Opinion: Has the US Fulfilled its Promise to the Iraqi People?

Ten years on from the occupation, the Iraqi people are still divided and preoccupied with searching for a way out of their national disaster. The Americans, for their part, are also confused and divided and unable to agree on a way out from their own financial and economic crises. Wolfowitz’s role in the Iraqi invasion is well-known, and although he has finally taken the decision to break his silence on this, this is not admit failure or defeat or apologize to the Iraqi people, nor is this provide solutions to problems that have only escalated following the US invasion. He broke his silence to repeat the same old claims that have been completely disproven, according to the admissions of the US administration itself. Wolfowitz broke his silence to defend a decision that everybody is now convinced was catastrophic, not just to Iraq, but to the region and world.

Simply put, Wolfowitz has failed to learn any lessons, although the US seems to have done so after it was shown that the invasion’s human, financial, and strategic costs were far greater than anybody could have predicted.

In this article, Wolfowitz fails to admit his abject failure in spite of his admission of the exorbitant cost of the war, which exceeded USD 2 trillion, not to mention a death toll of almost 5,000 American soliders, while more than 30,000 were injured, not to mention a similar number of soldiers who suffered post-war psychological disorders.

Furthermore, Wolfowitz seems indifferent to Washington’s increasing international isolationism as a result of its strategic losses, which are arguably unprecedented. This can be seen in America’s decreasing presence on the international scene, becoming more and more cautious of using military force as part of its foreign policy. This was also clear in President Barack Obama’s famous speech where he said: “I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.”

The US has become increasingly devoted to its domestic financial problems which have only escalated in light of the astronomical cost of invading Iraq. As a result, the challenges facing the US in different parts of the world have intensified, and its traditional rivals have been encouraged to expand at the expense of US influence. This new state of affairs has also encouraged opponents of the US to adopt hard-line positions, as seen most recently in Pyongyang.

Nobody expects Paul Wolfowitz to apologize to the Iraqi people at this point, but it seems inconsistent and absurd that he refused to offer his apology to the families of US military personnel who lost their lives, or to the American taxpayer.

Anyone who reads Wolfowitz’s article would emerge with the impression that the invasion fulfilled its objectives by overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime. Yet, he neglects the fact that the US invasion did not target the Saddam regime alone—whether we supported or opposed this—but also targeted Iraq as a state and the Iraqi people as a nation. This transformed Iraq from a state that enjoyed complete sovereignty to one that enjoys an inferior version of this, while now the country is divided and suffering numerous unprecedented problems such as sectarianism, violence, terrorism, mismanagement, foreign influence, and more.

It is absurd that Wolfowitz wants the Iraqi people to wait for 60 more years until the anticipated positive impact of the invasion can come to pass. In this context, he is citing South Korea as an example, but at the same time, he seems to turn a blind eye to the systematic deterioration in the quality of life of the Iraqi people over the past decade. Many respected international organizations view Iraq as being among the world’s most deprived countries, lacking security and stability, while suffering from widespread corruption, division, and backwardness. Under such conditions, and at a time when public life in Iraq is suffering systematic deterioration, how can the Iraqi people fulfill their hopes and desires?

The relationship between Iraq and Iran is not one of “closeness”, as described by Wolfowitz. Rather this is a transformation of what was once termed transforming the ‘liberation” of Iraq into the “occupation of Iraq by Iran.” As part of this latter project, Iraq was stripped off its sovereignty becoming a source of unprecedented ill-will to America’s closest allies in the region, particularly those in the Gulf. Even regarding this particular issue, Wolfowitz persists in pointing the finger at Arabs, while not mentioning any secret agreements that may have been concluded in dark rooms between the Great Satan (the US) and the “axis of evil” (Iran, Iraq and North Korea).

A public opinion poll conducted in 2004 showed that 55% of the Iraqis anticipated that they would enjoy better conditions in the future. However, in 2013, nearly 56% of respondents said they expected their conditions to deteriorate in the future, adding that the situation was better under the former regime. This poll also revealed that 89% of Iraqis believe that government institutions are corrupt, while 60% did not describe their country as democratic. In addition to this, 86% of those asked acknowledged that the Iraqi people are divided. The poll also demonstrated that 75% of Iraqis identify themselves along ideological lines, compared to just 25% in 2004.

I would like Wolfowitz to look at these statistics and then say whether Iraq has progressed, or whether the country is witnessing a retreat in all fields.

