Friday, July 28, 2006

Iraq Becoming More Complicated

Time writer Tony Karon has a useful article on the way that Lebanon is making our policies in Iraq more complicated but here's two paragraphs that raise an issue:
...there's no question that the dominant element of the Iraqi government sees Iran as a close friend and ally, and they're not likely to turn against Tehran at the behest of Washington. In his speech to Congress, Maliki said many things that will have pleased the Administration about Iraq as a front in the war on terrorism. But he also mentioned the 1991 Shi'ite uprising that ended in a bloodbath at the hands of Saddam's troops: "In 1991, when Iraqis tried to capitalize on the regime's momentary weakness and rose up, we were alone again," Maliki said. "The people of Iraq will not forget your continued support as we establish a secure, liberal democracy. Let 1991 never be repeated, for history will be most unforgiving."

This was a coded message. The 1991 uprising had initially been encouraged by Washington as Saddam's troops fled Kuwait, but the U.S. — suddenly aware that Iran would be the biggest beneficiary from Saddam's ouster — then sat back and allowed the regime to massacre the Shi'ites. In Iraqi Shi'ite political folklore, 1991 is remembered as America's great betrayal. Nor have the Shi'ite parties forgotten that the only country that came to their aid was Iran. And Iraq's new government is not in any rush to fall into line with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who they see as having done nothing to help them against Saddam.

Political folklore? The senior President Bush asked the Kurds and Shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein. You don't ask people to rise up unless you're promising to help them. But we decided the war was over in a hundred hours and we allowed a provision to stand that Saddam Hussein could use his helicopters and then we stood by and watched. That left the Shiites at the mercy Saddam Hussein's troop, hence the massacres. That's not folklore, that's a reality. Asking the Kurds and Shiites to rise up was a poorly considered policy that cost the lives of thousands. I suspect Karon knows better but feels obliged to soften the language in the current political environment. Softening the language for the sensibilities of right wingers doesn't help a majority of Americans understand that presidents make huge blunders sometimes.

But Karon does a good job of pointing to two major problems: the more aggressively we behave towards Iran, the more intractable our problems will be in Iraq; also, in the current environment, the more we tilt back towards the Sunnis, the more the Shiites will feel that Americans are unreliable and that they are once again being 'betrayed.' Whether we like it or not, we need to start extricating ourselves from Iraq.

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