Tag: Iraq

Latest From The Iraqi Front, April 2007

I wanted to post a quick note of my thoughts on the developing (and rapidly changing) situation on the Iraqi front.

Check out this story from the AP wire, Iraqi Insurgents Now Fighting Each Other. It describes how some of the Sunni insurgents are turning against al-Qaida:

MUQDADIYAH, Iraq — At least two major insurgent groups are battling al-Qaida in provinces outside Baghdad, American military commanders said Friday, an indication of a deepening rift between Sunni guerrilla groups in Iraq.

U.S. officers say a growing number of Sunni tribes are turning against al-Qaida, repelled by the terror group’s sheer brutality and austere religious extremism. The tribes are competing with al-Qaida for influence and control over diminishing territory in the face of U.S. assaults, the officers say. The influx of Sunni fighters to areas outside the capital in advance of the security crackdown in Baghdad may have further unsettled the region.

The Iraqis are going to work it out. They will crush al-Qaida and inevitably find some stability. We can best accelerate this process if we stop kicking the hornet’s nest and get out of the way.

As this Staff Sgt. put it, “this is our generation’s Vietnam,” and they are caught in a civil war they can’t win.

Is it “supporting the troops” to keep them in such an untenable situation?

American commanders cite al-Qaida’s severe brand of Islam, which is so extreme that in Baqouba, al-Qaida has warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders, Col. David Sutherland said.

Such radicalism has fueled sectarian violence in Iraq and redrawn the demographics of many mixed Sunni-Shiite towns in Diyala, where tens of thousands of Shiites have been forced to flee large population centers.

These guys are CRAZAAAAY!! Fruit segregation is nowhere in the Koran, but evidently this is something extremist groups are pushing. Check out this video:

The Iraqi people aren’t buying what the al-Qaida types are selling; they have nothing to offer but neurotic religious stringency and authoritarianism, and almost no one wants to live under that. Al-Qaida is already being marginalized and would have no meaningful support at all if there were no Western “Crusaders” in the region to attack (antipathy toward Europeans from Medieval times runs so deep that some Arabs paint houses blue to ward off “the blue-eyed devils”).

“Iraqis are sick of foreign people coming in their country and trying to destabilize their country.” —George W. Bush
The president was jabbing at the Iranians here; he has no ability to detect the irony of saying this while commanding 160,000+.foreign people in Iraq.

We toppled Saddam, our military was victorious. Now it’s a political clash between competing factions and, unfortunately, there’s little more we can achieve other than exacerbating the violence.

It’s past time to leave Iraq! No more wasted blood and treasure, please!

But of course, guys like Congressman Don Young say you should be executed for treason if you want to pull out. How do we find solutions in that climate?

Sadly, we will likely be bogged down in Iraq for years to come.


What The U.S. Can Learn From “Lawrence of Arabia”

In my post, Why did they create the new nation of Iraq? I discussed T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and his vision of the Middle East’s borders after WWI, which would’ve amounted to the Shias getting their own state in the Mesopotamian Basin, a single state for most of the Sunnis of what are now the fake nations of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and the whole region transitioning to Arab self-rule. The British shot down Lawrence’s proposal, because they were imperialists in the purest sense, and wanted an Empire of “civilized” and orderly Western governments sending them resources and profits.

The real T.E. Lawrence

It should almost go without saying that America is failing in Iraq today mainly due to our woeful ignorance of history and the nature of the region and its people.

We can learn a lot from the British Empire’s mistakes in their Mandate of Mesopotamia.

1) There is a natural tissue rejection of any foreign body. The Iraqis in 1919 and 1920 revolted against British rule. The Ayatollahs in Karbala and Najaf declared jihad against the English. The Kurds resisted as well. The area was only controlled with heavy bombing from the Royal Air Force and use of poison gas.

