Strains on Display: No Iraqi Leaders Attend U.S. End-of-War Ceremony in Baghdad
The headline above describes the tactical outcome of the Iraq invasion of. Strategically, we won the war, but coming years will determine if we won the peace.
Joy: Specialist Shunterika Lewis from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, was among the last convoy to leave Iraq. She left the final U.S. base in Iraq, Camp Adder, along with around 500 other troops from the brigade
Departure: Troops wave as they head for the Kuwait border. It is nine years since the start of the Iraq war
Key Iraq bloc to boycott parliament as US quits
Published Saturday, December 17, 2011
The secular Iraqiya bloc walked out of parliament on Saturday sparking a political crisis days after US forces ended their mission.
The bloc, led by former premier Iyad Allawi, said it was suspending its participation in parliamentary business in protest at what it charged was Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s monopolisation of all decision-making.
“We can no longer remain silent about the way the state is being administered, as it is plunging the country into the unknown,” said the bloc, which holds 82 of the 325 seats in parliament, second only to Maliki’s National Alliance.
Bush officials believed ousting Saddam Hussein would lead to pro-American regimes from Baghdad to Tehran. I will never forget Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz telling me in November 2002 that postwar Iraq would resemble post-World War II France, where we liberated the country and left.
Instead, White House ignorance about Iraq – and the decision to disband its army – produced a security collapse in the country, a bloody sectarian war, and the emergence of al-Qaeda in Iraq
The Iraq war is finally over. And it marks a complete neocon defeat
Thanks to the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s greatest enemy, Tehran’s influence in Iraq is stronger than America’s
The US Republicans are accusing Obama of giving in to Iran by pulling all US troops out. Their knee-jerk reaction is rich and only shows the bankruptcy of their slogans, since it was Bush who gave Tehran its strategic opening by invading Iraq, just as it was Bush in the dying weeks of his presidency who signed the agreement to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011, which Obama was hoping to amend. But Senator John McCain was right when he said Obama’s announcement would be viewed “as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime, which has worked relentlessly to ensure a full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq”. A pity that he did not pin the blame on Bush (and Tony Blair) who made it all possible.
…Their hopes of making Iraq a democratic model for the Middle East have been tipped on their head. The instability and bloodshed which the US unleashed in Iraq were the example that Arabs sought to avoid, not emulate. This year’s autonomous surge for democracy in Egypt and Tunisia has done far more to galvanise the region and undermine its dictatorships than anything the US did in Iraq. And when the Arab spring dawned, the Iraqi government found itself on the defensive as demonstrators took to the streets of Baghdad and Basra to protest against Maliki’s authoritarianism and his government’s US-supported clampdown on trade union activity. Maliki hosted two Syrian government delegations this summer and has refused to criticise Bashar al-Assad’s shooting of protesters.
George Bush decided to pursue the neo-CON agenda for the benefit of Israel, to the detriment of Americans.
The liberation of Iraq, in the neocon scenario, would be followed by a democratic Iraq that would quickly recognize Israel. This, in turn, would “snowball” — the analogy only works in the Cedar Mountains of Lebanon — through the region, bringing democracy from Syria to Egypt and to the sheikhdoms, emirates and monarchies of the Gulf.
All these new democracies would then embrace Israel and hitch their backward economies to the Jewish state’s advanced technology. And Israel could at long last lower its guard and look forward to a generation of peace. That was the vision.
WMDs were weapons of mass deception that became the pretext for the grand design. As was a much ballyhooed, and later discredited, park bench meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence agent and Mohamed Atta, the September 11, 2001, Saudi kamikaze.
The amateur strategists in the neo-con camp knew a lot more about Israel and its need for peace than they did about the law of unintended consequences, writ large in Iraq, and in the Arab world beyond.
When Bush scared Americans with the threat of WMD to justify the invasion of Iraq, he never described a delivery system that would ACTUALLY threaten US.
In order to minimize an egregious mistake in judgment, Bush babbled about establishing freedom and democracy, which was not the original intent of the invasion. He compared the chaotic situation in Iraq to postwar Japan — the rationalization of a fool. The imperial bureaucracy survived after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whereas Paul Bremmer, the neo-Con governor, destroyed Iraq’s. Moreover, unlike Japan, Iraq is bisected and dissected by intractable ethnic, tribal and religious divisions, which are not conducive to political compromise.
The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq marks the end America’s great expectations
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Published: December 16
In American history, every now and then we get a definitive ending. The crash of October 1929 ended the Roaring Twenties; VJ Day ended World War II. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq this month, while less dramatic, also marks the passing of an era.
