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Editorial correspondence | Back to History | Back to the world news
TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Articles on Iraq after 2007
The proxy war between the USA and Iran
Revisiting the war
Who is winning?
How to win in Iraq
2006 articles

  • (september 2007) The proxy war between the USA and Iran. The civil war in Iraq has a way of continuously shifting. It started as a war between the USA and members of the Baath party. Then foreign terrorists such as Al Zarqawi launched a parallel war against the USA and anybody who helped them. Al Zarqawi came up with a brilliant idea: trigger a civil war by pitting Sunnis against Shiites. He started blowing up Shiites. He succeeded in provoking the Shiites into revenge. Then Shiite militias started a campaign of ethnic cleansing that has turned most of Baghdad into a Shiite zone. The Sunnis responded with a campaign of suicide bombings aimed not at the USA but at the Shiite population in general. Then the Shiite militias started competing against each other for military control of Baghdad and of the south. The ferocity of these multiple civil wars rivals the ferocity of the civil war in Rwanda. Whether suicide bombers or militia members, the warriors involved in this fight do not hesitate to torture, kill and mutilate innocents. As the ferocity increased, the role played by the USA was actually decreasing. In a sense, the various factions behaved as if the USA was slowly withdrawing from the scene and they had a window of opportunity to seize control over their region (if not over the whole country).
    The latest twist in the Iraqi civil war might be a change of focus by the USA. First of all, the "surge" ordered by Bush made it clear to the various factions that they cannot count the USA out yet. While the USA has failed to provide order in any meaningful manner, the firepower of the USA can still annihilate any force that tries to operate in large numbers of men, therefore shattering any dream that Al Sadr and others may have harbored of creating armies. They can easily operate as individual terrorists or small gangs, but never gather in large numbers. The USA has not lost a single battle against "insurgents".
    The second message of the "surge" is more subtle. It came at the same time that the USA made a deal with the tribal leaders of the Sunni province that borders with Jordan and Saudi Arabia to fight against the foreign terrorists. That deal had nothing to do with the surge, and nothing to do with the central government of Iraq. Al Qaeda created its own enemies by trying to impose Islamic law and its own barbaric attitudes on the local population. The tribal elders decided that the USA was the lesser evil and the only agent capable of repulsing Al Qaeda.
    However, the timing was significant. It came at the same time that the USA was growing increasingly concerned that the factions winning in Baghdad and in the South are backed by Iran. It came at the same time that Iran's influence in Lebanon (via Hezbollah) and Palestine (via Hamas) has hampered USA efforts to bring peace and stability to the region. There is little question that the tribes of western Iraq are fiercely opposed to Iran. By making a deal with them, the USA has not merely reconquered a region that seemed lost: the USA has boosted an enemy of its enemy.
    At the same time the USA has been pressing the central government of Iraq to grant some kind of amnesty to the former members of the Baath party. The people who were faithful to Saddam Hussein might not be faithful to his memory, but one thing is for sure: they spent eight years of their lives fighting against Iran in a no less ferocious war between the two countries, and their feelings are probably still deeply anti-Iranian. The USA may be sincere in hoping that an amnesty for the Baath party will help national reconciliation, but at the same time they are probably calculating that the Baath party is one faction that would help counter the Iranian influence in Iraq. One has to remember that, by removing Saddam Hussein, the USA did a great favor to the Iranian regime: it removed its main enemy. By reinstating some of Saddam Hussein's lieutenants, the USA would undo that favor.
    The real success story that USA generals and the Bush administration are boasting about (the alliance with the western Sunni tribes) is not about the "surge". The surge did not and will not affect that region. It will mainly affect the regions around Baghdad where the Shiites are winning the civil war against the Sunnis. It is only a matter of time before the Sunnis of the infamous "Sunni triangle" realize that they would be exterminated by Iranian-backed militias if it were not for the USA surge.
    The USA is not trying to partition Iraq in Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite zones, because the Shiite zone would fall into the Iranian sphere of influence, and the USA has no intention of surrendering such a valuable asset. Nor does the USA want to become the protector of the Sunni minority against the Shiite majority. The USA is trying to change the very nature of the central government of Iraq, that is currently too biased towards the Iranian-backed militias. And is willing to boost any faction that is opposed to Iran.
