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"Awakening" Into Nightmare: Seeding More Sectarian War in Iraq

by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
The unprovoked invasion and military occupation was always about "unipolar dominance" of geopolitical affairs, strategic sway over the oil lands -- and the never-ending expansion of a militarist, authoritarian, war-profiteering regime at home.

As many people have noted, the drop in violence in Iraq from indescribably hellish to merely unbearably horrific was not due to the actual "surge" itself -- the much vaunted increase in troop levels ordered by George "W for Widowmaker" Bush -- but to a number of other factors. The Iranian-brokered stand-down of the Mahdi Army, for example. And the fact that the frenzy of "ethnic cleansing" before the surge had walled much of the country into separate enclaves, reducing the need for sectarian militias to conquer new territory. And the fact that four million Iraqis had fled their homes, and millions more stayed hunkered down to avoid being killed by the occupying forces and the various violent extremists that the American invasion had loosed upon the land.

One of the chief reasons for the relative decrease in the slaughter engendered by the American invasion and occupation, of course, was the policy of buying off violent Sunni extremists and putting them on the American payroll. This tactic began well before the surge, and, in conjunction with the strategic withdrawal of the Mahdi Army, has proven effective in lowering the level of violence somewhat. The tactic is itself largely a matter of "ethnic cleansing," as America's new hired guns were given control over the dwindling Sunni enclaves. But from Andrew Jackson to David Petraeus, ethnic cleansing is the American way, so no one really cares about that. Kill 'em, pen 'em up, move 'em out on trails of tears, put 'em under the rule of local strongmen: that's just what you do with the lesser races, it's not even a matter of debate in polite society.

But there is one other thing you can always do with the lesser breeds: abandon 'em when they no longer serve your purpose. And that's what the Americans are doing now with al-Sahwa, the "Sons of Iraq," the warriors of the Sunni "Awakening": turning them over to the tender mercies of the Shiite-dominated security organs of the American-installed Iraqi government.

As of October 1, the Sunni militias who threw in their lot -- and their guns -- with the American occupiers that had previously fought will be cut loose from the U.S. payroll. Already, the Baghdad government is reneging on promises to take the "Awakening" gangs into the official military and security forces. What's more, they have begun arresting al-Sahwa members for their actions before they joined forces with Widowmaker Bush. The Guardian reports:

The Iraqi government is in danger of pushing Sunni tribal leaders back into the arms of al-Qaida and re-igniting major violence across Iraq if it fails to take more Sunnis into the security forces, the country's leading Sunni politician has warned....

But in Diyala province, north of the capital, as well as in Baghdad suburbs, the Iraqi army and police have arrested dozens of al-Sahwa leaders in recent weeks because of their previous anti-American and anti-government activity. The government is dragging its feet on a pledge to take a fifth of the estimated 100,000 al-Sahwa members into the security forces....

[These] concerns were strongly echoed by Sheikh Mustafa Kamil Hamed, a leader of the powerful Jibouri tribe, who controls about 3,500 men in al-Doura, an area of farms and small towns east of Baghdad ... Once a resistance leader, he now proudly displays a medal from George Bush and boasts of entertaining General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, at his headquarters...

Al-Qaida arrived in al-Doura in 2005, he said, kidnapping government employees, taking hostages, putting up fake checkpoints, and killing Shias. "Al-Qaida pushed us hard to work with them. They even killed my brother's two sons. We said to them, 'If you've come to resist the US occupation, Iraq is an open field. You're free to do what you want but don't come here and kill our people,'" the sheikh said.

Gradually, he and his tribal colleagues decided to band together and resist al Qaida. The trend was replicated in other Sunni areas. The Americans saw what was happening and gave the Awakening movement money and other support....

In other words, the "Sons of Iraq" were happy to welcome any force that would help them kill Americans. But when the Sunni ultra-extremists grouped loosely under the rubric al Qaeda tried to replicate the Americans and impose their own rule by force, the Iraqi tribesmen made a cynical pact with the foreign occupiers in order to take care of a local threat. Many if not most of these awakened sons would be happy to go back to killing Americans as soon as the spigot dries up.

