To mark the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War, here are some brief blog entries Juan Cole made in the run-up to the war expressing caution and pessimism about the triumphalist rhetoric issuing from the White House and many US news organizations.
Juan Cole 01/28/2003
(Remarks delivered in late 2002).
The Journal of the International Institute ( University of Michigan)
Winter 2003, vol. 10, no. 2, p. 3
Costs of War
The regional costs of a US war on Iraq are potentially great: The war will inevitably be seen in the Arab world as a neo-colonial war. It will be depicted as a repeat of the French occupation of Algeria or the British in Egypt-or indeed, the British in Iraq. These were highly unpopular and humiliating episodes. The US, even if it has a quick military victory, is unlikely to win the war diplomatically in the Arab world. Pan-Arabism has been more aspiration than reality in the past century, but this US war against Iraq might well promote the formation of a stronger regional political bloc.
As a result of resentment against this neocolonialism, the likelihood is that al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations will find it easier to recruit angry young men in the region and in Europe for terrorist operations against the US and its interests. The final defeat of the Baath Party will be seen as a defeat of its ideals, which include secularism, improved rights for women and high modernism. Arabs in despair of these projects are likely to turn to radical Islam as an alternative outlet for their frustrations. The Sunnis of Iraq could well turn to groups like al-Qaida, having lost the ideals of the Baath. Iraqi Shi’ites might become easier to recruit into Khomeinism of the Iranian sort, and become a bulwark for the shaky regime in Shi’ite Iran.
A post-war Iraq may well be riven with factionalism that impedes the development of a well-ensconced new government. We have seen this sort of outcome in Afghanistan. Commentators often note the possibility for Sunni-Shi’ite divisions or Arab Kurdish ones. These are very real. If Islamic law is the basis of the new state, that begs the question of whether its Sunni or Shi’ite version will be implemented. It is seldom realized that the Kurds themselves fought a mini-civil war in 1994-1997 between two major political and tribal factions. Likewise the Shi’ites are deeply divided, by tribe, region and political ideology. Many lower-level Baath Party members are Shi’ite, but tens of thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites are in exile in Iran and want to come back under the banner of ayatollahs.
Internal factionalism is unlikely to reach the level of Yugoslavia after the fall of the communists, since US air power can be invoked to stop mass slaughter. But there could be a good deal of trouble in the country, and as the case of Afghanistan shows, the US cannot always stop faction fighting.
A new government in Iraq raises questions about its relationship to its neighbors. Turkey is strongly opposed to Iraqi Kurdish control of the oil fields of Kirkuk. The Kurds have all but announced that they will try to grab them when fighting breaks out. The Turks have said that in case this happens, Turkey may well invade Iraq to stop it. It is unacceptable to the Turkish government to have well-funded autonomous Kurds on their borders. They fear Kurdish nationalism, which might well tear eastern Turkey away from Ankara. Shi’ite Iran will certainly attempt to increase its influence among Iraqi Shi’ites once the Baath is defeated.
Shi’ite political parties may well turn to Tehran for funding. A US-occupied country where the Iranian ayatollahs have substantial influence is a disaster waiting to happen. An Iraq war may have a negative impact on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. A democratic Iraq, if any such thing emerges from an American occupation, will not necessarily be less opposed to Israeli policies toward Palestinians and the creeping annexation of the West Bank. Iraqi individuals and political organizations, freed from Baath monopoly, might well support the Palestinians, including Palestinian guerrillas, at a higher level than does Saddam.
The chaos of war could allow for an outbreak of major violence between Palestinians and Israelis. The Baath may target Israel with scuds tipped with poison gas, e.g. Israeli retaliation will make the war look even more like a joint colonialist and Zionist effort among Arabs, and further inflame passions against the US in the region.
Those who support an Iraq war argue that the potential negative fall-out consists of improbable scenarios that are no more likely to come to fruition than did the dire forecasts about overthrown Arab regimes in 1990. They argue that if we can get a genuinely democratic, modern Iraq out of the war, its beneficial effects will radiate throughout the region. They may be right. But it is worth remembering that we were promised a democratic Kuwait in 1991 and a democratic, stable Afghanistan in 2002, and have yet to see either.
