Iraq, Afghan wars will cost to $4 trillion to $6 trillion, Harvard study says
“As a consequence of these wartime spending choices, the United States will face constraints in funding investments in personnel and diplomacy, research and development and new military initiatives,” the report says. “The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come.”
WASHINGTON — A decade after the night that American bombs first rained down on Baghdad, the president joked about wearing a green tie for a belated St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Congress noisily focused on whether spending cuts would force the cancellation of the White House Easter egg roll. Cable news debated whether a show about young women has too much sex in it.
But on one topic, there was a conspiracy of silence: Republicans and Democrats agreed that they did not really want to talk about the Iraq war.
The 10-year anniversary of the American invasion came and went on Tuesday with barely passing notice in a town once consumed by it. Neither party had much interest in revisiting what succeeded and what failed, who was right and who was wrong. The bipartisan consensus underscored the broader national mood: after 10 years, America seems happy to wash its hands of Iraq.…Former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and many other authors of the war made no public comments. Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent a message via Twitter: “10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Although some foreign policy and news organizations held forums or produced retrospectives in recent days, the floors of Congress did not ring out with speeches expounding on the lessons of Iraq.
APRIL 25, 2007: “Buying the War”
Estimates on U.S. waste run as high as $60 billion. But don’t think this will stop anytime soon.
By Trudy Rubin, Inquirer Columnist
POSTED: April 01, 2013
Two weeks ago, on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, I wrote a column that laid out the losers in the conflict. I argued there were still no clear winners.
One reader responded that there are obvious winners: the private civilian contractors who provided security and supplies for the war effort, and were paid tens of billions of dollars by the U.S. government. A hefty chunk of those billions was wasted due to overbilling, shoddy work, and fraud.
The reader was correct (although I disagree with his assertion that we began the war in order to fuel the military-industrial complex). He fingered an important problem we still haven’t come to grips with: Our military and civilian agencies seem unable to conduct massive nation-building efforts in war zones effectively, or to supervise the private contractors to whom we often outsource this job.
In 2011, a bipartisan congressional commission estimated that between $31 billion and $60 billion of the $206 billion paid to contractors since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had been wasted. The heart of the problem, said the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, is excessive reliance on badly supervised private contractors engaging in “vast amounts of spending for no benefit.”
Anyone who has spent time in Iraq could testify to the truth of those words.
One man with particular knowledge of the problem is Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, whose agency (referred to as SIGIR) has documented the failings of Iraq reconstruction and some of its most egregious contractor fraud. Speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Bowen warned: “We have yet to learn our lessons” from Iraq (or Afghanistan) when it comes to nation-building under fire.
I’ll get back to Bowen’s lessons, but first a word about our runaway spending on war contractors. In Iraq, our reliance on contractors – who provided many of the services that used to be carried out by grunts in the regular Army – permitted the military to hold down the number of troops sent to the country. It also permitted the government to go to war without reinstituting the draft.
In 2008, at the height of the war, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that one of every five dollars spent on the Iraq war had gone to contractors; at that point, the contracts were worth about $85 billion. That year, contractors employed about 180,000 people in Iraq – often from third-world countries – who worked as bodyguards, translators, construction workers, launderers, cooks, and drivers. They amounted to a second private army that was larger than the U.S. military force in Iraq.
This was a setup designed (intentionally or not) for favoritism and fraud.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the contract largesse, as you may recall, was Kellogg Brown & Root, or KBR, then a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. – whose CEO from 1995 to 2000 was Dick Cheney. KBR received huge, no-bid government contracts and reaped tens of billions of dollars for its Iraq work. A highly placed Pentagon procurement officer who tried to blow the whistle on some KBR contracts was drummed out of her job in 2005. In 2009, Halliburton agreed to pay $559 million to the U.S. government to settle corruption charges linked to KBR.
