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Revisiting Iraq

This week Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his first visit to Iraq since the last combat troops left that country eight months ago. His time there — all of six hours — was well-documented by the press, and his wizened face was later splashed about the Internet and television spouting statements like: “We still retain significant investment and significant influence. But now it’s on the basis of a partnership and not on the basis of ownership.”

And later, after he had hopped back on his C-17 aircraft to get the heck out of there (presumably, not the same C-17 that had been hit earlier by insurgent rocket fire  [1]while parked at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan), he added [2]: “Only eight months out, and it seems to me that they’ve gripped the opportunity for now that we hoped they would grip.”

That must have been easy to say, especially if he were already in the air, the country for which nearly 4,500 Americans and an untold number of Iraqis have died, becoming smaller and smaller beneath him. I am guessing the word “opportunity” here is fungible. What we do know is this: in the last month, some 409 Iraqis were killed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan [3]. The deaths occurred during several waves of coordinated attacks, most recently on August 16, when an estimated 70 were killed and more than 200 wounded in more than a dozen towns and cities and Baghdad neighborhoods.

This is horrific on its own, but to add insult to injury, the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) [4], a branch of al Qaeda that has been operating in Iraq since the occupation, has taken responsibility as part of a new offensive to take back once-held territory, forebodingly called “Taking Down Walls”. [5] It’s obvious that these Sunni militants are trying to undermine the Shia-led state — hence the disproportionate attacks on army and police checkpoints, government officials and other security apparatus. But the fighters, armed with guns, suicide attackers, and “sticky bombs” easily attached to the under-carriage of vehicles, are targeting these interests in mostly Sunni areas, which critics say have been left behind — and quite vulnerable — by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. A quick check found that the majority of 20 locations targeted in the August 16 attacks, for example, were Sunni Arab or Sunni Kurdish strongholds.


What’s more, al Qaeda appears keen on sending a message to those Sunnis who worked with Americans and have since been tapped to defend their communities through the national security forces and government.

For example, in Masud, north of Baghdad, militants with silencers on their weapons surprised and killed at least six soldiers at a checkpoint; in al-Garma near Fallujah, four policeman were killed at a similar checkpoint; three roadside bombs exploded in Tuz Khurmatu near the home of the district chief, killing his wife and leaving him and his three sons wounded. On Sunday, a Sunni cleric in western Baghdad who has worked with al Maliki’s government and taken a stance against Sunni extremists, was critically wounded in a bomb attack on his convoy [6].

In July, 15 Mukhtars, or elected neighborhood officials, resigned in protest [7] in the Sunni City of Baquba because of what they said was the government’s inability to protect them from al Qaeda threats. They quit, Abdullah al Hiali, head of the City Council of Baquba, told the New York Times, “to save their family members’ lives because of living under threats from al Qaeda and militants.” There are typically 100 Mukhtars in Baquba — some 50 have resigned under similar circumstances since January, according to reports. Baquba, long the backdrop of Sunni insurgent activity, was one of the targets in last Thursday’s deadly attacks.

Funny how Dempsey mentioned none of this, at least to the press, on Tuesday. Instead, he gushed to reporters that Iraq could (still) become a democratic model for the Middle East. He met with al-Maliki, a Shia strong man with authoritarian tendencies [8] who helped purge Sunnis during and after the war [9] and now appears to be letting them suffer. He forcefully put down a developing front in the “Arab Spring” in Sunni areas in February 2011, when his security forces opened fire on “Day of Rage” protesters [10], who marched by the thousands demanding better government services. “We want a good life like human beings, not like animals,” Baghdad protester Khalil Ibrahim told the Associated Press at the time. The protests soon ceased across the country.

