Blaming Iran and Iraqis for US’ Iraq Follies

Blaming Iran and Iraqis for US’ Iraq Follies
James Denselow, The Guardian

David Satterfield, US under secretary of state with responsibility for Iraq, gained a law degree from the Georgetown University law center in 1978. At Chatham House this week, he combined the pragmatism of a diplomat with the arguing skills of a lawyer to present a seductive, but highly biased, appraisal of the current situation in Iraq.

Understandably, the “official” narrative is that of progress from the bloody depths of 2006; any negatives were blamed on external influence and domestic Iraqi failings.

Washington’s battle lines are clearer than ever: It’s “them” v “us” — the US coalition (the Gulf states plus Jordan, Egypt) v the Iranian coalition (Syria, Hezbullah, Hamas) with Al-Qaeda mixed in as a wild card (“they won’t go away”, he said). Against this motley crew of persistent offenders, “US success or failure is worth the continued presence and sacrifice”.

Satterfield explained slow progress in Iraq by pointing to indigenous factors — Saddam’s legacy (“generations have to be overcome”) and, more bizarrely considering the US involvement with its creation, the Iraqi government itself. When asked why the positive scenario he outlined had not led to the return of significant numbers of the four million internally and externally based refugees, Satterfield responded by simply saying that “in the end the Iraqi state is responsible”.

The ambassador then played the game of praising moves which essentially corrected earlier US errors.

Anbar province was previously the most dangerous place in Iraq for US soldiers. Today, Satterfield described it as the safest place outside of the Kurdish region. Why? Because of the success of employing the “concerned citizens”, 100,000 armed Sunni militiamen. Great plan, future blowback excluded — see Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda — but he forgot to mention the previous marginalization of Sunnis in Anbar province (see Fallujah) and the constant refusal by the US to grant amnesty to those with American blood on their hands.

Likewise, the creation of a “pensions law” and the reversal of de-Baathification measures are simply retractions of the original US strategy that had managed to marginalize so many Iraqis in the first place. Satterfield described the measures as returning to Iraqis their faith in the central state, omitting to mention that “the Iraqi state” was starved for over a decade by US-led sanctions and then submitted to a “shock and awe” coup de grace in 2003. The ambassador then spoke of the positive emergence of grassroots dynamics and compromise — a far cry from former Ambassador Bremer’s centralization of all power to himself. In 2005, the US tried to arrest Moqtada Sadr for the murder of Ayatollah Abdul Majid Al-Khoei. The closing down of his newspaper triggered a Shiite uprising across the country. Satterfield now said that the “door absolutely needs to be open” for Sadr and that the US is focused on splitting the Mehdi Army “special groups” from the legitimate Sadrist political movement.

Put into sharp perspective by events in Lebanon, Satterfield also reiterated that “all militias have to be disarmed and taken into the state”, conveniently ignoring the Badr Organisation and the powerful Peshmerga, both of which are pivotal US allies.

It is the evildoers — the Iranians — who are Satterfield’s biggest enemy. “Tehran backs, via the Al-Quds force, anti-Iraqi Iraqis through supply, arming and training, mainly in Iran itself”. This frustrates Washington, whose defense budget is 110 times the size of Tehran’s. Iran, in Satterfield’s words, “avoids state-to-state relations, preferring to operate through proxies”. Put another way, Iran’s David avoids America’s Goliath by paying John, Jeff and Simon to attack him with a thousand cuts.

Iran finds itself in the strange position of having allies in government in Baghdad (it is also the only major regional power to have an ambassador there), yet, since 2003, has not wanted the US adventure to be a success lest Washington decide to “turn right and head to Tehran” — exactly the kind of policy one can imagine being advocated by the Rumsfeld-Cheney school of thought.

Thus, although at times overly nefarious, Iran’s influence in Iraq can at least be understood in terms of its own strategic interests, whereas Satterfield only hinted at areas of contention vis-a-vis America’s role in the country. Firstly, there will be a continued US troop presence in Iraq “both now and in the future” (something for the Clintons and Obamas to mull over) and secondly, the ambassador slammed the Iraqi government’s continued indecision over agreeing the national hydrocarbon law. This law will offer up Iraq’s most precious treasure to global oil companies and perhaps only then will the true face of US foreign policy motivations be shown.

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