Why US policy failed in Iraq

July 11th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

A fascinating post at the Washington Post by Ali Khedery:

To understand why Iraq is imploding, you must understand Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and why the United States has supported him since 2006.

I have known Maliki, or Abu Isra, as he is known to people close to him, for more than a decade. I have traveled across three continents with him. I know his family and his inner circle. When Maliki was an obscure member of parliament, I was among the very few Americans in Baghdad who took his phone calls. In 2006, I helped introduce him to the U.S. ambassador, recommending him as a promising option for prime minister. In 2008, I organized his medevac when he fell ill, and I accompanied him for treatment in London, spending 18 hours a day with him at Wellington Hospital. In 2009, I lobbied skeptical regional royals to support Maliki’s government.

By 2010, however, I was urging the vice president of the United States and the White House senior staff to withdraw their support for Maliki. I had come to realize that if he remained in office, he would create a divisive, despotic and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests.

America stuck by Maliki. As a result, we now face strategic defeat in Iraq and perhaps in the broader Middle East.

Khedery argues that if the US has stopped supporting Maliki in 2010, then what has happened in the last few weeks may not have occured.

After the December 2005 parliamentary elections, U.S. Embassy officials combed the Iraqi elite for a leader who could crush the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, battle al-Qaeda, and unite Iraqis under the banner of nationalism and inclusive government. My colleague Jeffrey Beals and I were among the few Arabic-speaking Americans on good terms with the country’s leading figures. The only man we knew with any chance to win support from all Iraqi factions — and who seemed likely to be an effective leader — was Maliki. We argued that he would be acceptable to Iraq’s Shiite Islamists, around 50 percent of the population; that he was hard-working, decisive and largely free of corruption; and that he was politically weak and thus dependent on cooperating with other Iraqi leaders to hold together a coalition. 

Khedery says Maliki was the right pick in 2005, but then things went wrong:

With the Obama administration vowing to end Bush’s “dumb war,” and the continued distraction of the global economic crisis, Maliki seized an opportunity. He began a systematic campaign to destroy the Iraqi state and replace it with his private office and his political party. He sacked professional generals and replaced them with those personally loyal to him. He coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections in March 2010. After the results were announced and Maliki lost to a moderate, pro-Western coalition encompassing all of Iraq’s major ethno-sectarian groups, the judge issued a ruling that awarded Maliki the first chance to form a government, ushering in more tensions and violence.

So he started to go rogue around 2009.

After helping to bring him to power in 2006, I argued in 2010 that Maliki had to go. I felt guilty lobbying against my friend Abu Isra, but this was not personal. Vital U.S. interests were on the line. Thousands of American and Iraqi lives had been lost and trillions of dollars had been spent to help advance our national security, not the ambitions of one man or one party. The constitutional process had to be safeguarded, and we needed a sophisticated, unifying, economics-minded leader to rebuild Iraq after the security-focused Maliki crushed the militias and al-Qaeda.

In conversations with visiting White House senior staff members, the ambassador, the generals and other colleagues, I suggested Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi as a successor. A former Baathist, moderate Shiite Islamist and French-educated economist who had served as finance minister, Abdul Mahdi maintained excellent relations with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds as well as with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

And how high up did the lobbying go?

On Sept. 1, 2010, Vice President Biden was in Baghdad for the change-of-command ceremony that would see the departure of Gen. Ray Odierno and the arrival of Gen. Lloyd Austin as commander of U.S. forces. That night, at a dinner at the ambassador’s residence that included Biden, his staff, the generals and senior embassy officials, I made a brief but impassioned argument against Maliki and for the need to respect the constitutional process. But the vice president said Maliki was the only option. Indeed, the following month he would tell top U.S. officials, “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” referring to the status-of-forces agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past 2011.

Biden was wrong, as he so often is.

But all the lobbying was for naught. By November, the White House had settled on its disastrous Iraq strategy. The Iraqi constitutional process and election results would be ignored, and America would throw its full support behind Maliki.

So they can’t say they were not warned. What happened next:

Within a short span, Maliki’s police state effectively purged most of them from politics, parking American-supplied M1A1 tanks outside the Sunni leaders’ homes before arresting them. Within hours of the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December 2011, Maliki sought the arrest of his longtime rival Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, eventually sentencing him to death in absentia. The purge of Finance Minister Rafea al-Essawi followed a year later.

So what are we left with:

In short, Maliki’s one-man, one-Dawa-party Iraq looks a lot like Hussein’s one-man, one-Baath Party Iraq. But at least Hussein helped contain a strategic American enemy: Iran. And Washington didn’t spend $1 trillion propping him up. There is not much “democracy” left if one man and one party with close links to Iran control the judiciary, police, army, intelligence services, oil revenue, treasury and the central bank. Under these circumstances, renewed ethno-sectarian civil war in Iraq was not a possibility. It was a certainty.

