Notre contrat devient pire, à chaque instant. Lando Carlissian (murmurant entre ses dents)
If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow. Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he’ll use the arsenal. President Clinton (February 1998)
[La mission des forces armées américaines et britanniques est d’]attaquer les programmes d’armement nucléaires, chimiques et biologiques de l’Irak et sa capacité militaire à menacer ses voisins (…) On ne peut laisser Saddam Hussein menacer ses voisins ou le monde avec des armements nucléaires, des gaz toxiques, ou des armes biologiques. » (…) Il y a six semaines, Saddam Hussein avait annoncé qu’il ne coopérerait plus avec l’Unscom [la commission chargée du désarmement en Irak (…). D’autres pays [que l’Irak possèdent des armements de destruction massive et des missiles balistiques. Avec Saddam, il y a une différence majeure : il les a utilisés. Pas une fois, mais de manière répétée (…). Confronté au dernier acte de défiance de Saddam, fin octobre, nous avons mené une intense campagne diplomatique contre l’Irak, appuyée par une imposante force militaire dans la région (…). J’avais alors décidé d’annuler l’attaque de nos avions (…) parce que Saddam avait accepté nos exigences. J’avais conclu que la meilleure chose à faire était de donner à Saddam une dernière chance (…). Les inspecteurs en désarmement de l’ONU ont testé la volonté de coopération irakienne (…). Hier soir, le chef de l’Unscom, Richard Butler, a rendu son rapport au secrétaire général de l’ONU [Kofi Annan. Les conclusions sont brutales, claires et profondément inquiétantes. Dans quatre domaines sur cinq, l’Irak n’a pas coopéré. En fait, il a même imposé de nouvelles restrictions au travail des inspecteurs (…). Nous devions agir et agir immédiatement (…). J’espère que Saddam va maintenant finalement coopérer avec les inspecteurs et respecter les résolutions du Conseil de sécurité. Mais nous devons nous préparer à ce qu’il ne le fasse pas et nous devons faire face au danger très réel qu’il représente. Nous allons donc poursuivre une stratégie à long terme pour contenir l’Irak et ses armes de destruction massive et travailler jusqu’au jour où l’Irak aura un gouvernement digne de sa population (…). La dure réalité est qu’aussi longtemps que Saddam reste au pouvoir il menace le bien-être de sa population, la paix de la région et la sécurité du monde. La meilleure façon de mettre un terme définitif à cette menace est la constitution d’un nouveau gouvernement, un gouvernement prêt à vivre en paix avec ses voisins, un gouvernement qui respecte les droits de sa population. Bill Clinton (16.12.98)
Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East, and which would threaten legitimate governments in Europe, Africa and Asia. Don Rumsfeld (2005)
They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world. Just as we had the opportunity to learn what the Nazis were going to do, from Hitler’s world in ‘Mein Kampf,’, we need to learn what these people intend to do from their own words. General Abizaid (2005)
The word getting the workout from the nation’s top guns these days is « caliphate » – the term for the seventh-century Islamic empire that spanned the Middle East, spread to Southwest Asia, North Africa and Spain, then ended with the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. The term can also refer to other caliphates, including the one declared by the Ottoman Turks that ended in 1924. (…) A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration’s warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War. They say that although Al Qaeda’s statements do indeed describe a caliphate as a goal, the administration is exaggerating the magnitude of the threat as it seeks to gain support for its policies in Iraq. In the view of John L. Esposito, an Islamic studies professor at Georgetown University, there is a difference between the ability of small bands of terrorists to commit attacks across the world and achieving global conquest. « It is certainly correct to say that these people have a global design, but the administration ought to frame it realistically, » said Mr. Esposito, the founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown. « Otherwise they can actually be playing into the hands of the Osama bin Ladens of the world because they raise this to a threat that is exponentially beyond anything that Osama bin Laden can deliver. » Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, said Al Qaeda was not leading a movement that threatened to mobilize the vast majority of Muslims. A recent poll Mr. Telhami conducted with Zogby International of 3,900 people in six countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon – found that only 6 percent sympathized with Al Qaeda’s goal of seeking an Islamic state. The notion that Al Qaeda could create a new caliphate, he said, is simply wrong. « There’s no chance in the world that they’ll succeed, » he said. « It’s a silly threat. » (On the other hand, more than 30 percent in Mr. Telhami’s poll said they sympathized with Al Qaeda, because the group stood up to America.) The term « caliphate » has been used internally by policy hawks in the Pentagon since the planning stages for the war in Iraq, but the administration’s public use of the word has increased this summer and fall, around the time that American forces obtained a letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 leader in Al Qaeda, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The 6,000-word letter, dated early in July, called for the establishment of a militant Islamic caliphate across Iraq before Al Qaeda’s moving on to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt and then a battle against Israel. In recent weeks, the administration’s use of « caliphate » has only intensified, as Mr. Bush has begun a campaign of speeches to try to regain support for the war. He himself has never publicly used the term, although he has repeatedly described the caliphate, as he did in a speech last week when he said that the terrorists want to try to establish « a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Indonesia to Spain. » Six days earlier, Mr. Edelman, the under secretary of defense, made it clear. « Iraq’s future will either embolden terrorists and expand their reach and ability to re-establish a caliphate, or it will deal them a crippling blow, » he said. « For us, failure in Iraq is just not an option. » NYT (2005)
They demand the elimination of Israel; the withdrawal of all Westerners from Muslim countries, irrespective of the wishes of people and government; the establishment of effectively Taleban states and Sharia law in the Arab world en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations. Tony Blair (2005)
I remember having a conversation with one of the colonels out in the field, and although he did not believe that a rapid unilateral withdrawal would actually be helpful, there was no doubt that the US occupation in Iraq was becoming an increasing source of irritation. And that one of the things that we’re going to need to do – and to do sooner rather than later – is to transition our troops out of the day-to-day operations in Iraq and to have a much lower profile and a smaller footprint in the country over the coming year. On the other hand, I did also ask some people who were not particularly sympathetic to the initial war, but were now trying to make things work in Iraq – what they thought would be the result of a total withdrawal and I think the general view was that we were in such a delicate situation right now and that there was so little institutional capacity on the part of the Iraqi government, that a full military withdrawal at this point would probably result in significant civil war and potentially hundreds of thousands of deaths. This by the way was a message that was delivered also by the Foreign Minister of Jordan, who I’ve been meeting with while here in Amman, Jordan. The sense, I think, throughout the entire region among those who opposed the US invasion, that now that we’re there it’s important that we don’t act equally precipitously in our approach to withdrawal, but that we actually stabilize the situation and allow time for the new Iraqi government to develop some sort of capacity. Barack Obama (January 9, 2006)
Having visited Iraq, I’m also acutely aware that a precipitous withdrawal of our troops, driven by Congressional edict rather than the realities on the ground, will not undo the mistakes made by this Administration. It could compound them. It could compound them by plunging Iraq into an even deeper and, perhaps, irreparable crisis. We must exit Iraq, but not in a way that leaves behind a security vacuum filled with terrorism, chaos, ethnic cleansing and genocide that could engulf large swaths of the Middle East and endanger America. We have both moral and national security reasons to manage our exit in a responsible way. Barack Obama (June 21, 2006)
To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready … would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous. George Bush (2007)
Sénateur Obama, je ne suis pas le président Bush. Si vous vouliez vous présenter contre le président Bush, il aurait fallu faire campagne il y a quatre ans. John McCain (2008)
The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That’s the decision of the next president of the United States. Senator Obama said the surge could not work, said it would increase sectarian violence, said it was doomed to failure. Recently on a television program, he said it exceed our wildest expectations. But yet, after conceding that, he still says that he would oppose the surge if he had to decide that again today. Incredibly, incredibly Senator Obama didn’t go to Iraq for 900 days and never asked for a meeting with General Petraeus.(…) I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy. (…) And this strategy, and this general, they are winning. Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq. (…) They just passed an electoral (…) law just in the last few days. There is social, economic progress, and a strategy, a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys. And peace comes to the country, and prosperity. (…) And that same strategy will be employed in Afghanistan by this great general. And Senator Obama, who after promising not to vote to cut off funds for the troops, did the incredible thing of voting to cut off the funds for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. (…) Now General Petraeus has praised the successes, but he said those successes are fragile and if we set a specific date for withdrawal — and by the way, Senator Obama’s original plan, they would have been out last spring before the surge ever had a chance to succeed.(…) But if we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and adopt Senator Obama’s plan, then we will have a wider war and it will make things more complicated throughout the region, including in Afghanistan. (…) I won’t repeat the mistake that I regret enormously, and that is, after we were able to help the Afghan freedom fighters and drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, we basically washed our hands of the region. And the result over time was the Taliban, Al Qaida, and a lot of the difficulties we are facing today. So we can’t ignore those lessons of history. (…) My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region because the other countries in the region will feel compelling requirement to acquire nuclear weapons as well. (…) What I’d also like to point out the Iranians are putting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq which are killing young Americans, there are special groups in Iran coming into Iraq and are being trained in Iran. There is the Republican Guard in Iran, which Senator Kyl had an amendment in order to declare them a sponsor of terror. Senator Obama said that would be provocative. John McCain (26.09.08)
Well, let me just correct something very quickly. I believe the Republican Guard of Iran is a terrorist organization. I’ve consistently said so. What Senator McCain refers to is a measure in the Senate that would try to broaden the mandate inside of Iraq. To deal with Iran. And ironically, the single thing that has strengthened Iran over the last several years has been the war in Iraq. Iraq was Iran’s mortal enemy. That was cleared away. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is Iran’s influence grow. They have funded Hezbollah, they have funded Hamas, they have gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon. So obviously, our policy over the last eight years has not worked. Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. It would be a game changer. Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create an environment in which you could set off an arms race in this Middle East. (…) We do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we’re going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are, I think Senator McCain would agree, not democracies, but have extensive trade with Iran but potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. But we are also going to have to, I believe, engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran and this is a major difference I have with Senator McCain, this notion by not talking to people we are punishing them has not worked. It has not worked in Iran, it has not worked in North Korea. In each instance, our efforts of isolation have actually accelerated their efforts to get nuclear weapons. That will change when I’m president of the United States. Barack Obama (26.09.08)
Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinenene (…) who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we’re going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of the state of Israel, and therefore then giving them more credence in the world arena and therefore saying, they’ve probably been doing the right thing, because you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their illegal behavior. (…) Look, I’ll sit down with anybody, but there’s got to be pre-conditions. Those pre-conditions would apply that we wouldn’t legitimize with a face to face meeting, a person like Ahmadinejad. Now, Senator Obama said, without preconditions. John McCain (26.09.08)
L’Irak (…) pourrait être l’un des grands succès de cette administration. Joe Biden (10.02.10)
We think a successful, democratic Iraq can be a model for the entire region. Obama
If only Obama had paid attention to Iraq … But his only interest in Iraq was in ending the war. (…) Iran’s goal was to ensure that Iraq was not integrated into the Arab world, instead becoming a close ally of Iran. Emma Sky
The surge did really work. It was a complicated series of events that led to the surge’s ultimate success, but one of the empirical metrics we can look to is that violence was reduced by 90% from pre-surge highs. Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus had a theory, which proved absolutely correct, that by reducing the sectarian violence what you would get is more room for politicians in Baghdad to have more flexibility to reach compromises, and that would in turn build upon itself in the form of political cooperation that would lead to further reduction of violence; and that’s what happened. From 2007 through 2010, we really saw the violence coming down as Sunni Arabs were reintegrating into Iraqi politics after being purged in a wholesale manner following the invasion of 2003. The Sunnis came back into the political process and fought al-Qaeda and formed the Iraqiya coalition that eventually won in the 2010 elections. It became the primary driver for the reduction in violence from the Sunni side and that was reciprocated by a reduction of violence by Shia Islamist militias that had been backed by Iran in coordination with Hezbollah and to some extent Assad. Unfortunately, what happened later, for reasons that I cannot even begin to understand, Washington betrayed the promises that the U.S. government had made to the Sunni tribal leaders, the same leaders that had fought al-Qaeda throughout the “Awakening.” With Nouri al Maliki’s sectarian rule, Iraq’s path toward civil war was really inevitable. There was a direct line from Maliki when he returned to power in December 2010 to consolidate his personal control over the organs of the state and steer it toward a very pro-Iranian and sectarian agenda, which inevitably disillusioned and disenfranchised Sunni Arabs for a second time. Then given Maliki’s misrule in Iraq and Assad’s misrule in Syria and their cooperation along with the Iranians and Hezbollah to wage a campaign of genocide, led to a region-wide sectarian war while the United States under President Obama stood back and watched and did nothing as the violence spiraled further and further out of control. (…) Iraq’s unraveling was essentially cemented on March 20th 2003 when the first bombs were dropped on Dora farms and on April 9th when Baghdad fell. Essentially, when Saddam’s regime was blown away, Iraq was blown away too. Saddam had hollowed out the state, similar to Qaddafi in Libya, Saleh in Yemen, and Assad in Syria – the state had become a cult of personality built around one man with no real capacity and no real institutions. When we bombed Saddam’s palaces, the military and intelligence services, and when we watched the Iraqi population rise up to burn and loot the ministries, there was nothing left of the country and nothing left of the state. Therefore, Bremer’s decision to disband the army and create the DeBaathification Commission ensured that the chaos that followed was inevitable. These decisions displaced hundreds of thousands of members of the Iraqi security services, who were trained and disciplined and knew how to use weapons and where weapons caches were. When they were told that they had no future in the New Iraq, a violent insurgency was born. So one bad decision was followed by another bad decision, and we ended up with an absolute perfect storm, which led to the chaos that we’ve seen since 2003. Ali Khedery
Dans l’immédiat, notre attention doit se porter en priorité sur les domaines biologique et chimique. C’est là que nos présomptions vis-à-vis de l’Iraq sont les plus significatives : sur le chimique, nous avons des indices d’une capacité de production de VX et d’ypérite ; sur le biologique, nos indices portent sur la détention possible de stocks significatifs de bacille du charbon et de toxine botulique, et une éventuelle capacité de production. Dominique De Villepin
Even when viewed through a post-war lens, documentary evidence of messages are consistent with the Iraqi Survey Group’s conclusion that Saddam was at least keeping a WMD program primed for a quick re-start the moment the UN Security Council lifted sanctions. Iraqi Perpectives Project (March 2006)
Captured Iraqi documents have uncovered evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism, including a variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. While these documents do not reveal direct coordination and assistance between the Saddam regime and the al Qaeda network, they do indicate that Saddam was willing to use, albeit cautiously, operatives affiliated with al Qaeda as long as Saddam could have these terrorist operatives monitored closely. Because Saddam’s security organizations and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network operated with similar aims (at least in the short term), considerable overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the same outside groups. This created both the appearance of and, in some ways, a de facto link between the organizations. At times, these organizations would work together in pursuit of shared goals but still maintain their autonomy and independence because of innate caution and mutual distrust. Though the execution of Iraqi terror plots was not always successful, evidence shows that Saddam’s use of terrorist tactics and his support for terrorist groups remained strong up until the collapse of the regime. Iraqi Perspectives Project (Saddam and Terrorism, Nov. 2007, released Mar. 2008)
Beginning in 1994, the Fedayeen Saddam opened its own paramilitary training camps for volunteers, graduating more than 7,200 « good men racing full with courage and enthusiasm » in the first year. Beginning in 1998, these camps began hosting « Arab volunteers from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, ‘the Gulf,’ and Syria. » It is not clear from available evidence where all of these non-Iraqi volunteers who were « sacrificing for the cause » went to ply their newfound skills. Before the summer of 2002, most volunteers went home upon the completion of training. But these camps were humming with frenzied activity in the months immediately prior to the war. As late as January 2003, the volunteers participated in a special training event called the « Heroes Attack. » This training event was designed in part to prepare regional Fedayeen Saddam commands to « obstruct the enemy from achieving his goal and to support keeping peace and stability in the province. » Study (Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia)
There is no question that the United States was divided going into that war. But I think the United States is united coming out of that war. We all recognize the tremendous price that has been paid in lives, in blood. And yet I think we also recognize that those lives were not lost in vain. (…) As difficult as [the Iraq war] was, and the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world. Leon Panetta (secrétaire américain à la Défense)
The military recommended nearly 20,000 troops, considerably fewer than our 28,500 in Korea, 40,000 in Japan, and 54,000 in Germany. The president rejected those proposals, choosing instead a level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops. A deployment so risibly small would have to expend all its energies simply protecting itself — the fate of our tragic, missionless 1982 Lebanon deployment — with no real capability to train the Iraqis, build their U.S.-equipped air force, mediate ethnic disputes (as we have successfully done, for example, between local Arabs and Kurds), operate surveillance and special-ops bases, and establish the kind of close military-to-military relations that undergird our strongest alliances. The Obama proposal was an unmistakable signal of unseriousness. It became clear that he simply wanted out, leaving any Iraqi foolish enough to maintain a pro-American orientation exposed to Iranian influence, now unopposed and potentially lethal. (…) The excuse is Iraqi refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. forces. But the Bush administration encountered the same problem, and overcame it. Obama had little desire to. Indeed, he portrays the evacuation as a success, the fulfillment of a campaign promise. Charles Krauthammer
En dernière analyse, ce que nous laisserons et comment nous partirons sera plus important que la manière dont nous sommes venus. Ryan Crocker (ex-ambassadeur américain en Irak)
Nous devons également reconnaître que le choix auquel nous sommes confrontés en Irak n’est pas entre le gouvernement irakien actuel et un gouvernement irakien parfait. Il s’agit plutôt d’un choix entre une démocratie jeune, imparfaite et à la peine que nous avons laborieusement amenée à l’existence, et les kamikazés fanatiques d’Al Qaeda et les terroristes commandités par l’Iran qui essayent de la détruire. Si les politiciens de Washington réussissent à imposer un retrait prématuré de nos troupes en Irak, le résultat sera un monde plus dangereux et l’encouragement de nos ennemis. Comme le président iranien s’en est récemment vanté, » bientôt, nous verrons apparaître un grand vide de pouvoir dans la région. . . [ et ] nous sommes prêts à combler ce vide. » Quelque soient les imperfections de nos amis irakiens, elles ne sont aucunement une excuse pour que nous battions en retraite devant nos ennemis comme Al Qaeda et l’Iran, qui constituent une menace mortelle pour nos intérêts nationaux essentiels. Nous devons comprendre qu’aujourd’hui en Irak nous combattons et sommes en train de vaincre le même réseau terroriste qui nous a attaqués le 11/9. John McCain et Joe Lieberman
La vérité est que c’est les Sunnites qui ont lancé cette guerre il y a quatre ans et qu’ils l’ont perdue. Les tribus ne gagnent jamais les guerres, elles ne font que rejoindre le camp des vainqueurs. Un Irakien
A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration’s warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War. They say that although Al Qaeda’s statements do indeed describe a caliphate as a goal, the administration is exaggerating the magnitude of the threat as it seeks to gain support for its policies in Iraq. NYT (2005)
To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready … would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous. George Bush (2007)
More than 600,000 Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine and as a result of the unjustifiable aggression (sanction) imposed on Iraq and its nation. The children of Iraq are our children. You, the USA, together with the Saudi regime are responsible for the shedding of the blood of these innocent children. (…) The latest and the greatest of these aggressions, incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet (ALLAH’S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places -the foundation of the house of Islam, the place of the revelation, the source of the message and the place of the noble Ka’ba, the Qiblah of all Muslims- by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies. (…) there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land. Osama Bin Laden (1996)
Le peuple comprend maintenant les discours des oulémas dans les mosquées, selon lesquels notre pays est devenu une colonie de l’empire américain. Il agit avec détermination pour chasser les Américains d’Arabie saoudite. […] La solution à cette crise est le retrait des troupes américaines. Leur présence militaire est une insulte au peuple saoudien. Ben Laden
27 août 1992 : les Etats-Unis, la Grande-Bretagne et la France mettent en place une autre zone d’exclusion aérienne, au sud du 32eme parallèle, avec l’objectif d’observer les violations de droits de l’homme à l’encontre de la population chiite.
3 septembre 1996 : en représailles à un déploiement de troupes irakiennes dans la zone nord, les Etats-Unis et la Grande-Bretagne ripostent militairement dans le sud et étendent la zone d’exclusion aérienne sud, qui passe du 32eme au 33eme parallèle. La France refuse cette extension, mais continue à effectuer des missions de surveillance aérienne au sud du 32ème parallèle..
