Any claim of progress in Iraq may prompt the unavoidable question “progress by whose standards?” The White House’s claim is clear: by the standards of an administration that sold the invasion of Iraq as a war of liberation; that claimed that Saddam was a breath away from producing weapons of mass destruction and was part of a notorious Axis of Evil; that the U.S. army would be welcomed with roses in the streets of Baghad; that democracy and freedom would ring in the Arab and Islamic world; that Al Qaeda would be defeated and America would be safer.
Now, four years after Baghdad’s fall, one can sum up the progress achieved since then in the toppling of Saddam’s famous bronze statue, the capture of Saddam Hussein in a foxhole immortalized by Paul Bremer’s famous bravado “We got him,” his trial in a kangaroo court and gruesome hanging. Saddam Hussein dominated Iraq’s post-invasion history just like his personality and name had dominated Iraq in the prewar era. His unflinching disposition at the guillotine amid the vengeful behavior of his executors even allowed some to portray him as a latter day Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, the third Caliph of Islam who was killed by a vengeful mob.
Apart from the saga of Saddam, internecine killing and mayhem are on the rise in Iraq. The entire country has fallen to the hands of Al Qaeda and other mafia gangs. The Iraqi people have become divided into sects, tribes, ruthless assassin groups and innocent, helpless and hopeless civilians who fall like flies in daily suicide bombings. The post-Saddam American-installed juntas have all failed to come out from under the cloaks of the Iranian mullahs. The Maliki government gets protection and funds from Washington but lends its ear to Tehran. Iran has become more influential and feels more comfortable in the region than America. Tehran’s power is felt in Lebanon, Palestine, even as far as Yemen. It is in this context that the Iranian Supreme Leader’s media advisor recently claimed Bahrain was an Iranian territory. Call it a ruse or bait to keep America on the hook if you wish, but it sounds a bell in the Gulf region, particularly as Iran occupies three islands belonging to the United Arab Emirates.
Against this backdrop, one finds the rejection of the U.S. troop withdrawal proposal by the U.S. Congress as a bitter but inevitable pill to swallow. Hard as one may find it to associate himself with the policies of the White House, it seems this is the only right thing to do at present.
As the saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right. Iraq’s invasion was wrong but it is also wrong that America turn its back on the Frankenstein it has created. The U.S. Congress and the American people may want to punish the Bush administration for committing such a historical and strategic blunder -- but not at the expense of Iraq whose whole existence is under threat, and surely not at the expense of the peace and security of the whole region from which America gets its oil.
American withdrawal from Iraq would not only be a victory for Al Qaeda, but it would throw the whole region into instability and chaos. The first conflict to erupt may be a Shia-Sunni war fought on Iraqi soil but by regional forces. The shadow of Saddam Hussein may loom large in such a conflict, as he was seen for a long time as the defender of the Arab nation’s eastern gate against Iran’s grand religious and strategic plans for regional domination.
It is my opinion, therefore, that Senate Republicans’ rejection of the Democratic U.S. troop withdrawal proposal could be the only progress that the White House could claim to have achieved in the recent past for Iraq. The decision gives the U.S. administration a whip with which to lash at the Iraqi government and push it to deliver its promises, and a signal to America’s friends in the region that America is not an Al Qaeda that hits, wrecks havoc and runs away. So unless the White House borrows a leaf from Saddam’s fantasy book of turning the mother of all defeats into the mother of all victories, one may see it as insane to talk about progress amid the daily bloodbaths in Iraq.
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