Tuesday, July 31, 2007

So Long And Thanks For All The Guns

By Cernig

Condi Rice and Bob Gates, who have gone to the Middle East to dangle a $20 billion carrot of shiny, new weaponry in front of Arab leaders, have won exactly no new promises of aid for Iraq as a quid pro quo. Sunni Arab leaders are happy to have American arms as a hedge against Shiite Iran and, in many cases, to keep their own populations in order - but see no reason to prop up the Shiite government in Iraq which they see as being too deeply linked to Iran.

Former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, a favorite of many of those Sunni Arab governments, says the current regime in Baghdad is "built on the philosophy of sectarianism" and is "not going to be capable" of reconciling Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. He also wants the UN to step back in with a renewed effort to stem the sectarian civil war. In all of this, he echoes the attitudes of most Sunni nations in the region. There's going to be no new help for Maliki's government - or the US occupation seen as propping that government up - from the Arab states. A new influx of arms to those states actually works against their involvement, by making them feel more able to secure their own borders against any spillover from Iraq's civil war.

This situation seems to me to be at least partly a case of "you reap what you sow". Yes, there were pre-existing sectarian fractures in Iraq which the removal of Saddam allowed free rein. But nationalist Iraqi groups, both Sunni and Shiite, maintain that those fractures wouldn't have been as explosively expressed if the US hadn't played on them so heavily in an attempt to supress the Sunni insurgency it largely created with the disbandment of Saddam's army and subsequent de-Ba'athification measures. Now, as the Bush administration has belatedly realised its mistake and the military finally begins outreach to Sunni insurgents and insurgent-supporting groups, the fractures are being opened wider as the sectarian Shiite Iraqi government members begin to worry about holding on to their new-found power. By running from one extreme to another - a situation created by the Bush administration's demand for simple, un-nuanced narratives - the US has created a many-headed sectarian hydra where there didn't have to be one.

Given all this, it should be no surprise forBush administration officials protesting that they really, really care about the region's security and stability to be met with a very sceptical audience.

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