2) Subjugating people who don’t want to be subjugated is ugly. It was ugly when Saddam did it, it was ugly when the British did it, and it is ugly with our new version Subjugation 2.0 that we’re attempting today. It is immoral, and lends itself to atrocities. Facing the 1920 rebellion in Iraq, Winston Churchill wrote, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” And use gas on tribes they did. “gas was used against the Iraqi rebels with excellent morale effect,” Churchill said. Phosphorus bombs were also employed. The West today acts outraged that Saddam gassed the Kurds, but had no problem selling Saddam said gas, nor with gassing rebellious tribes themselves decades earlier.

3) Iraq, and Arabs, are not what people think.
Iraq is a fake construct, and though Iraqis are now attached to the current territory, the borders were drawn by the British in such a way to engender instability and dependence on foreigners.

Everyone should watch Lawrence of Arabia. While it is flawed, it did win seven Oscars (including Best Picture) and it gives real insight into the turbulent birth of modern “Arabism” and the struggles with it today.

What struck me most in Lawrence of Arabia was that the concept of “Arab” is also a new construct, and an identity, to an extent, also imposed by outsiders. The line in the movie when the Bedouin chieftain Auda abu Tayi says “what’s an Arab? I am Howitat!” says it all. Not only did he not have a unified Arab national identity, he did not know what an Arab was!!! He knew only a tribal identity.

Then after Lawrence and the chieftains seized Damascus from the Ottoman Turks, the Howitat and the Harith tribes can’t agree who will control what city services. Water is offline because the Howitat who control electricity won’t coordinate with the Harith who control water and need power to run the pumps (or visa versa). “Being an Arab will be thornier than you suppose, Harith!” Auda abu Tayi says. They blame each other and despise each other. I don’t know what happens, I think they end up giving the British the water duties and eventually the Imperialists play the tribes off each other as further pretext for foreign rule, but Lawrence says “There may be honor among thieves, but there’s none in politicians” and leaves Damascus.

The Damascus situation and the failure of the independent Arab state post-WWI seems like an eerily similar forerunner of the disturbing reports coming out of Baghdad lately, with tribes in gridlock and some areas devoid of basic government services like water and trash collection because sectarians will attack anyone working for the government as a “collaborator.” One of the most powerful quotes in the movie that hits home today is when Lawrence says, “So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people – greedy, barbarous, and cruel…” and while this statement had plenty of imperialism behind it, it’s hard not to see insight in it given the current tribal bloodbath in Iraq.

Though decades of nationalist rule created a strong Iraqi identity (check out Hometown Baghdad for a great vlog by ordinary Iraqis) and many Iraqis demand the old borders and stability be maintained, much of the population seems to have reverted to the same kind of pre-national tribalism and sectarian infighting seen in Lawrence of Arabia. Once tyranny is removed, whether it be Saddam or the Ottomans toppled, Arab society seems to inexorably revert to the more basic tribal forms. When in crisis, you go with what you know.

WWI created the outlines for all the disasters that we have in the Mideast today. The British stacked up the House of Cards that was Iraq. Now the U.S. has toppled it, but doesn’t know what the cards and identities even mean as they try to stack something back up, and are probably just making it worse.

We would do well to heed the lessons of history, and abandon our fruitless quest to pacify and remake the Middle East. It’s 2007, and we should know better than to retrace British blunders.

Leave Iraq to Iraqis; it’s the only way.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana.


Why did they create the new nation of Iraq? UPDATED

After World War I destroyed the Ottoman Empire, why did the British decide to create the new nation of Iraq out of the 3 different Ottoman provinces?

The British divvied up the Ottoman Empire’s holdings and created Iraq out of the three Ottoman “vilayets” (regions) of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. Why would they do this? If we understood why Iraq was formed, we might could answer why Iraq should remain united or break apart into three states.

Iraq today

Clearly the Brits created a lot of rage by drawing colonial borders all over West Asia, but what I’m asking is, “why did they draw Iraq’s borders the way they did?” Was it just, “hey, this is a good shape!” ????

These are the borders proposed by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) of new states from the parceling-out of the Ottoman Empire, based on sensibilities Lawrence observed talking to the local populations. This is fascinating to me.

Lawrence has most of Syria and all of Jordan and Saudi Arabia as one state under King Faisal. This makes a lot of sense given tribal patterns.

