• Another Iraq No. 1! (In Dead Journalists)

    April 24, 2012 // 3 Comments »




    Iraq racks up another number one finish in a world category, this time in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2012 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and killers go free. Iraq comes out on top, with 93 unsolved journalist murders last year.

    Freedom of the Press was one of the US’ goals in going to war in Iraq, bringing them democracy and all. Yep, just last month the White House said “Iraq today is less violent, more democratic and more prosperous—and the United States more deeply engaged there—than at any time in recent history.”

    CPJ’s annual Impunity Index, first published in 2008, identifies countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. For this latest index, CPJ examined journalist murders that occurred from January 1, 2002, through December 31, 2011, and that remain unsolved. Only the 12 nations in the world with five or more unsolved cases are included on the index.

    Iraq ranked worst on CPJ’s Impunity Index for the fifth consecutive year and, with more than 90 unsolved murders, its impunity rating dwarfs that of every other nation. Most of the murders occurred as Iraq was immersed in war, but even now, as authorities claim stability, they have failed to bring justice in a single case.

    But Iraq faced some stiff competition this round. Garden spot Somalia, gripped by insurgency and crippled by the lack of an effective central government, ranks second worst with 11 unsolved murders. In Sri Lanka, ranked fourth worst, authorities have failed to win convictions in the murders of nine journalists—all of whom reported critically about President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration.

    So for anyone out there a) still thinking the US accomplished something in Iraq (“it’s still better than under Saddam ya’all!”) and b) the deaths of 4484 American soldiers are somehow justified or c) Iraq is on the road to democracy, go ahead and suck on the CPJ statistics instead.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Too Much Irony for One Life

    March 26, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    What do Saddam Hussein and Hillary Clinton have in common? They both fire employees who express dissent.

    My employer, Hillary Clinton and her Department of State, is working on firing me for writing a book about State’s failures in Iraq, and for expressing dissent here on this blog. I refuse to resign in protest.

    In Iraq, Saddam’s Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, told the CIA (“Mutuality of Fear”) that he opposed the invasion of Kuwait in 1991, but could not dissuade Saddam. Asked why he did not resign in protest, he denied he thought he would be killed, but said, “…there would be no income, no job.”


    Saddam and Hillary, approaching employees who say things they don’t like in just exactly the same way.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Talking Points for Explaining Chaos in Iraq

    January 30, 2012 // 2 Comments »


    Memorandum

    To: All Media, Commentators and Pundits

    From: The Secretary

    Subject: Talking Points for Explaining Chaos in Iraq

    Thank you all for your patience since January 1, when PM Maliki turned 180 degrees from us/US and began unraveling Iraq. We were of course caught by surprise over these events, most of my staff being detailed away to host holiday parties, then Bill took my Blackberry to Davos by accident, and we switched to Chrome in the office and the printer wouldn’t work at first, but we now have your talking points formulated.

    I want also to thank Ambassador Chris Hill, who was in Baghdad 2009-2010 and oversaw our standing by dumb-founded while the Iranians put together the coalition we couldn’t that finally concluded the March 2010 elections in December. Chris was kind enough to give these new talking points a trial run a week ago in his barely published Op-Ed. Chris, thank you for your service.

    So here is the meme I expect all of you (bloggers too, not just MSM, we know who you are) to follow:

    The US did a great job under the Occupation, thanks to our troops, who cannot be criticized, but basically everything that happens after January 1 is the Iraqis’ own damn fault and most certainly not connected in any way with what the US did or failed to do in the preceding nine years.

    If you need the elevator speech version (I’m calling you out Fox!), just say: It is all the Iraqis’ fault.

    This line of reasoning has worked for us in the past, so it should be smooth sailing. For example, throughout the somnolent reconstruction period, whenever someone complained about how we did not restore the electrical grid, we showed some slides saying power generation was good, it was just that demand was up, blaming the Iraqis for the whole thing because they wanted to use refrigerators and lights.

