Blackmailing Iraq: the latest American Ploy

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According to the plans unveiled by Obama two years ago, the American forces in Iraq should be getting out of there, in their entirety, by the end of the year. December 31 is supposedly the deadline for this target to be reached.

However, all this now seems to be more of window-dressing than an earnest effort to implement the withdrawal plan in its letter and spirit. The reason for it is to be traced back to the original raison d’etre of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, 8 years ago, on spurious grounds that have long since stood fully exposed before the world.

Saddam Hussain’s alleged possession of dooms-day weapons of mass destruction was the alibi for the American invasion of Iraq. Bush had boasted that Saddam’s Iraq was a hotbed of international terror and intrigue and for the world to be spared of that scourge it was unavoidable for US, the global policeman, to strike at that root of global terror.

But the real reason for the invasion of Iraq was to use its strategically vantage location as a beach-head for America’s imperialist advance in the region. Iraq was deemed as a potential threat to Israel and needed to be cut to size in order to obviate the ‘threat’ to Israel’s vaunted security needs. Equally valid to the neo cons and ultra-rightist imperialists then in control of the Bush presidency was Iraq’s potential value as a launching pad against Iran, touted as a mortal threat to Israel by its votaries in the Bush administration.

So those pristine reasons for US military and political presence in Iraq are as valid today as they were when Bush cast the die in favour of war on its soil.

Obama may have thought of himself as being more astute and clever than Bush. In other words, he may believe that US, on his watch in the Iraqi context could eat its Iraqi cake and have it too. Therefore, as the D-Day for complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq has advanced, Iraq has been coming under increased, and matching crude, American pressure to  make a formal ‘request’ to Washington to prolong the presence of American boots on its soil beyond the cut-off date of December 31, 2011, and allow several thousand–exact number not specified, yet--American troops to stay on for the purpose of ‘training’ the Iraqis to get in shape for the onerous task of maintaining security in the country.

Come to think of it, the Iraqi military in its present complexion is entirely a handiwork of the Americans. They have trained and equipped them. So if the Iraqi forces are deemed as being insufficiently- prepared or not trained enough to acquit with the task of keeping peace in their country once the Americans are gone, this should, then, reflect poorly on the American capability. If 8 years have not been enough to train the Iraqis for the task ahead, what is there to ensure or guarantee that continued American training of them would change them and make them combat-ready?

The truth of the matter is that the Iraqi arm is being twisted, blatantly, to yield to Washington’s pressure and ‘beg’ the Americans to leave a sufficiently large force--exact strength not specified--behind so that the long-term US agenda for Iraq and the region around it isn’t affected.

Ergo, it wasn’t a surprise when it was announced from Baghdad, on August 2, that the Iraqi political parties had agreed to grant Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to conduct negotiations with the Americans for some of their troops to stay on in Iraq for training purposes of the Iraqi forces.

The Iraqi government threw in the towel within hours, literally, of a statement by the soon-to-retire Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, demanding of the Iraqis to make up their minds on the issue. That clarion call by the chief of US forces energized the US votaries in the Iraqi coalition to twist Maliki’s arm to relent. Ayad Alawi, a former interim PM during US occupation of Iraq, led the charge on behalf of his mentors. President Jalal Talabani, who owes his rise to this august office entirely to American patronage then got into the act to prevail on other political factions and parties to lend their support to Alawi’s push on behalf of the Americans.

But it wasn’t all the Iraqi political parties that succumbed to Washington’s arm-twisting.

The maverick Moqtada Al Sadr, whose following among the Iraqi Shiias remains unflagging despite all manners of American threats and blandishments, refused to become a party to what is being touted as political ‘consensus’ of Iraqi political factions to explore the possibilities of the Americans staying on, in reduced numbers, to ostensibly train the Iraqi forces.

Moqtada Al Sadr’s opposition to American military presence on the Iraqi soil has long been a known fact and it seems highly unlikely that he would relent now when his perseverance on the issue is so close to yielding the dividends he set out to achieve.

However, the Americans might think Sadr’s lone opposition shouldn’t be able to derail their plans to keep a strangle-hold over Iraq, under a new guise. They could be wrong; their blunder, yet another in an infinite series of miscalculations, could easily plunge Iraq into another long episode of violence and mayhem.

There is more than one reason for the Americans to want to keep an active military presence in Iraq, even though it may not be so visible.

A powerful reason is their unstinted support and commitment to their Kurdish clients who have enjoyed virtual autonomy, short of declaration of independence, under the umbrella of American patronage.

The Kurds were insulated from Baghdad’s control as soon as the guns fell silent at the end of Gulf War I in 1990-91. Washington, with active support from London, managed to clamp a ‘no fly zone’ over northern Iraq to hand a blank cheque to their Kurdish proteges to manage their affairs without fear of intervention from Saddam Hussain in Baghdad. The Kurdish appetite for virtual independence from the rest of Iraq has been infinitely whetted under the American occupation of Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Masood Barzani has since been running the show in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, like a de facto ruler and the government in Baghdad hasn’t been able to stem the tide of Kurdish ambitions from swelling to a point where Iraq’s virtual division is only a matter of time.

