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April 9, 2008 3:50 AM   Subscribe

Riding The Tiger; Muqtada al-Sadr and the American Dilemma in Iraq is the final chapter of Patrick Cockburn's new book. Seymour Hersh has called Cockburn, who writes for the British paper, The Independent, "quite simply, the best Western journalist at work in Iraq today." Meanwhile al - Sadr has called off his million man march for now. Juan Cole asks: What if the US military presence is juvenilizing the Iraqis and prolonging the civil war?
posted by adamvasco (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is useful in addiction studies to note the difference between helping someone and enabling someone. Perhaps these distinctions might also apply in the Iraq situation. Were we to pull out, or leave the fighting to Iraq military, a civil war would ensue. But then there is the prospect of Iran taking over. But that is exactly what some folks noted at the onset of the invasion. Saddam represented a counter-veiling force to Iran. With him gone, will the US take on this role?
posted by Postroad at 4:22 AM on April 9, 2008


Oh noes, Iran!

Objectively speaking, which is really worse? Iran or the US in control of Iraq? At least Iran would be interested in having a border country under control and isn't quite as motivated by the oil supply.
posted by DU at 4:57 AM on April 9, 2008


Were we to pull out, or leave the fighting to Iraq military, a civil war would ensue.

No doubt that, like Vietnam, when the U.S. leaves, the U.S.-installed government will collapse.

No doubt that, like Vietnam, fighting will continue after the U.S. departure.

Turkey will invade and occupy Northern Iraq - then it's their problem.

The remaining 2/3's of the country will engage in a "civil war" but one that would not be long or particularly devastating. Despite all the money spent on building up the Iraqi army, it has no independent, sustainable capability.

There would be a short, intense struggle for power and a strong man - probably one of Saddam's disappeared generals - would reappear and take control.

And we would be back to the status quo ante: the best of all possible outcomes.

Moreover, leaving abuptly would be the best the US could do for the people of Iraq. Like pulling off a band-aid, the hurt would be short and quickly over.

Maintaining the course towards "victory" and "democracy" is not a policy; it is a dangerous illusion.
posted by three blind mice at 5:03 AM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


THe best of all possible outcomes

For whom? Certainly not for the Kurds - and the Turks have an approach to dealing with that particular 'problem'. Probably not for the rest of Iraq:

There would be a short, intense struggle for power and a strong man - probably one of Saddam's disappeared generals - would reappear and take control.

Sure, one of Saddam's generals might rise to power, but only over the Sunnis. How would they defeat the Shia? Another faction or multiple factions would rise amongst the Shia, try to crush the Sunnis, who would be supplied by the Saudis and would fight back, against outfits now supplied by Iran. Where is the evidence that it would be quickly over? Take a look at some of the conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, in Afghanistan etc. for the narratives of ethnically diverse areas without the rule of law, and then take a look at the analysis of what point extract resources do to these narratives. This has all the hallmarks of a bloody civil war stretching for years, and it's wishful thinking to think otherwise - wishful thinking at a similar level as those of the original planners of the war.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:33 AM on April 9, 2008


I am getting so tired of this ethnic-violence history-of-conflict meme that seems to readily pour out in these discussions. The United States had a brutal civil war. Europe had countless civil wars, other wars and revolutions. The non-violence of the supposedly civilized world has not been around for very long at all. Peace doesn't have a whole lot of historical precendents anywhere. The only thing special about violence in the middle east is that it is happening now, and powerful militant outside antagonists have poured gas on the fire.
posted by srboisvert at 6:06 AM on April 9, 2008


meme?

Who said anything about the Middle East being special? As you point out, Europe had countless wars, etc. It's taken us centuries to pull out of it. But how is that a meme? Or is it just a trope?

Certain background factors, of which ethnic diversity and point extract resources are significant, tend to result in civil war where there is a lack of strong institutions - and more importantly, the lack of a political compromise tying in the main political elites, like that Juan Cole describes in the case of Lebanon. Unfortunately, Iraq but not Europe or US happens to find itself in that circumstance now, with no likely compromise between its political elites, which is why the comment was about Iraq. Sure, there are developing countries where this is not the case: see Tanzania and Zambia in particular. These are better comparators than the US or Europe, because they are also very poor, very ethnically diverse, and have been messed around by the West, and yet the resources are evenly shared between those who have muscle. Their success is unusual.
posted by YouRebelScum at 6:24 AM on April 9, 2008


This has all the hallmarks of a bloody civil war stretching for years, and it's wishful thinking to think otherwise - wishful thinking at a similar level as those of the original planners of the war.