SIGIR has documented scores of egregious scams, including one that featured a Kuwait-based U.S. contractor who reaped millions by bribing corrupt American military officers to give him contracts. The agency estimates that at least $8 billion of $60 billion spent on Iraq reconstruction was “wasted.” I’d guess the number is probably much higher.
The most frustrating aspect of the contracting problem is that it was so obvious from the start of the Iraq war. With so much U.S. money flowing into Iraq – often in bricks of cash – almost any scamster could qualify as a contractor and reap millions, such as the two adventurers who won a $16 million contract to guard the Baghdad airport even though they had no experience. Iraqi friends of mine in Baghdad constantly told me stories of rip-offs by Iraqi and American wheeler-dealers, and then asked in amazement why the Americans let them continue.
The answer, as Bowen makes clear, was (and is) systemic. It involved not only the United States’ need to rely on contractors, but also its officials’ inability to track the money allotted, as well as their unwillingness to consult with locals on what projects were really needed and workable.
With different agencies and often different allied countries providing funds, auditing systems were disjointed. Auditors were often unable to penetrate foreign cultures or ensure that projects were actually completed in conflict areas they couldn’t visit.
Bowen gives a perfect example: a $300 million water-treatment plant built in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. The plant is only 20 percent operational. The grandiose plan didn’t take into consideration that the system was too powerful for the available water pipes, or that the local tribe, whose members got control of the project, didn’t have the skills to operate it.
When money is thrown at nation-building projects without sufficient security or civilian-military coordination, and when it exceeds what local systems can absorb or manage, the only real beneficiaries are the contractors. U.S. taxpayers lose, Iraqis don’t gain, and the end result fuels Iraqi and American suspicions about the real motives behind the efforts.
SIGIR is about to shut down; its final report is titled “Lessons From Iraq.” It’s unclear whether the U.S. government has absorbed them.
And if you think this problem no longer exists now that we’ve left Iraq, think again. The same problems still bedevil projects in Afghanistan. Future nation-building efforts beckon as we confront failed states in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, or stay on in Kabul after 2014. There, too, contractors may have the most to gain.
Without entering into any discussion regarding the motivation and justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, suffice it to say, the justification was a gross error and miscalculation. The calculus that a Western form of government would flourish in Iraq even though democracy is anathema to Islam was really stupid. The Republic of Iran, which is Shia like Iraq, is an example of Muslim democracy. Factions, religious parties, tribes, ethnic groups, pervade Iraq which means any form of democracy is Byzantine squared. Democracy does not mean free elections alone but includes institutions like a free press and an independent judiciary.
Challenging everything you think you know
Five myths about Iraq
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Published: March 15
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post, is the author of “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan” and “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.”
Ten years ago, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the assumptions many Americans held about the coming war, fed by rhetoric from the George W. Bush White House, turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Saddam Hussein, as we now know, did not possess weapons of mass destruction. The conflict would not end quickly. And the cost of the war — in lives and dollars — would far eclipse expectations. Today, a new set of beliefs defines many discussions about the war and its aftermath. Are they just as wrong?
1. The troop surge succeeded.
The surge of 26,000 troops into Baghdad in 2007 had two objectives: tamp down the bloody sectarian civil war and forge a political compromise among the three principal groups in Iraqi society — Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds — that would set the country on a path to stability.
The surge helped accomplish the first goal, but it was not the only reason for the reduced violence. A decision by Sunni tribal leaders to oppose al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq also played a major role. So, too, did Iraqi behavior; as mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad became more homogeneous and fortified, opportunities for sectarian violence decreased.
When it came to political compromise, however, the surge was a flop. Majority Shiites did not want to give the Sunnis and Kurds a greater role in the government and security forces, and the hopes of striking a grand bargain in the waning days of the Bush administration fizzled. As a consequence, red-hot embers remain in the tinderbox that is Iraq. Disputes over land and oil could spark another Kurd-Arab civil war in the north. Sunnis in the central part of the country, who have been holding anti-government protests for the past three months, now openly talk of rebellion. Sunni leaders accuse the Shiite-dominated security forces of persecuting them in the name of combating terrorism and purging old members of Hussein’s Baath Party.
