As we approach the beginning of the end in Iraq there will be much throat-clearing and breast-beating before reality replaces denial. For the moment, denial still rules. In America last week I was shocked at how unaware even anti-war Americans are (like many Britons) of the depth of the predicament in Iraq. They compare it with Vietnam or the Balkans - but it is not the same. It is total anarchy. All sentences beginning, "What we should now do in Iraq..." are devoid of meaning. We are in no position to do anything. We have no potency; that is the definition of anarchy.I disagree with Jenkins on one point only, and it's a minor one. I agree that they need to leave, but I think there are plenty of other things that they also need to "do".
From all available reports, Iraq south of the Kurdistan border is beyond central authority, a patchwork of ganglands, sheikhdoms and lawlessness. Anbar province and most of the Sunni triangle is controlled by independent Sunni militias. The only safe movement for outsiders is by helicopter at night. Baghdad is like Beirut in 1983, with nightly massacres, roadblocks everywhere and mixed neighbourhoods emptying into safe ones. As yesterday's awful kidnapping shows, even a uniform is a death certificate. As for the cities of the south, control depends on which Shia militia has been able to seize the local police station.
The Iraqi army, such as it is, cannot be deployed outside its local area and is therefore useless for counter-insurgency. There is no central police force. There is no public administration. The Maliki government barely rules the Green Zone in which it is entombed. American troops guard it as they might an outpost of the French Legion in the Sahara. There is no point in patrolling a landscape one cannot control. It merely alienates the population and turns soldiers into targets.
To talk of a collapse into civil war if "we leave" Iraq is to completely misread the chaos into which that country has descended under our rule. It implies a model of order wholly absent on the ground. Foreign soldiers can stay in their bases, but they will no more "prevent civil war" than they can "import democracy". They are relevant only as target practice for insurgents and recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida. The occupation of Iraq has passed from brutality to mere idiocy.
Bush and Blair are men in a hurry, and such men lose wars. If there is a game plan in Tehran it will be to play Iraq long. Why stop the Great Satan when he is driving himself to hell in a handcart? If London and Washington really want help in this part of the world they must start from diplomatic ground zero. They will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realise that this war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave. They are no longer the subject of that mighty verb, only its painful object.
What are they? I think my Australian friend Gandhi has hit the nail on the head with a recent post:
Gandhi's Plan For Peace In IraqIn the technical, practical sense, Gandhi may be correct to say that these steps "can easily be done right now", but in the political sense they are -- in my opinion -- millions of light-years away from being possible. After spending so much blood and so much money (none of which matters to him personally, of course), the Great Divider is not about to turn around and throw all that oil away. Contrary advice from Jim Baker, confirmation of Bob Gates, a slap across the head from #41, or all of the above, notwithstanding.
Here are five concrete and much-needed steps that will make an IMMEDIATE difference to the situation on the ground:
1. Bush must announce immediately that:
- the USA will be withdrawing 100% of its forces from Iraq as soon as possible,
- the USA will not be maintaining permanent military bases in Iraq,
- US government advisors will be removed from Baghdad, and
- the Green Zone and other US-held assets will be handed over to the Iraqi Government.
2. The USA must immediately stop pressuring the Iraqi government to sign the proposed Oil Law, which will give US-based Big Oil control of Iraq's oil resources for generations to come. The Iraqi government must announce immediately that any changes to laws governing revenue from Iraq's oil resources will need to be approved by the Iraqi people in a referendum.
3. The current Iraqi government must immediately announce new elections, to be held after the last US forces have withdrawn.
4. The USA must immediately pledge to finance these elections, and the UN must be prepared to monitor them and deploy peace-keeping forces at short notice. The USA must also finance these UN missions.
5. Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other regional powers must immediately pledge to respect Iraq's borders and support the elected government.
These simple steps will have the immediate effect of removing support for fanatical anti-US propaganda and terrorist groups. They will convince people that there is a peace dividend to be reaped if only they can wait for US forces to withdraw and elections to be held.
The Iraqi people have already shown that they are more than capable of holding their country together (mostly through religious and tribal cohesion) during such a period of instability.
These are immediate steps which can easily be done right now. In particular, let me say this:
If Bush is not prepared to renounce permanent US military bases and control of Iraqi oil, nobody should take all this talk of US withdrawal seriously.
As for withdrawing "with honour", the most honorable thing the USA can do now is to honestly confess to past mistakes, including the political manipulation of WMD intelligence, pledge to make amends to the Iraqi people, and hold those responsible for this disaster accountable.
None of these good ideas will ever come to pass, and instead what we will see will most likely be the opposite: more troops thrown into the cauldron, more blood, more death, more depleted uranium, more cancer, more birth defects, more grief and more suffering, not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East, and indeed throughout the entire world. And when we are all dead, they will call it "peace".
My track record for predicting the future is exceedingly miserable, and I hope I'm wrong about this one too. But this is how I see it at the moment.
As usual, I welcome your comments.