Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Iraq Update

Now that W. is out and a moderately calm set of provincial elections have been held in Iraq (although none in Kurdistan) that apparently will strengthen the hand of the current, pro-central-authority government, with declining, if not gone, violence more generally, it may well be that there will be little need to post much in the future on Iraq, and hopefully President Obama will be able to proceed with his plans to withdraw US troops over the next 16 months without a major catastrophe happening. While there continue to be loose ends, especially regarding the relationship between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq and the matter of the distribution and control of oil revenues (see on this the ever informative Ben Lando at http://www.iraqioilreport.com), in many ways the situation may be finally reverting to what it looked like it might be when I wrote a column on the war on the day that Tikrit fell in April 2003, which was before all the unforeseeable screwups by the US from disbanding the Iraqi military to torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib had happened to make truly royal mess of things. So, in this update at this time of transition, I shall go back to that moment when the war looked at its best to see how things stand. I forecasted three likely positives and three likely negatives of the war, with the latter outweighing the former in my view then and now, all of them having come true.


1. The most important was to end the massive human rights violations by Saddam Hussein. This was followed by serious violations by others, although hopefully this is now subsiding, and this positive may finally be more seriously in place. on net after a lot of horrors.

2. Reduction of US military presence in Saudi Arabia, which had been sore point for al Qaeda. This was relatively trivial, but was achieved a long time ago.

2. Ending of international economic sanctions against Iraq. Also achieved a long time ago, but this was for a long time overshadowed by the general economic catastrophe that has engulfed Iraq since, now easing, although the recent fall in oil prices is not helping.


1. I forecast that the Christian population of Iraq would suffer discrimination and persecution by governments dominated by sectarian Shi'a. This happened, and today the Christian population of Iraq is about half what it was before 2003. Keep in mind that this has been one of the oldest Christian populations in the world, many of them speaking Aramaic, the language of Jesus himself, although one never hears about this from the Christian Right wingnut crowd.

2. I forecast that for the same reason the Christians would suffer, so would women generally. This does not seem to have occurred in Kurdistan, but there have been many problems in the rest of the country, with most observers saying that the status of women is generally worse off than before the war. Two sources are an older more detailed one, a report by the US ABA accessible at http://www.abanet.org/rol/publications/Iraq_status_of_women_update.2006.pdf, and a more recent but less detailed on by Women for Women International issued last year on International Womens' Day describing the status of women in Iraq as a "national crisis." A comment on that report is at http://www.womensmedia.cener.com/ex/030608.html.

3. And the worst was that I forecast that the US would lose support around the world and especially among Muslims as we would get bogged down and do bad things. I do not think I need to detail how accurate that forecast became.

Before ending this I want to address the matter of the "surge," which so many commentators have claimed was a "success" and how Obama and others should give credit to Bush for pushing it. I am sorry, but I do not buy it. The alternative was the in-place DOD plan to start drawing down troops back in 2006 that Bush turned around to increase troops there. As near as I can tell there were three bases for the claim of the surge bringing success.

The first was the turn of tribal sheikhs in al Anbar province against Al Qaeda in Iraq. However, this happened before the surge and was independent of it, other than the US giving the sheikhs arms. But this could have been done without the surge.

The second was the increase in rule by the central government in Basra in the South. The US role in this mostly involved bombing and little in the way of troops. Again, this could have been done without the surge.

Finally, there is the decline in violence in Baghdad. However, this was due to the ending of the neighborhood ethnic cleansing that had gone on for a long time, with the Shi'a-Sunni population ratio going from 2 to 1 to 3 to 1. The one area the surge might have helped slightly here was that to enforce this walls have been built between the neighborhoods, which damage the economy, but do help keep violence down. Apparently US troops helped with that, so maybe there we have one minor positive to be credited to the surge.


Anonymous said...

What about the displaced? Are these not even worthy of a title loose end?

Barkley Rosser said...

Well, I did mention a part of them, as most of those missing Christians are among them, having by and large fled the country. More serious among unmentioned issues in my mind are the outright dead among the civilian population, whose number has just been identified by the US military as around 95,000, which is far below some other estimates, but still pretty horrific.

It may have been parochial, but I reverted in my discussion to the points that I forecast in my piece from 2003 that appeared in my rather conservative local newspaper, the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, at a moment when US triumphalism in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam was at its height. There are many other matters of serious significance that I did not mention, or did so only in passing (many buried in the "economic catastrophe") besides the problem of the four million or so displaced persons.