2. Iraq today is relatively peaceful.
Levels of violence are far lower than they were in 2006, at the height of the civil war, when hundreds of people were being killed every week. But Iraq is far from stable. On Monday, a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a police station, killing five people; the same day, six more people were killed in various militant attacks in Baghdad. Three days earlier, 19 people died in a string of attacks targeting security personnel.
For the Iraqis who have no ticket out, life is still defined by bloodshed and fear. “The war is not over,” a friend in Baghdad wrote to me recently. “There is still killing and bombing. We are still scared.”
3.Iraq is a democracy.
It is — on paper. It has held successive national elections; it has a parliament and a modestly functional court system. In practice, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is exercising authority and centralizing power in ways that remind many Iraqis of Hussein. His security agencies have rounded up numerous Sunni leaders in recent months, accusing them of supporting the insurgency. Sunni officials contend that Maliki is using terrorism as a pretext to neutralize political foes.
Since he first won election in 2006, Maliki has moved to consolidate control over the country’s security forces. He also has presided over the dismantling of the Sons of Iraq, the Sunni tribal militia that was instrumental in the fight against al-Qaeda. The militia was supported by the U.S. military, which urged Maliki to integrate its members into the army and police force. Although he pledged to do so, only a fraction of Sunni militiamen have been given positions in the security services.
4. Iraq is in Iran’s pocket.
Forget about all the blood and treasure the United States has poured into Iraq. Iran is Iraq’s most strategically significant ally. Maliki owes his second term in large part to the pressure that Tehran exerted on rival Shiite political parties in Iraq, many of which received substantial financial support from the Iranian government. And there’s plenty of evidence to indicate quid for the quo: Despite objections from Washington, Maliki’s government has allowed Iranian cargo airplanes, allegedly filled with munitions, to fly to Syria through Iraqi airspace, enabling Tehran to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
But it would be wrong to assume that Maliki is permitting the flights only because of Iranian pressure. Even though Assad shares much of the Baathist ideology that Hussein espoused, he and his fellow Alawites are Shiites. It’s more than kinship, however, that drives Maliki to favor the status quo in Syria. He and other leaders of Iraq’s Shiite majority worry that if the Free Syrian Army overthrows Assad, the rebels will establish a radical Sunni government that will collaborate with Iraq’s Sunni minority to topple the Baghdad government. “If the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq,” Maliki warned in an interview with the Associated Press last month.
Nor do Tehran’s money and love guarantee that Iraqi Shiites will do its bidding. Consider Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia was the bete noire of U.S. troops throughout much of the war. He spent years living in Iran, burnishing his religious credentials and rebuilding his political movement. Since his return to Iraq, though, he has sought to fashion himself as more of an Iraqi nationalist, reaching out to Sunni and Kurdish political factions that are Maliki rivals. When Sunnis convened large protests late last year to demand that Maliki amend terrorism and de-Baathification laws, Sadr bucked Tehran’s dictates by meeting with Sunni leaders and espousing political compromise.
Iran is still bigger and more powerful. But Iraq’s collaboration with Tehran is as often driven by its own interests as those of its neighbor.
5. The Americans have all left.
There are still about 220 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. They work for the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, which handles the sale of military equipment to the Iraqi army and coordinates training. Those personnel work in an annex of the U.S. Embassy in central Baghdad, the largest American diplomatic mission in the world. The massive complex, built on the grounds of the former Green Zone in the capital, houses hundreds of State Department officers, U.S. development specialists and representatives from other federal agencies. Legions of private security contractors guard the compound.
Concerns that the fighting in Syria could spill over into Iraq recently prompted the CIA to increase its support to Iraqi counterterrorism forces, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Although the agency still intends to reduce its presence to about 300 personnel in Iraq, its station in Baghdad will remain one of the largest in the world.
Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003
United States is losing its battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis
Dion Nissenbaum | Knight Ridder Newspapers
BAGHDAD, Iraq—In an upscale Baghdad neighborhood, a skinny 9-year-old walked into her living room cradling a lifeless yellow parakeet. It was the family’s fourth bird to die since the capital fell, and they blamed America.
Farah al Hadithi’s father said the bird died because there was no electricity to run the air conditioning to keep it cool. Or maybe it was the toxic chemicals that he suspects the Americans used during the war.
Across town, shy 12-year-old twins listened quietly to their parents’ worries. Their refrigerator was now a cooler filled mostly with melted ice water. Air conditioning for their stifling two-room apartment was an open window. There was sporadic power, little food, scarce money and no job.
“When I see them,” Asmaa said as she leaned against her dad and smiled, “I will throw stones at the Americans.”
The United States is losing its battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Top American officials argue that life is getting better, but it’s difficult to find Iraqis who agree.
The high hopes that some U.S. officials, especially in the Pentagon and in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, had for making a Mideast showcase of peace, prosperity and pluralism are beginning to evaporate in the heat, the dirt and the darkness. If things don’t improve within a month, said one senior official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, those hopes may evaporate completely.
In the southern city of Basra, the military was able to get some electricity to about half the city fairly quickly, topping prewar levels. But now the occupying forces are struggling to get clean water to residents and to contain a cholera outbreak.
Dock workers in nearby Umm Qasr are growing frustrated with America’s failure to pay them any more than a $20 emergency wage. Officials voice concern that the Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance had better start paying salaries soon or America’s credibility will go down the drain and create an opening for anti-American Muslim clerics.]
Convoys of fuel trucks speed across the nation trying to keep up with long gas lines.
“Iraqi people believe that America is like a god, that it can do anything with the snap of its fingers like in Hollywood movies,” said Mourad Diramerian, a 22-year-old goldsmith. “But America has proven that it is a failure.”
American officials say that’s the problem: It’s not that the reconstruction effort has failed. It’s that Iraqis have exceptionally high—if not unreasonable—expectations.
“We all have to confront the basic reality that this is a country that was badly mismanaged for 35 years,” said one senior reconstruction official, who also asked not to be named. “The notion that America can come in and set everything right in three weeks is just not realistic.”
But three weeks have become six. Iraqis who once were willing to give America the benefit of the doubt are beginning to turn sour.
Soldiers helping to rebuild schools in Najaf have been pelted with stones. Anti-American graffiti around Baghdad is growing more vitriolic. Thousands of government workers converged on a capital square this week, desperate to get one of the $20 emergency payments that American officials were handing out.
As the days without enough power, fuel, food and water drag on, there is a widening perception gap between the Americans trying to get things running and the Iraqis suffering through the shortages: Americans see the glass half-full; Iraqis see it mostly empty.
The divide is likely to further complicate efforts to rebuild Iraq as people begin to take a more skeptical view of America.
In the capital, residents scoff whenever U.S. officials claim that there is more power surging through the country now than there was before the war.
“America put a man on the moon,” said Mahmoud Habib Abdullah, a clerk at the nation’s Transportation Ministry who is waiting to get back to work. “How hard can it be to fix the power?”
Baghdad is full of conspiracy theories. Residents rich and poor see a hidden imperialist agenda behind the plague of street crime.
“They are using the chaos as an excuse to stay in the region for a long time, so they can take our oil and make money rebuilding our country,” Abdullah said.
Reconstruction officials are doing their best to knock down such talk and assure Iraqis that things are going to get better.
Faced with a frustrated Baghdad resident who came to the reconstruction office in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace with complaints about everything from power to food, Marine Maj. Dave Andersen tried to urge patience.
“It’s like building the foundation of a house,” Andersen told the woman. “Building a foundation is dirty, it’s sweaty, but you’ve got to do it before you build the rest of the house.”
The woman nodded at the major and smiled, then walked away shaking her head in disappointment.
Here is a link to a prediction about the future of democracy in Iraq.