    In addition to Chris’ effort, I have already started the ball rolling. On January 26, I noted that US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has taken the lead in urging Iraqi politicians to settle their differences peacefully. I said “He is constantly… reaching out, meeting with, cajoling, pushing the players, starting with Prime Minister Maliki, not to blow this opportunity.”

    I told everyone that despite the downfall of Saddam Hussein which we freaking nailed, Iraqis’ “minds are not yet fully open to the potential for what this new opportunity can mean to them. At the end of the day, Iraq is now a democracy but they need to act like one.”

    Speaking of Ambassador Jeffrey, he also has this memo. Just the other day he told Gulf News “Iraq is a sovereign democratic country. We have no role as outsiders in the democratic process other than to observe and, if asked our opinion, we provide our opinion… We believe that Iraq remains the most democratic country in the Middle East.”

    Good, right? And you all need to be sure to work this line from Amb. Jeffrey into your pieces: “The attacks [in Iraq] are not a result of the political crisis as they are planned months in advance; they are very carefully put together by al Qaeda.”

    That’s pretty clear, yes? Despite 10 years, despite killing bin Laden and 74 al Qaeda No. 3’s, all violence is due to al Qaeda. As for the rest, we did our part by getting rid of Saddam, fast-forward past nine years of failed Occupation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction and then BANG! Iraq has to do it, not our problem. Like it never even happened, babies.

    I simply do not care to see any articles such as this. I specifically request that none of the following ever be spoken of again:

    –The oft-stated US major accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam was all over in 2003. We called it regime “change” but in reality it was just regime “destruction,” only the first half of the change thing.

    –The US invasion and failure of the reconstruction left Iraq in horrific condition, setting the stage for additional years of suffering. Such suffering fuels insurgency and lack of support for any central government. It is a poor legacy.

    –The utter lack of US planning for postwar occupation unleashed sectarian violence and enabled sectarian conflict that is playing out long after the US went home. The US is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle.



    My thanks in advance to all of you for your work promoting this meme over the coming months. It would be especially helpful if your blogs and Op-Eds could be timed to publish right after massive suicide bombings in Iraq. Don’t worry if you miss one; like buses, there is always another one coming soon.

    Oh, and my staff promises we’ll have your talking points about how all world evil is caused by Iran out soon. Until then, either hold your stories or just blame things on Somali pirates.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Do We Have to Wait for “History” to Judge US Era in Iraq?

    January 24, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    Emma Sky is a British academic who had the somewhat odd role of advising General Odierno when he commanded US forces in Iraq. I met the two of them several times in Iraq, and of course the standing joke was that they could not have been more different people. Odierno is a huge man, well over six feet tall, with a shaved head, a gruff manner and as military a bearing and outlook as is possible to have without creating a singularity in space-time. Ms. Sky is perhaps four foot something in height, polite, soft-spoken and very much the academic. It is inconceivable that she ever served in any military. Yet the two worked well together, as chronicled in Tom Ricks’ second great book about the Iraq War, The Gamble.

    Ms. Sky, who speaks Arabic and counts many friends, colleagues and contacts in Iraq, recently returned from a pleasure trip to that country, writing an evocative portrait of her travels over on Foreign Policy.com.

    The article is good, but one point bothered me: Sky wonders how history will judge the American era in Iraq. I disagree that we need to wait for history. While of course the perspective of 50 or 100 years is always useful, America’s era is over in Iraq, and we can say this about it, unlikely to be changed by the passage of time:

    –The US invasion and occupation killed over 100,000 Iraqis, either directly or via the chaos unleashed.

    –The oft-stated US major accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam was all over in 2003. We called it regime “change” but in reality it was just regime “destruction,” only the first half of the change thing.

    –The government we left behind is falling apart like a cardboard box in the rain. The US vision for Iraq– a kind of Middle East Disney World under martial law– fades just as quickly.

    –The US invasion and failure of the reconstruction left Iraq in horrific condition, setting the stage for additional years of suffering. Such suffering can likely fuel additional insurgency and lack of support for any central government. It is a poor legacy.

    –The utter lack of US planning for postwar occupation unleashed sectarian violence and enabled sectarian conflict that is playing out long after the US went home. Whatever comes of that in Iraq’s future is up to the Iraqis, but the US is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle.