I resigned in protest on Dec. 31, 2010. 

If only they had listened to him. What happened was not inevitable after the fall of Saddam. It came about through bad decisions.

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Keys rules out SAS going to Iraq

June 18th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key has ruled out sending New Zealand special forces soldiers to Iraq as the United States mulls options in response to an unfolding crisis there.

Speaking in New York, Key said the New Zealand government was currently looking at what humanitarian aid it might provide as tens of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by a violent takeover of parts of the country. …

New Zealand special forces soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan in a similar role.

But Key said he did not believe it likely that New Zealand special forces would be deployed or requested.

“I don’t think that’s likely. We’re just so far away from probably ever having to make that call. But in the end in so much as with any global issue, as things play out New Zealand would always look to the [United Nations] Security Council for its view and its sanction of anything that may happen. So you can never say never in a world where the Security Council decides that Iraq needs support of some sort, engineers or whatever it might be, that could always be considered but I think that’s very unlikely.”

Asked if that meant he could rule out New Zealand special forces soldiers being deployed to Iraq, even in an advisory capacity, Key responded; “I would say yes’.

This means that the only Prime Minister to seen soldiers to Iraq remains Helen Clark.

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So Iran are now the good guys?

June 14th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Iran has reportedly sent its Revolutionary Guard forces to fight al-Qaeda-inspired militants who are sweeping across Iraq.

The Wall Street Journal and the Times reported that two battalions of the Quds Forces, the elite overseas branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, that have long operated in Iraq, have come to the aid of the Shia-dominated Government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Government last night remained in paralysis, unable to form a coherent response after militants blitzed and captured entire chunks of the nation’s Sunni heartland this week, including major cities, towns, military and police bases as Iraqi forces melted away or fled.

What’s that old saying – my enemy’s enemy is my friend. So true.

The new reality is the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since the United States’ withdrawal at the end of 2011, and it has pushed the nation closer to a precipice that would partition it into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish zones.

That may not be the worst outcome – three separate countries. Can the Shia and Sunni sects live together now? Kurds are already autonomous. But actual separate countries could also be destabilising as Turkey would not want a Kurdistan as neigbours.

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Cunliffe on Iraq

June 14th, 2014 at 5:36 am by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant blogs:

With Iraq turning into a mess again, and the US refusing to rule anything out while pointedly saying it can always count on Australia, people in New Zealand are asking the obvious question: if the US starts another war, will our politicians join it?

John Key hasn’t spoken up yet. As for David Cunliffe, he’s just been asked about it by Newstalk ZB’s Felix Marwick. His response is pure mush:

Cunliffe on troops to Iraq: “would depend on the circumstances when request made. Won’t hypothesize what answer wd be w/out having specific facts.

a difficult decision and would rely on the position taken by the United Nations and our partners. Can’t rule anything in or out.”

And there you have it: David Cunliffe ain’t no Helen Clark. If you want New Zealand to stay out of America’s stupid wars, you’ll need to vote for someone else.

Update: And meanwhile, John Key says the chances of his government contributing to any intervention are “remote”. Its a sad day when Labour looks more warmongering than National.

Labour seem to struggling with clear quick decisions. It took a week or so to declare they would not force a by-election in Epsom – a decision the leader could have made instantly as it was obvious the public would hate a party that caused a million dollar by-election that wouldn’t even see an MP elected before Parliament was dissolved.

Likewise, should have been easy to say something along the lines John Key said – which is that the chances of NZ contributing ot military action in Iraq are incredibly small – especially considering any intervention is likely to be air strikes, and thanks to Labour we don’t have an airforce capable of striking anything!

UPDATE:

Cunliffe Iraq

Cunliffe has obviously been got to, and is now saying definitely not. I have no problem with his latter statement, but what people will note is it is entirely different to his first statement which was it would depend on the circumstances.

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Goff exposed

December 23rd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale Oil has highlighted two Wikileaks cables which show Phil Goff supporting not just the SAS returning to Afghanistan, but also in 2006 sending troops back into Iraq.

First the SAS quote:

Goff told the General that he could expect a positive outcome on redeploying the PRT past Sept 2006 and was reasonably assured the SAS (Special Forces) would deploy again after regeneration.

And the Iraq quote:

Goff noted Senator McCain’s comment that New Zealand should think about replicating its success in Bamiyan by heading a PRT in Iraq.

The Minister said he told McCain that New Zealand was not averse to doing so once the security situation had stabilized.

