz Al-Hakeem is the head of the Badr Brigade, a militia financed, trained, and equipped by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which fought on the side of Tehran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). He and his older brother, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir, fled to Iran in 1980. As Baghdad fell in April 2003, Abdulaziz was appointed to the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakeem was assassinated in Najaf in August 2003. Iran declared three days of official mourning following his assassination.
            The senior leaders of the Islamic Daawa Party are closely linked to Tehran as well. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, spent twenty years in exile in Iran. He became Iraq’s transitional prime minister in April 2005. Nouri Al-Maliki succeeded Al-Jaafari in April 2006 as Iraq’s first full-term prime minister. Al-Maliki, a hard-line activist, spent two decades in exile in Iran and Syria.
            Six years after the occupation, Washington finds itself in an untenable position. Staying means facing several fronts: a nationalist war of liberation, a Shiite-Sunni sectarian confrontation, and a Shiite-Shiite turf war (for more on this please see: A Verdict on the Surge). The cost of staying is high, especially when it is to protect anti-American ayatollahs and Iraqi politicians linked to Tehran (for more on this please see: The March of Shiism).
             However, as the cost of the war mounts, the United States will sooner or later withdraw. When this happens, Iraq will be left as a broken country, plagued by sectarian and ethnic divisions and civil strife—a haven for gangsters and terrorists. The United States will leave behind a Middle East rife with Shiite-Sunni conflicts, spilling rivers of blood, breeding battalions of hardened terrorists, until and unless Iraq’s Sunnis and the Sunni majorities in the neighboring countries manage to either halt the march of Shiism or accept Iran’s hegemony over the world's richest oil region.
             The paradox between the fantasy and the reality is astounding.
            How did such a situation develop? Why did the actual cost of the occupation turn out to be so drastically greater than planned?
            The explanation is that Iraqis in their millions did not turn out to welcome America’s soldiers with roses, as Washington’s Iraqi “friends” had promised. In naming Iran as a member of the “Axis of Evil” in his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, a few weeks before the invasion President Bush made US plans towards Iran clear; regime change. Rather than wait for America’s next onslaught, America became bogged down in Iraq.
           The lack of knowledge by the Bush administration’s war managers about Arab history, Islam, Sunnism, Shiism, Arab social and cultural subtleties and the makeup and dynamics of Iraq, or other Arab religio-ethnic structures. Many of the Bush administration’s “experts” had never visited Iraq or any Arab country before the occupation, let alone studied Arabic, or read the Quran, or deliberated its message from an Arab or Muslim perspective. Most of these “experts” do not speak Arabic. They had little or no contact with Arabs, Arabic food, Arabic music, or the Arab way of life, save for a life-long indoctrination from anti-Arab and anti-Islam rhetoric in Hollywood movies or hostile and prejudiced Madison Avenue prototypes of Arabs and Muslims as dirty, nasty, violent, and nefarious beings.
            This ignorance was also behind the wishful thinking, or the mistaken belief that the Arab masses everywhere would want to copy the Iraqi nirvana. These experts failed to foresee that the masses would regard the American occupation as an anti-Islam colonial adventure. These “experts” could have never imagined that the Quran may be transformed into a weapon against occupation.
           Additional factors include
the arrogance of power, the feeling of self-righteousness, the belief that God is on "our" side and that the gun settles all conflicts. The natural outcome of such a mindset is escalating violence, especially when martyrdom-seeking jihadists are at the receiving end.
            In their book, A World Transformed, former president George Bush (Sr.) and Brent Scowcroft wrote on why the first Bush administration decided against occupying Iraq in 1991: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different—and perhaps barren—outcome.”
            In March 1991, when he was defense secretary, Dick Cheney toed his superiors’ line. He said on ABC-TV, in answer to a question as to why US forces did not go to Baghdad to remove Saddam Hussein from power:
            “I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire. Once we got to Baghdad, what would we do? Who would we put in power? What kind of government? Would it be a Sunni government, a Shi’ite government, a Kurdish government? Would it be secular, along the lines of the Baath party? Would it be fundamentalist Islamic. I do not think the United States wants to have US military forces accept casualties and accept responsibility of trying to govern Iraq. It makes no sense at all.”

           To pretend that the failures are only tactical in an otherwise sound strategy is to put on a brave face with a brazen political spin. To blame the failures on Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian divisions or on the meddling of neighbors is to run away from responsibility. Was it not the American occupation that released these demons in the first place? History will remember Iraq as Mr. George W. Bush’s gift to Iran, a strategic blunder of gigantic proportions. The followers of Shiism will  forever
be grateful. The Arab Sunni masses will never forget or forgive.      
            As for those former officials of the Bush administration who were relentless in their eagerness for the war and who later found it convenient to blame the failures on the Bush administration’s mismanagement, such finger pointing is morally deficient. Two leading neo-cons, Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman, attacked the Bush team in Vanity Fair Magazine. Both had been senior defense department officials and members of a Pentagon advisory board. Both had argued vociferously for war in Iraq. Richard Perle declared that had he known how it would turn out, he would have been against it. “I think now I probably would have said, ‘No, let’s consider other strategies.’” Kenneth Adelman said, “They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era . . . Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.” Donald Rumsfeld “fooled me,” Adelman added.
            In a speech in October 2007 the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, retired general Ricardo Sanchez labeled his political leaders as “incompetent” and “corrupted” and declared that they would have faced courts martial for dereliction of duty had they been in the military.