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Bush's Iraq Fantasy | The Nation

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 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Bush's Iraq Fantasy

George W. Bush sure knows a lot more than the experts. He believes intelligent design is a scientific theory on par with evolution--even though his science adviser has said that I.D. has no merit as a scientific theory. He also seems to be more wise in the ways of Iraqi society and politics than leading Iraqis. On Tuesday Bush praised the draft constitution hammered out by Shiites and Kurds without Sunni involvement. He called it an "amazing event." But as the New York Times and other papers have reported, Iraqi secular leaders have warned that this constitution could lead to domination of Iraq by Shiite Islamic clerics.

Most notably, on the same day that Bush was hyping the draft constitution, Ghassan Atiyyah, the director of the Baghdad-based Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, was on NPR explaining why the constitution could be dangerous for secularists, women and others in Iraq. Before sharing some quotes, let me note that Atiyyah has been supported by Bush's closest, pro-war allies. The neoconnish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has hosted him in Washington. The International Republican Institute, the global arm of the GOP, has provided Atiyyah's outfit assistance. Its website notes:

Headed by Ghassan Atiyyah, a respected Iraqi dissident and publisher of the oppositionist periodical The Iraqi File, the IFDD is a regionally based non-governmental organization committed to supporting democracy and development in Iraq by fostering dialogue between decision-makers and citizens on important social, economic, and political issues. A primary goal of the Foundation is to bring together people of diverse ethnic, religious, political and tribal backgrounds to build consensus on finding solutions to the issues most important to the Iraqi people and for assisting in the promotion of freedom and democracy. With the material and advisory assistance provided by IRI's Baghdad staff, the IFDD has convened several conferences of substantial importance.

With that endorsement in mind, let's see what Atiyyah had to say about the draft constitution when he was interviewed by NPR:

ATIYYAH: [The Sunnis] are faced with a constitution on the basis, 'Take it or leave it.' It's very difficult for them to accept that because there are so many items in it which are very difficult for them to stomach, and they will lose credibility even among the moderate Sunnis. So they have the option now to vote against it in a referendum. Could the Arab Sunni muster two-thirds majority in three provinces, the Sunni provinces, veto the constitution and dissolve the parliament and bring a new election? I doubt that. Most of the Sunni boycotted the election. They didn't just throw their names in the electoral list. So it is for them only one week left to register their names. Then you have to mobilize them and to get them to the polling boxes. At the time when al-Zarqawi and the extremists and the jihadists threatened them by killing them if they go to the vote or the referendum, and so they will find themselves between the fire and the blue sea, and this will play into the hands of the extremists.

MELISSA BLOCK: It sounds like what you're saying here is almost two parallel tracks, that a constitution will go through without Sunni approval, that it will pass a referendum in October, that will pave the way for elections in December. But the Sunnis will be out of the process, and extremism will rise as a result.

ATIYYAH: This is the nightmare scenario. I feel the secular and liberal are the victim of what happened during the last two years. Now the ascendancy of religion and even the constitution--there's so many references to Islam, to the extent that it is clearly stipulated that any law that contradicts Islam will be rejected. And who is the judge as whether it is--contradicts Islam or not? It will be a higher court. So in a sense, you are creating another body like the Iranian body, a special body, the Iranian--which is not elected; it's appointed--which has authority to decide this law is Islamic or not. So are we going into the path of Islamic state in Iraq thanks to the American administration? Is that what the American public expected would happen in Iraq, getting rid of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to be replaced by a theocracy?

BLOCK: Is your fear, Mr. Atiyyah, that your country would be devolving toward a theocratic state?

ATIYYAH: This is one of the possibilities, one of the scenarios. Now we are at the crossroad. The fact is the main forces who are drafting the constitution are the Shia Islamists, who have the backing of Iran as well as the Kurds. The deal between the Kurds and the Shia is very simple. It's to have a federal state by allowing the Kurds have their own way in Kurdistan, and in return, the Shia Muslims will have their way in the south.