MI6 and CIA were told before invasion that Iraq had no active WMD
BBC’s Panorama reveals fresh evidence that agencies dismissed intelligence from Iraqi foreign minister and spy chief
Richard Norton-Taylor guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 March 2013 02.00 EDT
Tony Blair’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are challenged again in Monday’s Panorama. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
Fresh evidence is revealed today about how MI6 and the CIA were told through secret channels by Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister and his head of intelligence that Iraq had no active weapons of mass destruction.
Tony Blair told parliament before the war that intelligence showed Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programme was “active”, “growing” and “up and running”.
A special BBC Panorama programme tonight will reveal how British and US intelligence agencies were informed by top sources months before the invasion that Iraq had no active WMD programme, and that the information was not passed to subsequent inquiries.
It describes how Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, told the CIA’s station chief in Paris at the time, Bill Murray, through an intermediary that Iraq had “virtually nothing” in terms of WMD.
Sabri said in a statement that the Panorama story was “totally fabricated”.
However, Panorama confirms that three months before the war an MI6 officer met Iraq’s head of intelligence, Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti, who also said that Saddam had no active WMD. The meeting in the Jordanian capital, Amman, took place days before the British government published its now widely discredited Iraqi weapons dossier in September 2002.
Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary who led an inquiry into the use of intelligence in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, tells the programme that he was not told about Sabri’s comments, and that he should have been.
Butler says of the use of intelligence: “There were ways in which people were misled or misled themselves at all stages.”
When it was suggested to him that the body that probably felt most misled of all was the British public, Butler replied: “Yes, I think they’re, they’re, they got every reason think that.”
The programme shows how the then chief of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, responded to information from Iraqi sources later acknowledged to be unreliable.
One unidentified MI6 officer has told the Chilcot inquiry that at one stage information was “being torn off the teleprinter and rushed across to Number 10″.
Another said it was “wishful thinking… [that] promised the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow”.
The programme says that MI6 stood by claims that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger, though these were dismissed by other intelligence agencies, including the French.
It also shows how claims by Iraqis were treated seriously by elements in MI6 and the CIA even after they were exposed as fabricated including claims, notably about alleged mobile biological warfare containers, made by Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, a German source codenamed Curveball. He 2011 that all the information he gave to the west was fabricated.
Panorama says it asked for an interview with Blair but he said he was “too busy”.
Iraq war planning wholly irresponsible, say senior UK military figures
Former chief of defence staff Lord Guthrie criticises Bush administration but says Blair government must also share blame
Iran brokers behind-the-scenes deal for pro-Tehran government in Iraq
Exclusive: Fears over Iran’s influence after secret talks involving Syria, Hezbollah and the highest authorities in Shia Islam
Martin Chulov in Baghdad
Sunday 17 October 2010 23.45 BST
Iran has brokered a critical deal with its regional neighbours that could see a pro-Tehran government installed in Iraq, a move that would shift the fragile country sharply away from a sphere of western influence.
The Guardian can reveal that the Islamic republic was instrumental in forming an alliance between Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki, who is vying for a second term as prime minister, and the country’s powerful radical Shia cleric leader, Moqtada al-Sadr.
The deal – which involved Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the highest authorities in Shia Islam – positions Maliki as a frontrunner to return as leader despite a seven-month stalemate between Iraq’s feuding political blocs.
It also positions Iran as a potent buffer to US interests at a time when America is looking to change its relationship with Iraq from military overlords to civilian partners.
Senior officials in Iraq have given the Guardian details of the behind-the-scenes Iranian campaign which began in earnest in early September.
At the time the US had only just withdrawn its last dedicated combat units from Iraq but left behind a political vacuum with no government in place after March elections delivered a seemingly irrevocably split parliament.
According to sources the Iranians saw their opportunity.
“The Iranians were holding out until then,” said a key source about the timing of the Iranian move. “They were not going to give the Americans the satisfaction of leaving on a good note.”