He has “Irak” defined as the Shi’ite regions of the Mesopotamian Basin, and the Sunni West as a separate state.

It’s entertaining that he puts “?” over central Iraq and a “?” over Kurdistan, lol. He didn’t know what to do with them. The only outright oddity here is a state for Armenians in Southern Turkey. wtf?

But overall Lawrence’s map would make way more sense than the current divisions. Jordan, Syria and Arabia aren’t separated unnecessarily like they are today, Shias in Iraq have their own state, etc.

Lawrence’s proposal was shot down.

My question for historians is this: why were the borders of Iraq we have today chosen vs. Lawrence’s or others? The current boundaries make no sense.

UPDATE: I got a great response from a history professor. This is what she wrote:

Nick — I’m an American historian, but I study empire, so I have some expertise to answer your excellent question. The answer is (and this may strike you as cynical) that the current borders were drawn to create instability that would require sustained British involvement in Iraq. They’d had interests in the area for a long time (Suez Canal was hugely important to the British economy), but had been held in check by the Ottoman Empire. At the end of WWI, with the Ottoman Empire in eclipse, they had the chance to expand influence in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, etc and control both the geopolitics and the economy. (Hey, they were very successful imperialists. This is what imperialists do!)

Lawrence’s plan was envisioning self-rule, which is something that the British government did not want to bestow. Their plan (see “imposition of empire game plan, version 53.0”) was to “civilize” and “modernize” the Middle East, slowly apprenticing them to the demands of life in the free capitalist Christian global marketplace and constitutional monarchy rather than sheikdoms. During so-called British Mandate period, the Brits imposed a puppet Haashemite monarchy, gave most of the land to the Sunnis, then proceeded to look for oil). Because few Arabs had the money to invest, the prime investments were purchased by the British and the money directed out of Iraq and back to Bristol, Manchester, and London.

There were also other reasons to keep all the three groups together. The plan was a regional one that would keep the warring groups of Iraq weak and focused on their internal divisions rather than going to war with Saudis, etc.

Did it work? No. Both the Shia and the Kurds fought for independence under the Brits and the Brits bombed them with phosphorous bombs (a chemical weapon — only wrong, apparently, when European or American trops are targeted). In 1941, when Iraqi Petroleum (a British corporation and subsidiary to British Petroleum, I think) interests were threatened, the Brits again shot up Iraq with troops from British India and Jordanian mercenaries. (Their own army was somewhat engaged in WWII.) The monarchy was finally overthrown in 1958 (after the British were forced to give up the Suez Canal in 1956…the post WWII empire fell apart pretty quickly.)

So…that’s the long and short of it. I’m so glad you asked something that I knew something about, as I’ve been reading you lately and really learning a lot. Nice to have something to give in return.

She is right that the British used WMD against Iraq. Winston Churchill wrote about Iraq: “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.”

What we are coping with today in Iraq are the scars of the British Empire. They set up a fractured amalgam of a country that would, since then, be forced to rely on strongmen to achieve stability. Yet most of the Iraqi bloggers I read want the old (British) borders maintained, they don’t want Iraq redrawn and they don’t want to lose what status they had.

Iraq is changing, and unfortunately, neither the Iraqis nor the new American “managers” can predict how it will turn out.


George W. Bush Compares Iraq War To “First George W’s” Revolutionary War

O Rly?

At a President’s day celebration Tuesday, “President Bush linked the ideals of the first president to the war being fought by the 43rd” (full story here).

This was so incredible, the disembodied spirit of George Washington ripped through the space-time continuum and said:

U.S. Foreign Policy In Deep Shi’ite

U.S. Foreign Policy In Deep Shi’ite

An in-depth analysis

In 2007, the dominant news story will be the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq. War is also the dominant spiritual and moral issue of my generation. It’s impossible for me not to blog about this.

The president has ordered a “surge,” or increase of 21,500 troops, which brings us to roughly 2004-troop-levels. This didn’t work in 2004, so it is unlikely to change things.