Basic services still elude most Iraqi citizens, Sunni or otherwise. Oil revenues are up, but they’ve yet to translate into anything substantial for the people, according to a sobering August report by The Washington Post [11]. Indeed, it seems everything the U.S was supposed to accomplish in its carefully orchestrated 2003 invasion has been turned on its head. Al Qaeda is back, terrorizing the population. Meanwhile, al-Maliki’s government has done nothing to dispel the notion that besides the Shia majority inside Iraq, Iran has been the only beneficiary of our painful — and tremendously expensive — intervention there (“Obama can’t admit the truth–that Iran won the Iraq War,” national security writer Marcy Wheeler recently noted [12]). Reports last week indicate that a Baghdad bank crossed the U.S last month when it was found to be helping Iran skirt economic sanctions over its nuclear program. According to The New York Times: [13]

The little-known bank singled out by the United States, the Elaf Islamic Bank, is only part of a network of financial institutions and oil-smuggling operations that, according to current and former American and Iraqi government officials and experts on the Iraqi banking sector, has provided Iran with a crucial flow of dollars at a time when sanctions are squeezing its economy. …

Some current and former American and Iraqi officials, along with banking and oil experts, say that Iraqi government officials are turning a blind eye to the large financial flows, smuggling and other trade with Iran. In some cases, they say, government officials, including some close to Mr. Maliki, are directly profiting from the activities.

Maliki’s government has denied such involvement. Classic. We fight a war as part of an effort to improve our strategic influence in the region only to find we have … very little? The bank was “cut off” from American banking by the Obama administration, but there has been no real confrontation, for obvious reasons. Likewise there was little public comment on reports that Iraq has been helping its Syrian brethren in Assad’s regime over the border. At the same time, the Iraqi al Qaeda is allegedly sending fighters over there [14] to aid the rebellion. What a thicket — and to think we had such a generous hand in planting the seed!

Gen. Dempsey put a brave face on American-Iraqi relations on Tuesday — acknowledging that in addition to discussing Syria and Iran, he spoke to al-Maliki about extending U.S-led training with the Iraqi army, and Iraq’s purchase of American military hardware. But no doubt he probably wished he had never laid eyes on that place again.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Revisiting Iraq"

#1 Comment By Philip Giraldi On August 23, 2012 @ 6:41 am

Nice article Kelley and a excellent summary of the ruin that we have left behind in Iraq. Iraq is a gift that keeps on giving and will continue to do so in the future after Syria/Lebanon sink into anarchy and Jordan slips away. Are any of the neocons aware of the fact that they created this mess when they decided to overthrow Saddam? I haven’t heard anyone say “the surge worked” for some time now.

#2 Comment By Nathan On August 23, 2012 @ 10:55 am

At least 100,000 dead civilians, Fallujah more or less destroyed (the old “we had to destroy it to save it” line comes to mind), the Christian community, largely untouched by SH, now mostly destroyed (a convincing case can be made that since it’s our fault, offer them all asylum), a “democracy (a form of government Madison called the vilest on earth so why pray tell are we pushing it on others?) that calls for the execution of muslims who convert to other religions. Then of course Abu Ghraib, the total compromise of our principles, standing by as the Iraqis now torture people something we supposedly went in to stop SH from doing.

By every and all measures Iraq was a total failure as is Afghanistan. The neocons had their way and their way led to senseless death and destruction. But according to his public pronouncements, MR will not vary from this script and we can expect more of the same.

#3 Comment By James Canning On August 23, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

Is Obama going to do the intelligent thing, and reduce the size of the currently gigantic American embassy in Baghdad? Reduce it by at least 80%? Or more.

#4 Comment By James Canning On August 23, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

Didn’t Jacques Chirac predict the result of US oveerthrow of Baathist government of Iraq would be a dictatorhsip controlled by the Shia?

#5 Comment By DSmith On August 25, 2012 @ 8:33 am

The icing on the cake is that GW Bush and the AIPAC crowd have never been publicly scorned, much less held accountable, for taking this nation to war and creating the hell on earth environment taking place in Iraq.

Our course, even now that Iraq and Afghanistan are lost causes,last night I watched Scott Pelley present a newscast about Iran that was straight our of the AIPAC playbook. The report about Iran’s nuclear program, with quotes from madman Netanyahu, was followed up by an interview with Romney in which the first question by Pelley was what he, Romney, would do about a nuclear Iran.