If I was a Young Labour member who has stuck up posters about how Don Brash would send troops to Iraq, I’d be looking for a new party, or at least a new leader, about now.

Fran O’Sullivan also whacks at Goff:

Frankly it’s been rather delicious to watch Phil Goff squirm on the head of a proverbial pin as he flatly denies the insinuation in a WikiLeaks cable that the former Labour Government was prepared to trade “blood for milk” in Iraq. …

Inevitably, there will have been a number of factors in the former Labour Cabinet’s decision to deploy New Zealand engineers alongside the British contingent in Basra.

But it would be pushing credulity to claim the Clark Government did not consider the clear desire by New Zealand business – particularly Fonterra – to ensure its Iraqi trade did not go down the tubes when the postwar reconstruction contracts were doled out. Particularly when America still controlled the game.

I think it was a good thing that Helen Clark and Phil Goff were mindful of NZ’s commercial interests, when they decide to send troops to Iraq.

Goff, while speaking about nations like France and Germany which had also opposed the invasion, said then that “they will want to be part of whatever benefits will flow from reconstructing Iraq and rebuilding the relationship [with the United States]“.

Given their respective comments in 2003 it would be fatuous indeed to believe the decision to commit troops to the reconstruction effort did not have a tinge of economic reality.

More than a tinge I say.

Goff’s problem is that he is embarrassed by the WikiLeaks revelation.

He should look closer to home.

He had no compunction using notes of a private meeting between former National leader Don Brash and a visiting United States delegation to claim New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy “would be gone by lunchtime” under a National government.

The WikiLeaks documents have something to say on this score too.

Former United States ambassador Bill McCormick wrote in November 2006 that Goff had “misquoted” an Mfat staffer’s notes from the meeting to claim that Brash had promised the nuclear ban would be “gone by lunchtime”.

Julian Assange at least releases the full cables and notes, unlike Phil Goff who broke a decades-long convention and quoted a small extract out of context.

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Clark denies milk for blood

December 22nd, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has angrily denied a claim in a United States diplomatic cable that the previous Labour-led Government sent New Zealand non-combat engineers to Iraq so that dairy company Fonterra could secure a United Nations contract.

She described the claim as preposterous.

So why did Helen send tropps to Iraq, if it were not to help Fonterra?

Mr Goff yesterday said the allegation was ridiculous.

“No such trade-off was ever suggested and if it ever had been, it would have been rejected out-of-hand. We do not trade putting the lives of our military personnel at risk for commercial deals. It is a completely false claim.”

What is interesting is that Michael Cullen has not denied that he did talk about the risk to Fonterra.

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Milk for blood

December 20th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Critics of the Iraq war claimed it was about oil for blood – that the motives for the US sending troops and spilling blood, was to gain control of Iraq’s oil. This of course was leftish paranoia – the US has gained no control of any oil, and the cost of the war has been massively more, than any oil revenue could match.

But Wikileaks has revealed that one country which did send troops to Iraq, qas motivated by commercial factors. Yes, Helen Clark sent in troops to Iraq (something Labour hopes that people forget), and the reason was to help Fonterra.

So there was no oil for blood by the US, but Helen Clark was willing to trade blood for milk.

I look forward to Labour talking about their principled foreign policy.

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Editorials 16 March 2010

March 16th, 2010 at 10:24 am by David Farrar

The Herald looks at the Iraqi elections:

Iraq’s national elections were some distance removed from the type of poll associated with a smoothly functioning democracy. They were conducted amid an intimidating campaign of violence, and in the aftermath there have been accusations of fraud.

Even now, only partial results are available because of disorderly vote-counting. Yet the pluses of the election far outweigh the negatives, especially in indicating that Iraq may be ready to turn its back on years of sectarian strife.

The results announced so far show the Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, edging ahead. His State of Law coalition leads in seven of the country’s 18 provinces. …

If a coalition is cobbled together relatively quickly, it will clear the way for the smooth pull-out of more American troops by the end of August, and a final exit by the end of next year.

The new government will have its hands full preserving Iraq’s fragile security, continuing to resolve its sectarian tensions and repairing shattered public services.

But, at the very least, this election marks a promising start. Iraq has defied the many doomsayers by moving further along the road to democracy and reconciliation.

It is going to be fascinating to see what Iraq is like in 2020. Will it still have major sectarian violence and terrorism, or will it be a relatively well functioning democratic state?

The Press talks football:

The Wellington Phoenix football team has provided one of the sporting highlights of the past year. For the club to have made the A-League playoffs for the first time, and to have got within one match of the grand final, was an achievement all New Zealanders can be proud of. As Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has noted, this has been a breakthrough season for the club. It also augurs well for the 2010-11 season.