His saber-rattling regarding Iran and Syria is also unsettling. I liked that movie better the first time, when it was called Nixon Illegally Orders Crossborder Raids Into Laos and Cambodia Without Authorization.

But let’s cut past all the obvious problems, cut through the spin, and get behind the headlines to the underpinning issues.

Let’s talk about Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq.

Where is the Prime Minister coming from?
Nouri al-Maliki is from the
Dawa Party, the stringently Shi’ite political party.

The Dawa Party has been singularly running the Iraqi government since May.

Who founded the Dawa Party? Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.

The fact that the father-in-law of militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr founded the ruling party in Iraq, tells you A LOT about what is behind the current upheaval.

What this means is, the Iraqi government is closely linked to the Sadrist movement at best, and, at worst, is its wholly-owned subsidiary.

When the Shi’ites lynched Saddam, they chanted “Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr! Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr!”

So we’ve had Sadrists running Iraq. They’ve ruthlessly cracked down on Sunnis. All but the entirety of the Sunni upper and middle class (an estimated 1-2 million Iraqis) have relocated to Amman, Jordan, transforming the makeup of Iraq and the makeup of Jordan. I see no indication those Sunnis will ever re-enter Iraq en masse.

We will continue to see that is Iraq is now a profoundly Shi’ite nation, unrecognizable compared to Hussien’s reign, with the Sadrists currently holding the power center. During Saddam, Shias were a majority, but now that they’ve disbanded his secular Ba’ath Party, lynched him and
1-2 million Sunnis have relocated, the Shi’ites are a super-majority in Iraq. With the U.S military keeping a lid on the Sunni insurgency, there’s no succeeding countervailing influence to total Shi’ite dominance. I’ve been following the news closely, and in recent years the Shias have remade Baghdad in their own image. It is now a Shia capital of a new Shia nation. It will continue to be profoundly Shia. And in these desperate times, moderate voices are a minority with no sway to speak of. I’m not saying that only militants and fundamentalists are left in Iraq. I’m saying that Shias, with their own strict brand of Iranian-bred Islam are now a super-majority in Iraq, and we are now dealing with an Iraqi nation that is more Shia-dominated, more fundamentalist, and more fractured and violent than ever expected . Jeffersonian democracy just ain’t in the cards.

Currently, the Dawa Party government (in short, Sadrists) are running the show, though they are fighting a nasty civil war against the Sunni tribesmen on their west and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades on their east (Shias murdering huge amounts of fellow Shias) among many other groups that spring up or shift every week.

In medieval Europe, feudal lords raised militias (see Knights of the Round Table, The) to protect their territory and interests. Following Saddam, Iraqi sheiks, Ayatollahs, nutjobs and politicians have been raising militias to protect their territory or people or ideology, minus the chivalry, and adding in huge doses of terrorism and kamikazi warfare.

I studied the scholarly journals when I took a course on foreign policy in college two years ago, and learned all I could about Iraqi Shi’ites. Back then there were lots of articles arguing that Iraqi Shias are fiercely nationalistic, and because they are a culture, language and physical appearance that is drastically different from their Persian co-religionists (Iranian Shias) and had no qualms about slaughtering Iranians en masse in the Iran-Iraq war, we should not worry about Iraq’s Shias opening the door to Iranian hegemony in the region. Now the word from foreign policy journals is that Arab Shias have strong ties with their Persian neighbors, with Iranian seminaries underpinning the Iraqi theological class (I wonder how they navigate the huge language barrier?) and that there is serious danger of uncorked Shia dominance and Iranian influence spurring a region-wide Shia vs. Sunni civil war. Will Iraqi Shias join Iran in a new religious Persian Empire? I still lean toward the first theory, that Iraqis will kill Iranians more than collaborate with them. But my G-d, even the most scholarly among us don’t know where the loyalties of most Iraqis lie! And THAT is perhaps the best argument against this war that I have.

