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Michael Jansen: No end in sight
April 07, 2017
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The fall of Baghdad to US and British forces on April 9th, 2003, ended Iraq’s independence and precipitated disaster for the Iraqi people, the region and the global community. Iraq’s post-war Shia fundamentalist government is politically dependent on Iran and militarily dependent on both Iran and the US. The region has been destabilised by Shia-Sunni rivalry due to the ascendancy of pro-Iranian Shia fundamentalists in Baghdad, and the international community faces attacks from Sunni radicals rising in Iraq due to the security vacuum created by the war.

I was not in the Iraqi capital during George W. Bush’s invasion but followed the progress of the war from neighbouring Jordan and travelled to Baghdad exactly a month after Iraq succumbed to US occupiers. My mission then was to report on the looting of Iraq’s national museum, which was a crime against all humanity. However, I also witnessed the collapse of law and order and the corruption launched by the occupation. Unknown persons were burning telephone exchanges across the capital. Citizens shunned the streets after dusk as kidnappers lurked in the shadows.

The demobilisation of the Iraqi army and security services had left Iraq in anarchy and defenceless against internal and external foes. The mass dismissal of civil servants left millions without employment and struggling to feed their families. Sectarian violence drove Iraqis from mixed neighbourhoods to same sect districts and forced Sunni-Shia couples to flee the country. US corruption deprived energetic Iraqi entrepreneurs of reconstruction and trading opportunities. Sunni fundamentalists and outlawed Baathists joined together in a guerrilla campaign against the US, its allies, and the government. Professionals and businessmen relocated to Amman in Jordan or the Gulf. Many Iraqis look back at the long reign of Saddam Hussein with regret.

In 2014, al-Qaeda’s offshoot Daesh swept into Iraq’s Sunni cities and set up their capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa, compelling the Western powers to acknowledge, belatedly, the miserable failure of their adventure in Iraq. Unfortunately, the US and its allies had ignored the threat posed by Daesh and initially tackled it half-heartedly until late last year when Daesh was well dug in on both Mosul and Raqqa.  

The stepped-up US-led bombing campaign against Daesh in the Iraqi city of Mosul, once the second largest, is the most deadly intervention since the 2003 war. Iraqis are marking the anniversary of the March-April campaign with bitter analyses of what has gone so dreadfully wrong as a result of the war that promised freedom, democracy and prosperity but brought repression, rule by a sectarian minority, and economic hardship. 

Previous US interventions in the region had been less drastic, dramatic and destructive than Iraq’s full-scale invasion, occupation and regime change. Washington began its career of interference in this region’s political life by backing a bloodless coup mounted by Syria’s army chief Husni al-Zaim against elected president Shukri al-Kuwatli in March 1949. The coup led to a long period of instability in Syria which ended in 1970 when Hafez al-Assad took power.

The chief Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative involved in the Syrian flop was Miles Copeland who, along with Kermit Roosevelt, helped engineer the 1953 coup against Iran’s reformist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Post-war cash strapped Britain asked for US aid in this operation as Mosaddegh had nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and expropriated its assets. That coup, ultimately, led to the overthrow of the Western-allied shah and the anti-US cleric-dominated regime. 

After formally leaving the CIA in 1957, Copeland courted Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser following the overthrow of the pro-British king and became Nasser’s confidant and security adviser, enabling his government to survive efforts to topple it. This cannot be counted as a CIA success as Copeland — a leopard who changed his spots — was acting on his own.

In 1958, the Eisenhower administration intervened in Lebanon’s first civil war by sending troops to Beirut to bolster pro-Western President Camille Chamoun who had precipitated a revolt by demanding an unconstitutional second term in office. The intervention failed, Chamoun was forced out of office and succeeded by army chief Fuad Chehab who focused on maintaining good relations with the Arab world rather than the bowing to the West. 

 The Reagan administration dispatched troops to Lebanon in 1982 to supervise the withdrawal of Palestine Liberation Organisation forces following Israel’s occupation of Beirut and southern Lebanon. The presence of US and French forces did not stabilise the situation but reignited the civil war.  Both countries withdrew their forces after their barracks were bombed in October 1983, killing 241 US and 58 French troops.

Copeland’s favourite CIA director and later president, George H.W. Bush launched the first full-scale US war in this region following Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. The stated objective of this war was to free Kuwait, but the real aim was to cripple Iraq, the core country of the eastern Arab world, and drive President Saddam Hussein from power. While the 1991 war had weakened Iraq, Saddam Hussein remained not only firmly in charge but also more entrenched than ever. His administration had rebuilt infrastructure deliberately bombed by the US and its allies, despite punitive US-imposed sanctions. Thanks to the sanctions regime, half a million Iraqi children had died due to disease and malnourishment by 1995 when the oil-for-food programme was proposed. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children had become fatalities before Bush senior’s son occupied Iraq in 2003.

His war succeeded in regime change but transformed Iraq, a functioning country under the secular Baath, into a failed state ruled by an Iranian-backed sectarian Shia fundamentalist, corruption-ridden regime which discriminates against and persecutes Sunnis and clashes with the Kurds. During the first three years after the invasion, the British medical journal, the Lancet, reported that 654,965 Iraqis had died as a consequence of the occupation. That figure is likely to have topped a million before US forces withdrew at the end of 2011. No one knows how many civilians, the vast majority Sunnis, have been slain since then. Thousands are slated to die in the Mosul campaign and tens of thousands will be driven from their homes and bombed out of neighbourhoods. Devastated Mosul will join the ruins of Ramadi, Tikrit, and Falluja, cities recaptured from Daesh, requiring reconstruction when there are no funds in Baghdad’s corruption-emptied coffers to rebuild.
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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