June 13, 2014.
There has never been a satisfactory explanation why George W. Bush and his Praetorian Guard nursed such a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein.
But they came to power in 2000 intent on vendetta, and within hours of the September 2001 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington the closest officials and advisers around Bush were looking for a Saddam connection. Within days, senior officers in the Pentagon realized with alarm the administration had already loosed the unstoppable juggernaut that would lead to the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam in 2003.
In the intervention months an entirely spurious paper trail was fabricated in Washington and London, creating the fantasy desired by the ideologue dunderheads around Bush. Saddam, they claimed, not only conspired with Osama bin Laden in the attacks on the United States, he had also developed weapons of mass destruction that threatened the entire Middle East and beyond.
Blitzkriegs built on lies never end well. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in over a decade of warfare in Iraq. But now it gets even worse. It is beginning to look as though the Bush coven has created the conditions for bin Laden’s heirs to realize their master’s dream.
Well armed fighters of the fanatical Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaida spin-off group, are marching on the Iraqi capital Baghdad after capturing the central towns of Tikrit and Mosul, the old heartland of Saddam’s regime. The ISIS is, like al-Qaida, a militant group from the Sunni Muslim faction of Islam. The government of Iraq is led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, whose intolerance for the Sunnis has given ISIS the foothold to become the voice of the Sunni regions.
Bin Laden’s dream was to recreate the Caliphate of Islam’s early days when all Muslims came under one government, motivated by religious law and doctrine. His disciples in ISIS may well be able to re-establish a form of Caliphate in partitioned Sunni sections of Iraq, if not the whole country.
But ISIS, whose regime would mirror those of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in the areas it and other al-Qaida-linked groups control in West Africa, is a bigger threat than just to Iraq. The group already controls Sunni areas of neighbouring Syria, which it has captured in the civil war against the Shia administration of President Bashar al-Assad.
The establishment of an ISIS caliphate on territory crossing borders in the Middle East might well set off osmotic political pressures that draw in other disenchanted Sunni populations. Neighbouring communities such as Jordan and the Palestinian enclaves of Gaza and the West Bank could well be vulnerable. Conceivably even Egypt, where the main opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood, whose doctrines inspired bin Laden, could be drawn in.
Prime Minister Maliki’s American-trained and predominantly Shia forces have done nothing but cut and run in the face of the ISIS onslaught. Maliki’s response today has been to bomb ISIS-controlled Sunni areas in an effort to stem the march on Baghdad. Anticipating that Maliki would resort to bombing, thousands of Sunni Iraqi’s have already fled to the north of the country, which has been a quasi-independent region control by the minority Kurds since the early 1990s.
This response by Maliki will only entrench ISIS’ grip on the Sunni regions and will not be enough to halt their advance. To do that, Maliki will probably have to turn to Iraq’s eastern neighbour, Iran. Iran is the fount of the Shia faction of Islam and is already sending troops and arms to aid its Shia Syrian ally, President Assad, in his fight against ISIS and other Sunni rebels.
The Syrian civil war is in many ways a proxy conflict between Shia Iran and Saudi Arabia, the birthplace and doctrinal leader of Sunni Islam. If Maliki calls in Iran to save him from ISIS, it will make a direct conflict between Tehran a Riyadh that much more likely.
Variations of these scenarios were foreseen in grim detail by many people in and outside western governments as they argued in the early 2000s against the Bush administration’s determination to invade Iraq.
Upheaval in the Middle East is a threat to everyone, but often overlooked is how conclusively the Iraq invasion fouled the west’s moral authority in a world where new centres of cultural, political and military power are rapidly emerging.
The outrage expressed by the Barack Obama administration at the annexation of Crimea by Russia and President Vladimir Putin’s dispatch of agents provoctateurs to stimulate separatism in eastern Ukraine has been widely dismissed as hypocritical. The invasion of Iraq provides abundant substance for the charge of hypocrisy. It also limits how much vigour Obama, or any American President, can put into countering China’s imperial expansion into the South China and East China seas.
It is too soon to say the start of the end of the American imperium can be dated to the invasion of Iraq. The U.S. remains a hugely resilient society that will doubtless make a good fist of resolving its economic and political problems, including the alarming rise of its Christian Taliban, the Republicans’ Tea Party.
But future historians of the American century may yet look back and underscore the records of a meeting of Bush’s senior advisors held in the White House Cabinet Room in the late afternoon on September 12, 2001. Al-Qaida and its havens in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan had been identified by Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet as the target when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chimed in.
“I’m not even sure that Afghanistan is the right place to start,” he said. “What if Iraq is involved?” From those five words flow the events we see today.
Copyright © Jonathan Manthorpe 2014
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