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Recent Wikileaks release paints a troubling picture of Iraq

BY STEFFEN SCHMIDT - GUEST OPINION | NOVEMBER 03, 2010 7:30 AM

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The truth is, nothing about the Iraq war has turned out well, as the 391,832 classified documents recently released by WikiLeaks prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. The credibility is impeccable because these are in the words of the United States military on the ground, in battle. Here is a quick summary of what has been confirmed, from the Los Angeles Times.

“Americans carelessly opened fire at checkpoints when Iraqis failed to stop. Militias and insurgents roamed the streets, randomly killing members of the other sect. Iraqi security forces rounded up suspects at will and tortured them. Iran infiltrated, armed, and influenced the Shiite Muslim militias responsible for thousands of the deaths.”

Soon after the war started, we discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction (none we could find, at least). Saddam Hussein needed to pump that myth up as protection against his Iranian enemy, which was a big military threat.

Then Bush and Cheney said, “Well, but Saddam was a terrible man and we got rid of him, torture, violence, and brought democracy to Iraq.” Documents now show a country in which torture, instability, violence, and brutality are probably as bad as under Saddam, and the country is in ruins.

The use of private contractors has also proven to be a catastrophic failure because they are not in the chain of command, and it looks like they were given free rein to do whatever they wanted.

Many of us argued from day one (you can check out the archives of my comments on WOI radio, KASI radio, and in my writings) that Iraq was not a nation but a loose collection of Kurds, Shiites, Sunni, and other groups which were held together with the glue of blood and threats by Saddam.

The long-term viability of a single, unified, and “democratic” Iraq seems more remote today than ever in the seven-plus years the U.S. coalition and the Iraqi people have been expending blood, sweat, tears, tragedy, and coin.

What’s disturbing is the 680 civilians that were killed by U.S. forces after failing to stop at roadblocks. Of course, U.S. forces, under constant attack, were quick at the trigger. We put them in that position. The soldiers were at war. The politicians put them there.

It is a war where the enemy fights asymmetrically and anyone could be a combatant — the old woman walking by, the kid on a bicycle, the street vendor. It’s like Vietnam, only to the nth power.

But for the people of Iraq and the relatives of these folks, Americans are not likely to win their hearts and minds — which, in the end, is hugely important if Iraq is to be a friendly and stable place.

The U.S. military knew a great deal more about the scale of the sectarian killings and abuses by the Iraq security forces. U.S. forces largely ignored this brutality. This is a deadly blow to the moral high ground and the trust the U.S. needs from the Iraqi people as we try to stabilize that country, train the military and police, and slowly leave.

Iraqis have had little reason to hope that an American officer or soldier will intercede on their behalf when Iraqi security forces rape, torture, whip, behead, and execute them. That means the only way an Iraqi can be safe is to come under the protection of their own sectarian militia — their own people; their “tribe.”

I have studied this conflict in great detail, and my conclusion, sadly, is that there is almost no hope for a political solution for a unified Iraq.

When politicians say that we need to continue to sustain or increase American troop and financial expenditures in these difficult places, I suggest they look at the wreckage we have brought. Maybe a change in direction is in order.

Steffen Schmidt is a professor of political science and public policy at Iowa State University. A version of this column first appeared on insideriowa.com, where Schmidt serves as chief political and international correspondent.


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