Eric Margolis: End near in Babylon
- End is near in Babylon
BY Eric S. Margolis
12/04/06 "Toronto Sun" -- - FRENCH President Jacques Chirac's warnings
in 2003 that a US invasion of Iraq would set the Mideast on fire,
encouraging terrorism and producing a disaster have been tragically
borne out by events. Iraq is falling ever deeper into chaos and
sectarian conflict. Lebanon teeters on the brink of civil war. The
agonies of Palestine now the world's largest outdoor prison
continue without relent. Iran's power and influence are surging.
For the latter, thank Washington, which overthrew two of Iran's
bitterest enemies, Taliban and Saddam Hussein, then stuck US ground
forces in the $250 million per day Iraq quagmire.
As Iraq turns into a nightmare of carnage and hate, President Bush and
mentor Dick Cheney rushed to the Mideast last week to urge their local
allies to pull America's bacon out of the fire.
But Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Al Maliki, governs only over Baghdad's
US-protected Green Zone. The US controls what passes for Iraq's police
and armed forces. Maliki has no army of his own; his Shia supporters
are divided and feuding. How can Bush expect a powerless prime
minister to do what the mighty US cannot?
At least, Maliki had the pluck to make a symbolic protest by refusing
to meet with Bush for dinner in Amman after humiliating reports leaked
in Washington the US intended to dump him. So much for Iraq
`democracy.' Washington may be headed towards installing a ruthless
Saddam clone, either a former CIA `asset' or some iron-fisted general.
What western reporters term the Iraqi Army is really a collection of
Shia militias, death squads and mercenaries, many former convicts. The
US occupation's extensive use of Shia death squads to fight the Sunni
resistance has played a key role in igniting Iraq's current sectarian
bloodbath. This little-known story is a major scandal.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Jordan warn they may send troops into Iraq
to protect its Sunni minority from ethnic cleansing by the Shia
majority. Such a move could provoke the powerful Turkish Army to
invade independence-seeking Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. Iran
would be quickly drawn into the melee.
Iraq's neighbours deeply fear its chaos will spread across their
borders, with dangerous, unpredictable consequences for all concerned.
The long-awaited Iraq Study Group's report comes out this week. It is
expected to call for a phased withdrawal of US combat troops from
Iraq, and retention of some `intervention units' in neighbouring
countries. France ruled its West African empire for a half a century
this way: installing compliant rulers kept in power by strategically
located French Foreign Legion and Air Force units ready to swiftly
intervene at signs of unrest.
The Iraq Study Group will also likely suggest direct talks with
so-called `axis of evil' members, Iran and Syria. Their cooperation is
essential to stabilizing Iraq as well as for producing a viable
solution to the Palestinian tragedy.
But a furious, behind-the-scenes battle is raging in Washington
between advocates of diplomatic engagement with Damascus and Teheran,
and the powerful Israel lobby, which has successfully blocked for
decades all attempts to open such badly needed dialogue or press
Israel over Palestinian rights. Israel and its American supporters are
pushing hard for US attacks on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.
Israel also wants to avoid being drawn into any talks with Syria that
will inevitably raise the issue of the Golan Heights, which Israel
occupied and ethnically cleansed of its Arab and Druze population in
1967. A comprehensive Mideast settlement will inevitably involve
Golan, which Syria desperately wants back and that Israel is
determined not to relinquish. Damascus won't permit an
Israeli-Palestinian peace deal until Golan is returned.
If Washington announces `phased withdrawals' of US forces from Iraq,
already shaky morale of American troops there will plummet. Who wants
to risk life or limb for a withdrawal?
This is exactly what I saw happen to US forces in Vietnam after
President Lyndon Johnson announced military victory was no longer his
goal. No GI wanted to be the last soldier killed in a lost war started
by bungling politicians.
Once Washington utters the dreaded `W' word withdrawal' Iraqis
working for the US occupation will flee to the Sunni or Shia
opposition. Iran's influence in Iraq will soar. America's Arab allies
will be left facing severe external and internal dangers. But
President Bush keeps insisting `no retreat.' He still seems unable to
see the writing on the wall in Babylon.
Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing
foreign editor of The Toronto Sun
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