27 décembre 1996 : Jacques Chirac décide de retirer la France du contrôle de la zone d’exclusion aérienne nord. Il justifie cette décision par le fait que le dispositif a changé de nature avec les bombardements de septembre, et que le volet humanitaire initialement prévu n’y est plus inclus. La France proteste par ailleurs contre la décision unilatérale des Etats-Unis et de la Turquie (avec l’acceptation de la Grande-Bretagne) d’augmenter la zone d’exclusion aérienne sud. Michel Wéry
Les Etats-Unis n’ont pas envahi l’Irak mais sont intervenus dans un conflit déjà en cours. Kiron Skinner (conseillère à la sécurité du président Bush)
Since a wounded Saddam could not be left unattended and an oil-rich Saudi Arabia could not be left unprotected, U.S. troops took up long-term residence in the Saudi kingdom, a fateful decision that started the clock ticking toward 9/11. As bin Laden himself explained in his oft-quoted 1996 fatwa, his central aim was “to expel the occupying enemy from the country of the two Holy places.”… Put another way, bin Laden’s casus belli was an unintended and unforeseen byproduct of what Saddam Hussein had done in 1990. The presence of U.S. troops in the land of Mecca and Medina had galvanized al-Qaeda, which carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which triggered America’s global war on terror, which inevitably led back to Iraq, which is where America finds itself today. In a sense, occupation was inevitable after Desert Storm; perhaps the United States ended up occupying the wrong country. … If the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia sparked bin Laden’s global guerrilla war, America’s low threshold for casualties would serve as the fuel to keep it raging. … From bin Laden’s vantage point, America’s retreats from Beirut in the 1980s, Mogadishu in the 1990s and Yemen in 2000 were evidence of weakness. “When tens of your soldiers were killed in minor battles and one American pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu, you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you,” he recalled. “The extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the heart of every Muslim and a remedy to the chests of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu.” … Hence, quitting Iraq could have dramatic and disastrous consequences – something like the fall of Saigon, Desert One, and the Beirut and Mogadishu pullouts all rolled into one giant propaganda victory for the enemy. Not only would it leave a nascent democracy unprotected from bin Laden’s henchmen, it would serve to confirm their perception that America is a paper tiger lacking the will to fight or to stand with those who are willing to fight. Who would count on America the next time? For that matter, on whom would America be able to count as the wars of 9/11 continue? … Finally, retreat also would re-energize the enemy and pave the way toward his ultimate goal. Imagine Iraq spawning a Balkan-style ethno-religious war while serving as a Taliban-style springboard for terror. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s top terrorist in Iraq, already has said, “We fight today in Iraq, and tomorrow in the land of the two Holy Places, and after there the West.” Alan W. Dowd
De même que les progressistes européens et américains doutaient des menaces de Hitler et de Staline, les Occidentaux éclairés sont aujourd’hui en danger de manquer l’urgence des idéologies violentes issues du monde musulman. Les socialistes français des années 30 (…) ont voulu éviter un retour de la première guerre mondiale; ils ont refusé de croire que les millions de personnes en Allemagne avaient perdu la tête et avaient soutenu le mouvement nazi. Ils n’ont pas voulu croire qu’un mouvement pathologique de masse avait pris le pouvoir en Allemagne, ils ont voulu rester ouverts à ce que les Allemands disaient et aux revendiquations allemandes de la première guerre mondiale. Et les socialistes français, dans leur effort pour être ouverts et chaleureux afin d’éviter à tout prix le retour d’une guerre comme la première guerre mondiale, ont fait tout leur possible pour essayer de trouver ce qui était raisonnable et plausible dans les arguments d’Hitler. Ils ont vraiment fini par croire que le plus grand danger pour la paix du monde n’était pas posé par Hitler mais par les faucons de leur propre société, en France. Ces gesn-là étaient les socialistes pacifistes de la France, c’était des gens biens. Pourtant, de fil en aiguille, ils se sont opposés à l’armée française contre Hitler, et bon nombre d’entre eux ont fini par soutenir le régime de Vichy et elles ont fini comme fascistes! Ils ont même dérapé vers l’anti-sémitisme pur, et personne ne peut douter qu’une partie de cela s’est reproduit récemment dans le mouvement pacifiste aux Etats-Unis et surtout en Europe. Un des scandales est que nous avons eu des millions de personnes dans la rue protestant contre la guerre en Irak, mais pas pour réclamer la liberté en Irak. Personne n’a marché dans les rues au nom des libertés kurdes. Les intérêts des dissidents libéraux de l’Irak et les démocrates kurdes sont en fait également nos intérêts. Plus ces personnes prospèrent, plus grande sera notre sécurité. C’est un moment où ce qui devrait être nos idéaux — les idéaux de la démocratie libérale et de la solidarité sociale — sont également objectivement notre intérêt. Bush n’a pas réussi à l’expliquer clairement, et une grande partie de la gauche ne l’a même pas perçu. Paul Berman
Avec Assad, on voit justement ce qui arrive quand on laisse un dictateur en place. Les problèmes ne disparaissent pas tout seuls. Tony Blair
L’un des arguments des adversaires de l’intervention de 2003 est de dire que, puisque Saddam Hussein ne possédait aucune arme de destruction massive, l’invasion de l’Irak était injustifiée. D’après les rapports des inspecteurs internationaux, nous savons que, même si Saddam s’était débarrassé de ses armes chimiques, il avait conservé l’expertise et les capacités d’en produire. En 2011, si nous avions laissé Saddam au pouvoir, l’Irak aurait été lui aussi emporté par la vague des révolutions arabes. En tant que sunnite, Saddam aurait tout fait pour préserver son régime face à la révolte de la majorité chiite du pays. Pendant ce temps, de l’autre côté de la frontière, en Syrie, une minorité bénéficiant de l’appui des chiites s’accrocherait au pouvoir et tenterait de résister à la révolte de la majorité sunnite. Le risque aurait donc été grand de voir la région sombrer dans une conflagration confessionnelle généralisée dans laquelle les Etats ne se seraient pas affrontés par procuration, mais directement, avec leurs armées nationales. Tout le Moyen-Orient est en réalité engagé dans une longue et douloureuse transition. Nous devons nous débarrasser de l’idée que » nous » avons provoqué cette situation. Ce n’est pas vrai. (…) Nous avons aujourd’hui trois exemples de politique occidentale en matière de changement de régime dans la région. En Irak, nous avons appelé à un changement de régime, renversé la dictature et déployé des troupes pour aider à la reconstruction du pays. Mais l’intervention s’est révélée extrêmement ardue, et aujourd’hui le pays est à nouveau en danger. En Libye, nous avons appelé au changement de régime, chassé Kadhafi grâce à des frappes aériennes mais refusé d’envoyer des troupes au sol. Aujourd’hui, la Libye, ravagée par la violence, a exporté le désordre et de vastes quantités d’armes à travers l’Afrique du Nord et jusqu’en Afrique subsaharienne. En Syrie, nous avons appelé au changement de régime mais n’avons rien fait, et c’est le pays qui se trouve dans la situation la pire. (…) Il n’est pas raisonnable pour l’Occident d’adopter une politique d’indifférence. Car il s’agit, que nous le voulions ou pas, d’un problème qui nous concerne. Les agences de sécurité européennes estiment que la principale menace pour l’avenir proviendra des combattants revenant de Syrie. Le danger est réel de voir le pays devenir pour les terroristes un sanctuaire plus redoutable encore que ne l’était l’Afghanistan dans les années 1990. Mais n’oublions pas non plus les risques que fait peser la guerre civile syrienne sur le Liban et la Jordanie. Il était impossible que cet embrasement reste confiné à l’intérieur des frontières syriennes .Je comprends les raisons pour lesquelles, après l’Afghanistan et l’Irak, l’opinion publique est si hostile à une intervention militaire. Mais une intervention en Syrie n’était pas et n’est pas nécessairement obligée de prendre les formes qu’elle a prises dans ces deux pays. Et, chaque fois que nous renonçons à agir, les mesures que nous serons fatalement amenés à prendre par la suite devront être plus violente. (…) Nous devons prendre conscience que le défi s’étend bien au-delà du Moyen-Orient. L’Afrique, comme le montrent les tragiques événements au Nigeria, y est elle aussi confrontée. L’Extrême-Orient et l’Asie centrale également.L’Irak n’est qu’une facette d’une situation plus générale. Tous les choix qui s’offrent à nous sont inquiétants. Mais, depuis trois ans, nous regardons la Syrie s’enfoncer dans l’abîme et, pendant qu’elle sombre, elle nous enserre lentement et sûrement dans ses rets et nous entraîne avec elle. C’est pourquoi nous devons oublier les différends du passé et agir maintenant pour préserver l’avenir. Tony Blair
Ce n’est pas parce qu’une équipe de juniors porte le maillot des Lakers que cela en fait des Kobe Bryant. Je pense qu’il y a une différence entre les moyens et la portée d’un Ben Laden, d’un réseau qui planifie activement des attaques terroristes de grande envergure contre notre territoire, et ceux de jihadistes impliqués dans des luttes de pouvoir locales, souvent de nature ethnique. Barack Obama (janvier 2014)
Who Lost Iraq? You know who. (…) The military recommended nearly 20,000 troops, considerably fewer than our 28,500 in Korea, 40,000 in Japan, and 54,000 in Germany. The president rejected those proposals, choosing instead a level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops. A deployment so risibly small would have to expend all its energies simply protecting itself — the fate of our tragic, missionless 1982 Lebanon deployment — with no real capability to train the Iraqis, build their U.S.-equipped air force, mediate ethnic disputes (as we have successfully done, for example, between local Arabs and Kurds), operate surveillance and special-ops bases, and establish the kind of close military-to-military relations that undergird our strongest alliances. The Obama proposal was an unmistakable signal of unseriousness. It became clear that he simply wanted out, leaving any Iraqi foolish enough to maintain a pro-American orientation exposed to Iranian influence, now unopposed and potentially lethal. (…) The excuse is Iraqi refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. forces. But the Bush administration encountered the same problem, and overcame it. Obama had little desire to. Indeed, he portrays the evacuation as a success, the fulfillment of a campaign promise. Charles Krauthammer
The prospect of Iraq’s disintegration is already being spun by the Administration and its media friends as the fault of George W. Bush and Mr. Maliki. So it’s worth understanding how we got here. Iraq was largely at peace when Mr. Obama came to office in 2009. Reporters who had known Baghdad during the worst days of the insurgency in 2006 marveled at how peaceful the city had become thanks to the U.S. military surge and counterinsurgency. In 2012 Anthony Blinken, then Mr. Biden’s top security adviser, boasted that, « What’s beyond debate » is that « Iraq today is less violent, more democratic, and more prosperous. And the United States is more deeply engaged there than at any time in recent history. » Mr. Obama employed the same breezy confidence in a speech last year at the National Defense University, saying that « the core of al Qaeda » was on a « path to defeat, » and that the « future of terrorism » came from « less capable » terrorist groups that mainly threatened « diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. » Mr. Obama concluded his remarks by calling on Congress to repeal its 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against al Qaeda. If the war on terror was over, ISIS didn’t get the message. The group, known as Tawhid al-Jihad when it was led a decade ago by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was all but defeated by 2009 but revived as U.S. troops withdrew and especially after the uprising in Syria spiraled into chaos. It now controls territory from the outskirts of Aleppo in northwestern Syria to Fallujah in central Iraq. The possibility that a long civil war in Syria would become an incubator for terrorism and destabilize the region was predictable, and we predicted it. « Now the jihadists have descended by the thousands on Syria, » we noted last May. « They are also moving men and weapons to and from Iraq, which is increasingly sinking back into Sunni-Shiite civil war. . . . If Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki feels threatened by al Qaeda and a Sunni rebellion, he will increasingly look to Iran to help him stay in power. » We don’t quote ourselves to boast of prescience but to wonder why the Administration did nothing to avert the clearly looming disaster. Contrary to what Mr. Blinken claimed in 2012, the « diplomatic surge » the Administration promised for Iraq never arrived, nor did U.S. weapons. « The Americans have really deeply disappointed us by not supplying the Iraqi army with the weapons and support it needs to fight terrorism, » the Journal quoted one Iraqi general based in Kirkuk. That might strike some readers as rich coming from the commander of a collapsing army, but it’s a reminder of the price Iraqis and Americans are now paying for Mr. Obama’s failure to successfully negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad that would have maintained a meaningful U.S. military presence. A squadron of Apache attack helicopters, Predator drones and A-10 attack planes based in Iraq might be able to turn back ISIS’s march on Baghdad. WSJ
The president is in fact implementing the policy he promised. It was retrenchment by one word, retreat by another.[Obama’s policy is also what the American public showed in polls that it wants right now] ”It wants it, at least until it gets queasy by looking at the pictures they’ve been seeing tonight. George Will
Affirmer, au bout de onze ans, que ce à quoi on assiste actuellement est le résultat de ce qui s’est produit à l’époque est aussi simpliste qu’insultant. Dans ce qui s’assimile à une perspective néocolonialiste postmoderne, ceci revient à suggérer que les Irakiens ne sont toujours pas en mesure d’assumer la responsabilité de leur propre pays. Abstraction faite de toutes les autres conséquences, l’invasion de 2003 n’en a pas moins donné aux Irakiens une possibilité d’autodétermination démocratique qu’ils n’auraient jamais eue sous Saddam Hussein. C’est cette démocratie imparfaite qui est menacée ; il faut à présent la conserver et l’améliorer. The Observer
Mosul’s fall matters for what it reveals about a terrorism whose threat Mr. Obama claims he has minimized. For starters, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) isn’t a bunch of bug-eyed « Mad Max » guys running around firing Kalashnikovs. ISIS is now a trained and organized army. The seizures of Mosul and Tikrit this week revealed high-level operational skills. ISIS is using vehicles and equipment seized from Iraqi military bases. Normally an army on the move would slow down to establish protective garrisons in towns it takes, but ISIS is doing the opposite, by replenishing itself with fighters from liberated prisons. An astonishing read about this group is on the website of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. It is an analysis of a 400-page report, « al-Naba, » published by ISIS in March. This is literally a terrorist organization’s annual report for 2013. It even includes « metrics, » detailed graphs of its operations in Iraq as well as in Syria. One might ask: Didn’t U.S. intelligence know something like Mosul could happen? They did. The February 2014 « Threat Assessment » by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency virtually predicted it: « AQI/ISIL [aka ISIS] probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria . . . as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah. » AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq), the report says, is exploiting the weak security environment « since the departure of U.S. forces at the end of 2011. » But to have suggested any mitigating steps to this White House would have been pointless. It won’t listen. In March, Gen. James Mattis, then head of the U.S. Central Command, told Congress he recommended the U.S. keep 13,600 support troops in Afghanistan; he was known not to want an announced final withdrawal date. On May 27, President Obama said it would be 9,800 troops—for just one year. Which guarantees that the taking of Mosul will be replayed in Afghanistan. Let us repeat the most quoted passage in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s memoir, « Duty. » It describes the March 2011 meeting with Mr. Obama about Afghanistan in the situation room. « As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his, » Mr. Gates wrote. « For him, it’s all about getting out. » Daniel Henninger
My greatest fear is that we stabilize Iraq, then hand it over to the Iranians in our rush to the exit. I’ve invested too much here to simply walk away and let that happen. General Raymond Odierno (commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, 2010)
Where is the U.S.? Does the U.S. have no interest in protecting the democratic process? Does the U.S. not care what sort of government is put together? Qasim Suleimani is very active putting together the Shia coalition. Does the U.S. not understand what impact this will have on the region—and on internal stability in Iraq? Is the U.S. not worried about Iranian influence in Iraq? Rafi Issawi (Iraqi, deputy prime minister)
I had arrived ready to apologise to every Iraqi for the war. Instead I had listened to a litany of suffering and pain under Saddam for which I was quite unprepared. The mass graves, the details of torture, the bureaucratisation of abuse. The pure banality of evil. But the Iraqis also had huge expectations of the US. After every war Saddam rebuilt the country in six months, so their attitude was, ‘imagine what the US can do after six months. America can put a man on the moon … you wait’. Emma Sky
Nothing that happened in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was pre-ordained; different futures than the one unfolding today were possible. Recall that violence declined drastically during the 2007 U.S. troop surge, and that for the next couple of years both Iraq and the West felt that the country was going in the right direction. But the seeds of Iraq’s unravelling were sown in 2010, when the United States did not uphold the election results and failed to broker the formation of a new Iraqi government. As an adviser to the top U.S. general in Iraq, I was a witness. (…)The national elections took place on March 7, 2010, and went more smoothly than we had dared hope. After a month of competitive campaigning across the country and wide media coverage of the different candidates and parties, 62 percent of eligible Iraqis turned out to vote. (…) We had not expected Iraqiya—a coalition headed by the secular Shia Ayad Allawi and leaders of the Sunni community, and running on a non-sectarian platform—to do so well. The coalition had won 91 seats—two more than the incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition. (…) Even though there was no evidence of fraud to justify a recount, the Iraqi electoral commission and the international community agreed to one, fearful of a repeat of the election fiasco in 2009 in Afghanistan, which had tarnished the credibility of elections there. In the meantime, Maliki’s advisers told us he needed two extra seats, either from the recount or through arbitrary de-Ba’athification that could disqualify Iraqiya candidates. Otherwise, he would be blamed for losing Iraq for the Shia, who make up some two-thirds of the population. (…) General O and I did not think that the Iraqiya candidate, Allawi, would be able to put a government together with himself as prime minister. But we thought he had the right as the winner of the election to have first go—and that this could lead to a political compromise among the leaders, with either Allawi and Maliki agreeing to share power between them or a third person chosen to be prime minister. But … Hill, General O strode down the embassy corridor looking visibly upset. “He told me that Iraq is not ready for democracy, that Iraq needs a Shia strongman,” the general said, “and Maliki is our man.” Odierno had objected that that was not what the Iraqis wanted. They were rid of one dictator, Hussein, and did not want to create another. (…) Sami al-Askari, a Shia politician close to Maliki who believed that an agreement between State of Law and Iraqiya was the best way forward (…) also told me that everyone except the Americans realized that the formation of the government was perceived as a battle between Iran and the United States for influence in Iraq. The Iranians were active, while the U.S. embassy did nothing. Qasim Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s al-Quds Force, continued to summon Iraqis to Iran in order to put together a pan-Shia coalition. The Iranians, al-Askari said, intended to drag out government formation until after August 31, when all U.S. combat forces were due to leave, in order to score a “victory” over the United States. (…) In the Arabic media, there was confusion as to why the United States and Iran should both choose Maliki as prime minister, and this fuelled conspiracy theories about a secret deal between those two countries. (…) The Obama administration wanted to see an Iraqi government in place before the U.S. mid-term elections in November. Biden believed the quickest way to form a government was to keep Maliki as prime minister, and to cajole other Iraqis into accepting this. (…) I tried to explain the struggle between secularists and Islamists, and how many Iraqis wanted to move beyond sectarianism. But Biden could not fathom this. For him, Iraq was simply about Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.(…) If only President Obama had paid attention to Iraq. He, more than anyone, would understand the complexity of identities, I thought—and that people can change. But his only interest in Iraq, it appeared, was in ending the war. (…) In July 2014, I visited Erbil, Iraq, shortly after the Islamic State had taken control of a third of the country and the Iraqi Army had disintegrated. I met up with Rafi Issawi. (…) Rafi listed for me the Sunni grievances that had steadily simmered since I’d left—until they had finally boiled over. Maliki had detained thousands of Sunnis without trial, pushed leading Sunnis, including Rafi, out of the political process by accusing them of terrorism and reneged on payments and pledges to the Iraqi tribes who had bravely fought Al Qaeda in Iraq. Year-long Sunni protests demanding an end to discrimination were met by violence, with dozens of unarmed protesters killed by Iraqi security forces. Maliki had completely subverted the judiciary to his will, so that Sunnis felt unable to achieve justice. The Islamic State, Rafi explained to me, was able to take advantage of this situation, publicly claiming to be the defenders of the Sunnis against the Iranian-backed Maliki government. The downward spiral, Rafi told me not surprisingly, had begun in 2010—when Iraqiya was not given the first chance to try to form the government. “We might not have succeeded,” he admitted, “but the process itself would have been important in building trust in Iraq’s young institutions.” Emma Sky
Attention: un Munich peut en cacher un autre !
Et où la poignée prétendument « historique » avec un Cuba tout aussi inflexible est bien prête de retomber comme le soufflé qu’elle n’a jamais cessé d’être …
Pendant qu’ayant fait main basse sur quatre capitales arabes …
Et se voyant légitimés dans leur quête d’une arme nucléaire …
Qui se souvient du précédent Munich …
Déjà dénoncé prophétiquement dès 2007 par l’ancien président Bush comme un an plus tard par le sénateur McCain ?
Qui se rappelle …
Comme le confirme, nouvelle Gertrude Bell de l’Irak, l’ancienne conseillère britannique des troupes américaines dans un nouveau livre …
La véritable trahison, par l’Administration Obama, des sunnites qui avaient permis l’élimination d’Al Qaeda en Irak …
Comme l’abandon militaire du pays en refusant d’y laisser assez de troupes …
Pour le plus grand profit non seulement des islamistes que l’on doit combattre à nouveau …
Mais surtout des Iraniens que l’on courtise aujourd’hui ?
How Obama Abandoned Democracy in Iraq
Bush’s mistake was invading the country. His successor’s was leaving it to a strongman.
April 07, 2015
When trying to explain the current unrest in the Middle East, from Iraq to Syria to Yemen, American officials often resort to platitudes about Sunni and Shia Muslims fighting each other for “centuries” due to “ancient hatreds.” Not only is this claim historically inaccurate, but it also ignores the unintended consequences that the Iraq War more recently leashed on the region. That war—and the manner in which the United States left it behind in 2011—shifted the balance of power in the region in Iran’s favor. Regional competition, of which Iran’s tension with Saudi Arabia is the main but not only dimension, exacerbated existing fault-lines, with support for extreme sectarian actors, including the Islamic State, turning local grievances over poor governance into proxy wars.
Nothing that happened in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was pre-ordained; different futures than the one unfolding today were possible. Recall that violence declined drastically during the 2007 U.S. troop surge, and that for the next couple of years both Iraq and the West felt that the country was going in the right direction. But the seeds of Iraq’s unravelling were sown in 2010, when the United States did not uphold the election results and failed to broker the formation of a new Iraqi government. As an adviser to the top U.S. general in Iraq, I was a witness.
“My greatest fear,” General Raymond Odierno, the then commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, told me in early 2010, “is that we stabilize Iraq, then hand it over to the Iranians in our rush to the exit.”
General O (as he is known), had recently watched the 2007 movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which recounts how U.S. interest in Afghanistan ceased once the mujahedeen defeated the Soviet Army in 1989 and drove them out. Now, he had a premonition that the same could happen in Iraq. “I’ve invested too much here,” he said, “to simply walk away and let that happen.”
I had first met Odierno in 2003, when he was the commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division responsible for the provinces of Salah al-Din, Diyala and Kirkuk in the early days of the Iraq War; I had been the representative in Kirkuk of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American-led transitional government that controlled Iraq after Hussein’s fall. Now, as his political adviser, I was helping General O ensure that the United States kept its focus on the mission in Iraq while drawing down U.S. forces.
Odierno wanted U.S. engagement with Iraq to continue for years to come, but led by U.S. civilians, not the military. He believed that, in order to train Iraqi security forces and provide the psychological support needed to maintain a level of stability, 20,000 or so U.S. troops needed to stay in Iraq beyond 2011, when all American troops were scheduled to be withdrawn. But the real engagement, General O believed, should be from the other instruments of national power, led by the U.S. embassy.
Every time a congressional delegation visited us in Baghdad, General O put up a slide showing why the United States should continue to invest in Iraq through the Strategic Framework Agreement that the two countries had signed in 2008. General O knew that for the mission to succeed, there needed to be a political agreement between Iraqi leaders. Otherwise, all the security gains that the American troops had fought so hard for would not be sustainable. He took every opportunity to educate and communicate these complexities to the new Obama administration.
For six months, General O had tried hard to support the leadership of Chris Hill, the new American ambassador who had taken up his post in April 2009. But Odierno had begun to despair. It was clear that Hill, though a career diplomat, lacked regional experience and was miscast in the role in Baghdad. In fact, he had not wanted the job, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had persuaded him to take it; she admitted as much to General O, he told me, when he met her in early 2010 in Washington to discuss the dysfunction at the embassy. General O complained that Hill did not engage with Iraqis or with others in the diplomatic community—his only focus appeared to be monitoring the activities of the U.S. military.
It was frightening how a person could so poison a place. Hill brought with him a small cabal who were new to Iraq and marginalized all those with experience in the country. The highly knowledgeable and well-regarded Arabist Robert Ford had cut short his tour as ambassador to Algeria to return to Iraq for a third tour and turned down another ambassadorship to stay on in Iraq and serve as Hill’s deputy. But Hill appeared not to want Ford’s advice on political issues and pressured him to depart the post early in 2010. In his staff meetings, Hill made clear how much he disliked Iraq and Iraqis. Instead, he was focused on making the embassy “normal” like other U.S. embassies. That apparently meant having grass within the embassy compound. The initial attempts to plant seed had failed when birds ate it all, but eventually, great rolls of lawn turf were brought in—I had no idea from where—and took root. By the end of his tenure, there was grass on which the ambassador could play lacrosse.
The national elections took place on March 7, 2010, and went more smoothly than we had dared hope. After a month of competitive campaigning across the country and wide media coverage of the different candidates and parties, 62 percent of eligible Iraqis turned out to vote.
The author and Gen. Raymond Odiero in Iraq. | Courtesy of Emma Sky
The European Union and others had fielded hundreds of international poll-watchers alongside thousands of trained Iraqi election observers, while the United Nations provided the Iraqis with advice on technical matters related to elections. All this helped to sustain the credibility of the process. Insurgents sought to create a climate of fear by planting bombs in water bottles and blowing up a house, but the Iraqi security forces stood up to the test.
“We won the elections!” Rafi Issawi, the deputy prime minister, shouted excitedly to me on the phone. I could hear celebratory gunfire in the background. We had not expected Iraqiya—a coalition headed by the secular Shia Ayad Allawi and leaders of the Sunni community, and running on a non-sectarian platform—to do so well. The coalition had won 91 seats—two more than the incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.
I accompanied General O and Hill to a meeting with Maliki the next day. Maliki, a Shia, had been prime minister since 2006. Americans and Iraqis alike initially viewed him as weak, but his reputation grew after he ordered military operations against Shia militias. Since then, Iraqi politicians had become increasingly fearful of his authoritarian tendencies. He had insisted on running separately in the election—as State of Law rather than joining a united Shia coalition as had happened in 2005—in large part because the Shia parties would not agree on him to lead the list. Nobody wanted a second Maliki premiership.
When Hill asked Maliki that day about his retirement plans, it was immediately apparent that he was not contemplating stepping down. Instead, he claimed there had been massive election fraud and that the Mujahideen al-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group locked away in eastern Iraq’s Diyala province, had used satellites to tamper with the computers used to tally the voting results—even though the computers were not connected to the Internet and thousands of election observers had monitored the voting. But Maliki’s advisers had told him he would win big with more than a hundred seats, so he demanded a recount. Maliki was becoming scary.
Even though there was no evidence of fraud to justify a recount, the Iraqi electoral commission and the international community agreed to one, fearful of a repeat of the election fiasco in 2009 in Afghanistan, which had tarnished the credibility of elections there. In the meantime, Maliki’s advisers told us he needed two extra seats, either from the recount or through arbitrary de-Ba’athification that could disqualify Iraqiya candidates. Otherwise, he would be blamed for losing Iraq for the Shia, who make up some two-thirds of the population.
In parliamentary systems, the winning bloc is, by definition, the one that wins the most seats in the election and thus gets to have the first go at trying to form a government. This was certainly the intent of those who had drafted the Iraqi Constitution in 2005. But Maliki sought to challenge this basic notion, pressing Judge Medhat al-Mahmoud, Iraq’s chief justice, for his interpretation of the “winning bloc.” Medhat, continually under pressure from Maliki, returned an ambiguous ruling, saying it could mean either the bloc that receives the most seats in the election or the largest coalition formed after the election, within parliament. This would be Maliki’s escape clause.