The latter is the prevalent feeling amongst the Iraqi people particularly following a death toll of at least 1.1 million, while hundreds of thousands have been injured. This is not to mention five million Iraqis being displaced, both domestically and abroad. In light of all this, how can we expect a more secure and stable Iraq to emerge in the future?

In fact, Wolfowitz’s article incorporated a number of sophisms such as that “the US should not be sorry about the ‘failure’ to install a new dictator in Iraq to restore the old false stability.” In this case, how does Wolfowitz view Al-Maliki—in power since 2006—particularly after he ended the peaceful transfer of power in favor of a policy of seizing and remaining in power. Wolfowitz’s second sophism could be seen in claiming that were Saddam still in power today, he would likely be assisting Assad. Wolfowitz seems to be ignorant of what Nuri Al-Maliki has done, and continues to do, in coordinating with the velayat-e faqih in terms of assisting and supporting Bashar Al-Assad with finance, arms, and war materials.

Furthermore, it was strange that Wolfowitz completely neglected to mention the million man marches that took place in Ramadi, Samarra, Fallujah, Mosul, Kirkuk, Baghdad, and elsewhere, demanding the ouster of Maliki and condemning his rule. This rule has overseen an unfortunate period of injustice, marginalization, exclusion and unprecedented persecution of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.

Finally, the only thing that saddens me today is the conditions which my country and people find themselves in; nor am I biased against any party. Had the US fulfilled its promise to the Iraqi people during the 2003 invasion, I would have been eternally thankful, but the ultimate result is truly a crime against humanity.

Paul Wolfowitz’s article can be read here.

25 February 2011, Two Years Later

Two weeks ago we passed a milestone unlike any other. It was not a fleeting political occasion, but a true turning point in the ongoing political struggle in Iraq. On 25 February 2011, and for the first time since the fall of the former regime, those dismayed with Nuri Al-Maliki’s government’s policy broke through the fear barrier by holding political rallies across Baghdad demanding that the inept government be reformed.

Iraqis took to the streets in governorates across central and southern Iraq, coordinating via social networking channels, with youth groups forming what was known as the coalition of the February 25 revolution.

Maliki had delivered a speech two days prior. He did not offer an apology or admit failure; he did not allay the feelings of frustration and dismay; and he did not ease the burdens of his people by resigning. Instead he took to insulting and slandering, threatening and swearing, inciting the people against one another, saying, “I call on the Iraqi people, the various sects, denominations, and ethnicities, to put an end to the demonstration of the 25 February coalition in light of their subversive objectives that aim to drag Iraq backwards.” He claimed that he had information confirming that the forces opposing the political process intended to create chaos that would drag Iraq back to square one. Despite the legitimate demands of the demonstrators, which never exceeded calling for improved services, erasing unemployment, releasing innocent prisoners, and holding the corrupt accountable, Maliki nonetheless transformed the demonstrations into a battlefield. He used excessive force, ordered the use of live ammunition, and killed and wounded numerous Iraqis on what was dubbed the ‘day of rage’.

Various disastrous security breaches highlight Maliki’s abject failure in managing the country’s security situation, yet he continues to ignore his political partners and even the Council of Ministers. He refuses to consult with anyone, listen to any advice, and tells no one what he intends to do. His sudden forays, contrived schemes, and imagined conspiracies usually surprise everyone, as if he is operating on a turnkey contract. As the Iraqis jokingly say “He’s packed his pipe and smoked it!”

However, on 25 February 2011, things were different. A few days prior, Maliki had called a large meeting and invited political and coalition leaders. I was also invited, though at the time no mention was made about the meeting’s purpose or who else would be attending. The meeting took place on February 22 or 23, and began with the commander-in-chief of the armed forces presenting the leaders in attendance with his assessment of the current situation . . . What a farce! What misery we found ourselves in. Insults, swearing, slander . . . the repeated use of trite and repugnant terms in the hope of returning to the days when the people were intimidated and lived in a state of panic, anxiety, and fear. Maliki claimed that the ousted regime, Baathist remnants, and Al-Qaeda elements were all intent on toppling the current system, as evidenced by the raiding and burning of the central bank, and the looting and burning of the Shorja market. He said that next they would storm the Green Zone, taking it by force, and then topple the government. The names of all the political leaders were allegedly on the assassination targets list. The Demonstrators were reportedly armed with heavy weaponry, and so on and so forth.

