America’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ Legacy to Iraq: Sectarian Violence Mounts with 95 Dead

Bombings killed at least 95 people on Monday in Iraq, with 10 car bombs going off in the capital of Baghdad alone. Two car bombs were detonated in the southern Shiite port city of Basra, and the mostly Sunni city of Samarra north of the capital was also attacked. Most of the violence seems to have been aimed at Shiites.

Associated Press reports:

The Sunni-Shiite violence is a legacy of the way George W. Bush and the Neoconservatives governed Iraq in 2003-2008. They deliberately installed the Shiites in power, in an exclusivist sort of way. I remember Neoconservative strategist Marc Gerecht Reuel talking about the goal of putting the Shiites in power. His colleague James Woolsey, a former CIA head, upbraided me at a conference for pointing out that some Iraqi Shiite groups are closely tied to the ayatollahs in Iran. I read somewhere that the Neoconservatives were convinced that unlike the Sunni Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, who sympathized with the Palestinians, the Shiite Iraqis as a functional minority would sympathize with Israel’s Jews. The Neocons were real cut-ups, with all kinds of fancy theories unconnected to reality.

The Americans played strong favorites for years. They avoided having a truth and reconciliation process. They castigated the Sunni Arabs, many of whom had had ties to the Baath Party (r. 1968-2003), as little short of Nazis, and encouraged the Shiites to fire thousands of them from government employment. At the same time the Americans closed down state factories and created massive unemployment. A ‘Debaathification Commission’ fired thousands of Sunni schoolteachers and brought in Shiite cronies instead.

Whereas in South Africa the truth and reconciliation commission sought truth over punishment, in Iraq the ascendant Shiites marginalized and victimized Sunnis with ties to the old Baath (or even just ties to Sunnis who had ties to . . .)

Those Sunnis who formed cells to engage in bombings and sniping to get the Americans back out, bequeathed a legacy of such cells, which remain active, now aimed at preventing the Shiite establishment that inherited Iraq from enjoying its ascendancy.

In all of Iraqi history from the Sumerians until 2003 there had never been a suicide bombing in that country. The technique was adopted to fight Bush’s occupation, having been pioneered by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

And now, having screwed up Iraq royally over years, Americans can’t be bothered to even report on events there in more than a sentence on their television news.

I am sympathetic to attempts to contextualize such violence, but in fact such coordinated bombings have been a feature of Iraqi life for many years. The only remarkable thing about these bombings is that they came so closely on the heels of others– in recent years the big bombing campaigns have been divided by long periods of quiescence.

It is not clear that the violence is especially connected to Syria. Similar bombings were carried out before Syria slipped into civil war. And while the Iraqi military repression of Sunni Arab protesters at Hawija about a month ago, in what some Sunnis called a massacre, has inflamed Sunni-Shiite tensions, the simple fact is that before Hawija there were coordinated bombings in several cities at once. The bombings don’t appear to have a specific political aim but rather an over-all strategic one, and to take place no matter what is happening politically.

Nor is the violence of the past week (or really the last month and a half) like that during the Iraqi Civil War of 2006-2007. Then, most of those killed were victims of neighborhood faction-fighting, and most victims were shot, not killed by bombs. The neighborhood fighting declined when they were ethnically cleansed. It is not likely that that sort of civil war will start back up again now, since there has been so much movement of populations.

What can be said is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of the Shiite Islamic Mission Party (al-Da`wa) has not exactly been very good about reaching out to Sunni Iraqis and bringing them into his State of Law Coalition.

To be fair, large numbers of Sunni Arab Iraqis seem unreconciled to the rise to power of the majority Shiites, who are more or less allied with the minority Kurds. Small terrorist groups among them carry out these bombings in hopes of deterring foreign investment and of keeping the new order from congealing. They cannot really change the political situation with such bombings, but they can stop nice new buildings from being built or the kind of big increase in prosperity from being achieved that make al-Maliki truly popular.

They are having some success in this strategy. When I was in Baghdad a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that there were not many new buildings or construction sites and the city seemed in some ways frozen in 1991. Although Iraq is an oil state, it hasn’t been able to kickstart Abu Dhabi style building. (A developer has started work on a nice big new mall).

The bombers are, then, spoilers rather than revolutionaries, and they appear to have no coherent plan beyond disruption. It is a little surprising that they manage to keep at it despite having had no political impact at all for many years.