General O urged that we should protect the process. He said the United States should not pick winners. It never worked out well. General O and I did not think that the Iraqiya candidate, Allawi, would be able to put a government together with himself as prime minister. But we thought he had the right as the winner of the election to have first go—and that this could lead to a political compromise among the leaders, with either Allawi and Maliki agreeing to share power between them or a third person chosen to be prime minister.
But after one meeting with Hill, General O strode down the embassy corridor looking visibly upset. “He told me that Iraq is not ready for democracy, that Iraq needs a Shia strongman,” the general said, “and Maliki is our man.” Odierno had objected that that was not what the Iraqis wanted. They were rid of one dictator, Hussein, and did not want to create another.
As the embassy did not want to do anything to help the Iraqis form a new government, General O instructed me to try to broker a meeting between Iraqiya and State of Law. They were the two largest blocs, and we saw an agreement between them as the most stable solution—and the one that would also best serve U.S. interests.
Finally, in June 2010, three months after the elections, State of Law and Iraqiya, the two largest blocs, headed into negotiations. But there was little trust between the two. State of Law continued to insist on Maliki as prime minister, and Iraqiya on Allawi.
I met up with Sami al-Askari, a Shia politician close to Maliki who believed that an agreement between State of Law and Iraqiya was the best way forward. But he also told me that everyone except the Americans realized that the formation of the government was perceived as a battle between Iran and the United States for influence in Iraq. The Iranians were active, while the U.S. embassy did nothing. Qasim Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s al-Quds Force, continued to summon Iraqis to Iran in order to put together a pan-Shia coalition. The Iranians, al-Askari said, intended to drag out government formation until after August 31, when all U.S. combat forces were due to leave, in order to score a “victory” over the United States.
The Iranians had indeed not been idle. They were pressuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to drop his support for Allawi and agree to another Maliki term. For years, the Baathist regime in Syria had allowed jihadi foreign fighters to use their country as a launching pad for horrific attacks in Iraq. In August 2009, coordinated attacks targeted the foreign ministry and the finance ministry in Baghdad, killing around a hundred Iraqis. Maliki had blamed Assad himself for the murders.
The Iranians also were putting huge pressure on the Supreme Council, a Shia party headed by Amar Hakim, to agree a second Maliki premiership. And Iran was seeking to persuade the Sadrists, a Shia party led by Muqtada al-Sadr, through intermediaries from Lebanese Hezbollah, that Maliki would ensure there was no U.S. military presence of any sort in Iraq after 2011, and that the Sadrists would get key posts in the new government. Iran’s goal was to ensure that Iraq was not integrated into the Arab world, instead becoming a close ally of Iran. Maliki would be able to achieve this because all the neighboring Sunni countries hated him. As for Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish president, Suleimani was determined to keep him in the role. Their relationship went back decades.
I went to see Rafi, the deputy prime minister. “Where is the U.S.?” he asked. He described how previous U.S. ambassadors had helped to bring Iraqis together. “Does the U.S. have no interest in protecting the democratic process? Does the U.S. not care what sort of government is put together? Qasim Suleimani is very active putting together the Shia coalition. Does the U.S. not understand what impact this will have on the region—and on internal stability in Iraq? Is the U.S. not worried about Iranian influence in Iraq?”
In July, Maliki’s fortunes appeared to take a decisive turn for the worse: The Shia coalition sent him a letter requesting that he withdraw his candidature for prime minister; Iraqiya made it clear that they would offer him the speakership of the parliament or the presidency, but not the premiership, and the Kurds explained that they really did not want to see him as prime minister for another four years.
General O and Hill met Maliki and told him frankly that he had little support from other groups, so it would be very hard for him to remain as prime minister. Maliki continued to insist that only he could do the job, only he could save Iraq. “I dream I am on a boat,” he said. “I keep trying to pull Iraqis out of the water to save them.”
The embassy informed the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Allawi and other Iraqi leaders that Maliki had no chance of being prime minister.
General O went back to Washington in mid-July for more meetings. He phoned to tell me that Vice President Joe Biden had agreed to give Maliki and Allawi a deadline. If they could not reach an agreement within two weeks on how to form the government, they should both step aside and let others have a shot at it.
However, when Biden phoned up the two leaders that week, he did not stick to the agreed line. Instead, he told Maliki that the United States would support him remaining as prime minister, and he told Allawi that he should accept Maliki as PM. In the Arabic media, there was confusion as to why the United States and Iran should both choose Maliki as prime minister, and this fuelled conspiracy theories about a secret deal between those two countries.
When I met Rafi, he was incredulous: “How come one week the U.S. was telling everyone that Maliki should step down and the next week telling Maliki he should be PM?” He went on: “Why is the U.S. picking the prime minister? This is Iraq. This is our country. We have to live here. And we care passionately about building a future for our children.” He was deeply upset.
Biden visited Iraq at the end of August 2010. By then, Hill had been replaced as ambassador by Jim Jeffrey. In internal meetings, one U.S. adviser argued that Maliki was “our man”: He would give us a follow-on Status of Forces Agreement to keep a small contingent of U.S. forces in Iraq after 2011; he was a nationalist; and he would fight the Sadrists. Furthermore, the official claimed that Maliki had promised him that he would not seek a third term. “Maliki is not our friend,” replied another official, Jeff Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, exasperated at the delusional nature of the discussion. But Biden had been persuaded by the arguments that there was no one but Maliki who could be prime minister and that he would sign a new security agreement with the United States. The Obama administration wanted to see an Iraqi government in place before the U.S. mid-term elections in November. Biden believed the quickest way to form a government was to keep Maliki as prime minister, and to cajole other Iraqis into accepting this.
“Iraqiya genuinely fear Maliki,” General O explained. They were scared that he would accuse them of being terrorists or bring charges of corruption against them, and would arrest them. Maliki had accused Rafi of being the leader of a terrorist group, for instance—allegations that were totally unfounded. General O described how Maliki had changed so much over the past six months. He had become more sectarian and authoritarian. Iraqis had reason to fear him.
I tried to explain the struggle between secularists and Islamists, and how many Iraqis wanted to move beyond sectarianism. But Biden could not fathom this. For him, Iraq was simply about Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.
I tried another tack: “It is important to build belief in the democratic process by showing people that change can come about through elections—rather than violence. The peaceful transfer of power is key—it has never happened in the Arab World.” At the very least, either Maliki or Talabani needed to give up his seat; otherwise, they would both think they owned the seats. Biden did not agree. He responded that there were often elections in the United States that did not bring about any change.
Biden’s easy smile had evaporated. He was clearly irritated by me. “Look, I know these people,” he went on. “My grandfather was Irish and hated the British. It’s like in the Balkans. They all grow up hating each other.”
The conversation ended, as we had to head over to the meeting with Iraqiya members. Some were in suits, others were wearing their finest traditional robes. There were Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Turkmen Shia, Kurds and a Christian. The full tapestry of Iraqi society was sitting facing us—distinguishable only by their dress, clearly showing us the sort of Iraq they wanted to live in.
Biden started off smiling: “I know you people. My grandfather was Irish and hated the British.” Everyone turned toward me, the Brit. The Iraqis were grinning, expecting there was going to be a good spat between Brits and Americans. How could I stop Biden making a totally inappropriate comment about them all being Sunnis and hating Shia? Thinking on my feet, I said, “Don’t look at me, Mr. Vice President, I am not the only Brit in the room.” One of the Iraqis piped up: “I have a British passport.”
Biden lost his train of thought and moved on. He said that one of his predecessors, Al Gore, had technically won more votes in the 2000 presidential election, but for the good of America had stepped back rather than keep the country in limbo while fighting over the disputed vote-count.
Allawi pretended not to understand that Biden was suggesting he give up his claim to have first go at trying to form the government, letting Maliki remain as prime minister. The meeting finished. After we left, I was sure the Iraqis would be wondering why on earth Biden had mentioned his Irish grandfather and Al Gore. If only President Obama had paid attention to Iraq. He, more than anyone, would understand the complexity of identities, I thought—and that people can change. But his only interest in Iraq, it appeared, was in ending the war.
In July 2014, I visited Erbil, Iraq, shortly after the Islamic State had taken control of a third of the country and the Iraqi Army had disintegrated. I met up with Rafi Issawi. So much had happened since General O and I had left Iraq at the end of August 2010. Iran had succeeded in pressuring Muqtada al-Sadr to accept a second Maliki term as prime minister and hence ensured that there would be no follow-on security agreement for a post-2011 U.S. troop presence. The United States had helped to hammer out a power-sharing agreement of sorts in Erbil, but it had never been implemented.
Rafi listed for me the Sunni grievances that had steadily simmered since I’d left—until they had finally boiled over. Maliki had detained thousands of Sunnis without trial, pushed leading Sunnis, including Rafi, out of the political process by accusing them of terrorism and reneged on payments and pledges to the Iraqi tribes who had bravely fought Al Qaeda in Iraq. Year-long Sunni protests demanding an end to discrimination were met by violence, with dozens of unarmed protesters killed by Iraqi security forces. Maliki had completely subverted the judiciary to his will, so that Sunnis felt unable to achieve justice. The Islamic State, Rafi explained to me, was able to take advantage of this situation, publicly claiming to be the defenders of the Sunnis against the Iranian-backed Maliki government.
The downward spiral, Rafi told me not surprisingly, had begun in 2010—when Iraqiya was not given the first chance to try to form the government. “We might not have succeeded,” he admitted, “but the process itself would have been important in building trust in Iraq’s young institutions.”
Emma Sky, senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute, is author of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq, from which this article is adapted.
Ex-British diplomat accuses Hillary Clinton of role in meltdown of Iraq
New book by former adviser to the US in Iraq Emma Sky says Clinton appointed ambassador to Baghdad who had no Middle East experience
Colin Freeman, Chief foreign correspondent
14 Apr 2015
A former British diplomat has accused Hillary Clinton of contributing to Iraq’s disastrous meltdown during her four years as Barack Obama’s foreign policy chief.
Emma Sky, who served as an adviser to one of the top US commanders in Iraq, claims in a new book that Mrs Clinton operated a “dysfunctional” diplomatic mission to Baghdad that allowed a lapse back into sectarian warfare after elections in 2010.
At that time Mrs Clinton was mid-way through her four-year stint as Mr Obama’s Secretary of State, the equivalent position to Foreign Secretary in Britain.
The criticisms, which come as Mrs Clinton announces her presidential bid, are contained in a book that Ms Sky, an Oxford-educated Middle East expert, is to publish next month about the seven years she spent in Iraq.
Entitled The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq, it paints an unflattering picture of the Obama administration as it tried to extricate itself from the country as hastily as possible.
While the demand for a speedy drawdown from Iraq was driven primarily by Mr Obama himself, Mrs Clinton is accused of appointing an incompetent US ambassador to Baghdad, Chris Hill, who had little experience of the region and held its people in contempt.
That then paved the way for Washington to be outmanoeuvred by Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who was able to grab a second term in office despite fears that he was a sectarian dictator in the making.
The book also claims that the US-vice president, Joe Biden, showed little interest in Iraq’s political complexities, making oafish comparisons between its sectarian civil war and Britain’s historic tensions with Ireland.
Thanks to Mr Obama’s hasty pull-out at the end of 2011, Ms Sky says, hard-won opportunities for a lasting peace in Iraq after the war to remove Saddam Hussein in 2003 were squandered.
“That war – and the manner in which the United States left it behind in 2011 – shifted the balance of power in the region in Iran’s favour,” she writes. “Regional competition… exacerbated existing fault-lines, with support for extreme sectarian actors, including the Islamic State, turning local grievances over poor governance into proxy wars.”
Ms Sky, who is now an academic at Yale University, first went to work in Iraq in 2003 after a spell as a development expert for the British Council in the Palestinian territories. Although a self-described “tree hugger”, her expertise in Arab affairs saw her appointed as coalition governor of the northern city of Kirkuk, where she then impressed General Ray Odierno, whom she advised during the US troop “surge” that curbed Iraq’s 2006-7 Sunni-Shia civil war.
However, by 2010, Gen Odierno was becoming increasingly concerned that Washington was likely to destabilise Iraq in the “rush to the exit”. He had already “begun to despair”, Ms Sky says, of Mr Hill, who was appointed the year before despite concerns about his lack of Middle East experience.
Lifting the lid on behind the scenes intrigues in Baghdad’s heavily guarded “Green Zone”, Ms Sky writes: “It was clear that Hill, though a career diplomat, lacked regional experience and was miscast in the role in Baghdad. In fact, he had not wanted the job, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had persuaded him to take it; she admitted as much to General Odierno, he told me, when he met her in early 2010 in Washington to discuss the dysfunction at the embassy.”
She adds that “in his staff meetings, Hill made clear how much he disliked Iraq and Iraqis”. His main priority, she said, was getting the embassy to look like a “normal” US mission, which included importing rolls of turf “on which the ambassador could play lacrosse”.
Worse was to come when Mr Biden visited Baghdad. He made clear his impatience when Ms Sky tried to explain about Iraq’s myriad political landscape of secularists, Islamists, and moderates who wanted to move beyond sectarianism. Mr Biden “could not fathom this”, she said, telling her: “My grandfather was Irish and hated the British. It’s like in the Balkans. They all grow up hating each other.”
He repeated the simplistic observation at a meeting with the Iraqiya bloc, a religiously mixed, secular movement, only to be embarrassed when one of the Iraqi politicians told him that he had a British passport.
Ms Sky makes her accusations in an article adapted from her book in Politico magazine, titled “How Obama Abandoned Democracy in Iraq”.
She says the lack of foreign policy focus from Washington ultimately allowed the White House to back Mr Maliki for a second term when he tied in 2010’s elections with Ayad Allawi, the secular, pro-Western leader of the Iraqiya bloc. Mr Hill, she says, told a distraught Gen Odierno “that Iraq is not ready for democracy, that Iraq needs a Shia strongman, and Maliki is our man”.
Her revelations come as Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, met Mr Obama on Tuesday to ask for more arms to defeat Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). Recent gains against the group in Tikrit have been undermined by Isil counter-attacks in the western province of Anbar.
Iraq’s Unlikely Eulogist
There was no more improbable duo than Odierno, the hulking general with a shaved head, and his petite English adviser.
The Wall Street journal
April 13, 2015
The British Empire, which at one time dominated the lands stretching from Egypt to Persia, produced a long line of distinguished if often eccentric Arabists —Richard Francis Burton, Gertrude Bell, St. John Philby, T.E. Lawrence, Freya Stark, Wilfred Thesiger and more.
The deepening American involvement in the Middle East over the past decade has inspired its own crop of ardent experts. Some have been Foreign Service officers, such as Robert Ford and Ryan Crocker. Others military officers like Rick Welch, Derek Harvey and Joel Rayburn. Still others—perhaps the largest share—have been temporary recruits, helping the U.S. government understand the “human terrain” and filling gaps left by insufficient State Department resources. This group includes Ali Khedery, a young Arab-American who served as an aide to U.S. ambassadors in Baghdad; Matt Sherman, currently serving as political adviser to the U.S. commander in Kabul after previous stints in both Iraq and Afghanistan; and Carter Malkasian, who advised Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new generation of American Arabists, busy in the field trying to help win two wars, has not yet produced the outpouring of writing that characterized their British predecessors, but they are starting to catch up. Mr. Malkasian penned a first-rate account of his experiences in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, “War Comes to Garmser” (2013), and, last year, Col. Rayburn published a wise book on “Iraq After America.” And now Emma Sky, dubbed “Our Miss Bell” by Iraqi interlocutors, has produced a radiant and beautifully written account, at turns funny and sad, of her service in Iraq.
There could have been few more unlikely candidates to advise U.S. military commanders. British-born and Oxford-educated, Ms. Sky is the kind of “progressive” who imagines that Texas is “a State of cowboys, electric chairs and right-wing zealots who spend their weekends down by the border shooting Mexicans who tried to cross illegally.” She welcomed Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, writing, “After the crazy era of the neoconservatives, the US was now led by a man whose worldview I believed I shared.”
By Emma Sky
PublicAffairs, 382 pages, $28.99
She had come to assist the American war effort in Iraq by chance in 2003 after having spent a decade as a humanitarian worker in the Middle East. Employed by the British Council, a cultural organization sponsored by the Foreign Office, she received an email asking for volunteers to help the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Single and 30-something, she raised her hand and wound up in Kirkuk, where she became political adviser to Col. William Mayville, commander of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Ms. Sky had no experience of the military and was “wary” of her new colleagues. Upon first meeting Col. Mayville, she threatened to haul him to The Hague if he did anything that violated the Geneva Convention: “I took my brown Filofax with me everywhere,” she writes, “and began documenting everything Colonel Mayville said and did.” Before long, however, she realized that behind his “bravado was a deep intellect—and a wicked sense of humor.” She developed such admiration and affection for the soldiers of the brigade that when they rotated home in early 2004 she “sobbed inconsolably all afternoon.”
She returned home herself in June 2004 but “could not settle back” into her humdrum job. She spent nine months in Jerusalem advising the U.S. military mission monitoring Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and then did a tour in Afghanistan for Britain’s Department for International Development. In 2006, Gen. Raymond Odierno, who had been Col. Mayville’s division commander, invited her to become his political adviser when he was appointed the deputy American commander in Iraq.
There was no more unlikely duo than the hulking, 6-foot-5 former football player with the shaved head and his petite English adviser. To add to the incongruity, Ms. Sky needled Gen. Odierno relentlessly in a way that no one else would have dared—and he returned the favor. On a helicopter ride after “General O” comments that Saddam Hussein was a mass murderer, she replies, “We still don’t know who killed more Iraqis: you or Saddam, sir.” This was greeted by total silence among the general’s aides, but he jocularly shouted, “Open the door, pilots. Throw her out!”
It is part of Gen. Odierno’s greatness as a commander that he realized he needed the independent viewpoint that Ms. Sky could provide to avoid the groupthink that so often characterizes military command. He made her his indispensable aide, and she stayed by his side not only during his tour as the deputy commander in Iraq in 2006-08 but also when he was the top commander, from 2008 to 2010.
Along the way, she helped the U.S. military drag Iraq back from the brink of the abyss—only to see all of their achievements squandered. In Ms. Sky’s telling, the turning point was the failure to allow the secular Shiite Ayad Allawi a chance to form a government after his party had emerged as the top vote-getter in the 2010 election. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Vice President Joe Biden, the architects of the Obama administration’s Iraq policy in spite of their invincible ignorance of the country, threw U.S. influence behind the sitting prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who had refused to accept his electoral defeat. In his second term, he pursued the sectarian agenda that drove many Sunnis into the arms of Islamic State.
Ms. Sky ended up disenchanted with the administration she had once supported: “Biden was a nice man, but he simply had the wrong instincts on Iraq. If only Obama had paid attention to Iraq. . . . But his only interest in Iraq was in ending the war.” By contrast, her respect for the whole U.S. military and in particular for Gen. Odierno—who warned the administration of Mr. Maliki’s authoritarian tendencies—was never higher. He told her, “I gave my best military advice.” She laments: “But he had been ignored.” That is as good an epitaph as any for the American misadventure in Mesopotamia.
Mr. Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign
‘Iraq Is Finished’
Tribal leaders reflect on the enemy destroying their country from within.
Apr 8 2015
One afternoon this March, during a visit to Jordan, I sat on the banks of the Dead Sea with my Iraqi friend, Azzam Alwash. As we stared across the salt lake and watched the sun disappear behind the rocky crags of Israel, I recounted a trip I had taken to Jordan 20 years earlier to conduct field research on Palestinian refugees, as part of a Middle East peace effort designed to ensure that within a decade nobody in the region considered himself a refugee.
No one had an inkling back then that the numbers of refugees in the region would increase exponentially, with millions of Iraqis and Syrians displaced from their homes by international intervention and civil war. Nor had I imagined at the time that I would find myself in Iraq after the invasion of 2003, initially as a British representative of the Coalition Provisional Authority—the international transitional government that ran the country for about a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein—and then as the political advisor to U.S. Army General Raymond Odierno when he commanded U.S. forces in the country.
A number of the Iraqis I had gotten to know over the last decade had relocated to Jordan. I had gone there to see them and better understand events in the region—and the conditions that had led to the rise of the Islamic State.
* * *
The evening following our Dead Sea visit, Azzam and I went out for Italian food in Amman with a diverse group of our Iraqi friends, Sunni and Shiite, Kurd and Arab. It was a reunion of sorts; some of us had gone white-water rafting down the Little Zaab river in northern Iraq a few years ago. Azzam was an experienced rafter, but even the danger of the rapids had not pressured the group to trust his leadership and work together. There was a lot of shouting and we all got soaked, but somehow we had survived the trip. This, to me, represented Iraq writ large.
The conversation soon turned to Daesh (known as ISIS in the West), and how the group had formed. A common view I’ve heard in the region, propagated by Sunni and Shiite alike, is that Daesh is the creation of the United States. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq or Islamic State before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Therefore, so the twisted reasoning goes, the United States must have deliberately created the group in order to make Sunnis and Shiites fight each other, thereby allowing the U.S to continue dominating the region. Local media had reported on alleged U.S. airdrops to Daesh. Some outlets even referred to Daesh’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as an Israeli-trained Mossad agent.
One of my dining companions asked me where I thought the group came from. I responded that Daesh was a symptom of a much larger problem. Regional sectarian conflict was an unintended consequence of the Iraq War and the manner in which the United States had left the country, both of which had empowered Iran and changed the balance of power in the Middle East. In my view, regional competition—of which Iran versus Saudi Arabia is the main but not only dimension—exacerbated existing fault lines. Those countries’ support for extreme sectarian actors in different countries had now turned local grievances over poor governance into proxy wars. Iran was funding and training Shiite militias, as well as advising regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. Gulf financing had flowed to Sunni fighters, including the ones that ultimately became Daesh. At the same time, there was a symbiotic relationship between corrupt elites in Iraq and terrorists—they justified each other’s existence, each claiming to provide protection from the other.
Azzam offered another perspective. Daesh, he said, were Muslims, and fundamentalist Salafi Islam was to blame for their existence. The problem, he said, was the literal interpretation of the Quran, which, for example, spelled out harsh criminal punishments reflective of seventh-century practices. Other religions had moved forward and reformed because adherents were willing to interpret texts for their own time. A heated argument broke out as others at the table defended Islam and accused Azzam of being brainwashed by the West. « If we Muslim intellectuals are not self-critical, if we refuse to take responsibility to address the issues, » he responded, « what hope is there for the Middle East? »
* * *
Azzam’s was only one of numerous explanations of Daesh’s origins and power that I heard from Iraqis during my visit to Jordan. All of these explanations contained some truth: There was no one simple reason, but rather a complex set of factors, that had enabled the group to take control of so much of Iraq.
Another explanation came from Sheikh Abdullah al-Yawar, the paramount sheikh of the Shammar tribe, which has around 5 million members in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Last summer, in the wake of the Daesh takeover of Mosul, his mother and brother managed to escape just hours before their palatial 27-room house near Rabiah—northwest of Mosul on the Syrian border—was blown up, his photos and carpets destroyed, his horses scattered to the wilds. It was a house that I knew well and had visited many times. From 2003 onward, Abdullah had decided that he and his family would cooperate with international coalition forces to secure their area, rather than fight against them.
Daesh did not suddenly take control of Mosul last summer, Abdullah told me over dinner with his family at his house in Amman. For years, there had been so much corruption in local government that Daesh had been able to buy influence and supporters. Government in Iraq, he said, was a business—a family business in which politicians in Baghdad and Mosul had stolen millions of dollars worth of the country’s wealth. Daesh had then been able to exploit this situation to take control, presenting itself as a better alternative to corrupt local government.
In Iraq, corrupt elites and terrorists justified each other’s existence, each claiming to provide protection from the other.
But I had a more basic question: « Who are Daesh? » Many, he told me, had come out of the town of Tal Afar, where there had been bitter fighting between the Sunni and Shiite populations during the civil war. They were former Baathists, members of Saddam Hussein’s party who had been purged from Iraq’s government following the international intervention to oust Hussein. Then, after 2003, some became al-Qaeda, and now they were Daesh. They felt excluded and marginalized. Daesh gave them a sense of empowerment and let them present themselves as the defenders of the Sunnis against Shiites, Iran, and the United States.
In northern Iraq last summer, I had met men with large mustaches—the Baathists’ signature facial hair—who claimed to be spokesmen for insurgent groups and said they were leading a Sunni uprising against then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. I asked Abdullah what had happened to them. He responded that they had been all talk. Some had grown the beards mandated by fundamentalists and joined Daesh. Others had done nothing.