And, of course, as the self-appointed safe-keeper of the homeland, the sole trustee of the political process, Maliki intended to confront the protesters with iron and fire, and use all available weapons to thwart the conspiracy!

His tirade irritated and perplexed most of those in attendance. After some attendees had commented on his presentation, my turn came. I asked him about the source of his information and its accuracy, contending that we had information to the contrary. He replied that his information was reliable and accurate. He said that the details were in a sealed envelope that lay in front of him on the table. He did not open it or tell us what it contained. I told him, “My information contradicts what you have said entirely. Those who plan to demonstrate are young, unemployed, desperate people. They have the right to protest, demonstrate, and criticize us, because we did not deliver what we promised them. We failed to provide them with free and dignified lives. We have fallen short, and they are entitled to demonstrate peacefully, as is their constitutional right.” I asked the rest of the attendees if they had any objections to what I had said: the room fell silent, no one objected.

Blood racing, I continued talking: “Accordingly, we must make way for demonstrations to assemble and march without limitations as long as they conduct themselves in accordance with the constitution and the law. I warn against stifling these demonstrations, lest Iraq return to oppression and tyranny. This more than anything would drag Iraq back to square one . . . I don’t know why we were invited to this meeting. Are we here to find a way out upon which we can all agree, or are we here to countenance a security plan? Mr. Maliki won’t budge, despite the catastrophic outcomes that will ensue. Therefore I announce my objection to the assessment and the plans laid before us, and I demand that they be reconsidered. One final point, in what capacity did Mr. Maliki call us to this meeting? We are not a council of ministers nor are we a political council. What is the legal or constitutional nature of this meeting and with what powers is it vested? I’d like for Mr. Maliki to answer me!” No reply came.

“One last question: With this meeting Mr. Maliki hoped to line up support from his supporting coalition partners and his opponents for his plan to handle the crisis. It’s curious that he would court the support of the Iraqiya coalition, which he has thus far deprived of the ministry of the defense portfolio and the presidency of the policy council . . . What does he expect? We should reform the political process, respect our commitments in forming the government, and build trust between us. After that we can address these challenges which you decided to portray as threats to everyone, which of course they are not.”

Unable to respond to my points, others followed, some voicing their support and others their opposition. Maliki proposed that the conferees issue a joint statement in support of the plan to subvert the demonstrations. I rejected the proposal, and it was replaced with a joint-press conference to which I declined participation, and I then returned to my house fraught with worry. Shortly thereafter, I received a text message from Maliki, in which he scolded me for having taken a stand which he said embarrassed him in front of other political leaders.

Thus, for me personally, the uprising of the 25 February 2011 put an end to a relationship that I had never been comfortable with in the first place, and which had always been characterized by tugging and pressuring throughout the years.

The day came and Maliki decided to deploy the armed forces, the security services, and the intelligence apparatus so as to undermine the uprising; as a result, many were injured and some were killed. His people continued to pursue activists, some using silenced pistols. The journalist and uprising leader Hadi Al-Mahdi was assassinated in his own home. Maliki ordered for the incident to be covered up, and Medhat Al-Mahmoud tied the assassination to some unknown person. The international community expressed its condemnation, while the US, the guardian nation, kept silent! Thus an opportunity for reform and change was lost. The uprising failed to achieve its goals, foiled by oppression, bribery, psychological campaigns, media censorship, and poisonous rumors. Nevertheless, the experience remains, with its good and its evil, useful for the future.

The various chants and demands of the demonstrators can be collected and categorized under one heading: The absence of a civil state of institutions and justice that accommodates everyone and represents everyone. This has yet to be realized, but some Iraqis still dream that it will someday come about, despite President Obama’s insistence on withdrawing American combat forces from Iraq. Some may be so bold as to claim that the new Iraq has indeed changed, and that it has fulfilled the conditions necessary to qualify as a democracy, citing that it has a permanent constitution, a government elected through free and fair elections, and so on. Yes, these achievements must remain in place, but alone they are not enough. Moreover they will lose their valence if tyranny and oppression return, a republic is established based on fear, the security services are elevated to a predominant role, the judiciary is politicized, and loyalties are purchased. This can only lead to a country in which ordinary people do not feel safe with regards to their finances, honor, and homes. Even their religious beliefs would be threatened. This, in short, is the situation Iraq faces today, and the reason why millions of people across the governorates have risen up and protested once again. They hope that the change they could not effect in February 2011 will be achieved this time.