Tue Jan 21 02:57:47 2003
From: Juan Cole
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Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2003 02:56:21 -0500
Subject: [infoco] Rumsfeld on the future of Iraq
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US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today sketched out his vision of a
post-Saddam Iraq. He said it would be a country that was not attempting to
acquire weapons of mass destruction. And, he said it would have a
government that tended toward what we would think of as a democracy, but
that neither a US or a British template would be imposed on it. It would be
authentically Iraqi. He gave the example of the Loya Jirga (tribal council)
in Afghanistan that made Hamid Karzai president of that country last summer.
I find all this extremely dismaying. First of all, either Iraq is going to
have a representative, parliamentary government, or it is not. The UK *is*
the template for that. Its parliament is not called the “mother of
parliaments” for nothing. When we say India is a democracy or Australia is
a democracy, it is because they have a parliamentary template! There is no
indigenous “Iraqi” form of “democracy” that would pass muster in today’s
world. I am afraid that if Rumsfeld is talking this way, what the Defense
Department really intends to impose on Iraq is some form of authoritarian
rule that has enough trappings of public consent that it can be fobbed off
on the rest of us as vaguely democratic.
His choice of Afghanistan as an example was particularly inept. The Loya
Jirga turns out to have been a mugging. The warlords and the secret police
ran that thing and ensured a pre-ordained outcome. The “delegates” hadn’t
been elected by the people. In its aftermath, Karzai has gotten to be mayor
of Kabul, with powerful warlords running Herat and Mazar, etc. There
continues to be faction-fighting and Taliban-like oppression of women. The
country is fragmented. If this is what Rumsfeld foresees for Iraq, then he
is taking us into a huge catastrophe.
Head Of French Intelligence Insists
Juan Cole 02/18/2003 (Edit)
*The head of French intelligence insists that there is no proven link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Pierre Bousquet de Florian told Television Channel 2,”One thing is certain. There is no physical link between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.” He admitted that even though Saddam and Osama despise one another, “sometimes they have interests in common.” He also worried that a second Gulf War would fuel more terrorism, saying tht even if “the prospect of a (military) intervention in Iraq does not change the nature of the threat, or heighten it, it helps to maintain it.” That, folks, is what intelligence assessment looks like when it isn’t under pressure from lobbying by the DoD.
Juan Cole 02/27/2003
A poster to one of the lists I am on wrote:
- “US policy is to allow no sanctuaries anywhere on the globe for anti-American terror groups. No training camps. No organizations, no fronts. No funding. No meetings. No travel. Identified leaders will be taken out. Operations such as those which existed a year or two ago in Afghanistan and Hamburg will not be allowed. Now that is American policy since 9-11 regardless of Iraq, but a major military victory in the Iraq campaign will, I suggest, drive the point home to everyone concern and provide the US with a major military base in the Middle East to monitor the situation.”
I (JC) replied:
I am certainly all for preventing any attacks on the US by terrorist groups anywhere. It just seems to me that the ambition outlined above is a mere abstraction not grounded in the realities of the world situation. For anyone who has actually been to Yemen or Pakistan, or for that matter the not so nice parts of Marseilles, the idea that this level of control could be achieved seems nonsensical. There is also the question of whether, in trying to achieve it, the US will make more new enemies than it is worth. The idea that terrorists willing to commit suicide will be afraid of the US after it invades Iraq is just a misreading of human nature. Terrorism is produced precisely by humiliation and hopelessness and living in fear (which is not a life worth living). It cannot be stopped by inducing more fear and humiliation. You will note that Ariel Sharon has been trying out this tactic for 30 years and it hasn’t worked. . .
If we cannot even catch the leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who already struck us, in areas we *control*, how in the world can we hope to prevent meetings of terrorists about whom we do not even know in places we don’t? These are tiny groups, often clan-based, which have only vague affiliations to umbrella organizations like al-Qaeda. You think you can stop a radical set of friends and relatives from meeting in Antwerp? In Hadhramawt? Unlikely. And, it is not as if we have loads of CIA field operatives who speak Arabic and can infiltrate such groups! It will take years to develop that capacity. We don’t even have an Arabist at the top echelons of the National Security Council.
Nor is it clear that going about having serial wars with Iraq, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, and apparently ultimately China [these are the ideas thrown out by the Richard Perle/ Paul Wolfowitz circle that controls our Defense Department] is going in any way to help with this task of surveillance and infiltration. Surely serial wars in the region are a distraction from the struggle against terrorism, especially since those
countries are not doing anything to the US.
