The outcome of talks on the Iraqi “constitution” is very bad news for George Bush.
Bush is desperate to see a stable government set up in Iraq that can be presented as democratically legitimate.
The war is becoming increasingly unpopular in the US, and the administration wants to cut its troop levels in Iraq as quickly as possible.
The Pentagon’s thinking was revealed in one of two interesting pieces on Iraq published in the Financial Times last week. Major General Douglas Lute, director of operations at US central command, was passing through London last week and talked to the British press.
He said he expected US forces in Iraq would be significantly reduced next year. Lute also conceded that the Western military presence in the country was an obstacle to stabilising the situation — “You have to undermine the perception of occupation in Iraq. It’s very hard to do that when you have 150,000 plus, largely Western, foreign troops occupying the country.”
Cutting US forces in Iraq would allow central command to pursue what Lute calls “the long war” against Al Qaida. He speculated that, “when Iraq is stabilised, as we believe it eventually will be,” the Al Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would retreat to somewhere like the Horn of Africa.
This is a marvellous case of topsy-turvy logic. Having created a shambles in Iraq, the Pentagon’s strategic planners want to dismiss it as a sideshow, a distraction from the real struggle against Al Qaida, which is elsewhere.
But the genie may be harder to put back in the bottle than Lute suggests. He himself conceded that 90 percent of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqis.
What the Iraqi resistance is really like is indicated by the second piece in the Financial Times. This was an interview with Colonel Watban Jassam, described as the “informal consultant” of the Omariyun, a guerrilla network north of Ramadi in western Iraq.
Jassam is a former officer in Saddam’s army who was held as a prisoner of war for 15 years as a result of the Iran-Iraq War. He claims to have been tortured by the Badr militia, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), which is one of the main forces in the current puppet government.
Jassam advocates hit and run attacks on the US forces that don’t allow their radar to pinpoint the guerrillas. He also denounces an attack by another insurgent group on a bus station for killing “innocents” and accuses the US of using Zarqawi to “tarnish” the resistance.
According to the Financial Times, “In Ramadi, the insurgents are setting up a nascent mini civil administration in its outskirts, distributing petrol and water to civilians.”
Jassam’s aim is to turn US public opinion against the war. He says the guerrilla operations must “support anti-war sentiment in the West”.
A Sunni Muslim like most people in his part of Iraq, Jassam isn’t hostile to the Shia who are the majority of the Iraqi population, only to the Shia establishment that is collaborating with the occupation.
“We like Muqtada al-Sadr,” the militant Shia leader, Jassam says. “I don’t have any problems with Shia, just with the supreme council and with Badr.”
Here lies a real danger. The Pentagon’s pullback plan involves handing over frontline responsibility for security to the puppet Iraqi army and police and concentrating a reduced US force in the four huge airbases that are being built.
All the evidence suggests the puppet forces would be incapable of holding the line on their own. What could instead develop is a vicious civil war between the resistance and the militias of the Shia and Kurdish parties that dominate the puppet government.
Meanwhile, the US would try to declare victory in Iraq and the Pentagon would move on to wage “the long war” elsewhere, wrecking yet more countries in the process. Truly, as the great historian Tacitus wrote of the Roman empire, they create a desolation and call it peace.