Foreign Policy In focus
Rule, Not Reconciliation
By Dahr Jamail
As we mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, rhetoric around the "success" of the so-called surge continues. Presidential hopefuls, along with members of the Bush administration, continue to tout "progress," citing fewer U.S. casualties and moves amongst Iraqi groups towards "reconciliation." While indeed, there has been a reduction in violence, it is lost in the headlines that thousands of Iraqis still are losing their lives each month in the conflict. But even worse, the "success" of the surge has the potential to bring violence to all time highs.
In his final State of the Union address in January, George W. Bush proudly held up the newly formed "Awakening Groups," known locally in Iraq as the Sahwa, as examples of both Iraqi cooperation and independence. Members of these groups now total nearly 80,000, and are paid $300 of U.S. taxpayer money a month to not attack occupation forces. These groups are referred to as "Concerned Local Citizens" by the military, as though they are comprised of concerned fathers and uncles who suddenly became keen to collaborate with members of a foreign occupation force which has eviscerated their country.
In reality, most of the Sahwa are resistance fighters who are taking the money, arms, and ammunition, whilst biding their time to build their forces to move, once again, against the occupation forces which now support them, in addition to planning to move against the Shia dominated government. Furthermore, it is widely known in Iraq that many of the Sahwa are al-Qaeda members, the irony of which is not lost to Iraqis, who heard the U.S. propaganda as to the reasons the Sahwa were formed: to drive al-Qaeda from Iraq and to promote security so as to enable political reconciliation within the government in Baghdad by providing the space for this to occur.
Illustrating the counter-productive nature of Bush's plan, Iraq's puppet government, led by U.S.-installed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is having nothing to do with the Sahwa. When the U.S. military began to organize the Sahwa by buying off prominent Tribal Sheikhs across Iraq's al-Anbar province, Maliki made it clear that none of the Sahwa would ever be granted positions within the government security apparatus.
And why should he feel differently? With Shia mlitiamen and death squad members he supports comprising the brunt of the Iraqi military and police, why would Maliki choose to grant legitimacy to the very groups who wish to gain a counter-balance of power in the Baghdad government?
Despite the periodic bickering and blaming from the Bush administration aimed at Maliki and his government, the Prime Minister remains in power for the sole reason that he and his cronies enjoy the backing of the occupation forces. After all, this is an "Iraqi" government that is located within the Green Zone. It is an "Iraqi" government that would not last five minutes without that kind of protection, as polls in Iraq indicate that it enjoys less than one percent support from the Iraqi population.
Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone. He writes for Inter Press Service, The Asia Times, and is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.