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Robert Baer

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If it goes very badly in Iraq and we leave, the Arabs and the Iranians will be pulled into the war one way or another, either through surrogates or directly. If it stays chaotic, the chaos will migrate to the other side of the Gulf.

Every time you kill a Muslim, whether it's an Israeli killing them or an American or a Brit, there is humiliation, anger, reaction and bombs go off somewhere.

I was in Baghdad at the end of the second Gulf war. You could see the US military had destroyed every piece of armour the Iraqis owned. Not only armour but museums, too, cultural looting, the destruction of all infrastructure. It was a war against the Iraqi state, against an Arab country. That creates the humiliation and anger which fuel suicide bombing attacks. If you keep it up, you're going to get hit. You can't go randomly kill Muslims and not expect a reaction here.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It has quickly become clear that Iraq is not a liberated country, but an occupied country. We became familiar with that term during the second world war. We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied countries. The United States liberated them from occupation.

Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us. Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the US established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq. US corporations moved into Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq. The US framed and imposed, with support from local accomplices, the constitution that would govern Cuba, just as it has drawn up, with help from local political groups, a constitution for Iraq. Not a liberation. An occupation.

And it is an ugly occupation. On August 7 2003 the New York Times reported that General Sanchez in Baghdad was worried about the Iraqi reaction to occupation. Pro-US Iraqi leaders were giving him a message, as he put it: "When you take a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground, you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the eyes of his family." (That's very perceptive.)

We know that fighting during the US offensive in November 2004 destroyed three-quarters of the town of Falluja (population 360,000), killing hundreds of its inhabitants. The objective of the operation was to cleanse the town of the terrorist bands acting as part of a "Ba'athist conspiracy".

But we should recall that on June 16 2003, barely six weeks after President Bush had claimed victory in Iraq, two reporters for the Knight Ridder newspaper group wrote this about the Falluja area: "In dozens of interviews during the past five days, most residents across the area said there was no Ba'athist or Sunni conspiracy against US soldiers, there were only people ready to fight because their relatives had been hurt or killed, or they themselves had been humiliated by home searches and road stops ... One woman said, after her husband was taken from their home because of empty wooden crates which they had bought for firewood, that the US is guilty of terrorism."

Soldiers who are set down in a country where they were told they would be welcomed as liberators and find they are surrounded by a hostile population become fearful and trigger-happy. On March 4 nervous, frightened GIs manning a roadblock fired on the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, just released by kidnappers, and an intelligence service officer, Nicola Calipari, whom they killed.

We have all read reports of US soldiers angry at being kept in Iraq. Such sentiments are becoming known to the US public, as are the feelings of many deserters who are refusing to return to Iraq after home leave. In May 2003 a Gallup poll reported that only 13% of the US public thought the war was going badly. According to a poll published by the New York Times and CBS News on June 17, 51% now think the US should not have invaded Iraq or become involved in the war. Some 59% disapprove of Bush's handling of the situation.


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Here is an article written by Henry Kissinger that was published in The Australian on 12th August.

George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, has announced that the US intends to begin a "fairly substantial" withdrawal of US forces from Iraq soon after the projected December elections establish a constitutional government. Other sources have indicated that this will involve 30,000 troops, or about 22 per cent of the total US forces in Iraq. The withdrawal is said to be made possible by improvements in the security situation and progress in the training of Iraqi forces to replace American troops.

But how are these terms to be defined? In a war without front lines, does a lull indicate success or a strategic decision by the adversary? Is a decline in enemy attacks due to attrition or to a deliberate enemy strategy of conserving forces to encourage American withdrawal?

For someone like me, who observed at first hand the anguish of the original involvement in Vietnam during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and who later participated in the decisions to withdraw during the Nixon administration, Casey's announcement revived poignant memories.

History, of course, never repeats itself precisely. Vietnam was a battle of the Cold War; Iraq is an episode in the struggle against radical Islam. The stake in the Cold War was perceived to be

the political survival of independent nation-states allied with the US around the Soviet periphery. The war in Iraq is less about geopolitics than a clash of ideologies, cultures, religious beliefs.

