September 22, 2005
By Ken Sanders
have to hand it to the Bush administration. No matter how bad things
might be in Iraq, and no matter how dim the prospects are for Iraq's
future, Bush & Co. still manage to look the public straight in the
eye, smirk, and insist that the decision to invade Iraq was a good
one. Call them determined, even stubborn. Call them dishonest, perhaps
delusional. Regardless, the fact is that by invading Iraq, the Bush
administration opened a Pandora's Box with global consequences.
Bush and his apologists have frequently promised that the invasion
of Iraq will spread democracy and stability throughout the entire
Middle East. That naive declaration could not be farther from the
truth. Not only is Iraq itself in the clutches of a civil war, the
U.S.-led invasion threatens to destabilize the whole of the Middle
East, if not the world. It may have irrevocably done so already.
By most definitions and standards, Iraq is already in the throes
of civil war. Whether defined as an internal conflict resulting
in at least 1,000 combat-related fatalities, five percent of which
are sustained by government and rebel forces; or as organized violence
designed to change the governance of a country; or as a systematic
and coordinated sectarian-based conflict; the requirements of civil
war have long since been satisfied.
While our television screens are saturated by images of chaos
and death in Iraq, the stories beneath the images are even more
disturbing. Purely sectarian attacks, largely between Iraq's Sunni
and Shiite populations, have been rising dramatically for months.
According to Iraqi government statistics, such "targeted" attacks
have doubled over the past twelve months. Police in Iraq are finding
scores of bodies littering the streets, bodies of people who were
blindfolded or handcuffed, shot or beheaded. The Baghdad morgue
is constantly overwhelmed by bodies showing tell-tale signs of torture
and gradual, drawn-out, agonizing death.
In Baghdad, Sunni neighborhoods live in fear of Shiite death squads
like the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council for
Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraq's leading Shiite governing
coalition. Such death squads operate openly, in full uniform, and
with the deliberate ignorance, if not outright sanction, of the
Iraqi government. On a single day in August, the bodies of 36 Sunni
Arabs were found blindfolded, handcuffed, tortured and executed
in a dry riverbed in the Shiite-dominated Wasit province.
At the other end, Shiites face each day burdened by the terror
and trauma of being the targets of constant suicide bombings. The
army and police recruits killed by suicide bombs are predominantly
Shia. In Ramadi, a Sunni stronghold, Shiites are fleeing their homes,
driven out by murder and intimidation. On August 17, 43 Shiites
were killed by bombings at a bus stop and then at the hospital where
the casualties were to be treated.
There are less-violent examples of the deepening rifts between
Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites since the U.S.-led invasion. By some estimates,
nearly half of the weddings performed in Baghdad before the invasion
were of mixed Sunni/Shiite couples. Since the invasion and its resulting
instability and strife, such mixed weddings are all but extinct.
This new-found reluctance of Sunnis and Shiites to marry each other
is just another indication of the increasing isolation and animosity
between the two populations.
The recently finalized Iraqi constitution does little to bridge
Iraq's growing sectarian divides. The culmination of sectarian feuds
passing for political debates, Iraq's constitution only ratifies
the sectarian divisions of the nation. In the north are the Kurds
who long ago abandoned their Iraqi identity, refusing to even fly
the Iraqi flag. In the south is a burgeoning Shiite Islamic state,
patterned after and influenced by Iran. Both groups have divvied
up Iraq's oil reserves amongst themselves. Left in the nation's
oil-free center are the Sunni Arabs, dismissed as obstructionist
by the Kurds and Shiites. So unconcerned are the Kurds and Shiites
with a unified Iraq that they both maintain their own large and
Of course, the constitution still has to be ratified. If it is
ratified, it will likely be by a Shiite/Kurdish minority, effectively
maintaining the status quo that motivates, in part, the Sunni-led
insurgency. If, on the other hand, the constitution is defeated,
there's little reason not to believe that the three major factions
in Iraq won't resort to forcibly taking what they want. Either way,
in the words of one Iraqi civilian, "God help us."