Moreover, the idea that a US military occupation of Iraq will deter as oppose to provoking more attacks on US interests is awfully optimistic. The main problem an organization like al-Qaeda has is to recruit further members and keep current members from melting away in fear. They recruit best when the young men are angriest. What are they angry about? The Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza; the almost daily shooting by the Israeli army of innocent noncombatants; the progressive colonization of Palestinian territory by–let us say–idiosyncratic settlers from Brooklyn (all of this is on t.v. every day over there); the harsh Indian police state erected over the Muslims of Kashmir; the economic stagnation and authoritarian policies of many Middle Eastern governments that are backed by the US; and the poverty and prejudice Muslim immigrants to places like France and Germany experience daily.
I don’t have any idea how to resolve all these grievances; but the young men are very angry about and humiliated by them, and al-Qaeda plays on that anger to seduce them into attacking US interests. A US occupation of Iraq is not going to address the grievances, and is likely to create new bitterness and so help the recruitment drive. If the US really wanted to stop terrorism, it would invade the West Bank and Gaza and liberate the Palestinians to have their own state and self-respect, instead of heading to Baghdad.
Iraq is rugged; tribal forces are still important; and the majority population is Shiite, as is that of neighboring Iran. What will happen if US bombs damage the Shiite shrines, the holiest places for 100 million Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain? What will happen if there is a riot in a shrine city like Karbala and US marines put it down by killing rioters? Do we want 100 million Shiites angry at us again? (Lately they have calmed down and it is the radical Sunnis that have given us the problems).
What happens if the Iraqi Sunni middle classes lose faith in secular Arab nationalism because the Baath is overthrown, and they turn to al-Qaeda-type Islam, in part out of resentment at American hegemony over their country? What will happen if we give the Turks too much authority to intervene in Kurdistan, and fighting breaks out between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds turn against the US?
Colin Powell explained in Qatar last week on an Arabic talk show that the US war will be followed by a period of US military administration of the country by a general, followed by a year or two of US civilian administration of the country. This plan is an abandonment of earlier pledges to Iraqi expatriate dissidents that there would be a direct transition to a new Iraqi government. There has been a howl of outrage and betrayal by Kanan Makiya and other dissidents, once close to the Bush White House. If our friends and supporters among Iraqi dissidents are so unhappy now, will everyone in Iraq be just delighted to still be under US administration a year or two from now?
So, this business about controlling everybody all around the world just sounds to me like pie in the sky, and the same sort of thinking that got us mired in the jungles of Vietnam.
I will be ecstatic to see Saddam go. But I have a bad feeling about this, as Han Solo once said prophetically.
It Appears To Be Case That Iraq Simply has no nuclear weapons program
Juan Cole 03/17/2003 (Edit)
It appears to be the case that Iraq simply has no nuclear weapons program. Al-Baradei of the IAEA has swept the country with Geiger counters and cannot find evidence of such a thing. The program once employed 12,000 scientists, so it could not easily be hidden if it existed. The evidence given last summer and fall by US officials, including President Bush, included: 1) satellite photos showing expansion of buildings at a site once used for the program; 2) documents showing Iraqi purchases of uranium from Niger; 3) Iraqi purchase of aluminum tubing that might be used in centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium. Al-Baradei visited the buildings and found that they were now devoted to some other use and their expansion had nothing to do with nukes. The Niger documents were closely examined and found to be forgeries. The aluminum tubing has the wrong specifications for use in a centrifuge and was purchased for making conventional missiles. The case for an Iraqi WMD program in the nuclear area has thus now completely collapsed. Since it was the nukes that were truly scary (rightwing commentators kept saying Saddam might give a suitcase bomb to al-Qaeda, never a likely scenario), not botulism or mustard gas, one wonders if the Congress would have authorized the President to go to war if it had known there were no nukes. The Niger documents turn out to be clumsy forgeries, raising questions about whether Bush, Cheney and others who depended on them were attempting to deceive US public opinion and that of the world.
Why You Should Pray that We Don’t Bomb the Sites Sacred to Shiites
Juan Cole 03/18/2003 (Edit)
History News Network
3-17-03: News Abroad
Why You Should Pray that We Don’t Bomb the Sites Sacred to Shiites
By Juan Cole
Most Iraqi Shiites would be overjoyed to see the United States come in and effect regime change. But will the Shiites, brutalized by Saddam’s tyranny, remain happy with the United States in the aftermath of the war? The US is about to take control through conquest of the holiest shrines of Shiite Islam. The sensibilities of Shiites throughout the world could easily be injured if they are damaged in war or later seen to be administered unjustly.