That's what was said about the Republic of Vietnam. There is no sense for America to invest more American lives and treasure into this mess.

Take the medicine now. Get out and let the Iraqis sort out their own mess.
posted by three blind mice at 6:31 AM on April 9, 2008


Sort out their own mess.

A mess of whose creation? I'm not arguing for a solution. Thankfully I don't have to. However, one example of a country that had relative success does not convince me that Iraq will go the same way - particularly because (I understand) Vietnam is relatively homogenous in its population and doesn't have the oil resources Iraq does, and even more particularly given countervailing examples like the post-colonial African states or post-Soviet Afghanistan (which is a very close analogue in some respects to Iraq, in terms of population size, breakdown of ethnic groups, etc). If the US does pull out (and I would understand why they would want to), I hope that they do so after fully considering the fact that there is a good chance it will get very nasty for the remaining Iraqis.
posted by YouRebelScum at 6:45 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


An Iraq in turmoil with a large and active American presence, gruesome and tiresome as that is for all concerned, is still more preferable for the Middle East and for the larger world, than an Iraq left to suffer the fate of failed states like Somalia, and become a greater haven and training ground for terrorists, than it has already become. Petraeus may not succeed in the end, and particularly if the Iraqi people and their government don't do a better job of mastering their own fate. But Petraeus' efforts since last September justify some faith in his ability, and for supporting him as he continues, while he still has hope for the situation.

"... No doubt that, like Vietnam, when the U.S. leaves, the U.S.-installed government will collapse. ..."
posted by three blind mice at 8:03 AM on April 9

The U.S. ultimately failed in Southeast Asia, in the face of a Chinese proxied military aggressor state's tactical intransigence, as much as for the failures of South Vietnam's people to create a strong democratic government and an effective military of their own. America failed to stop the communists in Vietnam for reasons more complex than had come up in the Korean conflict of a previous decade, but had the U.S. withdrawn from South Korea unilaterally, it is unlikely there would, today, be a South Korea. The U.S. never beat back the North Vietnamese as it did the North Koreans, and it could not have stayed in Vietnam without inevitably expanding the war, more than it already had to Laos, and Cambodia. The Korean strategy failed in Vietnam, because the ground was different, and because the people were different.

I think few would say that a Korean peninsula, united under North Korean rule, would have been a good thing for the world. That the Vietnamese result did not turn out to be worse for the world is probably as much a testament to the intransigence, finally, of the Vietnamese to even Chinese authority, as to any parallels to its situation as a Chinese client state like North Korea.

There are always pitfalls in drawing parallels between any historical situation, and present conflicts. I don't find parallels between Vietnam and Iraq particularly apt, or therefore, instructive. Nor am I trying to hold up U.S. commitments in South Korea as some kind of template for Iraq. But were the U.S. to quickly disengage in Iraq, I doubt the result would be, truly, a "civil war," in the sense of a conflict among peoples of a country to decide its future, as much as it would be a situation in which many organizational actors would struggle, in increasingly difficult to understand ways, to achieve little. It would not be simply Shia against Sunni, or Islamic fundamentalists against rationalists, or Iraqis against Iranians, or Turks against Kurds, but some witches brew of all of these interests, and more. It would go on, I think, at varying but generally low levels of intensity, for a long, long time, and be a constant threat to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other states of the region.

And that kind of abandoned arena of hate and despair would be good for no one, any where. And worse, it would easily become a cesspool no coalition of forces would be likely to re-enter, to police or clean up, any time in the next several decades.

Ultimately, Europe and Russia have bigger problems than they are willing to publicly discuss if the U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq fail. Germany, France and the rest of the E.U., except Britain, have largely stuck their heads in the sand, or contributed token support to the effort, for the most venial of internal political reasons. But I think if a change of American administrations brought a real, immediate prospect of a rapid U.S. pullout, you'd see fear on the faces of EU leaders, as soon as the pullout really began. And as interested as Putin's post Cold War Russia might be to have a chance to exploit instability in the world to advance Russian national interests, a failed state in the place of a dysfunctional Iraq is as large a domestic terror threat for them, ultimately, as it is for the Europeans, or the U.S.