The discord in Iraq is not limited to fighting between Shiites
and Sunnis. In Basra, for instance, rival Shiite militia groups
constantly fight each other. The notorious Badr Brigade, backed
by SCIRI, have repeatedly clashed with dissident cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr's Mehdi militia. The Badr Brigade frequently works in conjunction
with Basra police and are suspected of recently kidnapping and killing
two journalists. Suspecting that the Basra police have been infiltrated
by both the Badr and Mehdi militias, the British military sent in
two undercover operatives to make arrests. The British operatives
were themselves arrested by the Basra police. When the British went
to liberate their men, they found themselves exchanging fire with
the Basra police, their heretofore allies, and smashing through
the prison walls with armored vehicles.
Iraqis aren't merely growing increasingly alienated from each
other, as well as progressively opposed to coalition forces. Iraq's
estrangement from the rest of the Middle East and the Arab world
is widening as well. Seen more and more as a proxy of the Iranian
government, the Shiite/Kurd dominated Iraq finds itself at odds
with the Sunni-dominated Middle East. For instance, since the U.S.-led
invasion, not a single Middle East nation has sent an ambassador
to Baghdad. And, despite promises to do so, the Arab League (of
which Iraq was a founder) has yet to open a Baghdad office.
There are, clearly, many reasons other than sectarianism for Iraq's
estrangement from the Middle East and Arab nations, security being
the foremost. However, Iraqi diplomacy, or lack thereof, is also
to blame. From chiding Qatar for sending aid to Katrina victims
but not to Iraq, to arguing with Kuwait over border issues, to blaming
Syria for the insurgency, Iraq's fledgling government seems to have
taken diplomacy lessons from the Bush administration. In fact, with
the exception of Iran, Iraq has butted heads recently with nearly
every Middle East nation.
Iraq's constitution hasn't won it any friends in the Arab world,
either. For instance, Iraq drew strong condemnation from the Arab
world when a draft of its constitution read that just "its Arab
people are part of the Arab nation." Only after the outcry from
the Arab League and numerous Arab nations, did Iraq change its constitution's
offending language. (The argument by Bush's apologists that the
Iraqi constitution's alleged enshrinement of democratic principles
threatens neighboring countries is unconvincing. Syria and Egypt
both have constitutions that "guarantee" political and individual
freedoms. In practice, however, such guarantees have proven meaningless.
Why, then, should they feel threatened?)
Iraq's varied relationships with Middle Eastern nations will be
immeasurably significant should Iraq descend further into civil
war. For example, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan would most likely
come to the support of Iraq's Sunnis. (There are already signs that
the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has impacted Saudi Arabia's Sunni
population. According to a recent study, the invasion of Iraq has
radicalized previously non-militant Saudis, sickened by the occupation
of an Arab nation by non-Arabs.) Iran would only increase its already
staunch support for Iraq's Shiites. Turkey would also likely be
drawn in, hoping to prevent any Kurdish success in Iraq from spilling
across its border. Moreover, Iraq's violent Sunni-Shiite discord
could easily spark similar strife in Middle East countries like
Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
In such a worst-case scenario, Iraq's instability would spread
and infect an already unstable region. If the Gulf region were to
further destabilize, so too would the global economy as oil prices
would skyrocket, plunging the U.S. and so many others into recession.
Put another way, Bush's illegal, ill-conceived, short-sighted,
and naive venture in Iraq could reasonably result in total chaos
in not just Iraq and the Middle East, but the world over.
A Pandora's Box, if there ever was one.
Ken Sanders is a writer in Tucson whose publishing credits
include OpEdNews, Z Magazine, Common Dreams, Democratic Underground,
Dissident Voice, and Political Affairs Magazine, among others. You
can read his blog at politicsofdissent.blogspot.com.