Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The new normal in Baghdad
March 3, 2013 5:12 AM   Subscribe

"What is more worrying is that politicians themselves are adapting to the situation rather than trying to change it. The new regime seems to have slipped in to the shoes of the former. Officials squat in the opulent residences of their predecessors, whose era they claimed they were ending. Almost no infrastructure has been built in Baghdad over the past 10 years, except the local government headquarters, the road to the airport and a few flyovers. Traffic police shelters at crossroads are stamped “gift from the town hall”, recalling the “donations” (makarim) of Saddam: a personalised substitute for what should be provided anonymously by the state. Public service salaries remain insufficient, driving employees to find supplementary sources of income, legal or not. High-level corruption is tolerated, documented and used as leverage when necessary. Pervasive social climbing, nepotism and incompetence are poisoning institutions." -- Almost ten years after the start of the War on Iraq, Le Monde Diplomatique looks at what has really changed.
posted by MartinWisse (54 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
posted by Renoroc at 5:22 AM on March 3, 2013


Let’s gloss over the original sins: the criminalisation and wholesale dismantling of the infrastructure of the former regime; a deliberately sectarian political system; the exclusive promotion of exiled politicians disconnected from Iraqi society; backroom deals on a constitution reflecting agreement between the Shia and the Kurds to the detriment of the Sunnis. All this has been locked in by a number of elections confirming the marginalisation of the Sunnis...

All these mistakes could have been gradually corrected, but the US sinned above all by omission. It ignored the objectives it had set itself and withdrew before agreement had been reached...
so the US left too soon? no need to read any further (but I did.)
posted by ennui.bz at 5:51 AM on March 3, 2013


Can't we call it the Attack on Iraq? Even if hindsight can't retroactively prevent us from starting a meaningless war, it can at least give us a snappy name for the history books.
posted by indubitable at 5:57 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


James Fallows touched on the anniversary over at The Atlantic, along with the long history of inflated threats in American military conflicts. Readers responded.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:01 AM on March 3, 2013


This is a really good essay that adds a hell of a lot of perspective without being the same shallow screed just about every liberal commentator has written and we all superficially agree with and have read over and over again, thanks for posting it.
"so the US left too soon? no need to read any further (but I did.)"
Wow, this is a guy who lived in Baghdad through the war as the director of the Middle East Programme of the International Crisis Group but from one nuanced view, which he has no doubt given much more thought than you have ever given anything with the benefit of with all kinds of perspective you do not, but which suggests that the liberal party line might have some shitty consequences, suddenly its not even worth reading. Damn, perhaps we should just read the same shallow rehashings of what we're all supposed to think again?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:19 AM on March 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


The second part of the US legacy concerns the shaky and incomplete idea Iraqis have of their own identity. The US turned Iraq into a parody of itself by projecting a simplistic vision of society, imposing crude concepts of Ba’athism, Saddamism, terrorism, sectarianism and tribalism, and building a political edifice founded on these clichés. Such self-fulfilling stereotyping is reminiscent of the colonial mindset, even though the US invasion was never meant to colonise.

The occupying forces treated all Sunnis as though they supported Saddam Hussein, turning them into enemies, marginalising them within the political system, and driving them to regret the past, even though they had suffered too. The Americans also split the Shia into “goodies” and “baddies”, deepening what was merely a class conflict by alienating the proletarian Sadrist current (3), which was crudely accused of acting for Iran. The Kurds by contrast appeared to be natural allies, which reinforced their separatist ambitions and their claims over disputed territories.

Iraqis are still to some extent prisoners of a self-image the US fashioned and left behind.
Really? This is just a terrible gloss of US policy in Iraq and suggests (among other things) that it was driven essentially by American cultural naivete, principled (if misguided) AND that somehow Iraq's "self-image" has been built by the US. For recent history, this is just so far off that it's not worth rebutting.

There are plenty of people who live in the US and fail completely to understand it's politics, policy and society. The fact that this guy lived in Iraq doesn't insulate him from the essay he wrote.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:29 AM on March 3, 2013


We took over their country, fucked it up nine ways to Sunday then effectively said, "That's a Hell of a mess. Have fun cleaning it up. We'll see our way out. Good night."
posted by double block and bleed at 6:33 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So you don't think the US doling out money to politicians according to a warped and simplistic model for understanding it and how well they could communicate their goals within this warped model might even plausibly have any effect on how those politicians who succeed see their country? I admire your optimism.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:38 AM on March 3, 2013


We took over their country, fucked it up nine ways to Sunday then effectively said, "That's a Hell of a mess. Have fun cleaning it up. We'll see our way out. Good night."