Abdullah and his wife provided me quotation after quotation from the Quran to prove that Daesh violated the tenets of Islam. Personally, I told them, I judge people by how they behave. « When I think of a Muslim, I think of the hospitality shown to me, a foreigner, whenever I travel in the Arab world. » I went on, « Sadly, when I now tell people in the U.S. that I am off on holiday to the Middle East, they worry that I will be kidnapped and have my head chopped off. » I had finished the vine leaves and tabbouleh salad we had been eating, and kebab and chicken were now heaped on my plate. I told them I thought I faced a greater risk of death from overeating.
Abdullah turned serious. « We need more help from America, » he said. « Look at what Iran is doing. Iran is now in Tikrit.” (Iranian military officers were highly visible as advisors to Shiite militias seeking to retake the city.) He went on: « This is a huge humiliation for the Sunnis. This is not the way to destroy Daesh. It will cause a worse reaction in the future. »
* * *
A few days later, Sheikh Ghassan al-Assi of the Obeidi tribe, which has around 700,000 members in Iraq, both Sunni and Shiite, took me to a restaurant in Amman that he said was owned by Christians from Baghdad. When the waiter came to take our order, Ghassan said, with an acerbic wit that I was by now long familiar with: « The Americans and British destroyed our country—but we still invite them to lunch! » He would later pick out the best parts of the barbecued fish and put them on my plate.
I had first met Ghassan in 2003, when he had been highly critical of coalition forces in Iraq. Even so, we had remained friends. He had fled to Amman last summer in the wake of the Daesh blitzkrieg. According to Ghassan, the group had blown up the grave of his father, the paramount sheikh of the Obeidis, and had destroyed the houses of his uncles because they collaborated with Maliki. He had hoped that his house would be left alone, since he had not worked with the United States or the Iraqi government. But the week prior to my visit, Daesh had turned up with C4 explosives and blown the home up. He did not know why. He took out his iPhone. « Bastards, bastards, bastards,” he muttered as he flicked through the photos.
« There is no state left. It is a state of militias. »
Over a cup of tea, Ghassan showed me photos of one of his sons, who was wearing a red-and-white checked scarf, with a goatee, and was posing for the camera like a male model. I was surprised; I had never expected a boy born and bred in Hawija—a rough provincial town—to turn out looking like this. Even in Hawija, it seemed, there were people who just wanted to lead normal lives, to wear the latest fashion. It was Dubai, not Daesh, that represented the sort of society they wanted to live in.
Sheikh Ghassan laughed at my astonishment. « Miss Emma,” he asked me somewhat cryptically, “what is life without love? »
* * *
On my last day in Jordan, Jaber al-Jaberi, another tribal leader who had served Iraq as a member of parliament and had once been a candidate for minister of defense, drove me to Jerash, an ancient city outside Amman. With Daesh destroying Iraq’s archaeological sites, we both wanted to go and see Jordan’s. Jaber, too, had been forced to leave his home in Anbar amid the Daesh advance.
« The Sunnis of Iraq are like the Palestinians, » Jaber said. « We’ve been displaced from our land. » Sunnis had been cleansed from Diyala and areas surrounding Baghdad by Shiite militias, and many more had fled from the provinces of Anbar, Nineva, and Salah al-Din because of Daesh. Jaber himself had given up politics and was now spending his days trying to get food and assistance to tribesmen living in terrible conditions in makeshift accommodation in the desert. The Sunnis, he said, had no real leaders, and the Shiite militias were more powerful than the Iraqi security forces.
« Iraq is finished, » he lamented to me. « There is no state left. It is a state of militias.”
The state of Iraq has indeed failed. It no longer has the legitimacy or the power to extend control over its whole territory, and the power vacuum is being filled by a multitude of non-state actors, increasingly extreme and sectarian, who will likely continue to fight each other for years to come, supported by regional powers. Whether a new kind of order will finally emerge, with more local legitimacy, remains to be seen. And for now those who are displaced are left wondering how long it will be until they are able to return home—and to what.
Still, I refused to believe that terrorists could erase Iraq’s past, and I told Jaber so. The past would survive in archives, in exhibits in the British Museum, on the walls of art galleries in Amman, in poems recited around the world. We were in the land where humans had first experimented with settled agriculture, where the Babylonian king Hammurabi gave some of the first written laws, where Jews had written the Talmud. Jaber, I saw, had tears in his eyes. « Nothing can take this away, Jaber,” I told him. “Nothing. Not these terrible terrorists, not these militias, not these awful politicians. A new generation will come one day that can build on this. The hope is the youth who just want to live their lives. »
Who Lost Iraq?
And How to Get It Back
June 24, 2014
EMMA SKY is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. From 2007 to 2010, she was the political adviser to Ray Odierno (then the commanding general of U.S. Forces in Iraq).Republicans and Democrats each share some of the blame for the situation in Iraq — the former for the way in which the United States entered the country and the latter for the way in which it left. It was only between 2007 and 2009 that the United States had a coherent strategy in Iraq, matched with the right leadership and the necessary resources. The current turmoil dates back to just after that period, to 2010, after Iraq’s second post-Saddam national election.
Republicans and Democrats each share some of the blame for the situation in Iraq — the former for the way in which the United States entered the country and the latter for the way in which it left. It was only between 2007 and 2009 that the United States had a coherent strategy in Iraq, matched with the right leadership and the necessary resources. The current turmoil dates back to just after that period, to 2010, after Iraq’s second post-Saddam national election.
At that time, some senior officials argued that the United States should uphold the constitutionally mandated right of the winning bloc, Iraqiya, headed by Ayad Allawi, to have the first go at trying to form a government. They maintained that the United States should actively help broker an agreement among Iraqi elites to form the new government and warned of the already apparent autocratic tendencies of Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister.
Other officials argued that Maliki, despite his narrow electoral defeat, was the only conceivable Shia leader who could hold the position. He was also, they said, a friend of the United States who would agree to allow the United States to maintain a small contingent of forces in Iraq after 2011, when the existing agreement between the two countries expired. In the end, it was Iran that stepped in and, by pressuring the Sadrists to support Maliki, secured him a second premiership. The price Iran extracted from Maliki was his support for the removal of all U.S. forces.
Since 2010, Maliki has consolidated his power by targeting his political rivals, subverting the judiciary and independent government commissions, reneging on his promises to the Sunni tribal leaders who had helped him fight al Qaeda, and politicizing the security forces that the United States invested so much in training. He also mishandled the yearlong protests against his government that erupted in Sunni areas at the end of 2012, following the souring of relations between him and Rafi al-Issawi, the highly respected minister of finance. His forces attacked protesters in Hawija, killing 50. Then, in December 2013, he sent troops into western Anbar to attack the desert camps of a Sunni radical group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Following the death of the Iraqi general leading the operation, Maliki ordered his troops into the cities of Anbar province to close down all protest sites.
Maliki’s moves seemed to be tactical successes in that they strengthened his regime. But they have been revealed to be strategic disasters, since they provoked a backlash that weakened the state. With the ISIS takeover of cities in the provinces of Anbar, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din, that reality has been made clear. Iraqi security forces, which outnumber ISIS by around a hundred to one, deserted and fled their positions as ISIS advanced; soldiers’ morale was low and a number of senior officers owed their positions to bribes and political affiliation rather than to competence. Sunni tribes, which previously had turned against the forerunner of ISIS, al Qaeda in Iraq, have this time either fled, remained neutral, or backed the militants. Given their sense of disenfranchisement, they do not trust Maliki’s government to provide for them or to protect them. Some have concluded that ISIS is the lesser of two evils. Sunni clerics in Iraq, along with regional media, are now referring to the Sunni « revolt » against Maliki’s government.
ISIS’ victories are a result of internal divides, rising sectarianism, state failure, and geopolitical competition in two neighboring countries. In one of his recent speeches, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, called on Sunni Muslims to join his organization to fight the Shia and establish a caliphate, which would remove the borders between Muslim lands that were demarcated by colonial powers. “Give up corrupt nationalism,” he urged, “and join the nation of Islam.”
But it is not the borders that are the root of the problems of these countries. It is the political leadership, which has failed to develop inclusive and robust states. Grievances against the governments of Maliki and Bashar al-Assad in Syria have created the environment in which ISIS can prosper. And, ironically, although the ISIS has railed against national divisions, the tensions between its international jihadist agenda and the nationalist agendas of most Sunni groups will inevitably create friction and infighting. For now, though, ISIS will find plenty of Sunnis willing to join the fray.
Meanwhile, facing the shock caused by the collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul, Shia have turned to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for guidance. Sistani issued a fatwa calling on Iraqis to join the security forces in the fight against ISIS. Despite Sistani’s statement that the fatwa was intended for Sunni and Shia civilians alike, Shia militias are using it as an occasion for sectarian mobilization.
In the ongoing turmoil, the Kurds have taken the contested city of Kirkuk and see independence in their sights. U.S. forces invested considerable time and resources in mediating between the different parties in these disputed territories. Without such a neutral third party, the likelihood of Arab-Kurdish conflict is increasing, with ISIS gaining the opportunity to present itself as the protector of the Sunnis against Iranian-backed Shia but also against what they perceive as Kurdish expansionism.
So what can and should the United States do? It is positive that the United States no longer views the violence in Iraq as separate from the bloodshed in Syria and Lebanon. The region has become one battlefield — and U.S. policy must reflect that. It was the 1979 Iranian Revolution that set off the modern-day struggle between Iran and the Sunni powers. And it was the 2003 war in Iraq that led to sectarianization of regional politics. Then it was the 2011 U.S. departure from Iraq that left the impression in the region that Iran had defeated the United States. The United States needs to pursue policies that lessen sectarian tensions and support moderates. The majority of those living in Iraq and Syria yearn to live in peace with just, effective, and transparent governments. The choice before them cannot simply be Iranian-backed exclusionary regimes or al Qaeda–linked affiliates.
Although the United States and Iran face a common threat in ISIS, the United States should cooperate with Iran only if it leads to major reform of Iraq’s political system so as to overcome sectarian divisions. If not, the specter of a perceived alignment between the United States and Iran could worsen sectarianism and push more Sunnis toward ISIS.
The main political tensions in Iraq today are between Maliki’s drive to centralize power, the Kurds’ desire to maximize their autonomy, and the increasing Sunni awareness of themselves as a distinct community. The fall of Mosul and events that followed are indications that these tensions have come to a head and that it is time for Maliki to admit his failures and open the way for a more competent Shia leader to start a new approach. Although Maliki did head the winning bloc in the most recent elections, those opposed to him have enough votes to replace him if they can agree on an alternative. Iraq’s political elites, in particular the Shia parties, need to select a new prime minister who is acceptable to them and to other communities, and is supported by Iran and Turkey as well as the United States.
In his June 19 statement, U.S. President Barack Obama said, « Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq’s future. Shia, Sunni, Kurds — all Iraqis — must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process rather than through violence.” Obama is right to pressure Iraqi politicians to form a new government, rather than insisting that they support Maliki. He correctly recognized that any military options would be effective only if they were in support of an overall political strategy that a new broad-based government agreed to. The United States has a key role to play in helping broker a new deal among the elites that creates a better balance among Iraq’s communities. A new broad-based Iraqi government will need to win back the support of Sunnis against ISIS — and the Obama administration should be prepared to respond positively to requests for assistance to do so.
Why Separatism Could Rip the Country Apart—Again
Emma Sky and Harith al-Qarawee
January 23, 2013
EMMA SKY is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. From 2007 to 2010, she was the political adviser to Ray Odierno (then the commanding general of U.S. Forces in Iraq). HARITH AL-QARAWEE is an Iraqi political scientist and the author of Imagining the Nation: Nationalism, Sectarianism and Socio-political Conflict in Iraq.
It’s not easy being a prominent Sunni in Iraq these days. This past December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of several bodyguards of Rafi al-Issawi, the minister of finance and one of the most influential and respected Sunni leaders in Iraq. In response, tens of thousands of Sunnis took to the streets of Anbar, Mosul, and other predominantly Sunni cities, demanding the end of what they consider government persecution. Issawi has accused Maliki of targeting him as part of a systematic campaign against Sunni leaders, which includes the 2011 indictment of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, on terrorism charges. This is not the first time that Maliki has gone after Issawi, either. In 2010, during tense negotiations over the makeup of the government, Maliki accused Issawi of leading a terrorist group — a claim that the U.S. military investigated and found baseless. Not coincidentally, this most recent incident occurred days after President Jalal Talabani, always a dependable moderator in Iraqi politics, was incapacitated by a stroke.
The scale of the ongoing demonstrations reveals the widespread sense of alienation that Sunnis feel in the new Iraq. Prior to 2003, Sunnis rarely identified as members of a religious sect and instead called themselves Iraqi or Arab nationalists. It was the country’s Shia population that claimed to be victims, on account of their persecution by Saddam Hussein.
Today, the roles are reversed. Shia Islamists consolidated power in Baghdad after the toppling of Saddam’s regime, and some — particularly those who were exiled during Baathist rule — now view all Sunnis with suspicion. In turn, many Sunnis take issue with the new political system, which was largely shaped by Shia and Kurdish parties. Today, the Sunni population is mobilizing against the status quo and making sect-specific demands, such as the release of Sunni detainees, an end to the torture of Sunni suspects, and humane treatment of Sunni women in jails. Moreover, demonstrators are calling for the overthrow of the regime, using slogans made popular during the Arab Spring.
Meanwhile, Kurdish leaders identify Maliki as the main problem facing Iraq, and some delegations of Kurds and Shia have travelled to Issawi’s native province of Anbar to express their own distrust of the regime. The top Iraqi Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, has voiced disappointment with Maliki’s government and has called for it to respond to the concerns of the protestors. Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of Iraq’s most authentic grassroots Shia movement, the Sadrist Trend, has accused Maliki of provoking the current discontent. Although fear of Maliki’s creeping authoritarianism is pushing his rivals together, growing sectarian tensions may yet rip Iraq apart.
As with other protests in the Arab world, which were initially driven by legitimate local grievances, there is a risk that the current movement will become increasingly sectarian. At political events, some Iraqi Sunni clerics use conciliatory language and emphasize Iraqi fraternity. Others, however, speak passionately about the suffering of the Sunni community at the hands of Maliki’s Shia administration and condemn his ties with Iran.
Since 2008, when Maliki led a harsh crackdown on the Mahdi Army, a Shia militia, the prime minister has tried to present himself as a nationalist leader seeking to unify his country and evenly enforce the rule of law. The rise of Maliki and the popularity he gained with Shia, however, reveal the flaws of Iraq’s new political system, which made state institutions fiefdoms of patronage for sectarian political parties rather than channels for delivering public services. Maliki tried to earn legitimacy beyond just the Shia community, in particular seeking the support of Sunni voters. His confrontation with Massoud Barzani, the president of the semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan region, over security issues along the disputed border was primarily a move to win the support of the Sunni population there, which is resentful of Kurdish encroachment.
But Maliki has squandered his ability to appeal to the country’s other sects and communities because of his paranoia and ideological bias as a leader of Dawa, the Shia Islamist party. He blames external interference for the current tensions, exploiting images of divisive symbols such as flags of the Saddam era, the Free Syrian Army, and Kurdistan, as well as photos of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Maliki’s record — his targeting of Sunni politicians, his selective use of law, his influence over the judiciary to ensure rulings in his favor, and his close ties with Iran — confirms that he is prepared to use all means necessary to consolidate power.
Maliki could cling to power by presenting himself as the defender of the Shia in an increasingly tumultuous environment, turning his fear of a regional sectarian conflict into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Al-Qaeda attacks in Iraq are on the rise, provoked by discontent with Maliki and inspired by the Syrian civil war next door. So far this month, al-Qaeda has killed Shia pilgrims in Karbala, a Sunni lawmaker in Anbar, and Kurds in Kirkuk. Meanwhile, other leaders are struggling to remain relevant. The credibility of Sunni government officials is declining, due to their inability to prevent discrimination against their constituents while participating in a system that brings them personal benefits. In the Shia camp, Sadr is moving to the center, positioning himself as a nationalist leader. If Sadr is able to create an alliance with anti-Maliki Sunnis and Kurds — presenting a credible and unifying alternative government — sectarianism could be curbed. However, Maliki might be provoked by such a challenge and clamp down on his rivals even more aggressively.
Politics in Iraq and the surrounding region are increasingly sectarian. Inspired by the rebellion in Syria and supported by the Sunni leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, Iraq’s Sunnis may seek greater autonomy from the Shia-dominated central government in years to come. This need not be the case: in the 2010 national elections, most Sunnis voted for the Iraqiya electoral list, a coalition that defined itself as nonsectarian and was led by a secular Shia politician. But, given the sectarian turn of Iraqi politics, Sunni leaders seem likely to run on one list with a platform built around Sunni grievances in the 2014 national elections. In addition, more hardline Sunni leaders may emerge if the current politicians prove unable to achieve meaningful gains for their communities. Sunni leaders may also, if they manage to overcome their internal divisions, propose an independent Sunni region, similar to the one enjoyed by the Kurds. This would mark the end of Iraqi nationalism and put the survival of the state in question.
Maliki’s efforts to destroy his rivals have drawn him closer to Shia Iran, which has in turn affected regional power dynamics. To counter Iran’s influence, Turkey is now posing as the defender not only of Iraq’s Sunnis but also of its Kurds, even though Turkey has long feared Kurdish nationalism within its own borders. Saudi Arabia, despite its usual counterrevolutionary attitude, is supporting the rebels in Syria in hopes of replacing the Shia-Alawite regime with a Sunni government and undoing the pro-Shia axis that now runs through Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
It is up to Iraq’s politicians, then, to overcome their differences and construct a national platform that addresses the country’s challenges. Any such settlement will require making concessions regarding regional autonomy, internal border disputes, the management and distribution of oil profits, and Baghdad’s foreign policy orientation. Unfortunately, given mutual distrust, the personalization of disputes, and the upcoming electoral season, such compromises do not seem likely — particularly if Maliki insists on remaining in power indefinitely.
The American public is no doubt fatigued by the recent decades of involvement in the country and the region. But to avoid disaster, the United States urgently needs to review its Iraq policy. Washington needs to show the Iraqi people that its intent is not to divide Iraq and keep it weak — even if that appears to have been a main outcome of the U.S. intervention. U.S. President Barack Obama succeeded in keeping his campaign promise of withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. In its second term, the Obama administration should stop supporting a status quo that is driving Iraq toward both authoritarianism and fragmentation. The United States should make clear that it neither condones nor supports the prime minister’s consolidation of power and blatant use of the Iraqi Security Forces — which the United States helped train and equip — to crack down on political opposition. Washington should make its aid to Maliki — or any other Iraqi leader — conditional on his behaving within democratic norms.
In addition, Washington should support Iraqi Shia’s attempts to select a new prime minister and should help facilitate a pact among the country’s elites in order to turn Iraq into a buffer rather than a battlefield state in the volatile region. U.S. engagement in the Middle East should seek to restrain external actors from interfering in Iraq and waging a proxy war there. Washington needs to contain Iran, but should make clear that it is not aligned with Sunnis in a regional sectarian war against Shia. This will require pushing back on Iranian influence in Iraq and simultaneously putting greater pressure on Sunni allies in the region to respect and protect their Shia populations. The United States has invested too much in Iraq to simply ignore these warning signs. Washington should use its diplomatic clout to help prevent further bloodshed.
UPDATE 1-Saudi Arabia, South Korea sign MOU on nuclear power
(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and South Korea have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cooperate on the development of nuclear energy, Saudi state news agency SPA said, building on a deal signed in 2011.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday in Riyadh during an official visit, SPA said.
The MOU calls for South Korean firms to help build at least two small-to-medium sized nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, the South Korean presidential office said in a statement.
« If the two units go ahead, the cost of the contract will be (near) $2 billion, » the statement said.
Saudi Arabia aims to build 17 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power by 2032 as well as around 41 GW of solar capacity. The oil exporter currently has no nuclear power.
Those plans are likely to take until 2040, the head of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE), in charge of overseeing such projects, said in January.
On Tuesday, K.A.Care said in a statement: « The two sides will discuss the current mutual activities and ways and means of future collaboration, building on the bilateral agreement already signed between the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of South Korea in 2011 with a view to develop and apply nuclear energy for peaceful uses. »
That agreement called for cooperation in research and development, as well as in construction and training.
Separately, Saudi Electricity signed four energy-related agreements on Tuesday with U.S. company General Electric as well as South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) , Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction and Eximbank.
The KEPCO agreement calls for cooperation in development of nuclear and renewable energy.
Al Hassan Ghazi Ibrahim Shaker Co. also signed a non-binding MOU with South Korea’s LG Electronics on cooperation in cooling systems for nuclear reactors.
The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf Arab state to start building a nuclear power plant. In December 2009, the UAE awarded a group led by KEPCO a contract to build four 1,400 MW nuclear reactors to meet surging demand for electricity.
(Reporting by Reem Shamseddine and Brian Kim; editing by Rania El Gamal and Jason Neely)
ANKARA, Turkey — Apr 14, 2015
Turkey held a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of parts of its first nuclear reactor, sparking an angry protest by activists.
Activists say Tuesday’s ceremony came despite ongoing court cases against the nuclear plant being built by Russia in Akkuyu, in the Mediterranean coastal province of Mersin.
Protesters blocked a gate leading to the ceremony area, briefly preventing officials from leaving the site. Security forces pushed the activists back with water cannons.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the plant was designed to withstand powerful earthquakes, adding: « There cannot be a developed Turkey without nuclear energy. »
Turkey has chosen a French-Japanese consortium to build the country’s second nuclear plant on the Black Sea coast and also has plans to build a third to reduce the nation’s energy dependence.
Briton who advised US in Iraq tells how tactics changed after bloody insurgency
Emma Sky, who spent four years in Iraq, says US military started reaching out to groups it had been fighting to stem violence
16 July 2012
The British woman who became adviser to America’s most senior general in Iraq has given an insider’s account of the way the US radically changed tactics to try to stem the violence from 2007 and why military commanders started dealing with insurgents who « had blood on their hands ».
Emma Sky, 44, said she feared Iraq was in danger of becoming « the biggest strategic failure in the history of the US ». She also worried the « surge » strategy, which involved another 20,000 US troops being sent to Baghdad, might make the situation worse.
« There was so much violence that it was almost too big to comprehend. Everything had just escalated and escalated. There were occasions when I doubted whether we were ever going to break the back of it, and whether we should call it quits, » she said.
Speaking in detail for the first time about this most turbulent of periods, Sky also describes how:
• Barack Obama’s first trip to Iraq in 2009 almost turned into a diplomatic fiasco.
• She went on secret night trips into some of Baghdad’s most dangerous areas to try to gather information about the strength of the insurgency.
• She became a hostage negotiator to stop a spate of kidnaps escalating into an international crisis involving the Kurds.
Sky was political adviser to General Ray Odierno, who was commander of all US forces in Iraq, and was also in charge of implementing the overarching « surge » strategy devised by General David Petraeus.
A British liberal who had been against the war in Iraq, she was taken on by the Americans because they respected her judgment and advice, even when it ran directly counter to their own.
Sky spent more than four years in Iraq, and was recruited by Odierno to help him implement the « surge » in 2007. She said the military realised it could not win with might alone, and had to start reaching out to groups that had been waging violence against it.
« I had confidence in our analysis. But I was not sure the strategy would work. Not because I thought it was wrong, but because I worried the situation in Iraq was so out of control our extra forces might only exacerbate the violence, not lessen it, » she said.
« There was so much violence that it was almost too big to comprehend. The military has a language that is not accidental, it is used to quarantine emotion. Every day we would hear reports that another 60 or 70 bodies had turned up, heads chopped off or drilled through. It was absolutely horrific. We could tell which groups had been behind the attacks by the way the victims had been killed. »
In the face of this, Sky said, Odierno challenged his soldiers to « understand the causes of instability, to understand the ‘why’ not just describe the ‘what’.
« It meant we would have to start dealing with people we had been fighting and for any commander that is a very difficult thing to do. We couldn’t afford to say: ‘We’ll only deal with people as long as they haven’t got blood on their hands.’ We’ve all got blood on our hands. »
Six months into the campaign, Sky said, things began to change.
