Iraq: This is what it looks like when you rip off the Band Aid

Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)
Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)

As of July 1st, there have been 1,405 people killed in Iraq, mostly civilians. That number is likely to change by the time you read this — just yesterday, 45 people died as a result of numerous terror attacks across the country. One bomb had been planted near a cafe, another by a playground. According to reports 1,057 people were killed in July (2,326 wounded) alone, which means as of today, 348 Iraqis have been slain only in the last two weeks.

These are numbers not seen since the bloody days of 2008.

If you Google “Iraq ‘band aid’ war” you get about 3.7 million results. That’s because, beginning in 2007, astute observers noted that the so-called “Surge” into Iraq was nothing more than a bandage on a gaping wound — one we opened over the course of the previous four years. We allowed (if not assisted) a sectarian bloodbath against the Sunni population, then when Al-Qaeda became a problem, paid poor, battle-wracked Sunnis to fight them off. Then we supported the Iranian-Shia-backed Nouri al-Maliki’s government against his Shia opposition (Muqtada al-Sadr), pumped up Maliki’s Army, and were on our way.

Many had predicted the tenuous “peace” would not hold. It only needed a spark. Some say it was Maliki’s crackdown on Sunnis who were protesting not only the poor government services, but a lack of jobs for their people and disproportionate imprisonment and even torture. The so-called Sunni  “Sons of Iraq” whom the U.S had paid to do its bidding, are again penniless, and disenfranchised. But armed.

Today we see what it looks like when the Band-Aid is ripped off the wound. Whether it was Maliki who did it doesn’t matter. The blood is flowing.

Currently, I am reading (Ret) Col. Gian Gentile’s new book, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. Gentile is a friend of Antiwar.com, having sat for an interview back in 2009. His consistent criticism of counterinsurgency (COIN) amid the unprecedented drumbeat for it by the civilian and military power establishment was both vilified (by COINdinistas) and welcome to those of us opposed to U.S war policy overseas. In his book, he has the last say, gazing on the ruins of American power in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything he predicted then is playing out each night on the (very) brief news reports about Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) attacks against Maliki’s government and the civilian populace. But we doubt Gentile, who fought in Iraq during its deadliest moments in 2005, is taking any satisfaction.

Meanwhile,  the national security writers clique remains as aloof and somewhat deluded as ever. Most people aren’t talking about Iraq at all. But this piece by Jason Fritz, a regular online raconteur during the heady COIN days, takes a rare stab at making sense of what is going on in Iraq. But he gets it all wrong. First, he attempts to use mythology as metaphor, bringing in a version of the Labours of Heracles, who kills his family in a fit of madness after taking on 12 heroic “labours” to prove himself to the gods. Fritz suggests that the Iraqi people are in a fit of madness, one that threatens everything they had accomplished thus far.

Writing for the new War on the Rocks, Fritz says:

Iraq has traveled a long and violent road and endured many labors in an attempt to build a modern state for its people. And yet madness and fury have returned, drawing the country back down that long and violent road.

This seems a bit strained, to say the least. It was our “labors” that set Iraq on its current course; it was our “Band Aid”  that held it together until we could beat it out of there with enough face to declare “peace.” However subtle, Fritz’s chiding of the Iraqi people for letting that peace slide is patronizing and completely off the mark, overlooking the American catalyst for all of it. Just take this ex-soldier’s take on the current troubles in Iraq, shared with NBC News last month:

What it makes me feel is deeper guilt,” said Mike Prysner, an anti-war activist who, at 19, was part of the 2003 Army invasion. He served in Iraq for 12 months and left the service as a corporal. 

“One of our roles was to shred their national identity. What is happening today is a direct result of the U.S. occupation’s strategy,” added Prysner, 30. “I remember the Iraqi government being setup along ethnic lines by the U.S. occupation. I remember arming certain ethnic groups to fight others. I’ll live the rest of my life knowing I was a part of that.”

Worse, Fritz takes the opportunity to suggest more U.S intervention might be necessary. As though we hadn’t already done enough. Is this not a touch of madness in itself?:

We now have a new question: if Maliki is unable or unwilling to stem the growing violence and infringements on Iraq’s sovereignty, is it up to the United States to do something to create the necessary capability or will to affect the situation?

Certainly the United States should not reintroduce general purpose forces into Iraq. That war is, by all accounts, done and dusted even if the political objects (impossibly framed as they were) were never achieved. Still, the United States could provide more policing and counterterrorism training, procure more advanced weapons for Iraq’s air defenses, and apply the political pressure necessary to get Maliki to act in a positive way that averts a civil war while meeting both Iraqi and U.S. objectives.

No offense, but our  “training” — which has already amounted to billions of dollars and that much more in weapons, equipment, armored vehicles and aircraft — has done squat for the Iraqi security forces, which can’t seem to get a handle on the insurgency terrorizing the country today. But that is of no consequence, really — Washington has long said sayonara to Iraq, and frankly, looking at the piddling news coverage of today’s violence (which should be front page news, considering our huge investment), the rest of America has too.

But soon, it will become too much to ignore or explain away with Greek myth or COIN folklore. The Band Aid is off. What happens now not even the gods will be able to contain.

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  • fabucat

    This is really great.

  • John V. Walsh

    Great reporting.
    We badly need news from the killing fields the US has created in Iraq and elsewhere.
    All we get are the daily Pentagon puff pieces on NPR on our troops' humanitarian actions or great sacrifices.
    Not one story about the million killed in Iraq, how those families have been destroyed, orphans created and 4 million displaced.
    That has all been successfully covered up in the West. Many of the journalists who have tried to report that have been killed "accidentally."
    Whoever figures out how to get around the news blackout and the Pentagon propaganda will have achieved a journalistic coup.

  • ML3

    This was a war crime for which the neocons should be drawn and quartered – by the people whose country they destroyed.

  • csmallo

    "procure more advanced weapons for Iraq’s air defenses,"

    So, if an Iraqi general gets these new air defense weapons and decides to defend Iraq's air space from foreign air forces, how loud would the NeoCons squeal if an Israeli jet was shot down?

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  • The chosen

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  • Matt

    It wasn’t broken when we handed it over to them, perhaps put back together with superglue. But if you drop it and break it you own it. That is the risk with Egypt, you don’t see the AL sand on the boots in Syria, (not saying the broke it, but Sunni brothers and all) what happens if they break Egypt sand on the boots? Don’t be fooled it is sectarian brother against brother, fathers against sons. At the moment the US is holding Yemen together, it will likely fall in a decade, other than JSOC, airstrikes, drones, perhaps USMC used as shock troops on limited intelligence led targets, training camps, cells etc that target the west. What is a training camp a village. But not stabilization or nation building. Who is going to do that when it becomes a cross border safe haven and forces the AL to act.

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