America enters a minefield

December 20, 2004

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SANA’A, YEMEN – I hate politics. You can’t trust anyone. I mean, if I was Maqtada Al-Sadr, the dangerously political Shiite cleric who’s jostling for position in Iraq now, I wouldn’t trust my grandmother.

The senior generation in that troubled country understands this, because it knows how ugly things have been over the years. Lots of political blood has flown deep and wide.

You wonder if modern Iraq, created in 1921 after the Brits began serious meddling in this region, was doomed from the start. Western powers tried to merge arch-rival Sunni and Shiite Muslims, with ethnically different Kurds who were originally promised their own homeland.

No surprise Iraq’s first monarchs and parliament couldn’t hold things together. With newly discovered oil fueling them, seven military coups unfolded from 1936 to 1941.

But things worsened, and all political parties were eventually dissolved. In 1958, while dressed as a woman, leader Nura al-Said was caught escaping the country. His body was chopped up and paraded in the streets. For good measure, Abdul Karim Qasim slaughtered Iraq’s royal family.

Qasim, with a few thugs in the new Iraqi Baath Party, punished rivals brutally. When a coup against the pro-Soviet Qasim failed, he retaliated with things including plenty of rape and pillaging of his anticommunist opponents.

Qasim hung on until 1963, before his former Baathist friends killed him. Then Abdul Salem Arif got on top, only to oust the Baathists who put him in power. President Arif somehow died in a helicopter crash. Soon a young Baathist upstart named Saddam Hussein arrived. Known to shoot his enemies point-blank in the back of the head, he helped lead a 1968 coup. Later, Saddam would kill two of his own sons-in-law. The rest of his legacy, you know.

Somewhere along the way, and this is what I really hate about politics, the guys in the white hats, in this case the Yanks, saddled up to Saddam.

They feared his enemy, fundamentalist Shiite Iran, more than they feared Sunni-dominated Iraq. Remember the Iran-Iraq War? Nearly one million people died. Guess who armed Iraq?

Yes, in politics, the enemy of my enemy is my friend — all the more if it involves blood relations. A well-known Arab adage puts it this way: “I and my brothers against my cousins; I and my cousins against my tribe; I and my tribe against the world.”

Now that the Yanks are well inside the minefield of Iraq’s unresolved family issues, they have both Sunni and former U.S-allied Shiite camps hating them more than they hate each other. “Bring ’em on” doesn’t sound so hot right now.

Of course, we know these unholy Islamic alliances can change easily. Civil war is likely still the biggest long-term threat to a rebuilding Iraq. It certainly will be when the Yanks pull out completely, which they will sooner or later.

In the meantime, there’s this rocky road to so-called regime change. It obviously seemed like a good idea to enough important people at the time.

But considering Iraq’s long stream of political blood, do you not wonder if, from the beginning, nobody in Washington realistically asked: a regime change to what?

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December 20, 2004 • Posted in ,
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