« By July we started to feel things were changing. We heard it first from the battalions who described how more and more Iraqis were coming forward to give information about ‘bad guys’, and how insurgents were reaching out to do deals. There were ceasefires everywhere, local agreements, because more and more Iraqis were coming forward wanting to work with us. The intelligence we were getting improved, and the number of Iraqi casualties started to go down. »
When Obama made his first visit to Iraq, a scheduled meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, had to be abandoned because White House security staff refused to let the president fly from the American base outside Baghdad to the Green Zone because of bad weather.
Senior Iraqi politicians had always avoided the US base, called Camp Victory, because it was regarded as the seat of the occupation.
With a diplomatic standoff looming, Sky was sent to the Green Zone to see if Maliki could be persuaded to travel by car to meet Obama at the US headquarters.
Maliki was asleep when she arrived.
« So I go over to see the prime minister, who is having his afternoon siesta. I had to wake him up. I said: ‘I am terribly sorry but President Obama cannot come to Green Zone because of the weather and I hate, hate to ask of you, is there any chance you can come to Camp Victory?’ Obama was new. Everyone was excited about him, and Maliki agreed. And if Maliki agreed, then the others would probably come too. »
Inside Iraq: the British peacenik who became key to the US military
Exclusive: How Emma Sky went from anti-war academic to governor of Kirkuk, one of Iraq’s most volatile regions
Nick Hopkins, defence and security correspondent
15 July 2012
On the face of it, Emma Sky was not an obvious candidate to send to Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the war. She had never been to the country before, and had opposed the coalition’s invasion. She had only been to the US once and was instinctively suspicious of the military, perhaps especially the US military.
Yet on Friday, 20 June 2003 , two months after the war began, Sky boarded a flight from RAF Brize Norton, the only woman among 200 soldiers, and headed into the 50C heat and post-conflict chaos of Basra, the city in the south where the British were based.
Two weeks earlier she had been working as an international development adviser for the British Council in Manchester; now she found herself in charge of one of the most volatile regions in Iraq. The journey from north-west England to north-east Iraq owed a lot to fortune, her determination, and some barely scriptable coincidences. But Sky is the first to concede the random nature of her appointment reflected much broader failures in planning and strategy that would ultimately draw the country into a civil war.
Into the breach
Nobody’s ingenue, Sky was certainly used to operating in difficult environments; an Arabist, she had spent 10 years working in Gaza and the West Bank before returning to the UK with the British Council to advise countries in Africa, Asia and south America, on issues such as human rights and governance. When the Foreign Office asked for volunteers to go to Iraq to help with the reconstruction effort, a friend in the civil service prompted Sky to apply.
« I was against the war and I had this idea that I was going to go out to Iraq and apologise to the Iraqis for the invasion, and everything they had experienced, and I would do whatever I could to help them get back on their feet. » A few days and one short phone call later, Sky was told to report to the military air base in Oxfordshire. The Foreign Office did not give her a formal interview or briefing before she left, and she was given no detailed instructions about what to do when she landed. « I had a phone call from someone in the Foreign Office. It wasn’t a long conversation. They said ‘you’ve spent a lot of time in the Middle East, you’ll be fine’. I was told that there would be someone at the airport waiting for me, carrying a card with my name. When I got to Basra, there was nobody there, and nobody seemed to know I was coming. »
After a sleepless night on the floor in a corridor at Basra airport, Sky hitched a lift on a US Hercules transport plane to Baghdad, and then a military bus into the Republican Palace in the Green Zone. This had become the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which was supposed to be restoring order to the country.
She tracked down and introduced herself to Sir John Sawers, who was the UK’s special envoy to Iraq, (and is now head of MI6) and spent a week helping out until a proper role was found for her. Life inside the palace was bizarre. « Stately rooms had become dormitories reminiscent of wartime hospitals. At times we showered in mineral water and some days even the floors were washed with mineral water. »
Their dirty laundry was flown to Kuwait for cleaning, and engineers spent days trying to decapitate the four giant heads of Saddam Hussein, which leered from the palace ceilings. Sky says she adapted more easily than most, thanks to her « years at an all boys’ English boarding school that had honed a wide range of survival instincts which proved most useful in the jungle ».
A few days after arriving, she decided to escape into downtown Baghdad on her own – the kind of trip that was already strictly forbidden. She found herself chatting to a man selling cigarettes from a trolley. « I talked to him, he was in his 50s. He said to me ‘it’s a Hobbesian world’. And I was thinking, how does he know about Hobbes? He was referring to all the looting. Iraqis were taking revenge on the state that had controlled their lives for so long. » From the start nothing was quite as it seemed.
Under the leadership of the US diplomat Paul Bremer, the CPA was tasked with reforming and reconstructing the country; but it was always going to struggle, especially in the regions away from Baghdad, where it had fewer people.
Sky was told to fly to northern Iraq because the CPA was short of staff in Erbil, but when she arrived, the posts were already filled, and she was directed to Kirkuk. « They said, ‘we’ve nobody in Kirkuk, so go there’. »
On the border of the autonomous Kurdish area, and 150 miles north of Baghdad, Kirkuk is an ancient, oil-rich city, with tribal rivalries that date back to the Ottoman Empire.
And so this 35-year-old Oxford graduate who had almost fallen out of the Black Hawk helicopter that took her to the city for the first time (« I couldn’t get my harness on and I couldn’t understand why they’d left the door open ») became the governate co-ordinator of this restive area. She reported directly to ambassador Bremer.
In the days before she took up her new post, he invited her to join him on a short tour of the north, which included dinner with the Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani, in the town of Sari Rash. During the meal, Bremer spoke about America’s 4 July Independence Day, which was the next day, and then he turned to Sky for a comment. « I managed to say something about wishing all our former colonies the same success as America. I wondered, how on Earth have I got here? How on Earth had someone like me, a British liberal, become part of a US-led invasion that I had opposed? »
Welcome to Kirkuk
From the airport in Kirkuk, Sky was taken to modern villa near the centre of the city, a base she was supposed to share with a group of American contractors and engineers. But within days, this idea looked a trifle optimistic, as did any notion that a new Iraq would emerge easily from the shadow of the old.
« We received intelligence that the house might be targeted, » said Sky. « We had to turn the lights out at dusk and we slept fully clothed away from the windows. On my fifth night, five mortars were fired at the house. The noise was deafening and seemed to be coming from all sides. We were under attack. I struggled into my body armour and ran down to the safest part of the building where the others were already huddled. We sat in the darkness for what seemed like hours. »
Most of the staff abandoned the villa the following day, but Sky decided to stay. Two nights later, the house was attacked again by gunmen who appeared determined to storm the building. « I woke to the sound of automatic gunfire followed by massive explosions. Dust poured in through the sandbags. I curled up in a ball in bed with my hands over my ears, paralysed by the sound. The attack lasted half an hour … it was only when it was over that I discovered that four rocket propelled grenades had been fired at the house, and one had entered a couple of metres from my bed. »
The private security guards who tried to defend the house believed it was too vulnerable, so Sky accepted the offer of a bunk on the airfield in a US airforce tent, which she shared with seven men. This required her to become expert in the military’s « three-minute showers (30 seconds to soap, two and a half minutes to rinse).
Narrowly avoiding death within her first week was an inauspicious start to her governorship, and the task ahead remained unclear. This was underlined to her a few days later when Sawers arrived in Kirkuk on his farewell tour of the country. He invited Sky to join his entourage, and during the trip, she sought his advice. « His parting advice to me was to become a trusted partner to all groups and to get to know the Turkmen, » she said. « And that, in essence, was as far as guidance from CPA went in the early months. »
With few staff of her own, no orders from Baghdad, and reliant on the US military for protection, Sky concluded there was only one way to get anything done. She would have to work with the 3,500 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who were based on the outskirts of the city.
« I was a British civilian volunteer who had arrived accidentally in Kirkuk. I looked around and decided to work closely with the military. They were the ones with the power, with the resources, with the bureaucracy. I could spend all my time watching what they do and reporting back on all their mistakes, or I could look at how to work with them. So I rolled up my sleeves, knuckled down. I learned the rank structure, the handshakes, the jokes, the code. »
Sky did this with some trepidation – she had never worked with the military before – and some of those she spoke to at first did their best to confirm her fears. One American officer told her working in Iraq was « like being on Planet of the Apes ». And she heard soldiers referring to Iraqis as « haji », which is an honorific in Arabic, but was being used in a derogatory way, as a racial slur. Some mocked the Iraqi people for living in mud huts, wearing « man dresses » and giving « man kisses ».
« They had come into contact with an ancient civilisation with people who knew their lineage back through centuries, who had survived under the harshest of dictatorships. They did not understand the people they were dealing with. » Sometimes offence was caused unwittingly. In one effort to foster relations with community leaders, the US air force invited a group of dignitaries to a military entertainment show. The « tops and stripes » evening included a mildly racy dance involving women flipping up their skirts. The guests walked out, quickly followed by Sky, who assured them that no offence had been intended.
Iraqi inmates line up for a body search in Abu Ghraib prison: the detention of young men and evidence of torture at Abu Ghraib radicalised many Iraqis. Photograph: John Moore/AP
Sky set about learning the history of Kirkuk and ventured out into the city, in her soft-topped car, to speak to people about their problems. The military seemed genuinely perplexed that Iraqis seemed so hostile. « The brigade viewed themselves as liberators and were angry that Iraqis were not more grateful. One of the questions put to me was, ‘what do we need to do to be loved?’ I told them that people who invaded other peoples’ countries, and killed people who were no threat to them, would never be loved. I said that after the first Gulf war which killed 100,000 Iraqis, a decade of sanctions with the devastating effects on health, education and economy, and the humiliating defeat of the second Gulf war, I could well understand why Iraqis were shooting at us. »
Sky found an unlikely kindred spirit in Colonel William Mayville, the brigade commander with a cowboy swagger. They shared the same goal – to help Kirkuk get on its feet so the military could withdraw. And he also believed – wrongly – her presence heralded the arrival of an army of civilians that would enable his brigade to go home. One of the US military’s rising stars, Mayville loved listening to opera and had a team of highly educated officers – all of which came as a surprise to Sky. As did their willingness to listen to this opinionated Englishwoman who had appeared in their midst.
The restless natives
Sky was included in all classified « battle update briefs » about security operations, and discussions about what the military should be doing next. When she arrived in Kirkuk, the military was running everything in the city. But that was part of the problem. Sky said success should be defined as Kirkukis running their own affairs: the job of the coalition was not to do it for them, but to help them do it themselves.
She and Mayville formed « team government » – a military and civilian partnership, developing ideas that were later reflected in America’s new counter-insurgency strategy. They established the Kirkuk Development Commission to kickstart the local economy. And they also encouraged Iraqis to register any complaints they had about the coalition, including damage done to property during raids.
The two shared an office on the first floor of an old government building in the city centre. « Every day, there were long queues outside our door, with Kirkukis wanting to tell us about weapons of mass destruction or sightings of Saddam. Others were asking for jobs or complaining about services. It was madness, » said Sky.
Among the myriad issues were two that were intertwined; the property claims of 250,000 Kurds who had been expelled from their homes in the city during the 1970s – when Saddam Hussein set out to « arabise » Kirkuk by moving hundreds of families there from the south. The second issue was whether Kirkuk should secede from Iraq and become part of the Kurdish enclave in the north.
Sky urged the CPA to give Kirkuk special status because of its unique make-up; she met the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, and the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, when they made flying visits to the city. She argued Kirkuk needed to be exempted from the rush to Iraqi governance the CPA was demanding in other areas. On 19 September 2003, Sky was summoned to a meeting in Baghdad with Bremer and his deputy, the British diplomat Sir Jeremy Greenstock.
Her idea, she says, « was torpedoed » because of concerns that a precedent might be set. Bremer promised Sky that Kirkuk would be treated as a priority – but it wasn’t, because there were so many other priorities.
Sky didn’t find any mourning for Saddam, but she sensed growing anger about decisions taken in Baghdad that had dire consequences on the ground. « I had arrived ready to apologise to every Iraqi for the war. Instead I had listened to a litany of suffering and pain under Saddam for which I was quite unprepared. The mass graves, the details of torture, the bureaucratisation of abuse. The pure banality of evil. But the Iraqis also had huge expectations of the US. After every war Saddam rebuilt the country in six months, so their attitude was, ‘imagine what the US can do after six months. America can put a man on the moon … you wait’. »
Sky admits the CPA simply could not meet these expectations and no amount of hard work from many experienced British and American volunteers could make up for the lack of planning before the invasion. It left the CPA – which was assembled in haste and from scratch – attempting to restore public services, disband the security forces and build new ones, as well as introduce a free market and democracy. « No organisation would have been able to implement such an agenda, particularly without the consent of the population. Those in Baghdad struggled to cope with the daily crises, whilst those in the provinces were often left to their own devices. Some Americans believed Iraq could become a democracy that would serve as a model for the region. Most Iraqis had not consented to this experiment, or to being occupied by foreign forces. »
Driven on by « zealous Iraqi exiles who had no proper constituency », Sky says some senior members of the CPA and the US government seemed to see Iraq as « an experiment, an incubator for bringing in democracy ».
One of the most contentious CPA orders involved the « de-Ba’athification » of society. This demanded that any member of Saddam’s Ba’ath party at grade four level and above should be dismissed, regardless of whether there was any evidence of actual complicity in crimes. Thousands of professional people in Kirkuk lost their jobs at a stroke – including teachers and doctors.
« Demonising the Ba’ath party to this degree was dangerous, » said Sky. « The whole process hit us very, very hard. It did not affect all communities evenly. Some Sunni areas ended up with no doctors in their hospitals and no teachers in their schools. What did the coalition really know about Iraq? Nothing. De-Ba’athification was based on de-Nazification. It didn’t bring catharsis, or justice. It became highly politicised and brought more and more anger. Everybody who had stayed in Iraq had, in order to survive, become complicit to some way with the regime. But instead of saying we have all suffered, and let’s talk about how we deal with the past, this pitted people against each other. De-Ba’athification became a witch-hunt. I don’t think any society could have withstood what we did to it in terms of disbanding the security forces and sacking its civil servants. »
Sky said the brigade started to become « contemptuous of the CPA and its lack of clear policies and obstruction of their work. Their experiences of Iraq led the military to regard most civilians and their agencies as largely incompetent and impotent ».
A fresh insurgency
Sky realised many local Sunni Arabs were joining an emerging insurgency because they felt excluded from the Shia-led Iraq. « Iraqis felt humiliated by the presence of foreign troops on their soil. Right from the outset, there was resistance from former regime members as well as foreign fighters who entered the country to fight jihad. But it was the de-Ba’athication and dissolving of the military that led many Sunnis to believe that there was no future for them and to oppose the coalition as well as the Iraqi leaders they had put in power. »
The US commander in overall charge of the Kirkuk region, Major General Ray Odierno, issued an amnesty to teachers and doctors caught up in de-Ba’athification in an attempt to defuse the issue. But Baghdad controlled the payroll and cut them off.
A mix of resentments and fears fuelled violence to a level nobody had foreseen. « The US military was not trained or prepared to deal with such a situation and they met violence with violence. There were continuous raids and mass round-ups of military-aged males. There were no suitable facilities to hold the detainees, nor systems to process them, and many became radicalised in detention. » Worst of all, she says, was the evidence that US soldiers were abusing detainees in Abu Ghraib prison.
Kirkuk did not escape the bloodshed, and its victims included community leaders Sky had encouraged to help her shape the city’s new landscape. « I had worked in places overseas for a long time, but I had not worked with people who had been killed, or had been killed because of their relationship with me. I spent a lot of time with the provincial council and about a quarter of the people on council were killed. There was always that sense that we had come into their lives and said, ‘who is going to stand up and serve their province?’, and they had come forward, and some of them had been killed. If we had never come into their lives that would never have happened. Some were killed because they stood forward to join the council, some were killed because they were seen as close to the coalition. I can still see their faces, I remember going to their funerals, speaking to their kids. »
By February 2004, Sky had returned to work at the CPA’s headquarters in Baghdad, where life had become even more stressful for its staff. The number of attacks on the Green Zone had reached such a level that people had stopped running to the shelters when the siren sounded – and the siren didn’t always sound.
Beyond the wire and thick bomb-resistant walls, fliers were appearing all over the capital denouncing the occupation. « Everyone was working incredibly hard but I wasn’t convinced we knew who we were fighting, or why they were fighting. » One man who knew that Sky brought a different perspective on Iraq was Odierno, who had a fearsome reputation as an « old school » soldier.
He had watched Sky reaching out to people in Kirkuk and liked the way she worked with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. In almost all respects, Sky and Odierno were different; she is diminutive, precise and controlled. Shaven-headed and muscular, Odierno is a giant, whose military call sign was Iron Horse. He and Sky developed a rapport that became as important as it was unlikely. « Odierno never questioned why one of his commanders had brought in a British civilian woman into an American brigade. I found him honest, straightforward and direct. Whenever he arrived in Kirkuk, we felt a huge sense of relief. He always gave us support and asked how he could help. And he always asked my opinion about why the violence was happening. I think he recognised the solutions were not simply military ones. »
When Odierno returned to Iraq two and a half years later to lead US forces during « the surge », the general decided he needed more than military might to stop Iraq’s vicious civil war. He asked Sky to join his team.
Inside Iraq: ‘We had to deal with people who had blood on their hands’
Exclusive: Emma Sky – a British civilian who advised US commanders in Iraq – explains how the surge changed military tactics, and why Obama’s Baghdad trip almost ended in disaster
Part one of our exclusive interview with Emma Sky
16 July 2012
Emma Sky was at her home in Wandsworth, south-west London in September 2006, when she received an email from a friend in the US. At first she tried to ignore it. But Sky knew she wouldn’t refuse him his unusual request.
The author was General Raymond T Odierno, one of the US army’s most senior officers. He was about to return to Iraq to head « Phantom Corps » in a last ditch attempt to stop violence tearing the country apart.
And he wanted Sky to go with him as his political adviser.
« I hadn’t been in Iraq for two years and had just done a six-month tour in Afghanistan, so the email came as something of a surprise. When he asked me to return I was flattered. I also felt that if anyone could make a difference in Iraq it was Odierno. The general is a good listener, he doesn’t think he knows the whole truth, he is intellectually curious. He is prepared to take in ideas, and then make decisions. That’s why I was prepared to return at the worst of times. »
The presence of a British woman at his side would prove controversial and unpopular in some quarters, particularly at the US state department, but the stakes were high and Odierno was evidently prepared to take a risk.
The general had been criticised for his aggressive approach to security in the months after the invasion, though Sky says he took the blame for circumstances beyond his control, and she did not find him to be « some brutal unthinking monster who suddenly had a complete change of personality ».
Sky believed he wanted her to help challenge the army’s punch first instincts, raise with him things he might not want to hear, as well as offer advice he couldn’t get « in-house ». « He didn’t want me to comply and he didn’t pigeonhole me. »
The situation in Iraq at the time was desperate. The violence in Iraq had morphed from an insurgency into sectarian conflict. The al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had provoked a civil war between Sunni and Shias that would take the country close to collapse.
In 2006, 16,564 Iraqi civilians died, including 3,389 in September, the highest amount for any month during the conflict. Coalition casualties were also high; 873 troops were killed that year, 823 of them American. Inevitably, political support for continuing the military campaign was ebbing away in Washington and London.
Nevertheless, the US president George Bush was poised to disregard the advice of some of his closest advisers – and most commentators too – to announce he was sending an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq, most of them into the cauldron of Baghdad.
The surge was a gamble. It seemed then, and with hindsight remains, an astonishing risk taken by a president who had stopped believing those people who said the violence was being provoked solely by the presence of US forces.
With thousands of extra troops heading for Iraq, Odierno set up headquarters in the vast US military base outside Baghdad near the airport, the unfortunately named Camp Victory.
Sky was given her own basic accommodation and was expected to accompany the general everywhere he went.
Emma Sky became a core member of General Odierno’s team and went everywhere he went. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian Linda Nylind/Guardian
She became a core member of Odierno’s handpicked team, which included of some of the best officers in the military, all of them Iraq veterans.
Specifically, Odierno wanted Sky to help him work out an operational plan. A process, she said, that could only begin with a brutal acknowledgment of previous tactics.
« During one of our first discussions, I told him that the situation in Iraq was a disaster and perhaps the biggest strategic failure in the history of the US, » said Sky.
« His response was, ‘what are we going to do about it? We cannot leave it like this’. There was no denial about the extent of the problem. »
« We spent many hours discussing the depth of the problem and what needed to be done. Sometimes it was just me and him, at the end of the day, sitting at Camp Victory on his balcony, and he’s smoking cigars. Sometimes we are at his office and he’s brought in a small team of people. But every day we would be up late talking about why people are using violence. »
« There was a power struggle going on at every level, a communal struggle for power and resources. I knew from my time in Kirkuk that politics drives this kind of instability, and that politics needs to be managed to bring down violence. I believed Iraqis were using violence to achieve political goals. We had to stop stigmatising these people. We had to stop calling these people the enemy. We needed to identify all the different the groups and ask, ‘why are they fighting? What are the drivers of instability?' »
Implementing Fardh al-Qanoon
The overall strategy was masterminded by General David Petraeus, who had spent months in the US developing a new counter-insurgency doctrine.
In February 2007, he arrived in Baghdad to assume command of all coalition forces in Iraq, and reviewed the plans drawn up by Odierno’s team about where and how the extra troops should be deployed.
« The operational details for the surge were left to General Odierno, » said Sky.
An important part of the new campaign involved separating the people who might be persuaded to abandon violence, the so-called « reconcilables », from those who were not. The former would not be targeted by Special Forces operations, the latter could be.
The men in charge of this were General Petraeus’ deputy, Graeme Lamb, a former director of UK special forces, and the American General Stanley McChrystal.
« The irreconcilables were those people who essentially believed that you have to destroy the nation-state to build the caliphate. But you have to be really careful deciding who can be won over, and who can’t. It meant we would have to start dealing with people we had been fighting and for any commander that is a very difficult thing to do. We couldn’t afford to say ‘we’ll only deal with people as long as they haven’t got blood on their hands’. We’ve all got blood on our hands, » Sky says.
Referring to where he was going to put the « wedge », and who could be put in his « squeeze box », Lamb drew up « Restricted Target Lists » – the names and details of those Iraqis that could not be targeted in operations because they were talking to the military. McChrystal dealt with those who refused to compromise.
Once Odierno’s plans had been endorsed by Petraeus, he and Sergeant Major Neil Ciotola travelled the length and breadth of Iraq to visit the troops and explain the new tactics. Sky was always at Odierno’s side.
The campaign was given an Arabic name, Fardh al-Qanoon – imposing the law. As an important first step, US troops began to move out of their bases to live among the local population.
And they had to do two things which were fundamentally counter-intuitive; prioritise protecting the population rather than trying to defeat the enemy; secondly, reach out to the armed groups which were killing civilians and soldiers.
« The general challenged his soldiers to understand the causes of instability, to understand the ‘why’ not just describe the ‘what’. » He would tell the soldiers, ‘the average Iraqi is just like you and me, they want to have their breakfast, take their kids to school and go to work. They are good people they are not our enemy’. People were using violence to achieve political objectives, so we had to create a process where they could achieve their objectives without violence. I had confidence in our analysis. But I was not sure the strategy would work. Not because I thought it was wrong, but because I worried the situation in Iraq was so out of control our extra forces might only exacerbate the violence, not lessen it. »
In those first months, there were few signs of progress and there was violence everywhere they went.
« You can hear it, you can smell it, it is all around. We would go to the hospitals to visit the wounded. We would attend memorial and ramp services for the dead. Every day, the general would be slipped a note with details of casualties which went up and up. We lost over a hundred soldiers a month in April, May and June 2007. In the past, I had been a spectator, an observer. I had never been involved in the decision-making to send our soldiers somewhere. It’s not like being a politician sitting in London. We were living among these men. People I knew died out there, and I am asking myself, ‘what have we sent them out to die for?’
« For weeks and weeks this went on. And every day, the general would talk to commanders and troops, explain the strategy, listen to their concerns, boost their morale. He would tell them that he knew it was so tough in this gruelling heat to put on body armour and go out day after day on raids. And the general continued telling them that they were making a difference, and all the little tactical successes were helping the strategy. »
Sky said she never felt in danger herself, though with hindsight, she accepts her confidence may have been misplaced.
