By Sergei SHASHKOV
On December 12, Washington trumpeted the imminent complete withdrawal of its forces from Iraq as the leaders of the two allied nations – US president B. Obama and Iraqi premier N. al-Maliki – inked a long-term partnership agreement. The key objectives of the US mission in Iraq are as of today accomplished: S. Hussein’s regime and all forms of its legacy have been erased, the US allies in the region no longer have to live with a sense of a permanent threat, and Iraq’s giant reserves of natural resources are under Washington’s complete control. No doubt, the Americans who are leaving Iraq and their families have the profoundest reasons to feel happy about the pullout. The US Administration is reportedly paying the sheiks of the Iraqi tribes traditionally resident on the territories which stretch along the Baghdad-Kuwait expressway to make sure that Army Spc. David Hickman, 23, from US 82nd Airborne Division, who was killed on November 14, 2011, will be the last in the list of 4,483 US servicemen to die in Iraq.
The practice of buying the neutrality of residents of the occupied country is an indication that for the US the war which used to be the continuation of politics finally degenerated into a kind of business. The costs of the US campaign announced as a war for democracy and against terrorism in Iraq evade assessment – estimates vary widely but are in all cases expressed in 11-digit numbers. Now the US, a country with a reputation for financial prudence, plans to invest $200b in the Iraqi economy, which shows that Washington has far-reaching plans for the country. US civilians will move in to replace the army servicemen in order to put the plans into practice. In the nearest future the personnel of the US embassy in Baghdad – already the world’s largest with 6,500 people on staff – is supposed to triple. Furthermore, US companies with vested interests in Iraq will open offices in 15 major cities across the country.
The US not only secured a firm grip on Iraq’s oil affairs, but also completely reoriented the country in the arms import sphere. A couple of decades ago, 85% of the weaponry in the Iraqi army were Soviet-made, but the rebuilt military forces of the country (slightly under 300,000 servicemen at the moment) are for the most part US-armed. The M1 Abrams tanks produced in the US are already in Iraq plus the F-16 fighters and a lot more are coming, meaning appreciable sales, maintenance, and training deals.
Notably, the US ability to plan ahead economically may prove superior to Washington’s aptitude in political planning. Economy and politics tend to be interwoven, and it is unclear in Iraq’s case what political reckoning backs the US economic expectations. Neither Iraq’s premier N. al-Maliki nor his outspoken critic Ayad Allawi are supported by the majority of Iraqis who believe that even under de facto war-time conditions eight years are a term long enough to move on from talk to practical measures that could benefit the population.
The generation of Iraqis currently coming of age has seen nothing around them apart from troubles and sufferings. Some 15-20 years ago, the educational system in Iraq was among the best in the region and quite decent from the standpoint of the global standards, but these days 15% of the children in the country do not attend schools. Iraq’s industries, infrastructures, the energy sector and health care lie in ruins. There were no electric power outages or supply disruptions in Iraq even during the exhausting war with Iran (1980-1988), plus the country knew no organized crime and the Iraqi dinar was equivalent to $3. In contrast, almost nine years since the “liberation” of Iraq from S. Hussein, the electric power is fed to many of its areas for a few hours a day, necessities are often in short supply, 1,250 Iraqi dinars sell for $1, and the country is worse off than even Nigeria or Russia in terms of corruption. Some of the Iraqi officials do manage to nab huge fortunes against the backdrop of mass poverty – in a recent example, Iraq’s first post-Hussein defense minister was charged with fleeing to Jordan with $4b stolen from the national budget.
Above all, nobody seems to feel safe in today’s Iraq. There is no reliable statistic to reflect the death toll in the country over the past eight years, the spread in the available estimates reaching hundreds of thousands. Around 4 million Iraqis fled and the number of displaced persons – those who became refugees in their home country – topped 1,800,000. Up to 40% of working-age Iraqis in some provinces are unemployed. Reports of terrorist attacks, killings, and kidnappings became routine. It shows how low the cost of human life currently sank in Iraq that the country’s parliament provided material assistance in the amounts of 50,000 dinars ($400) and 250,000 dinars ($200) respectively to the families of those killed or injured in the November 25 terrorist attack in Basra when dozens of people including three generals were killed.
