Bush Stands Alone in New Plan for Iraq
Editor's Note: Arab media was "bewildered" by Bush's plans to send more troops to Iraq without changing an admittedly failing strategy, reports Jamal Dajani, director of Middle Eastern programming for LinkTV.
Bush's plan to place new brigades in some of Iraq's most hotly contested areas is equivalent to "poking a tiger with a stick," Jamal Dajani said. And the administration's refusal to negotiate with Iran -- as the Baker-Hamilton Report advised -- is putting our allies in the region in an increasingly tight spot.
In the meantime, Iraqis are bracing themselves.
New America Media interviewed Dajani within 24 hours of Bush's speech.
Bush said the purpose of sending the extra troops is to help the Iraqis quell sectarian violence. But how will this "surge" actually affect the war?
This is the Shia's first opportunity in hundreds of years to have a Shia-dominated government. I wouldn't be surprised if [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki starts purges against Sunni strongholds. At the same time, putting 4,000 of those new troops -- who are unfamiliar with the terrain, the customs, the culture -- in [Sunni-majority] Anbar, which is a very large province, is just creating more targets for the Sunnis, who still perceive the U.S. as occupiers. U.S. troops might find themselves in the position, not only of separating the Shia from the Sunnis, but of being under very heavy attack from the Sunnis, and then they'll be playing into the hands of Maliki -- by bombing the Sunnis by air, by using heavy force against them. At the end of the day, you're going to see more American soldiers killed, and it's not going to stop the sectarian war.
How is the Arab world interpreting the opposition Bush faces from Congress, from the American public, from within the military?
Basically, they feel that Bush is defying all logic. But whereas people used to differentiate between U.S. policy and the American people, there's been a change in attitude. People feel the Americans are co-conspirators, because they elected Bush, and they let him continue with his policies.
Despite the Democratic electoral gains, and the polls saying most Americans oppose an increase in troops?
We have 160,000 troops on Arab soil. We're getting into the fourth year of continuous occupation. During the elections, none of the Democrats said this is a lost cause: We'll pull out in six months and that's it. Now we're looking at two more years of Bush; and assuming the Democrats win [the presidency], it could still be two or three years before they totally withdraw. So we're looking at another five years. That's a long time.
Recently, Iranian TV reported that the U.S. plans to control Iraq's oil for the next 10 years. Then you have stories about U.S. plans to keep as many as 32 bases in Iraq. We want to do in Iraq what we did in Japan and Germany after World War II. Bush talked of putting missile defense systems there, to protect our allies, meaning Israel. When Condoleezza Rice spoke, she talked about the same plan of dividing the Middle East into the "moderates" -- with Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia -- and the "bad guys" -- Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas. All these stories tell you what plans they have for a "new Middle East."
Bush stressed he'll use "America's full diplomatic resources to rally support for Iraq from nations throughout the Middle East." Yet he isn't negotiating with Iran and Syria, as the Baker-Hamilton report advised.
Days before Bush's speech, the Ayatollah Khameini warned Arab countries not to become tools of the Americans against Iran. Then Bush gave a veiled threat to the "moderates" to help him. So these countries find themselves between a rock and a hard place. If they don't help, they'll be penalized, politically or economically. Jordan and Egypt receive financial aid from us. We do a lot of business with the Saudis and the Gulf; we can do all sorts of things to penalize them. But if they cooperate with us, they'll become Iran's enemies. Sooner or later the U.S. will leave. And Iran is a menacing power in the region. That's the problem. They're going to be trying to play it neutral, but that's not what the U.S. wants them to do. It wants to pit Saudi Arabia and the Gulf against Iran -- and Syria, and Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Bush's plan has received a tepid response from Prime Minister Maliki. Why?
The U.S. is egging him to disarm all militias. But Maliki has been using [Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's] Mahdi Army to carry out his own dirty deeds. If he's going to turn Iraqi soldiers' weapons on the Mahdi, the sectarian violence will also be Shiite versus Shiite. The next month or two will be crucial: Are the extra troops just going to back up the Iraqi Army in disarming the Sunnis, or are they going to do what they're supposed to do, like they said, and disarm everyone?
You've criticized the Democratic leadership for failing to offer a concrete alternative to Bush's Iraq policy. What alternatives are coming out of the Middle East?
Those that oppose the United States and Israel say this is a new phase of colonialism. The United States needs to get out: We don't need a phased withdrawal. Let the Iraqis sort this out, and perhaps they can seek help from other Arab countries to keep the peace. Our allies also want to see the U.S. end its occupation. What the U.S. is doing in Iraq is destabilizing to their regimes. But, as King Abdullah [Abdullah II of Jordan], who coined the phrase the "Shia crescent," said, they're threatened by a possible extension [of Shia control] from Iran, through Iraq, and into Syria and Lebanon. They want the United States -- and I think Bush has been listening to them -- to bring the Sunnis back, to water down the Shia's influence, to create a secular state. Now, the Shia have about 80 percent control in the Iraq government, Kurds have about 10 percent -- a very high number -- and Sunnis less than 10. Iraq is about 55 or 60 percent Shia, and 35 or 40 percent is mostly Sunni, with other minorities, like the Kurds and the Turkmen. If you were to have a representative government, Iraq wouldn't be lost to one camp.
Did you see any particularly interesting analysis in the Middle Eastern media in the first 24 hours following Bush's speech?
On Dubai TV. It was the analysis about how Bush has put many Arab allies in a hard place. It's like Bush gave them the kiss of death; like when Judas kissed Jesus -- he pointed him out to the Byzantines.
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Albion Monitor January
17, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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