….And After Foreign Forces Leave our Land?


10 September 2010

By Mshari Al-Zaydi

The anticipated hour arrived and US President Obama began to carry out his electoral promise to withdraw the US forces from Iraq. Remaining US soldiers in Iraq will take over the task of providing the Iraqi army advice, assistance, and training until they leave by the end of 2011. Thus, the withdrawal of the US forces - the biggest US army deployment since the Second World War - will be complete by the end of 2011.

Obama was careful to emphasize the connection between his current practical policy and his electoral pledges that brought him to the presidential seat in the White House, the most dangerous seat in the world. It is true that his other promise about shutting down the detention camp in Guantanamo has not had the same fate as the decision to withdraw from Iraq; however, the man is trying to project himself as the President that cares about his "credibility" before the US voter and before the world. A lot has been said and many people have reacted to this major decision. The strangest reaction was voiced by former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, one of the prominent faces of Saddam's Baath Party hostile to the United States. Aziz appealed to Obama's America not to abandon Iraq to the wolves of the opportunist and fundamentalist parties. Perhaps this same worry troubles the leaders of the Sunni "Awakening Councils". These Sunni tribal councils - that were the sharpest sword that struck the Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq - were created at American hands and with tactics of building confidence and friendship that started with Sheikh Abu-Rishah the first, the most famous Awakening leader that was the victim of this understanding and cooperation. What will be the fate of these awakening councils after the Americans leave between the wrath of Al-Qaeda and the letdown of the government in Baghdad? What will be the fate of the entire peace process after the American guarantor of this process decided to pull down the wall against which this process leaned?

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani says that eight Iraqi provinces are ready for the Iraqi security forces to assume the responsibility there after the withdrawal of the US forces, while the rest of the provinces need reinforcement by the Iraqi army in view of the dangerous presence of Al-Qaeda in them. Speaking about Al-Qaeda, it seems that the intense bloody operations that Al-Qaeda carried out were meant to coincide with the departure of the US military units from Iraq. In a press conference last Sunday, Major General Qasim Ata, Baghdad Operations official spokesman, said that Al-Qaeda elements have lately been active in altering their strategic confrontation tactics and carrying out armed operations in order to assert their presence and their ability to move here and there. He pointed out that intelligence information reveals that the Al-Qaeda organization is gathering all the internal and external support it can obtain to time it with the completion of the US withdrawal.

This discussion leads to a bigger debate related to the beginning of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime and the US invasion of Iraq. This subject led to major division in the Arab world. Even similar ideological currents were divided based on their stands on the "benefits" of the process for change and the fall of Saddam's timeworn regime. The Iraqi Islamic Party (the Muslim Brothers) was not hostile to the change process, unlike the rest of the Muslim Brothers in the Arab world. Iyad Allawi, the pan-Arabist (and former Baathist), was one of the stars of the process for change unlike the rest of the pan-Arabists in the Arab world. As for the symbols of fundamentalist Shiite Islam - from Al al-Hakim to the Al-Dawa Party to Ibrahim Jaafari and to Nuri al-Maliki - they were the "knights" of the American moment in Iraq unlike the stand of Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon or Hasan al-Huthi's group in Yemen with their motto of "Death to America". The features of the division on the prominent US even t in Iraq are not clear; they cannot be easily explained as either agentry or patriotism, as some "orators" of nationalism or fundamentalism imply or as some superficial writers claim. The division reflects diversity in evaluation and analysis as well as conflict in the interests intended from this change.

Moreover, the issue of change in Iraq was not confined to within Iraq but was part of a broader process in the Middle East region. We all remember the "onslaught for democracy" in the days of Bush's first term in office when "estranged" friends joined this campaign. We saw how the Muslim Brothers in Syria opposed the regime by forming an alliance with Abdul-Halim Khaddam, one of the pillars of the regime of Al-Assad the father, who left in anger against Al-Assad the son. We saw how the Muslim Brothers in Egypt began to promote democracy under US pressure during Bush's first term in office. This internal and external pressure brought 80 Muslim Brotherhood deputies for the first time to the Egyptian People's Assembly. Almost the same thing took place with Hamas in Palestine. The amazing thing is that all these "onslaughts" for democracy took place, as everyone knows, under US pressure or, to be more accurate, the US factor was the most important factor in bringing about this change. Nevertheless, the US factor was the most maligned and cursed by those opportunists.

Does this mean that the United States started to promote democracy only after realizing that the 11 September 2001 tragedy at the hands of terrorist Osama Bin Laden was a cultural and political problem before being a security or military problem? Is that why it pulled out from its desk drawers past research studies by American experts on the need for the United States to promote its civilized "message" in planting democracy and protecting freedom in the world? Or is it no such thing and no such "message" but sheer financial "greed" by the oil cartels, such as Halliburton, to suck Iraq's oil, protect the Israeli "entity", and nothing else? If viewed separately, perhaps the two possibilities cannot explain the US onslaught on the region. Thus, in our analysis, it would not be fair to ignore the "shock" that struck US consciousness regarding the danger of Arab and Islamic fundamentalism, a shock that necessitated a major and different reaction. But perhaps or rather it is certain that those with oil or economic interests had other motives or even an ideological agenda. But these goals were not enough to persuade Washington to move its forces and fleets across the oceans. Ordinarily, such wars do not erupt except based on ideological and moral factors. This is what has happened and will happen in history.

At any rate, what is done is done. Obama is thinking of withdrawal not only from Iraq but also from Afghanistan had it not been for General David Petraeus, the commander of the US and international forces in Afghanistan, who stated that he reserves the right to tell President Barack Obama that it may be too early to begin to withdraw the US forces from Afghanistan by July 2011. In an interview with the US network NBC and in answer to a question on whether he may submit a recommendation to the US President in July 2011 saying that beginning to withdraw from Afghanistan is premature, Petraeus answered: "Yes, definitely". It is easy to show hindsight after the dam bursts and the waters begin to flows. But it is hard to show responsibility and try to emerge from the tunnel of the crisis distant from speeches of heroism or support for suicidal options. Had it not been for the weakness of the Arab world and the Islamic countries in Afghanistan or Somalia or elsewhere, foreign forces would have been unable to interfere. The world would not have been forced to preoccupy itself with us had it not been for the fact that these Muslim countries and others have turned into exporters of crises to the world and all kinds of international security perils.

The question is: Where did we go wrong? Are we suffering because the outside world is interfering in our affairs? Or are we suffering because this world is ignoring us and not helping us? We are living in a futile maelstrom of self-ravishment and fighting windmills. The outside world, regardless of its motives or ambitions, is only a symptom of our deep ailment. The outside world does not understand us and may be stupid, as General Raymond Odierno, the outgoing commander of the US forces in Iraq, admitted when he said - according to the New York Times - that his country acted naively in Iraq and its actions may have made matters worse in that country. But these "foreign" stupidities and ignorance of our history and culture are not enough alone to explain the state of loss and extinction that we are living. Our ailment is more serious than to be restricted to the mere exit of US troops or NATO forces from our countries. Perhaps it is our ailment that brought them in the first place.

 

A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

 

 

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