Media Silence over Civil War in Iraq
After the so-called 'surge' in 2007, violence in Iraq declined markedly for a while. As some observers commented, the idea that the 'surge' was actually responsible for the decline in violence may have been an example of a 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' fallacy, even though it must be admitted that the US military began to employ somewhat more creative methods to undermine the insurgents than previously (such as e.g. buying off their rural support).
The argument forwarded by critics was that by the time the surge began, the ethnic cleansing was actually largely over. The civil war in Iraq is mainly between different religious sects, and most Sunnis had either been driven out from Shi'ite areas or killed, and vice versa, by the time the 'surge' began. Thus a major driver of the civil war had greatly diminished in importance.
However, the political situation in Iraq remains extremely fractious. The Shi'ite majority continues to hold the reins of power, such as they are (in reality, the central government does not have full control over the country). Fundamentalist Sunnis meanwhile are definitely not happy with this arrangement. The para-military arm of the Sunni fundamentalists is 'Al Qaeda' – which is apparently not really an organization with a central command and easily identifiable hierarchical structures, but more of a loose association of many different terrorist splinter groups and cells that have adopted the name of the original outfit. The degree of organization and structure seems to be highly variable among them. Al Quaeda of course regards Shi'ites as apostates that must be rubbed out.
Terror attacks in the West (such as the Boston bombing) tend to produce overwhelming media coverage. This is of course not surprising, as such incidents are extremely rare in Western countries. The 9-11 attacks were truly exceptional in their scope; normally, terror attacks by Middle Eastern groups in the West (recall e.g. the PLO attacks in Western Europe in the 1970s) are far less spectacular. Here is something you probably haven't heard about unless you follow events in Iraq specifically. It is what has happened in Iraq over just the past six days:
11 Killed Across Iraq – August 9th, 2013
Iraq: 93 Killed, 377 Wounded in Saturday Savagery – August 10th, 2013
17 Killed in Fresh Iraq Attacks – August 11th, 2013
Northern and Eastern Iraq Attacks: 45 Dead, 127 Wounded – August 12th, 2013
Random Bombings, Gunfire Leave 34 Dead in Iraq – August 13th, 2013
Iraq: At least 35 people killed and 35 more wounded - August 14th, 2013
Altogether 235 people died in terror attacks in Iraq over just the past six days. This is the legacy of the invasion. The war to take out Saddam and his regime was in a way akin to squishing a spider by bulldozing the entire garage. What the war planners didn't consider (or perhaps they did consider it, but cynically decided that it was 'worth it' anyway) was that Saddam's regime, for all its faults, was a secular regime that managed to keep Iraq's religious and ethnic animosities in check. There was even a Christian in a prominent position in Saddam's cabinet (the foreign minister), something that would be unthinkable today.
As an aside, Saddam curiously allowed the entire country to bear arms, including machine guns. During parades in Baghdad, he was greeted by people firing salutes in the air with their AK 47s. This has always struck us as a remarkable contradiction considering the way he was portrayed in the Western media, which routinely painted him as the second coming of Hitler. If he was really that bad, why was he not afraid that he might get shot by one of his well-armed fellow citizens? The man was certainly a dictator and not exactly a saintly ruler. His regime was no doubt brutal in its treatment of political opponents. We are not trying to make him into something he wasn't. It is a fact though that he didn't fear his own citizens.
Anyway, the Western media have been curiously silent about the resurgent violence in Iraq. Note here that the increasing violence is not a recent phenomenon. It has been going on for some time. In July alone, 1,057 people died across Iraq in what can only be termed an ongoing civil war.
Jail Breaks and Drone Wars
There have been a number of spectacular jail breaks across the Islamic world in recent weeks. First Taliban militants broke into a jail in Pakistan, successfully freeing their imprisoned comrades. This was followed by more successful jail breaks in Libya and Iraq. In Iraq there were two prison breaks, one in Taji near Baghdad and a very spectacular one in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where Al Qaeda militants managed to break out 500 of their incarcerated fellows. These prison breaks are organized like military operations, often involving gun fights lasting for several hours. One common thread is that the militants appear to have excellent connections in the security services of the countries concerned, i.e., they have sympathizers and collaborators embedded in the State apparatus who provide them with intelligence and other support.