It is also surprising that al-Maliki has not been able to mount an effective counter-terrorism policy. How hard could it be to infiltrate the cells and bust them? Of course, even better would be to so mollify the general Sunni Arab population that they become willing to turn in the people making car bombs (you can’t make car bombs on an industrial scale without the neighbors noticing).

A little over ten years ago, George W. Bush gave his infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech about how permanent warfare could now be deployed in a humanitarian fashion and without substantial loss of life to build up and maintain an global American empire. Wow.

16 Responses

  1. Does there ever come a point, however distant into the future, where someone stands up and says, ‘whatever the crimes of Bush and the US people, and they are many, whatever the stupidities of them, whatever the malevolence of them, perhaps it is time that we Iraqis stopped setting off bombs in front of our own places of religious worship. Just a start fellows’?

    • Democracy was never on the top ten list of reasons the neocons wanted Bush to invade Iraq. The word democracy only came into play when Bush had to explain to the American people why there were no weapons of mass destruction. The joke was told after the invasion of a Bush spokesperson who tried to change the reason for invading Iraq…He said…Oh,WMD’s is actually We Meant Democracy.

      The turmoil in Iraq plays well for the Project for a New American Century warmongers. Seeing the Muslim nations such as Libya, Afghanistan,Syria and Iraq in a state of chaos could not please the Israelis and the American Israeli Lobby more. As long as Muslims are fighting each other Israel can continue to steal land from the Palestinians under the radar.

      • Thank you for that pedantic lecture….now, moving back to my question, do you think we can ask, politely, that people stop exploding bombs in front of religious buildings in Iraq? As at least a start? ANd if they reject this counsel/suggestion we, at a minimum, place responsibility on those who do such actions? Just ask them? You got a lot of questions to ask of Americans? Fine, I’m all for that too.

  2. Curious professor. Quite rightly you condemn Bush, Blair and co for the devastation they have left in Iraq. However, you seem content with America and Britain supplying sophisticated weaponry and machines of war to the Syrian Terrorists where the death toll is now in the many thousands. We have even seen terrorists children cutting of captured soldiers head in the street and men cutting out the hearts of others and eating them. Why do you find dead Syrians less important that dead Iraqi people ?

    • And what about the babies in incubators?

      Using the term “terrorists” to describe the Syrian opposition as a whole comes directly from the propaganda arm of the Assad government. That usage is a very clear “tell.”

  3. Well, I think it should be added that there are growing calls for federalism — an autonomous Sunni Arab region a la Kurdistan. This may not be particularly realistic — what do you do with Baghdad and they wouldn’t have much fossil fuel resources and they’d be landlocked. But it is being bandied about. (OTOH a balkanized Syria might give them an opportunity for federation.) For sure, the Sunni minority will not again rule Iraq, but many are looking to get out from under their current second class citizenship through effective secession. I know Prof. Cole was a strong opponent of that idea when some American leaders (e.g. Joe Biden) were bandying it about as a solution, but it now has some indigenous support. This deserves notice and comment, I think.

  4. It is really sad to see the Iraqi and Syrian people paying the price for a geopolitical and sectarian war fought between the West, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other. It is ironic that practically all Persian Gulf littoral states and Saudi Arabia helped to enable the US invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein. Not only did they provide bases for the launching of the attacks, but even provided free fuel and massive financial help to the Coalition forces. When Saddam Hussein was toppled, naturally the Shi’a who constitute a big majority in Iraq came to power. This went contrary to Saudi wishes as they saw Iraq leaning towards their arch foe Iran.

    Ever since the toppling of Saddam, the Saudis and other Sunni Persian Gulf states have been arming and funding the militant jihadi Sunnis to engage in a campaign of terrorism mainly against the Shi’is in Iraq and against the Syrian government that was Iran’s only Arab ally during the Iran-Iraq war. The result has been the destabilization of both Iraq and Syria, and this will get much worse and will spread to the rest of the region. The West has to decide whether they intend to stabilize Iraq and Syria, in which case they have to push their Saudi and Qatari “allies” to stop supporting the terrorists, or whether they wish to weaken Iran at any cost, even at the cost of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Syrians, in which case their present policy makes some sense.

    • It is striking how silent the American government and media remain wrt Saudi and the other Sunni/Wahhabi/Salafi military interventionism — either the ad hoc migration of would be soldiers — to Iraq, to Libya, to Afghanistan, increasingly now to Syria.