    We left Iraq with blood on our hands. We created or enabled problems we did not solve, and then we left. None of that will change when history judges the American era.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Who won the war in Iraq? (Here’s a hint: It wasn’t the US)

    November 10, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    (This article, written by me, originally appeared on Foreign Policy.com)

    When wars end, usually there is a winner and a loser. Greeks burn down the city for the win; Trojans accept a dummy horse for the epic loss, like that. As we near the end of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, and note the beginning of the State Department occupation, it is a good time to decide who lost and who won, and what that means for the future of Iraq.

    For the minority, all-around Washington guy (now stopping off briefly to be Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta thinks we and the Iraqis sort of won. Leon said, “But the bottom line is, whether it’s diplomatic or whether it’s military, we’ve got a long-term relationship with Iraq. We’ve invested a lot of blood in (Iraq). And regardless of whether you agree or disagree as to how we got into it, the bottom line is that we now have, through a lot of sacrifice, established a … relatively stable democracy that’s trying to work together to lead that country.”

    Tune into your favorite right-wing blog, and there is lots of mumbo-jumbo about the surge and sacrifices and all that false patriotism stuff that no longer even makes for a good country and western song.

    On firmer ground, it is less clear that the United States or Iraq won anything.

    The United States lost 4484 soldiers (and counting), with thousands more crippled or wounded, spent a couple of trillion dollars that helped wreck our economy at home, and did not get much in return. Blood for oil? Only in the sense that one of out of every eight U.S. casualties in Iraq died guarding a fuel convoy. Iraqi oil output is stuck at pre-war levels and will be for some time. A drop in world oil prices would wreck the Iraqi economy. Despite Panetta’s patter about Iraq being a country willing to work with the United States, Iraq as a political entity follows its own path, virtually allied with Iran and unsupportive of American geopolitical dreams. The U.S. government will sell some military gear to the Iraqis and make some money, but in the end George Bush went to war and all we got was a low-rent dictatorship turned into a low-rent semi-police state. As this is written, it is even unclear if the United States will snag any permanent bases in Iraq, and whether any troops will be allowed to stay on past the end of this December.

    As for Iraq being any sort of winner after being stomped on by the U.S. military, no. Iraq had its civil society shredded, underwent eight years of sectarian civil war, saw over 100,000 killed and is home now to a small but bustling al Qaeda franchise. The United States left without brokering a deal between the Kurds and the Arab Iraqis, leaving that kettle on full boil. The United States also failed to establish stable borders for the Kurds, such that the Iranians shell “Kurdistan” from the east, while Turkish jets drop bombs in the west. Turkey is part of NATO — imagine the U.S. government sitting silently if Germany bombed Poland next week.

    What many people do not know is that one reason for the drop in sectarian violence in 2008 was that both sides had done much of the killing they needed to do. The fighting then was a civil war, Shia versus Sunni, and the death toll was high enough on both sides to achieve the level of segregation and redistribution of power desired at that time-they ran out of reasons for the war to continue at that level of intensity. Ominously, however, the Sunnis and Shias did not fully settle the score and so that pot sits bubbling on the stove as well.

    Sectarian tensions do still run high in Iraq, and the United States has been left powerless to do anything about it. Except for some technical assistance and perhaps some very low-key special operations help, the U.S. government has taken a sideline seat to the sectarian violence over the last few months, leaving the fight to the Iraqis. Whether zero or 3,000 or 10,000 U.S. troops stay on in Iraq, it is unlikely that such a smaller U.S. force will intervene, given that a larger one declined to do so.

    The tinderbox nature of things is such that the Iraqi government is seeking to ban a television drama about events leading up to the historic split in Islam into Sunni and Shiite sects hundreds of years ago. The Iraqi parliament asked that the Communication and Media Commission, a media regulator, ban “Al Hassan and Al Hussein” on the grounds it incites sectarian tensions and misrepresents historical facts. “This TV serial includes sensitive issues in Islamic history. Presenting them in a TV series leads to agitated strife,” said Ali Al Alaq, a politician who heads the religious affairs committee.

