End Game

This week has seen another major -- and malevolent -- turning point in Iraq, the significance of which has gone unnoticed by the American press. The incident in Basra -- where British forces sent tanks against the city's police to rescue two undercover British agents who had  allegedly been shooting at Iraqi civilians -- has exposed the ugly reality of the situation in the supposedly quiet and quiescent Iraqi south. Basra is of course largely in the control of fundamentalist Shiite militias, some allied with Iran, others fiercely loyal to young extremist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The militias have infiltrated the region's police forces and are quickly establishing Taliban-style rule over government and society. As Juan Cole notes, "The entire episode reeks of 'dual sovereignty,' in which there are two distinct sources of government authority. Social historian Charles Tilly says that dual sovereignty signals a revolutionary situation."

Other reports underscore the alarming fact that most of Baghdad is now in the hands of insurgent factions. American forces continually stage massive military actions against "rebel" towns, dropping 500-pound bombs on residential areas, using thousands of troops, air power, armor, etc., to "clean out an area." And they succeed. But just as in Vietnam, as soon as the US forces move on, the insurgents move back and take over the town again. As one U.S. commander noted last week, "We've taken Samara four times, and lost it again four times." There is every indication that the same thing will happen to Fallujah, which was subjected to ungodly destruction late last year.

The war is lost. Three years after the invasion, the occupation forces control less and less of the country all the time. The level of wanton violence -- from all sides -- keeps rising. The physical infrastructure of the country continues to deteriorate. The social fabric is in tatters. "Reconstruction" has degenerated into outright robbery and all-pervasive graft. A piecemeal, many-sided civil war has begun. Each day of the occupation is a fresh boon to violent Islamic extremism. Each day of the occupation further brutalizes and decimates the American military, sinking it deeper into the dishonor of serving a criminal cause: the illegal, unwarranted invasion and occupation of a sovereign country, on behalf of a radical political faction that deliberately lied its way into war.

Yet there is not a national leader on either side of the Atlantic -- even in the opposition parties -- who will stand up and speak the truth about the situation. They all prattle, to one degree or another, about "staying the course" or "getting the job done" or "doing the job right." This is sheer lunacy -- the lunacy of the powerful and comfortable, who never have to face the bloody, ruinous consequences of their pious rhetoric and empty posturing. 

Simon Jenkins, late of the Times and now with the Guardian, has laid out a succinct case for withdrawal from Iraq: To say we must stay in Iraq to save it from chaos is a lie.

The whole piece is well worth reading, but here are some excerpts:

Iraqis of my acquaintance are numb at the violence unleashed by the west's failure to impose order on their country. They are baffled at the ineptitude, the counter-productive cruelty of the arrests, bombings and suppressions. They are past caring whether it was better or worse under Saddam. They know only that more people a month are being killed than at any time since the massacres of the early 1990s. If death and destruction are any guide, [the US/UK] pre-invasion policy of containment was far more successful than occupation.  Infrastructure is not being restored.

Baghdad's water, electricity and sewers are in worse shape than a decade ago. Huge sums - such as the alleged $1bn for military supplies - are being stolen and stashed in Jordanian banks. The new constitution is a dead letter except the clauses that are blatantly sharia. These are already being enforced de facto in Shia areas...

Signalling withdrawal would, it is said, give a green light to the gangs and private militias, to revenge attacks, ethnic cleansing and even partition. That threat is no longer meaningful since these are all happening anyway. The militias have reportedly infiltrated at least half the police and internal security forces in each area. Barely a tenth of the army is considered loyal to the central authority. That a Basra police station should be vulnerable to al-Sadr irregulars is appalling. 

The 150,000 foreign troops on Iraqi soil are overwhelmingly committed to self-protection. They do not do law and order any more. Power is finding its new locus, in the mafias, sheikhdoms, militias and warlords that flourish amid anarchy. Where there is no security, the gunman is always king....

America left Vietnam and Lebanon to their fate. They survived. We left Aden and other colonies. Some, such as Malaya and Cyprus, saw bloodshed and partition. We said rightly that this was their business. So too is Iraq for the Iraqis. We have made enough mess there already.