The Upper Hand In Iraq

From the recent wave of bombings in Iraq that continue to tear that country apart, it has become obvious that the U.S. no longer has the upper hand there and never will. The power struggle that will decide the fate of Iraq has rendered American participation irrelevant. This fact needs to be considered in the war debate at home, yet both sides, Democratic and Republican, continue to act as if decisions made in this country translate into reality in Baghdad. This is yet another illusion that is dying in the war.

After toppling Saddam, the Bush administration tried to set the agenda for a future democracy, the first in the Arab world, but that ideal was founded on a total miscalculation. Everyone outside the White House generally acknowledges the failure of democratization, but the administration continues to believe that the U.S. has either the power or the right to dictate terms in Iraq, a choice they forfeited over three years ago.

There was never a serious chance that any Western model of government could be adopted except in an Iraq that existed in neocon fantasy. That fantasy, widely broadcast before the war, saw Iraq as a land of secular Arabs yearning to fulfill long-suppressed dreams of freedom. Certainly freedom was part of the mix in the real Iraq. The population responded to the chance for free elections. But there were stronger ingredients that made it impossible to install the government once elected. We now realize some harsh and sobering truths:

Shiite militias effectively carry out frontier justice at will, under the direction of Moktada al- Sadr. The so-called rogue of 2003 has emerged as the unchallenged leader of a vast impoverished Shiite populace bent on vengeance. In the long run Sadr must struggle with the more orthodox Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani for control of the country. The U.S. can play no part in the outcome since we have branded Sadr an outlaw and the reclusive Sistani won't even meet with American envoys.

The repressive power of the Sunni army has dissipated into scattered militias. Destroyed overnight by the U.S. invasion, the Sunnis who ran the country at every level can no longer call themselves a dominant force. The power vacuum left behind has proved a disaster. In response, the elite of the Sunni ruling class have fled the country en masse.

The power of secularism in general seems too weak to recover. Under Saddam Iraq was forced to be a secularized military state. His brutal repression tainted secularism, to the extent that religion seemed like a saving grace on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide. Presently, as in Iran, whoever seizes power on the secular front will only be a puppet for the sectarian rulers in the background. Maliki already is such a puppet. His is totally unable to curb Sadr's army because Sadr holds the upper hand. On his orders six members of the government resigned recently, indicating that the presence of U.S. occupation is merely a screen and a stop gap. Add to this volatile mix the chaotic intentions of Al-Qaeda, and the ability of any occupier to bring order is rendered nil.

In the end, the real Iraq has emerged from oppression into chaos. Eventually some sort of order will be imposed, no doubt by the power of harsh authority, and a new form of oppression will be imposed on a religious state. This was the pattern established in the Iranian revolution of thirty years ago, and despite a few changes, the same model is moving forward inexorably in Iraq. In this country the pro-war and anti-war politicians should face the harsh realities of Iraq together and stop arguing over an irrelevant cause that continues to cost us dearly in lost lives and a quagmire of illusions.