For a detailed account of how extremely well organized the Abu Ghraib prison break was, we want to point readers to this report in Foreign Affairs (note: it may require registration, but it is for free). The prison breaks have finally brought some media attention to Iraq, in the course of which it was noted en passant that violence in the country is rising at a worrisome pace. Given that so many fighters have now come to enjoy early release from prison, it is a good bet that the level of violence is going to increase further.
In the meantime, in Yemen and elsewhere, the drone war is laying the groundwork for major blowback. Although occasionally important leaders of local terrorist groups are indeed killed in these attacks, the attacks have still proved to be a huge gift to these groups as they serve as a major recruitment tool. (portion of a transcript of an interview with Margaret Warner):
“MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the threat posed by Yemen and emanating from Yemen, we turn to Gregory Johnsen. He was a Fulbright scholar based in Yemen, now at Princeton University.
And, Gregory Johnsen, welcome.
The U.S. has been pounding away at AQAP, certainly intensively ever since the Christmas Day bomb attempt of late 2009. Is al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula stronger or weaker than it was then?
GREGORY JOHNSEN, Princeton University: Right.
I think this is one of the really frustrating things for the United States. It's because, as you point out, they have been carrying out several air and drone strikes. They have killed people like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric there in Yemen. They killed AQAP's number two. And yet what we have seen over the past three-and-a-half years is that AQAP has gone from a group of about 200 to 300 people on Christmas Day 2009 to, according to the U.S. State Department, more than a few thousand fighters today.
MARGARET WARNER: And what explains that?
GREGORY JOHNSEN: Well, I think one of the things that explains it is that the U.S. — not all of these strikes that the U.S. carries out are successful. So there are some mistaken strikes. There are strikes that kill civilians. There are strikes that kill women and children.
And when you kill people in Yemen, these are people who have families. They have clans. And they have tribes. And what we're seeing is that the United States might target a particular individual because they see him as a member of al-Qaida. But what's happening on the ground is that he's being defended as a tribesman.
So you have people flowing into al-Qaida, not necessarily because they share the same ideology of al-Qaida, but just so that they can get revenge for their tribesman who has been killed in a drone or airstrike.”
This is the problem with killing people from afar: the strikes are not as 'surgical' as advertised. Presumably not too many people would care if merely a leader or other members of a terrorist group were occasionally killed. That is however not what is happening – instead, there is always 'collateral damage' and obviously, the damaged are not particularly happy over it. In this way hatred of the US and the West continues to be fueled. Next time a bunch of militants immolate themselves in a major strike on Western soil, we will be again regaled with the comfortable myth that they 'hate us for our freedom' (or whatever), but it is a good bet that the hate has in many cases far more tangible roots. If one keeps poking a stick into a hornets nest, one cannot feign surprise when the hornets come swarming out and are in a bad mood.
As Ron Paul recently pointed out, there have been eight drone strikes in Yemen in just two weeks. He rightly asks: why are we even there?
“The US government is clearly at war in Yemen. It is claimed they are fighting al-Qaeda, but the drone strikes are creating as many or more al-Qaeda members as they are eliminating. Resentment over civilian casualties is building up the danger of blowback, which is a legitimate threat to us that is unfortunately largely ignored. Also, the US is sending mixed signals by attacking al-Qaeda in Yemen while supporting al-Qaeda linked rebels fighting in Syria.
This cycle of intervention producing problems that require more intervention to “solve” impoverishes us and makes us more, not less, vulnerable. Can anyone claim this old approach is successful? Has it produced one bit of stability in the region? Does it have one success story? There is an alternative. It is called non-interventionism. We should try it. First step would be pulling out of Yemen.”
If we judge these interventions by the 'successes' they produce, they are clearly extremely counterproductive. In fact, over the past several years an arc of major instability has been created in the region. It may not have occurred to Ron Paul, but it is definitely possible that this is done on purpose. After all, the military-industrial complex is always in need of enemies in order to keep the war racket going. Given that Donald Rumsfeld admitted in 2001 already that $2.3 trillion of tax payer funds had simply 'disappeared' in the Pentagon (i.e., could not be accounted for) over the preceding decade, there are clearly a great many profiteers skimming off truly staggering amounts of money. To keep the tax cows providing more, good enemies are a sine qua non. If there is a temporary paucity of enemies, one can always produce more of them. In that sense, the interventions are indeed very successful.
Yemeni tribesmen at a pow-wow.
(Photo source: Sniperphoto Agency)
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