    Needless to say, a glance at the daily news from Iraq will reveal the ongoing steady low hum of suicide bombings and targeted killings that is now all too much a normal part of life. The occasional spectacular attacks (instantly blamed on al Qaeda by the United States) make headlines, but every Iraqi knows it is the regular nature of these killings as much as the death toll itself that is most disruptive to society. Iraq is hardly a winner.

    Who won the war? Iran…

    Iran sat patiently on its hands while the United States hacked away at its two major enemies, Saddam, and the Taliban, clearing both its east and west borders at no cost to Tehran. (Iran apparently reached out to the U.S. government in 2003, seeking some sort of diplomatic relationship but, after being rebuffed by the engorged Bush Administration, decided to wait and watch the quagmire envelope America). The long slog both wars morphed into dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for another war, and cooled off plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for airstrikes against Iran’s nukes (if Cheney couldn’t edge the United States into that fight, who can?).

    The Iranians also came to see that Iraq, like Lebanon, made for a nice proxy battleground. By the time my tour in Iraq was wrapping up, the mine resistant vehicles we traveled in could take a solid hit from pretty much anything out there and get us home alive, except for one thing: Iranian-made roadside bombs ealled EFPs. These shaped “explosively formed penetrating devices” fired a liquefied white hot slug of molten copper that was about the only weapon that really scared us. The Iranians were players in all parts of Iraqi society post-2003, including the daily violence. (Iranian proxy warfare in Lebanon is well documented in Robert Baer’s excellent book, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, which also advances the United States vs. Iran proxy theory in general.)

    Iran not only lost an enemy when Saddam was hanged, it gained an ally in the new Iraq. When the United States’ last election surge withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi contest to produce a government, Iran stepped in to broker a settlement involving current PM Malaki (Malaki also serves as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior but is not a dictator) and the jolly Sadrists. Malaki, a Shia, happily recalls his days in exile in Iraq during the Saddam reign while Sadr hid out as a religious “student” in Qom when he was on the U.S. military’s capture or kill list post-2003. Both men remain beholden to Iran and continue to shift Iraq closer and closer to Tehran’s policy positions. Iran has its own proconsul in Baghdad, well-known locally but not discussed much in the west. The guy moved into the job after a tour as head of the Iranian special ops Qods Force.

    Yet while strategic and political relationships are very important between Iraq and Iran, it is the growing economic and social-religious ties that cement the relationship and signify Iran as the real winner of the U.S. invasion. The raw numbers tell a big part of the story: the two countries’ current annual trade is valued at $4 billion to $5 billion and growing, with much more money changing hands on the black market.

    On more formal terms, Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi kicked off the most recent round of goodwill on July 6, when he traveled to Baghdad to join the Iran-Iraq Joint Supreme Economic Committee. Better yet, Iran agreed to supply 9,400 barrels of “gasoil” a day to Iraq for power generation. Iraq also signed a $365 million agreement to install a pipeline network to import natural gas from Iran for power stations in the country. The pipelines will eventually supply 25 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas a day to the Sadr, al-Quds and South Baghdad power stations in the Iraqi capital.

    Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshiar Zibary said that Iran and Iraq would soon sign an agreement to overcome “all the suspended problems between both countries.” “Iran is playing a positive role in Iraq and there is no objection for the strengthening of relations between the two countries,” Zibary said.

    But while trade is good, and oil is necessary, real money is in tourism. More specifically, religious tourism. Iranian Shia pilgrims traveling to previously off-limits shrines in Iraq, is a huge source of economic exchange. It also creates significant people-to-people ties that Iran will be able to exploit long into the future.

    Iranian travel agencies control religious tourism to the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The Iranian companies are associated with local hotels, also owned by Iranians. The control by Iranian companies extends to tourists from Lebanon who combine a visit to Iraq with one to the religious site Mashhad, in Iran. The Iranian domination also extends to security arrangement for protecting the tourists. That role is filled by one company owned by one of the religious parties in Karbala.

