February 24, 2006
Americans, Iraqis and the international community must hold Bush and Cheney responsible for the destruction of Iraq.
With Iraq perched at the very precipice of an ethnic and sectarian
holocaust, the utter failure of the Bush administration's policy is
revealed with starkest clarity. Iraq may or may not fall into the abyss
in the next few days and weeks, but what is no longer in doubt is who
is to blame: If Iraq is engulfed in civil war then Americans, Iraqis
and the international community must hold President Bush and Vice
President Cheney responsible for the destruction of Iraq.
CIA, the State Department, members of Congress and countless Middle
East experts warned Bush and Cheney -- to no avail -- that toppling
Saddam could unleash the demons of civil war. They said so before the
war, during it and in the aftermath, and each time the warnings were
dismissed. Those warnings came from people like Paul Pillar, the CIA
veteran who served as the U.S. intelligence community's chief Middle
East analyst, from Wayne White, the State Department's chief
intelligence analyst on Iraq and from two CIA Baghdad station chiefs
who were purged for their analysis. Pillar, who wrote this month in Foreign Affairs that pre-war intelligence on Iraq was distorted by the Bush-Cheney team, is being excoriated by the right.
the most radical-right neoconservative Jacobins amongst the Bush-Cheney
team, the possibility that Iraq might fall apart wasn't even alarming:
they just didn't care, and in their obsessive zeal to overthrow Saddam
Hussein they were more than willing to take the risk. David Wurmser,
who migrated from the Israeli-connected Washington Institute on Near
East Policy to the American Enterprise Institute to the Pentagon's
Office of Special Plans to John Bolton's arms control shop at the State
Department to Dick Cheney's shadow National Security Council in the
Office of the Vice President from 2001 to 2006, wrote during the 1990s
that Iraq after Saddam was likely to descend into violent tribal,
ethnic and sectarian war.
In a paper for an Israeli think tank,
the same think tank for which Wurmser, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith
prepared the famous "Clean Break" paper in 1996, Wurmser wrote in 1997:
"The residual unity of the nation is an illusion projected by the
extreme repression of the state." After Saddam, Iraq would "be ripped
apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key
families," he wrote. "Underneath facades of unity enforced by state
repression, [Iraq's] politics is defined primarily by tribalism,
sectarianism, and gang/clan-like competition." Yet Wurmser explicitly
urged the United States and Israel to "expedite" such a collapse. "The
issue here is whether the West and Israel can construct a strategy for
limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse that will ensue in order
to move on to the task of creating a better circumstance."
black neoconservative fantasies -- which view the Middle East as a
chessboard on which they can move the pieces at will -- have now come
home to roost. For the many hundreds of thousands who might die in an
Iraqi civil war, the consequences are all too real.
bankruptcy of the Bush-Cheney Iraq policy is revealed in the fact that
the United States has succeeded in pitting itself now against two major
"resistance" groups in Iraq. The first is the Sunni-led, mostly
Baathist and military resistance, which has battled U.S. forces in
Baghdad and the so-called Sunni triangle to the north and west. The
second, which is growing in the ferocity of its anti-Americanism, is
the Shiite religious forces led by the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Moqtada Al Sadr's Mahdi Army, and their
allies, who have begun routinely to denounce the United States for its
opposition to their plans to create a Shiite-dominated, Iranian-allied
Islamic Republic of Iraq. Abdel Aziz Al Hakim, SCIRI's chieftain and
former commander of its Badr Brigade paramilitary force, has all but
declared war on the United States, blaming Ambassador Khalilzad for
giving a "green light" to the bombers by insisting that Shiite militias
be disarmed. Proclaimed Hakim:
For sure, the
statements made by the ambassador were not made in a responsible way
and he did not behave like an ambassador. These statements were the
reason for more pressure and gave green lights to terrorist groups.
And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility.
even the oracle-like Ayatollah Ali Sistani, whose supposedly
nonpolitical stance looks more and more like a cover for shrewd and
calculating political ambition, overtly threatened this week to order
the unleashing of Shiite militias in a civil war mode.
escalating political rhetoric is built on a foundation of escalating
inter-communal violence. Ethnic cleansing is proceeding apace. The
bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra ought not to be seen as a
conspiratorial effort to provoke civil war, but merely as a symptom of
that incipient war. As a Sunni city north of Baghdad, it is likely that
ethnic cleansers planned the attack as a means of terrifying Shiites in
that part of Iraq to flee southward to the Shiite enclaves. Scores of
Iraqi cities, towns, and neighborhoods are undergoing a similar pattern
of terrorism and death squads aimed at ethnic cleansing.
especially scary to Shiites is that the destruction of the Golden Dome
follows an historic pattern first laid down by the Wahhabi conquerors
of the Arabian peninsula in the nineteenth and early twentieth century,
when the Wahhabi Arab army made demolition of Shiite mosque domes its
signature and launched a crusade against alleged idolatry by Shiites,
who were disparaged by the Wahhabis as heretics. The Kurds, too,
standing back from the Sunni-Shiite battles, are engaging in their own,
anti-Arab ethnic cleansing in and around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk,
which President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, a Kurd, has called "the
Jerusalem of Kurdistan."
It is all ugly and likely to get much
uglier. So far, hundreds of Iraqis on all sides have died since
Tuesday, scores and perhaps hundreds of mosques attacked,
execution-style slayings proliferated, and ordinary Iraqis driven into
hiding or into exile. A weekend curfew has Iraq on the knife's edge.
the Sarajevo assassination that precipitated World War I, the attack on
the mosque may trigger a war, but it won't be the cause. The cause is
far more deep-rooted, embedded in the chaos and bitterness that
followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and America's deliberate efforts to
stress sectarian differences in creating the Iraqi Governing Council
and subsequent government institutions. If the current crisis doesn't
spark a civil war, be patient. The next one will.
Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor at The Nation and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. His book, "Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam," will be published by Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books in the fall.