The Tragedy of Iraq

The Nation, September 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Tragedy of Iraq


With the August 19 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, and with the deaths of twenty-three people so far--including the chief of the UN mission, Sergio Vieira de Mello--the troubled US occupation of Iraq has evolved into a tragedy not just for the Iraqi people but for the international community. Indeed, the deteriorating security in Iraq is rapidly becoming a threat to coalition forces as well as to the peace and stability of the Middle East. It therefore calls for urgent UN Security Council action aimed at replacing the Coalition Provisional Authority with a broader and more legitimate UN mandate.

By choosing to smash an already failing and fractured society, the United States has unleashed chaos and disorder it cannot control. As UN officials warned just before the bombing of the UN headquarters, if a legitimate government is not established in Iraq soon, the growing anarchy could overtake even the best efforts of coalition forces and eventually engulf the entire region.

The Bush Administration has alternately blamed remnants of the Baath regime and Islamist terrorists. But the problem is much larger than either of those threats. Coalition forces are now confronted with a range of distinct yet overlapping problems: an increasingly well-organized guerrilla movement; continued lawlessness and disorder in many parts of the country; growing popular discontent and disgust at the US failure to provide security and restore basic services; the beginnings of an ethnic war between the Kurds and the Turkmens in the north and between Shiites and Sunnis in the center; and an expanding number of Islamic jihadists, who have come to Iraq from all over the Middle East to fight the Western infidels. And there is also the growing strength of radical Shiite clerics, who are waiting for a chance to rally their followers to some form of Islamic theocracy.

This complex and worrying picture presents no good options for US policy. Increasing the number of American troops, as Senator John McCain and others have suggested, would further inflame the Iraqi people and is no answer to the need for more police, more technicians, more administrators and, above all, more legitimacy. On the other hand, withdrawing American troops before a competent representative government is in place would leave the country on the verge of civil war and at the mercy of extremists of all political and ethnic stripes. Adding more international troops to the coalition to free American forces, as the Bush Administration proposes, would do little to change the complexion of the American occupation or the dangerous dynamic in Iraq. …

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