    Business is booming. Najaf is in the midst of a hotel building frenzy in a bid to ramp up the number of visiting pilgrims. While thousands of mostly Iranian religious tourists already pass through Najaf every day on what are marketed as nine-day tours of Iraq’s holy Shiite sites, hoteliers and business groups in the city expect hotel capacity, currently at breaking point, to double in the next three years.

    Elsewhere, markets in rural Iraq are filled with Iranian goods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. While the knitwear market is dominated by cheap Chinese stuff, other household goods are conspicuously marked “Made in Iran” and are snapped up by consumers.

    I saw a little slice of this during my own time in Iraq. My Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) covered an area that included the city and mosque of Salman Pak. Once a center for chemical weapons production and secret police training under Saddam, Salman Pak is better known to most Iraqis and Iranians as a historical and recreational area, approximately 15 miles south of Baghdad near a peninsula formed by a broad eastward bend of the Tigris River. It is named after Salman the Persian, a companion of Mohammad, who is buried there.

    Salman Pak is also site of the Arch of Ctesiphon, the remains of the once majestic Persian Sassanid capital. Ctesiphon is one of the largest and oldest freestanding arches in the world. Before the US invasion of 2003, the area was a popular day trip out of Baghdad, and even sported a floating casino and villas for select friends of Saddam. My translator recalled family trips to the area the way my daughters remember a visit to Disney, leaving me a bit nostalgic for a time and place I never knew. The attraction now for Iranian pilgrims is the mosque, once a well-known Shia shrine, converted to a well-known Sunni shrine by Saddam and now once again a well-known Shia shrine after sectarian violence post-2003 blew away most of the Sunnis in the area.

    On routine patrols through the area, my PRT and Army would frequently see giant tour buses with Iranian license plates and markings hauling tourists around the city. The Iranian tourists would take pictures of our military vehicles and gesture at us as we drove past, even as our soldiers scowled at them and pantomimed “no photos.” Nothing weirder than to be spending one’s days freeing Iraq only to run into Iranian tour agencies being the most obvious beneficiaries of that freedom. We didn’t know it then, but our tourists were offering us a glimpse of the future, a picture of who the winners, and losers, were to be in our war.

    As for Iraq, add it up:

    –no resolution to the Arab-Kurd issue,

    –no resolution to the Sunni-Shia issue,

    –no significant growth in the oil industry,

    –a weakened U.S. presence more interested in a Middle East land base and profitable arm sales than internal affairs,

    –and an increasingly influential Iran seeking a proxy battleground against the United States and a nicely weak buffer state on its formerly troublesome western border.

    None of that tallies toward a stable Iraq. Indeed, quite the opposite. Worst case scenario might look a lot like the darkest days in Lebanon, with many of the same players at the table.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    On NPR’s Talk of the Nation with Ted Koppel and Bob Woodward

    October 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    I joined Ted Koppel, General (ret) Jack Keane, Bob Woodward and Brian Katulis on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to discuss the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and that country’s future.

    Koppel nailed it in his first question:


    As much as the world loathed Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein was the equalizing force in the Persian Gulf that kept Iran in check. When George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he did for the Iranians what they were never able to do for themselves: He got rid of Saddam Hussein.



    Bob Woodard described the military reaction in a way totally different from what I have been hearing from soldiers, but he does talk to a much higher level at the Department of Defense:


    The level of distress within the military couldn’t be higher at this decision. I’ve even heard talk about some senior people in the military discussing resigning over this. The alternative to the withdrawal is to try to persuade the Iraqi government to let some troops stay, to make absolutely the maximum effort to have [that] insurance policy in the Middle East.



    For my part, it was all Iran:


    The Iranians are not going to attack Iraq with tanks and grenades. They don’t need to. They’ve already successfully shown that they can influence events there. The prize of the oil is in the Southern part of Iraq, and the Iranians are a steady influence there. The decision to withdraw was made in Baghdad, not by President Obama. The issues that we uncorked in 2003 — the Sunni/Shia, the Arab/Kurd, and in particular, the rise of Iran’s power in Iraq — were not stopped by 100,000 soldiers during the surge, and they haven’t been whittled back by 40,000 soldiers during the last two years. As the U.S. has stepped back from internal politics in Iraq, the Iranians have filled that void very comfortably, and will continue to do so.