U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was recently quoted as saying of Iraqis, “They are overwhelmingly Shia which is different from the Wahabis of the peninsula, and they don’t bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory.” He could not be more wrong. Shiites from all over the world revere the tombs of Shiite holy figures Ali and Husain in the cities of Najaf and Karbala, and many come there on pilgrimage. If a US bomb goes astray and hits either shrine, Shiites from Lebanon to Afghanistan could become enraged at the US.
It is true that some Iraqi Shiites are secular Arab nationalists. Still, large numbers of them are pious believers. Their alliance with the US is a matter of convenience. Saddam killed thousands of ordinary Shiites during the abortive 1991 uprisings after the Gulf War. Even pro-Iranian groups such as the fundamentalist Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq have been willing to ally themselves with the Bush administration. SCIRI has some 15,000 men under arms in exile in Iran, the Badr Brigade, which could play a supporting military role in the US march to Baghdad. They are already establishing beachheads in northern Iraq.
In the 1980s, in the wake of Khomeini’s 1979 revolution in Shiite Iran, the Shiite branch of Islam threw up many of the more pressing challenges to the United States in the Middle East. That era of hostage-taking and terrorism largely passed after Khomeini’s death in summer, 1989, as more moderate voices came to the fore. Now the major challenge comes from the Sunni radicals of al-Qaeda. Sunnis and Shiites are as different from one another as Protestants and Catholics, and al-Qaeda despises Shiites.
As the US forces leapfrog toward Baghdad from the south, they may try to take control of Najaf and Karbala. They should be careful not to damage the shrines. The US intends to impose a military government and then a US-led civilian administration on Iraq. SCIRI leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim has denounced the prospect of even temporary US rule over Iraq: “If the Americans do this, they will discover it is a mistake.” He hinted that the Badr Brigade could turn on its US allies. Should Shiites in Najaf and Karbala become discontented with US policies and riot, and should US soldiers quell them with violence, that also could turn the world’s approximately hundred million Shiites against America.
The British conquered Iraq during World War I, wresting it from the Ottoman Sunnis. But when they gave affront to the feelings of Shiites in the shrine cities, and then imposed a Mandate on the country instead of letting it become independent, they faced a major rebellion. The Shiite clerics of Najaf and Karbala were among the leaders of that failed uprising.
In 661, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, having become the leader or Imam of the early Muslim state, was assassinated. His gilded, revered tomb in Najaf, 160 km. south of Baghdad, forms a major site for pilgrims from the Shiite branch of Islam all over west and south Asia. In 681, Ali’s son Husain and many family members and followers were killed when they staged an uprising against the then king of the Islamic realm. Husain’s shrine is at Karbala, 100 km. southwest of Baghdad. Shiites put revering him as a martyr at the center of their spirituality, especially on 10 Muharram, which fell on March 14 this year. In 1998 a US air strike killed 17 civilians in Najaf, handing the Sunni-dominated Baath regime a propaganda tool against the US with the Shiites.
The leader of the Lebanese Hizbullah militia, Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah (who studied in Najaf), told a gathering of 150,000 Shiites honoring the Imam Husayn last Thursday that “Regarding the US war, events and all the US lying and hypocritical slogans about salvaging peoples, establishing democracy and human rights, we here declare our denunciation and rejection of this evil, arrogant and Zionist administration. We tell them, do not expect that the people of this region will receive you with flowers, rice and rose water. The region’s people will receive you with rifles, blood, weapons, martyrdom and martyrdom operations.”
The looming US war on Iraq may or may not go well militarily, but the US does have the advantage of overwhelming military superiority. The real question is whether it can successfully wage a war of public opinion during and after the military conflict. Iraq is a minefield of religious sensitivities because of the Shiite shrines. Unless the Bush administration is very careful, the 1920 great rebellion could be repeated, this time against an American Mandate. Worse, we could return to the bad old times of the 1980s when it was Shiite radicals who attacked Marines, blew up our embassy in Beirut, and took US hostages. We should be careful not to create allies for al-Qaeda from among its natural enemies.