Arab Syria an Iranian Province

The statement issued by Iranian scholar Mehdi Taeb, a prominent political figure in charge of overseeing the soft war that has been launched by Iran, did not contain anything new, nor did its issuance come out of the blue. However this statement could be viewed as the most informative and clear of all such statements in this regard. Taeb’s assertion that Syria is nothing more than the 35th province of Iran and that its fall is more dangerous to Tehran than the fall of Ahvaz offers new evidence of Iran’s increasing influence in Arab states, particularly Syria. In addition to this, the statement also contains important information regarding the organic and even structural and administrative relations between Tehran and Damascus.

The statement is based on a number of considerations, most prominently Iran’s assent towards conquering and occupying Syria and causing the Syrian state to disappear, to the point that the country now resembles Kuwait following Baghdad’s 1990 invasion when it became Iraq’s 19th province. If the Iraqi invasion was carried out by wide-scale military force then Iran’s conquest of Syria occurred through the firm use of soft power. Ultimately, both scenarios resulted in the same outcome. The Kuwaiti people were not sympathetic towards the occupation of their country and they strongly confronted this, while the Syrian will certainly oppose the Iranian invasion and oppose it even more fiercely. Therefore Iran’s blatant intervention in the Syrian crisis and its opposition to the Syrian people’s desire for change cannot be described as defending a regime of “resistance”, but rather defending Iranian sovereignty as represented by its 35th province, or in other words, defending Iran itself.

Iran has pursued this policy through the use of excessive military power; directly via the deployment of over sixty thousand fighters to Syria and indirectly by providing the Damascus regime with all means of support. We must therefore acknowledge the magnitude of the challenge that the Syrian insurgents are facing on the ground, which is fierce, and goes far beyond confronting an autocratic regime. Those who are fighting on the ground in Syria are actually fighting two armies: the regime’s army, as well as the Iranian army of occupation which is made up of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Quds Force, not to mention the Lebanese and Iraqi militias, among others. As a result of this, the suffering of the Arab people in Syria will be prolonged and political change will be delayed. As for the objective of the conflict, this is no longer the toppling of an autocratic regime; rather this has now become the liberation of an occupied state. This is something that has served only to double the legitimacy of the Syrian insurgents who have taken up arms.

No matter how strong, firm, and robust relations between the Iranian and Syrian regimes are, this must not lead to the forfeiture of Syria’s national identity or the country being added to a list of Iranian provinces. The fact that the Alawites are still in control of the situation and regime in Syria was not enough to prompt Iran to abstain from its plans and deal with Syria as a state with a similar sectarian and political identity in a fair and equal manner. This was also insufficient to prompt Iran to dismiss its expansionist agenda, or at least feign doing so in order to avoid embarrassing Damascus. Iran will not do this for one simple reason, namely that it is a nationalist and expansionist state par excellence. Iran is a state that exploits and uses religion and sectarian ideology to further expand its influence, regardless of the ideological nature of the targeted state, whether Shi’a, Sunni or otherwise.

The Arabs, who have been mesmerized by the Iranian propaganda, must reconsider their attitudes towards Tehran, which is the master of eliciting sentiment and portraying itself as the guardian of Shi’ism. However in reality, Iran’s real objectives go far beyond this and include stripping states of their sovereignty and changing their national identity.

Transforming Arab Syria into a mere Iranian province also represents a threat to Arab national security, in addition to a destabilization of regional stability and security. In either case, this must be handled in an extremely serious manner. We must not be content with mere condemnation, denunciation or suspension of Syria’s Arab League membership, although this is required in order to prevent the infiltration of the Arab League after Syria has become an agent of Iran and a fifth column, as acknowledged by Iran itself. Rather, our response must be reflected on the ground in order to change the nature of the ongoing struggle in Syria.

The Arabs have lost their deterrent and their strongholds are under threat from within, while their interests abroad are also in jeopardy. However a true awakening is on the way and the signs of this are clear to see. Although such statements serve to provoke and harm our dignity, they are ultimately desirable for they serve as a wake-up call to all those who have been negligent in this regard, and there are too many to mention.

So expect another shameless statement in the future from one of the pillars of velayat-e faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) in Iraq, and we can only expect this statement to be shocking by any and all standards. The issuance of such a statement is a foregone conclusion particularly as Iraq is closer to Iran than Iran is to Syria. Iraq is a Gulf state with a larger land mass and more natural wealth than Syria, while its location on the Iranian political map make it even more important.