And to say nothing, nor speculate about a nuclear armed Israel's views on a rapid American disengagement from Iraq's future.
posted by paulsc at 6:49 AM on April 9, 2008


But Petraeus' efforts since last September justify some faith in his ability, and for supporting him as he continues, while he still has hope for the situation.

What efforts justify faith? Buying off Sunni militias to stop blowing up americans by giving them even more guns stops the fighting now, but it is setting up Iraq for major problems in the future. The basic fact is that U.S. forces in Iraq will be drawn down in the next year or so, simply because there is not enough man power in the volunteer army to keep current levels up and there is no political will to increase funding to the army, let alone start a draft. When this drawdown starts happening, as there has been no fundamental change in the political situation in Iraq since the surge started, violence levels will probably rise again.

The obvious solution to helping along the political process in Iraq would be to engage with the country that has the most influence and interest in there, Iran. Of course the U.S. will never do this.
posted by afu at 7:16 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


"What efforts justify faith? ..."
posted by afu at 10:16 AM on April 9

One man's "buying off" of militias is another man's "interim direct local economic support."

"... The obvious solution to helping along the political process in Iraq would be to engage with the country that has the most influence and interest in there, Iran. ..."

Or, maybe it's to let a realist like Petraeus operate to broker some compromises, if any can be made, between Sadr, the current Iraqi government, and other Sunni and Shia leaders, not in anyone's tent. Perhaps, he can even persuade the Kurds to take some hand in stabilizing the larger country, as distant a prospect as that seems to many.

As for the U.S. engaging with Iran to decide Iraq's future, that smacks of a cynicism about Iraqi sensibilities and the juvenilizing of Iraq that the articles in the FPP don't even rise to suggest. If anyone is to engage the Iranians where Iraq's interests and future are concerned, it should be the Iraqis.
posted by paulsc at 7:43 AM on April 9, 2008


It's cute how people like to look at the occupation in Iraq as something that those in authority have some intention of ending within our lifetimes.
posted by mullingitover at 8:23 AM on April 9, 2008


Another tale of special operations

And, Iraqi Crybaby Theatre
posted by anthill at 8:27 AM on April 9, 2008


Iran helped end last week's fighting between Iraqi government troops and a Shi'ite militia in Iraq's oil-rich south.
posted by adamvasco at 8:41 AM on April 9, 2008


Honestly, I don't know why we haven't tried to engage Sadr, instead of demonizing him.

Here is a man who holds a delicate balance with what seems to be a considerable amount of skill: he's both a friend of Iran and an Iraqi nationalist. Therefore he'd be more likely than most to diplomatically avoid the two perils of Iraq after the end of American involvement: Iranian domination and Iranian aggression. He also commands an enthusiastic mass following of Iraqis, many of whom are willing to fight and die, which is more than can be said for much of the reconstituted Iraqi military. He has also made gestures calling for unity between Sunni and Shiite.

But America never learns its lesson. If there is any constant in our foreign policy, it's that we have always preferred to prop up tractable stooges whose support is largely the product of violence and corruption, and who almost invariably come to a bad end--more often than not bringing their country along with them.

While I'm sure the government takes pause at Sadr's strong belief in the role of Islam in public life, the simple fact is that a primarily secular government in Iraq will not last; it's not what the people there desire. Unless we're indeed prepared to support a significant ground presence in Iraq over the many decades it will take for Iraqis to become comfortable with political secularization, the realistic options are either to support an essentially democratic demagogue like Sadr or resign ourselves to the likelihood of Saddam redux. Pouring further billions of dollars into Maliki's government-by-bribery is throwing good money after bad.
posted by Makoto at 11:51 AM on April 9, 2008


A convenient culprit
The US says Iranians were involved in the recent fighting in Basra - but Iran later helped to broker a ceasefire
posted by adamvasco at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2008


An Iraq in turmoil with a large and active American presence, gruesome and tiresome as that is for all concerned, is still more preferable for the Middle East and for the larger world, than an Iraq left to suffer the fate of failed states like Somalia, and become a greater haven and training ground for terrorists, than it has already become.

The Iraqis know how to govern themselves as was in evidence before the U.S. invaded and imposed colonial rule: Iraq wasn't a failed state. It wasn't a haven for terrorists.

I believe that the Iraqis still know how to govern themselves. It isn't Somalia. The U.S. needs to get out of the way and leave it to the Iraqis to organically create a government.

the simple fact is that a primarily secular government in Iraq will not last; it's not what the people there desire.

