Thursday, March 15, 2007
A Dozen Different Cities at War with Each Other
By PATRICK COCKBURN
"......The justification for blaming Iran for American failures in Iraq may be concocted byWashington. But is a confrontation with Iran such a damaging political mistake from the USpoint of view? It makes little sense in terms of Iraqi politics. The most important elements in the Iraqi government are pro-Iranian, notably the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) which was for long based in Iran. The first time I went to see one of their leaders in Najaf his guards spoke to me in Farsi. The Badr Organisation, SCIRI's well organised militia, was set up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war. It is not likely that SCIRI could simply change sides from Iran to the US. Paradoxically it is the Mehdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi nationalist cleric, now denounced as creatures of Iranby Washington, which were traditionally anti-Iranian.
Strangely Bush's new vision of Iran and the Shia militias in Iraq is close to that of the Baath party. They too justify their murderous attacks on the Shia by claiming that the latter are simply instruments of Iran. The US overthrow of the Baathist regime was bound to benefit Iran and al Qaeda because it eliminated their arch enemy Saddam Hussein. "We cannot reverse this outcome by more use of military force in Iraq," said Lt General William Odom, the former head of the National Security Agency, the largest US intelligence agency, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "To try to do so would require siding with Sunni leaders and the Ba'athist insurgents against pro-Iranian Shi'ite groups. The Ba'athist insurgents constitute the forces most strongly opposed to Iraqi cooperation with Iran." Because the Sunni insurgents both nationalist and al Qaeda primarily fight to end the US occupation they cannot ally themselves with Washington as Saddam Hussein did during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88. This means that inside Iraq Bush is alienating the Shia without necessarily gaining the support of the Sunni.
In terms of Middle East politics Bush's confrontation with Iran makes more sense. In Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan he is appealing to sectarian bigotry against the Shia in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. This is a powerful sentiment among leaders and people alike. The Shia take over of the Iraqi government in alliance with the Kurds can be portrayed as the cutting edge of Iranian imperialism. Sunni rulers, alarmed by the popular support for Hezbollah as it fought Israel to a standstill in Lebanon last year, knew that its success was being compared to the impotence, incompetence and corruption of their own regimes. To avoid such damaging comparisons they are happy to join the US in stoking the anti-Shiah and anti-Iranian fires.....
US confrontation or war with Iran will prolong the war in Iraq. "The Iranians can afford to compromise in Iraq, but they cannot afford to be defeated there," Ghassan Attiyah, the Iraqi political scientist, told me. If the US stages air raids, assassinations or pin prick attacks againstIran then it is likely to increase rather than reduce its involvement in Iraq. In reality there is little evidence that it gives critical support to either Sunni insurgents or Shia militias though it could do so if it needed to. After spending four years failing to defeat the five million Iraqi Sunni theUS could find itself fighting the 17 million Iraqi Shia as well."