Saturday, January 21, 2012

Iraq's Thirty Years War?

Paul Rogers (at Open Democracy) has another installment of what's become his "Thirty Year War" series, which he started at the onset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.  He predicted then - even as the neocon/neanderthal warbands were dancing in jubilation around their campfires - that Mr. Bush's Mesopotamian adventure might not pan out, and that its consequences might linger ominously and long , perhaps as long as 30 years.

Boy, was Rogers right.  The US's military adventure went bust, and Iraq seems to be well along the road to busting itself up.  Its government and politics are in turmoil.  Even with oil production inching upward, its economy is in shambles, with no real prospects for a recovery rapid enough to alleviate the destitution and psychological trauma that the US occupation inflicted on tens of thousands of its people - most notably, perhaps, its young people.   A recent WaPo report featuring the current research of Iraq historian Eric Davis details much of this, along with consequences that bode very ill indeed for the future of Iraq as a unitary nation-state:

Some young Iraqis say they are glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein but feel less safe — and therefore less free — than before 2003, a sentiment reflected in dozens of interviews in eight provinces.

They view their government as a pseudo-regime that deprives them of basic rights, and they worry that their peers are being lured into the ethnic, sectarian and partisan traps of their elders. They think the world is fixating on revolutions in other Arab countries while ignoring a rotting democracy in Baghdad and their generation’s struggle to live the freedom that was promised to them 81 / 2 years ago.

“Our generation has seen enough,” said Baghdad resident Mustafa Hamza el-Ebadi, 21, who will graduate this spring with a degree in communication and engineering and wants to move to the United States. “When we were kids, there were economic sanctions. When we were teenagers, there were bodies in the street. And now there is no space to live.”

About half of Iraq’s 33 million people are 19 or younger, and no Iraqi born since Saddam came to power in 1979 has known the country to be without war or dictatorship.

Iraqis in their late teens and 20s “grew up in a very dangerous climate” that did not foster a “civilian mentality,” according to Abduljabbar Ahmad Abdullah, dean of the political science college at the University of Baghdad.

“The political socialization of that individual is not correct,” Abdullah said over tea in his campus office in October. “Every student belongs to his clan, not his country.”

When Iraqis talk about the fate of the younger generation, they use expressions similar to “crossroads” and “tipping point.”

“We are at a very critical period, with the deterioration of security and the elevation of corruption,” activist Hanaa Edwar said at a September peace festival in Baghdad’s Zawra Park. “Elections are not enough. We need active participation from young people. They are not yet polluted by politicians. They need more than hope. They need to be empowered.”

Over the past year, Rutgers University political science professor Eric Davis has conducted multiple focus groups of hundreds of Iraqis between the ages of 12 and 30. Broadly speaking, they said that they view sectarianism as damaging to their future and that they prefer not to belong to a political party. Most said that their lives have improved “somewhat” or “not much” since the U.S.-led invasion but indicated that they would not leave the country if given the opportunity, according to discussions compiled by Davis, a former director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers.

The problem, according to Davis, is that the economic and political structures are rigged to exclude most Iraqis, especially the young. Iraq ranks No. 175 of 178 as one of the world’s most corrupt countries on a list compiled by Transparency International.

Young Iraqis “have strong scores for civic motivation but no institutional outlet for that — that’s very damning,” said Davis, who will publish his findings next year in a special report for the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Iraq is just beginning to grapple with the repeated traumas it has suffered. Of the 8,000 clients at the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims — which opened in 2005 to serve victims of Hussein’s regime — one-quarter are now dealing with psychological issues related to trauma since the American-led invasion.

“Some teenagers have a kind of phobia of going out because they’ve been raised in an environment of car explosions and kidnappings,” said Yousif Abdulmuhsin Salih, the center’s project manager. “And if parents are not treated, they can transfer their psychological condition to their children.”

Violence and dysfunction are part of growing up in Iraq and, as a result, people fend for themselves, said a 29-year-old named Mohamed, who insisted his last name be withheld because he has worked for the U.S. military and fears reprisal.


Unfortunately, as Rogers' essay makes clear, the violence and dysfunction inside Iraq may well extend into the foreseeable future.  As the American military presence has wound down, bombings have been increasing, and are being perpetrated all over the country - from Basra to Mosul.  There's absolutely no reason to believe that's going to stop, even with Iraqi PM al-Maliki detaining (and reportedly torturing) dozens of "Baathist terrorists" (read: Sunni Arab political opposition).  

And it's not exactly as if the threat of further destabilization at the hands of the US has evaporated.  As Rogers makes plain, American boots are no longer on Iraq's ground (save those of those lovable, ubiquitous contractor/mercenaries) - but the US Navy has ramped up its nearby presence:

The carrier battle-group (that is, an aircraft-carrier supported by a flotilla) headed by the USS John C Stennis has now departed to Singapore and thence back to the United States, to be replaced by the Carl Vinson carrier-battle group. In addition, though, yet another such group headed by the USS Abraham Lincoln has joined the fifth fleet in the region. While described as a "routine" deployment, this means that the Pentagon plans to keep two carrier battle-groups in the region for at least until April 2012.

The target, of course, is Iran.  Even though the Israelis are backing away a bit from their attack-Iran rhetoric, and the Obama people are downplaying the Iranian nuclear threat, many in the US are trying to counteract that by banging their drums even louder.  The novelist Mark Helprin recently wrote (in the WSJ - surprise!) of Iran as a "mortal threat" to the US; and the GOP presidential candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul, who likely won't be staying in the race much longer) are vying to see who can sound the toughest on the mullahs.

None of these people seem to be taking into account what would be pottentially catastrophic consequences of an attack on Iran: the thousands of Iranian (mostly Shii) refugees who might stream out of the country, likely into the southern (mostly Shii) region of Iraq.  Tens of thousands of Iranians make religious pilgrimages to Najaf and Karbala every year.  If they returned as refugees, one might predict that they would be welcomed at first, but as they became a drain on southern Iraq's already struggling economy and governance - and people - the Iraq "democracy" that neocons continue to tout as what Fouad Ajami called the "foreigners' gift") might crumble into complete chaos.

In which, Prof. Rogers' prediction of a Thirty Years War might prove to have been much too conservative.

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