Launched in 2003 amid assurances of a rapid victory, the war is ending nearly nine years later with the United States settling for considerably less. Undertaken to demonstrate our supremacy, the war has instead revealed the stark limits of American power. It has laid waste to the post-Cold War era of great expectations once thought to define the future.
Remember the 1990s, which opened with the Soviet Union in its death throes and the United States riding high? The Cold War reached a peaceful conclusion, and a new historical chapter, seemingly rich with promise, dawned. Led by the United States — its preeminence affirmed in 1991 by Operation Desert Storm — the world was moving from darkness into light.
While preparing Americans for their first military encounter with Saddam Hussein, President George H.W. Bush heralded the approach of a “new world order.” Lacking poetry, his formulation never caught on. So in Washington, politicians and commentators were soon vying to provide a more vivid rendering of the age. This effort yielded three broad claims.
The first claim was ideological: The collapse of communism signified the triumph of liberal democracy, a victory deemed definitive and irreversible; viable alternatives for organizing society had ceased to exist. The second claim was economic: The end of the Cold War had unleashed the forces of globalization; with the unimpeded movement of goods, capital, ideas and people, previously unimaginable opportunities for wealth creation beckoned. The third claim was military: Advanced information technology was revolutionizing warfare; armed forces able to exploit that revolution would gain unprecedented effectiveness.
Americans [neo-CONs] took it for granted that their own approach to democracy should and would apply universally. They believed themselves better positioned than any would-be competitor to capitalize on the promise of globalization. As for high-tech military power, Desert Storm had already testified to American prowess; what some were calling the Revolution in Military Affairs would translate a clear edge into permanent supremacy.
These claims together fostered an exuberance bordering on the ecstatic. “America stands alone as the world’s indispensable nation,” President Bill Clinton declared in his second inaugural address. As the “world’s greatest democracy” and with an economy that was “the strongest on Earth,” the United States, Clinton predicted, would soon “lead a whole world of democracies.”
Newt Gingrich’s vision tracked neatly with Clinton’s. “No country has ever had the potential to lead the entire human race the way America does today,” the Republican speaker of the House pronounced in 1996. “No country has ever had as many people of as many different backgrounds call on it . . . for advice about how to create free government, free markets, and a military that can operate within the rule of law.”
Not even a full 1 percent of Americans are active-duty military. The troops have become props for politicians who shower them with fulsome praise, while dreaming up schemes to send them into harm’s way.
Yet, these soldiers, sailors, air men and women, and assorted boots on the ground know the cost — in trauma, in lives ruined, in friends lost, in good intentions gone bad — of going to war far more than the 99 percent not currently serving. Where they put their money in a campaign, paltry though it may be in comparison to the corporate lords who control a majority of our politicians, says a great deal.
And if the overwhelming service support for Ron Paul is any indication, the grunts of American foreign policy are gun-shy about further engagement in “useless wars,” to use Dr. Paul’s term.
“It’s not a good sign when the people doing the fighting are saying, ‘Why are we here?’” said Glen Massie, a Marine Corps veteran who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and is supporting Paul for president. “They realize they’re being utilized for other purposes — nation building and being world’s policeman — and it’s not what they signed up for.”
Since the advent of the first armies, soldiers have fought for many reasons. Glory, booty, land, ideology are among them. The modern American soldier fights for his buddy, commander, unit, and his/her country.
Kansas families have one question: Was Iraq worth it?
By Rick Plumlee
A young Marine absorbs the shock of losing four buddies in an instant.
A father turns his career upside down and becomes a social worker after his son is killed.
A mom with four young children keeps things running at home while her husband tries to help the wounded in the war.
Kansans have sacrificed for Iraq. Their bodies have been broken – 409 have been injured. And 50 have died.
Now nearly nine years of war in Iraq is ending for the United States. Only 12,000 troops remain, down from a peak of about 170,000 at the war’s height. Virtually all are expected to be gone by the end of the year, except for about 200 attached to the U.S. embassy. The end comes with a high price tag: nearly 4,500 American dead, a bill approaching $1 trillion.
Was it worth it? No one knows better than those who sacrificed in some way. Their feelings are mixed.
Bob and Karen Funcheon have lain awake at night in their Bel Aire home thinking about that question and a zillion others since their son, Army Sgt. Alex Funcheon, was killed in Iraq in 2007.
“Was it worth his sacrifice? And it was his sacrifice, not ours. We may not know for 10 or 15 years,” Bob Funcheon said. “If Iraq goes back to dictatorship, it’s not going to be worth it.
“Am I going to feel better about his death, if it’s `successful?’ No, I am not. He’s dead either way. Will I ever get to the point where I’ll say it’s worth it? At this point, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to say that.”
