Robin Yassin-Kassab


with 6 comments

It seems this broken region, and this broken world, are in for a further escalation of conflict in 2007.

The report of the US Congress-mandated Iraq Study Group recommended that US forces end direct participation in combat operations in Iraq and concentrate on training Iraqi troops instead. It also called for American dialogue with both Iran and Syria for the sake of stabilising Iraq. Although the report failed to recognise the gravity of the problems in Iraq (that there are no ‘Iraqi’ troops, for instance, only militiamen) or to propose serious political solutions, and although its authors still envisaged a long-term American controlling presence in the country, it nevertheless represented an acknowledgment that America is failing in Iraq, and an attempt to limit the damage.

Bush and his people are ignoring the report. Who are Bush’s people? On the one hand, there are traditional right-wing Republicans who are unable to countenance defeat, the kind of people who don’t understand that America was militarily defeated in Vietnam. If it hadn’t been for hippies and weak politicians at home, they think, we’d have smashed the Cong. We won’t be defeated again! And there are neo-con nihilists, believers in ‘creative chaos,’ ideologues often more loyal to Israel’s perceived interests than to America’s. Many commentators have claimed the neo-cons are in decline: I fear not. They have been repositioning, certainly – blaming Bush and Rumsfield for the conduct of the war in Iraq (but not the war itself), making themselves more attractive to the right-wing of the Democratic party. It is very important to remember that as far as large sections of the American ruling class are concerned the Iraq war has not been a failure.

When people examine the war from a human perspective, when they consider the 650, 000 Iraqi dead, the millions of internal and external refugees, the tens of millions suffering poverty, trauma and the effects of Depleted Uranium, when they consider too the 3, 000 American dead, it seems obvious that the war has been a disaster. When we examine the war according to its supposed aims, we see that it has failed on every one. To capture Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction? There were no weapons of mass destruction. To establish democracy? Instead of democracy there is gang rule, civil war and sectarian hatred. To enshrine human rights? The United Nations says that torture is more prevalent in Iraq now than under Saddam, and the Americans themselves have done their bit for torture in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. To promote secularism at the expense of Islamism? One of the most secular Arab countries is now ruled by competing groups of fundamentalist clerics. To stop terrorism? The presence of violent Salafi groups in Iraq has risen from zero before the invasion to plague proportions now.

But look at the real reasons for the invasion and the picture becomes rosier. Corporations like (Cheney’s) Halliburton have made huge profits reconstructing Iraq despite the fact that nothing has been reconstructed. For these (overwhelmingly American) business interests, Iraq has been a risk-free investment. The American taxpayer foots the bill, whatever the result. The government (staffed by the same people who staff the corporations and the media) signed the contracts. Moreover, it looks like an oil law committing Iraq to long-term agreements with foreign corporations is about to be pushed through the parliament. It should be noted that many parliamentarians do not live in Iraq. The United States has seen drafts of the oil law, but the Iraqi public, and many Iraqi parliamentarians, haven’t. Another positive result: Iraq may be a danger to itself, but it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to be a danger again to the puppet monarchies of the Gulf, or to Israel. Plus this benefit: the Arab and Muslim masses, who only six years ago seemed increasingly united in opposition to Israel and American imperialism, increasingly aware and politically active, are now consumed with sectarian and petty-nationalist rivalries.

Yes, Americans are dying, but usually only blacks, Latinos, and poor whites. Plenty of mercenaries from South America, South Africa and Eastern Europe are being killed too, but they aren’t officially members of the American armed forces, so their deaths are not reported. The American tax payer is losing – but that’s the tax payer, and not the ruling class.

The novelist Thomas Pynchon offered two approaches for understanding the contemporary world: either as chaos, which he called entropy, or by paranoia, the assumption that everything is organised by hidden conspiracy. Most Westerners, being trusting folk, prefer the chaos explanation. That is, the Washington and London ‘experts’ really did expect to find nuclear missiles in Saddam’s bathroom; they really did think the Iraqi Muslim masses would welcome GIs with flowers; they thought Depleted Uranium was good for you; they believed radical Islamists would want only to disco dance in Tel Aviv once they’d tasted American candy. Me, I don’t think so. In the case of Iraq, I tend to paranoia. Bush may be a chimpanzee who hadn’t heard the word ‘shia’ until last Tuesday, but he is surrounded by professionals, men with PhDs, by intelligence men. These people guessed what would happen. It wasn’t difficult to foresee. I foresaw it, and I’m not paid to study the region. They understand Arab and Muslim weaknesses, Arab and Muslim backwardness, better than the Arabs and Muslims do themselves. It’s very depressing to watch the Muslims, particularly the Arabs, fall into the traps which have been laid for them.

The one failure of the war, from the point of view of the ruling classes, is that Iran has been inadvertantly strengthened by the fall of the Baathist regime. So 2007 is the year to destroy Iran.

Attempts are well underway to neutralise Iran’s allies. In Palestine, Abu Mazen’s Fatah goons are being armed by Israel, Jordan and Egypt to take on the elected Hamas government. In Lebanon, Sinyora’s government is being funded (and some say armed) by Saudi Arabia and America to strengthen it against the legitimate demands (for a representative government) of Hizbullah and its allies. It looks as if the American ‘surge’ in Iraq will be directed against as-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi.

Meanwhile, patriot missiles are being sent to Gulf states which host large American military bases, and extra warships are being deployed in the Gulf. These weapons have nothing to do with Iraq, and everything to do with Iran. The recent arrest of the Iranian diplomats in Iraqi Kurdistan seems designed to provoke Iran into actions which can be used to justify war. We should expect further provocation.

America cannot sustain a ground invasion of Iran. From what I read it (or Israel) is more likely to launch intense air attacks on Iranian military and infrastructural targets. The campaign will be followed by efforts to incite rebellion among ethnic minorities in Iran – Balush, Arabs, Azeris and Kurds. The aim is to keep the Iranians so busy they won’t be able to project power beyond their borders. If the plan works (and I don’t think it will – Iran is more cohesive and less traumatised than Iraq), we can expect to see the kind of ‘busyness’ in Iran that we are seeing in Iraq.

Of course, I exaggerate when I say the War on Terror has been an unqualified victory for the empire. America’s imperialistic hubris is losing it influence and respect throughout the world. America’s essentially third world nature is becoming more and more apparent – hysterically nationalist, religiously fundamentalist, educationally backward, a country with vast divergences between classes and ethnic groups, with a propagandist media, whose government is controlled by vested interests. Empires are sustained by consensus as much as by coercion, and there is no longer anything resembling consensus that America is a serious candidate for global governance. The probable attack on Iran will be America’s Suez moment. America will win militarily, but lose, massively, politically. It’s all bad for America (remember America is not the same as the American ruling class), and worse for the Middle East.

Erm .. Happy New Year!

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 18, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Iran, Iraq, war on terror

6 Responses

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  1. Excellent work and welcome back after a long absence! I’ve long felt that the US and Britain (elites that is!), having failed in Iraq, were now frantically trying to foment civil strife in the region by triggering a Shia/Sunni conflict or cold war. I had recently been speaking to a friend of mine just arriving from Damascus and he told me his concerns of increasing Shia influence in the country (such as the new Khomenei centre). An interesting question occurred to me which I posed to him, did he prefer American/Israeli control of the region or an Iranian hegemony? Surprisingly he still believed Iranian hegemony was better for us over the Wests and I have to say I agree. If anything more work must be done to bridge Shia Sunni divides and increase dialogue to better resist Israel or the United States. Ultimately there is much more that unites us than divides us.


    January 19, 2007 at 12:30 am

  2. Wassim – I agree absolutely. I dont understand how Iran threatens the Arabs. So they’re shia? The prophet said al ikhtilaf rahma (difference of opinion is a mercy). The shia are still only 10 per cent of Muslims. They’re not going to convert anyone who doesnt want to be converted. So Iran is Islamist? Iranian people are a lot less Islamist than Arab people. Iran isnt a democracy? True, but it’s a lot closer to being a democracy than any Arab state. It’s at least a partial democracy where there are real public debates. So dissent is repressed? Again true, but far less than in any Arab state. I was in Iran last summer. Lots of people told me they hate the government. They told me in Farsi, at top volume, in the middle of busy tea houses. Would we dare to publicly condemn the government in Syria?

    Look who’s working hardest to whip up fear and hatred of shia Iran. Mubarak of Egypt, that great Arabist and independent thinker, said that Arab shia are always more loyal to Iran than to their own governments. Abdullah of Jordan, that hero of anti-imperialism, warned of the ‘shia crescent.’ And of course the Sauds.

    The real conflict in the region is between anti-imperialists and imperialist puppets. The puppets are doing their best to stop this conflict from happening by replacing it with a sectarian conflict. Sectarian conflict will be a disaster for everybody except Israel, the empire, and the puppets.

    I urge you, and anybody else reading, to try to explain this danger to your Arab and Muslim friends.


    January 19, 2007 at 8:16 am

  3. Qunfuz

    The centuries-old Sunni-Shia schism clouds the real issue; our own weakness as Arab nation states.

    Foreign powers will always try an exploit states that lack social cohesion due to internal abuse of power, discrimination, religious bigotary and economic exploitation of the many by the few.

    It is no good seeing the US, Israel, Iran or any other power as the enemy or trying to guess who is the lesser evil. The enemy is within us. Had the Shia (among other social classes and minorities)been fairly represented over the centuries in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, Iran would not have seen an opportunity to increase its influence in the region (for whatever purpose) by “throwing a lifeline” to the Shia communities and therefore sharpening the divide between Sunnis and Shias.

    Israel has occupied more and more of our lands and continues to abuse the Palestinians with impunity because we are fundamentally weak. Our weakness stems from our education systems which allow demagoguery and indoctrination to turn us into impotent individuals, unable to form effective communities, institutions and nation states. Just look at the European Union with its 27 states and many languages and cultures and ask yourself why they are able to work together. They have been through two World Wars and their borders redrawn many times in the last century. Eastern Europe was effectively under Soviet occupation for 50 years, yet has re-emerged as a viable and effective set of new states within 15 years of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    If you teach your child to think for himself rather than blind obedience, he will almost certainly grow up into a balanced, understading and intellectually strong citizen who will contribute positively to his family, institution and country.

    Our tragedy in Syria is that we already have two generations that have been programmed to worship the leader and adopt a seige mentality that always sees the enemy as an external power rather than attitudes and divisions within.

    Philip I

    January 20, 2007 at 8:14 am

  4. I have consistently been against this Iraqi war from the start. But I would like to see it ended as peacably as possible. Most of what is written on the Iraqi situation simply calls for the phased withdrawal or subtle re-deployment (post-surge or otherwise) of U.S. troops contingent on the Iraqis meeting some nebulous benchmarks. This proposal outlines a dynamic political process that offers a viable, neo-progressive way forward while staying within the framework of the existing political and social structure. Basically they are:

    1). Amend the Iraqi Constitution to create a Senate roughly drawn on Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish lines to function alongside and in some cases above the General assembly. (The current Council of Union can tacitly fulfill this function slightly ahead of the Amendment process.)
    2). Ensure that the vote for the Senate (only) is valid by requiring ID.
    3). Create a Marshall Plan for the Social Infrastructure.
    4). Create several autonomous agencies to oversee various public works projects
    5). Have a high profile coalition of Sunni and Shiite Clerics from the greater region stand with their Iraqi clerical counterparts to specifically condemn certain extreme aspects of the sectarian violence (while staying as far from the political as possible).

    From a humanitarian standpoint, I’m like to see these ideas utilized so please feel free to pass this paper on to any colleagues in a position to affect the process or to continue the conversation. (But please keep my name attached.) Please let me know if you have any comments, questions, or concerns.


    capitalfox capitalfox2003@yahoo.com



    January 20, 2007 at 9:57 pm

  5. Good points, Philip. I fear the problem goes deeper than the current dictatorship. Sectarianism precedes them, as you suggest. The regime is a product of society as much as society is a product of the regime. External enemies do exist, but our inability to be self-critical and our inability to distinguish different types of Jew, for instance, or different types of American, cripples us. Go0od article here about Egypt and the failures of the 70s and 80s. Relevant to Syria too, although the ideological rhetoric is different.
    Thankyou CapitalFox. I agree that clerics in the region from both sects need to work harder at reconciliation. Look through the archives of http://www.independent.co.uk for a peace plan worked out by a former memeber of the Iraqi government. He calls for cooperation between Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon to guarantee the rights of both Sunni and Shia in Iraq.


    January 21, 2007 at 7:33 am

  6. I see all your comments guys and yes truly the answer does lie in how all the people in the region think of themselves and behave. I sometimes liken the Arab and Islamic worlds to a broken record. The recording itself was once great, but by overplaying it and scratching it, we’re stuck in a rut.

    The solution however, isn’t going to lie in any (sorry to say) naive plans drawn out by a detached ex-member of the American installed Iraqi regime. Not because of who he is or that anything is inherently wrong in what he says, but like all half-baked academic proposals on the subject it is too “idealistic”. Iraq is now the perfect representation of Hobbes’ state of nature and a war of all against all. The life of the average Iraqi is nasty, brutish and short. You cannot expect everybody to hold hands and sing “we shall overcome”.

    I strongly feel the answer will lie in some strong handed dictator with enough guts, cruelty and know how to meld all the shards back into one. He may or may not be Shia, though for practical considerations he’ll have no problem using Sunni strongmen or thugs to achieve his goals. Frankly, the character in mind will begin to look a lot like Saddam, but I beg the question, would that not provide peace? How can you have any kind of consensus or devolving of powers or any of that melarkey if there is no consensus that the government is legitimate and American boots are on the ground. This new “leader” would have enough virtus and fortuna to represent a resistance against the Americans. He’d be ruthless enough to bully all the other factions to the table after America is forced out, and then maybe in another twenty or thirty years, he’ll devolve just enough power to allow Iraq to begin the process of democratization. Frankly at this stage and for the sake of not just all Iraqi’s but the whole region, this man must also be able to recognise the Americans as enemies and not partners. Sure, there are nice Americans, but lets talk when they are in government and out of Iraq. Not before. Ideas anyone?

    I’m sorry if I’m a bit negative, but it’s hard to be optimistic about this subject.


    January 21, 2007 at 3:00 pm

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