    The key to the success of this proxy war is to find a way to win the hearts and minds of the Shiite middle-class, those who are not enrolled in militias. These Shiites have a simple story to tell. They were second-rate citizens under Saddam Hussein, and hundreds of thousands of them were brutally killed. During those years the Sunni areas benefited from Saddam's policies. Most of Saddam's entourage was drawn from Sunni tribes. When Saddam was finally deposed and then killed, the Sunnis did not show any sense of guilt. They never apologized to the Shiites for the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein. In fact, anedoctal evidence shows that most Sunnis felt humiliated when Saddam Hussein was caught and when he was executed. Milions of Shiites rejoyced because it was the long awaited revenge against their persecutor, but the Sunnis did not join them. The Sunnis remained proudly indifferent to the past. They were further hurt by the decision to ban the Saddam Hussein's Baath party (run mainly by Sunnis) and by the appointment of so many Shiite generals to lead the army. The Sunnis never recognized that a fundamental injustice had been going on in Iraq for decades: the Sunni minority ruling over the Shiite majority. Just like the Chinese have not forgotten the atrocities of the Japanese because the Japanese never apologized, so the Shiites have not forgotten the atrocities suffered under Sunni domination because the Sunni never apologized. Germans have been forgiven by Jews because they sincerely apologized. The Sunnis are behaving more like the whites in South Africa, who resented being stripped of the apartheid regime that granted them superiority over the black majority. To make matters worse, thousands of Sunnis flocked to Iraq from neighboring countries to fight against the USA, but ended up fighting against the Shiites. Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries called for a jihad against the heretics (Sunnis believe that Shiites are heretics). The Shiites have not forgotten that the Sunni minority did not do anything to stop the first suicide bombings against the Shiites and did not do much to stop Al Qaeda at the beginning. To make matters worse, the Sunni insurgents started using barbaric methods (from beheadings to suicide bombings), reminiscent of the old stereotype that Persians were more civilized than the Arabs who conquered them. The truth is that the entire Sunni world, from Morocco to Syria, does not publicly admit that the Shiites have a moral superiority in this story. Hence the wrath of the Shiites. While most of them may dislike gangs such as Al Sadr's militia, and most of them are probably not keen on an Islamic form of government, they see the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Islamic Shiite militias as a reparation of sort. And they see the suicide bombers as a continuation of Saddam Hussein's barbaric regime. Therefore any alliance of the USA with Sunni tribes and any pressure by the USA to restore the old Baath leadership might alienate the Shiite majority.
    The Shiites voted massively for the main Shiite party but perhaps they are now regretting the mess that they caused the same way that the people of Gaza regret voting for Hamas. The USA has to find a way to convince them that the real friend is not the one across the border (Iran) but the one that comes from the other side of the planet (the USA).
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (April 2007) Revisiting the war. Imagine that you are in 2003 and that: a) You don't like to impose sanctions forever (in fact, sanctions never worked against a dictator); b) You don't believe that, without sanctions and without invasion, the Saddam Hussein regime will ever change (in fact it has been getting worse and worse, not better and better); c) The United Nations inspectors have documented thousands of liters of biological weapons (the inspectors did not destroy them, so you presume that they are still there), and they discovered a secret program to build a nuclear weapon (the latter was indeed destroyed by the inspectors, but you are not sure if it was the only one); d) You don't want to leave the Iraqi people forever under this monster and his sons; e) You know that Baghdad used to be the cultural center of the Islamic world, and hope that a fledging democracy in Baghdad would spawn a wave of democratic revolutions all over the Islamic world.
    What is the appropriate course of action?
    Rational people, no matter how much they disliked the corrupt Bush administration, reached the conclusion that Blair's and Bush's rush to remove Saddam Hussein was a godsend. It was a unique case in which the USA was willing to remove a dictator, as opposed as supporting one.
    The fact that, four years later, the situation in Iraq is an absolute disaster (thousands of civilians dead, civil infrastruture still in shamble, rising Iranian influence) does not mean that the invasion was an irrational idea. It was an excellent idea, possibly the best one that the USA has had since WWII. I wish the USA had more ideas like this one, and fewer ideas like supporting the dictators of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.
    It is more useful to analyze why it is going so badly than to insist that it was a bad idea from the beginning.
    Inevitably, one has to admit that the enemy was smarter. There were incompetent and arrogant people in charge of the USA invasion, against competent and humble people in charge of the insurgency.
    Two groups in particular outsmarted the Bush administration: 1. The democratic countries that decided to stay out (namely, France); 2. The Middle-eastern organs like Al Jazeera that stirred up and directed trouble from the beginning.
    The outcome would have been different if the entire democratic world had joined the USA, Britain and Australia in invading Iraq. The invasion would have been in more competent and less corrupt hands. Instead of handing out billions of dollars to friends of Dick Cheney maybe the "coalition" would have actually provided water and electricity (not to mention security) to the Iraqi people, a simple fact that would make it a lot harder for the insurgents and the militias to recruit new members.
