Those cries of “Muqtada! Muqtada!” were aimed at more than Saddam or even Iraq’s Sunnis. They went right to the heart of the President’s policy failures.
Every now and then, you have to take a lesson or two from history. In the case of George Bush’s Iraq, here’s one: No matter what the President announces in his “new way forward” speech on Iraq next week — including belated calls for “sacrifice” from the man whose answer to 9/11 was to urge Americans to surge into Disney World — it won’t work. Nothing our President suggests in relation to Iraq, in fact, will have a ghost of a chance of success. Worse than that, whatever it turns out to be, it is essentially guaranteed to make matters worse.
Repetition, after all, is most of what knowledge adds up to, and the Bush administration has been repetitively consistent in its Iraqi — and larger Middle Eastern — policies. Whatever it touches (or perhaps the better word would be “smashes”) turns to dross. Iraq is now dross — and Saddam Hussein was such a remarkably hard act to follow badly that this is no small accomplishment.
A striking but largely unexplored aspect of Saddam Hussein’s execution is illustrative. His trial was basically run out of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad; Saddam was held at Camp Cropper, the U.S. prison near Baghdad International Airport. He was delivered to the Iraqi government for hanging in a U.S. helicopter (as his body would be flown back to his home village in a U.S. helicopter).
Now, let’s add a few more facts into the mix. Among Iraqi Shiites, no individual has been viewed as more of an enemy by the Bush administration than the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. American troops fought bloody battles with his Mahdi Army in 2004, destroying significant parts of the old city of Najaf in the process. American forces make periodic, destructive raids into the vast Baghdad slum and Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City to take out his followers and recently killed one of his top aides in a raid in Najaf. The upcoming Presidential “surge” into Baghdad is, reputedly, in part to be aimed at suppressing his militia, which a recent Pentagon report described as “the main threat to stability in Iraq.”
Nonetheless at the crucial moment in the execution what did some of the Interior Ministry guards do? They chanted: “Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!” In all press reports, this has been described as a “taunting” of Saddam (and assumedly of Iraqi Sunnis more generally). But it could as easily be described as the purest mockery of George W. Bush and everything he’s done in the country. If, in such a relatively controlled setting, the Americans couldn’t stop Saddam’s execution from being “infiltrated” by al-Sadr’s followers — who are also, of course, part of Prime Minister Maliki’s government — what can they possibly do in the chaos of Baghdad? How can a few more thousands of U.S. troops be expected to keep them, or Badr Brigade militiamen out of the streets, no less the police, the military, and various ministries?
Despite the changing guard of military commanders and at our Baghdad embassy, consider the “new way forward,” then, just another part of the Bush administration’s endless bubbleworld.
For more on Bush’s “New Way Forward” speech next week, check out Robert Dreyfuss’s “The Surge to Nowhere.”