    Listen to the whole show online with NPR.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Saddam’s Butt for Sale

    October 12, 2011 // Comments Off

    The bronze butt from the statue of late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein toppled in Firdos Square after the US-led invasion in 2003 is to be auctioned in Britain for charity.

    Nigel “Spud” (really) Ely was working with media covering the fall of Baghdad at the time. He said the Marines gave him permission to remove the piece using a crowbar.

    “The Marines had a cordon of tanks to guard the square. But I wanted some of Saddam’s bum and when I mentioned that I was an old soldier and with the press they told me, ‘No problem, help yourself,'” Ely said. “I only wanted a something big enough to put in my pocket, but I ended up with a chunk about two foot square.”

    Saddam’s bronze butt is expected to sell for at least $15,000, the most paid for a piece of ass since Charlie Sheen last weekend.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    How Time Flies

    September 29, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    Just like fashion, if you hang on long enough, things come around full circle. Just like Qaddafi– 1980’s super villain freak, 2009 sticky handed friend of Condi Rice.

    Just as a reminder, in the 1980’s Saddam was our pal (shown here with a dapper Don Rumsfeld).



    And of course everybody’s favorite freedom fighters of the 1980’s the Taliban, shown here with ace face Ronnie Reagan.




    Just sayin’.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Ayad Allawi Sums it Up: Iraq is So Screwed

    September 13, 2011 // Comments Off

    Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister of Iraq, leads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s Parliament. He won the popular vote in Iraq’s last (likely last ever) election in March 2010, but was out-maneuvered for the Prime Minister’s job by al-Malaki and al-Sadr, brought together by the Iranians as the US sat back and just watched it happen, 4474 soldier’s lives flushed away in a desperate act of a coward’s political expediency. State was ready to accept any deal that created any kind of government, hoping that “good news” would allow the US to finally claim victory in Iraq. Mission Accomplished Mr. Ambassador! And thanks for your service!

    Allawi, shown here with a deeply constipated George Bush, is no saint himself, but does sort of sum it all up for Iraq in this Op-Ed, originally in the Washington Post.

    As the Arab Spring drives change across our region, bringing the hope of democracy and reform to millions of Arabs, less attention is being paid to the plight of Iraq and its people. We were the first to transition from dictatorship to democracy, but the outcome in Iraq remains uncertain. Our transition could be a positive agent for progress, and against the forces of extremism, or a dangerous precedent that bodes ill for the region and the international community.

    Debate rages in Baghdad and Washington around conditions for a U.S. troop extension beyond the end of this year. While such an extension may be necessary, that alone will not address the fundamental problems festering in Iraq. Those issues present a growing risk to Middle East stability and the world community. The original U.S. troop “surge” was meant to create the atmosphere for national political reconciliation and the rebuilding of Iraq’s institutions and infrastructure. But those have yet to happen.

    More than eight years after Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown, basic services are in a woeful state: Most of the country has only a few hours of electricity a day. Blackouts were increasingly common this summer. Oil exports, still Iraq’s only source of income, are barely more than they were when Hussein was toppled. The government has squandered the boon of high oil prices and failed to create real and sustainable job growth. Iraq’s economy has become an ever more dysfunctional mix of cronyism and mismanagement, with high unemployment and endemic corruption. Transparency International ranks Iraq the world’s fourth-most-corrupt country and by far the worst in the Middle East.

    The promise of improved security has been empty, with sectarianism on the rise. The Pentagon recently reported an alarming rise in attacks, which it blamed on Iranian-backed militias. The latest report to Congress by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction notes that June was the bloodiest month for U.S. troops since 2008 and concludes that Iraq is more dangerous than it was a year ago. Regrettably, Iraq’s nascent security forces are riddled with sectarianism and mixed loyalties; they are barely capable of defending themselves, let alone the rest of the country.