Linden Blank, a Marine from Augusta who served two tours in Iraq, said, “I’ve asked myself that same question. Was it worth it? But the only ones who can answer that are the people who have died. It’s like asking yourself, `Would I be OK with dying over there and never seeing my family again?’”
Wichitan Anita Dixon is pretty sure the U.S. forces helped Iraq. Her son, Army Sgt. Evan Parker, told her so before he was killed in Iraq in 2005.
“I can only speak from experience that I heard from my son,” Dixon said. “Of course, he didn’t get the opportunity to fully understand all of it. We lost him ….
“What I do know, what he did say is that in his heart he knew he had a reason for being over there. He saw it in the faces, in the kids, in the families.”
Those who served and their loved ones have a unique perspective on the Iraq War. Here are some of their stories.
Teamwork in Iraq, at home
Capt. Jeremy Salsbury, a 33-year-old Army reservist from Wichita, served as a nurse anesthetist in Iraq for 3½ months in 2009. He worked in a mobile, 20-person surgical team that was the first to treat the most severely wounded Americans.
“It wasn’t good for us to be busy,” he said, “because that meant people were getting shot up.”
There were busy times.
Salsbury said he would put that trauma unit on par with any he has worked with in the Midwest.
“People work as a team,” he said. “You get tight. It’s not like the rest of the Army, where rank is everything. You get over titles to get the job done.”
Back home, his wife, Katie, was beyond busy with their family, which now includes five children ages 1 through 8, including 4-year-old twin boys.
“My wife is very organized,” said Salsbury, who works at Kansas Heart Hospital. “She took on a lot of burdens. She was automatically the disciplinarian, the mother and the father.”
They were high school sweethearts from Parsons, and their families live two to three hours away. But friends were quick to help out and give her an occasional break.
“Truthfully, how I handled it is my faith in Christ and the people God uses to take care of us,” Katie said.
“There was continuous prayer, and we have amazing friends and support here.”
She’ll need that support again sometime in 2012, when Jeremy will be deployed to work with a trauma unit in Afghanistan. A mom or dad of young children can miss a lot in just a few months.
“I hope our efforts are appreciated by the Iraqis,” Jeremy said, “and I hope some other country doesn’t take advantage of our efforts because we don’t have a real strong presence over there.”
Going back to school
Bob Funcheon was a salesman for a processed chemicals distributorship.
And then Alex was killed on April 29, 2007, when a roadside bomb ripped through his Humvee.
After some time off, Bob returned to work. As he visited clients, he was repeatedly asked how he was doing.
“It was a constant reminder – five or six times a day for two months in a row – that Alex was dead,” he said.
“These people were genuine, but it wore me out. It got to the point I didn’t want to make sales calls.”
He took a couple of months off. About that time, in June 2007, he and Karen went to Alex’s memorial at Fort Carson, Colo. The Funcheons had been told that all five people in Alex’s Humvee had been killed.
Sgt. Gerardo Medrano was badly wounded in the explosion, but he survived. He walked up to the Funcheons and said, “I was in that vehicle.”
“He had survivor’s guilt,” Funcheon said. “He had a 1,000-yard stare. He apologized to me for living. Now, these guys weren’t in a firefight. He didn’t make a mistake. The reason he lived is because everyone else absorbed the shrapnel.
“His wife and two small kids were literally 10 feet away, and yet he was apologizing for living.”
Later that day, Funcheon met other soldiers who had been wounded and were being told they couldn’t serve any longer.
“They had this look of uncertainty that impacted me,” he said.
The Fort Carson trip, combined with his experience at work, convinced him to go back to school at Wichita State University to finish an undergraduate degree and get his master’s degree in social work so he could treat soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder. He graduated in May.
Funcheon works as an outpatient counselor at Comcare, a provider of mental health services in Sedgwick County. That job doesn’t have him specifically helping soldiers with PTSD, but his volunteer work with the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center does.
The New Mexico-based nonprofit uses a holistic approach during free, week-long retreats in Angel Fire, N.M., to help soldiers and veterans with PTSD and their immediate families. In October, Kansans brought a scaled-back weekend version of the retreat to the Rock Springs 4-H Center in the Flint Hills. Eight couples attended. Funcheon served as a counselor.
“It was very eye-opening,” he said.
Although he now makes less money with a master’s degree than he did as college dropout, he’s convinced that he’s found his calling.
“Where I’m headed, I have no idea,” Funcheon said. “But I know I want to work with soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD. I don’t want to be an administrator. I don’t want to write a book or be a professor.
“I want to sit across the table and help people to try to normalize their lives.”