« We were on our way to Mosul when our plane got shot at and we started to take evasive action. Then the door at the back of the plane fell open and we had to get it closed, and on the ground there was shooting, and when we got in a vehicle and it was hit by an IED. But I never had a sense that I was going to die, and I was sure the General could not die. I thought, this is not where the story ends. »
Sky said she found many of the daily security briefings distressing.
« We’d have power point presentations with pictures of men who’ve had half their brains blown out. Some things you never forget … the smell of burning bodies. I didn’t want to learn to cope with these images. The military talk about KIAs (killed in action). That’s how they cope. They don’t say, the victims were women and children. There was so much violence that it was almost too big to comprehend. The military has a language that is not accidental, it is used to quarantine emotion. Everyday we would hear reports that another 60 or 70 bodies had turned up, heads chopped off or drilled through. It was absolutely horrific. We could tell which groups had been behind the attacks by the way the victims had been killed. »
« It can be very lonely being in command and the general appreciated having a confidante. As commander you have to show leadership, you can’t show you have doubts, you have to be strong. But I was a civilian outside the chain of command who could say ‘how are you feeling, are you alright, has it been a bad day? We were not peers and he was always in charge. But I could be more of a friend to him. »
Within two months of the launch of the new campaign, al-Qaida militants had claimed responsibility for an audacious suicide bomb attack on the Iraqi parliament in the heart of the fortified Green Zone; two of the bridges in the capital were also hit by truck bombs. These « spectaculars » inevitably raised further doubts about the surge among Iraqi politicians and, privately, among military commanders.
But these incidents proved to be the high-water mark. « When the insurgents blew up the parliament, everyone in Iraq was probably thinking ‘this isn’t going to work’. Of course there were nights when I thought, we are bringing more violence and it is causing more violence, but is it actually going to break the violence. Everything had just escalated and escalated … there were occasions when I doubted whether we were ever going to break the back of it, and whether we should call it quits.
« But by July we started to feel things were changing. We heard it first from the battalions who described how more and more Iraqis were coming forward to give information about ‘bad guys’, and how insurgents were reaching out to do deals. There were ceasefires everywhere, local agreements, because more and more Iraqis were coming forward wanting to work with us. The intelligence we were getting improved, and the number of Iraqi casualties started to go down. »
Separately, the « awakening » in Anbar, which had begun a year earlier, began to have its own important effect. Anbar had been the most violent of all Iraq’s provinces, a place where Sunni tribal leaders had joined forces with al-Qaida to fight American forces. That was until those same tribal chiefs began to see al-Qaida as a greater threat to them, and turned to the US military for help to drive the insurgents out of the region.
This process had begun before the surge, but the Fardh al-Qanoon programme put the US in a better position to work with, and build trust between, sheiks who had spent the previous four years waging vicious conflict against American forces.
« The Sunnis could see we were trying to push back on the Shia extremists, and I think that had a huge affect, » said Sky. « With the awakening happening and spreading, it created the environment for the Sunnis to come back into society. This started before the surge when the Anbaris became sick of al-Qaida. In that wonderful way people in the region can switch alliances, they just changed side. One minute they are wearing al-Qaida patches on their sleeves, and the next they are taking them off and calling themselves ‘Sahwa’ (Awakening). They saw they could get American help, and they regarded Iran, and the Shia militias it supported, as the bigger threat, and decided to align with the US to fight them. »
Talking to Bassima
While tentative progress was being made out on the ground by the military, Sky was tasked with talking to the Iraqi government and assuaging some of their fears.
One unexpected consequence of the campaign was that Shia leaders had begun to worry that through the ever-increasing awakening the US was creating a Sunni army that would eventually overthrow them.
Sky decided to approach Dr Bassima al-Jaidri, the military adviser of the Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Jaidra was remarkable in many ways. She was a young Shia, in her late 30s. She had been a rocket engineer. And she was tough. Sky admits that some in the military suspected she was a « leader of the Shia death squads across Baghdad ». Such criticism didn’t seem to faze her at all.
When she was denounced by the US for her unwillingness to include Sunnis in the higher echelons of the new Iraqi security forces, she said: « I have had a long struggle with men … I can handle the American officers. »
Over the summer and autumn, Sky made regular helicopter trips into the Green Zone to speak to Al-Jaidra, who was known for wearing the striking combination of stiletto heels and a veil.
The meetings would take place in her office which was part of the prime minister’s office.
« I thought, I cannot go to speak to Maliki directly, so the best way to influence him is through Bassima. I think it would be fair to say she is not an easy woman. I would try to explain to her what we were doing and why.
« The Iraqi government could not accept some of the people we were doing deals with. To them they were bad Ba’athists, terrorists, and the awakening was creating a militia which could be a danger to the state.
« They were so suspicious of our motives … and they could not believe that the US had gone into Iraq without a grand plan. They assumed that this was all part of a conspiracy by the US to purposefully destroy Iraq, keep it weak and humiliate its people. I tried to get her to understand our position and how we had got there, and vice-versa. »
To encourage Iraqi government support for the awakening, Odierno had been relaying to the prime minister « good news » stories he had received from his commanders about the Sons of Iraq, the term the US used to described the awakening.
« But Maliki was only hearing bad news from his people on the ground. He therefore assumed the US was plotting a coup against him using the Sons of Iraq! When you ask your commanders for good news, you get good news. If you ask for bad news, you get bad news. »
Sky said it took « weeks and weeks » to earn Al-Jaidra’s trust. It helped that they were women in similar positions. « We were both working for big men. We were the same age, and neither of us had married. And we were both trying to bring our bosses closer together.
Sky persuaded Al-Jaidra that it would be better, and safer, for the government to integrate the new groups emerging around the country into the Iraqi security forces, rather than ostracise them.
In December 2007, Odierno and Maliki were at a meeting of the National Security Conference in Baghdad. When Odierno set out why the awakening needed to be integrated into Iraq’s security and the plan to do so, Maliki commented: « I agree with the general 100%. »
« Some people in the room gasped, » said Sky. « It was a hugely important moment. That year we went from being in hell to bringing the violence down. »
Iraq Inquiry opens in London
Tony Blair in Iraq in May 2007: when the prime minister met Emma Sky he asked if she really was British and why she was working with the US military. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/EPA
In 2007, 15,960 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence. In 2008, the number had come down to 4,859. US casualties went from 904 in 2007 to 314 in 2008.
Sky was at the heart of the US military machine and her advice was being sought at the top of the political pyramid. But she says she only ever met British diplomats when she accompanied Odierno to embassy meetings.
When Tony Blair made his last visit to Iraq in May 2007, Sky was introduced to him by Petraeus and Odierno. They told the prime minister their senior adviser was from the UK.
He said: « Are you really British? I assured him that I was British born and bred. He then asked, ‘so how come you are working with the US military?’ I replied, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. »
To end any suspicions, Sky says she was not and never has worked for MI6.
Sky saw what the British were doing from the US side of the fence. More than 40,000 British troops took part in the 2003 invasion but, by 2007, it seemed the UK was losing control of the south to the Iran-backed Shia militias of the cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.
And there was little political appetite to win back this territory. The early confidence that led senior members of the British military to boast to the Americans about their experience in counter-insurgency had evaporated.
« This was a time when the British were saying, ‘the problem in Basra is the British presence’, so the Brits were intending to pull out. » Sky remembers one conversation with an American general. « He said to me, ‘we are surging and the Brits are de-surging’. He didn’t know the opposite of surge. »
Sky added: « The British public support for this war was always very low. In America they are much more supportive of the military and even though you saw public opinion turning against the Iraq war, it wasn’t to the level that it was in Britain. Of course the Americans wished the British forces were bigger and had more resources, but to be perfectly honest, the British think far more about what the Americans think of them than the Americans think about them. » At the end of the day, the Americans were grateful to have the British as a close ally.
In March 2008, 30,000 troops from the Iraqi army surged into Basra to clear the city of Shia militias; the operation was called the Charge of the Knights. The British were peripherally involved, mostly giving medical and logistical help.
Brigadier Julian Free, commander of British troops in Basra at the time, admitted the UK could do little more. « We didn’t have enough capacity in the air and we didn’t have enough capability on the ground. »
David Petraeus , Ray Odierno,
General Petraeus contacted Sky to ask how they could persuade General Odierno to replace him as commanding general of all coalition forces in Iraq. Photograph: Dusan Vranic/AP
All of which meant the British inevitably left Iraq under a cloud. « The Sadrists will always claim that they are the ones who won in the south, and pushed the British out, » said Sky. « And I think the Iraqi government will claim that the British didn’t stand there and fight. »
With the British hamstrung by lack of numbers, and with Prime Minister Maliki overestimating the capabilities of his own forces, the US had to intervene to stop the Charge of the Knights turning into another disaster.
« The risk of failing in Basra would have been catastrophic for the country, » Sky said.
The end game
AT the end of 2007, Sky left Iraq for what she thought was the last time.
But three months later there was an unexpected reshuffle at the top of the US military. The officer in charge of US Central Command (Centcom), Admiral William Fallon, was forced to resign after an article in Esquire magazine, written with his cooperation, claimed he was opposed to President Bush’s approach to Iran. In the rearrangement, Petraeus was to leave Iraq to take command from Centcom and Odierno was asked to return to replace him as the commanding general of all coalition forces in Iraq.
« I was walking in the hills in France when I got this email from Gen Petraeus saying, how can we persuade Odierno to accept to come back to replace me in Iraq. General Odierno had been separated from his family for so long and had been so looking forward to going home. Within months, he was told he was being sent back to Iraq. For senior commanders, they get little choice. The poor guy, I felt so sorry for him. But General Odierno was going to go regardless. For him it was duty. And if he goes, and he wants my help, I go. That’s a given. »
Sky spent two months working for Petraeus in Baghdad in May and June, and then returned to Iraq as Odierno’s adviser shortly before he arrived in September. This time, with broader responsibilities, she was based in the US embassy in Baghdad, but still accompanied Odierno to all his meetings.
Not everyone was pleased.
« One of the general’s staff told me that everybody hated me. Someone else said to me ‘if you send anymore emails to the general we will destroy you, get rid of you’. Staff like to feel they are controlling the general and they did not like him getting different ideas from me. It was upsetting, but I felt the mission was important. If I’d thought the general didn’t value me there is no way I would have put up with that shit. I didn’t tell the general about it. He had enough things going on. You certainly need thick skin to work with some in the military. »
But such incidents were isolated, and most of Odierno’s staff accepted her.
The key initial task was on negotiating a status of forces agreement, the legal basis that allowed the US to remain in the country, and for how long. Sky, the Englishwoman, was asked to represent the US military during the talks.
With a UN resolution due to expire, getting an agreement was essential before the end of 2008. « I was on of a small team under the US ambassador Ryan Crocker. If we didn’t get it, the US would have to withdraw 150,000 troops within two or three months, they’d have to pack up and go home. And if the US went home, the Iraqis wouldn’t get their help anymore. »
« There were times when I really thought this isn’t going to happen, it really came down to the wire. Some of the Iraqis were scared the agreement made the prime minister too strong and wanted reassurances. We had already done a contingency plan on the basis we’d have to leave. But, at the last moment, an agreement was signed. It specified that the military had to be out of the cities by the end of June 2009, and out of Iraq completely by 2011. »
After so many years of fighting in Iraq, it was natural the military would find it difficult to let go.
« General Odierno would go out visiting troops and they would always say, ‘security isn’t good enough, there is still a risk, we cannot leave’. But by letting go, our relationship with Iraqis would improve. So the general had to get them to understand that success was something different now. We were shifting from counter-insurgency to stability, and putting Iraqis in the lead was the priority. When you do counter-insurgency the focus is protecting the people. In stabilisation, the priority is building up the institutions. »
As the change in military posture and preparations for withdrawal continued, Sky remembers tensions between the military and the state department. Some of the embassy officials were on their first tours to Iraq and didn’t seem as committed as their predecessors or the soldiers.
« One of the diplomats told me it was like being handed a bus with no wheels on, and I said, at least you recognise it as a bus. In the last few years you couldn’t even recognise it as a bus. »
Secret trips into Baghdad
Because Sky wasn’t in the military chain of command, and because she wasn’t an American, nobody could actually stop her leaving the confines of the Green Zone to get out among Iraqis.
These trips gave Sky a chance to speak to Iraqis and see places for herself, picking up valuable on-the-ground understanding she could feed back to the general and his staff.
« Everyone was under all these regulations. I was supposed to be as well, but being a non-American, and not coming under the British either, I was in a unique situation and Odierno trusted my judgment. I would travel at night around Baghdad to get a sense of what it was like so I could report back on different areas. I was going out with and among Iraqis. I could see if the Iraqis were working the checkpoints properly, if the electricity was on. Things like that can help give commanders the confidence to let go.
« In some places, I’d get people from the area to take me around. I was going in and out of Sadr city (a district of Baghdad), which the Americans regarded as one of the most dangerous places on earth at the time. »
The year before, Sky had helped work on the ceasefire of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), an Iraqi paramilitary group created by Al-Sadr, so she already knew some of its members.
« I knew some of them, and I had built up a relationship with them. They had their own lives and their own motivations. Iraqis are the most extraordinary people, they might distrust each other but they can be remarkably open to an outsider. »
Sky said she did not feel in danger – the people she relied upon to keep her safe on her trips into the city’s underworld were taking high risks too.
« I think they felt responsible for me. I was a woman on my own, and they took good care of me. The people who would have done me harm, would have done them harm too. So if the security was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. Although the risk of kidnapping was real, I was not worried that I would be taken. I trusted the Iraqis with my life, I trusted them completely. »
Sky would travel from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. « In some areas there was still something sinister, completely dark. And in others, you didn’t get that at all. You could see areas coming back to life. When women and children are in the streets you know they must feel safe. Even Sadr city started to buzz, and that was very exciting. »
During the day, Sky would occasionally have meetings with Iraqis at the Rashid Hotel in the Green Zone. One meeting made a particular impression. « I thought this man was just an angry Sunni, and we were trying to find common ground. We had tea together. A little later I discovered he had been arrested and was the al-Qaida emir for northern Iraq. I don’t know how he managed to get into the Green Zone. »
Sky still keeps in touch with some of the Iraqis she knew then, including one member of JAM, who sends her a Valentine’s card every year.
Obama’s first Iraqi trip
When Obama was unable to go to the Green Zone to meet Maliki, Sky played a key role in getting the Iraqi prime minister to go to Camp Victory to meet the US president. Photograph: the Guardian The Guardian
The election of Barack Obama didn’t change US plans to pull back from Iraq according to the timetable set by George Bush.
But Obama-mania was still very much alive when he made his first visit to Baghdad in April, 2009. He was mobbed by US troops, and Iraq’s senior politicians and tribal leaders were enthusiastic to meet him too.
Though not reported at the time, Sky says the trip so nearly ended in acute embarrassment for all sides.
The problem was something even the leader of the free world could not control; the weather.
« Obama was supposed to land at Camp Victory and then go by helicopter to the Green Zone to meet the Iraqi prime minister and other Iraqi politicians. But the weather was so bad the helicopters couldn’t fly. The president’s security people were saying there’s no way he will travel by road to the ceremony, and the US embassy was saying there’s no way the Iraqi politicians will come to Camp Victory, the seat of the occupation. And I am saying, there’s no way the president can come to Iraq and not see Iraqis. It is their country, he has to meet them. It would be a disaster if he didn’t. » Odierno told Sky to try to persuade Prime Minister Maliki to drive to Camp Victory.
« So I go over to see the prime minister, who is having his afternoon siesta. I had to wake him up. I said ‘I am terribly sorry but President Obama cannot come to the Green Zone because of the weather and I hate, hate to ask of you, is there any chance you can come to Camp Victory?’ Obama was new. Everyone was excited about him, and Maliki agreed. And if Maliki agreed, then the others would probably come too. »
In the Green Zone, nobody else knew about the looming crisis. « President Talabani had got the band playing and was waiting for Obama to arrive, and I am trying to focus on getting Maliki to Camp Victory. You have to remember that a lot of these politicians don’t get on at all, and we still had to decide the order of who sees Obama, when and where. »
Odierno’s residence in Camp Victory became the emergency reception area and Sky travelled with the prime minister’s convoy on the way out to the base. There were myriad security check-points along the route and Sky knew the prime minister would take umbrage if he was stopped anywhere along the drive, and U-turn back to the Green Zone.
« I was in the first car, sending messages to the military to open the checkpoint gates. At every one I jumped out, waved my military badge and shouted. ‘Prime Minister of Iraq, open the gate’. It was a miracle that we got him in without a major diplomatic incident. » President Talabani arrived soon after, but there was nowhere for him to wait before his audience with Obama. « We ended up putting him the bedroom of Odierno’s bodyguard. There was laundry all over the bed. »
Sky attended all the meetings between the Iraqis and Obama, and Odierno introduced them. Despite the chaos, and the opportunities for bruised egos, the visit ended without any major diplomatic incidents.
To Sky’s surprise, Maliki was so impressed with his tour around Camp Victory that he thought it would make a good site to hold the Arab Summit in 2010.
« The next day in our staff meeting General Odierno told his chief of staff to come up with a feasibility study to get all US soldiers out of Camp Victory in 2010 just in case the prime minister asked about it again. The chief of staff almost had a heart attack. »
Although the ceasefires between Sunnis and Shia were holding, tensions in the north had increased between Kurds and Arabs.
The president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, and Iraq’s Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, did not get on well, which didn’t help matters when, as Sky put it, « things began to get a bit dodgy in the north » – Kurdish peshmerga forces were squaring up to Iraqi security forces.
One episode reflected the difficulties; there had been a spate of bomb attacks close to the town of Hawija, just south of Kirkuk, which had been blamed on al-Qaida. Sky suspected it wasn’t insurgents, but local Arabs fearful that their town was about to be overrun by the Kurdish peshmerga.
« I was sitting in the office in Baghdad when someone showed me a map of where all the different forces were due to be stationed, including peshmerga south of Kirkuk. I thought this upsurge in violence isn’t al-Qaida, it is the Hawija Arabs. They are angry. So Gen Odierno told me to accompany one of his generals to speak to the sheiks.
« The sheikhs are not an easy lot but I had known them since 2003. I told them the peshmerga would not be positioned south of Kirkuk. And they said, ‘thank God, we had to put plant all these road side bombs because we were worried you were letting them in’. This is how they saw things so they took their own defensive action. »
Matters came to a head in Nineveh in February 2010, when the province’s new Arab governor, Atheel Najafi, decided he was going to test his freedom of movement by taking a trip into an area of his province which was predominantly Kurdish.
« The governor is supposed to have freedom of movement, but the Kurds said he can’t go in there. The Americans said he could, as part of an agreement that we had brokered.
« So the Americans escort the governor and the Kurds send reinforcements and things begin to escalate, and then shots are fired at the governor.
« The US brought tanks to a Kurdish village, and are flying F16 fighters overhead to try to calm the situation. And then the Iraqi security forces arrested some Kurds for trying to assassinate the governor. »
It was not an end to the affair.
« I was woken up at 2am by the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad, who had received a report from Ankara that the Kurds had invaded Mosul. I didn’t know what he was talking about and was desperate to find out what was going on.
« This was really very bad, definitely up there in the list of the most stressful events I have ever had to deal with. There hadn’t been an invasion, but the Kurds had kidnapped a number of Arabs in Nineveh in response to the arrests. So we had a group of Kurds detained in Mosul, and an group of Arabs had been taken in retaliation. »
Sky said the US embassy insisted that men accused of attempting to assassinate the governor should be put on trial, in accordance with the rule of law.
« When I mentioned this to the Kurds, they screamed at me ‘there is no rule of law in Iraq’. Every time Barzani turned on his TV, they were showing the American tanks and the F16s. He was furious… »
Odierno told Sky to find a pragmatic solution to the crisis; realistically, it could only be solved one way – an exchange of hostages.
« I tried to organise a deal to swap the detained Kurds with the Arabs. But to do this, I needed to get proof of life of the Arab detainees. So I had to fly up to Kurdistan on the general’s plane. The weather was absolutely terrible. There was thick fog, the airport was closed and the pilots couldn’t see the runway. But they were determined to get me to my meeting and managed to land on the second attempt. The Kurds were amazed I’d manage to fly in.
The Kurds took Sky to a presidential guest house, but before addressing the critical security situation, her hosts said she had another appointment – with a beautician.
« They got a young Kurdish girl to look after me. I had my hair cut and my legs waxed. It was quite nice but rather bizarre. Then they said they wanted to take me to a new mall. They love their malls. »
This was partly a deception; on the way, Sky was diverted to meet members of the Asayesh, the Kurdish intelligence service.
« They were holding three of the Arab hostages. I saw they were alive and well. So I called the deputy prime minister (Rafi al-Issawi) and told him I had proof of life. »
Sky flew down to Baghdad to pick up Issawi and his adviser, Jaber al Jaberi, and then they all flew back to Mosul to seal the deal.
There was a further twist; the three Kurds suspected of attempting to assassinate the governor had to be taken before a court so an Iraqi judge could formally release them from custody.
The Kurds were suspicious.
« So we are sitting at the airport trying to do the deal. The Kurds have informers everywhere and there was no way they wanted the prisoners taken before a judge without having some way of ensuring they came back again.
« So we had to give up Jaber as a hostage to the Kurds. He wasn’t very pleased about that! »
Two American military helicopters went to pick up the 15 kidnapped Arabs.
« The Kurdish negotiation side wouldn’t let the Arabs get off the helicopters until the Kurds were back from the judge. All this time they were saying, we are going to call off the deal, we are going to call off the deal. This went on for about four or five hours … it was incredibly stressful. The mobile reception was terrible. It was on, then off, then on then off. » Eventually, the Kurds and the Arabs were released.
« Issawi hugged them and gave them each some money. The Arabs had had no idea why they had been detained. Then we held a press conference in which Issawi went on about national reconciliation and on the flight back to Baghdad he was saying how great it was to do something that made all sides happy. »
Emma Sky left Iraq, along with Odierno in September 2010, at the end of combat operations. In total, she had been in the country for 50 months, completing more tours than most military commanders.
By nature she was suspicious of armed forces, and she was no supporter of America either. So Sky was probably the last person US commanders wanted at their side pointing out where they were going wrong. Which is one of the reasons she came to like and respect them. They were brave enough to take her in, and braver still to listen to what she was saying. The British would not have dared be so bold.
Sky has thought long and hard about what went wrong in those early days, and whether enough was done in the later years to give Iraq a chance for stability.
She is angry that no one has been held accountable for a war fought over false claims of WMD which had such high costs; more than 100,000 Iraqis were killed, along with 4,486 US soldiers and 179 British soldiers.
She believes the surge helped reduce the violence and allowed US forces to withdraw in 2011 with dignity – something that would have been inconceivable years earlier.
Sky says it is probably too early to judge whether Iraq can evolve into a democracy and become a force for regional stability: « People tend to be critical of the military, but the criticism needs to be more focused on the politicians and civilian leaders who failed to set an overall strategy. No one has been held accountable. They do not understand what the military is capable of, what it can and cannot do. Success in Iraq was always going to be defined by politics. We needed a political solution, a pact, a peace. The military had been asked to fight the war and then to deal with the consequences of it, without anyone in political authority having a plan or understanding Iraq well enough to appreciate the consequences of some of their decisions.
« I don’t want to live in a world where we see the killing of innocent civilians and don’t yearn to stop it. However, the Iraq war should have taught us, if nothing else, about the limitations of our own power. »
She is also unashamed of her conversion regarding the US military. As a self-confessed Guardian reader, she had prejudices that were challenged, and ultimately reshaped, by her experiences.
« They made me feel part of the team, and were as driven as I was to find a way of improving the situation in Iraq. I went on patrol with them, and spent hours in humvees and helicopters. I built up a camaraderie with soldiers that only people who go to war experience. Some of them remain close friends. » Odierno was the best of the lot, she says.
« I would have followed him anywhere. »
Sky still keeps in touch with many Iraqis – including a few who were once insurgents.
« If I had never volunteered and stepped on that plane in 2003 I would never have known that Iraq is such an amazing society. I think Iraqis are some of the most warm, generous, kind and funny people. »
« Nothing in my life will ever compare to the experience I had in Iraq. I had a real sense of purpose and I don’t regret going there for a single moment. People sometimes ask me, why did you go to Iraq, and I respond, why wouldn’t you go? » It was the best decision of my life. »
Voir de plus:
Iraq war will haunt west, says Briton who advised US military
Exclusive: Emma Sky – British civilian who advised US commanders in Iraq – says Muslim world sees a war on Islam
Nick Hopkins, defence and security correspondent
15 July 2012
A British woman who worked at the top of the US military during the most troubled periods of the Iraq war has said she fears the west has yet to see how some Muslims brought up in the last decade will seek revenge for the « war on terror ».