However, the unresolved status of Kirkuk, in the heart of Iraq’s rich oil producing region on the borderline between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq, still stands out as a sore thumb. Not only a sore thumb but a dispute that remains intractable and has the potential to bleed Iraq along a deep ethnic divide.

Kirkuk is coveted by both the Arabs of Iraq and its Kurds as their own. For the Kurds in particular Kirkuk is seen as the key to their prosperity and an invaluable tool for the fulfillment of their long-nurtured ambition of statehood and sovereignty. The Arabs, precisely for the reason that they wouldn’t like to see the Kurds endowed with the means to break away from Iraq, altogether, hate the idea of Kirkuk going under Kurdish tutelage.

The Americans might think they can stand between the feuding Iraqi factions as ‘honest brokers’ or referee. But while the Kurds may be beholden to them for this gratuitous role, the rest of Iraq regards this as an unwelcome prospect and would have none of it.

In real terms, the Americans covet being in the middle on Kirkuk and the tense stand-off between the Kurds and the Arabs, for more than a purely altruistic reason. Their claim of being good Samaritans ought to be taken with a good pinch of salt.

There are ample reasons--reasons of pure expediency sans any grain of altruism--for the Americans to see themselves as the ‘arbiters’ on the festering altercation between the Kurds and the Arabs of Iraq.

One is that an in-fighting Iraq torn by ethnic or sectarian fault lines would remain weak and divided, and that suits the ambitions and long-term goals of the neo cons ideally. A weak and constantly wrangling Iraq would not be able to pose any challenge to Israel, and that’s a goal above all else for those still dreaming of an American empire or, at the very least, an ‘American century’ of which Israel would be a pillar of strength and oppression.

But American foot-prints in the sensitive and fragile Kurdish area of Iraq also fit into the grand US design of being ensconced in an strategically vantage point from where they could not only keep an eye on Iran only but also on Syria and, lately, on Turkey, too.

Iran has long been in the American cross-hairs and a major reason--if not the greatest reason--for invading and occupying Iraq was to acquire a launch-pad against Iran. That goal, of unsettling Iran and pulverizing it whenever possible, remains intact and the change of command in the White House--from Bush to Obama--has made no difference to it. Obama is as jingoistic and recalcitrant on Iran as was Bush, if not more.

But Turkey under a reformist AKP and led by a greatly- foresighted leader like Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan, is also, increasingly, becoming a source of concern to those in Washington--and there are plenty of them advising Obama--who don’t relish the idea of the Arab world, in particular, and the rest of the Muslim world, in general, getting inspiration from the Turkish model. Turkey under Erdogan is showing a light at the end of the long dark tunnel for those in the Muslim world still mired in religious orthodoxy and the blight of autocracy. Turkey has lit a trail to let the Muslim world learn from its example and know how democracy and progressive Islamism can ideally blend under a multi-cultural and populist democratic system. That certainly should be a boon to all those in the Muslim world still looking for a template of reform and salvation, but a bane to those who seek to keep them perpetually groping in darkness.

So Washington has unfolded a chessboard full of intrigues and the potential of causing a massive division among the Iraqis by still playing for high stakes and twisting the Iraqi arm to let them stay on in Iraq as ‘trainers’ and ‘friends-in-need.’

But all this design of entrapping the Iraqis into yet another mouse-trap, could come easily unstuck and unravel on the issue of immunity for American soldiers and contracted mercenaries from Iraqi jurisdiction and Iraqi laws.

Memories are still fresh in Iraq of the reign of terror its people were subjected to by the American soldiers and mercenaries who were immune from the application of Iraqi laws. They ran berserk and went completely amok because they were sheltered under American jurisdiction on the Iraqi soil. Abu Ghuraib was just one nasty symptom of the American hubris that came wrapped in the colonial-era coating of extra-territoriality.

There may still be some among the Iraqi leaders inclined to facilitate their American mentors and make it convenient for them to carry on their nihilistic game, under a new guise, on the Iraqi soil. But even these facilitators may balk on the crass, colonial, demand of immunity from Iraqi laws demanded by the Americans.

Motqada Al Sadr, for one, has already served notice that his party and followers--and there are legions of them, some well-armed and battle-hardened, already--will have none of this insult to their sense of national honour and dignity. The Sadri representatives walked out of the meeting in Baghdad, on August 2, called by President Jalal Talabani, to endow Nouri al Maliki with a consensus to start negotiations with the Americans to stay on as ‘trainers.’

Washington could soon learn, to its cost, that the Iraqi leaders, divided and factions-ridden, no doubt, still have some backbone left intact in them. Giving the Americans a free run of the Iraqi soil and immunity from the reach of the Iraqi laws, may prove to be unpalatable for most of them. Sadr, for one, will have none of it, and he will not be alone among the Iraqis whose sense of honour and national integrity is still alive despite American machinations to snuff it out.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2011 on page no. 26

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