Iraqi palmistry (WASHINGTON TIMES COMMENTARY) By Arnaud de Borchgrave 02/03/05)
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An optimist in the Middle East is someone who is almost always wrong
while a pessimist is usually an optimist with experience. And those
who live by the crystal ball in Araby usually wind up eating crunched
With those caveats, one can probably dismiss the voices from the left
that say it was an election to anoint an occupation. One can also
safely discount the Bush cheerleaders who are confident the Iraqi
elections symbolize the strategic defeat of terrorism in Iraq.
But it was a major triumph for Iran. For the first time since the
revolutionary ayatollahs imposed their clerical dictatorship on
Persia in 1979, their Shi´ite coreligionists scored a legal majority
of the votes in another country — and a neighbor at that. Mercifully,
Iraq´s Shi´ites, headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, were not
interested in emulating Iran´s theocracy. They made clear they wanted
majority rule government sans turbans.
Their favorite candidate for prime minister is Ahmad Chalabi,
originally sponsored by neocon supremo Richard Perle, and once the
Pentagon´s darling and the CIA´s bete noir, who has spent the past
few months cultivating new contacts with turbans in Iran and
obtaining Ali Sistani´s benediction for high office.
Mr. Chalabi´s elevation would cause immediate embarrassment in
Jordan, Iraq´s immediate neighbor to the west, where he was sentenced
in absentia in 1992 to 22 years hard labor on 31 counts of
embezzlement and bank fraud. Jordan´s King Abdullah, whose country
heavily depends on trade with Iraq, would probably have to grant a
The election was one small step for democracy — and a giant step into
unknown territory. No traffic was allowed to move and major cities
looked like ghost towns. With 19,000 candidates and 111 parties and
formations, the ballots were so complex even Jalal Talabani, the
Kurdish leader, needed a briefing on what to do. The United Iraqi
Alliance apologized for identifying only 37 of their 225
candidates "because we have to keep them alive." A similar election
held in Syria would have been dismissed as sham.
The attribution of 275 seats in the transitional Constituent
Assembly, the selection of a president and two vice presidents, and
then a prime minister, who would have to form a government, followed
by a referendum on a new constitution in mid-August, followed by
general elections by year´s end — all so many sandtraps where
scorpions lie in wait.
Before the elections, Iraq´s new head of intelligence estimated the
number of "fulltime" insurgents at 40,000 and part-time fighters at
160,000. Before the fall of Saddam Hussein´s regime, the army
Last year, Central Commander Gen. John Abizaid put the number of
terrorists at about 5,000. Other generals have gone as high as
20,000. The only number that matters is 300. That was the total
number of IRA terrorists deployed in Northern Ireland at the height
of the insurgency. But they kept half the British Army deployed
against them for a quarter-century.
When the United States liberated Baghdad, some 650,000 tons of
weapons and ammo was abandoned in storage areas throughout the
country. There were not enough U.S. troops to guard them all. And the
army capacity to destroy them was limited to 150 tons a day. The
insurgents had plenty of time to rearm from unguarded depots, many of
Sunni Iraq, or four of the 18 provinces with almost half the
population, has, in effect, excluded itself from the democratic
process. The Kurds in the north already enjoy semi-autonomous
government and almost half the country´s oil reserves.
The Shi´ites in the south, with 60 percent of the population, can
have whatever status they demand — and their own oil. Unless
generously treated by both Kurds (who are also Sunni Muslims) and
Shi´ites, the Sunnis, with 20 percent of the population, will be in a
permanent state of rebellion.
A Shi´ite-dominated Iraq will ring alarm bells in countries with
substantial Shi´ite minorities, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and
in countries with Shi´ite majorities like Bahrain (where a Sunni
royal family is in charge) and Lebanon (where they share power with
Maronite Christians). Jordan, Syria and the six Gulf countries are
bound to feel threatened by a Shi´ite resurgency and may well be
tempted to secretly help the Iraqi insurgency.
For the average Iraqi, freedom to vote for some 19,000 candidates in
111 political parties and formations was heady stuff after several
decades of always voting yes for Saddam (a "no" or blank ballot meant
a one-way trip to jail and worse).
But the reality is less gasoline, electricity and potable water than
during Saddam´s absolute dictatorship that was also under
international sanctions. Insurgents wait for oil pipelines to be
repaired before hitting them again and oil exports are a long way
from paying for reconstruction. Drivers wait 12 hours in line to get
their gasoline tanks filled.
Some 300,000 Iraqi Sunnis are still refugees in their own country,
most of them from Fallujah, the town that had to be partly destroyed
to flush out insurgents who had taken it over.
Nothing will disabuse Arab opinion of the idee fixe that President
Bush ordered Operation Iraqi Freedom to secure the country´s oil and
Israel´s interests. The original white paper written for Israeli
leaders in 1996 by Richard Perle and fellow neoconservative Douglas
Feith, who resigned last week as defense undersecretary, is quoted
time and again by Arab leaders and intellectuals. The plan — majestic
in its simplicity — was to surround Israel with Arab democracies. The
subtext: Democracies do not go to war against each other.
Iraq was selected by the neocons to be the first test case. Iraq now
becoming a democracy remains a long shot.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and
of United Press International. (Copyright 2005 United Press
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