Although the dream run ended on Saturday night, thanks partly to a handball goal by a Sydney player, the Phoenix’s successful season helped to heighten public interest in football, as shown by the crowds of up to 33,000 that the team attracted.

Maybe the Warriors would do better if they were Wellington based also :-)

The Dominion Post talks league tables:

One thing is for sure in the wake of the publication of Health Ministry statistics comparing the performances of 80 primary health organisations.

Total Healthcare Otara, the PHO with the poorest record of immunising two-year-olds, will be taking immediate steps to improve its performance. Public ignominy is a powerful motivating tool.

So it should be. The release of the data highlights yet again the benefits of comparing the performance of organisations doing essentially the same job, whether they operate in the health sector, the education sector or any other area. Not only is the information useful to decision-makers and the public, it is also useful to the organisations themselves. As Helen Rodenburg, the chairwoman of a clinical quality board that oversees four PHOs in Wellington, told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report yesterday, before the publication of the data, PHOs did not know how their performance compared with those of similar organisations in other parts of the country.

The primary teachers’ union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, should take note.

This is exactly why the NZEI is so opposed.

Of course there are limitations associated with the way the data is collected. Of course it is important to compare like with like and, of course, it is important to consider the different environments in which schools operate. Just as a PHO in Wellington City could be expected to outperform a PHO in Porirua on many measures, so children at a decile 10 primary school in Khandallah could be expected to perform better in tests than children at a decile 1 school in Cannons Creek. The children in wealthier neighbourhoods are more likely to come from homes in which English is the first language, there is space for a dedicated homework area and the shelves are stacked with books.

But instead of flatly rejecting the introduction of national standards as the NZEI is doing, it should be devoting its energies to ensuring the tests measure something useful.

NZEI be constructive? Sure, and Satan has this nice little ski chalet for sale.

The ODT focuses on investor migrants:

The Government is rightly taking a hard-headed look at the domain – New Zealand is not so wealthy as to be able to offer refuge to thousands of migrants who bring little other than “diversity” to their new country, but neither should it push these policies so far that, in effect, the prize of New Zealand citizenship is being sold to the highest bidder.

There are, after all, many values – honesty, pride, diligence, community-mindedness, intelligence, aspiration, entrepreneurialism among them – besides an already accumulated wealth that will colour the future contribution of any migrant, including those in the new parent and temporary retirement categories, to his or her adopted country.

Dr Coleman and the National-led Government are evidently determined to implement immigration policies that pay.

The ambition is laudable, but wealth is relatively easy to measure, other desirable qualities less so.

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Editorials 11 March 2010

March 11th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald approves of mooted KiwiSaver changes:

Commerce Minister Simon Power deserves praise for his decision to fast-track tougher reporting requirements for all KiwiSaver providers.

Not so David Ireland, the chairman of superannuation industry body Workplace Savings, who described the move as a “knee-jerk reaction”.

Like some other near-sighted individuals in the funds management industry, Mr Ireland seems to be struggling to come to terms with the idea that investors’ interests must come first.

When the subject is the integrity of KiwiSaver, which holds the investments of 1.3 million New Zealanders, there is every reason to move quickly to plug any gaps in regulation.

What scares me is the poll showing around half of KiwiSaver investors think their fund is government guaranteed.

The Dominion Post wants the public service reined in further:

The public service is a dollar-devouring behemoth that has thwarted many attempts to rein it in.

Prime Minister John Key will need to do better than he has so far, if he is going to succeed in slipping on the halter. It is vital that he does. …

Now the Government is treading so carefully it risks making no progress. Mr Key, through a spokeswoman, has denied there is any proposal that might be described as “radical reform”. Instead, all indications are of a process that smacks of the ad hoc, and of being driven by fear of public reaction as much as by any coherent strategy.

That is not good enough. Despite improvements in government finances, the Treasury is still forecasting deficits will continue to 2016. Finance Minister Bill English rightly wants the focus to remain on getting out of deficit as quickly as possible.

Once we are out of deficit, then we get far more palatable choices. We get to decide whether surpluses are spent on reducing debt, cutting taxes or increasing spending. But until we get back into surplus, it is all fairly unpalatable.

The Press looks at the progress in Iraq:

With so much attention focused on the violence in Afghanistan, there is a risk of downplaying significant events in Iraq, notably its recent election.

The result of this election, in terms of the shape of the coalition which will govern the nation, is likely to take weeks or even months of deal-making.

But the manner in which the election was conducted is one of the most positive developments in Iraq since the United States and its “coalition of the willing” allies toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. US President Barack Obama could ultimately be proved correct when he declared that the election was an important milestone in Iraq’s history.