BLOCK: Is it your sense that ordinary Iraqis are following this process, debating the fine points of the constitution much as we are now? Is this, say, the talk of the town right now?

ATIYYAH: Ma'am, believe me, the man on the street, he has no electricity. He is worrying about how to get gas, he is worrying how to get the water, he is worrying how to bring food to the table to his family. He is worrying about security, when to leave. He has no time to think of this [unintelligible] of the constitution. The constitution only today was published in the press, today. Who will read it? Who will care about it? This doesn't mean that the case is hopeless. Our fate is intertwined with American administration; their failure is our failure. But the United States can survive a failure in Iraq, but we Iraqis, a failure means a catastrophe and mean an end of a country.

Failure in Iraq? That's sure not what Bush has been talking about these past few days, as he tries once more to rally popular support for the war. But Bush must be closer to the real facts than Atiyyah, right? The IRI ought to ask Atiyyah for its money back.

And during his speech on Wednesday to a stacked audience of National Reservists in Idaho, Bush went on and on about the enemy in Iraq, describing the opposition as only a collection of foreign fighters who have amassed in Iraq to fight the United States because they "fear the march of freedom" and "despise our freedom and way of life." Sure, there are jihadists in Iraq. But part--if not most--of the problem comes from Sunni insurgents who did not have to cross any borders to take up arms against US troops (and who don't give a fig about freedoms and ways of living in the United States). Once more, Bush is peddling a comic-book depiction of the conflict in Iraq: us versus the evil terrorists. Many analysts are already describing the war there as a civil war, as militia attacks increase. Bush, though, is immune to reality. I know that's no news flash. But as the gap continues to grow between Bush's "reality" and what's really occurring in Iraq, his warmed-over sales pitch is likely not to have much impact.

Today, Ret. Col. Pat Lang, who once was a top intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (and who remains one of the sharper analysts of events in Iraq), posted an item on his blog in which he pointed to a sparkle of hope in a recent statement by the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, who acknowledged the issue at hand is indeed dealing with the Sunni-based insurgency (not foreign fighters). Lang writes:

"What they are doing is to go for broader level of support because of political considerations, because of the need to build consensus, because of the need to isolate the insurgency from the Sunni population." -- [Zalmay] Khalilzad

Congratulations, Mr. Ambassador!!

It has been clear from the very beginning of the armed uprising in Iraq that the largely (but not altogether) Sunni Arab revolt could not exist, grow and continue to operate without some level of popular support.

A very simple and basic principle of insurgent warfare is that guerrillas have to have food, shelter, money, weapons, intelligence and a population which accepts their presence and does not report them to the security forces. That support or cooperation can be freely given, coerced, or some combination of the two.

The Bush Administration and the senior leadership of the US Armed forces has maintained throughout the war that the insurgents are:

-Baathist holdouts and "deadenders" who are not more than a handful and who are without popular support.

-Foreign and domestic mercenaries (often criminal) who are also without popular support.

-Iraqi Islamists (a handful) who have no popular support.

-Foreign Islamists smuggled in primarily from Syria (no support).

Right up until yesterday the egregious (but handsome) Dan Bartlett, White House Communications Director, was saying on the tube that those who are fighting the "progress of Democracy" in Iraq are a "tiny, indeed miniscule" percentage of the "Iraqi people."

In this context, the clear headed realism of Ambassador Khalilzad in telling Gwen Ifill of the Newshour that the new constitution must receive a lot of Sunni Arab support in order to "isolate the insurgency from the Sunni population" is highly significant.

What this tells us is that Khalilzad, and therefor probably the Bush Administration, has a much clearer understanding of the structure and numbers of the insurgencies than we had been led to believe.

Well, if that's the case, Bush is keeping it a secret. He's dishing out the usual rhetoric, linking the invasion of Iraq to 9/11 and refusing to acknowledge the full basis of the bloody conflict in Iraq. Perhaps he also knows better than his own ambassador.

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