In AD 750 the Abbasid Dynasty "de-Bedouinized" Islam by defeating the Ummayad Dynasty based in Damascus. The culture of the Abbasid court ceased being Arab-only and started to include Persia and the Turks. Islam turned into a universal religion, no more constrained by geography. "Baldach" – that’s what European travelers called Baghdad up to the late 18th century – was catapulted to the center of the world.
From AD 786-809, under fabled Haroon al-Rashid – who established relations with Tang Dynasty China and the "illiterate emperor" Charlemagne – Baghdad gave the world astronomy, alchemy, hydraulics, diplomacy, fiscal administration and the postal service. Up to the early 12th century it remained the most important intellectual center in the world.
Baghdad had been under siege by the Assyrians and later by Cyrus the Great from Persia. But it was only in 1258 that Baghdad was sacked for the first time by what was then the equivalent of Desert Storm – the Mongols riding their lightning-quick horses under the command of Hulagu, Genghis Khan’s grandson. Legend has it that he erected a pyramid of 700,000 skulls out of his victims.
In 1401, another foreign invader, the Turco-Mongol Tamerlan ("Timur the Lame"), devastated Baghdad yet again. In 2003, after the devastation of "shock and awe", came the Christian armies of President George W Bush. From the beginning the comparisons with Hulagu and Tamerlan were vivid in the popular imagination. Over time, Baghdadis – Sunni or Shi’ite – were saying, we will dictate our rhythm and impose ourselves over the occupiers. This is already happening.
Quagmire Iraq is not a 21st-century video game of Arabs playing extras in a slow-motion Armageddon. This is a wrenching story with rivers of real blood and a terrible accumulation of real corpses. The story was engineered in Washington – and the plot would not be advancing were it not for the United States. The US bears all the moral and legal responsibility for the destruction of the fabled former capital of the caliphate and the de facto Western flank of the Arab nation.
It is in this context that the current avalanche of Iraq-related newspeak in the US should be placed.
The recent bloody holy month of Ramadan in Iraq has reflected the hellish mechanism unleashed by the invasion and occupation – the daily, gruesome banquet of death provoked by state-sponsored terror, counterinsurgency, stoked by sectarian hatred or the total collapse of the social contract.
This logic of extermination of a society and culture was inbuilt in the process since March 2003. In fact, the systematic annihilation of 2-3% of the entire Iraqi population, according to a study by The Lancet, not to mention the 1 million people displaced since March 2003, follow the more than 500,000 children who died during the 1990s as victims of United Nations sanctions. Iraq has been systematically destroyed for more than 15 years, non-stop.
And it gets worse, because for the Bush administration all this death and destruction is just a minor detail in the "big picture".
In a perverse replay of what happened in the Vietnamese jungles, the Pentagon lost the asymmetric guerrilla war raging in the Sunni belt. Sunni Arabs are totally alienated. Seventy percent are in favor of attacking the occupiers, no holds barred. No wonder Saddam Hussein is still popular. This month, about 500 Sunni Arab tribal chiefs and former Ba’ath Party officials in the police, army and intelligence got together in al-Hindiya, 25 kilometers west of Kirkuk, to pledge allegiance to Saddam, qualified as "supreme combatant and legitimate president".
It’s true that Saddam’s regime had already started to disintegrate from the inside after the Gulf War of 1991 – a process coupled with the devastating effects of UN sanctions. The resulting loss of civic spirit accelerated the re-tribalization of Iraq. Even as tribal affiliation nowadays is the only way to solve any problem in Iraq, for the silent majority what really matters is security: nobody is troubled by perceived (by the West) Sunni and Shi’ite divisions; and most Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen share plenty of social, cultural and commercial interests. Contrary to Western-propagated myth, Iraqi civil society as a whole – apart from a few factions – abhors civil war.
The coalition of the drilling
World public opinion must switch to red alert. The real, not virtual, future of Iraq will be decided in December. The whole point is a new oil law – which is in fact a debt-for-oil program concocted and imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is the point of the US invasion – a return on investment on the hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayers’ money spent. It’s not war as politics by other means; it’s war as free-market opening by other means – full US access to the epicenter of the energy wars and the perfect geostrategic location for "taming", in the near future, both Russia and China.
