This situation is troublesome in the extreme. The collective refusal of any constituent in this complicated mix of political players to confront Bush on Iraq virtually guarantees that it will be the Bush administration, and not its successor, that will dictate the first year (or more) of policy in Iraq for the next president.
Rather than offering a word-for-word renouncement of the president’s rosy assertions concerning Iraq, I will instead initiate a process of debunking the myth of American success by doing that which no politician, current or aspiring, would dare do: predict the failure of American policy in Iraq. With the ink on the newspapers parroting the president’s words barely dry, evidence of his misrepresentation of reality begins to build with the announcement by the Pentagon that troop levels in Iraq will not be dropping, as had been projected in view of the “success” of the “surge,” but rather holding at current levels with the possibility of increasing in the future.
Iraq is dying; soon Iraq will be dead. True, there will be a plot of land in the Middle East which people will refer to as Iraq. But any hope of a resurrected homogeneous Iraqi nation populated by a diverse people capable of coexisting in peace and harmony is soon to be swept away forever.
Ongoing Kurdish disdain for the central authority in Baghdad has led to the Kurds declaring their independence from Iraqi law (especially any law pertaining to oil present on lands they control). The reality of the Kurds’ quest for independence can be seen in their support of the Kurdish groups, in particular the PKK, that desire independence from Turkey.
The next unraveling of the “surge” myth will be in western Iraq, where the much applauded “awakening” was falling apart even as Bush spoke. I continue to maintain that there is a hidden hand behind the Sunni resistance that operates unseen and uncommented on by the United States and its erstwhile Iraqi allies operating out of the Green Zone in Baghdad.
The United States’ embrace of the “awakening” will go down in the history of the Iraq conflict as one of the gravest strategic errors made in a field of grave errors. The U.S. military in Iraq has never fully understood the complex interplay between the Sunni resistance, al-Qaida in Iraq, and the former government of Saddam Hussein. Saddam may be dead, but not so his plans for resistance.
The violence perpetrated by al-Qaida in Iraq is largely responsible for the inability of the central government in Baghdad to gain any traction in the form of unified governance. The inability of the United States to defeat al-Qaida has destroyed any hope of generating confidence among the Iraqi population in the possibility of stability emerging from an ongoing American occupation. But al-Qaida in Iraq is not a physical entity which the United States can get its hands around, but rather a giant con game being run by Izzat al-Douri and the Sunni resistance. Because al-Qaida in Iraq is derived from the Sunni resistance, it can be defeated only when the Sunni resistance is defeated.
One of the spinoffs of the continued success of the Sunni resistance is the focus it places on the inability of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to actually govern. The U.S. decision to arm, train and facilitate the various Sunni militias in Iraq is a de facto acknowledgement that the American occupiers have lost confidence in the high-profile byproduct of the “purple finger revolution” of January 2005.
When Saddam’s security forces dissolved on the eve of the fall of Baghdad in March 2003, the security organs which had been tasked with infiltrating the Shiite community for the purpose of spying on Shiites were instead instructed to embed themselves deep within the structures of that community.
Further exacerbating the situation for the American occupiers of Iraq is the ongoing tension created by the war of wills between the United States and Iran. The Sunni resistance has no love for the Shiite theocracy in Tehran, or its proxies in Iraq, and views creating a rift between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade as a strategic imperative on the road to a Sunni resurgence. Any U.S. military strike against Iran will bring with it the inevitable Shiite backlash in Iraq.
The big loser in all of this, besides the people of Iraq, is of course the men and women of the armed forces of the United States. Betrayed by the Bush administration, abandoned by Congress and all but forgotten by a complacent American population and those who are positioning themselves for national leadership in the next administration, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who so proudly wear the uniform of the United States continue to fight and die, kill and be maimed in a war which was never justified and long ago lost its luster. Played as pawns in a giant game of three-dimensional chess, these brave Americans find themselves being needlessly sacrificed in a game where there can be no winner, only losers.
The continued ambivalence of the American population as a whole toward the war in Iraq, perhaps best manifested by the superficiality of the slogan “Support the Troops,” all the while remaining ignorant of what the troops are actually doing, has led to a similar amnesia among politicians all too willing to allow themselves to seek political advantage at the expense of American life and treasure. January 2008 cost the United States nearly 40 lives in Iraq.
While the American people, politicians and media may remain mute on the reality of Iraq, I won’t. There is no such thing as a crystal ball which enables one to see clearly into the future, and I am normally averse to making sweeping long-term predictions involving a topic as fluid as the ongoing situation in Iraq. At the risk of being wrong (and, indeed, I hope very much that I am), I will contradict the rosy statements of the president in his State of the Union address and will throw down a gauntlet in the face of ongoing public and media ambivalence by predicting that 2008 will be the year the “surge” in Iraq is exposed as a grand debacle. The cosmetic bandage placed over the gravely wounded Iraq will fall off, and the damaged body that is Iraq will continue its painful decline toward death.
Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including “Iraq Confidential” (Nation Books, 2005) , “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2006) and his latest, “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement” (Nation Books, April 2007).