Love and war
Tech Sgt. Ashley Carpenter, a medic with the Kansas Air National Guard’s 184th Intelligence Wing who is stationed full time at McConnell Air Force Base, joined the Air Force reserve shortly after graduating from her Minnesota high school. She was looking for adventure, “something different,” she called it.
She got that and more. Military and love brought her to Kansas.
She met Derrick Tibbetts, a Kansas Air Guardsman from Liberal, in 2004 at an Air Force school in Wichita Falls, Texas. Love took hold. They later both graduated from Fort Hays State University. She switched to the Guard, hoping to make their training schedules fit closer together.
But then came four deployments to Iraq – three for Tibbetts, one for Carpenter – plus a deployment for her earlier this year to Afghanistan. They were deployed together in Iraq in 2007, though. Now in the active Air Force, Tibbetts is stationed in New Mexico.
Add it all up and they have been together a total of only six months – a day here, a week there – since they became engaged 2½ years ago. They’re getting married in March.
“If we can make it through this,” said Carpenter, 26, “we can make it through anything.”
And that’s from a woman who worked in a medical compound in Iraq in 2007 that was hammered regularly by mortars. She’s not looking to leave the military, despite the hectic schedule.
“I’m a lifer,” Carpenter said. “Maybe originally it was about getting away from home, but today I’m in because the military stands for patriotism. My passion runs so much deeper after going over there. I believe in what we fight for.”
And that includes Iraq.
“We’ve done a lot to prep them over the last few years,” she said. “Americans have trained the Iraqis to function as a country by themselves. It seemed like they were really appreciative. Are they ready? I hope so.”
Doing what’s right
Linden Blank knows about sacrifice.
His twin brother, Jonathon, a Force Recon Marine, lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2010 when an improvised explosive device ripped his body apart.
More than three years earlier, Linden had been part of a Marine convoy escorting buses filled with a battalion of Iraqi soldiers when two roadside bombs exploded five minutes apart.
Four Marines were killed, six injured. One of Blank’s buddies was among the dead. All they could find were his legs. It was July 24, 2007, two months into Blank’s first tour. He had just turned 20.
His quick response to how he’s doing? “I’m fine.”
“It was a long time ago,” said Blank, now 24. “It feels like a long time ago now. You never forget your friends and the experiences you had. But you can’t let those bad memories rule your life and get the best of you. Life goes on.
“You have to do your friends’ memories justice by living a good life and doing what’s right.”
Blank is still chasing down the bad guys and helping people. He’s now a cop and firefighter for Augusta’s Public Safety Department.
He wonders about the Iraqis, though. He wonders why the Marines, not the Iraqi army, were escorting the buses that July day. The Iraqis were more familiar with that particular area around Baghdad than the Marines were.
“I think the American people have helped the Iraqis a great deal,” Blank said. “They wouldn’t be free without us. We’ve given that country a second chance. Whether they succeed or fail is up to them. I hope they succeed because we’ve sacrificed a lot of good people.”
During his second tour in 2009, he was among the Marines helping Iraqi soldiers transport ballots after a provincial election. He wonders why the Iraqi soldiers weren’t more alert.
“They were lackadaisical,” he said.
Remembering the sacrifices
Anita Dixon heads a volunteer group that’s trying to raise money to build an “Operation Freedom Memorial” in Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Wichita. It would honor Kansans who served in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. The names of those killed would be etched into the monument.
Since beginning 16 months ago, Dixon has raised $40,000 for the $175,000 project. The group’s web site, www.ofm-ks.com, tells of fundraising efforts and plans for the memorial.
“Donations have been very, very slow the last three or four months,” she said. “I’m trying every avenue to reach out to the community to honor the faces of the fallen.”
Pursuing the dream of the memorial does nothing to ease the pain of losing her son. But she doesn’t want to see Evan or any of the more than 80 Kansans who have died in the wars since Desert Storm be forgotten.
“This memorial is a quiet, peaceful honor of those who sacrificed their lives,” Dixon said. “It’s an opportunity to have them all in one place. This is what they did. This is what the boys from the state of Kansas did. It’s a chance to remember.”
Dixon wants to believe U.S. troops really are coming home from Iraq.
“I’m skeptical,” she said. “I hear them saying that. I want it to be true.”
She understands she doesn’t have the 30,000-foot view that generals and politicians claim to have, but she does have a mother’s heart.
“I know from my son’s heart, that he believed he was over there for a reason and doing something good,” Dixon said.
Evan was in Iraq during the first historical election. He wrote home about the good he saw that come of that, the peace of mind that it brought him.
“Whether the reason for us being there has been accomplished, I don’t know,” she said. “But I know if Evan had his choice to go back again, if that were possible, he’d do it in a heartbeat.”