Very few observers have detailed what’s at stake. In US corporate media the silence is stratospheric.
US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman duly landed in Baghdad this past summer, insisting that Iraqis must "pass a hydrocarbon law under which foreign companies can invest". Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani was convinced, and said the law would be passed by the end of 2006, as promised to the IMF.
No wonder: the Green Zone US Embassy colossus has always made sure that the US controls – via well-paid Iraqi servants – the Petroleum Ministry, as well as all key management posts in key Iraqi ministries. The draft hydrocarbon law was reviewed by the IMF, reviewed by Bodman and reviewed by Big Oil executives. It was not and it will not be reviewed by Iraqi civil society: that was left to the fractious Iraqi parliament – which can be largely bought for a fistful of dinars.
The Bush administration needs somebody to sign the law. The nation of Iraq as it emerged out of British imperial design is an artificial construct that can only be "tamed" by a hardcore strongman a la Saddam. It has to be "our" strongman, of course: when Saddam started to act independently he was smashed. Insistent rumors of a US-engineered coup to replace the hapless current premier Nuri al-Maliki have surfaced of late. Poor Maliki, if he clings to a minimum of integrity, can’t possibly sign the oil law. Enter the Washington/Green Zone-backed strongman a la Saddam: a likely candidate is former interim premier Iyad Allawi, who ordered the destruction of Fallujah in late 2004.
No matter what happens in the US mid-term elections next month, this is the post-December scenario: Iraq enslaved by the IMF; Big Oil signing mega-lucrative production sharing agreements (PSAs); "partial" troop withdrawal; relentless guerrilla warfare; further disintegration; open road to partition.
Vast swaths of the US electorate have now understood how the whole Iraqi adventure has been built on lies: lies about the causes of war, lies about the methodology of war, lies about the terrible consequences of war. Inevitably, the current media-targeted avalanche of Iraq-related newspeak had to be also meaningless. This includes "phased withdrawal", "empowering" the Iraqi government, "putting security ahead of democracy" and "partitioning Iraq". Surrealism in international relations would reach new highs (or lows) with the US ordering by decree that a sovereign nation must dismember itself. Compared with it, the current carnage in Baghdad – which is already divided anyway – would be a Disney flick.
There’s more: the Shakespearean despair over "Redeploy and Contain" or "Stability First" – newspeak coined by Bush family consegliere James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, staffed with plenty of pro-war neo-conservatives. A notorious casualty of the newspeak war seems to be "stay the course" – replaced, according to Press Secretary Tony Snow, by "a study in constant motion". Anyway, the winner – after the mid-term elections – will be "Stability First", which is basically a remix, with a horn section, of "stay the course".
How can Americans – and world public opinion – be engaged in serious, meaningful debate when the Iraq tragedy is reduced to a mere catch phrase? This incoherent whirlwind, this "study in constant motion", is the travesty that passes for Iraqi policy debate among educated elites.
Another reading is more ominous. It spells the Bush administration and its attached elites losing control – of everything. And that’s how they can become even more dangerous. On October 19, Vice President Dick Cheney once again stated that the only way out in Iraq was "total victory". A recent historical parallel is nothing but gloomy. When the US was confronted with defeat in Vietnam, it did not "Redeploy and Contain": on the contrary, death and destruction were extended to Laos and Cambodia. Baker’s "Stability First" might contain undisclosed subtexts.
"Total victory", in Cheney’s world view, means that the Bush administration was not, is not and will never be interested in Iraqi, or Middle Eastern, "democracy". What matters is control of the lightest, sweetest, most profitable crude oil on the planet, 112 billion barrels of it in proven reserves plus 220 billion barrels still to be exploited, at a cost as low as US$1 a barrel; a cluster of sprawling military bases; the largest embassy/fortress-by-the-Tigris in the world; and the indispensable client regime.
In sum: a "Coalition of the Drilling" secured by the Pentagon’s Long War apparatus. It’s up to ancient and proud Baghdad to spoil the party. Baghdad survived and buried Hulagu. Baghdad survived and buried Tamerlan. Baghdad may as well survive and bury George W Bush.