Within days of the withdrawal, Sadr, who lives in self-imposed exile in the Iranian city of Qom, was told by the Iranians to reconsider his position as a vehement opponent of Maliki. Sadr’s party in Iraq had won more than 10% of the 325 seats in play at the election making him a powerbroker in the formation of any new government.
The push initially came from the spiritual head of the Sadrist movement, Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, who has been a godfather figure to the firebrand cleric for the past 15 years.
“He couldn’t say no to him,” said the official. “Then the Iranians themselves got involved.”
Days after the Iranian move, an Iraqi push followed. Throughout September Maliki sent his chief of staff to Qom along with a key leader in his Dawa party, Abdul Halim al-Zuhairi. They were, according to the Guardian’s source, joined by a senior figure in Lebanese Hezbollah’s politburo, Mohamed Kawtharani, as well as arch-US foe General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Al-Quds Brigades, whose forces the US military blames for causing more than one quarter of its combat casualties in Iraq throughout almost eight years of war.
In the following three weeks, Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met Bashar al-Assad at Damascus airport on his way to deliver a speech at the United Nations in New York.
The two-hour meeting was pivotal in changing Assad’s view of Maliki. Both presidents had not spoken for 15 months and had withdrawn their respective ambassadors after Maliki accused Assad of harbouring terrorists who destroyed four ministries in Baghdad in a devastating bombing campaign. In return, Assad visited Tehran the day after the Sadrist support for Maliki was announced. Two other Shia Islamic spiritual leaders, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Lebanese Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, are also believed to have endorsed the Sadrist move.
It is understood that the full withdrawal of all US troops after a security agreement signed between Baghdad and Washington at the end of 2011 was also sought by Sheikh Nasrallah.
“Maliki told them he will never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year,” a source said.
The shape of the future security relationship between both countries is yet to be negotiated and the US is widely believed to be hoping to retain at least one military base in Iraq that it could use as a strategic asset in the region.
US officials have strongly suggested they would scale back their involvement in Iraq if the Sadrists, who have been a key foe throughout the years of war, were to emerge as a significant player in any government.
The revelations come amid sharp criticism of the US diplomatic role in Iraq since the election. The US at first heavily backed Maliki, then changed tack during the summer to demand a powersharing government that empowered rival secular candidate, Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya bloc won more votes than Maliki’s bloc.
“American policy inside Iraq has facilitated this Iranian takeover,” said Allawi’s deputy, Osama al-Najaifi. “They are now pulling out of Iraq and it appears their behaviour early in the summer was almost to appease Iran. This will create a disaster in the region, not just for Iraq, but for their interests as well. We have gone from being under US occupation to Iranian occupation.”
A senior Obama administration official said: “I would say Iraq is a sovereign government and we arenot party to such discussions. With reference to the degree that Iraq’s neighbours seek to play a constructive role, that is something we welcome. I emphasise ‘constructive’. It is not about interaction with Iraq that matters but the quality of that interaction. If it is destructive, we condemn that.”
On the 2011 December withdrawal date, the official said: “Any follow-up engagement with Iraq in relation to troops would be at the request of the government of Iraq. There are no plans to keep troops after December 2011. We are drawing down and all will be out of Iraq.”
Although that is the official US line, unofficially Washington expected to retain a force in Iraq after December 2011, as well as bases to protect oil interests, to buttress the Iraqi government in the event of a destabilising uprising and to help contain Iran.
Maliki will arrive in Tehran today for the talks with Ahmedinejad. He visited Syria late last week for a detente with Assad.
How Iran brokered a secret deal to put its ally in power in Iraq
Tehran’s influence in Baghdad politics described by western official as ‘nothing less than a strategic defeat’ for US
Martin Chulov in Baghdad
guardin.co.uk., Sunday October 17 2010
In the sprawling slums of Baghdad’s Shia heartland, signs of triumph are everywhere. Loyalists of Muqtada al-Sadr are posting giant images of the cleric in hospitals, schools and on neighbourhood squares. Cakes and nuts, usually reserved for festivals, are being served to guests of key officials.