Iran will certainly TRY to become a new hegemon in the region, but, in all likelihood, I think they’ll continue to be killed by the Dawa / Sadr guys. Meanwhile, militia groups have splintered off and grown until Iraq’s become this diffuse, hallucinogenic whirlwind of chaos and violence reminiscant of that gruesome Vietnam book we read in college. The horrors continue to trickle in, stories too ugly to print here, as Iraq sets new lows in the grim history of human depravity.

Meanwhile, we are fighting to prop up a government that is of, by and for the Sadrists. Sadr himself is returning to Iraq’s government.

Can our U.S. troops make a difference? In the latest Newsweek poll, 53 percent of Americans don’t believe the “surge” will reduce the violence in Baghdad and 67 percent think it is either “very” or “somewhat” likely to lead to more U.S. deaths in Iraq without getting the U.S. closer to our goals there.

On the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer last week, President Bush said, “Look, I had a choice to make, Jim, and that is – one – do what we’re doing. And one could define that maybe a slow failure. Secondly, withdraw out of Baghdad and hope for the best. I would think that would be expedited failure. And thirdly is to help this Iraqi government with additional forces – help them do what they need to do, which is to provide security in Baghdad.

Helping prop up the Dawa Party?

When U.S. troops pull out of Iraq after too many more deaths, will the Sadrists still control things?

It is past time to vigorously question the “we cannot afford the consequences of withdrawal” line everyone is repeating like zombies. Hell, I’ve even parroted this.

Why not skip the unnecessary decade of bloodshed, declare victory we deposed Saddam, pull the F out, and let the Sadrists have it? What I was trying to establish is, the Sadrists already have it, and pulling out likely won’t change that.

I think Bush isn’t really scared of a new Persian Empire, but won’t pull out because it would leave Iraq to Muqtada al-Sadr, and he can’t bear the thought of 3,000 U.S. servicemen dying to lead to a brutal Shi’ite theocracy being installed. And I don’t blame him there; it’d be a terrible outcome. Brutal theocracy is what Sadr is all about. We would all turn on the TV to find Grand Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr presiding over women being beaten for not wearing hijab, women’s driver’s licenses being revoked, and anyone caught with a musical instrument getting summarily executed. But all these things are already happening! The Iraqi symphony orchestra already fled a few years ago after facing beatings and intimidation for practicing their music. We may have to take the bitter pill that a theocracy is what the remaining Iraqis want (most of the anti-theocracy people are now in Jordan).

And isn’t Iraqi self-determination better than continuing this absurdist charade of “IRAQ WILL BE FREE WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT! FREEDOM IS ON THE MARCH! YOU HAVE NO CHOICE! YOU WILL BE FREE!”

Isn’t it a way better option to just bypass the next 15-20 years of wasted blood and treasure?

What are the moral and spiritual consequences of continuing to play with this fire?

Thanks for reading my lengthy ramblings. This is a fascinating discussion. Iraq is the wildfire sucking the oxygen away from every presidential contender and every domestic problem, and, again, is the dominant spiritual and moral issue of our time.
I look forward to your comments.


U.S. Foreign Policy Lumbers, Hobbles and Bleeds Into New Year

U.S. Foreign Policy Lumbers, Hobbles and Bleeds Into New Year

Thoughts on a “regional conflagration” in Iraq. Also, Israel in the spotlight

Your foreign policy forecast for 2007: Iraq will be partly cloudy with a high chance of scattered shrapnel, and heavy sectarian bloodshed expected to the north, south, east and west of Baghdad.

Earlier this month, the nation was abuzz about the findings of the Iraq Study Group (AKA the Baker-Hamilton Commission). Now people have largely quieted down for the holiday season and are waiting while President Bush takes months to figure out what Iraq strategy to use for the rest of his tenure. Meanwhile, simmering civil war is filling the power vacuum we created in Iraq, and we just passed the grim milestone of losing more Americans in Iraq than in the 9/11 attacks.

In case anyone is wondering, here’s my take.

The Baker-Hamilton report basically says this: “the war thingy in Iraq is a massive debacle. The best we can hope for now is achieving some modicum of stability and prevent a ‘regional conflagration’ engulfing the whole Mideast. We’re not sure how to achieve that or if we can even affect the outcome anymore, but we recommend removing combat brigades and focusing more troops, more intensively on training the Iraqi military.”