Which is why there has always been a liberal constituency which thought we should stay in Iraq long enough to fix things. The author, Peter Harling appears to work for a, roughly, liberal foreign policy think tank.

I just want to add that Harling's views are undoubtably more sophisticated than those expressed in this essay. The consumer of this essay is likely some international business executive who needs to some buzz-ideas to float around. Look at the CV of the chair of the "International Crisis Group"
Tom Pickering has been since December 2006 Vice Chairman of Hills & Company, International Consultants. He retired as Senior Vice President International Relations and a member of the Executive Council of The Boeing Company on July 1, 2006 having served in the position for 5 and one half years. He was responsible for The Boeing Company's relations with foreign governments and the company's globalization. He joined the Company in January 2001 following his retirement as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:42 AM on March 3, 2013


The people who are going to fix Iraq are the Iraqis. Thinking otherwise was a tremendous mistake. We should be open to help them with whatever they ask, but they wanted us out as much as we wanted out.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:56 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


this still seems too little remarked upon:
Nuri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad, dominated by Shia Muslims, has unwisely pushed Turkey into this oily Kurdish embrace. Mr Maliki's close ties to Iran and support for President Bashar Assad in Syria have angered Turkey's government and convinced it not to rely on Iraq... Iraq's central government seems bent on wrecking the Kurds' thriving oil industry, saying that their regional government has no legal authority to export oil independently or sign contracts with developers...

[T]he centralising Mr Maliki is deeply loth to give the Kurds their head. Their oil policy, he says, threatens to tear Iraq's fragile federation apart by fostering similar aspirations in its oil-producing provinces in the south. Western governments, fearing that Iraq's disintegration would strengthen Iran, are siding with Mr Maliki. The Americans are pressing Turkey to tone down its support for Iraq's Kurds.

In recent weeks Mr Maliki has mobilised Iraq's army along the fault-line that divides the Kurdish region from the rest of Iraq. Bombs have killed at least ten people in the past fortnight in Kirkuk. Kurdish leaders say that they are ready to fight and have sent thousands of their fighters, known as peshmerga, to face down the Iraqi army. From a ridge north-west of Kirkuk, they peer through binoculars at Iraqi troops massing a few hundred yards below on the plain. "If one peshmerga is killed," says a Kurdish officer, "it is war."
posted by kliuless at 10:14 AM on March 3, 2013


Well, Sgt. Carter, Sur-priahs sur-priahs sur-priahs.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:35 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


From Fallows' blog : a *liberal hawk* "I for one still stand by everything I said. But then, I never advocated for the war based on the WMD argument anyway, and acknowledged at the time (though Weeks didn't use those quotes) that it was a thin pretext used to sell it to the public and the U.N. Honestly, although my personal motive had to do with human rights (and notice that Weeks did print my caveat that anticipated the possibility of something like Abu Ghraib), I think just the assassination attempt on Bush 41 is plenty all by itself--what kind of country are we if we let another country's leader pull something like that with impunity?

I have trouble understanding why you think it's so obvious now that the liberal hawks were wrong. Maybe circa 2006 it looked that way, but aren't Iraqis better off today than they would be if Saddam (or his sons) still had a grip on power?"

100,000 dead people can't say no. You fuck.
posted by stratastar at 12:02 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Don't mention the Iraq war, William Hague tells cabinet: Tory foreign secretary's directive not to discuss legality of war ahead of 10th anniversary sparks anger from Liberal Democrats
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on March 3, 2013


the criminalisation and wholesale dismantling of the infrastructure of the former regime; a deliberately sectarian political system; the exclusive promotion of exiled politicians disconnected from Iraqi society; backroom deals on a constitution reflecting agreement between the Shia and the Kurds to the detriment of the Sunnis. All this has been locked in by a number of elections confirming the marginalisation of the Sunnis.
[...]
The second part of the US legacy concerns the shaky and incomplete idea Iraqis have of their own identity. The US turned Iraq into a parody of itself by projecting a simplistic vision of society, imposing crude concepts of Ba’athism, Saddamism, terrorism, sectarianism and tribalism, and building a political edifice founded on these clichés. Such self-fulfilling stereotyping is reminiscent of the colonial mindset, even though the US invasion was never meant to colonise.


