Sunday, December 3, 2006

Babylon is burning

December 3, 2006

French President Jacques Chirac’s warnings in 2003 that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would set the Mideast on fire, encourage terrorism, and produce a disaster have been tragically born out by events.

Iraq is falling ever deeper into chaos and sectarian conflict. Lebanon teeters on the brink of civil war. The agonies of Palestine continue without relent. Iran’s power and influence are surging.

For the latter, thank Washington, which overthrew two of Iran’s bitterest enemies, Taliban and Saddam Hussein, then stuck U.S. ground forces in the $250 million per day Iraq quagmire.

As Iraq turns into a nightmare of carnage and hate, President George Bush and mentor Dick Cheney rushed to the Mideast last week to urge their local allies to pull America’s bacon out of the fire. But Iraq’s hapless “president,” Nuri al-Maliki, presides only over Baghdad’s U.S.-protected Green Zone.

The U.S. controls what passes for Iraq’s police and armed forces. How can Bush expect a powerless figurehead to do what the mighty U.S. cannot? At least Maliki had the pluck to make a symbolic protest after humiliating reports leaked in Washington that the U.S. intended to dump him.

So much for Iraq “democracy.” Washington may be headed towards installing a ruthless Saddam clone, either some brutal CIA “asset” or iron-fisted general.

Iraq has no real government or army.

What western reporters and Pentagon spinners term the Iraqi Army is really a collection of Shia militias, death squads and mercenaries, many former convicts.

The U.S. occupation’s extensive use of Shia death squads to fight the Sunni resistance has played a key role in igniting Iraq’s current sectarian bloodbath. This little-known story is a major scandal.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Jordan warn they may send troops into Iraq to protect its Sunni minority from ethnic cleansing by the Shia majority. Such a move could provoke the powerful Turkish Army to invade independence-seeking Kurdish regions of northern Iraq.

Iran would be quickly drawn into the melee.

Chaos could spread

Iraq’s neighbours deeply fear its chaos will spread across their borders, with dangerous, unpredictable consequences for all concerned, particularly Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The long-awaited Iraq Study Group’s report comes out this week. It is expected to call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, and retention of some “intervention units” in neighbouring countries.

France ruled its West African empire for a half a century this way: Installing compliant puppet rulers kept in power by strategically located French Foreign Legion and Air Force units ready to interveneat signs of unrest.

The Iraq Study Group will also likely call for direct talks with Iran and Syria.

Their cooperation is essential to stabilizing Iraq.

But a furious, behind-the-scenes battle is raging in Washington between advocates of diplomatic engagement with Damascus and Tehran, and the pro-Israel lobby who have successfully blocked for decades all attempts to open such badly needed dialogue.

Israel and many of its American supporters are pushing for a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

If Washington announces “phased withdrawals” of U.S. forces from Iraq, the already shaky morale of American troops there will plummet.

Who wants to risk life or limb for a phased withdrawal?

This is exactly what we saw happen to U.S. forces in Vietnam after President Lyndon Johnson announced military victory was no longer his goal. No GI wanted to be the last soldier killed in a lost war by bungling politicians.

Once Washington utters the dreaded “w” word — withdrawal — Iraqis working for the U.S occupation will decamp to the Sunni or Shia opposition. Iran’s influence in Iraq will soar. America’s Arab allies — will panic.

But President Bush keeps insisting “no retreat.” He still seems unable to see the writing on the wall in Babylon.

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