      While the threat of “terrorism” and remembrances of 09/11 are still endlessly invoked as an American rallying cry, country after country seems to be falling (cough, almost like dominos, cough) to the influence of conservative fundamentalism, by default in many instances, the religious being the best organized and oldest of the still-standing after upheaval “political” parties, default because anything, even despots are preferred over what appears to be anarchy, and the real threat of hunger and lack of security.

      Libya appears to have decided to follow Iraq’s disastrous lead and ban from government service all member of the Gadaffi regime (I have read going back some 40 years and including dissidents and minorities HE recruited, much as Saddam advanced selected Shiia, to positions of prominence, as a gesture of national unity and diversity).

      Our Saudi news is about women drivers and bicyclists. Our government appears to be still stuck supporting the enemy of our enemy ….

  5. Nor is the violence of the past week (or really the last month and a half) like that during the Iraqi Civil War of 2006-2007.

    It is more like the bombing campaign that preceded and instigated the Iraqi Civil War – the series of atrocities against Shiite targets that culminated in the bombing of the Golden Mosque. That, too, was aimed at “deterring foreign investment and of keeping the new order from congealing.”

    That campaign had a large foreign element to it. It was mainly carried out by non-Iraqi, Sunni terrorists who were trying to produce a Shiite backlash against Iraq’s Sunnis, in an effort to render the country ungovernable. It worked – they got their revenge killings and the spiral into civil war.

    Professor Cole, have you done any digging into what role, if any, foreign Sunni jihadists are playing in these attacks?

  6. >>> The bombers are, then, spoilers rather than revolutionaries, and they appear to have no coherent plan beyond disruption. <<<

    Different tactics, but same goal as our republicans.

  7. “…….Neoconservatives were convinced that…the Shiite Iraqis as a functional minority would sympathize with Israel’s Jews.”

    This is not accurate – the Shi’ite community in Iraq has no real affinity to Israel.

    Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential Shi’ite cleric within Iraq, strongly condemned Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, which chiefly targeted the Shi’ite Islam community within Lebanon.

    On his official website, Sistani had declared it impermissible to sell Israeli products or to purchase products from any company that donates part of its income to Israel:

    link to sistani.org

    In November of 2012, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, one of Israel’s most vocal opponents, announced his plans to meet with Iraq’s most prominent Shi’ite clerics.

  8. One of the unstated goals of the Iraq War was to make a regional power into a semi-failed state. The reason for this was to assure that it did not rise back to regional power in the foreseeable future, and assure the ascendancy of America’s clients, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel. “Mission Accomplished” was indeed done. The Syrian War is just another step in that process, allowing sectarian violence to overwhelm that state and send it back to the “Stone Age”. Empires have done this throughout history, dividing all against each other, to make populations ineffective, even in the good ‘ol USA.

    • The actions of the Bush administration are inconsistent with this analysis. They made a major commitment to move the significant military presence in Saudi Arabia onto permanent bases in Iraq. What country would want to make a failed state the host country for its regional military presence? The US puts major bases in places like Japan, Germany, and Kuwait – strong states without problems of internal disorder.

      They also invested far too much money, political capital, and credibility into the nation-building project. They made the success of the new government of Iraq the measure of their decision to start the war.

      They didn’t want a failed state; they wanted a strong, friendly ally that would show the rest of the region how it was done. They were going to install Ahmed Chalabi and a flat tax, and glory in their great achievement.

  9. No doubt the US screwed everyone royally, and the Maliki govt has been pathetic.

    But some time has lapsed since the foreign invaders left and an unfair onus put on the earlier suppressed Shiite majority now in power who are constantly bombed. That impact creates the biggest sectarian divide.

    There seems like comparatively less outrage and more over-rationalizing excuses on the terrorist bombing condoned and adopted by the once hegemonic minority Iraqi Sunnis (or other Arab Sunnis) now out of power, totally overlooking the local and global religious political Salafi/Wahhabi/Sunni movements, despite whatever marginalization or slight, such justification for ideological violence is insane.

    When a Sunni majority Pakistan has been unable to ‘infiltrate’ the few undesirable Wahhabi/Salafi/Deoband/AhleHadith/Sunni extremist terrorist groups (as opposed to desirable ‘strategic assets’), despite having a fairly established intelligence institution (regardless of their double games, sympathies, etc) for a dysfunctional state, I doubt a Shiite Iraqi govt could get anywhere close to running such a program, considering their intelligence institution was formerly run by mostly Baathist Sunnis under Saddam.

Comments are closed.