Letter to Congress - Iraq Options (2006. Abu Khaleel - Iraqi Letters)
The political process in Iraq was born dead. It was based on sectarianism. No modern country can be built on sectarianism. Although ancient and complex, Iraq was and still is constantly portrayed as Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. The country is far more than that. In the early days after the invasion and while the people were still in disarray and in a state of shock, Iraqis were presented with mainly ethnic and sectarian blocs as their representatives.

The other, nominally secular groups packaged and presented to Iraqis were led by a few 'imported' gentlemen including a convicted felon, a CIA asset described by his own controller as a thug and a tired, uncharismatic old man. They had little credit with the people. They were also out of touch with the country for more than three decades during which the country and society were subjected to, and distorted by, enormous stressful forces that included a harsh tyranny, three major wars and years of strenuous sanctions.

The indigenous Iraqi voices were choked. There were other forces of reason, moderation and reconciliation in Iraq. But, in that prevailing climate with the overwhelming strength of those divisive forces and lack of organization, funds and support, those forces of reason and construction did not have a fair fighting chance.
All these mistakes could have been gradually corrected, but the US sinned above all by omission. It ignored the objectives it had set itself and withdrew before agreement had been reached on the issues that will continue to haunt Iraq for years: revision of the constitution, allocation of disputed territories, distribution of resources, relations between central and regional government, the prime minister’s prerogatives, the institutionalisation of counter-powers, the bylaws of parliament, the structure of the security forces, etc.

As I recall, Obama left Iraq only after failing to obtain an immunity agreement for American forces. Perhaps Obama didn't put much effort into the negotiations. It's not clear to me how the presence of the US military in Baghdad for another ten years would have effected solutions these problems. I would think the US still has a lot of influence on Iraq as is.

The Entangled Identities section is chilling. The bits of humanity and hope in the article are encouraging, but the institutionalization of sectarianism, corruption and political deadlock seems almost insurmountable.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:16 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson: How the Bush administration sold the war – and we bought it
posted by homunculus at 12:18 PM on March 3, 2013


Iraq hit by series of deadly attacks: Bombings target predominantly Shia Muslim areas in and around Baghdad against a backdrop of rising sectarian tensions.

Deadly bombs strike Iraq day after blasts: At least eight people killed and dozens wounded after series of bombs explode near Baghdad, police and doctors say.
posted by homunculus at 12:55 PM on March 3, 2013


I feel like making up T-shirts that read
All that blood & treasure spent, and all we got was grainy cell-phone footage of Saddam being hanged.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:18 PM on March 3, 2013


"All these mistakes could have been gradually corrected, but the US sinned above all by omission. It ignored the objectives it had set itself and withdrew before agreement had been reached on the issues that will continue to haunt Iraq for years: revision of the constitution, allocation of disputed territories, distribution of resources, relations between central and regional government, the prime minister’s prerogatives, the institutionalisation of counter-powers, the bylaws of parliament, the structure of the security forces, etc. "

There's a debate to be had whether the original mistake, going to war in Iraq in the first place, could have been redeemed, or still can be, by achieving any of those objectives.
I don't think so.
The Hague regulations on land warfare deal with foreign military powers in a state and we haven't done much work along those lines (restoring and preserving public order.
The exception (in section 3) has been pretty well abused: "respecting the law is not compulsory in the case of absolute hindrance."
We're constantly in transition, so we're constantly leaving ... except one more thing...
posted by Smedleyman at 1:46 PM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's nearly a century since WW1 (the Great War, the War to End All Wars) and historians are still arguing about its causes, let alone its effects. The Iraq war wasn't as complex, but it was still a lot more involved that "Bush Lied People Died" and anyone who reduces it to that is simply not worth listening to. The Great War was a tragedy which caused some good things: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and eventually most other empires, as well as the League of Nations and the modern structure of international law and relations. Has the opposition to the Iraq war led to anything more nuanced than "foreign intervention is bad because it's too hard"?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:29 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it killed the American neoconservative crusade to remake the Middle East. Remember, the original plan was to start in Iraq and keep on going.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:37 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


The people who planned the peace for Iraq were also think tank fundamentalists steeped in libertarian doctrine, which by default serves as the loyal companion to corruption.
posted by Brian B. at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2013


War didn't change things for the better? Surprise, surprise.

When will we ever learn?
posted by Twang at 3:04 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


but aren't Iraqis better off today than they would be if Saddam (or his sons) still had a grip on power?"

Electrical power was closer to 24x7 and the water/sewage processing was closer to 1st world than now.

At what point is it the US Governments job to put bad men outta work in other countries?
posted by rough ashlar at 3:06 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Iraq war wasn't as complex, but it was still a lot more involved that "Bush Lied People Died" and anyone who reduces it to that is simply not worth listening to.

