In 2002, I addressed a television audience somewhere in North America and explained that the American adventure in Iraq was doomed to failure. Of course, this was not a welcome notion, especially when the viewing public had been nurtured on a bevy of carefully calculated propaganda plots assisted by various so-called Iraqi exiles, many of whom could not utter a word in Arabic.
Well, maybe they could say ‘marhaba’.
The US would fail in Iraq because it had not planned on the post-war scenario – the reconstruction, the revitalizing of the battered oil infrastructure (consistent US and UK bombing under the pretence of the no-fly zone and 12 years of sanctions tend to do that), the cultural needs and demands of the soon-to-be occupied people, the Iranian threat, the Kurdish dream of secession, the fragile ethnic social fabric, and so on.
Nor did the US plan effectively once it was on the ground. The first US administrator Jay Garner actually had a good plan in mind but was tossed aside in favour of L. Paul Bremer’s tactics, which proved disastrous. Bremer disbanded the nearly one million men at arms and then proceeded to purge every ministry, school, institute, college, union and other establishments of Baathists.
All of a sudden, nearly three million Iraqi men were without jobs, without pensions (remnants of the Iraq-Iran war and other conflicts), without economic prospects, facing an increasingly belligerent occupying force and with no representative government offering them options.
But they had guns. A lot of guns.
The US administrators in Iraq then proceeded to cull an interim government from what they believe to be outstanding Iraqi citizens. The ragtag assortment included former Baathist henchmen and assassins, members of outlawed terrorist groups, agents of neighboring countries’ intelligence services and militia.
The Iraqi middle class, which had actually remained in Iraq and survived the Iraq-Iran war, the Gulf War, the 12 years of sanctions and the US invasion of March 2003 were entirely sidelined. Instead of recruiting one of the most westernized and professional middle classes in the Middle East, the US military and the so-called Iraqi government looked the other way as nearly 500 Iraqi academics were gunned down in their homes, offices, university campuses and cars.
This began the great Iraqi Diaspora, which the UN estimates at three million, with nearly 40,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes for Syria alone every month. One wonders how many others are fleeing and to where.
A recent report which ran in the pages of The Daily Star Egypt cited 100,000 Iraqis living in Cairo. On a recent visit to the Iraqi consulate in Dokki, I saw dozens of Iraqi men and women getting necessary accreditation documents and stamps from embassy staff for their children to be enrolled in Cairo schools.
And US President George Bush tells the world “We are winning and we will win .
Just what is it you are winning at, Mr. President?
If it is a democracy you feel you have implanted in Iraq, you are gravely mistaken. The rule of law in Iraq is determined by those with guns, those in the militias. There is no security, no stability, no matter how much you rub Iraqi Prime Minister Nur Al-Maliki’s tussled hair for a good luck charm.
Since Maliki came to power in late May and promised to disarm the militias, the latter have grown in strength, ferocity and their unwavering tenacity in carrying out barbaric murder.
Iraqi streets, once filled with strolling families, are now strewn with the charred, mutilated and tortured remains of Shiite, Sunni and Christian Iraqis.
Perhaps in declaring that you would win, Mr. President, you failed to read the report of the 11-year-old Iraqi girl who was decapitated and a dog’s head sewn onto her head.
Nearly 40,000 Iraqis have died since Maliki promised to disband the militia. Iraq has moved further away from a unity government and closer to dissolution. Baghdad is a city under siege by terrorists armed and fitted by neighboring countries. Basra has fallen to the vicious in-fighting as rival Shiite brigands wrestle for control of the city.
Ramadi, Falluja, Hiyt, Baquba, Mahmoudiya, Haditha, Tikrit, Hilla and other cities around Baghdad have also been destroyed by near daily car bombs, attacks on US forces, counterattacks by US forces, kidnapping and torture.
Residents in Mosul and Kirkuk to the north have no confined themselves to their homes for fear of walking out their own driveways. Their children do not go to school.
The Iraqi economy is in shambles, contrary to what US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad says about cell phones and satellite dishes as prime economic indicators of progress.
Venture outside of the Green Zone, Zal.
Nearly three million Iraqis have left their homes and are now knocking on the doors of Arab neighbors and friends, looking for exile, for schools for their children, a life away from violence.
I would hate to imagine what would have become of them had generous and benevolent nations like Egypt, Syria and Jordan not taken them in.
Consider the numbers. Nearly 600,000 killed with up to three million refugees. Is this winning? Is this progress?
Despite this entire calamity, Iraq can and must be salvaged. Mr. President, it is not too late to admit mistakes and try and correct them. Nor is it too late to reverse course, take a detour, let off a few mistakenly perceived as allies and take on new passengers.
But for the love of God enough with the “winning rhetoric; Iraq is not a video game. Other than Halliburton et al, no one has won in Iraq.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is the Editor of The Daily Star Egypt.