Sadr’s followers say theirs is a movement whose time has come. It has been like this for 16 days, since the exiled cleric confirmed his support for a second term for the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. That move looks set to revolutionise political life in Iraq and, potentially, recast the brittle nation’s dealings with the west.
Hours after Sadr’s endorsement, on 1 October, the bulk of Iraq’s Shia political blocs announced that Maliki was their candidate for prime minister, after seven months of political torpor.
This crystallised two things; that Maliki would likely out-manoeuvre his rivals, and that those whosupported him would want, in return, more than their share of treasure. On the regional chessboard that is Iraqi politics, Maliki’s move was akin to putting his key rival, Iyad Allawi, in check.
The price sought has now begun to emerge, along with a picture of how Sadr’s support was won and what it means for Britain and the US, who have invested 4,500 lives, billions of pounds and their international standing in the hope of shaping Iraq as a western-oriented democracy that realigns the regional balance.
According to Guardian sources, Maliki’s renewed grasp on power and the Sadrists’ elevation as influence brokers have been brought about by a consortium of the Middle East’s most-powerful Shia Islamic players, whose power bases are rooted in the region’s other main player, arch US foe Iran.
It has been spearheaded by the Islamic Dawa party, which opposed Saddam Hussein from a base in Tehran during the Ba’athist years, as well as by Maliki’s adviser, Tareq Najim Abdullah. Sadr and Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, a key exiled figure, who has acted as Sadr’s godfather, also led the way.
Qassem Suleimani, head of the al-Quds brigades, a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the head of Lebanese Hezbollah’s politburo, Mohammed Kawtharani, also heavily influenced the process. Above them all, two Shia Islamic overlords, Grand Ayatollah Khameini, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah are understood to have been involved in getting Sadr onside. In interviews over the past week, important players in Iraq’s power base have divulged the essence of what they believe the Sadrists demanded from Maliki’s envoys. It includes a grant of three ministries from his own quota, bringing to seven the number of ministries that the Sadrists could hold in a new government.
It also includes the position of secretary-general of the cabinet and, crucially, deputy positions in all the security agencies. A total of 100,000 roles allocated to Sadrists in government agencies appears to be on the table, as is a mass release of Sadrist prisoners.
A leading Sadrist, Nassar al-Rubaie, said that they were entitled to 25% from each ministry. The Sadrists won 40 seats in the 325-seat parliament. “The electoral process has delivered people who make decisions in this country and we are an important part of that group.”
Rubaie said the proposals offered by Maliki’s envoys had been enough to win Sadr’s support, even though the cleric had publicly stated that he could not abide a second term for the prime minister whose government he abandoned in 2007. Maliki’s response then was to send the army to rout Sadr’s militia in Sadr City and Basra, igniting a bitter feud.
A high-ranking third party was needed to break the stalemate, as trust was non-existent on both sides. In early September, the Iranians made the first move. Haeri told his understudy that Maliki was the way forward; he was not perfect, but both he and the Iranians thought they could work with him.
Maliki then made his move. He sent Najim Abdullah and the head of the Dawa party, Abdul-Halim al-Zuhairi, to the Iranian shrine city of Qom, to meet with Sadr. There they met Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful military general and nemesis of the US.
Suleimani has led the Quds force for the past 20 years. “He runs Iran’s policy in Iraq,” said a senior Iraqi official. “There is no dispute about this.”
Suleimani is also a key link to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Hamas in Gaza, supplying weapons, money and training to help oppose Israel. A senior US official in Baghdad claimed this summer that the Iranian military was responsible for about 25% of all US casualties in Iraq. US intelligence officials believe Suleimani’s unit accounted for nearly all of them.
