Robbing the State
Seven years after the US and Britain invaded Iraq the country remains highly unstable and fragmented. So divided are parties and communities that no government has emerged from the general election three months ago, which was intended to be a crucial staging post in Iraq’s return to normality. Political leaders have not even started serious negotiations on sharing power.
“I have never been so depressed about the future of Iraq,” said one former minister. “The ruling class which came to power after 2003 is terrible. They have no policy other than to see how far they can rob the state.” None of this is very apparent to the outside world because US policy since 2008 has been to declare a famous victory and withdraw its troops. This week the US troop level drop to 92,000, lower for the first time than the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan. The US military wants to maintain the myth that it somehow turned round the war in Iraq by means of ‘the surge’ and emerged successfully from the conflict.
This claim was always exaggerated. The insurgency against the US occupation was rooted in the Sunni Arab community and when this was defeated by Shia government and militia forces in 2006-7 the Sunni had little choice but look for an accommodation with the Americans. The most important change in Iraq was more to do with outcome of the Shia-Sunni struggle than US military tactical innovations. This is why Americans generals are finding that the ‘surge’ in Afghanistan this year, supposedly emulating success in Iraq, is showing such disappointing results.
The foreign policy dominance of the military over civilian arm of the US government was reinforced by the Iraq war. Only this week the US Senate voted an extra $33 billion for the military ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, while the State Department only gets an extra $4 billion. This is on top of $130 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan this year already voted by Congress.
In Iraq violence is far less than three years ago and in this sense the country is ‘better’ than it was when 3,000 bodies of people killed in the sectarian slaughter were being buried every month. But periodic al-Qa’ida attacks are still enough to create a sense of unease. To prevent them the streets of Baghdad are so clogged with checkpoints and concrete blast walls that it is difficult to move through the city.