    The outcome would have been totally different if Al Jazeera and the other mouthpieces of Islamic fundamentalism and Arab nationalism had cooperated with the liberators, instead of rooting for the dictator until the end and then cooperating with the terrorists. (Remember when the USA had surrounded the Sadr militia in Najaf? The USA could have finished them off in 24 hours. It was Al Jazeera that saved Al Sadr by screaming "genocide". Today that militia is responsible for the vast majority of executions in Baghdad. Ditto for the Sunni insurgents in Falluja, for the former members of the Baath party, for Al Qaeda, etc. Al Jazeera has pretty much engineered the current chaos, consistently outsmarting the USA).
    Given that the USA was outsmarted for four years, is there hope that the USA will now outsmart the enemy? Honestly, no. The new political class, led by Nancy Pelosi, is as clueless as the previous one (but, hopefully, a bit less corrupt). They want to withdraw the troops, no matter what. If you ask them a simple question such as "What is going to happen in Iraq after the USA withdraws?", they have no answer. The honest truth is that the USA (whether Republican or Democratic) cannot be trusted with rescuing Iraq because it does not have a competent political class for this task.
    It is time to look for a solution outside the USA. Given that no country in the world trusts the United Nations as a defender of peace and that the Iraqi people hate their fellow Arabs before anyone else, there are two alternatives: NATO (as in Afghanistan and Kosovo) or an alliance of the great powers (USA, China, Japan, Russia, India, European Union, Brazil, Asean). A stable Iraq benefits everybody. The defeat of the Islamists benefits everybody. Removing or at least humiliating the dictators of Iran and Syria would also benefit everybody. Many in the opposition have asked Bush to talk to the enemies (such as Iran and Syria). Few have mentioned that maybe Bush should talk to the other great powers and ask for their contribution to a project that affects everybody, not just the USA. In fact, China's dependence on Middle-eastern oil is increasing far faster than the USA's. Russia and the European Union (not the USA) has lost the most in business terms from the chaos in Iraq. Everybody is a potential target of the next Islamic crusade. Maybe it is time that the USA starts acting like a superpower among powers that determine the geopolitics of the world, not as a regional power entangled in a regional conflict.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (April 2007) Who is winning? After Harry Reid admitted that the USA lost the war in Iraq, a plethora of commentators have been asking: who won it? The real question is: who "will" win it? The war is not over, and will not be over when the USA withdraws. It is conceptually wrong to think of this war as a second Vietnam war in which there are two well-defined sides (such as the USA and the South Vietnamese government against the insurgents and the North Vietnamese government and de facto the Soviet Union). In Iraq today there are Shiite militias killing innocent Sunnis, and Sunni suicide bombers blowing up innocent Shiites. There are also Shiite militias fighting each other, and tribal warlords who switch allegiance all the time. The USA is mostly a spectator of this civil war.
    True: outside or above the sectarian violence, there are both Al Qaeda and the former Baath members who are fighting the USA and the Iraqi government in a fashion similar to what the Vietcongs did in Vietnam; but who are the equivalent of the North Vietnamese government and of the Soviet Union? Iran has no sympathy for the Sunni fundamentalists of Al Qaeda or for the members of the party that launched the 1980 war against Iran that killed half a million Iranians. The other countries in the region are closer to the USA than to the insurgents, and most of them are openly fighting Al Qaeda in their own lands.
    If the USA loses the war, the war will simply go on. The most likely scenario is that the various factions will start shooting each other until only one prevails. Most likely that "one" will not be Al Qaeda (that has virtually no popular support) but one of the Shiite militias (not necessarily Al Sadr's, the most notorious in the West but not necessarily the most powerful in Iraq). That Shiite militia will be as ferocious in its persecution of Al Qaeda and of the Sunni insurgents as the USA can only dream of being. In fact, the most efficient way to get rid of Al Qaeda in Iraq is probably for the USA to withdraw and let the Shiites focus on finishing off the Sunni insurgents, which includes Al Qaeda.
    Once the Shiite militia is in full control of Iraq, it may or may not install an Islamic government, but one thing it is unlikely to do: become a mere servant of Iran. Guerrilla movements that seize powers rarely accept to quietly bend to the will of the powers that helped them win the civil war. Being at the peak of their military power and prestige, they are more likely to assert their independence than to show their gratitude. Today the world identifies the Shiite militias and Iran mainly because Iran was the only country to offer protection to the Shiite leaders and because there is only one Shiite country in the world. But a Shiite does not have such a simplified view of the world: there used to be several Shiite countries, and they were not necessarily friendly to each other, just like Christian countries such as France and Germany were not friendly to each other most of the time. The fact that many Iraqi Shiite leaders lived in Iran is as relevant as the fact that Ho Chi Minh had previously lived in the USA (a fact that did not keep him from becoming the charismatic leader of North Vietnam against the USA) or that Khomeini (the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran) had lived in France.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (January 2007) How to Win in Iraq. The USA easily won against Saddam Hussein, but it is failing in stabilizing the country. The risk is that the post-Saddam country will be a bigger threat to the world than Saddam's Iraq was, either because it falls into the hands of Islamic extremists or because it falls under control of Iran or because it fuels a regional war. The war that the USA is losing is actually the peace.