According to an authoritative source, Kawtharani was also at the meeting in Qom. The two courtiers,Abdullah and Zuhairi, discussed options with Sadr. He liked what he heard, but would not sign on without a guarantor. Suleimani put his name forward, but Sadr was aiming higher. He sought two of Shia Islam’s highest authorities to ratify what was being put to him – Khameini and Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
Sadr was won over, but Nasrallah’s name came with a condition. According to the source, when Nasrallah, who remained in Beirut, was consulted, he asked for a return guarantee from Maliki that the US military would disappear completely from Iraq by the end of 2011.
“Maliki told them he will never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year,” the source said. “They then went to try to smooth things over with the Syrians.”Syria was an obstacle in the process, partially because ill-feeling between Maliki and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, had been exacerbated by Maliki alleging in August 2009 that Damascus was harbouring senior Ba’athist leaders who had blown up two ministries in the centre of Baghdad, undermining his security credentials.
“Zuhairi met Assad at Damascus airport. In public and private he was very much opposed to Maliki before the meeting,” said the source.
Around the same time the Iranians made their second move. Ahmadinejad touched down in Damascus on 18 September on his way to the UN in New York. The pair spoke for two hours. According to a senior Iraqi government official in the days afterwards, Assad told his advisers: “Our Iranian friends want Maliki, and Maliki it is.”
It was a crucial circuit-breaker, which allowed Maliki to make concrete plans for a new administration that would be dramatically different from the last, both in make-up and orientation.
Ahmadinejad returned from New York six days later and at a final meeting in Tehran the deal was ratified. The first domino was then tipped – the Sadrists’ announcement. Then came the Shia list’s pledge of support for Maliki.
The last seven years have been a tug of war for the heartland of Arabia, underpinned by the nagging strategic challenge of whether Iraq will emerge as a strategic ally of the west.
The US was a primary player, but as its military withdraws, its influence plummets. The US embassy in Baghdad had thrown its weight behind a second term for Maliki, believing his secular rival, Allawi, is untenable as leader because his support base is largely Sunni. “That position only served to embolden Maliki and the Iranians,” said a senior western diplomat. “It was poorly conceived, poorly executed and utterly disastrous in its consequences.”
Last week, a US official offered an explanation: “We have switched from frontline players with muscle that we could wield, to straight diplomacy.”
In July, that same official said: “[The Sadrists'] world view and view of relations with the US is totally incompatible with any relationship that we could have.”
The US transition from military overlord to would-be democratic partner has escaped no one’s attention, nor has the vacuum left behind gone unremarked.
Publicly, however, the Dawa party is maintaining a different line. “There is no contradiction between the Iranian point of view and the US view in forming a new government,” said Zuhairi. “For example, the Americans have said this will be a Shia-led government. So, I say the Iraqi project is a reconciliation between Iran and the US.”
A western official claimed it was “nothing of the sort”, then, offering his view on recent US diplomatic efforts, said: “This is nothing less than a strategic defeat.
“They could not have got this more wrong if they tried.”
The view on the ground in Baghdad
October 18, 2010
We Are SO Democratic
During the former regime era, democracy in Iraq had only one meaning. It was to say YES for the regime in everything, in fighting with Iran for eight years although we lost about one million Iraqi soldiers and billions of dollars, in invading Kuwait although it was the reason of destroying Iraq completely and in many other issues that would need pages to mention. We had no choices. Our democracy was one way democracy, to say yes for the regime.
After 2003, we knew many other Democracy(es) including the democracy of robbing the banks by some thieves claiming that its their right after years of deprivation, the democracy of forming dozens of unknown parties and the democracy of chaos that we practice these days.
Almost eight months passed since the parliamentary election and the winning parties did not form the new government and DEMOCRACY is the main reason. Although our GREAT POLITICAL LEADERS always confirm that they do not accept any interference in the Iraqi affairs, they continuously visit the neighboring countries asking for the support for their parties to form the government. Each group wants to satisfy the governments of the neighboring countries and to convince them that they are best to lead Iraq. During their competition to win more political positions and gains, our politicians completely forgot one fact. Democratic politicians are those who can satisfy their people not the neighboring countries.
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