As my Iraqi friend reminds me: "we don't have democracy in our homes, I am dictator. My father was dictator. His father was dictator. This is what we know. Any successful government should be a reflection of this."

Unless we're indeed prepared to support a significant ground presence in Iraq over the many decades it will take for Iraqis to become comfortable with political secularization, the realistic options are either to support an essentially democratic demagogue like Sadr or resign ourselves to the likelihood of Saddam redux. Pouring further billions of dollars into Maliki's government-by-bribery is throwing good money after bad.

Saddam redux would be perfectly acceptable. Why the U.S. removed a perfectly good dictator remains a mystery, but it is clear that it was a terrible mistake.
posted by three blind mice at 1:42 PM on April 9, 2008


"Iran helped end last week's fighting between Iraqi government troops and a Shi'ite militia in Iraq's oil-rich south."
posted by adamvasco at 11:41 AM on April 9
"... "Let's start with the Iranian involvement not in ending it, but maybe in beginning it," he said.

U.S. officials say rogue members of Sadr's militia get support and weapons from Iran.

"We got the tail fins of what was dropping on us ... This was quite literally made in Iran. All of this stuff was out of Iran and a lot of it manufactured in 2007," Crocker added.
As regards your theory of Iranian good will towards the Iraqi people, through Sadr, from your "convenient culprit" link:
"... The emergence of the five-year-old Sadrist movement has nothing to do with Iran. ..."
But again from the Reuters article you quoted above:
"... Members of the Iraqi delegation have confirmed to Reuters they went to Iran just before Sadr announced the ceasefire but have declined to give details on any role Iran played. ..."
It's possible, I suppose, that Iran has only the altruistic goal of helping Iraq in mind. It's just hard to reconcile that thought with the continuing fragments of Iranian hardware found at the scene of so much violence in Iraq, and Sadr's delegation declining to claim that themselves.
posted by paulsc at 1:56 PM on April 9, 2008


Of course Iran is involved, on both sides of the conflict. They're longtime supporters of the Iraqi Prime Minister's Dawa Party, which was founded by Muqtada's father-in-law. Two puppets, two hands, one puppetmaster.

paulsc writes "It's possible, I suppose, that Iran has only the altruistic goal of helping Iraq in mind."

You bet they do. They're on our side, helping Iraq turn into a militant Islamic republic. We helped them by disbanding the relatively moderate secular Baathists and the entire Iraqi military. Disbanding the military was the genius stroke, ensuring that there would be decades of sectarian power struggle aggravated by foreign occupation, which would, circularly, require foreign occupation to "stabilize the country." If the Iraqi military had been in place, it would've been a matter of months before order was restored.
posted by mullingitover at 11:31 PM on April 9, 2008


Oh, and Maliki's Dawa party was also responsible for bombing the US and French embassies in 1983 in Kuwait (they have some ties to Hezbollah, too). They're the good guys now though.

Tsk, tsk, and I almost forgot our friends the Badr Brigade were also based in Iran for the past two decades. They've "reportedly joined the newly-reconstituted army, police and Interior Ministry in significant numbers."

So it's entirely likely that Iran is influencing, if not outright controlling, Iraq's ruling party, the military, and the 'rebels,' and this situation was brought to fruition with the assistance of the US. But hey, at least those commie Baathists aren't in charge anymore!
posted by mullingitover at 12:11 AM on April 10, 2008


How Iraq spawned wider terrorist chaos: As experts long warned, Islamic militants steeped in urban warfare against U.S. troops in Iraq have expanded their violent campaign beyond Iraq's borders.
posted by homunculus at 10:04 AM on April 14, 2008


“Killing at least…”
posted by homunculus at 10:14 AM on April 17, 2008


Sadr threatens 'open war' as Iraqi army attacks base
posted by homunculus at 1:48 PM on April 22, 2008


U.S. Weighing Readiness for Military Action Against Iran
posted by homunculus at 11:04 AM on April 26, 2008


Britons kidnapped in Iraq are ‘held by Iran’
posted by homunculus at 2:37 PM on April 27, 2008


Baghdad clashes 'leave 400 dead'
posted by homunculus at 11:04 AM on April 30, 2008


Missiles Strike Sadr City, Damaging Hospital
posted by homunculus at 2:27 PM on May 3, 2008


Secret Bush "Finding" Widens War on Iran
posted by homunculus at 9:17 AM on May 5, 2008


Selling the War with Iran
posted by homunculus at 9:53 AM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


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