Friday, December 28, 2007

Ten Top Myths about Iraq in 2007

By Juan Cole

Juan R. I. Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. Cole commands Arabic, Persian and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam, and lived in a number of places in the Muslim world for extended periods of time.

For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context.

Cole's most recent book is Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (2007). An earlier book was his Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi`ite Islam (2002). A complete Cole bibliography can be found here.

Cole's daily blog is the renown Informed Comment and he also writes a column for Salon. His Top Ten Myths about Iraq are taken from Informed Comment:

  • Myth 10: The US public no longer sees Iraq as a central issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.
    Fact: In a recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll, Iraq and the economy were virtually tied among voters nationally, with nearly a quarter of voters in each case saying it was their number one issue. The economy had become more important to them than in previous months (in November only 14% said it was their most pressing concern), but Iraq still rivals it as an issue!
  • Myth 9: There have been steps toward religious and political reconciliation in Iraq in 2007.
    Fact: The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has for the moment lost the support of the Sunni Arabs in parliament. The Sunnis in his cabinet have resigned. Even some Shiite parties have abandoned the government. Sunni Arabs, who are aware that under his government Sunnis have largely been ethnically cleansed from Baghdad, see al-Maliki as a sectarian politician uninterested in the welfare of Sunnis.
  • Myth 8: The US troop surge stopped the civil war that had been raging between Sunni Arabs and Shiites in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
    Fact: The civil war in Baghdad escalated during the US troop escalation. Between January, 2007, and July, 2007, Baghdad went from 65% Shiite to 75% Shiite. UN polling among Iraqi refugees in Syria suggests that 78% are from Baghdad and that nearly a million refugees relocated to Syria from Iraq in 2007 alone. This data suggests that over 700,000 residents of Baghdad have fled this city of 6 million during the US 'surge,' or more than 10 percent of the capital's population. Among the primary effects of the 'surge' has been to turn Baghdad into an overwhelmingly Shiite city and to displace hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the capital.
  • Myth 7: Iran was supplying explosively formed projectiles (a deadly form of roadside bomb) to Salafi Jihadi (radical Sunni) guerrilla groups in Iraq.
    Fact: Iran has not been proved to have sent weapons to any Iraqi guerrillas at all. It certainly would not send weapons to those who have a raging hostility toward Shiites. (Iran may have supplied war materiel to its client, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq (ISCI), which was then sold off from warehouses because of graft, going on the arms market and being bought by guerrillas and militiamen.
  • Myth 6: The US overthrow of the Baath regime and military occupation of Iraq has helped liberate Iraqi women.
    Fact: Iraqi women have suffered significant reversals of status, ability to circulate freely, and economic situation under the Bush administration.
  • Myth 5: Some progress has been made by the Iraqi government in meeting the "benchmarks" worked out with the Bush administration.
    Fact: in the words of Democratic Senator Carl Levin, "Those legislative benchmarks include approving a hydrocarbon law, approving a debaathification law, completing the work of a constitutional review committee, and holding provincial elections. Those commitments, made 1 1/2 years ago, which were to have been completed by January of 2007, have not yet been kept by the Iraqi political leaders despite the breathing space the surge has provided."
  • Myth 4: The Sunni Arab "Awakening Councils," who are on the US payroll, are reconciling with the Shiite government of PM Nuri al-Maliki even as they take on al-Qaeda remnants.
    Fact: In interviews with the Western press, Awakening Council tribesmen often speak of attacking the Shiites after they have polished off al-Qaeda. A major pollster working in Iraq observed, Most of the recent survey results he has seen about political reconciliation, Warshaw said, are ". . . more about [Iraqis] reconciling with the United States within their own particular territory, like in Anbar. . . . But it doesn't say anything about how Sunni groups feel about Shiite groups in Baghdad. . . . In Iraq, I just don't hear statements that come from any of the Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish groups that say 'We recognize that we need to share power with the others, that we can't truly dominate.' The polling shows that "the Iraqi government has still made no significant progress toward its fundamental goal of national reconciliation."
  • Myth 3: The Iraqi north is relatively quiet and a site of economic growth.
    Fact: The subterranean battle among Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs for control of the oil-rich Kirkuk province makes the Iraqi north a political mine field. Kurdistan now also hosts the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas that sneak over the border and kill Turkish troops. The north is so unstable that the Iraqi north is now undergoing regular bombing raids from Turkey.
  • Myth 2: Iraq has been "calm" in fall of 2007 and the Iraqi public, despite some grumbling, is not eager for the US to depart.
    Fact: in the past 6 weeks, there have been an average of 600 attacks a month, or 20 a day, which has held steady since the beginning of November. About 600 civilians are being killed in direct political violence per month, but that number excludes deaths of soldiers and police. Across the board, Iraqis believe that their conflicts are mainly caused by the US military presence and they are eager for it to end.
  • Myth 1: The reduction in violence in Iraq is mostly because of the escalation in the number of US troops, or "surge."
    Fact: Although violence has been reduced in Iraq, much of the reduction did not take place because of US troop activity. Guerrilla attacks in al-Anbar Province were reduced from 400 a week to 100 a week between July, 2006 and July, 2007. But there was no significant US troop escalation in al-Anbar. Likewise, attacks on British troops in Basra have declined precipitously since they were moved out to the airport away from population centers. But this change had nothing to do with US troops.
But, as one of Cole's readers comments, the biggest of all-time myths about Mesopotamia is that Iraq was even partially responsible for the 9-11 attacks.

