the withdrawal of american combat troops from iraq was scheduled to begin in earnest after iraq’s parliamentary elections of march 7. by the end of august, 50,000 or so ‘advisory’ and ‘support’ troops were to remain behind, releasing the rest of america’s invading forces for other invasions or combat missions elsewhere.
with only a few weeks to go before the stated aim to ‘withdraw’ from iraq, the us administration is in a bit of a mess. the fog of war and propaganda have together obscured events in iraq. but in effect, the costly war has resulted in the americans handing iraq over to iran on a silver platter. what follows is a description of how this has come about, and how this is linked to the sanctions.
in 2003 the americans concocted a series of lies in order to justify an illegal invasion – a war crime according to the geneva convention – of iraq in order to achieve three main goals:
1. destruction of the iraqi army
2. destruction of the baathist regime
3. establishment of a client state in iraq
the failure of the illegal invasion has been with the third goal: the iraqi ‘government’ is still not in place, let alone its intended ‘pro-american’ character.
the invasion in 2003 ushered in a jihadist campaign that targeted both the americans and the shia. similarly, the sunnis targeted both groups (and also the kurds on occasion), and were aligned with the jihadists (al qaeda) in a shared range of enemies.
the jihadists were simply continuing their old campaigns started elsewhere with no respect for national boundaries. but the sunnis had gone from ‘masters’ of iraq to becoming the smallest and least powerful of the major groups in the country. from a certain perspective, they had nothing left to lose.
the kurds and the shia were largely elevated by the invasion, and were generally ready to allow the americans to leave without having to force them to. but they had to confront the sunni and jihadist onslaught.
except for the shia-kurdish alliance, everybody was fighting everybody. the americans had created chaos and were desperate for a way out of the mess by 2007.
a first step was to bring in troop reinforcements, which is a typical tactic when losing a war. this they referred to as the ‘surge’. the reinforcement was not a massive one, but it was helped by other, more clever tactics.
the most important of these was to split the sunni-jihadist alliance. they exploited al qaeda’s challenge to the authority of older sunni sheikhs by providing the sheikhs with financial support (bribes) and security guarantees on the one hand and threats on the other. in effect, the americans stopped fighting the sunnis and started paying them instead.
this effort was also aided by iran’s stabilising influence among the shia. for iran, intra-shia conflict would have reduced both shia and iranian influence. furthermore, iran already had won with the removal of saddam and looked forward to majority rule by the shia and kurds.
so a confluence of interests resulted in some degree of stabilisation in the conflict due to the isolation of the jihadists and america’s need to reduce casualties and to bring some order into their own chaos.
however, america’s political aims had largely failed: there was no stable government, no capable military nor a strong police force. if anything, the iraqi government was and is strongly pro-iranian. and the key to a stronger state in iraq rests with iran.
as such, the success of everything that the americans have done in iraq since 2003 hinges on iran unless the usa is prepared to maintain a large number of combat troops on the ground in iraq indefinitely. the latter option is simply not feasible, especially under obama’s administration and given america’s current economic weaknesses.
this american dependence on iran and the latter’s enormously strengthened influence in the region is the main reason behind the sanctions drive. the balance of power has shifted toward iran in an unexpected – from an american perspective – way.
american withdrawal from the region will be quickly followed by greater iranian control over the persian gulf. this has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, as iran has by far the most powerful and sophisticated conventional forces in the region.
the nuclear issue is misdirection. the real issue for america is how to extricate itself from yet another disastrous military campaign without looking like losers. for this, it has to negotiate a deal with iran, but it has to try and reduce iran’s gains in any such negotiated settlement. hence, the targeting of iran’s economy.
will iran be able to outmanoeuvre usa in this area too? quite likely, especially as the americans insist on digging an even deeper hole for themselves in afghanistan.