Perversely, and entirely unintentionally,
recent US-caused events in Iraq have sparked the one thing capable of both forcing an end to the American occupation and uniting the people of Iraq around a common purpose: Iraqi nationalism. Last seen, briefly, during the summer, when the Iraqi soccer team’s victory brought its countrymen out in the streets in all shades of ethnic and sectarian variety, nationalism in Iraq has been revived recently as a result of three simultaneous US actions.
Those events are, first, the misguided effort, led by Senator Joe Biden, to partition Iraq into three mini-states, which passed the Senate 75 to 23 September 26; second, the September 16 killing of seventeen Iraqis by trigger-happy Blackwater security forces in a traffic-clogged Baghdad square; and third, the continuing American pressure to force the partial privatization of Iraq’s oil, part of which, in Kurdistan, was illegally gobbled up in September by Ray Hunt of Hunt Oil, one of George W. Bush’s Texas chums. Any one of these events would have been guaranteed to spark outrage among most Iraqis, but taken together they have galvanized nationalism to a degree unprecedented since the 2003 invasion. All three have been seized on as leverage by Iraqi political forces that oppose the fifty-four-month occupation of Iraq.
The Biden resolution sparked near-apoplectic outrage among vast swaths of Iraqis. The Cabinet declared, “The Iraqi government categorically rejects the resolution.” The Iraqi Parliament voted to condemn it. “Iraq is not a US property,” said a spokesman for the Sunni-led National Dialogue Front. The Association of Muslim Scholars, which calls itself the political arm of the Iraqi armed resistance, stated, “The Senate’s adoption of [the] resolution…is not shocking, because [partitioning the country] was one of the objectives behind the invasion of Iraq.” Indeed, from Richard Perle to David Wurmser, who recently resigned as Vice President Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser, the neoconservatives who pushed for the war eagerly embraced the notion of redrawing the map of the region, and it didn’t stop at Iraq’s borders.
Meanwhile, the Blackwater massacre brought into sharp focus what, for Iraqis, has been one of the ugliest parts of the occupation: the arrogant behavior of the US diplomatic and military convoys in the streets of the capital. At best, these cowboy convoys are a painful reminder that the country is occupied, as they set up arbitrary roadblocks, speed through oncoming traffic in the wrong lanes and routinely smash through stopped or parked vehicles. At worst, they engage in criminal assaults against civilians. The most recent Blackwater incident crystallized a long-simmering resentment that has touched off a showdown between the Iraqi government and US authorities. Even subservient Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared that Blackwater is “unfit to stay in Iraq.”
The Hunt Oil deal with the Kurds, one of several pending oil contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, may have put the last nail in the coffin of the US effort to force Iraq to rewrite its oil laws. Like the Biden resolution and the Blackwater shooting, the Hunt deal unleashed pent-up anger among Iraqi Arab leaders, who called the deal illegal, since under current Iraqi law only the central government in Baghdad, not the Kurds, can approve oil deals. The nationalization of Iraq’s oil in 1972 by Saddam Hussein, after a decades-long struggle between Iraq and the Anglo-American oil cartel, was a landmark event, the first major oil nationalization in the region since the Iranian government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh took over the British oil interests there and, for his efforts, was toppled in 1953 by a CIA-engineered coup inspired by that cartel. In Arab Iraq, if not in Kurdistan, the national oil industry is sacrosanct. If the United States intended to confirm Iraqis’ belief that the invasion was about grabbing their country’s oil, the US effort to open up the industry to foreign investors is perfectly designed to do so.