Iran-trained militias join U.S-backed campaign on Mosul, flying Shi’ite flags

What we have wrought serves nothing in the American interest


Bush’s legacy is going to last a very long time, and it is not a pretty one. Once Hussein was out of Iraq, only some kind of highly functional secular state was going to keep its Shi’ite majority from falling into Iran’s orbit. The war and occupation and dysfunctional political state have wrought something pretty much the opposite of a highly functional secular state: its Shi’ite majority, long oppressed by Saddam’s Ba’ath party, are now very big fans of democracy and its inherent powers granted to majorities against minorities. 

Iranian-backed militias were among the most effective fighters against Al Qaeda: the army was just seen as a way to make money, sell gear, and steal from the treasury… not at all a real fighting force, as opposed to the Shi’ite militias, who formed to fight, drill to win, and have a focused mission of retaking Iraq and making it Shi’ite. The army is still trying to disentangle itself from its corruption while US advisors try to help them, but Iran’s religious soldiers are proven and making things happen on the ground.

The end result isn’t here yet, but you can see it: Iranian influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, by way of Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon. Once Saddam fell, this was about the only way it could’ve gone, and this is where we are: Sunni Saudi Arabia is embroiled in a regional competition with Shi’ite Iran and engaging that competition by starving Yemen with US weapons, meanwhile Iran is liberating Iraq. 

It’s an all-too-predictable disaster that American hubris forged. It was repeated on a smaller scale in Libya, with none of the lessons learned there, either… the saving grace there being that there are no nearby regional powers strong enough to take advantage of the chaos, only ISIS living in the cracks of destruction. 

There’s something about having all this money and gear to burn on weapons and war, seemingly totally divorced from the average American’s experience of war that makes us do astoundingly dumb things. My guess is that there’s often no significant blowback: the voters don’t care that much about endless war or domestic surveillance, the Treasury and Congress always seems to have more money for war, and everything awful is happening Over There (1M starving in Yemen as of today, and for all the noise and money about ISIS they’re operating out of pick up trucks). 

Occupy Baghdad is Democracy on Hard Mode

These folks can’t just go back to getting their film theory degrees from Swarthmore when this is over.

Muqtada al-Sadr is a Shi’ite cleric in Baghdad, and a generally popular leader there. He’s been active and saying provocative things for a decade: how post-war looting was okay so long as you tithed to his religious movement, how the US needed to get out of Iraq, and how Iraq needed to run its own business. Oh. I should also mention his massive armed militia and how he’s been in and out of Iran, organizing folks, calling for jihad on the American occupation, getting his militia to call up and stand down as needed in order to massage events within Iraq, and generally being the most important figure in Iraq that doesn’t hold official office.

665003303001_4873386662001_vs-57265a53e4b0bc854365986d-782203293001He had announced he was stepping out of politics in 2014, but recently marched his way into Iraq’s Green Zone in order to call for the end of the existing government structure in Iraq. The Green Zone is basically an old-school imperial structure, a $1B fortress within Baghdad that the coalition forces kept dumping money into until they decided it was safe. It’s now used by the Iraqis and whoever has an embassy out there.

Well, Sadr – here’s another interesting aside, the attendees at Saddam Hussein’s hanging execution chanted “Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!” at Hussein’s death because the guy really is that popular – when he entered the Green Zone, the local Iraqi army general greeted him with a few kisses and a chair. Sadr showed up, gave some speeches about corruption, and everyone decided to camp out and occupy the Green Zone.

They were Occupying because corruption in Iraq (along with most every other Middle Eastern country) is endemic, and the current prime minister Haider Jawad Kadhim Al-Abadi has been totally unsuccessful in de-corrupting the current governmental structure, largely because the only way the US could create a stable government in Iraq was to basically bake in the corruption beforehand by giving every major ethnic group a bounty and telling the co-opted leaders of each group to run that bounty. Now, that really was probably the only way they could’ve done it and “baking in corruption” wasn’t the primary purpose, but it sure as hell was a second-order effect that was necessary. Patronage is a thing and if you don’t have money and titles to dole out then F your democracy is basically how things go out there.

So, Sadr is out there telling the leadership to start listening to Abadi. And if they don’t, well… they’re chanting “Peaceful” from the walls of the Green Zone but I bet those voices don’t carry too far past the blast walls.

And now, they’ve moved into the Parliament building. There are real stakes here, and the country is once again teetering toward collapse. It hasn’t fallen yet, and maybe never will – just going on like a shambling zombie.

Iraq has been torn apart by its ongoing sectarian crisis. The Kurds are ready to bolt. The Shi’ite masses are tired of being pushed around by corrupt officials. The Sunnis are tired of getting shot at and burned out by the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias’ purposefully over-eager and trigger-happy pursuit of ISIL.

Keep this place in mind the next time someone in Washington tells you that we need to liberate somewhere, because you know what? Iraq is still more functional than Libya.

UPDATE: I beat the Atlantic by a day! Also the author is also a better writer than me. 🙂