President Obama’s too-rosy vision of postwar Iraq
By Editorial Board, Published: December 12
IN THE opening statement of his press conference Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Obama managed to assert no fewer than five times that the war in Iraq is ending. No doubt the president’s reelection campaign hopes that Americans will absorb that message; but we wonder about the thoughts of Iraqis who were listening. The conflict in their country, after all, is greatly reduced but not over: Al-Qaeda continues to carry out terrorist attacks, Iranian-sponsored militias still operate, and a power struggle between Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq and Mr. Maliki’s government goes on. Many Iraqis worry that, after the last U.S. troops depart this month, the sectarian bloodletting that ravaged the country between 2004 and 2007 will resume.
Those concerns, as well as the hope of checking Iran’s influence, prompted U.S. commanders to recommend that a follow-on force in the tens of thousands remain in Iraq next year. Iraqi politics, and the agreement struck by the Bush administration mandating a full withdrawal at the end of 2011, made that tricky — but a conflicted Obama administration never tried very hard to strike a deal with Mr. Maliki. Now, having promised in 2008 to end the war “responsibly,” Mr. Obama seems to feel obliged to prematurely declare the war over — and to oversell the regime that U.S. soldiers are leaving behind.
On Monday, the president portrayed Iraq as a democracy and model for the Middle East whose economy is set to grow more rapidly than those of India or China. He described Mr. Maliki, a Shiite who spent years in exile in Iran, as a nationalist whose stated “interest is maintaining Iraqi sovereignty and preventing meddling by anyone inside of Iraq,” adding, “I believe him.” Leaving to historians the question of whether the war was a mistake, Mr. Obama said, “What we have now achieved is an Iraq that is self-governing, that is inclusive, and that has enormous potential.”
As supporters of the war, we wish all that were true. But Mr. Maliki’s government increasingly appears headed in a troubling direction. Rather than remaining “inclusive,” Mr. Maliki has been concentrating power, especially over the security forces, in his own hands and excluding minority Sunnis, with whom he promised to share authority. He recently ordered the arrest of hundreds of people he accused of being tied to Saddam Hussein’s former Baath Party. Though he may have, as Mr. Obama said, domestic reasons for doing so, he has set himself apart from the rest of the Arab League by refusing to break with the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, a key Iranian ally.
Mr. Obama’s virtually unqualified support for Mr. Maliki consequently was unsettling. The president said that the U.S. “goal is simply to make sure that Iraq succeeds, because we think a successful, democratic Iraq can be a model for the entire region.” That is true. But success will require continued and concerted U.S. engagement, not rosy declarations about a mission accomplished.
Premier’s Actions in Iraq Raise U.S. Concerns
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
By JACK HEALY, TIM ARANGO and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, The New York Times
BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has moved swiftly to consolidate power in advance of the American military withdrawal, offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s post-American identity may take shape, by rounding up hundreds of former Baath Party members and evicting Western companies from the heavily fortified Green Zone.
As Mr. Maliki met with President Obama in Washington on Monday to discuss Iraq’s future after the end of a painful nearly nine-year war, his aggressive actions back home raised new concerns in the West, where officials have long been uneasy with the prime minister’s authoritarian tendencies.
The actions also underscored the many lingering questions about America’s uncertain ally, a prime minister who once found refuge in Syria and Iran and who will now help write the epitaph to the American invasion.
“There are two dominant narratives in Washington about Maliki,” said Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington who recently published a report on the arrests. “Some say he is a nationalist; others say he is a puppet of Iran.”
Both are oversimplifications, he said: “Maliki is a Maliki-ist. His religion is the church of survivability.”
Mr. Maliki, whose bland public persona belies his mastery of Iraq’s zero-sum politics, will help decide if his nation preserves its fragile democracy or if it will return to one-man-one-party rule. As an exile from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq who escaped a death warrant, Mr. Maliki has proven his ability to retain power. But he is also criticized for holding tight to a security-first mentality. And as a Shiite leader who some say owes his current position to Iran’s backing, he has not made clear if Washington, or Tehran, will wield more influence.
A Western diplomat who has worked closely with Mr. Maliki said the prime minister’s mind-set still reflected the years after the American invasion when 3,000 Iraqi civilians were dying each month and sectarian war threatened to rip the country apart.
“He sees himself as fighting since 2006 to pull the country out of the brink,” the diplomat said.
But Mr. Maliki has also taken steps to put his stamp on the Green Zone, the physical center of government whose geography and very name became shorthand for the cloistered American presence. His son, Ahmed, has overseen raids evicting Western companies from the Green Zone in recent weeks. As the prime minister left for the United States, onerous new security procedures were put in place at the few entrances into the area.
