posted by Harrison at the Possum Bistro
Recently, I caught Blood Diamond at the cinemas, and found myself impressed with the film and its lessons which we could draw from. The location in context was Sierra Leone in Africa, host to diamond smugglers, warlords, militias and rebels who pillage and plunder at the expense of the defenseless locals, who wish of nothing but to live in peace. Yet the supposed guarantor of such security wields no such sovereignty or power - the government is unable to harness the necessary forces required to purge Sierra Leone of these scourges of the earth.
Militias hop from village to village, slaughtering all they see, employing extreme violence and coercion to prevent or punish those who vote and support the government. Those who are physically strong and able to work are recruited as slaves at the diamond mines. Smugglers sell the diamonds to neighbouring countries, who then through payment finance and fuel the ongoing cycle; these countries sell the diamonds to key figures in countries like Britain - then, by keeping supply low (storing these diamonds in safe vaults) while demand increases as husbands fork out exorbitant amounts of cash to buy those pretty diamond rings in display windows along the shopping avenues - the civil war has thus presented a win-win situation for each participant to keep it going as long as it can: profiteering at its bloodiest.
A scene in the film struck me as prescient: an old man was lamenting that if oil was ever discovered in Africa, it would be absolutely catastrophic for its population.
Which brings me to the seemingly depressing parallel of Iraq - or so defeatists would want you to believe. Contrary to the level of sectarian conflict and internecine infighting between sects that is the time-honoured legacy of tribalism in the Arab world, neither side has successfully mobilised an organised fighting force, or is in possession of the reins of one or few arms of government.
Oil resources have not been siphoned off in pipelines to Iran and Saudi Arabia to be channeled back manifold to fund the proxy Foreign Legions of Iran - namely, Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army - and aQ insurgents in Iraq. Indoctrination of children into child-soldiers ala Sierra Leone or even Palestine for that matter has not happened - or at least not reported - yet.
The government of Maliki had been quiescent for too long, but now has the political freedom to act against the Sadrists without fear of parliamentary collapse - Iraqi politicians are grudgingly accepting of Bush's latest effort to secure Iraqi neighbourhoods, and obviously sense a shift of power in their favour should a vacuum present itself in the form of the Sadrists' departure. He also has the best military force in the world supporting the Iraqi Army - logistical, auxiliary, intel, technology, counter-insurgency training - which should in no circumstances be discounted to accomplish what should be accomplished for the sake of our long-term interests.
al-Sadr is currently avoiding confrontation with US and Iraqi troops, knowing very well that his immunity is uncertain now that firstly, his influence on the Shiite militias is tenuous at best (thus, they might not heed al-Sadr's advice and instead head on out to engage the Iraqi Army - and in the process get slaughtered, also giving us an idea where he is and a viable casus belli to raid the hidey-holes) and thus his Mahdi Army might well be whittled down with time; secondly, by waiting the "surge" out, the Iraqi Army is free to secure all other neighbourhoods, encircling Sadr City and Diwaniya in the process. With checkpoints, zone patrols and documentation of arms and personnel transferring in and out of these internal borders, the Sadrists will find that being boxed in is not going to be very fun at all.
al-Hakim's loyalties lie with Iran - that has been obvious - but now he is compelled to think of Iraq first, Iran second. If Maliki dares to move against the largest parliamentary majority, who is to guarantee he will not act upon the anti-Persian sentiment and purge the Badrists, who are even less of a political and military power in Iraq? With the aircraft carriers being deployed near Iranian straits, Bush's speech possibly hinting at an air/naval assault on oil and gas pipelines in Iran, no longer will Iran be able to play this game of brinkmanship without considering the almost cataclysmic aftermath of an economic collapse. Close the Straits of Hormuz, you say?
Sunni insurgents have expressed their interest in cutting a deal with us - no reconciliation, no violence; in addition to that, they will agree to work with the Anbar tribes to flush out aQ insurgents. Already this week, four more Ramadi tribes have switched. Our strategy is increasingly being vindicated, the rapport established, now reinforced by Bush's initiative to get tough with Shiite militias. The various personal accounts of Sunnis fighting the Shiites instead of Americans all signify a certain glimmer of hope that perhaps something workable can be engendered from the continuation of tribal engagement.
The Kurds have decided to chip in, and substantially so - Shiites will soon realise that the alternative to Kurdish cooperation is secession, which means the forging of Kurdistan, and with it the deprivation of Kirkuk and its oil revenues. al-Sadr's attempts to instigate fellow co-religionists to rebuff the Kurdish forces will be in vain: for one, the Kurds could teach the Shiites and Sunnis a thing or two about protecting their provinces. Iran and Turkey will be more cautious in addressing the Kurds, for an autonomous Kurdistan represents the major threat to their societies and governments.
Oil companies are gradually beginning to establish contracts in Iraq; life for Iraqi citizens - yes, no longer subjects under a dictator - has become increasingly better, though it is a tough, bitter struggle day-by-day against the multiple currents of sectarianism, tribalism and corruption that are threatening to render Iraq asunder.
The sobering reality of the situation cannot be further emphasised - but the destructiveness and self-defeating corollaries that will be engendered from our withdrawal from Iraq obviously needs much, much underscoring.
We are at the brink of a new epoch for Iraq - countervailing forces of anti-interventionist, anti-Persian, anti-insurgent sentiments are empowering the beseiged Iraqis with a sliver of hope for a nation of their own. They have known no cause for nationalism before this: history? Of oppression. Culture? Of fear and paranoia. Religion? Definitely not.
To grasp this rare opportunity, an even rarer confluence of events must take place: Bush has taken the crucial step towards empowering the Iraqi government and standing up to Iran - now he must consider how to win back public opinion on the domestic front and ward of the circling vultures of Congress; similarly, the onus is on Maliki to act decisively against militias and insurgents, proving not primarily to Bush but to the Iraqis that the government is to be trusted to protect their lives, liberties and properties.
It takes two hands to clap. Will we hear it before apocalypse descends on Iraq?
The Elephant Bar is grateful to Harrison for allowing us to feature his work and you can read his other work at his place, The Possum Bistro which is at http://gotfetch.blogspot.com/.
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