    The reason that the USA has been losing the peace is quite simple: just about every decision made since the invasion turned out to be the worst possible decision. But three attitudes stand out as major causes of the colossal problem that the USA faces today: denial, lack of compassion and incompetence.
    The first cause was the state of denial that the Bush administration lived in for such a long time. (See State of denial). By denying that there was a problem, the Bush administration let the problem get out of control. Finally the defeat in the parliamentary elections of 2006 forced the Bush administration to get out of the state of denial and admit that there is a problem, and it is now a very difficult problem.
    The second cause was the utter lack of compassion that the USA government showed for ordinary Iraqi people. This is not surprising. George W Bush has shown the same lack of compassion in the USA (for example, during the New Orleans flood). This is a president who does not care for ordinary people. It never cared for the Iraqi people. And, alas, it is not just the president: neither the USA media nor ordinary USA citizens care for ordinary Iraqis. The fact that most Iraqis still do not have adequate electricity and water is seldom reported. Even when it is reported, hardly any USA citizen wants to hear about it or (God forbid) do something about it. USA citizens are perfectly happy to go about their daily chores while millions of Iraqis have to live with rationed electricity and water. The same USA citizens would not accept a single week of such a life. The USA has not invested enough in rebuilding Iraq. The average Iraqi does not see the "liberation" as a major improvement in her or his daily life. The lack of security itself is nothing but a manifestation of the lack of compassion by the USA for the Iraqi people: when the USA invaded Iraq, nobody thought of protecting ordinary people. When it became apparent that ordinary people were not protected and were being killed like flies, almost nobody in the USA rose up to demand better protection for the Iraqi people. The USA citizens who protested against the war protested for other reasons, and mostly selfish ones ("we want to stay home"). The lack of compassion is widespread. And, let's face it, it is not new: the USA population cares very little for people who live outside the USA. The USA population let 900,000 people be slaughtered in Rwanda, broadcasted live on television. And the USA citizens and Democratic Party leaders who want to pull out from Iraq are simply eager to let another Rwandan-style genocide happen, this time in Iraq. They are well aware that the removal of USA troops from Iraq would leave millions of Iraqis totally undefended against the militiae that want to exterminate them. The lack of compassion of the anti-war activists is almost more staggering than the lack of compassion of the Bush administration. Worse: it is fairly clear that the Democratic Party "wants" the USA to lose the war, so they can blame the Republican Party for the defeat and win the presidential elections of 2008. The Democratic Party is becoming the real enemy.
    Now that the USA has removed the first cause of the problem (the state of denial) it would be nice if it faced the second one: the very simple fact that Iraqi people do not see the liberation as an improvement in their lives, and this is because the USA has failed to rebuild their country and turn it into a modern Western-style place. Unfortunately, it looks like the Democratic Party is even less "compassionate" than the president. They just don't care for what will happen to ordinary Iraqis, the same way that Bill Clinton did not care that 900,000 ordinary Rwandans were slaughtered live on television.
    The third source of the problem is also hard to remove. George W Bush is still in charge. There is no way in the USA Constitution to remove an incompetent president who has failed so badly and caused the death of thousands of people. He may have learned a lot from his past mistakes, but he is still not a genius and likely to make more massive mistakes. For example, he now seems obsessed with Iran, to the point that one suspects he is more interested in harming Iran than in stopping the anarchy in Iraq. The world expects the worst from this USA president. Thus the third source of the problem, the incompetence, will not go away until 2009.
    As if this were not enough, There now seems to be a fourth impediment to winning the war: the majority of the USA population seems willing to settle for a defeat and a withdrawal. Losing the war is not a way to win it. Defeating the Republican Party at the 2006 elections was a way to get out of the state of denial, but the Democratic Party may usher in a state of defeat that is at least equally dangerous. Ignorance is now ruling the country (e.g., commentators routinely explain that "Iraq is a mess" when in fact most of the "mess" is in Baghdad and the other big cities are relatively safe). Ignorance is not any better than incompetence. And a state of surrender is not any better than a state of denial.
    The sad truth is that the USA of 2007 might just be inherently incapable of winning this war.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • 2006 articles
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