That, and the scale and secrecy of the arrests in October and November, of 600 former Baathists, have raised new tensions in Iraq’s suspicious political atmosphere. They have fanned fears that Mr. Maliki will use the threat of terrorism and unrest as a pretext to strike political foes.
The Iraqi government said the arrests had been prompted by a tip from Libya’s transitional government that said documents revealed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was working with insurgents to stage a coup. Mr. Maliki has denied any sectarian or political motives behind the sweep, pointing out that both Shiites and Sunnis were arrested. In an interview with Iraq’s official television channel, he said the raids had captured loyalists to Saddam Hussein who were conspiring with Al Qaeda, not peaceful, low-level party apparatchiks.
“We do not have space in our government for those plotting against our government,” he said.
A person briefed on the raid by Iraqi security forces said some of the detainees were in fact military and intelligence officials from the old government. Other names on the target lists, however, included laborers, political adversaries of the government, the elderly — even dead people.
“It’s highly unlikely to be much validity behind” the coup plot, said a Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to avoid upsetting relations with the Iraqi government. “Baathism here is a symbol that Maliki uses as a bogyman. It gives them the leeway to go around arresting people. It’s about a climate of fear.”
Mr. Maliki’s signal achievement since he first won office in 2006 has been consolidating control of the security forces, reducing violence through a willingness to crack down on Shiite militias from strongholds in the southern city of Basra. The defeat of the militias demonstrated to Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, that Mr. Maliki would evenly target all insurgent groups, regardless of sect, and bolstered his credentials as a nationalist.
As Iraq’s commander in chief, he sometimes micromanages the forces under his control. He pays informers out of his own pocket for intelligence and sometimes sends orders to commanders in the field by text message, officials say.
But in a country where political leaders regularly fly off to second homes in Jordan or London, Mr. Maliki often works through the night in his Baghdad offices and has a steel-trap memory for dates, names and conversations. His family — wife, four daughters and a son — all live in Iraq, while many leading politicians have moved their families abroad.
If he eschews a cult of personality like that built by Mr. Hussein, his close control over Iraq’s police and army and his influence over the country’s judicial system have drawn calls that Mr. Maliki is becoming too powerful.
His government has come under criticism from rights groups for running secret jails, widespread abuses inside Iraq’s detention system, and for jailing political adversaries, such as journalists and demonstrators calling for government reforms.
In interviews, a handful of the people arrested in the recent Baathist sweeps spoke angrily about the justice system.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Abu Muamel Bahadli, 60, a retired teacher from Basra who was arrested. “They don’t have an idea about who is the real enemy. They also want to keep the people distracted from their corruption. I spent two weeks and then they released me without one question.”
Nearly nine years after the American invasion broke the Baath Party’s stranglehold on power, the specter of Baathism remains a ghost that Iraq cannot seem to exorcise. The Baath Party staged coups in 1963 and 1968 to seize power, and its persistent, if shadowy, presence in Sunni areas of the country offers a reminder that few Iraqi leaders leave office peacefully.
In late October, more than 100 professors at Tikrit University — in Mr. Hussein’s hometown — were fired for alleged Baathist connections.
“You can’t live in a democratic system in this way,” said former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist himself who frequently clashes with the prime minister. “It is painful to see what is happening to this country.”
Despite strains of Sunni disenfranchisement, Sunni Arab politicians hold powerful posts in government, including speaker of Parliament, deputy prime minister and vice president. (A Kurd serves as president.)
And, as Mr. Maliki frequently points out in speeches, deadly vestiges of Mr. Hussein’s government do continue to stalk Iraq.
But when the Iraqi forces arrested former Baathists, they also hauled in suspects like Jasim Nusaif, a 71-year-old retired bureaucrat with high blood pressure and a tendency to faint on his morning walks to buy bread.
Mr. Nusaif’s wife and son said he was an employee in Iraq’s Water Ministry who was expelled from the Baath Party in the early 1980s for refusing to volunteer for the front lines in the grinding Iran-Iraq war. He retired from the government and worked for a while at a minibus depot.
Mostly, his family said, he now just collected his pension and read the newspapers at home in the heavily Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, a jumble of faded colonial mansions where bombs still rip through crowds.
“He’s old and he’s sick. He just sits in the garden,” said his son, Mohammed Jasim. “I can’t believe how a 71-year-old man could carry out a military coup against the government.”
