I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Time for a new war yet?

(updated below)

The new war in the Middle East has almost completely eclipsed the old war in Iraq, at precisely the time that Iraq appears to be on the verge of total collapse. How are things going in Iraq? Here is yesterday's article by The Independent's Patrick Cockburn, the Middle East correspondent who has been reporting from Iraq for several years (h/t Billmon):

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, meets Tony Blair in London today as violence in Iraq reaches a new crescendo and senior Iraqi officials say the break up of the country is inevitable.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: "The parties have moved to plan B." He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. "There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into [Shia] east and [Sunni] west," he said. . . .

But he painted a picture of a deeply divided administration in which senior Sunni members praised anti-government insurgents as "the heroic resistance".

Granted, the sources on whom Cockburn is relying likely have an interest in promoting a picture of chaos, but whatever else might be true, it is clear that the situation in Iraq is growing increasingly desperate and all sides are undoubtedly seriously considering every option, including partition along sectarian lines. Independently, news report leave no doubt that the security situation has worsened considerably, and Cockburn reports that this is because the Maliki Government is incapable of doing much of anything outside of the Green Zone:

Mr Maliki, who is said to be increasingly isolated, has failed to prevent the violence. Other Iraqi leaders claim he lacks experience in dealing with security, is personally very isolated without a kitchen cabinet and is highly dependent on 30-40 Americans in unofficial advisory positions around him.

"The government is all in the Green Zone like the previous one and they have left the streets to the terrorists," said Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Iraqi politician. He said the situation would be made worse by the war in Lebanon because it would intensify the struggle between Iran and the US being staged in Iraq. The Iraqi crisis would now receive much reduced international attention.

Maliki's current trip to Washington will, of course, be exploited for political benefit by the administration -- as has happened every time the latest "new, strong Iraqi leader" visits with great fanfare -- but this is part of what Maliki is saying during his trip, according to this morning's NY Times:

When Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki visits the White House on Tuesday for the first time, he is expected to make requests that clash sharply with President Bush’s foreign policy, Iraqi officials say, signaling a widening gap between the Iraqis and the Americans on crucial issues.

The requests will include asking President Bush to allow American-led troops in Iraq to be tried under Iraqi law, and to call for a halt to Israeli attacks on Lebanon,
according to several Iraqi politicians, and to a senior member of Mr. Maliki’s party who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the prime minister.

The Times also reports that "sectarian violence has soared despite the presence of the Americans," that Iraqis are growing increasingly furious over the alleged behavior of American troops, and that Maliki and his top allies "want to maintain strong ties to Iran." And he is insisting that there be no immunity for trying American troops for criminal acts.

So, to recap as dispassionately as possible -- Iraq is falling apart. There is apparently serious talk of dividing Baghdad, or even the country as a whole, along sectarian lines. Sectarian tension is at an all-time high, with continuous reprisal mass murders, and the government appears incapable of enforcing the law or maintaining even basic security, and worse, relies upon the good will of powerful, well-armed lawless militias and death squads just to maintain the level of chaos currently engulfing the country.

Meanwhile, for the very first serious crisis which arises in the Middle East, the Iraqi Government is on the opposite side of the U.S., condemning Israel's actions with increasing fervor. All the while, the government does not hide its intent to maintain strong alliances with Iran, the country we are told is now the worst threat to American interests and world peace. And all of this is occurring while we have 140,000 troops occupying the country and the Iraqi government is dependent upon them. Imagine what will happen in terms of Iraq's allegiances if we ever actually leave that country and that dependence no longer exists.

Our invasion of Iraq certainly ousted Saddam Hussein from power, but in his place will be a government that is a close ally of Iran, our new arch enemy, and which appears incapable of maintaining even basic stability for a long time to come, if it ever can. And we are told that Al Qaeda-type terrorists thrive in environments where there is a weak government and chaos, which happens to be exactly what we created in Iraq for the foreseeable future -- at the cost of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, and counting. Is there even a single theoretical benefit to American security that we derived from our invasion and occupation of that country in exchange for the immeasurable damage we created and are enduring?

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan today publishes an e-mail from an American solider in Iraq, reporting that "Baghdad has descended into complete anarchy" and that Iraqi police officers are afraid even to drive to Baghdad. Sullivan calls our invasion of Iraq, which he vocally supported, "one of the the biggest military fiascoes in American history." I realize there is always controversy generated when supporters of the war end up acknowledging that it was a mistake, but between someone who acknowledges error and those who continue to insist in the face of undeniable reality that things are going well in Iraq and that our invasion was the right thing to do, I will take the former over the latter every time.

Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman points out that Moqtada Sadr appears to be sending his Mahdi Army militia to Lebanon to fight with Hezbollah against Israel -- a move which not only risks direct Iraqi Shiite-Israel conflict, but which also puts great pressure on the Maliki government to oppose Israel even more actively so as to avoid appearing controlled by the U.S. The possibilities for the U.S. to be dragged into a wider war in the Middle East are too numerous to count.

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