Speaking for the first time about her experiences, Emma Sky also questioned why no officials on either side of the Atlantic have been held to account for the failures in planning before the invasion.
Sky, 44, was political adviser to America’s most senior general in Iraq, and was part of the team that implemented the counterinsurgency strategy that helped to control the civil war that erupted in the country. The appointment of an English woman at the heart of the US military was a bold and unprecedented move, and it gave her unique access and insights into the conduct of one of the most controversial campaigns in modern history.
In all, the Oxford graduate spent more than four years in Iraq, including a spell as civilian governor of one of its most complex regions. She met Tony Blair and Barack Obama in Baghdad and earned the trust of senior Iraqi officials, as well as many of the country’s leading politicians and community leaders, some of whom remain her friends.
Now back in London, Sky has been reflecting on her time in Iraq in a series of interviews with the Guardian. She expressed concern about the effects this period has had on the Arab world, and how some of the mistakes made in Iraq appear to have been repeated in Afghanistan.
But Sky also defended the military and the senior commanders she worked with, who, she said, did everything they could to retrieve the situation.
She argued politicians and government officials on both sides of the Atlantic should have been held responsible for the decision to go to war, and the lack of strategy and planning for its aftermath – the consequences of which are still being felt.
A lack of understanding of the Arab world also meant the west struggled to grasp why it had provoked so much violence, and who was responsible for it.
« We’ve been fighting the war on terror for 10 years » said Sky. « At times it seems we have been fighting demons. We behaved as if there were a finite number of people in the world who had to be killed or captured. And we were slow to realise that our actions were creating more enemies.
« It has been seen by many Muslims as a war on Islam. Now, we are saying, ‘We’ve pulled out of Iraq, we are pulling out of Afghanistan, and it’s all over now.’ It may be over for the politicians. But it is not over for the Muslim world. Well over 100,000 Muslims have been killed since 9/11 following our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly by other Muslims.
« We have to ask ourselves, what do we think this has done to their world? And how will they avenge these deaths in years to come? It is not over for the soldiers who have physical injuries and mental scars, nor the families who have lost loved ones. »
She added: « The world is better off without Saddam. But nobody has been held accountable for what happened in Iraq, and there is a danger that we won’t learn the right lessons, particularly related to the limitations of our power.
« Politicians can still claim that Iraq was a violent society, or that Iraqis went into civil war because of ancient hatreds, or the violence was the inevitable result of the removal of Saddam, or that al-Qaida and Iran caused the problems. They distract from our own responsibility for causing some of the problems by our presence and the policies we pursued. »
She said the focus on building up local security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was not the right priority.
« We think it is about us, and it is about our security. But in the end, it is about their politics … success in Iraq was always going to be defined by politics. We needed a political solution, a pact, a peace. »
Sky was one of the British volunteers who went to Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion to help the reconstruction effort being led by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
She was appointed civilian governor of Kirkuk, the oil-rich city in the north of the country, and impressed US commanders with the way she worked with an American brigade to bring stability to the region.
Her frankness about the problems facing the country, and the coalition’s difficulties in dealing with them, did not deter the American military from recruiting her in 2007. She was made political adviser to General Ray Odierno, the US commander sent to Iraq to oversee the military « surge » – which involved 20,000 extra troops being sent to the country to stem the violence.
In 2008, Odierno succeeded General David Petraeus as overall commander of forces in Iraq. He asked Sky to return with him in the same advisory role. Odierno is now chief of staff of the US army and Petraeus is director of the CIA.
As a civilian member of Odierno’s team, Sky accompanied him everywhere, and was given responsibilities that seem remarkable for a « foreigner ». She witnessed some of the horrific violence that led to tens of thousands of Iraqis, and thousands of coalition troops, being killed. A number of people she considered friends – Iraqi and American – died in the fighting.
An Arabist who spent 10 years working in Jerusalem, Sky said: « I had worked in places overseas for a long time, but I had not worked with people who were then killed – sometimes due to their association with me. That first year in Kirkuk, I spent a lot of time with the provincial council and about a quarter of the people on the council were killed.
« There was always that sense that we had come into their lives and said, ‘Who is going to stand up and serve their province?’ and they had come forward, and some of them had been killed. If we had never come into their lives that might never have happened. »
Voir par ailleurs:
June 20, 2014
Former President George W. Bush is remaining mum on the tragedy unfolding in Iraq. But as an army of bloodthirsty Islamists rampages across Iraq with the goal  of establishing a 7th century religious tyranny — a caliphate — it’s worth recalling who years ago had predicted this would happen if the Democrats got their way.
It was President George W. Bush and his top officials.
They warned early on that Iraq was ripe for the rise of an Islamic caliphate — either in a failed state created by Saddam Hussein or, they later contended, if the U.S.-led coalition bugged out without leaving behind a stable Iraq. Two years into the U.S.-led occupation, in 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld warned that a premature withdrawal would be disastrous — and he foresaw what has in fact happened. He explained, “Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East, and which would threaten legitimate governments in Europe, Africa and Asia.”
Vice President Dick Cheney also warned of the rise of a caliphate if the U.S. withdrew before Iraq was capable of governing and defending itself. “They talk about wanting to re-establish what you could refer to as the seventh-century caliphate” to be “governed by Sharia law, the most rigid interpretation of the Koran,” he said.
Gen. John P. Abizaid, then America’s top commander in the Middle East, also offered prescient testimony in 2005 to the House Armed Services Committee, forseeing what the terror masters would do in a weak Iraqi state. “They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world. Just as we had the opportunity to learn what the Nazis were going to do, from Hitler’s world in ‘Mein Kampf,’ we need to learn what these people intend to do from their own words.”
Liberals jeered such dire predictions — and especially at the repeated use of the word “caliphate.”
The New York Times, for instance, ran a piece on December 12, 2005, that mocked the forgoing Bush-administration officials for their warnings of a “caliphate” — portraying them as foreign-policy amateurs peddling an alarmist view of the Middle East. Wrote reporter Elisabeth Bumiller:
A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration’s warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War. They say that although Al Qaeda’s statements do indeed describe a caliphate as a goal, the administration is exaggerating the magnitude of the threat as it seeks to gain support for its policies in Iraq.
Members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, obviously don’t believe what’s printed in The New York Times. ISIS, incidentally, has reportedly been preparing to make its move for several years — right under the radar of the Obama administration. Were they emboldened by President Obama’s endless apologies to the Muslim world? Or the deadlines he’d set for leaving Iraq and Afghanistan? Probably all of the above. But what no doubt really energized them was President Obama’s failure to negotiate a deal with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that would have left sufficient U.S. troops in Iraq.
President Bush, for his part, issued a prophetic warning in 2007 when vetoing a Democratic bill that would have withdrawn U.S. troops. “To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States,” he said.
It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.
A little history is worth recalling. Saddam’s failure to account for his weapons of mass destruction, including remnants of his toxic arsenal (some of which was in fact found ), gave the Bush administration legal cover for going into Iraq. But only a fool would believe weapons of mass destruction were the only reason for the war. The U.S.-led invasion, or liberation, was in fact part of a vision to remake the Middle East: a long-term project to liberate millions in Iraq; nudge the region toward modernity; and above all make America safer in a post-9/11 world — all by correctly defining who the enemy was and taking the war on terror to them.
The Bush administration certainly encountered setbacks in Iraq and made mistakes; the fog of war invariably upsets the best-laid plans of politicians and generals. But Iraq only plunged into utter chaos after President Obama brought home U.S. troops, despite warnings that Iraq was not ready to govern or defend itself. The blood and treasure that America spent in Iraq has been squandered.
The terror masters were energized in Syria, thanks to the Obama administration’s tepid support of moderate rebels there. Now they are on the march, just as President Bush and his top officials had predicted. After they establish their regional caliphate in Iraq and Syria, expect them to next turn their attention toward their real enemies: America, Israel, and the West. Oil prices are bound to go through the roof, sending the global economy into a tailspin.
President Obama and his foreign-policy advisors have blood on their hands. But if Obama remains in character, he’ll do what he usually does — blame it all on George Bush.
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Dec 12, 2005
updated Dec 29, 2006
In July 2005, I wrote an article titled « What Do the Terrorists Want? [A Caliphate], » pointing out how discussion of the goal of our Islamist enemy is almost non-existent. Today, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times points out in « 21st-Century Warnings of a Threat Rooted in the 7th » that the Bush administration has come around to my way of thinking – namely that the Islamist goal is a caliphate (a single, global state, ruled by the Shari’a)..
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it in a speech last Monday in Washington and again on Thursday on PBS. Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy, said it the week before in a round table at the Council on Foreign Relations. Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said it in October in speeches in New York and Los Angeles. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, said it in September in hearings on Capitol Hill.
Vice President Dick Cheney was one of the first members of the Bush administration to say it, at a campaign stop in Lake Elmo, Minn., in September 2004. … As Mr. Cheney put it in Lake Elmo, referring to Osama bin Laden and his followers: « They talk about wanting to re-establish what you could refer to as the seventh-century caliphate » to be « governed by Sharia law, the most rigid interpretation of the Koran. »
Or as Mr. Rumsfeld put it on Monday: « Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East, and which would threaten legitimate governments in Europe, Africa and Asia. »
General Abizaid was dire, too. « They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world, » he told the House Armed Services Committee in September, adding that the caliphate’s goals would include the destruction of Israel. « Just as we had the opportunity to learn what the Nazis were going to do, from Hitler’s world in ‘Mein Kampf,' » General Abizaid said, « we need to learn what these people intend to do from their own words. »
Of course, Bumiller goes on to quote such heavyweight analysts as Kenneth M. Pollack, John L. Esposito, and Shibley Telhami to explain why these top administration figures are wrong to refer to the caliphate. But, as I showed in my article, talking about the caliphate only reflects what the terrorists themselves are saying. (And here’s an update: on about September 23, Al-Qaeda started a radio station called Sawt al-Khalifa, or « Voice of the Caliphate. ») The Bush administration, in other words, is doing precisely the right thing in raising the specter of the caliphate. (December 12, 2005)
Dec. 17, 2005 update: Another heavyweight, this time investigative journalist Robert Dreyfuss, tells us what he thinks of the aspiration to a caliphate:
Dreyfuss described as « idiotic » the notion that Islamist forces wished to establish a Caliphate from North Africa to Southeast Asia. This was utter nonsense, he said. What was happening was that those in the administration who made such declarations based them on what they read on Al Qaeda and other jihadi websites. He reminded his audience of the 1974 Patty Hearst case – the American newspaper heiress who joined a terrorist outfit – where the so-called Symbionese Liberation Army planned to overthrow the US government. Such threats, he added, were in the nature of fantasies and should be treated as such.
Comment: I believe in treating the enemy’s goals with deadly seriousness, and not dismissing them as « fantasies. » As Theodore Dalrymple explains, « impossible goals have had at least as great an effect on human existence as more limited and possible ones. »
Jan. 4, 2006 update: Yet another deep thinker doth protest. James Reston Jr., with the coarseness that so often characterizes the Bush administration’s critics, used his commentary on (taxpayer subsidized) National Public Radio to attack the « denseness » of American politicians’ frequent misuse of the word caliphate. Reston assured his listeners that the prospect of a caliphate stretching across the Muslim world « is nonsense. » (On which, see my response at the Dec. 17, 2005 update.)
He also ascribed « scary images of bloodthirsty Oriental despots in black turbans and silk caftans » to the word caliphate. Pointing to the fact that the historic caliphates represented « the height of Arab and Islamic achievement, » he concluded that American officials using this term is « yet another slur on Arab history. »
Comments: (1) The administration, in fact, is merely repeating a term that Islamists make common reference to; I quoted a number of instances of this in my initial article on this topic. (2) Reston is the one who raised « scary images » – no one in government did so. (3) One wonders what Reston wants Washington to do – avoid any term, no matter how often used by the enemy, if Reston supposes it conjures negative images in Americans’ minds? (4) It’s this kind of objection that makes one despair of the left ever understanding that the country is at war, for sensitivity is its watchword and highest priority, with security and victory relegated to low priority.
Jan. 14, 2006 update: The Washington Post‘s Karl Vick has an interesting piece today on the popularity of the caliphate, which he finds is « esteemed by many ordinary Muslims. » He cites various pieces of evidence.
Al Qaeda thrived in Afghanistan when the Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar, was called « Commander of the Faithful, » a caliphic title. In his book published online shortly after Sept. 11, bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, declared that terror attacks would « be nothing more than disturbing acts, regardless of their magnitude » unless they led to a caliphate in the « heart of the Islamic world. »
The American-led invasion of Iraq provided an opportunity to do just that, Zawahiri apparently wrote last year to Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian who heads the insurgent group al Qaeda in Iraq. In the version of the letter posted on a U.S. government Web site, Zawahiri said only the presence of foreign occupiers had stirred « the Muslim masses » to action. He advised Zarqawi to use Iraq’s Sunni areas as the base for « an Islamic authority or emirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate. »
Vicks then focuses on Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization founded in 1953 with what he calls « a bookish set of beliefs describing its utopian vision for a future caliphate, » which will be revived « after national governments are subverted by Hizb ut-Tahrir members working in their highest levels. » Vicks notes that Hizb ut-Tahrir members have been charged with planning to carry out coups d’état in Jordan and Egypt. The group also has a following in the West. If membership is up—and an imam in Copenhagen, Fatih Alev, and others say they keep seeing new faces—Hizb ut-Tahrir organizers say it is because more Muslims see events unfolding as the groups predicted.
« Bush is saying they would establish a caliphate from Spain to Indonesia, » said Abdullatif, the group’s spokesman in Copenhagen. « The establishment of the caliphate will come by those who work hard. » … As the Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting in Copenhagen broke for evening prayers, Muziz Abdullah, an affable native of Lebanon, surveyed a hall still with standing-room only. « Ten years ago, when I started, it was totally unrealistic to think there could be a caliphate, » he said. « But now, people believe it could happen in a few years. »
In Turkey, where the last gasp of the caliphate was extinguished in 1924, interest in the institution endures. Vicks mentions a Turkish plot in 1998 to fly a hijacked plane into the Atatürk mausoleum in Ankara: « the ill-prepared Turkish plotters told investigators they aimed to do was strike a dramatic blow toward reviving Islam’s caliphate. » But the caliphate’s appeal goes far beyond such extremists. Vicks states that his interviews indicate that « the caliph is cherished both as memory and ideal. »
« Why do you keep invading Muslim countries? » asked Kerem Acar, a tailor in central Istanbul. « I won’t live to see it, and my children won’t, but one day maybe my children’s children will see someone declare himself the caliph, like the pope, and have an impact. » … « I wish there was a caliphate again, because if there was a caliphate all the Muslims would unite, » said Ertuğul Orel, in a sweater and tie at the sidewalk cafe he owns outside Istanbul’s vast Hagia Sophia, an iconic building to both Christians and Muslims. « There would be one voice. But I know neither the American nor the Europeans will ever allow it. » From the next chair, gift shop owner Atacan Cinar added, « Before the end of the Ottoman Empire, there was no problem in the Islamic countries. » …
« The concept of the caliphate is very much alive in the collective memory of society, » said Ali Bulaç, a columnist and author of several books on Islam and Turkey. « There is absolutely nothing to keep Muslim society together at the moment. » Fatih Alev, imam of a moderate mosque in Copenhagen, said Hizb ut-Tahrir was « very unwise » to say that no other Muslim groups were working toward a caliphate. « As of now, the caliphate is totally irrelevant. As of tomorrow, it could be relevant. I would not exclude it. »
Feb. 4, 2006 update: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in a speech today pointed to the global nature of the caliphate, saying that Islamists « seek to take over governments from North Africa to Southeast Asia and to re-establish a caliphate they hope, one day, will include every continent. They have designed and distributed a map where national borders are erased and replaced by a global extremist Islamic empire. » Note the part about « every continent. »
Feb. 28, 2006 update: John D. Negroponte testified today that the U.S. government knows « a great deal about al Qa’ida’s vision. [Ayman al-]Zawahiri, al Qa’ida’s number two, is candid in his July 2005 letter to [Abu Mus’ab al-]Zarqawi. He portrays the jihad in Iraq as a stepping-stone in the march toward a global caliphate, with the focus on Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Israel. »
Mar. 6, 2006 update: The Jan. 14, 2006 update above mentions Hizb ut-Tahrir members charged with planning to carry out coups d’état in Jordan and Egypt; today’s Daily Star tells about Hizb ut-Tahrir activities in Lebanon.
Posters with big, bright-red lettering calling for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Lebanon can now be seen around many streets in Sidon, pasted up by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a party banned by Lebanese authorities. On Saturday, citizens in Sidon were surprised to see the posters – especially in areas such as Riad al-Solh street, Sit Nafisa street and Mufti Mohammed Salim Jalaleddine street. The posters call for « reviving an Islamic Caliphate state after the enemies in the malicious and colonial West underestimated our spiritual force. We will only come out strong with an Islamic state. » The posters further called for all Muslims to « be loyal to God and His prophets, » adding that « loyalty to the Western countries, their rulers or agents is a treason to God and His prophets. » …
Hizb ut-Tahrir’s media spokesperson Ayman Kadri said: « The posters were stuck on the walls on the occasion of March 3, 1924, to commemorate the fall of the Islamic Caliphate [and decline of the Ottoman Empire]. » He added that « the posters are to remind people of this date and to highlight the importance of reuniting the Islamic nation in one country. »
Mar. 22, 2006 update: Asma Afsaruddin, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame, makes the case for reviving the caliphate today in « Of Caliphs and the Caliphate: Setting the Record Straight. »
Interviewer: « Is the goal to re-establish the Caliphate – the Islamic rule that was established by the Prophet? »
Krekar: « Yes. Our Caliph is dead and we are orphans. Therefore we are fighting, like the Jews fought under David Ben-Gurion, for our own state, a state ruled by a true Islamic ruler. »
Interviewer: « What borders should the Caliphate have? »
Krekar: « It doesn’t matter. Things are born, and then they grow bigger. The essential thing is Islamic rule. That was why the West destroyed the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. They feared the Islamic state. »
Interviewer: « Who should rule the new Caliphate? »
Krekar: « It doesn’t have to be a cleric. A good human being is enough. »
Interviewer: « Is bin Laden such a person? »
Krekar: « Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri are among several good people. Weren’t Jewish leaders also terrorists before they had their own state? »
May 10, 2006 update: James Brandon provides a fine overview in the Christian Science Monitor today of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s drive to re-establish the caliphate. Some excerpts:
Hizb ut-Tahrir says that Muslims should abolish national boundaries within the Islamic world and return to a single Islamic state, known as « the Caliphate, » that would stretch from Indonesia to Morocco and contain more than 1.5 billion people. It’s a simple and seductive idea that analysts believe may someday allow the group to rival existing Islamic movements, topple the rulers of Middle Eastern nations, and undermine those seeking to reconcile democracy and Islam and build bridges between East and West.
« A few years ago people laughed at them, » says Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the leading expert on Hizb ut-Tahrir. « But now that [Osama] bin Laden, [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi, and other Islamic groups are saying they want to recreate the Caliphate, people are taking them seriously. »
Even more moderate Muslim groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt pay lip-service to the ideal of reestablishing the Caliphate, leaving less ideological space for Muslims who want to move toward Western models of democracy. « The Caliphate is a rallying point between the radicals and the more moderate Islamists, » says Stephen Ulph, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. « The idea of a government based on the Caliphate has a historical pedigree and Islamic legitimacy that Western systems of government by their very nature do not have. »
But unlike Al Qaeda, Hizb ut-Tahrir believes it can recreate the Caliphate peacefully. Its activists aim to persuade Muslim political and military leaders that reestablishing the Caliphate is their Islamic duty. Once these leaders invite Hizb ut-Tahrir to take power – effectively staging a military coup – the party would then repeat the process in other countries before linking them up to form a revived Caliphate. …
Hizb ut-Tahrir promises that a revived Caliphate will end corruption and bring prosperity – though the group doesn’t say how. It will let Muslims challenge, and ultimately conquer, the West, its followers say. « The Muslim world has resources like oil but it lacks the leadership that will rule us by Islamic law and make this jihad that the whole world is afraid of, » says [Abdullah] Shakr, a Jordanian member of the group, who says the success of the Caliphate will also encourage more converts to Islam – eventually making the whole world Islamic. …
« Islam obliges Muslims to possess power so that they can intimidate – I would not say terrorize – the enemies of Islam, » says Abu Mohammed, a Hizb ut-Tahrir activist. « In the beginning, the Caliphate would strengthen itself internally and it wouldn’t initiate jihad. »
« But after that we would carry Islam as an intellectual call to all the world, » says Abu Mohammed, a pseudonym. « And we will make people bordering the Caliphate believe in Islam. Or if they refuse then we’ll ask them to be ruled by Islam. » And after that? Abu Mohammed pauses and fiddles with his Pepsi before replying. « And if after all discussions and negotiations they still refuse, then the last resort will be a jihad to spread the spirit of Islam and the rule of Islam, » he says, smiling. « This is done in the interests of all people to get them out of darkness and into light. »
New York Sun
26 juillet 2005
Version originale anglaise: What Do the Terrorists Want? [A Caliphate and Shari’a]
Adaptation française: Alain Jean-Mairet
Que veulent les terroristes? La réponse devrait être évidente. Pourtant, elle ne l’est pas.
Les terroristes de la génération précédente exprimaient clairement leur volonté. Lors du détournement de trois avions de ligne en septembre 1970, par exemple, le Front populaire de libération de la Palestine exigea et obtint la mise en liberté de terroristes arabes détenus en Grande-Bretagne, en Suisse et en Allemagne de l’ouest. Lors de l’attaque du siège du B’nai B’rith et de deux autres immeubles de Washington, D.C., en 1977, un groupe musulman hanafite exigea l’interdiction d’un film, «Le Message» (VO: Mohammad, Messenger of God), 750 dollars (au titre de remboursement d’une amende), la remise des cinq hommes qui avaient massacré la famille du leader hanafite et le meurtrier de Malcolm X.
Ces «exigences non négociables» liées à des prises d’otages provoquèrent des drames déchirants et autant de dilemmes politiques. «Nous ne négocierons jamais avec des terroristes», déclarèrent les responsables politiques. «Donnez-leur Hawaii mais rendez-moi mon mari», suppliaient les épouses des otages.
Ces temps sont si lointains et leur terminologie est à tel point oubliée que même le président Bush parle aujourd’hui d’«exigences non négociables» (en l’occurrence en matière de dignité humaine), oubliant l’origine sinistre de cette expression.
La plupart des attentats terroristes perpétrés de nos jours ne sont accompagnés d’aucune exigence. Des bombes explosent, des avions sont détournés et s’écrasent sur des immeubles, des hôtels s’effondrent. Les morts sont comptés. Les enquêteurs établissent l’identité des auteurs. De vagues sites web émettent après coup des revendications non authentifiées.
Mais les raisons de la violence ne sont pas explicitées. Les analystes, y compris votre serviteur, doivent donc spéculer sur les motifs. Ceux-ci peuvent être liés aux ressentiments personnels des terroristes, basés sur la pauvreté, des préjudices ou des sentiments d’aliénation culturelle. Par ailleurs, on peut discerner une intention d’influer sur la politique internationale:
- «frapper» à Madrid pour obtenir que les gouvernements retirent leurs troupes d’Irak.
- Convaincre les Américains de quitter l’Arabie Saoudite.
- Faire cesser l’aide américaine à Israël.
- Faire pression sur New Dehli pour qu’elle abandonne tout contrôle sur le Cachemire.
Tout cela pourrait avoir contribué à motiver les violences. Pour reprendre les termes du Daily Telegraph de Londres, les problèmes en Irak et en Afghanistan ajoutèrent à chaque fois «une nouvelle pierre à la montagne de rancunes érigée par des militants fanatiques». Mais aucun de ces éléments n’est décisif dans le choix de sacrifier sa vie pour tuer d’autres gens.