Patrick Cockburn: Wars without victory equal an America without influence
World View: For all its military might, the US has failed to get its way in Afghanistan and Iraq, severely denting the prestige of the world’s only superpower
PATRICK COCKBURN SUNDAY 11 DECEMBER 2011
The last American troops will withdraw from Iraq in the next three weeks. President Obama and Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will meet tomorrow in Washington so they can claim that the US emerges from the conflict unweakened and leaves behind an increasingly stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq.
This is misleading spin, carefully orchestrated to allow Mr Obama to move into the presidential election year boasting that he has ended an unpopular war without suffering a defeat. We already had a foretaste of this a couple of weeks ago, when Vice President Joe Biden visited Baghdad to laud US achievements.
Over the years, Iraqis have become used to heavily guarded foreign dignitaries arriving secretly in Baghdad to claim great progress on all fronts before scurrying home again. But even by these lowly standards, Mr Biden’s performance sounded comically inept. “It was the usual Biden menu of gaffe, humour and pomposity delivered with unmistakable self-confidence and no particular regard for the facts on the ground,” writes the Iraq expert Reidar Visser. Mr Biden even tried to win the hearts of Iraqis by referring to the US achievement in building hospitals in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, a city he apparently believes is located somewhere in Iraq.
Republican candidates in the presidential election have been denigrated and discredited by gaffes like this. It is a measure of Mr Biden’s reputation for overlong, tedious speeches that the US media did not notice his ignorance of Middle East geography. Dr Visser points out that “when Biden says ‘we were able to turn lemons into lemonade’, refers to ‘a political culture based on free elections and the rule of law’, and even highlights ‘Iraq’s emerging, inclusive political culture … as the ultimate guarantor of stability’, he is simply making things up.” Sadly, Iraq is a much divided wreck of a country.
In reality, America’s failure to get its way in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, despite deploying large armies and spending trillions of dollars, has been extraordinarily damaging to its status as sole superpower. Whatever Washington thought it wanted when it invaded Iraq in 2003, it was not the establishment of Shia religious parties with links to Iran in power in Baghdad. Similarly, in Afghanistan, a surge in US troop numbers and the expenditure of $100bn a year has not led to the defeat of 25,000 mostly untrained Taliban fighters.
Great powers depend on a reputation for invincibility and are wise not to put this too often to the test. The British Empire never quite recovered in the eyes of the world from the gargantuan effort it had to make to defeat a few tens of thousand Boer farmers [1899-1902].
What makes the US inability to win in Iraq and Afghanistan so damaging is that US policy-making has been progressively militarised. Congress will vote the Pentagon vast sums, while it stints the State Department a few billion dollars. “The Department of Defense is the behemoth among federal agencies,” noted the 9/11 Commission Report. “With an annual budget larger than the gross domestic product of Russia, it is an empire.”
But it is an empire that has failed to deliver in recent years, though without paying a political price. A senior US diplomat asked me plaintively several years ago: “Whatever happened to popular scepticism about what generals say that we had after Vietnam? People seem to assume they are telling the truth … they are usually not.”
This is equally true of the British Army, though the British military record in Basra and Helmand was even more dismal than that of the Americans. (The system of embedding the media with the Army has played an important role in safeguarding the military from well-earned criticism.)
For all Mr Obama’s agonising about sending more troops to Afghanistan in 2009, he never had much choice. Leon Panetta, then CIA chief and now Defense Secretary, was contemptuous about the time spent by the White House debating troop reinforcements. He said the political reality was that “No Democratic president can go against military advice, especially if he asked for it. So just do it.” Mr Panetta believed that a decision on the extra 30,000 troops for Afghanistan should have been taken in a week.
The killing of Osama bin Laden and the failure of the military to defeat the Taliban has improved the administration’s ability to disengage from Afghanistan. It does not look likely that in a presidential election year, after getting out of Iraq and hoping to do the same in Afghanistan, the US will launch a war against Iran. In the US and Israel there are few votes to be lost in talking tough about Iran, but voters are much less enthusiastic about actually going to war with a stronger opponent than the US ever faced in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Israel in Lebanon.
In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the rest of the world is not going to thank the US or Israel for starting a conflict that would close the Strait of Hormuz and send up the price of oil. It would also be difficult to de-escalate such a confrontation because it serves domestic electoral purposes in Washington, Tel Aviv and Tehran alike. Americans, Israelis and Iranians all define their self-image in terms of opposition to demonic enemies. Any compromise is vulnerable to being sabotaged by domestic political rivals as a deal with the devil.
Overall, US influence is ebbing in the Middle East. For all Mr Biden’s talking up, the Iraq war was a disaster for the US. Similarly in Afghanistan, massive military force has produced meagre political dividends. Washington may rejoice that Muammar Gaddafi is gone and Bashar al-Assad may follow him. But the US has lost or is losing its paramount position in Turkey and Egypt as the military establishments of these countries lose control.