Iowa Republicans Are Concerned

Friday is Grand Ol’ Party Day

When I do my weekly radar scan for redeemable Republicans, I usually only turn up retiring or retired office holders. Such is the case in Iowa.

On a recent ice-swept morning, a group of self-described moderate Republicans met in a hotel convention room. About 60 people attended a the meeting convened by former Iowa Lt. Gov. Joy Corning, who served eight years under Gov. Terry Branstad until Democrats took over the governor's office in 1999. Their concerns had been heightened by a Republican presidential primary campaign that finds most of the leading candidates advocating a conservative social agenda. There, Corning is quoted as saying
Our goal is to get traditional centrist moderate Republicans to get to the caucus and make their voices heard. The moderates who are out there, they've been rather quiet for a few years. Many of them have dropped out of the party or become independents, and so this is an effort to regroup and encourage people to be active.
Christine Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor and former Bush Cabinet member who now leads the Republican Leadership Council, observed,
It means building the farm team and taking back the word 'Republican' to say we don't have to be the way we are perceived now at the national level, as a mean-spirited narrow-minded litmus-test party.

We can be moderate, conservative, liberal as long as we agree on the basic fundamental principles that make us Republicans. You can disagree with someone and not hate them. That's where we need to get, so that we can have the kind of campaigns at the federal level that actually talk about the important issues and try to solve them instead of trying to outflank the other person -- 'I'm more conservative than you are.'
Iowa resembles Illinois, where Republicans were a tighter organization until losing the governor's office in 2002 after a quarter-century of GOP chief executives. Chuck Laudner, executive director of the Iowa GOP, explained that his party was beset with a political free-for-all:
The governor was the rudder of our Republican Party. Without that, we've fractured up a little bit.

We've all fractured up, and everybody's gone and done their own thing. We've got to change the mind-set and bring everybody back in.
Former Congressman Greg Ganske, who is backing Sen. John McCain of Arizona, acknowledged that the presidential contest leaves some Iowa Republicans cold:
Probably all the people who are here are fiscal conservatives. We haven't been real happy with what has been going on with the federal budget and our deficits, our balance of trade, things like that. We have an unpopular war going on started by a Republican president, so I think it's fair to say there's less enthusiasm right now.
Redeemable Republicans’ taking stock is way overdue.