    Despite failing to win the most seats in last year’s elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki clung to power through a combination of Iranian support and U.S. compliance. He now shows an alarming disregard for democratic principles and the rule of law. Vital independent institutions such as the election commission, the transparency commission and Iraq’s central bank have been ordered to report directly to the office of the prime minister. Meanwhile, Maliki refuses to appoint consensus candidates as defense and interior ministers, as per last year’s power-sharing agreement.

    The government is using blatant dictatorial tactics and intimidation to quell opposition, ignoring the most basic human rights. Human Rights Watch reported in February on secret torture prisons under Maliki’s authority. In June, it exposed the government’s use of hired thugs to beat, stab and even sexually assault peaceful demonstrators in Baghdad who were complaining about corruption and poor services. These horrors are reminiscent of autocratic responses to demonstrations by failing regimes elsewhere in the region, and a far cry from the freedom and democracy promised in the new Iraq.

    Is this really what the United States sacrificed more than 4,000 young men and women, and hundreds of billions of dollars, to build?

    The trend of failure is becoming irreversible. Simply put, Iraq’s failure would render every U.S. and international policy objective in the Middle East difficult to achieve, if not impossible. From combating terrorism to nuclear containment to energy security to the Middle East peace process, Iraq is at the center. Our country is rapidly becoming a counterweight to all positive efforts to address these issues, instead of the regional role model for democracy, pluralism and a successful economy that it was supposed to be.

    It is not too late to reverse course. But the time to act is now. Extending the U.S. troop presence will achieve nothing on its own. More concerted political engagement is required at the highest levels to guarantee the promise of freedom and progress made to the Iraqi people, who have suffered and sacrificed so much and are running out of patience.

    It is necessary, and achievable, to insist on full and proper implementation of the power-sharing agreement of 2010, with proper checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, and full formation of the government and its institutions on a nonsectarian basis. Malign regional influences must be counterbalanced. Failing these steps, new elections free from foreign meddling, and with a truly independent judiciary and election commission, may be the only way to rescue Iraq from the abyss. This solution is increasingly called for by Iraqi journalists and political leaders and on the street.

    The invasion of Iraq in 2003 may indeed have been a war of choice. But losing Iraq in 2011 is a choice that the United States and the rest of the world cannot afford to make.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Same as It Ever Was

    June 2, 2011 // Comments Off

    The always prescient Iraq Oil Report has come up with yet another reason Iraq is unlikely to become a major oil exporter anytime soon: laws preventing oil workers from organizing have created a situation of work stoppages met with retaliation. This does not promote the extraction of petroleum.

    For those who still contend getting rid of the evil dictator made everything happy in Iraq, Iraqi workers in the public sector still are forbidden from forming unions not controlled by the state, a regulation remaining from the Saddam Hussein era. Freedumb!

    Iraq is a signatory to international workers rights agreements, and the 2005 constitution called for a new labor law that lies dormant in the moribund political process. Oil workers went out and formed unions anyway. The oil unions have stopped production here and there and have held rallies over pay and treatment. In response, they have been targeted by security forces and members have had warrants issued for their arrest or been relocated to areas away from their families.

    This new birth of freedom in Iraq clearly justifies the sacrifices Americans have made, right? Makes you kinda wish we did get some oil for blood.

    For more, see Twelve Reasons Iraq will not be a Major Oil Exporter.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Killing Puppies for Fun

    April 13, 2011 // Comments Off

    BFF You spray and spray, but there’s always another one crawling across the floor when you flip on the light.

    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, said a famous philosopher. The advice never applied more than to the 1980’s hottest couple, Dapper Don Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein (note for young people: the US and Iraq were BFFs then; yeah, it is confusing, roll with it).

    Saddam, seeking to impress The Donald, gave him a VHS tape (note for young people: VHS is what DVDs were in the dark times before your birth). The tape shows retro-hot female Syrian soldiers killing live snakes by biting them, while Syrian dictator Papa Assad watches. The snakes are then BBQ’ed and eaten. The female soldiers go on to stab puppies to death for the crowd’s approval; the puppies are not eaten, at least on screen.

    See the 1983 puppy killing video here.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

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