Conspiracy or stuffup ?

Perhaps the best informed commentator on the Shiite community in Iraq, Juan Cole asks whether the actions of the Coalition Administration which led directly to the current bloody fighting between Coalition forces and (hitherto relatively quiescent) Shiite militias was Incompetence or Double-Dealing . As he says

The Coalition decision to provoke a fight with Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement[1] only three months before the Coalition Provisional Authority goes out of business has to be seen as a form of gross incompetence in governance. How did the CPA get to the point where it has turned even Iraqi Shiites, who were initially grateful for the removal of Saddam Hussein, against the United States? Where it risks fighting dual Sunni Arab and Shiite insurgencies simultaneously, at a time when US troops are rotating on a massive scale and hoping to downsize their forces in country? At a time when the Spanish, Thai and other contingents are already committed to leaving, and the UN is reluctant to get involved?

As I read Cole, the answer is neither pure incompetence nor double-dealing for its own sake but the fact that the US Administration contains so many competing agendas that its policies are invariably incoherent.

fn1. By closing their newspaper, arresting a leading supporter of Sadr and threatening Sadr himself.

13 thoughts on “Conspiracy or stuffup ?

  1. As Anzac Day approaches it seems timely for Australians to reflect on where devoted friendship has left us in the past.

    When the history of our involvement in war is dissected we have often been let down by the poor skills of commanders of our allies to whom we entrust our fellow citizens.

    The precedents do not show that there are cool thinkers in the Bush camp who understand the forces that they unleash.

    Iraq is a dismal affair and looks as if it will become the desert version of Vietnam where the lack of commitment of the American troops is unable to match the tenacity of the local population and where the theories fail to match the reality.

    This is not to suggest that the local population are saintly but that our allies are often arrogant enough to underestimate their foes and ignorant enough not to understand the motivations of those that they fight.

    It is often stated that the Americans saved Australia in the second world war – perhaps but this negates the victories that Australians achieved against the Japanese first and underestimates the tenacity and courage of those Australian troops engaged in battle with the Japanese. The Americans did not join in until they were attacked just as Australia was.

    There were those who joined the war to fight for Australia who were instead sent to fight the European war and left Australia vulnerable. Australian fighters were still successful.

    The moral of the story is that Australia would serve its own citizens and those of Iraq far better if it provided better analysis to the Americans. It would also help the Americans deal with insurgency far better if its friends spoke some home truths. These are long odds.

  2. The competing policy forces have been well documented. Unfortunately, the people who got their hands on the controls have a very diminished ability to track the Iraq situation from the point of view of other participants. They can’t work out how Sadr is likely to respond to the moves to shut him down.

    Like most hard core ideologues, they almost seem to be autistic.

  3. Can’t track it bakc at the moment but Cole was scathing about the emotional response of Rumsfield to setbacks in Iraq late last year. The bully boy approach seems to be characteristic of this administration unfortunately. I’ve gotta go with the incompetency theory. Mind you the consequences of the US revenging the murders in Fallujah recently has yet to be played out.

    Juan Cole suggests that the attack on Sadr is due to his support of Hamas following the assassination of Sheik Hassin. Which sort of makes sense from a sick neo-con point of view.

    If the violence continues to escalate, the question really is how long before 100,000 US soldiers are over-run? And will little Johnny get our 900 soldiers back before then?

    Mind you there is no General Giap running this war on the other side so it most likely will simply drag on into the horror!

  4. Stuff-up.

    The US has shown repeatedly an aversion to looking for facts or considering anything outside its positive spin when it comes to Iraq. Wolfowitz said last year that Iraq was a secular nation without the Holy Cities of Saudi Arabia (which complicated the US presence there).

    Thus showing a lack of understanding of the influence of the extremists among the Shia community and the importance to all Shiites of Najaf and Karbala.

    The schema these guys apply is so far from reality that failure of action and strategy is inevitable.

    Cole (I think) suggested that Sadr reacted violently to the closing of the paper and arrest of a collegue because that was Saddam’s first steps before he murdered opponents. Anyone in Iraqi politics is going to be a bit paranoid after the last 30 years… yet the CPA’s actions in the last month seem to be designed to freak out as many actors as possible.

    Again, the US acts like its actions take place in a vaccuum and that the facts that suit their schema are the only ones worth considering.

  5. “…the US Administration contains so many competing agendas that its policies are invariably incoherent…”

    Isn’t that incompetence?

  6. I can think of one guy who’s enjoying all this: Chalabi. The more the chaos the more chance the yanks will turn to him as their yes-man to run Iraq.

