© 2005 Maher Osseiran

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From Baghdad to Jerusalem via Damascus.

This article traces the future steps of the neo-cons in spreading their version of democracy through the muzzle of a cannon. It unveils their grand scheme and puts into context their relationships with Iraq's neighbors.

By Maher Osseiran...August 2, 2005.

It is not for the love of Thomas Friedman that this title was selected. I read From Beirut to Jerusalem based on the recommendations of a friend who was then with the State Department and wanted to know my opinion.

I rarely read anything other than the news and the occasional technical articles that deal with filtration or material sciences. I only read books when someone I trust recommends them. I had been very lucky until I read that Thomas Friedman thing. Prior to that, I was happy to have been hooked for a while on Tom Clancy and John LeCarre.

I did not want to label good old Thomas from that single encounter and kept reading his open editorials in the New York Times to see where he was coming from. It did not take long for him to gain the label of “The Martha Stewart of Journalism”; it is also then that I started going into convulsions every time I read his name or saw his face on TV; you should see me lunge for the remote.

What really did it for me though is when he reported on this private chitchat with the Saudi king and whipped out his Middle East peace plan only for the king to open his drawers in response and whip out his own and by some divine inspiration they were both identical. My imagination then took the best of me and visions of them unbuttoning their flies and comparing underwear patterns came to mind.

I have chosen the title because of a current Middle East reality. The reality is that a US tank commander in Baghdad can get into his tank today and drive all the way to Jerusalem without anyone saying a word to him; even if he decides to go the long way via Damascus instead of taking the friendlier short cut through Amman.

The reason he could do that is because the Syrians know well that he poses no threat and they are as cool as a cucumber under pressure. As much as I dislike what Syria has done in the past and to a lesser degree still doing today, I have no choice but to admire and respect their intelligence, resilience, and their ability to read their opponents and to roll with the punches.

Unfortunately Saddam did not posses this Syrian trait that was honed over the centuries.

I will get back to this at the end of the article. The original title was to be “The dismantling of Iraq” but did not think it would be widely read; too many similar titles.

Many people are lead to believe that there were two Gulf Wars while most experts say that it was only one and I have to agree with them. Even the war between Iraq and Iran could be lumped into it too. After all, the United States was giving support to both sides, openly to Saddam, and covertly to Iran through the Iran-Contra deals. The war needed to go on and for both sides to sap each other’s strength.

It seems obvious why the United States would want to cut Iran down to size after the Shah but the benefit from Saddam getting involved became clear to me later.

Saddam was easily convinced to enter the war, as he would be the first casualty of an Iranian revolution export. He was at the helm of a country where a minority ruled a majority and that majority is Shiite with potentially close ties to Iran. Protecting his seat of power has always been his preoccupation.

Unlike other Arab nations that have energy resources, Iraqis had the right combination of work ethics and human and scientific resources to become the second South Korea and a regional economic power that would translate into political power at the helm of the Arab world. Compared to Iraq, the Saudis are the larger exporters of energy with an equal size population but they lack all the other components. Other Arab nations have energy resources but either their populations are too small like Qatar, Kuwait, and Libya to industrialize and form an economic power, or, too large like Egypt with minimal oil income per capita to make a dent in their economic outlook. The only one that comes close to Iraq is Algeria but its reserves prevent it from being the long-term player. Click here for table and sources.

Since the death of Nasser after the war of 67, the Arab world lacked the strong leadership and the potential of Iraq becoming that leader did not suite American Middle East interests or Israel’s. The war with Iran set Iraq back and differed such leadership role for close to a decade and left it burdened with huge debts but did not knock it out of contention.

To the credit of Saddam, economic development and spending on infrastructure, even though at a lower level, continued through the war with Iran. There was a push to be self-sufficient and the industries that were in place to support the war effort could easily be transformed to service the country during peace time. So many of you have heard of dual usage equipment while the search for the elusive WMD’s was ongoing.

At the end of the Iran war, oil revenues were to be the source of this transformation but Kuwait who was accused by Iraq of sabotaging its economic recovery by overproducing and depressing oil prices set the stage for its invasion. We should not forget the quasi green light from Washington through its ambassador in Iraq.