Strange you never hear about the ten US soldiers being killed each and every week in Afghanistan. I guess the neocons don’t want the American public to see the senseless waste of lives and treasury taking place daily in that god forsaken goat farm known as Afghanistan.

#6 Comment By Mark On August 25, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

I’m sure if Perle, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Kristol, et. al were confronted with Kelly’s report their response would be that the Iraqis are obviously not mature enough to hand self-governance and not showing the proper gratitude for the great benevolance bestowed upon them by the United States.

They should be exiled to Gitmo…

#7 Comment By MoT On August 25, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

Simply amazing. Trillions down a rat hole, death and destruction all about, and the ones responsible sitting pretty and untouched. And Saddam was worse than this? Considering how he was Washingtons bad boy in the neighborhood, up until he was no longer useful, it’s mind boggling.

#8 Comment By Jean-Claude Anthony On August 25, 2012 @ 11:18 pm

Kelley Vlahos is one of the best and one of the most important journalists in the world.

#9 Comment By pa.mohamedameen On August 26, 2012 @ 4:22 am

It is a fact that the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein was initiated, well before 9/11, by a group of influential American neo-cons, notably Perle, Feith and Wolfowitz (described by TIME
magazine as “the godfather of the Iraq war”) nearly all of whom were ardent Zionists, in many cases more concerned with preserving the security of Israel than that of the U.S. And Tony Blair served as a loyal and submissive poodle of President Bush.

Tony Blair’s testimony on 29th January 2010, showed to what extent he would go to deceive the world. He said he had no regrets over the killing of millions of innocent Iraqis. The price was worth. He made a statement at the Inquiry saying that even if Iraq was not possessing WMD, he would have helped Americans to invade Iraq. Look at his racist and colonial arrogance and vain- glory.

#10 Comment By Joe Flack On August 26, 2012 @ 9:45 am

In reference to ‘the last combat troops’ that ‘left that country eight months ago’, I’m wondering about the number of private contractors that are tasked with military security still remaining in-country. If memory serves correct, at the height of the surge, for every combat troop there was a contractor.

#11 Comment By Thomas On August 26, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

Kelly Vlahos is the distant voice in the wilderness from our past.. Decency, honesty, honor and a sense of humanity.. things that were at least a consideration in our lives before our drive to control the entire
world with full spectrum dominance….

Before the the Neocon excuses for our latest genocides…. and their dreams of new ones.

And still no buyers remorse for the big purchases of the bloody dreams of conquest and the chimera of our greatness despite our impending perury and moral destitution…

Instead of regret, we get Paul Ryan hustling us again with “we can’t afford Medicare because we need those dollars to pay for conquering the world… He wants this de-industrialized poverty and debt plagued America to “Beat our plowshares into swords” of empire for conquest…

As more and more zombie banks & corporations
fiddle their books so the top executives can take hundreds of millions in bonuses… leaving the shareholders meager or no dividends… We should guard against the same thing happening to our republic when the politicians squander America’s treasure and resources on endless war and conquest that makes the Halburtons and Blackwaters rich which makes debt and poverty for the citizens. As the zombie cities that are empty of any intelligent financial activity spread and zombie states that are totally dependent of the money Washington prints grow more and numerous…

What America doesn’t need is a stronger military chasing it’s tail in Somalia and Yemen or giving to Ethiopia for SEVEN BILLION
in aid there… or spying on it’s citizens day and night.. Can things get any worse…??

#12 Comment By jeff_davis On August 26, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

It’s as simple as this: do as you’re told, and you’re America’s “regional partner for peace”. Stray from the path of obedience, and you’re a “brutal dictator”.

“We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

Sociopathic elites enmeshed in a power struggle with each other, manipulate the cattle-like masses to gain advantage in the post-enlightenment fraudulent-democracy political paradigm. The weak-minded proletariat, brainwashed into Stepford partisanship, willingly donate their political power into the hands of the ruling elite, delivering us all into the hands of tyranny.