Iraq is a foreign policy disaster of unprecedented proportions.

The Iraq Study Group also put forth some ideas on the Israeli peace issue that had Jewish bloggers on edge. Former Secretary Baker is suggesting a peace deal in Iraq be linked to a “grand bargain” that gives Palestinians a state and gives the Golan Heights to Syria.

Let’s go deeper and look at the machinations behind all this. When I browsed the Arab blogosphere a few months ago, I saw a Lebanese dude venting that when the U.S. went to war with Iraq in 1991, in return for cooperation in the war, (then Secretary of State) Baker gave Syria the green light to occupy Lebanon. When Syria didn’t prove helpful in the 2003 war in Iraq, that tacit approval for controlling Lebanon expired, and the Syrian puppet regime was overthrown. Arab bloggers saw the hand of the CIA, etc. all over it (and I have no reason to doubt them). I think we’re seeing Baker do the same exact thing here (remember that past actions are indicative of future results). In return for cooperation in the Iraq war, Baker is offering Syria the Golan (and Lebanon?)

I haven’t blogged about “an existential threat” to Israel though, because I think this stuff is just maneuvering and something Israel will never let happen. Israel has the most advanced military in the region and won’t allow something unless they have agreed to all the specifics. My dream would be some sort of peace deal that gives Syrians access to the Golan while at the same time a deal is made to ensure Israeli security, and Israelis and Syrians would be hugging and making smores around a campfire, though I doubt that will happen. And despite the panicking, I doubt the Israelis will ever agree to something that’ll mean their own demise either. We’re not talking about stupid people here.


That old guys in smoky back rooms are divvying up land to different powers without consulting the people who live on that land, acting like Imperialist bastards, I find ABHORRENT. And I think most people in the Middle East find this kind of “return of colonial deal-making” distasteful at best and worthy of insurrection at worst.

On the Iraq front, Syrian (read: Ba’ath Party) involvement in Iraq would also entail re-Baathification, which has Iraq’s Kurdish President rejecting the report outright.

We have no good options here. Shutting out the Ba’ath party (much of the Sunnis) from the power structure means further revolt by the Sunni tribes. And letting Baathists back into the power structure means further revolt by the Shias and Kurds.

I think these plans put forth by the Iraq Study Group, and the plans floated by Bush, by McCain, and all sides, are very lame, and would have only helped had they implemented them in 2004. This thing has gone so far, is so beyond out of control, and these mindless politicos are at least 2 years behind.

Bush and McCain’s plan for 20,000 troops? Iraq Study Group’s plan for more training / less combat? I’m like “please.” The Right-wing is labeling Baker and Hamilton “surrender monkeys,” but the report doesn’t offer anything as decisive as surrender, nor a sweeping plan that would actually mean victory.


This is SO beyond small adjustments. You would need a gigantic change like 400,000 additional troops, or a huge multi-national peacekeeping force like some Arab monarchs have suggested, or to pull the hell out, and even these huge changes would be unlikely to put out a wildfire the size of Iraq.

These guys are disconnected from reality.

Does anyone actually expect the same Bush regime that the Iraq Study Group revealed has staffed our 1,000-man embassy in Baghdad with only 6 Arabic-speakers, to be able to right this ship, that ran aground into civil war and capsized years ago? How do we win a civil war? Do we pick sides?

Saudi Arabia and Jordan are openly stating they’ll intervene and arm Sunnis to kill Shias if the U.S. pulls out, while Iran is arming the Shias.

Saudis tell Cheney they’ll intervene

Iraq may become the main front in a world war between Sunnis and Shias, a battle against Persian ambitions along the sectarian faultlines in Iraq. That’s what the Baker-Hamilton report meant by fears of a “regional conflagration” engulfing the whole Mideast. And it’s bad news. Very bad.

In 2007 you’ll see this emerge, and you’ll see the U.S. increasingly blame the Iraqis for what’s happened since WE dismantled the indigenous regime and dissolved the stable water, nutrition, electricity and security they had and turned the Sunni-Shia political food chain upside down. We committed a GRAAAAAVE error. DAMN this world is messed up.