  7. The admins stated rationales for invading Iraq are bogus – which is to destroy rogue regimes that are:
    These were obviously put in to scare the masses and get formal bureaucratic approval from the UN.
    For quite some time I have tried to rationalise US admin policy by invoking the only underlying Real Politic strategic rationale for invading Iraq that makes sense: ditch Saudi/hitch Iraqi.
    I still think that this rationale is true as far as it goes, exists within the admin, (Wolfowitz) and has had material effect on admin policy. Namely the establishment of Iraqi as the US’s alternative Gulf client state for:
    location of US military bases
    source of cheap oil
    These events have occurred as predicted and with the admission of such by Wolfowitz. They are probably, given circumstances, beneficial to the US state.
    I now think that the admins understated rationales for invading are are also bogus, there to seduce the elites:
    real strategic: balance of power shift from Saudi to Iraqi
    moral democratic: regime change from dicatorship to democracy

    The fundamental driver of this admin is medium term political advantage ie wag the dog. They are Mayberry Machiavellians who have applied the same tactic in the ME that have worked so well in the US. Unfortunately for the Republicans, US and RoW, the Arabs are not amenable to such fine tuning.
    They thought, and I assumed, the invasion and occupation would be a cakewalk. This assumption has proved to be false. So they have shifted from cakewalk to damage-control. But it appears that the situation is now spinning out of control, and no-one knows where it will end.

  8. I hear that the US had snipers in position in Al-Shu’la, Al-Hurria, Sadr city, and Kadhimiya (all Shi’ite neighbourhoods in Baghdad)
    They had been warned about the coming riots.
    As soon as the leaders caught up the rioters they were leading, they were identified and then they were taken out.
    One shot, one kill.
    Basically decapitated the whole leadership in one foul swoop, which I suppose is fair enough as they were acting on direct orders from Iran.
    There’s only Sadr and maybe some of his inner circle left, holed up in his mosque.
    Will be interesting to see what happens next.

  9. Provoking riots in order to assassinate the participants! That sounds like the kind of rumour that got Sadr’s newspapers shut down.

    I don’t believe that the Administration would be either as evil or as stupid as this, but the fact that such rumours are circulating is both interesting and worrying.

  10. Sadr is a fundamentalist, street thug and attempting to get a piece of the oil action. The US and moderate Shiites have every right to squeeze him out by lawful means.
    Chicken and Egg question:
    Did the US shut down Sadr’s newspaper because they had word of Sadr’s riotous activities and because he was becoming a civic threat and agent for the Iranians?
    Or did the US shut down the newspapers to provoke the riots and take out the resistance?

  11. For an interesting perspective on Sadr – see Raed in the Middle’s most recent posting. He suggests that Sadr will be the next Shia leader and that the US and others have been unwisely discounting him.

  12. A chaotic, divided and violent situation is excellent for the reduction of Iraq to a medieval, ignorant, illiterate and very weak “State” from which oil can be extracted cheaply using foreign technicians and tribal labour. This was the situation in Saudi Arabia for a long time, and is the situation the oil companies are comfortable with. They certainly don’t want a modernising, centralised State with aspirations to control its own resources.

  13. Key problem all over the Middle East and in Indonesia: very badly educated people with a world view so narrow it borders on science fiction, taught and provoked and marshalled by fundamentalist leaders who deploy them as shock troops with utter cynicism.

    Hence, they have to be cut out of the communications system. Close schools, keep them out of the electronic media, shut their newspapers. In that context, whacking Sadr’s paper is very logical. Suppress the hard line voices, allow the moderates to flourish, create a public opinion amenable to a secular, aspirational state based on free markets.

    Unfortunately, Sadr has a heap of power in the street, enough to create his own version of the Tet Offensive. If it’s not the end game, Sadr allows his people to disperse, thus demonstrating his power and unnerving the Americans, while attacking Bush’s reputation at home. Sooner or later, if not now, it will be the end game, and they won’t disperse, but expand. Then they will have the lot.

    I imagine the game from his point of view is worked out to maximise his credibility in competition with other fundamentalists.

    I can’t believe the US is thinking far enough away from their ‘liberate and influence” game plan to do what Jack and Gordon are suggesting. One of their big problems is a failure of the imagination. What they believe they can have is a “modernising centralised state” that will be grateful/rational/co-operative with the US and act as a beacon for everyone else in the Middle East.

    Pity the world doesn’t work like that. Terrible pity, as Cole intimates, they are too grossly incompetent to see the larger picture.

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