Would you care to explain it to us then, as you obviously understand it?

Of course it's more nuanced that "Bush Lied People Died". The part where it was obvious at the time he was lying is maybe kind of relevant, for a start. What does it mean that no one was held responsible for the lying? This demonstration presumably remains the largest in British history. What does it mean that it was for nought? What does it mean that the people who went on that demo basically knew they weren't going to stop the war? And this isn't me offering intelligent commentary on the Iraq War, it's me tossing out some things that might be kind of relevant.
posted by hoyland at 6:25 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not to side-track, but pretty sure this set of neoconservatives who essentially believe that war is a cleansing force, aren't libertarians.
posted by stratastar at 6:26 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The hawks were wrong: Iraq is worse off now
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:26 PM on March 3, 2013


Ten years on, the case for invading Iraq is still valid
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:32 PM on March 3, 2013


The 3 wars certainly made Iraq less of a threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Why would you think any of the wars the USA fomented with Iraq were intended to achieve the publicly stated ends?
posted by bert2368 at 10:32 PM on March 3, 2013


Yes, this is pretty much what thinking people predicted would be the outcome of our brave o'er-toppling of the evil Saddam. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:44 PM on March 3, 2013


The Great War was a tragedy which caused some good things: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and eventually most other empires, as well as the League of Nations and the modern structure of international law and relations. Has the opposition to the Iraq war led to anything more nuanced than "foreign intervention is bad because it's too hard"?

If this logic were valid, then any action gains credit for all positive results that come in its wake, no matter how disastrous it was, and no act of prevention is ever good. I'll let each of you figure out how easily it Godwins for yourself.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:24 PM on March 3, 2013


The 3 wars certainly made Iraq less of a threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Why would you imagine that Israel had anything to do with it? Israel was and is more concerned with Iran, which (a) is pursuing nuclear weapon technology; (b) has one of the largest armies in the world; and (c) funds Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, which attacks Israel via Lebanon as well as Jews worldwide. It's a far more strategic threat than Iraq ever was, and the same was true in 2003.

The same goes for Saudi Arabia: yes, they were scared of Iraq, but they are really scared of Iran. We even have a Wikileaked cable from Saudi Arabia where they demand that the USA "cut the head off the snake" - i.e., Iran. In fact, if you read the cable you will see that Saudi Arabia was actually angry with the USA over its handling of Iraq, which allowed Iran to gain influence over the country. The implication is that they formerly considered Iraq to be something of a buffer zone between Iran and dissident Saudi Shiites.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:56 PM on March 3, 2013


Heck, the invasion of Iraq, and the resulting turmoil there, was such a gift to Iran that lots of people say that it's Iran that actually won the war. I'd love to see a right-wing provocateur accuse Rumsfeld and Cheney of being secret Iranian agents based on the outcome.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:15 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ten years on, the case for invading Iraq is still valid.

That's one way of looking at it.

Another way is to conclude 10 years on the results of said war IN THE REAL WORLD OF REAL RESULTS OUTSIDE THE REALM OF THINK-TANK IDEALISM AND KEYBOARD-JOCKEY WARMONGERING indicate a case for restraint:
Since the end of the Cold War 16 years ago, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been running an experiment with U.S. grand strategy. The theory to be tested has been this: Very good intentions, plus very great power, plus action can transform both international politics and the domestic politics of other states in ways that are advantageous to the United States, and at costs it can afford. The evidence is in: The experiment has failed. Transformation is unachievable, and costs are high.

The United States needs now to test a different grand strategy: It should conceive its security interests narrowly, use its military power stingily, pursue its enemies quietly but persistently, share responsibilities and costs more equitably, watch and wait more patiently. Let’s do this for 16 years and see if the outcomes aren’t better.
There are moral arguments for lots of things. But in the REAL WORLD we can't afford them, and can't seem to actually achieve them when we burn blood & treasure trying.

Ya know what? If the British chattering class thought the moral argument for the war was so strong, they should have gone and done it on their own.

As an American taxpayer, the moral argument for America's part in the war was crap, bullshit, and wretchedness. Because Saddam was America's best buddy when Reagan was selling him the poison gas and Rumsfeld was shaking his hand for the cameras. What was the moral argument for supporting him then?

The moral argument for the war on Iraq is "Shut up, peasant. Empires don't answer to the likes of you." Anything else was never more than window dressing.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:27 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ten years on, the case for invading Iraq is still valid.

