Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Iraq Four Years on
March 20th marked the fourth anniversary of the most controversial war of our times, the invasion of Iraq. The anniversary will be marked by grim reminders of the dangers that exist for ordinary citizens in Iraq with daily bombings, suicide attacks, sectarian and ethnic strife and the breakdown of the country’s cultural heritage. Iraq today is a sad picture of what was envisioned to be the beacon of democracy in the Middle East, an area more akin to the dictatorial ways of managing affairs. The war in Iraq has trudged on despite the popular movement against it in the US and most of the world. It will serve well to look back at the war, which though catastrophic on most counts, did manage to change the political realities of the country and the world.

It is no secret that the invasion of Iraq had no connection with the larger war on terror and Saddam was “taken out” due to the personal enmity between the Bush and Saddam clans. However, it is important to also factor in the rationale behind the attack, surely, personal enmity could not have convinced the entire Bush administration to wage war against a country and that too so soon after September 11, 2001. The neo-con think tanks argued that for Islamic extremism to be nipped in the bud required the spread of democracy in the Middle East and with Afghanistan falling into the democratic fold it was important that the Arab world follows suit. And in this pursuit of democracy and freedom the invasion of Iraq was inevitable. While the intention to spread democracy in the despotic Middle East was great on the design board, it turns out that domino effect democracy can only be stretched upto a reasonable limit. The Iraq invasion proved the point. The invasion itself was counted as a military success and images of a triumphant George Bush on board a naval carrier declaring mission accomplished soon after the fall of Baghdad remain etched in public memory. The overthrow of Saddam did prove to be the easy bit, what was to follow was something that the military commanders were not prepared for, or trained to, handle. The mission to invade Iraq was purely outlined to overthrowing Saddam, while that was achieved in weeks; the task of nation building was not on the army’s things-to-do list. The disbanding of the Iraqi army, considered by many as the single most important reason for the birth of the insurgency, along with too few troops on the ground, meant that Iraqi communities started becoming split on ethnic identities under various religious leaderships some of dubious origin. The Sunnis perceived the overthrow of Saddam as the loss of their hold on power, while the majority Shias saw the overthrow as the coming of their rule over the country. The very division of the Iraqi identity into Shia, Sunni and Kurd has proved to have dealt the death knell for the country. The lack of any unity amongst the different ethnic identities clearly shows how brutally Saddam managed to keep these tensions at bay. While there is no arguing the point that the Americans have to take most of the blame for the destruction of Iraqi society, the Iraqis themselves must share the blame for falling prey to this division based on ethnic affiliations. It would be understandable for Iraqis to launch an insurgency against foreign aggression and occupation, but how can Iraqi on Iraqi killings be reasonably justified.

In the din of bomb explosions and civil strife some momentous occasions were witnessed in the four years. Most notably, the 2005 national elections saw over 122 million Iraqis casting their ballot, most for the very first time. Then the adoption of the new Iraqi constitution was well received and hailed by the international community. The capture of Saddam and the killing of his sons was another feather in the newest ‘democracy’s’ hat. However, much of these accomplishments did come with caveats that proved to be unpleasant. Take the execution of Saddam; the manner in which it was carried out would have ironically made Saddam proud had he been in charge. The Constitution ensured that the Sunnis were convinced that in a federal setup, as laid out by the document, their hold over the country’s energy resources was all but over, thereby also seeing a nefarious understanding between the Shias and the U.S. Then again the elections also ensured that Al-Qaeda in Iraq became hell bent on destroying this newfound unity amongst Shias and Sunnis with the bombings of the Askariya mosque in early 2006, ultimately damaging relations between the two groups, some say forever.

In such a scenario it is with naïve hope that the world looks on as Iraq enters the fifth year in a war many feel the US and the Iraqi government are losing. The troop surge by the US has brought down the sectarian violence, though in the words of George Bush it is still early days in the new strategy and asking for patience. The diplomatic fallout, like the humanitarian one, has also been disastrous. With a newly empowered Iran, the American leeway in arm-twisting the Iranians on the nuclear issue looks diminished. Having realized its new found power, Iran is actively seeking to play the ‘Iraq card’ to ensure that the Americans stay away from any possible military intervention. However, diplomatic relation aside it is important for the world to now think up of ways to end the conflict or look at newer ways to end the suffering of millions of Iraqis. With hundreds of thousands dead, two million internally displaced and the loss of over 3000 American troops the answers on the best way forward are scarce. What is certain is that a rapid withdrawal of forces will be disastrous; then again for foreign occupation to continue is equally untenable. It is high time the Arab League or other confederations of Islamic countries take a call on whether to send in troops to secure the country in the next 18-24 months. Also, it is high time that the United Nations comes into the fray by getting all parties involved within and outside Iraq on a common platform and discuss the new way forward. If Ban Ki-Moon, the new UN General Secretary, ever had an opportunity to show statesman and leadership, it is now. As for George Bush, it is time for him to realize that the bluster of shocking and awing our opponent had its limited success, the reality now points to a more somber assessment and a course correction. Unfortunately, while the world ponders, Iraq continues to be decimated. After four years of war, our sincere wishes are with the country called by some as hell on earth.