The White House Ignites Middle East Fires

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The White House Can’t Put Out the Mideast Fires It Ignited

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

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Remember when narrow-minded Republican know-nothings launched a hate campaign against French President Jacques Chirac and everything French because Paris would not go along with George Bush’s jolly little war in Iraq?

Well, it turns out that Chirac’s warnings in 2003 that a US invasion of Iraq would set the Mideast on fire, encourage terrorism, and produce a disaster have been tragically born out by events.

Iraq is falling ever deeper into chaos and sectarian conflict. Outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan calls it u201Cworse than a civil war.u201D Lebanon is teetering on the brink of civil war. The agonies of Palestine — now the world’s largest outdoor prison — continue without relent. Iran’s power and influence are surging, scaring the daylights out of Washington’s Sunni clients in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf.

For the latter, thank George Bush. He overthrew two of Iran’s bitterest enemies, Taliban and Saddam Hussein, then stuck US ground forces in the $250 million per day Iraq quagmire that is now estimated to cost at least $1 trillion before the United States admits defeat and pulls out.

As Iraq turns into a nightmare of carnage and hate, President Bush and mentor Dick Cheney rushed to Jordan and Saudi Arabia to urge their local allies to pull America’s bacon out of the fire.

But Iraq’s hapless u201Cprime minister,u201D Nuri al-Maliki, presides only over Baghdad’s US-protected Green Zone. The US controls what pass for Iraq’s police and armed forces. How can Bush expect a powerless figurehead to do what the mighty US cannot?

At least Malliki had the pluck to make a symbolic protest after humiliating reports leaked in Washington the US intended to dump him. So much for Iraq u201Cdemocracy.u201D Washington may be headed towards installing a ruthless Saddam clone, either the brutal CIA u201Casset,u201D Iyad Allawi, or some iron-fisted general.

Iraq has no real government or army. What western reporters and Pentagon spinners term the Iraqi Army is really a collection of Shia militias, death squads, and mercenaries, many former convicts. The US occupation’s extensive use of Shia death squads to fight the Sunni resistance has played a key role in igniting Iraq’s current sectarian bloodbath. This little-known story is a major scandal.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Jordan warn they may send troops into Iraq to protect its Sunni minority from ethnic cleansing by the Shia majority. Such a move could provoke the powerful Turkish Army to invade independence-seeking Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. Iran would be quickly drawn into the mle.

Iraq’s neighbors deeply fear its chaos will spread across their borders, with dangerous, unpredictable consequences for all concerned, particularly Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

The long-awaited Iraq Study Group’s report comes out this week. It is expected to call for a phased withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq, and retention of some u201Cintervention unitsu201D in neighboring countries. France ruled its West African empire for a half a century this way: installing compliant puppet rulers kept in power by strategically located French Foreign Legion and Air Force units ready to swiftly intervene at signs of unrest.

The Iraq Study Group will also likely call for direct talks with u201Caxis of evilu201D members, Iran and Syria. Their cooperation is essential to stabilizing Iraq.

But a furious, behind-the-scenes battle is raging in Washington between advocates of diplomatic engagement with Damascus and Tehran, and the powerful Israel lobby, which has successfully blocked for decades all attempts to open such badly needed dialogue or press Israel over Palestinian rights. Israel, its American supporters, and u201CChristian Zionistu201D evangelicals are pushing hard for US attacks on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

In another welcome sign of the expanding purge of neocon extremists from the administration, the odious John Bolton just resigned as UN Ambassador, producing sighs of relief in the world organization. His main role there was to promote neocon causes, punish the UN for rebuking Israel, and sabotage UN collective undertakings. Bolton jumped before the new Democratic-controlled Congress made him walk the plank.

A second important neocon, senior Pentagon official Stephen Cambon, was also purged this week. He played a key role in producing faked intelligence over Iraq for his boss, Paul Wolfowitz, and in engineering the war. The Pentagon brass is delighted by what they are gleefully terming u201Cethnic cleansingu201D of the pro-war neocon ideologues from the Pentagon.

So far, so good. But if and when Washington announces u201Cphased withdrawalsu201D of US forces from Iraq, the already shaky morale of American troops there will plummet. Who wants to risk life or limb for a phased withdrawal?

This is exactly what I saw happen to US forces in Vietnam after President Lyndon Johnson announced military victory was no longer his goal. No GI wanted to be the last soldier killed in a lost war started by bungling politicians. I organized a protest in officers’ school over Johnson’s u201Cno-winu201D policy that ended up getting 200 of us sent to u201Cdeath units.u201D (See my column on Gen. Ware for more on this interesting story).

Once Washington utters the dreaded u201Cwu201D word — withdrawal — Iraqis working for the US occupation will decamp to the Sunni or Shia opposition. Iran’s influence in Iraq will soar. America’s Arab allies — nastily described as u201Cfat womenu201D by a jihadist web site — will panic.

Actually, they are panicking already, and with good reason. America’s defeat in Iraq by a bunch of rag-tag Sunni guerillas is going to electrify the Muslim World and jeopardize the continued rule of all the US-backed despots, generals, and feudal monarchs who so badly misgovern the Mideast. Wherever he is, Osama bin Laden must be smiling broadly. His master plan is working right on schedule.

But President Bush keeps insisting u201Cno retreat.u201D He still seems unable to see the writing on the wall in Babylon.

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.

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