I’ll continue blogging about it here in 2007. I’ve got lots of time to ponder these difficult issues.


Freed Iraqi Shias Joining Forces With Iranian Military and Hezbollah

“Liberated” Iraqis Free To Join Forces With Hezbollah

Hezbollah and Iran Training Shia Militias In Iraq

Poster from the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr (upper left).

Hezbollah, under Iranian auspices, are training the Shiite Mahdi Army (seen above). How sweet and helpful of them. According to the New York Times article, Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq:

The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said.

…militia had sent 300 fighters to Lebanon, ostensibly to fight alongside Hezbollah….

American officials say the Iranians have also provided direct support to Shiite militias in Iraq, including explosives and trigger devices for roadside bombs, and training for several thousand fighters, mostly in Iran. The training is carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, they say.

Gee, great, now we have Shias with advanced bomb-making capabilities and battle tactics to kill
Sunnis with, kill us with, and kill Israelis with.

Aren’t you glad Bush “liberated” these guys?


It’s Never Been "Stay The Course?"

It’s Never Been “Stay The Course?”

An Addendum to the hypocrisy post

What You Need To Know About The Middle East

What You Need To Know About The Middle East

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana

Steven Pressfield recently wrote an in-depth piece on Iraq, Why We Will Never See Democracy in the Middle East. His main thesis that we are operating in Iraq while largely ignorant of
its culture and history is something our leadership needs to hear badly, and his statement that “to understand the nature of the enemy in the Middle East and to evaluate the prospects for democracy and peace, we need to extend our gaze not five years into the past, but five hundred and even five thousand” is very true. History couldn’t be more relevent right now. It’s clear our leaders, invading a country totally unrelated to 9/11 with some broad verbal brushstrokes and
comments like Trent Lott’s: “Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me,” are woefully ignorant of the Middle East.

Pressfield, who recently penned two books about Alexander the Great’s campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, draws upon his knowledge of the East-West clash back then to draw conclusions about the conflict today, and concludes the worldview of tribalism and the tribesman is simply
irreconcilable with worldview of democracy and the citizen. And this is completely unrelated to religion. Pressfield’s citizen vs. tribesman formulation has some major flaws (Arabs aren’t the only
ones with a tribal mentality, anyone remember Hatfield and McCoy?) and we know that
any culture, no matter how tribal, can develop democratic institutions. But the argument is fascinating, and has some valid and very important aspects: mainly, it’s very apparent that Western pluralism and capitalism is incompatible with tribalism. The tribesman, as Pressman points out, owes loyalty only to his tribe and group, not a nation-state. He has no interest in a corporate economy of working for rich guys; he works for his family and tribe only, and his livelihood is
primarily goat and camel-based. The American right-wing made a miscalculation of historic proportions when they preemptively invaded Iraq on the premise that we would be “greeted as liberators” like when we liberated Holland from the Nazis in WWII. It is a laudable goal to want to overthrow tyrants and liberate people, but Holland had a centuries-old liberal tradition they were yearning to revert back to; Arab tribesmen don’t have Western values and aren’t particularly interested in them, nor should we expect them to want them. They certainly won’t come to
Western values by the sword, and if we would learn from history, we would know Alexander and the Greeks couldn’t convert pre-Islamic Mesopotamia into Hellenized citizens even though they put much more direct effort into the project than we are, British colonialism couldn’t convert Islamic Mesopotamia to Western values no matter what they tried, and on and on. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Study the interactive flash map above of the history of Imperial conquest in the Mideast. It’s a fantastic resource and really puts the current conflicts into a wider perspective.

What drew my attention in the animated map are:
First, empires expanding to massive proportions, encompassing many diverse cultures through force, then collapsing. We should see what’s coming.

