Saturday, July 16, 2005

Certain meltdown

With the recent news of a plan by UK and US officials to slowly withdraw troops from Iraq, I thought it might be high time to put a little spotlight on what is all but inevitable to happen following American disengagement.

Here's the plain truth, folks... Iraq is plunging into certain meltdown. It's been in the cards for a while. We just happen to be the stupid little idiots who opened Pandora's box.

A little history.

Prior to the US invasion, Iraq was a nation of civil law and secularism, albeit only as a result of its dictator's brutal reign. Regardless of the demagoguery by Republicans to paint Saddam as Joe Stalin reincarnate, Saddam kept his house in order and kept a tight lid on any aggression between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The suicide bombings, the beheadings, the violence, ALL of that was nonexistent under Saddam's regime. His intimidation tactics in the 70s, his brutality, were the necessary means to establishing order, strict discipline and towards bringing into line the two conflicting sects.

But now, with Hussein gone and with no real way to contain the chaos, much less the religious animosity between Shia and Sunni Iraqis, sectarian violence is exploding across the country. And old conflicts, old clashes of belief, are becoming the gunpowder this war will set alight.

While Americans believe that US is the prime target right now (going so far as to advocate the annihilation of our troops because "at least we're fighting them over there"), there's more to this conflict than meets the myopia of our media outlets. Shia solidarity with the US-sponsored government and the overthrow of formerly Baathist Sunnis is turning Iraq into a country divided. Once we withdraw, there will be no other enemy amongst Shia and Sunni, save for each other. Hell, they're already starting to tear each other apart (Looking at it closer, I almost wonder if this was the entire plan all along, as Iraq has been a prime powderkeg for whipping Islamic sects into a frenzy for centuries now).

The Al Qaeda cell in Iraq is lead by Zarqawi, a Sunni Jordanian and Al Qaeda itself, the core of it anyway (Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri), is lead by a Sunni Saudi and Sunni Egyptian. 99% of the bombings in Iraq following the US invasion have come from Sunnis: Either puritanical Salafists or former Baathists eager to take back control.

On the other side of Sunni Iraqis, you have Shia Iraqis. Too used to the civil order under Saddam's regime and too fed up with the inept handling of the violence by American troops, they're growing more and more agitated by the steady barrage of bombings slaughtering their children and destroying their religious sites. While Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most influential religious leader in Iraq, has continually urged Shia Iraqis not to respond to Salafist attacks, Moqtada al Sadr's Madhi Army, and the vigilante payback it dishes out to Sunni extremists, is the only line of defense against Shia Iraqi genocide. Militias are becoming the only answer. God knows, the daily intimidated, American-trained police can't handle it.

And with Syria and Saudi Arabia fueling that Salafist insurgency from the West and with the predominantly Shia Iran at Iraq's East, Iraq is very much on the knife-edge of outright sectarian war. Any doubters of Iraq's descent should read the recent article in The Weekend Australian. It makes a cogent and fact-based case tackling the inevitable prospects of a rising conflict there. This is what the US has reaped. This is what Operation Iraqi Freedom will bring the Iraqi people. More death. More suffering. More war. Not democracy.

But there is hope, scant and potentially scary hope to Western interests, though it may be. Iran's recent declaration of solidarity with the Iraqi government and its promise of financial support & military training, gives life to the chance that a democracy may yet exist in that region. And here's why.

Ayatollah Sistani is about as moderate a Shia cleric as they come. His fatwa, or legal pronouncement, that Shia clergy should try stay out of politics, and his own moderate personal politics when it comes to religion and state, is considered by many to be an invigoration of sorts to Iran's current liberal reformers (Refomers in Iran petitioned Sistani to throw his voice into their political efforts last year. He declined). With the reform movement growing (despite the presidential election of extreme hardliner Ahmadinejad) the cross pollination between Iraqi Shias and Irani Shias could end up fostering a less extreme culture of government in both countries, lending itself towards the reform movement cause in Iran and ultimately giving Shias greater strength. An Iraqi Civil War could also distract Al Qaeda from its obsession with 'Western occupation' and move the focus of their aims towards Shias and an inter-religious strife. It's a shitty outcome. But in much of Islamic history, warfare within Islam has tempered and sharpened the faith. Given it cause to reexamine itself, reform itself. This could be the catalyst that moderates have wanted for some time.

In the meantime, we must work towards removing our troops from Iraq as quickly and as safely as possible. Our continued prescence there not only keeps the Iraqis from sorting out their nation's political identity for themselves... but also postpones what is inevitably a reckoning between Islamic factions that could work out auspiciously for America and for the world.

We've done enough damage as it is. The time has come to bring our soldiers home.


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