We all know what happened in the so Called First Gulf War and Abbas Alnasrawi gives a detailed analysis of its impact on Iraq in “Iraq: economic embargo and predatory rule”. The following is an excerpt from his analysis:

2. The Air War and the Economy 

On 16 January the Coalition forces led by the U.S. started the six week Desert Storm campaign which culminated in the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait by the end of February.
The bombing of Iraq was aimed not only at military targets but also at such assets as civilian infrastructure, power stations, transport and telecommunications networks, fertilizers plants, oil facilities, iron and steel plants, bridges, schools, hospitals, storage facilities, industrial plants, and civilian buildings. And the assets that were not bombed were rendered dysfunctional due to the destruction of power generating facilities. 

The impact of the intensity and the scale of the bombing was assessed by a special United Nations mission to Iraq immediately after the war as follows:

It should, however, be said at once that nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict had wrought near-apocalyptic results upon what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society. Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for sometime to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology (UN 1996: 186-8)

This vast scale of destruction should not be surprising in light of the fact that the initial plan of bombing had focused on 84 targets but had grown to 174 targets by 13 September 1990. By the time the air campaign began on 16 January 1991, the plan had grown to include 386 targets which was expanded in the course of the war to include 723 targets (House Armed Services Comm. 1992: 86)

In a post-war study of the air campaign it was acknowledged that the strategy went beyond bombing armed forces and military targets. In addition to purely military targets the bombing revealed that : (a) some targets were attacked to destroy or damage valuable facilities which Iraq could not replace or repair without foreign assistance; (b) many of the targets chosen were selected to amplify the economic and psychological impact of sanctions on Iraqi society; and (c) targets were selected as to do great harm to Iraq's ability to support itself as an industrial society. Thus the damage to Iraq's electrical facilities reduced the country's output of power to 4 percent of its pre-war level. And nearly four months after the war the national power generation was only 20-25% of its pre-war total or about the level it was at in 1920 (Hiro 1992: 354; Gellman 1991).

It is obvious from the analysis that the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure was intentional in order to exacerbate already tenuous economic conditions for the Iraqi people, to force Iraq to be depended on imports thereby increasing the effectiveness of the embargo, and, to delay by another decade the rise of Iraq as an economic power.

This assault on the infrastructure continued with the so called Second Gulf War; this time we can add to it such direct actions as the rounding up of 500 leading scientists under the guise of WMD searches; many of these scientists are still illegally detained while others are missing or killed. These scientists are the backbone of any industrial recovery.

There were two options after ousting Saddam from Kuwait: follow him to Baghdad and finish off his regime, or, keep him in power on a short leash while conditions more favorable to US interests are being cultivated.

Those who are considered neocons today and were part of the first Bush administration favored the first option while the old guard favored the second and the old guard prevailed. The objective was still the same, the removal of Saddam from power; the difference was when. The Clinton administration that followed did not deviate from the old guard’s policies.

The reason the old guard prevailed is because at the time there was no viable pro-American substitute for Saddam. Saddam was toothless and predictable and keeping him in power contributed to an acceptable equilibrium within Iraq and with its neighbors, that allowed ample time to develop the more favorable outcome, which is a replacement regime with no interests other than pumping oil and using its disposable resources to further American policies akin to the rest of the Gulf States.

As an example of this lack of urgency and the need for a favorable substitute was the lack of any intention to come to the aid of the Shiites when they staged their revolt. Tricking them into rising against Saddam and their slaughter did help further the American plan of dismantling Iraq since it was the excuse needed to create the southern no fly zone.

The Kurds at the time presented a viable partner but due to their infighting they did not present a reliable one. Still the Kurds were the only option with potentially two different roles if they could be rehabilitated and be made to see their future through American eyes.

The favored role is for them to be part of an Iraqi government that furthers America’s interests and shields it from the legal ramifications of an illegal war - just imagine the economic and health impacts of Depleted Uranium. The second role would be that of the Trojan horse or the back door for continued American intervention if the country plunges into a full blown civil war.

By the late nineties, the Kurds saw the light and stopped fighting and, through the help of the US, figured out a power sharing arrangement. The arrangement is still working to this day by having Barazani leading the autonomous north while Talabani is the Iraqi president.

To fulfill the favored role of a strong representation in the government, federalism had to be legitimized through the new Iraqi constitution in order to also fulfill Kurdish aspirations. That would require the writing of the constitution and its ratification through a national vote.

The Kurds’ territorial over-reaching through their claims on Kirkuk, contested by both indigenous Arabs and Turkmen, and despised by the rest of Iraq has put the new constitution at risk.

