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Iraq's war: the seminal event that polarised, destabilised the region

Mar 29,2018 - Last updated at Mar 29,2018

March is a month of anniversaries. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the demonstrations that set Syria on the course for seven years of deadly and destructive war. During this week 15 years ago, the US invaded Iraq. This was the seminal event that has polarised and destabilised the region and led to the Syrian, Libyan and Yemeni wars as well as heavy-handed security crack-downs in Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere.

The chief culprit in the Iraq war was the US administration of George W. Bush. As his war has been widely condemned, he has generally kept a low profile since leaving office in 2009. But John Bolton, one of the neo-conservative cheerleaders for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has now been appointed national security adviser by Donald Trump.

Bolton is bad news, particularly for this region. He adds to the pro-Israel hawks in the Trump administration and is a vehement opponent of the 2015 Iran-nuclear deal, which scaled down Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for lifting punitive international sanctions. Bolton's appointment was applauded by right-wing Israeli figures and parties and welcomed by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the US domestic Israeli lobby. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, the dovish US Jewish lobby, said in dismay, "We are horrified by [Bolton's] selection  ...and believe this move [by Trump] gravely imperils our country's national standing and the fundamental security of the United States and its allies, including Israel."

A strong supporter of Israel, Bolton joins Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, all Orthodox Jews devoted to Israel. Bolton is particularly dangerous on the foreign scene because he is considered "main-stream" rather than an extremist, although he expresses extremely hawkish views. He is also a risky appointee because childish Trump's removal of H.R. McMaster, a US army general, "one of the adults in the room", who, along with sacked secretary of state Rex Tillerson and incumbent chief-of-staff, John Kelly, tried to restrain the impulsive Trump. Selecting Bolton suggests Trump is likely to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement as well as to put forward a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan Palestinians can never, never accept.

Bolton holds that preemptive military action against Iran could deter it from developing nuclear weapons, although this is precisely what the 2015 agreement has done. Bolton also argues there should be a "three-state solution" for the Palestinians. According to him, Egypt should rule Gaza and Jordan the Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank; East Jerusalem and Israeli West Bank colonies would be annexed by Israel. Such a "solution" would deprive the Palestinians of the vestiges of autonomy they still enjoy in the West Bank and place Gaza under a new Egyptian military occupation, which would finish off Hamas.

Bolton's appointment constitutes a retrograde action as he continues to believe it was right to invent pretexts and wage war against Iraq. He insists the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, taken at the behest of pro-Israeli neo-conservatives like Bolton, cannot be blamed for today's regional turmoil.

Let's have a look at how the US occupation of Iraq contributed to the current chaos. In 2003, the US bombed a country where the infrastructure had been repaired after sustaining major destruction by the war waged by George H.W. Bush in 1991. This was a campaign designed to wreak havoc with the advances made by that country since granted British-managed independence 1932 and secured real independence in 1958. The British bequeathed to Iraq borders, secularism, a professional, non-sectarian army and a decent administration. Iraq's borders were compromised by invading forces and the other three assets destroyed by Bush junior's war.

The US did away with secularism, the arms and administration, existential bequests with a few strokes of a pen wielded by the arrogant and ignorant US viceroy L. Paul Bremer III, who arrived in Baghdad in May 2003. He appointed an "interim governing council" on the basis of ethnic and sectarian affiliation, demobbed the army, and dismissed all civil servants — clercs, doctors, teachers, professors and officials — who had been members of the ruling Iraqi Baath Party, although jobs and advancement depended on such membership. Bremer created a military-politico-administrative vacuum in Iraq, which still has not been filled with a reliable army, politicians serving the country rather than filling their bank accounts, and a clean, efficient administration.

The governing council had no real power and was soon succeeded by an interim government under Ayad Alawi, a renegade Baathist, which gave way to a government formed by US-favoured exiles, Shiite fundamentalists, who had been outlawed by Saddam Hussein and were beholden to Iran, which had given them sanctuary. Subsequently, Iran gained considerable influence in Iraq despite the US occupation.

Washington's choice for prime minister, Nuri Al Maliki, deployed death squads to eliminate enemies, mainly Sunnis, marginalised, persecuted, jailed and slew Sunnis, made the army a sectarian fiefdom, created a spectacularly corrupt and inefficient administration and opened the door to Al Qaeda, which soon established takfiri networks and enclaves, dubbed "emirates", throughout the country.

Al Qaeda recruited sacked Baathist army officers and disaffected Sunnis. The US army rounded up rank-and-file Al Qaeda soldiers and put them in jail where, held together, they plotted a campaign to wage war against the Shia fundamentalist regime and the US. They were temporarily defeated during the first phase of this 2007-2008 effort thanks to Sunni "Awakening" fighters who were promised jobs in the army and civil service once Al Qaeda was contained.  Maliki did not deliver. Instead, he cracked down even harder on Sunnis, who in the latter years of the US occupation and after the US army left Iraq, formed underground Al Qaeda cells and waited for the moment to revive.

During 2011-2012 unrest in Syria, a new theatre of war opened for Al Qaeda in Iraq. It founded Jabhat Al Nusra and dispatched veteran fighters to Syria and rebranded itself Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria (Daesh) and deployed more taqfiris to Syria, where they rivaled and often clashed with the Jabhat Al Nusra. Daesh seized control of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, proclaimed it capital of a 21st century false "caliphate," and returned to Iraq, where it conquered Ramadi, Faluja and Tikrit in early 2014 and Mosul that June. Daesh created a cross-border territory, stretching eastwards from Raqqa to Hawija in Iraq and took over strategic enclaves elsewhere in both countries. The US and its Western European and Arab allies were compelled to go to war against Daesh and soon will have to tackle Al Qaeda offshoots, thanks to George W. Bush's neo-conservative warmongers, including Bolton, who will soon sit at the right hand of Trump.

During his undistinguished university career, Trump studied business rather than liberal arts. His knowledge of the past is non-existent. He is not known to read history. This, plus narcissicism erratic behaviour and a determination to decide policy for himself, make him a very dangerous man. It is said, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

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