Because of the long reach of the Islamist challenge, the outcome in Iraq will have an even deeper significance than Vietnam. If a Taliban-type government or a fundamentalist radical state were to emerge in Baghdad or any part of Iraq, shock waves would ripple through the Islamic world. Radical forces in Islamic countries or Muslim minorities in non-Islamic states would be emboldened in their attacks on existing governments. The safety and internal stability of all societies within reach of militant Islam would be imperiled.

This is why many opponents of the decision to start the war agree with the proposition that a catastrophic outcome would have grave global consequences: a fundamental difference from the Vietnam debate.

On the other hand, the military challenge in Iraq is more elusive. Local Iraqi forces are being trained for a form of combat entirely different from the traditional land battles of the last phase of the Vietnam War. There are no front lines; the battlefield is everywhere. We face a shadowy enemy pursuing four principal objectives: to expel foreigners from Iraq; to penalise Iraqis co-operating with the occupation; to create a chaos out of which a government of their Islamist persuasion will emerge as a model for other Muslim states; and to turn Iraq into a base for training for the next round of fighting, probably in moderate Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Jordan.

In essence, the Iraqi war is a contest over which side's assessment turns out to be correct. The insurgents bet that by exacting a toll among supporters of the Government and collaborators with the US, they can frighten an increasing number of civilians into at least staying on the sidelines, thereby undermining the Government and helping the insurgents by default.

The Iraqi Government and the US count on a different kind of attrition: that possibly the insurgents' concentration on civilian carnage is because of the relatively small number of insurgents, which obliges them to conserve manpower and to shrink from attacking hard targets; hence the insurgency can gradually be worn down.

Because of the axiom that guerillas win if they do not lose, stalemate is unacceptable. American strategy, including a withdrawal process, will stand or fall not on whether it maintains the existing security situation but whether the capacity to improve it is enhanced.

In Iraq, each of the various ethnic and religious groups sees itself in an irreconcilable, perhaps mortal, confrontation with the others. Each group has what amounts to its own geographically concentrated militia. In the Kurdish area, for example, internal security is maintained by Kurdish forces, and the presence of the national army is kept to a minimum, if not totally prevented. The same holds true to a substantial extent in the Shia region.

Is it then possible to speak of a national army at all? Today the Iraqi forces are mostly composed of Shias while the insurrection is mostly in traditional Sunni areas. It thus foreshadows a return to the traditional Sunni-Shia conflict, only with reversed capabilities. These forces may co-operate in quelling the Sunni insurrection. But will they, even when adequately trained, be willing to quell Shia militias in the name of the nation? Do they obey the ayatollahs, especially Sayyid Ali Husayni Sistani, or the national Government in Baghdad? And if these two entities are functionally the same, can the national army make its writ run in non-Shia areas except as an instrument of repression? And is it then still possible to maintain a democratic state?

The ultimate test of progress will therefore be the extent to which the Iraqi armed forces reflect the ethnic diversity of the country and are accepted by the population at large as an expression of the nation. Drawing Sunni leaders into the political process is an important part of an anti-insurgent strategy. Failing that, the process of building security forces may become the prelude to a civil war.

Can a genuine nation emerge in Iraq through constitutional means? The answer to that question will determine whether Iraq becomes a signpost for a reformed Middle East or the pit of an ever-spreading conflict.

For these reasons, a withdrawal schedule should be accompanied by some political initiative inviting an international framework for Iraq's future. Some of our allies may prefer to act as bystanders, but reality will not permit this for their own safety. Their co-operation is needed, not so much for the military as for the political task, which will test, above all, the West's statesmanship in shaping a global system relevant to its necessities.


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Hi all

Inasmuch as it looks as if the different Iraqi factions have failed to come up with the constitution that was due today (August 15) and given the increasing calls for autonomy for various groups and regions, it could be that Kissinger's second scenario, that Iraq will become "the pit of an ever-spreading conflict" will become the likelier outcome. The foolishness of the Iraq venture will then become even more starkly obvious. B)

Chris George

Edited by Christopher T. George
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