Second, the colonial borders creating artificial nation-states in the 20th century! OMG! Am I the only one that sees this is causing the bulk of the Mideast’s problems? What we’re seeing now is the violent cramping from a century of colonialist border constipation. We’re experiencing the severe, severe consequences of the British Empire arbitrarily drawing crayon borders on their colonial “holdings” all over the globe without regard to natural ethnic and regional divisions. Enclosing people who have little in common and hate each other into the same country is not a good idea. It means violence. I talked about this in my last blog on Iraq.

Random crayoning in of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias into the artificial country of Iraq leads to a bad situation that has never functioned without a brutal tyrant holding it together. Before Saddam, it was another despot, and before that, a British-installed monarch. As we speak, Iraq is rapidly and violently breaking down into three nations. With the tribal mentality, Shia militias are going, “are you my tribe? (Shia)? Oh, you aren’t?” *SHOOTS YOU IN THE HEAD*

And visa versa with Sunni vs. Shia. It’s no coincidence that the most mixed area of Iraq, Baghdad, is also the bloodiest.

The newly adopted Iraqi constitution creates ethnic regions with basically all the power, and federal authority has few powers, so the groundwork for new nation-states has been laid. I’ve heard people moaning that the Iraqi Prime Minister isn’t stopping the violence, but how can he if the constitution gives him little power? The constitution was like a divorce document and armistice accord between the three factions. We already have, for all intents and purposes, an independent Kurdistan. We may end up, after a few more decades of bloodshed, with an independent Sunnistan and Shiastan.

In Afghanistan, the same problem of walling in completely different ethnic groups with random British crayon borders
is creating constant violence today.

Iraqis aren’t greeting us with flowers
, they’re greeting us like this. The latest polls show that 65 percent of Baghdad residents want an immediate pullout of U.S. forces (Washington Post).

If we really wanted democracy, we’d lean on all the Arab nations to allow a pan-Arab referendum. I bet Arab tribesmen would overwhelmingly vote to dissolve colonial boundaries and revert back to some sort of pan-Arab Caliphate, just as Holland yearned to revert back to what they were familar with, democracy, post-Nazi occupation. But we love propping up the oil monarchies who enforce the old British borders to preserve their reason for existing, so we would never sincerely push real voter freedom in the Middle East. And Bush has no new plan to hold together Iraq, nor the additional troops needed to actually hold territory, so it will continue to dissolve along sectarian lines, with the Shia region already a client state of Iran. Great work, Bush!

The Galbraith plan that I discussed in my last blog on Iraq, addresses the three factions and the reality on the ground of three new nations violently forming. Unfortunately, our leaders will not discuss any other plan besides “stay the course” of aimless bloodshed, but a new Iraq is emerging either way.

Another thing that popped out at me on the animated map was Israel. Jews have lived in Israel throughout 2000-years of foriegn domination. The most famous Jewish Kabbalistic scholarship was in Safed, Israel in the 16th century, where many fled after the 1492 explusion from Spain. The Jews established the Middle East’s first printing press there in 1578. The Jerusalem Talmud was written by Jews in Jerusalem in the 2nd century. Not too long prior to that we built the second Temple and a Jew named Jesus walked the Earth. The Jews have had a presence in Israel long before the mass Jewish immigrations of the 1890s and 1940s. We’ve always been in our ancestral homeland, Israel, and always will be, notwithstanding all the “expel the Jews” BS. The difference is that Jews are now a self-governing majority, since such a huge population fled the Holocaust and previous Russian explusions, whereas before, as the map so vividly illustrates, Jews in Israel were governed under the boot of the Assyrian Empire, Babylonian Empire, Persian Empire, Roman Empire, Greek Empire, the Caliphate and half a dozen huge Muslim Empires, the Crusaders, then the Ottomans, then the British Empire. Jews, especially the Orthodox, are wary of relying on the colonial powers. Yet miraculously, our tiny tribe has survived and kept our identity despite all that and the recent mass Holocaust. We’ll live on. Like our cousins, the Arabs, we are also very tribal, and will continue to cling to our tribal homeland. I identify with those Iraqis caught in another conflict with a superpower. May peace come to ALL PEOPLES of the world very soon.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


Filed under: Politics and Government