The niche formerly monopolized by the now outlawed S. Hussein’s Ba’ath party has been taken over by myriads of political movements and groups (their total number possibly being as high as 700, according to some estimates), but the vacuum which emerged as the nationwide ideology evaporated is being rapidly filled in by proliferating religious groups. Facing unprecedented hardships, Iraqis en mass turn to religion, oftentimes – to its radical brands. Various religious groups had no difficulty coexisting in the formerly secular Iraq, but at present religiously motivated attacks against churches, mosques, pilgrims, liquor stores, or simply places of mass gatherings have become commonplace. Extremists ready to kill whoever does not buy into beliefs are flowing into the country to target the perceived infidels along with rival religious leaders, politicians, army and police officers, businessmen, teachers, and doctors.
Strictly speaking, the US forces and even more so private security agencies do not worry about randomly inflicting civilian fatalities either. Whoever they happen to gun down promptly becomes a reported Al Qaeda militant, and, judging by the numbers of field commanders the US military in Iraq claim to have done away with, the notorious terrorist group must outnumber most of the world’s armies.
The Iraqi Kurdistan took advantage of the difficult situation in the country and, over the post-Hussein epoch, morphed into a de facto independent alliance of three Kurdish provinces. It maintains its own government, security agencies and army, and, moreover is building an independent network of international political and economic ties. Iraqi Oil Minister Abdelkarim al-Luaybi stated on December 9 that Kurdistan’s push for autonomy in handling its energy resources has led Kurds to the point at which it is time to decide whether they intend to stay within Iraq or to establish an independent country.
The weakness of the federal authority in Iraq breeds decentralization tendencies across the country. A plan for a Sunni state looms in the western province of Anbar, and the administration of the southern province of Basra is bouncing a greater share of oil revenues out of Baghdad (it only gets $1 per barrel under the current arrangement), filed a lawsuit against the oil ministry over the matter, and similarly cites autonomy as an alternative.
Radically anti-US Shia cleric Muqtadā al-Ṣadr is gaining ever wider popularity in the southern and in some of the central provinces of Iraq. He objects to the presence of US advisers and instructors in the country after the US forces’ withdrawal and expressed strong doubts concerning the actual mission of the gigantic US embassy whose staff will in the foreseeable future equal in proportions a whole infantry division. It renders Muqtadā’s suspicions somewhat credible that the US consulate in Basra also counts an unusually large staff but, oddly enough, officially states that consular affairs are not within its competence.
Muqtadā al-Sadr is the leader of a political movement which is extensively represented in the Iraqi parliament, and the Mahdi Army, a militia he disbanded in 2006, would take days to revive with around 70,000 dedicated fighters in its ranks. Information circulates that members of the group dominate not only much of the country’s south along with some suburbs of Baghdad, but even a number of central districts of the Iraqi capital.
Formerly a regional heavyweight, today’s Iraq is more of a pie to be carved up. Iran and some Gulf countries, especially those which helped to pull off the series of coups known as the Arab spring, wrestle for influence over it (it should be noted in the context that the Persians and the Arabs have never been great friends). Baghdad humbly considers asking the US or the Gulf countries to dispatch their air forces to protect the Iraqi airspace against violations perpetrated by neighboring countries. The hint clearly points to Iran, but al-Maliki and a number of other Iraqi politicians do advocate wider cooperation with the country which, by the way, supplies much of Iraq’s demand for electric power, foodstuffs, etc. and provides crucial assistance to the country.
Iraq did not subscribe to the recent round of sanctions slapped on Syria by the Arab League, though the relations between Baghdad and Damascus are anything but fraternal. Hypothetically, Baghdad’s position on the issue was OKed by Washington and stemmed from completely pragmatic regards: in response, Damascus could easily deport over 500,000 Iraqi refugees it currently hosts and thus give the Iraqi administration a major headache.
The US withdrawal from Iraq means neither a triumph of democracy nor a victory over terrorism in the region. Human life in the country remains completely defenseless in the wake of the long occupation, and, by pulling out its forces, Washington simply leaves it to others to clash on the Iraqi battlefield. As for the US, it has no reasons to be proud of the Iraqi campaign, and for the Iraqis America is an evil and hostile power that reversed by decades the development of their country…
The regrouping of forces is underway, and the war in Iraq continues based on a different tactic. Under the worst-case scenario, this unending war can evolve into the bloodiest type of conflict, with everybody fighting against everybody else.
Originally published on Strategic-Culture.org