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For years now many people have been comparing America’s Vietnam debacle with the current unfolding catastrophe in Iraq. The lessons of history, they say, have not been learned. Others argue that Iraq is not Vietnam: the issues, culture, politics, religion, etc. are all different.
One need not look to Vietnam to see history repeating itself in Iraq; that nation’s own history provides lessons for anyone willing to learn them. The history of Iraq dates back millennia, but we need look no farther than the last century to see why President Bush’s conquest of that nation will never succeed.
After World War I, Britain controlled Iraq. Following the defeat of a popular uprising against Britain for failing to grant Iraq independence, as promised during the war, British officer T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, wrote a letter to The Times of London, which appeared on August 22, 1920. Said he: “We said we went to Mesopotamia (Iraq) to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. Our government is worse than the old Turkish system. They kept fourteen thousand local conscripts embodied, and killed a yearly average of two hundred Arabs in maintaining peace. We keep ninety thousand men, with aeroplanes, armoured cars, gunboats, and armoured trains. We have killed about ten thousand Arabs in this rising this summer.”
Mr. Bush said America invaded Iraq to defeat the terrorists, who turned out to be somewhere else all along. He said that America stayed to deliver the Iraqis from an oppressive government and provide them with democracy. He failed to check with them in advance to see if this is what they wanted; more of his ‘my way or the highway’ mentality in practice. Mr. Bush spent over 3,500 American lives (and still counting) and billions of dollars (still counting) in his vain quest to achieve these false ends.
Can we say about America as Mr. Lawrence said about Britain, that the American government is worse than the old system? Saddam Hussein is believed to have caused the deaths of 20,000 Iraqis. Mr. Bush has caused the deaths of an estimated 600,000 Iraqis. Britain, in 1920, kept ninety thousand men in the country; America is escalating to 160,000 soldiers. Britain killed ten thousand people in the revolt referenced; America’s death machine has been far more efficient.
The war against Iraq is officially called, in military circles, Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is apparently in place of Operation Iraqi Liberation, which has, for Mr. Bush and much of his administration, what would be a most embarrassing acronym if they were capable of being embarrassed. Once again, imperial designs on Iraq’s oil are nothing new. In 1955, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, developed by U.S. intelligence, said the following: “Seventy percent of government annual direct oil revenue is earmarked for development programs…. This program is administered by the Iraq Development Board (IDB), which has a British and an American as well as Iraqi members.”
More recently, under strong pressure from the U.S. government, several of Iraq’s different parties have signed a tentative agreement concerning that nation’s vast oil reserves. The agreement allows foreign oil companies the same access to Iraq’s oil as Iraq’s national oil companies. This will not become law until ratified by Parliament.
The riches that can be gleaned by Iraq’s immense oil supply can only be imagined. However, back in 1955, the same National Intelligence Estimate that discussed oil revenues financing development programs also noted that ” eighty per cent of the population ekes out a meager livelihood in agricultural or nomadic pursuits.” How American access to Iraqi oil will benefit the vast number of Iraqis has not been revealed; however, one can easily see significant potential benefit to Iraqis if they are allowed to control their own oil reserves.
Agreement to the sharing of its oil has not been universal in Iraq; The Iraqi National Slate and the Iraqi Accordance Front, two major political parties, oppose the law. Iraq’s labor unions, representing tens of thousands of oil workers, have also not jumped aboard America’s plan for their oil. Are they naïve in thinking they can successfully oppose the will of their powerful oppressors? Based on the success to date that Iraqi freedom fighters have had in resisting the occupiers, one must not jump too quickly to that conclusion.
In the spring, 2003 issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Martin Walker drew the following conclusions based on his study of Iraqi history:
Governments too closely identified with foreign influence, no matter how well intentioned the foreign power may be, will generate intense domestic opposition.
The Iraqi national identity that the British tried to foster from the 1920s remains at constant risk from the ethnic and religious tensions among the three dominant elements of Iraqi society: the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds.
The political stability of Iraq should never be considered in isolation but within a broader context of developments throughout the Arab world and in Iran.
In the four years since Mr. Walker published his report, the three conclusions referenced above have proven true again for Iraq. Certainly, the government of Nuri al-Maliki is seen, at best, as a close associate, and at worst, a puppet of the United States. To describe the Iraqis efforts against American soldiers as ‘intense domestic opposition’ does not overstate the case.
The fact, disputed only by Mr. Bush and his rapidly dwindling core of followers, that Iraq is now in the throes of a bloody civil war, is testament to the second point referenced above.
The need to seek political stability in Iraq in the context of its neighbors was recognized by the Iraq Study Group, who recommended negotiations with Syria and Iran. Mr. Bush, of course, never intimate with facts, history or opinions other than his own, initially dismissed any such course of action.
Based on the facts from Iraq’s history and current events, Mr. Bush’s goals for Iraq, nebulous as they may be, will never be achieved. Yet he has made it clear that he will continue down the disastrous road he has forced America and Iraq to travel for over four years. And so the carnage continues.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