The political crisis provoked by the Arab Awakening across the Middle East is not dying away. If anything it is deepening as struggles for power intensify in Egypt and Syria. The outcome of the Libyan civil war may encourage limited foreign intervention, but the ongoing economic crisis makes it riskier for the US or European powers to become involved in wars they cannot see the end of.
The great success of General David Petraeus as US commander in Iraq was to persuade many Americans that they had won when they had not. He also convinced them that the war had ended, when it had not, because many fewer Americans were being killed. In practice, the verdict of Iraq is likely to hang over US foreign policy for a long time to come. The war may not have had a clear winner, but it showed that superior military force no longer easily translates into political victory.
Ex-Iran Guard commander visits White House with Iraq leader
In Iraq, Maliki is a man of the shadows
By David Ignatius, Published: December 14
Is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — suspicious eyes, wary demeanor, brows furrowed by years living in the underground — really the face of today’s Iraq? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, and America helped make it that way.
Maliki’s visit to Washington this week has been a time for taking stock of Iraq eight years after the U.S. invasion. What did America achieve in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and battling a stubborn insurgency? It brought a democracy, yes, but one shaped by the most basic and sometimes brutal facts of life — allegiance to tribe, sect, clandestine organization.
Maliki is a figure of all these immutable forces, a man of the shadows more than the sunlight. He seems to trust only those closest to him, and his efforts to form broad coalitions have failed. The trust deficit is nowhere more evident than in the energy sector, which should make Iraq fantastically rich but is still hobbled by a lack of basic legislation that would foster investment.
A former Dawa Party operative, Maliki is the conspirator turned chief executive. And in that sense, he is a symbol of a larger phenomenon we are seeing across the region in the Arab Awakening. He illustrates what can happen when you knock the pegs out from under an authoritarian regime without a strong political culture underneath: People may dream of a democratic culture of tolerance. But those likely to triumph are instead the survivors, the backroom plotters, the people left standing when the regime-changers pack up their bags and go home.
I have a copy of a 1985 photograph, culled from the archives of a Beirut newspaper, that shows a circle of Iranian-backed conspirators gathered behind the pilots of the hijacked TWA Flight 847. Some former U.S. officials say the balding man in the front row is Maliki; but even if that’s wrong, his own Dawa Party bombed the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in 1983. A conspiratorial underground was his political education.
Americans who have dealt extensively with Maliki feel a comradeship with him. They admire his gritty determination to keep going through the bloodiest years of the insurgency, when 50 or 100 mutilated bodies were showing up at the Baghdad morgue every morning.
But you can’t help thinking Iraq deserves better than Maliki, who practically advertises his disdain for the softer and more reflective side of life. It wasn’t always so in Iraq. Even during the years when Saddam governed the country by torture, Iraq had some of the best scientists, artists and writers in the Arab world. It was a place where people read books and played music. Saddam’s Iraq banned the unauthorized importation of typewriters; that’s how much it respected the written word.
America’s greatest mistake in Iraq wasn’t toppling Saddam but detonating the infrastructure of the government, the army and the educational and social institutions that made civilized life possible. With no national army, there was nothing to check the Shiite looters or the Sunni insurgents. I made many mistakes in writing about Iraq, but I warned in a March 2003 column: “A week into the war in Iraq, it’s time to shelve the rosy scenarios and accept an unpleasant fact: The United States faces a long battle to defeat resistance fighters organized by the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein’s secret police.”
The decent Iraqis did what people always do in conditions of fear and uncertainty: They turned to ancient loyalties of sect, tribe, ethnicity, secret party. Shiites began moving out of Sunni neighborhoods and vice versa; Kurds found solace in their own mini-state. Maliki became ever-more powerful because his Dawa Party had built such deep and durable roots. The politics of survival became entwined with the politics of democracy, producing a strange hybrid — better than what came before, I guess, but brutal in its own ways.
If America and its friends aren’t careful, this same process will repeat itself across the Arab world as the dictators are toppled and replaced by the underground men. The Muslim Brotherhood is powerful everywhere — from Egypt to Palestine to Syria — because its members were recruited with an almost Leninist determination. Eric Trager writes in Foreign Affairs after extensive interviews with Muslim Brotherhood cadres: “The Brotherhood’s recruitment system virtually guarantees that only those who are deeply committed to its cause become full members.”
Iraq is free to be itself again. That’s the upside of Maliki. If he performs poorly, leans too much toward Iran or squanders Iraq’s wealth through corruption, then the people will vote him out. That’s the hope.