To fulfill the second role that is less favored by the United States, it might be sufficient that the new constitution be written and for it to receive a favorable vote from the interim parliament. Regardless of what happens in Iraq after that, but certainly in the case of a civil war, such a favorable vote by a dubiously elected parliament would be enough of a fig leaf for the United States to pull out of Iraq and keep troops stationed in the relative safety of the Kurdish territory.

In either case, due to the lack of central power and planning, Iraq will not be allowed to reach its potential as a leading Arab country and would become an oil reservoir with a consuming population living on top.

If we take the first scenario, the one favored by the United States, and follow the American patterns of behavior that have been consistent since the Iran-Iraq war, we can run a progression that would unveil the neocons’ future plans for the Middle East.

I know that Scott Ritter has mentioned that an attack on Iran has been approved and is imminent; I personally doubt it. Iran, in exchange for keeping southern Iraq quiet and abandoning Syria will be allowed to go nuclear and be transformed into this enormous threat that would secure the American military presence in the Gulf States for years to come. The pattern certainly fits.

The only obstacle left that is preventing the Arab Middle East from becoming a contiguous pro-American region would be Syria. Even though I said that you could drive a tank through Damascus today without incident, such a trip would be more difficult if it were preceded by a Kurdish revolt in Syria with the support of the Iraqi Kurds under the direction of the US. This revolt is the most plausible scenario after the ratification of the Iraqi constitution and resulting in a confrontation between Syria on one side and American and Pashmerga/Iraqi forces on the other. I am sure Syria is getting ready for that, and, if the neocons thought Iraq was to be a cakewalk, wait till they tread on Syrian soil.

A contiguous Arab Middle East that is pro-American is Israel’s wish since it guarantees it peace on its own terms; a peace that is not based on justice for the Palestinians and certainly one that will not last. It will be the peace that will buy Israel some time in the hope that the world would forget about Palestinian rights.

You might ask what about Turkey and the PKK; aren’t the Iraqi Kurds going to help their brothers in Turkey? The answer is no. Turkey seems to be on board now and part of the total plan. The invasion of Cyprus experience, even though a source of national pride, did cost Turkey dearly on several fronts and was directly responsible for delaying its entry into the EU. The Turks are wiser now and will sell out the Turkmen and allow the Kurds to get their way in Kirkuk. In exchange, the Kurds will sell out the PKK and guarantee that Kirkuk’s oil keeps flowing into Turkish seaports. Another sign that Turkey is on board is the recent warming up of relationships with Israel and the Israeli supply of drone technology to specifically fight PKK infiltration through northern Iraq.

The less favored option, which limits the American presence to Kurdish territory, would not allow for regime change in Syria. It might be what the neocons would have to settle for while they figure out something else.

Both the first and the second options require the cooperation of the Sistani merchant elite in the dismantling of Iraq and they have been very cooperative. Still, there is a purely Iraqi option that would preserve Iraq. It is an ugly option but, since the Iraqis currently in power are bent on selling off the country, it might be the only option left to Iraqi nationalists.

The option is a civil war, and, out of all people, Noah Feldman, the young law professor at Columbia who helped write the first constitution under Bremmer seems to agree with me. He wrote this weekend in The New York Times Magazine: “Even if the Iraqis manage to ratify a constitution, it is bound to dodge and defer many big questions, Just look at ours”. Feldman was referring to the issue of slavery in the American constitution, a sticky issue that was deferred and later reared its head as the American Civil War. I guess for Iraqis the choice is now or later.

The present situation in Iraq was so clearly described more than 30 years ago by an Iraqi poet by the name of Muzzafar Al Nawwab in his poem “Jerusalem” (Al Quds). As a teen in Beirut, I had the fortune of hearing him recite it at the Arab University.

In the poem, Mr. Al Nawwab is describing the sell out of Jerusalem by the Arab leadership. Jerusalem to him was the Arab bride on her wedding night; you can easily substitute with Baghdad and the current Iraqi leadership. Translating Arabic poetry is not the easiest thing; I did the best I could with the following excerpt:

On her wedding night, you ushered the rapists into her quarters and waited eavesdropping at the door. Hearing her screams, you clenched your daggers invoking honor while shouting at her to shut up lest her own honor be blemished. How dare you ask a rape victim to be silent?

Articles you might find of interest and related to the above:

Anatomy of a civil war; a Lebanese perspective on Iraq

Iraq; the civil war that will keep the country together!

Topics of interest: War Crimes, Political Analysis

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© 2005 Maher Osseiran