The most notable feature of the election was the turnout which defied many observers’ expectations by reaching 62 per cent. This figure might not seem high by New Zealand standards, but it is worth reflecting that it is comparable to the most recent US election.

In a decade or so, Iraq may be doing relatively well.

And the ODT commemorates International Women’s Day:

New Zealand has much to be proud of in its gender equality record, and with the marking on Monday this week of International Women’s Day, there is cause for celebration.

In the most recent Global Gender Gap Report of the Geneva-based non-profit World Economic Forum, New Zealand is ranked fifth out of 134 countries in an index that assesses countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among their male and female populations – regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities. …

But not so good:

In New Zealand, one in five women will be subjected to violence in their lifetime, compared to one in 20 men.”

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So much for blood for oil

December 21st, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Do you remember the millions of people who denounced the Iraq War as being blood for oil – that it was only about the US trying to steal Iraq’s oil supply.

There were many good reasons to oppose the Iraq War, but the blood for oil slogan was particularly moronic. For a start the cost of the war has proven to be much greater than the value of any oil. But this article from Time Magazine may be of interest to those who still cling to the slogan:

Those who claim that the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 to get control of the country’s giant oil reserves will be left scratching their heads by the results of last weekend’s auction of Iraqi oil contracts: Not a single U.S. company secured a deal in the auction of contracts that will shape the Iraqi oil industry for the next couple of decades.

That’s one myth destroyed.

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Obama sets Iraq withdrawal dates

March 1st, 2009 at 10:08 am by David Farrar

Obama has set some dates for withdrawl of troops from Iraq, but they are not much faster than what had been negotiated between Iraq and the former President.

Around 100,000 of the 150,000 or so troops will leave by the end of August 2010. This is three months later than he promised in the campaign. ANd most of the withdrawals will be in those final few months.

Obama is also leaving 50,000 troops who will not be classified as combat troops, but there for training, advice and protecting civilians, plus targeted counterterrorism. Sounds like combat to me!

And those 50,000 will stay until Dec 2011 – the date Bush had agreed to with the Iraqi Government.

It will be interesting to see if Obama manages these new deadlines without further slippage.

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A positive sign

February 2nd, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports on the Iraqi local elections:

Iraqis held their most peaceful election since the fall of Saddam Hussein, voting for provincial councils without a single major attack reported anywhere in the country.

Amazing, considering past elections.

There was something of a holiday atmosphere in many parts of the country. In normally traffic-choked Baghdad, children took advantage of a ban on cars to play soccer in the streets.

“How can we not vote? All of us here have always complained about being oppressed and not having a leader who represented us. Now is our chance,” said Basra voter Abdul Hussein Nuri.

Also great. Of course it is still not like local body elections in NZ:

In addition, five candidates were assassinated in the run-up to Saturday’s election – three just two days before the vote.

But more positively:

Around 14,400 candidates competed for 440 council seats after exuberant campaigning. Brightly coloured campaign posters cover the blast walls that divide Iraqi neighbourhoods.

Around 30 candidates per seat – spoilt for choice.

The death toll in Iraq has been horrendous, and for so long it looked like the withdrawal of coalition forces would lead to disaster and a failed state. It is encouraging that things are looking better – something everyone should be happy about.

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Daily Show on Obama’s flip-flop

July 10th, 2008 at 10:57 am by David Farrar

The Daily Show hasn’t really gone tough on Obama much, but this clip above is a good piss-take of efforts to defend his u-turn on public financing of his campaign.

Also Nevil Gibson at NBR examines his growing flip-flop on Iraq.

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Bush under fire

May 30th, 2008 at 8:29 am by David Farrar

Scott McClellan, George W Bush’s forrmer press secretary, has just released a book which is quite damning of Bush and the White House. This is not some minor official, but the public face of the Administration for many years.

McClellan says Bush’s main reason for war always was “an ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom.” But Bush and his advisers made “a marketing choice” to downplay this rationale in favor of one focused on increasingly trumped-up portrayals of the threat posed by the weapons of mass destruction.

During the “political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people,” Bush and his team tried to make the “WMD threat and the Iraqi connection to terrorism appear just a little more certain, a little less questionable than they were.” Something else was downplayed as well, McClellan says: any discussion of “the possible unpleasant consequences of war – casualties, economic effects, geopolitical risks, diplomatic repercussions.”

This is an honest and useful analysis of where Bush went wrong. It isn’t the moronic “Bush lied” meme,
but shows that they over-hyped the WMDs as a political strategy.

It will be an interesting book to read.

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