Asia Times' reporter Pepe Escobar can usually be relied on to supply a brutally honest portrait of the state of Iraq as a nation, and the Iraqis as a people. His reporting throughout the Iraq War has been revelatory, and his predictions of what was to come (the rise of the resistance movement through 2004, for example) have been stunningly accurate, though it took mainstream news organs like the New York Times and the London Times three to six months to report what Escobar detailed in the Asia Times.
Escobar now supplies an overall portrait of Iraq as the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion and occupation approaches. It's not pretty :
The George W Bush-sponsored Iraqi "surge" is now one year old. The US$11 billion-a-month (and counting) Iraqi/Afghan joint quagmire keeps adding to the US government's staggering over $9 trillion debt (it was "only" $5.6 trillion when Bush took power iearly 2001).
On the ground in Iraq, the state of the union - Bush's legacy - translates into a completely shattered nation with up to 70% unemployment, a 70% inflation rate, less than six hours of electricity a day and virtually no reconstruction, although White House-connected multinationals have bagged more than $50 billion in competition-free contracts so far. The gleaming reconstruction success stories of course are the Vatican-sized US Embassy in Baghdad - the largest in the world - and the scores of US military bases.
Facts on the ground also attest the "surge" achieved no "political reconciliation" whatsoever in Iraq - regardless of a relentless US corporate media propaganda drive, fed by the Pentagon, to proclaim it a success. The new law to reverse de-Ba'athification - approved by a half-empty Parliament and immediately condemned by Sunni and secular parties as well as former Ba'athists themselves - will only exacerbate sectarian hatred.
What the "surge" has facilitated instead is the total balkanization of Baghdad – as well as the whole of Iraq. There are now at least 5 million Iraqis among refugees and the internally displaced - apart from competing statistics numbering what certainly amounts to hundreds of thousands of dead civilians. So of course there is less violence; there's hardly any people left to be ethnically cleansed.
Everywhere in Iraq there are myriad signs of balkanization - not only in blast wall/partitioned Baghdad. In the Shi'ite south, the big prize is Basra, disputed by at least three militias. The Sadrists - the voice of the streets - are against regional autonomy; the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC)- which controls security - wants Basra as the key node of a southern Shi'iteistan; and the Fadhila party - which control the governorate - wants an autonomous Basra.
In the north, the big prize is oil-rich Kirkuk province, disputed by Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkmen; the referendum on Kirkuk has been postponed indefinitely, as everyone knows it will unleash a bloodbath. In al-Anbar province, Sunni Arab tribes bide their time collaborating with the US and controlling the exits to Syria and Jordan while preparing for the inevitable settling of scores with Shi'ites in Baghdad.
...what really matters is what Iraqis themselves think. According to Asia Times Online sources in Baghdad, apart from the three provinces in Iraqi Kurdistan, more than 75% of Sunnis and Shi'ites alike are certain Washington wants to set up permanent military bases; this roughly equals the bulk of the population in favor of continued attacks against US troops.
Furthermore, Sunni Arabs as a whole as well as the Sadrists are united in infinite suspicion of the key Bush-mandated "benchmark": the eventual approval by the Iraqi Parliament of a new oil law which would in fact de-nationalize the Iraqi oil industry and open it to Big Oil. Iraqi public opinion as a whole is also suspicious of what the Bush administration wants to extract from the cornered, battered Nuri al-Maliki government: full immunity from Iraqi law not only for US troops but for US civilian contractors as well. The empire seems to be oblivious to history: that was exactly one of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's most popular reasons to dethrone the Shah of Iran in 1979.
It's impossible to overestimate the widespread anger in Baghdad, among Sunnis and Shi'ites alike, for what has essentially been the balkanization of the city as negotiated by US commanders with a rash of militias; the occupiers after all are only one more militia among many, although better equipped. Now there are insistent rumors - again - in Baghdad that the occupation, allied with the government-sanctioned Badr Organization - is preparing an anti-Sadrist blitzkrieg in oil-rich Basra.
The daily horror in Iraq has all but been erased from US corporate media narrative. But in Baghdad, now virtually a Shi'ite city like Shiraz, Salafi-jihadi suicide bombers continue to attack Shi'ite markets or funerals - especially in mixed neighborhoods, even those only across the Tigris from the Green Zone. Sectarian militias - although theoretical allies of the occupation, paid in US dollars in cash - continue to pursue their own ethnic cleansing agenda. And the "surge" continues to privilege air strikes which inevitably produce scores of civilian "collateral damage".
The Sunni Arab resistance continues to be the "fish" offered protection by the "sea" of the civilian population. All during the "surge", the Sunni Arab guerrillas always kept moving - from west Baghdad to Diyala, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces and even to the northern part of Babil province. After the collapse of fuel imports from Turkey used to drive the Iraqi power grid, Baghdad and other Iraqi major cities are most of the time mired in darkness. Fuel shortages are the norm. In addition, the Sunni Arab resistance makes sure sabotage of electricity towers and stations remains endemic.
Contrary to Iraqi government propaganda, only very few among the at least 1 million Iraqis exiled in Syria since the beginning of the "surge" - mostly white-collar middle class - have come back. They are Sunni and Shi'ite alike. People - mostly Sunni - are still fleeing the country. The Shi'ite urban middle class fears there will inevitably be a push by the Sunni Arab resistance - supported and financed by the ultra-wealthy Sunni Gulf monarchies - to "recapture" Baghdad. This includes of course the hundreds of thousands of Baghdad Sunnis forced to abandon their city because of the "surge".
As for the Sadrists, they are convinced the 80,000-strong Sunni Arab "Awakening Councils" - al-Sahwah, in Arabic - gathered in Anbar province are de facto militias biding their time and practicing for the big push. It's fair to assume thousands still keep tight connections with the Salafi-jihadis (including most of all al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers) they are now supposedly fighting.
Considering the sectarian record of the US-backed Maliki government - which, as well as the Sadrists, considers the Awakening Councils as US-financed Sunni militias - there's no chance they will be incorporated into the Iraqi army or police.
As the occupation/quagmire slouches towards its fifth year, it's obvious the US cannot possibly "win" the Iraqi war - either on a military or political level - as Republican presidential pre-candidate John McCain insists. Sources in Baghdad tell Asia Times Online if not in 2008, by 2009 the post-"surge" Sunni Arab resistance is set to unleash a new national, anti-sectarian, anti-religion-linked-to-politics offensive bound to seal what an overwhelming majority of Iraqis consider the "ideological and cultural" US defeat.
Already now a crucial Sunni-Shi'ite nationalist 12-party coalition is emerging - oblivious to US designs and divorced from the US-backed parties in power (the Shi'ite SIIC and Da'wa and the two main Kurdish parties - the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party ). They have already established a consensus in three key themes: no privatization of the Iraqi oil industry, either via the new oil law or via dodgy deals signed by the Kurds; no breakup of Iraq via a Kurdish state (which implies no Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk); and an end to the civil war.
The ultimate success of this coalition in great measure should be attributed to negotiations led by Muqtada al-Sadr. The Sadrists are betting on parliamentary elections in 2009, when they sense they may reach a non-sectarian, nationalist-based majority to form a government. This would definitely bury Iraq's Defense Minister Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim's recent estimate that a "significant" number of US troops would have to remain in Iraq at least for another 10 years, until 2018.
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