Dans presque tous les cas, les terroristes djihadistes nourrissent une ambition manifeste, celle d’établir un règne mondial dominé par les Musulmans, l’Islam et la loi islamique, la charia. Ou, pour citer une nouvelle fois le Daily Telegraph, leur «projet réel est l’extension du territoire islamique sur l’ensemble du globe et l’instauration d’un califat mondial basé sur la charia».
Les terroristes affichent cet objectif ouvertement. Les islamistes qui assassinèrent Anouar El-Sadate en 1991 décorèrent leurs cages de banderoles proclamant «Le califat ou la mort». Dans une biographie, l’un des penseurs islamistes les plus influents, et qui a inspiré Oussama Ben Laden, Abdullah Azzam, déclare que sa vie «s’articula autour d’un seul but, celui d’instaurer le règne d’Allah sur la Terre» et de restaurer le califat.
Ben Laden lui-même parla de veiller à ce que «le pieux califat prenne son essor depuis l’Afghanistan». Son principal adjoint, Ayman al-Zawahiri, rêvait aussi de rétablir le califat lorsqu’il écrivit «l’histoire, si Dieu le veut, va prendre un grand tournant dans la direction opposée, contre l’empire des États-Unis et le gouvernement juif mondial.» Un autre leader d’Al-Qaida, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, publie un magazine qui déclara: «Grâce à la bénédiction du djihad, le compte-à-rebours a commencé pour l’Amérique. Elle sera déclarée vaincue très bientôt», puis le califat sera mis en place.
Ou, comme l’écrivait Mohammed Bouyeri dans la note qu’il fixa sur la dépouille de Theo van Gogh, le cinéaste hollandais qu’il venait d’assassiner, «l’Islam vaincra grâce au sang des martyres qui répandent sa lumière dans chaque recoin de cette terre».
Il est intéressant de relever que l’assassin de van Gogh se montra contrarié par les motifs erronés qui lui furent attribués. Lors de son procès, il insista sur ce point: «J’ai fait ce que j’ai fait par pure foi. Je veux que vous sachiez que j’ai agi par conviction et que je ne l’ai pas tué parce qu’il était hollandais ou que j’étais marocain et que je me sentais offensé.»
Bien que les terroristes déclarent haut et fort leurs motivations djihadistes, les Occidentaux comme les Musulmans, trop souvent, ne les entendent pas. Comme l’observe l’auteure canadienne Irshad Manji, les organisations islamiques prétendent que «l’Islam est un spectateur innocent du terrorisme actuel».
Ce que veulent les terroristes est extrêmement clair. Et il faut fournir un effort monumental de dénégation pour ne pas le reconnaître, mais nous autres Occidentaux semblons bien en être capables.
White House Letter
21st-Century Warnings of a Threat Rooted in the 7th
The new York Times
December 12, 2005
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it in a speech last Monday in Washington and again on Thursday on PBS. Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy, said it the week before in a round table at the Council on Foreign Relations. Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said it in October in speeches in New York and Los Angeles. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, said it in September in hearings on Capitol Hill.
Vice President Dick Cheney was one of the first members of the Bush administration to say it, at a campaign stop in Lake Elmo, Minn., in September 2004.
The word getting the workout from the nation’s top guns these days is « caliphate » – the term for the seventh-century Islamic empire that spanned the Middle East, spread to Southwest Asia, North Africa and Spain, then ended with the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. The term can also refer to other caliphates, including the one declared by the Ottoman Turks that ended in 1924.
Specialists on Islam say the word is a mysterious and ominous one for many Americans, and that the administration knows it. « They recognize that there’s a lot of resonance when they use the term ‘caliphate,’ » said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and now a scholar at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said that the word had an « almost instinctive fearful impact. »
So now, Mr. Cheney and others warn, Al Qaeda’s ultimate goal is the re-establishment of the caliphate, with calamitous consequences for the United States. As Mr. Cheney put it in Lake Elmo, referring to Osama bin Laden and his followers: « They talk about wanting to re-establish what you could refer to as the seventh-century caliphate » to be « governed by Sharia law, the most rigid interpretation of the Koran. »
Or as Mr. Rumsfeld put it on Monday: « Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East, and which would threaten legitimate governments in Europe, Africa and Asia. »
General Abizaid was dire, too. « They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world, » he told the House Armed Services Committee in September, adding that the caliphate’s goals would include the destruction of Israel. « Just as we had the opportunity to learn what the Nazis were going to do, from Hitler’s world in ‘Mein Kampf,’ » General Abizaid said, « we need to learn what these people intend to do from their own words. »
A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration’s warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War. They say that although Al Qaeda’s statements do indeed describe a caliphate as a goal, the administration is exaggerating the magnitude of the threat as it seeks to gain support for its policies in Iraq.
In the view of John L. Esposito, an Islamic studies professor at Georgetown University, there is a difference between the ability of small bands of terrorists to commit attacks across the world and achieving global conquest.
« It is certainly correct to say that these people have a global design, but the administration ought to frame it realistically, » said Mr. Esposito, the founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown. « Otherwise they can actually be playing into the hands of the Osama bin Ladens of the world because they raise this to a threat that is exponentially beyond anything that Osama bin Laden can deliver. »
Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, said Al Qaeda was not leading a movement that threatened to mobilize the vast majority of Muslims. A recent poll Mr. Telhami conducted with Zogby International of 3,900 people in six countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon – found that only 6 percent sympathized with Al Qaeda’s goal of seeking an Islamic state.
The notion that Al Qaeda could create a new caliphate, he said, is simply wrong. « There’s no chance in the world that they’ll succeed, » he said. « It’s a silly threat. » (On the other hand, more than 30 percent in Mr. Telhami’s poll said they sympathized with Al Qaeda, because the group stood up to America.)
The term « caliphate » has been used internally by policy hawks in the Pentagon since the planning stages for the war in Iraq, but the administration’s public use of the word has increased this summer and fall, around the time that American forces obtained a letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 leader in Al Qaeda, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The 6,000-word letter, dated early in July, called for the establishment of a militant Islamic caliphate across Iraq before Al Qaeda’s moving on to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt and then a battle against Israel.
In recent weeks, the administration’s use of « caliphate » has only intensified, as Mr. Bush has begun a campaign of speeches to try to regain support for the war. He himself has never publicly used the term, although he has repeatedly described the caliphate, as he did in a speech last week when he said that the terrorists want to try to establish « a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Indonesia to Spain. »
Six days earlier, Mr. Edelman, the under secretary of defense, made it clear. « Iraq’s future will either embolden terrorists and expand their reach and ability to re-establish a caliphate, or it will deal them a crippling blow, » he said. « For us, failure in Iraq is just not an option. »
Caliwho ? Bush’s New Word: ‘Caliphate’
When President George W. Bush starts using fifty-cent words in press conferences, one has to wonder why, and on Wednesday, during his Rose Garden appearance, he used the word “caliphate” four times. The enemy, he said—by which he clearly meant the Islamic terrorist enemy—wants to “extend the caliphate,” “establish a caliphate,” and “spread their caliphate.” Caliphate? Really? Many people live long, fruitful lives without once using the word caliphate. Almost no one, with the exception of our president and some of his advisers, uses it as a pejorative.
As NEWSWEEK reported last month, the president and the people who prep him are still clearly casting about for the right phrase to pin on America’s elusive enemy . “Axis of evil” is outdated by now. “Islamist,” the preferred choice of scholars, has been deemed too jargony and academic. “Islamofascist” is a recent favorite, and in a speech last month the president used it as punctuation in a litany of other tags, notably “Islamic radicalism” and “militant jihadism.” The beauty of “caliphate” is that no one but students of Islamic history have much more than a vague idea of what it means. “Bush has been successful in defining terms in his own way,” said Steve Ebbins, a former Democratic speechwriter. “[The Bush administration] has captured the language. If you control the language, you control the message and are able to sway people’s attitude toward your policy. It’s a policy-endorsing mechanism.” Until last January, the president rarely used it, if ever. Since then, he’s used it more than 15 times.
A caliphate , according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is the “office or dominion of a caliph”; a caliph is “a successor of Muhammad … [the] spiritual head of Islam.” Simply put, the caliph is Islam’s deputy to the world. After the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 A.D., his father-in-law, Abu Bakr, became the first caliph. (At the heart of the schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims, even today, is the question of succession: who has the right to become Islam’s caliph?) From the time of the Prophet’s death until the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258, caliphs ruled over Muslims and presided over the Muslim expansion throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe. These were the caliphates; some beneficent, some warmongering, in concept not unlike any other empire or dynasty.
In fairness, Bush isn’t the first person in recent history to appropriate the word caliphate and use it as a weapon. Osama bin Laden did it himself, most notably three years ago, in his statement to the United Sates via Al-Jazeera. “Baghdad, the seat of the caliphate, will not fall to you, God willing,” he said, “and we will fight you as long as we carry our guns.” Bin Laden’s rhetoric evoked, as it often does, an earlier, golden era of Islam, one that exists more in his imagination than in the lawless, crumbling city of Baghdad today. Backers of the war in Iraq—Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, not to mention hawks like Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania—jumped on the word and used it in speeches dozens of times.
Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Council on American Islamic Relations, says bin Laden’s word choices distort Islam for the world, and he wishes the president would take more care. When Ahmed heard “caliphate” Wednesday morning, he thought of the way Bush used the word “crusade” after September 11. “There’s a fundamental misunderstanding with the president and his advisers on core Islamic issues,” Ahmed said. “He’s getting bad advice, they’re misinformed on Islamic terminology.” Either that, or he’s making a strategic rhetorical choice.
Full text: Blair speech on terror
Mr Blair said ‘evil ideology’ motivated the London bombers
The following is the full text of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech on the London bombings, delivered at the Labour Party national conference on Saturday. The greatest danger is that we fail to face up to the nature of the threat we are dealing with. What we witnessed in London last Thursday week was not an aberrant act.
It was not random. It was not a product of particular local circumstances in West Yorkshire.
Senseless though any such horrible murder is, it was not without sense for its organisers. It had a purpose. It was done according to a plan. It was meant.
What we are confronting here is an evil ideology.
It is not a clash of civilisations – all civilised people, Muslim or other, feel revulsion at it. But it is a global struggle and it is a battle of ideas, hearts and minds, both within Islam and outside it.
This is the battle that must be won, a battle not just about the terrorist methods but their views. Not just their barbaric acts, but their barbaric ideas. Not only what they do but what they think and the thinking they would impose on others.
This ideology and the violence that is inherent in it did not start a few years ago in response to a particular policy. Over the past 12 years, Al-Qaeda and its associates have attacked 26 countries, killed thousands of people, many of them Muslims.
They have networks in virtually every major country and thousands of fellow travellers. They are well-financed. Look at their websites.
They aren’t unsophisticated in their propaganda. They recruit however and whoever they can and with success.
Neither is it true that they have no demands. They do. It is just that no sane person would negotiate on them.
This is a religious ideology… Those who kill in its name believe genuinely that in doing it, they do God’s work; they go to paradise.
They demand the elimination of Israel; the withdrawal of all Westerners from Muslim countries, irrespective of the wishes of people and government; the establishment of effectively Taleban states and Sharia law in the Arab world en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations.
We don’t have to wonder what type of country those states would be. Afghanistan was such a state. Girls put out of school.
Women denied even rudimentary rights. People living in abject poverty and oppression. All of it justified by reference to religious faith.
The 20th century showed how powerful political ideologies could be. This is a religious ideology, a strain within the world-wide religion of Islam, as far removed from its essential decency and truth as Protestant gunmen who kill Catholics or vice versa, are from Christianity. But do not let us underestimate it or dismiss it.
Those who kill in its name believe genuinely that in doing it, they do God’s work; they go to paradise.
From the mid 1990s onwards, statements from Al-Qaeda, gave very clear expression to this ideology: « Every Muslim, the minute he can start differentiating, carries hatred towards the Americans, Jews and Christians. This is part of our ideology. The creation of Israel is a crime and it has to be erased.
« You should know that targeting Americans and Jews and killing them anywhere you find them on the earth is one of the greatest duties and one of the best acts of piety you can offer to God Almighty. Just as great is their hatred for so-called apostate governments in Muslim countries. This is why mainstream Muslims are also regarded as legitimate targets ».
Mr Blair said the « devilish logic » of their claims must be exposed.
At last year’s (Labour) party conference, I talked about this ideology in these terms.
Its roots are not superficial, but deep, in the madrassas of Pakistan, in the extreme forms of Wahabi doctrine in Saudi Arabia, in the former training camps of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; in the cauldron of Chechnya; in parts of the politics of most countries of the Middle East and many in Asia; in the extremist minority that now in every European city preach hatred of the West and our way of life.
This is what we are up against. It cannot be beaten except by confronting it, symptoms and causes, head-on. Without compromise and without delusion.
The extremist propaganda is cleverly aimed at their target audience. It plays on our tolerance and good nature.
It exploits the tendency to guilt of the developed world, as if it is our behaviour that should change, that if we only tried to work out and act on their grievances, we could lift this evil, that if we changed our behaviour, they would change theirs. This is a misunderstanding of a catastrophic order.
Their cause is not founded on an injustice. It is founded on a belief, one whose fanaticism is such it can’t be moderated. It can’t be remedied. It has to be stood up to.
And, of course, they will use any issue that is a matter of dissent within our democracy. But we should lay bare the almost-devilish logic behind such manipulation.
If it is the plight of the Palestinians that drives them, why, every time it looks as if Israel and Palestine are making progress, does the same ideology perpetrate an outrage that turns hope back into despair?
If it is Afghanistan that motivates them, why blow up innocent Afghans on their way to their first ever election? If it is Iraq that motivates them, why is the same ideology killing Iraqis by terror in defiance of an elected Iraqi government?
What was September 11, 2001 the reprisal for? Why even after the first Madrid bomb (in March 2004) and the election of a new Spanish government, were they planning another atrocity when caught?
In the end, it is by the power of argument, debate, true religious faith and true legitimate politics that we will defeat this threat.
Why if it is the cause of Muslims that concerns them, do they kill so many with such callous indifference?
We must pull this up by its roots. Within Britain, we must join up with our Muslims community to take on the extremists. Worldwide, we should confront it everywhere it exists.
Next week I and other party leaders will meet key members of the Muslim community. Out of it I hope we can get agreed action to take this common fight forward. I want also to work with other nations to promote the true face of Islam worldwide.
Round the world, there are conferences already being held, numerous inter-faith dialogues in place but we need to bring all of these activities together and give them focus.
Defeating the threat
We must be clear about how we win this struggle. We should take what security measures we can. But let us not kid ourselves.
In the end, it is by the power of argument, debate, true religious faith and true legitimate politics that we will defeat this threat.
That means not just arguing against their terrorism, but their politics and their perversion of religious faith. It means exposing as the rubbish it is, the propaganda about America and its allies wanting to punish Muslims or eradicate Islam.
It means championing our values of freedom, tolerance and respect for others. It means explaining why the suppression of women and the disdain for democracy are wrong.
The idea that elected governments are the preserve of those of any other faith or culture is insulting and wrong. Muslims believe in democracy just as much as any other faith and, given the chance, show it.
We must step up the urgency of our efforts. Here and abroad, the times the terrorists have succeeded are all too well known.
Less known are the times they have been foiled. The human life destroyed we can see. The billions of dollars every nation now spends is huge and growing. And they kill without limit.
They murdered over 50 innocent people (in London) last week. But it could have been over 500. And had it been, they would have rejoiced.
The spirit of our age is one in which the prejudices of the past are put behind us, where our diversity is our strength. It is this which is under attack. Moderates are not moderate through weakness but through strength. Now is the time to show it in defence of our common values. »
January 2006 Trip to Iraq and Kuwait – Podcast Transcript
January 9, 2006
From the Road: Speaking with American Troops in Iraq
PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama, and I am resuming my podcasts after a couple weeks Christmas Break. And I am calling from a cell phone at a hotel overlooking the hills of Amman, Jordan. It’s actually a beautiful city, Jordan. The sun is setting and I am just come back from my first trip into Iraq.
You know, obviously Iraq has dominated our foreign policy for the last several years. Listeners to my regular podcasts or those who followed my campaign, I think, are aware of the fact that I have been deeply skeptical about the administration’s policy towards Iraq and the initial invasion. I felt it was important for me to visit Iraq myself and get some sort of first hand report about what was happening there.
So, I started the trip actually from Kuwait, where the US maintains several bases that are used to provide logistical support for what’s happening in Iraq. I met with troops as well as some of the generals who are in charge of logistical support. They talked about the enormous efforts that are required to maintain our presence in Iraq. There are about 20,000 troops in this base in Kuwait and they typically provide initial training for troops before they deploy into Iraq as well as providing water and fuel and are used as a launching site for operations in Iraq.
I had the opportunity to meet with a number of troops from Illinois as well as play a little basketball with some of the troops in the gymnasium there. And so I had a chance to talk to them about their feelings about what was happening. I think it’s fair to say that morale among almost every US troop that I met was high. I think everybody is very proud of the work that they’re doing and understandably so. Because regardless of how you feel about the war, what’s astonishing is just the pride that our men and women in uniform take about accomplishing the tasks before them. The effort in Iraq is just an unbelievable logistical task.
We flew into Baghdad and then I was helicoptered into the Green Zone. And when you visit the Green Zone, which is several miles wide and long in the center of Baghdad, you really get a sense that US military operations have built an entire city within a city. There are thousands of US military personnel and coalition forces – everything from embassy personnel to logistical support to troops that are about to be deployed into other areas of the country.
It’s an impressive achievement and in conversations with US personnel there all of them felt a genuine sense of progress after this most recent election. The feeling was that there was a great opportunity for the first time in sometime to create a national unity government that actually had some claim of legitimacy with the Iraqi people.
I had a meeting then with Ambassador Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq, who discussed the meaning of the most recent election. His belief is that there is an opportunity to create a government that unifies Shiite, Sunni and Kurd, but that it’s not going to be easy. That the election in and of itself doesn’t create that unity. In fact the election was largely along sectarian lines. But that hopefully there is a recognition on the part of the leadership in all these various factions that recognizes a unified Iraq is better than the alternative, regardless of how difficult it is. And overall I was impressed with the work that he was doing.
Later that evening I had dinner with the President or Iraq, President Talabani as well as a number of ministers in the current Iraqi government, representing various factions. And the general impression was that they recognized the need to arrive at accommodations; and that was a cause for some small optimism.
The next day we took Blackhawk helicopters and went out to Fallujah, which is the site of some of the worst violence in Iraq. I did not travel through the city proper but rather flew into the primary US military base out there, and had a briefing from both their general as well as the colonels who were in charge of troops out there. As we arrived we learned that just a day earlier five marines had been killed, and obviously people were pretty somber about that. It’s still very dangerous work to be done.
And in discussions with our military, one message that came across repeatedly was that there is not going to be a military solution to the problem of Iraq; that only political accommodations can solve some of these problems. One of the colonels that we met in Fallujah, who is in charge of intelligence, pointed out that you’ve got 50% unemployment rates in many of the western portions of Iraq. And what that means is that the insurgency is going to continually grow unless the central government pays attention to the concrete needs of the people in that area. It also means that despite the work of the US military in apprehending the leaders of the insurgency in that area, there are always young men who are willing to fill the shoes of those who are apprehended. And as a consequence, the insurgency and the dangers posed by the explosive devices that they are setting throughout the country will continue, as well as the suicide bombings. This colonel really felt very strongly that the problem we faced was not a matter of foreign fighters, but rather a combination of foreign Jihadists and, more importantly, the homegrown support that continues to be generated.
We went to Kirkuk in northern Iraq where the situation is a little bit more stable, although there is significant tension there. Kirkuk is the site of a lot of oil wealth that the Kurdish want to incorporate into their regional government and is being resisted by Shiite and Sunni alike. And so a very complicated political process is taking place in that region.
You know, as you fly from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone and then out to places like Fallujah and you look down on the countryside and over the city, you realize how devastating this war has been for the country. It still looks shell-shocked. The land is muddy and fallow and strewn with skeletons of old trucks and cars and the imprints of buildings that are now reduced to rubble. There is very little traffic on the streets; a few people are on foot. It reminds you of how devastating war is.
The conversations that I had with troops who had lost friends and colleagues reminded me of how personally devastating war is to soldiers and their families.
And I think generally it emphasizes, in my mind at least, how our foreign policy has to be tough but it has to also be smart; and that we have to possess some element of humility about our capacity to remake other countries and other cultures.
I think there are several things that I at least learned from the trip, some of which reinforced some of my previous thoughts and some thoughts that are new:
Number one, we have probably a six-month window in which to create the sort of national unity government that can actually deliver a basic government to the Iraqi people and deliver the sort of political accommodations that are the necessary precursor for any solution to the violence in Iraq. Whether that’s going to happen or not will depend on the degree to which the Shiite majority shows restraint and recognizes the need to bring Sunnis into all levels of government, particularly the security forces. It’s also going to depend on the degree that the Sunnis are willing to recognize that they are never going to have the same degree of power given their numbers as they did under Saddam Hussein.
The second thing that’s going to need to happen if there is going to be any modicum of success in Iraq is that the security forces themselves have to be representative of all portions of Iraqi society. Right now the security forces are dominated by Shiite. There have been some disturbing reports about the Ministry of the Interior and the police being used as a vendetta force against Sunnis. That obviously helps to fan the insurgency, which raises a broader point.
And that is that it’s going to be important for whatever government that is elected to actually start building institutional capacity.
We met with some of the officials that are in charge of reconstruction over there; and it’s clear that the basic structure of civil service – a non-corrupt, technocratic approach to solving problems and delivering services is not deeply imbedded there and has to be developed. And changing that culture is going to take time but it’s going to have to start. And whatever else the national unity government accomplishes it’s got to recognize that it needs a basic structure of service delivery to gain the confidence of the Iraqi people.
Finally, and I think most importantly, what’s clear is that there is not going to be a military solution to this problem. I heard this repeatedly, not just from civilians or observers, but from the military – our military – the recognition that the insurgency cannot be defeated by armed might alone. And it is absolutely critical that our policies recognize that.
I remember having a conversation with one of the colonels out in the field, and although he did not believe that a rapid unilateral withdrawal would actually be helpful, there was no doubt that the US occupation in Iraq was becoming an increasing source of irritation. And that one of the things that we’re going to need to do – and to do sooner rather than later – is to transition our troops out of the day-to-day operations in Iraq and to have a much lower profile and a smaller footprint in the country over the coming year.
On the other hand, I did also ask some people who were not particularly sympathetic to the initial war, but were now trying to make things work in Iraq – what they thought would be the result of a total withdrawal and I think the general view was that we were in such a delicate situation right now and that there was so little institutional capacity on the part of the Iraqi government, that a full military withdrawal at this point would probably result in significant civil war and potentially hundreds of thousands of deaths. This by the way was a message that was delivered also by the Foreign Minister of Jordan, who I’ve been meeting with while here in Amman, Jordan.
The sense, I think, throughout the entire region among those who opposed the US invasion, that now that we’re there it’s important that we don’t act equally precipitously in our approach to withdrawal, but that we actually stabilize the situation and allow time for the new Iraqi government to develop some sort of capacity.
I guess the final point I just want to make is how proud I am of the US troops there. One of the things that I continually emphasized to them was that regardless of how any of us feel about the administration’s decision to go into Iraq, all of us are extraordinarily proud of the work that they’re doing. What the US military accomplishes on a day-to-day basis, in just setting up and rebuilding portions of the country that have been destroyed and in carrying out extraordinarily difficult tasks on a day-to-day basis is amazing.
And particularly when I was talking to the Illinois troops many of them are guardsmen and reservists – some of them on their second or third rotation – it was important for me to emphasize to them that the folks back home fully support them even as we have, I think, a very legitimate debate back in Washington about what we’re doing there.
The fact is that our US military is probably the most capable institution on the planet in terms of carrying out extraordinarily difficult assignments. But it’s incumbent on our civilian leadership in Washington to make sure that we don’t provide them with assignments that are impossible to accomplish. And I continue to be concerned that we have set out for ourselves just an enormous task of rebuilding an extremely volatile and large country, and the military is not going to be able to do it alone so we’re going to have to have some good policies from Washington to move it forward.
Anyway, I hope everybody had a wonderful holiday. I will be returning to Washington after several days in Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s obviously a difficult time there, given the grave illness that Ariel Sharon is suffering. It’s thrown the entire Middle East into tumult and I may have some more to say about that when I get back. So hopefully I’ll be able to deliver a podcast next week and look forward to being back home to see my wife and kids next week as well.
Take care everybody. Bye-bye.