Wait, I hadn't read the linked article. I had assumed the title meant that the argument for invasion was as valid now as it was back then, i.e. not valid. Turns out the article is just some twat claiming the invasion of Iraq was nothing but the removal of Saddam Hussein.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:23 PM on March 4, 2013


The Syrian Civil War comes to Iraq, as 8 Iraqi and 48 Syrian Troops are Killed on Iraqi Soil
posted by homunculus at 10:10 AM on March 5, 2013


Too Much Money Spent In Iraq For Too Few Results
Ten years and $60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.

In his final report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen's conclusion was all too clear: Since the invasion a decade ago this month, the U.S. has spent too much money in Iraq for too few results.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:43 AM on March 6, 2013


The Butcher's Bill
posted by homunculus at 3:27 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


-Rumsfeld's War Crimes Mount
-Release The Torture Report
posted by kliuless at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2013


This administration has not carried out drone strikes within the United States and has no intention of doing so.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:03 PM on March 6, 2013


Rumsfeld’s War Crimes Mount

The article in question:

Pentagon's link to Iraqi torture centres: General David Petraeus and 'dirty wars' veteran behind commando units implicated in detainee abuse
posted by homunculus at 8:23 PM on March 6, 2013


Ten years and $60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.

$60B? Off by a factor of at least 10, no? Oh, on re-read that's only what we spent on reconstruction, not the entire cost of our invasion, occupation, and "rebuilding."
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:06 PM on March 7, 2013


Mission Unaccomplished: Why the invasion of Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:53 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Saddam's statue: the bitter regrets of Iraq's sledgehammer man. Kadom al-Jabouri became famous when he took his hammer to the dictator's statue. Now he wishes he had never done it
posted by homunculus at 1:52 PM on March 10, 2013


No longer forgotten: a Kurdish view of the Iraq war. I understand American and international ambivalence to the war in Iraq, but it gave the Kurdish people a lifeline
posted by homunculus at 12:44 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Iraq War That Might Have Been
In our years of research on the Iraq war, we have uncovered a number of similarly hidden forks in the road -- lost opportunities that might have dramatically shortened the Americans' ordeal in Iraq or decisions whose full significance was not apparent until years later. Many are chronicled in internal government documents, thousands of pages that we reviewed in the course of our reporting -- in effect, amounting to a secret Iraq archive that sheds new light on the nearly nine-year-long war.

These memoranda, 23 of which are being published today in the new ebook edition of Endgame, our history of the conflict, cover the whole long arc of the war.

The documents, many of which are being published for the first time, include the dawning awareness that the United States had stumbled into an intervention that would be more taxing and prolonged than it had anticipated -- a point driven home in a blunt 2004 cable from John Negroponte, the first American ambassador in post-Saddam Baghdad, warning President George W. Bush that the United States was "in a deep hole with the Iraqi people" and needed at least five years to get the country on its feet. (Bush's response: "We don't have that much time.")
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:36 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


...decisions whose full significance was not apparent until years later...

"The surge worked."
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:42 PM on March 12, 2013


Still Peddling Iraq War Myths, 10 Years Later
But a clear pattern throughout the event was that ten years have not diluted the house line of those most directly involved in promoting the war, including among others then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Douglas Feith, who as an undersecretary of defense was one of the most rabid of the war promoters. Not only did they give no hint of acknowledgment that this war of choice (and Hadley refused to accept even that characterization) was one of the worst and most inexcusable blunders in the history of U.S. foreign policy. They also stuck to the line that if there was any mistake in the origin of the war it was solely a matter of “bad intelligence” and that the only “lessons” to be learned were to distrust intelligence more or ask tougher questions about it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:48 AM on March 15, 2013


U.S. Military Neglects Huge Data Trove of Iraq War: The Iraqis Themselves
posted by homunculus at 1:33 PM on March 15, 2013


What the US invasion felt like to Iraqis
posted by homunculus at 3:27 PM on March 15, 2013


Iraq War's Missing Prisoners: Families Search For 16,000 Unaccounted Who May Be Held In Secret Prisons
posted by homunculus at 3:47 PM on March 15, 2013


$60B? Off by a factor of at least 10, no?

The Iraq War Could Cost More Than $6 Trillion
posted by homunculus at 3:48 PM on March 15, 2013


Iraq anniversary: inside Baghdad, a city still scarred by war
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:04 PM on March 17, 2013


Arwa Damon's Iraq: Suffocating in a cloak of sorrow
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:20 PM on March 17, 2013


« Older You got your cuisine in my astrophysics; no, you g...  |  The credit card processor Stri... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments