Published on Sunday, October 30, 2005 by the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota)
U.S. Blunders Provoke Burgeoning Civil War
by Tom Maertens
All wars have unintended consequences. The Bush administration never set out to establish another Islamic state in the Middle East when it invaded Iraq, but that is what is happening. In fact, the Bush administration's policies virtually ensure that outcome.
The Iraqi insurgency consists almost entirely of Sunnis, along with a few foreign jihadists like al-Zarqawi, also a Sunni, who has openly declared war on Shiites. By working to suppress the insurgency, the U.S. is de facto helping the Shiites establish a new order, which they have made clear will be an Islamic state, inevitably tied to Iran.
During their years in power, Saddam and the Sunnis reportedly killed 300,000 Shiites and thousands of Kurds, including by means of chemical weapons. The U.S. invasion, has allowed the Shiites and Kurds together almost 80 percent of the population to get out from under Sunni domination. The insurgents are fighting to turn back the clock, against American occupation and to restore Sunni rule, which dominated what is now Iraq for 500 years under Turkish administration.
Despite this legacy of violence, the Bush administration believes that American troops can maintain Iraqi unity and install democracy. Without the U.S. presence, they argue, the country will collapse into ethnic cleansing and civil war.
According to Peter Galbraith in the Oct. 6 New York Review, there are one thousand political murders every month in Baghdad alone, not counting the hundreds of victims of suicide bombers and other killings around the country. In other words, a low-grade civil war is already occurring in Iraq.
We should have learned from Vietnam about the hazards of getting involved in a civil war. Unfortunately, Bush administration officials seemed to have learned nothing from Vietnam except how to evade military service.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was once questioned about an Islamic government in Iraq. His response: "If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen."
But that is going to happen. The Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of the population, will win any fair election in a landslide. They are the group that pressed for an Islamic republic during the negotiations on a new constitution. Their historical ties to Iran's Shiite government are well known.
Another unintended consequence of our military intervention will be to facilitate the Kurds' march to independence, leading to the likely breakup of Iraq. In the last election in Kurdistan, 98 percent of the population voted in favor of independence.
The costs to the U.S. of this misguided occupation are enormous.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, the war in Iraq has already cost the U.S. more money in real terms than it spent in World War I.
Besides the $260 billion in military costs, total spending for Iraq has to include $315 billion in future veterans' benefits, $220 billion in added interest, and $119 billion for every $5 increase in the price of oil through July 2010, plus $24 billion for reconstruction and security.
The human costs are 2,000 dead, 20,000 wounded and counting. The political costs in loss of prestige and international support cannot be calculated.
In the end, we will spend $1 trillion or more for an outcome that is inimical to our interests: an Islamic state aligned with Iran, an independent Kurdistan and a rump Sunni state around Baghdad that might well become a haven for terrorists, as Afghanistan did after the Russian occupation.
In the meantime, four years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden remains at large, the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is now supplying 87 percent of the world's opium. Because of the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, the other two charter members of what President Bush called the "axis of evil," Iran and North Korea, are developing nuclear weapons as a way to deter a similar fate.
This series of outcomes makes Bush's invasion of Iraq a fiasco without parallel in American foreign policy since Vietnam. And the end is not in sight.
Maertens of Mankato served around the world as a U.S. Foreign Service officer for 28 years.