But that is not Washington's concern. The al-Sahwa movement has served its primary purpose, which was almost entirely aimed at American domestic politics, and not at the security of the conquered people of Iraq. The Bush Administration's main goal in the past two years has been to keep the war in Iraq going, buying time to create more and more deeply-rooted "facts on the ground" that will entrench a permanent American military presence -- and political domination -- in Iraq. But the howling spiral of violence in 2006 came very close to making the bipartisan foreign policy elite in Washington lose their collective nerve: hence the creation of the "Iraq Study Group," where the usual gang of Establishment heavyweights actually took a few tentative steps toward exploring a few tentative possibilities for maybe winding down the war.

The Bush Faction would have none of that. The war must go on, the war must be intensified: Iraq is ours, damn it, and we're going to keep it! But they had to lower the political heat. The American establishment, the American media, and the American people, obviously didn't care about the war crime itself -- the brutal rape and destruction of an entire country in an unprovoked act of aggression. But they didn't like to see those death tolls rising in Iraq every day. It made everybody feel wiggly, put in a damper on the tailgate parties and what all. You even had crazy women like Cindy Sheehan running around the country, stirring people up about "needless death" and stuff.

So they were willing to try anything to get those numbers down. Buy off the insurgents, give medals to guys who had been ripping out American guts the day before? Sure. Look the other way while your Baghdad protégés ran to Tehran for help? Yeah, why not? (It didn't mean you couldn't always "crush the ants" in Iran later on.) Strain your already overburdened soldiers to the breaking point with longer and longer deployments in a brutal -- and brutalizing -- criminal action? No prob, dude. They're just cannon fodder anyway: crackers, wetbacks, jigaboos, who the hell cares?

And so the death tolls fell. Although, as we noted above, the "surge" plan that Bush adopted from a neo-con think tank had nothing to do with it. How do we know this? Because the "surge" had already been tried before, and failed miserably. As I noted back in early 2007:

Ironically, the first big spike of mass torture-murders, chiefly in Sunni areas at the time, coincided with "Operation Lightning," a much ballyhooed effort by American and Iraqi forces to "secure" Baghdad. The operation featured a mass influx of extra troops into the capital; dividing the city into manageable sectors, then working through them one by one; imposing hundreds of checkpoints to lock down all insurgent movements; and establishing a 24-hour presence of security and military forces in troubled neighborhoods, the Associated Press reported in May 2005. In other words, it was almost exactly the same plan now being offered as Bush's "New Way Forward," the controversial "surge." But the "Lightning" fizzled in a matter of weeks, and the death squads grew even bolder....

Now the troop surge is ending, and as with "Lightning," its ineffectual effects are unraveling. Sectarian war will swiftly reignite if the Sunni "Sons" feel they are being shafted by the Shiite-led government. The factions that the Bush Administration has empowered in Iraq, pretending they are ordinary political parties in a nascent democracy, will stand revealed, once again, for what they really are: armed, violent, sectarian extremist groups battling ruthlessly for domination.

But a rise in sectarian violence will not displease the Bush Faction now. In fact, it would be a nice, sharp lesson for the Baghdad government, which has posturing and foot-dragging on the agreement for continuing the American military presence in Iraq. It will teach the uppity al-Maliki how much he still needs American muscle to keep his own gang in clover. And of course, it will tie the hands of the next American president -- especially as both Obama and McCain agree that "facts on the ground" will determine when and if they withdraw "combat troops" from Iraq (although both plan on leaving an unspecified number of military forces in the conquered land, no matter what). In any case, it will take at least a few weeks after the October 1 cut-off for the tensions between al-Sahwa and the government to reach critical mass, so it will have no effect on the American election.

Thus the "Sons" have served their purpose on the American payroll. They helped Bush sustain his war crime at the highest level to the end of his term. Now, cut loose, harassed and angry, they will help create the conditions that will lock in a vast American military presence in Iraq for years and years to come.

That was the whole purpose of the invasion, after all. As Bush's "brain trust" at the Project for the New American Century" put it plainly back in September 2000:

"The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

It was never about Saddam Hussein, an ex-CIA asset who could have been bought off as easily as "the Sons of Iraq." It was never about terrorism, about 9/11, or about freedom and democracy.

It was never about Saddam Hussein, an ex-CIA asset who could have been bought off as easily as "the Sons of Iraq." It was never about terrorism, it was never about 9/11, it was never about freedom and democracy. It was always about dominance, "unipolar dominance" of geopolitical affairs, strategic sway over the oil lands -- and the never-ending expansion of a militarist, authoritarian, war-profiteering regime at home.

That's what it's still about: today, tomorrow, and on and on into the darkening future.

photo of Chris FloydChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.

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This story was published on September 16, 2008.