Handover Or Hangover?

"It will be like in Lebanon during the civil war. The only person who could move outside the embassy then was the ambassador, with a tank in front and a tank in back." --Edward S. Walker, Jr., former ambassador to Egypt, former deputy chief of mission in Saudi Arabia, and current president of the Middle East Institute.

In the run-up to the June 30th handover of power in Iraq, the security situation has become so bad that political analysts on TV and radio are starting to talk about the "Lebanon scenario." Upon the withdrawal of US troops, Iraq will dissolve into warring factions and one of Iraq's neighbors will be forced to invade in order to put a stop to the civil war raging on their border, as Syria invaded Lebanon in the 1980s--or so the theory goes.

Of course, the analysts forget to mention that Israel also invaded Lebanon, but, hey, that's how deep the anti-Arab, pro-Israel bias runs in our country. Aside from the fact that, in a true Lebanon scenario, the risk will be that multiple nations will invade and carve up the country (Turkey from the north, Iran from the east, Syria from the west, and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from the south), nobody mentions the Vietnam scenario, which is much more likely to occur.

The Lebanon scenario rests upon the withdrawal of US troops. All indications are that US troops will be in Iraq for a long, long time to come, and not just at current levels, but at increased levels. That, my friends, is a Vietnam scenario: all of Iraq's various factions--the Shiites, Sunni tribesmen, former Baathists, disaffected ex-military members, various fundamentalist muslim groups, Kurds seeking autonomy, thousands of abused former prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other US detention facilities, and a vast and angry populace that hasn't seen many improvements since the Saddam era--all united in their goal to kick out the invaders.

But when the analysts enumerate the possibilities, they talk ad nauseam about the various permutations of the Bush administration's line: that the US-appointed Iraqi interim government will somehow get control of the security situation and stabilize Iraq. Then they mention what they call the worst case scenario: that Iraq will descend into a civil war like Lebanon in the 1980s. When asked what they think is the likeliest outcome, most of them admit that the Lebanon scenario is inevitable. This means that they're not really telling us the worst case scenario. They all know that a Vietnam situation is possible. They also know that civil war in Iraq would be much, much worse and much more violent than civil war in Lebanon ever was. They also know that civil war or a Vietnam-style meatgrinder in Iraq would destabilize the entire Middle East, if not the entire world. Instead, we get 59 minutes of happy talk and 1 minute of a superficial peak at reality.

Meanwhile, guerrillas continue to overrun police stations and government buildings in major cities in Iraq: Baghdad, Baqubah, Ramadi, Mosul, Mahaweel, Fallujah, Najaf. The Iraqi police force repeatedly crumbles in the face of assaults that have become so well-coordinated that they turn back US forces zooming in to "provide assistance." US troops on the ground admit that the insurgents are becoming tough to defeat, that they're fighting with armaments, coordination, and skills that strongly resemble the former Iraqi military. For example, during last Thursday's major assault in Baqubah, the only way that US troops could drive Iraqi guerrillas out of warehouses and government buildings was to call in airstrikes and drop 500 lb. bombs on them. The US had to destroy Iraqi government buildings to keep them out of the hands of the guerrillas. That's a sign of things to come, and it looks terribly like Vietnam. Or worse.

Meanwhile, the British press reports that the Iraqi interim government has 120,000 cops on the payroll, but only 89,000 of them turn up for duty on any given day. Of those who turn up for work, more than half still have had no training. As for equipment, they lack 95% of the radios they need, 75% of the body armor, and two-thirds of the vehicles they need to go out on patrol. Only about half of the Iraqi police even have guns. No wonder they disappear when they see the enemy coming over the hill.

It's become a common lament that Paul Bremer shouldn't have dissolved the Iraqi army when he first settled into his job as US viceroy in Iraq. Nobody seems to recall that this was an abrupt change in US policy. Remember, Bush & Co. had planned to remove the top Baathists in Saddam's government, but they were counting on the lower level government workers and Iraqi military to stay in place and provide "continuity"--a code word for security. The common story that the Iraqi officers sent all their men home, that they just "melted away" and took their guns with them, is a crock of bull. As soon as the main fighting was over, Iraqi soldiers came forward to demand their paychecks. That's when Bremer told them to get lost. And now we know who was responsible for that decision: apparently, Ahmed Chalabi, in a fever of anti-Baathist extremism, managed to persuade Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld that the Iraqi military should be dissolved and a new army trained in its place. No doubt he wanted his own militia to form the core of the new force.

Unfortunately, the search of Chalabi's offices in Baghdad only set this old fraud back for a few days. It did keep him out of the running for prime minister, but it didn't stop him from ensuring seats for himself and his cronies on the Supreme Commission for the Preparation of the National Conference, the group that's going to select the members of the Interim National Council. The Interim National Council will have several duties, including advising Prime Minister Allawi's interim government, approving the 2005 Iraqi national budget, and paving the way for elections in January 2005 (if they can stick to the timeline in the midst of a major guerrilla war).

Chalabi is not the only former exile to sit on the Supreme Commission. Nearly all the other members of the widely-reviled, exile-dominated former Governing Council managed to shoehorn themselves onto the commission, too. Apparently, this was with the express approval and adamant urging of Paul Bremer and other CPA officials. After all, it's better to have the devils you know in charge than the devils you don't know--and can't control.

As for the new prime minister, Ayad Allawi, Iraqis see very clearly that he's not a neutral actor. While Seymour Hersh took a beating for writing in the New Yorker that Israel was covertly supporting the Kurds in Iraq, it seems that no one read his entire article to the end, where he discusses Allawi's sordid background. Allawi was a "true believer," a hardcore supporter of Saddam Hussein, who ran the Mukhabarat (Iraqi intelligence) office in Europe during the early '70s. He was linked to a hit squad that murdered Iraqi dissenters in Europe. Even Dr. Allawi's medical degree may be a sham: one former colleague claims that Allawi's degree was conferred on him by the Baath party. Hersh quotes Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer in the Middle East: "Two facts stand out about Allawi. One, he likes to think of himself as a man of ideas; and, two, his strongest virtue is that he's a thug."

Sound familiar? To Iraqis, that description evokes a man who was just recently deposed as dictator of Iraq.

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