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[casi] No US escape from Iraq trap

Nov 12, 2003

No US escape from Iraq trap

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - With every passing week, the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq
becomes more testing for the United States as the respective guerrilla wars
in those countries escalate, yet Washington has very different approaches to
dealing with them.

In Afghanistan, where the resurgent Taliban continue to make gains, the US
appears to be committed to an exit strategy that would allow it to pull out
its troops as soon as possible, provided that it could do so without too
much loss of face. In Iraq, however, despite mounting casualties, Washington
shows no signs of a possible retreat, whatever the cost in both lives and

Both Afghanistan and Iraq were attacked to effect regime change. The
Taliban, in the case of Afghanistan, were targeted as they openly hosted and
supported Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda, responsible for the September 11
attacks on the US and other terror acts. In Iraq, meanwhile, it was seen as
crucial to remove Saddam Hussein and establish a pliant government as part
of a broader strategy of remodeling the Middle East to US designs, the
spurious charges of weapons of mass destruction against Saddam

And in both cases the US military was spectacularly successful, quickly
driving the targets from power. And in both countries, the resistance
movement has proved far tougher than expected. Yet the responses in
Washington have been very different.

According to sources in the European intelligence apparatus who spoke to
Asia Times Online, the US will continue its efforts to raise more foreign
troops to help out in Iraq, or send more of its own if it has to. The target
is to man every locality and neighborhood with soldiers to literally squeeze
out the guerrillas, and at the same time mount blanket search and seize
operations to track down hidden arms caches. This will continue until the
"war" is finally won.

In Afghanistan, though, as far as the US is concerned, the war has already
been won. The Taliban have been "punished" for harboring al-Qaeda, and that
network has now been severely disrupted. All that remains is to get out, as
the US has little interest in what happens to the country next. As such, it
is actively engaged in discussions with so-called "moderate" Taliban to
involve them in the Kabul government, as this could result in bringing
stability to the country, and allow the US to depart gracefully.

According to the latest information, former Taliban minister Abdul Wakeel
Mutawakil, with US support, is preparing to establish a political party to
participate in mainstream national politics, and through which the religious
segment of the country's Pashtuns would be given strong representation in
the capital.

However, the Taliban do not appear to be about to split in any major way.
Indeed, they continue to regroup and gain footholds in the country, which is
a first in the history of Afghanistan as all former rulers have ended up
slain or in exile. Taliban chief Mullah Omar is very much alive and
orchestrating the resistance. This is what is stopping the US from getting
out at present, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that in the
not too distant future the US will have to cut a deal with Mullah Omar.

In Iraq, though, the US's goals go far beyond simple regime change. The US
set its feet in Iraq for multiple inter-linked reasons. These include oil -
to break the monopoly of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
as a tool to effect change in the economic and political dynamics of the
whole Middle East, forcing monarchs and dictators to introduce democratic
reforms which in turn would help curb extremist trends and roll back the
Islamic revolution of Iran and the Ba'athist doctrines of Syria.

However, perhaps the US did not anticipate what a blend of Ba'athist
doctrines and bin Laden rhetoric has done to Iraqi and Syrian societies in
the post-September 11 environment. This correspondent has personally
witnessed the almost indoctrination-like effect of the philosophies of
Michel Aflaq (a Syrian Christian - born 1910 - who founded the Arab Ba'ath
Party) on Iraqi society. Aflaq introduced the idea of Arab resurgence and
dominance in which he emphasized that Islam should be the basis of
unification of Arab societies, and called the Jews the number one enemy.

These theories were embraced by Saddam and his Ba'ath Party in Iraq. Saddam
in fact was a favorite of Aflaq, who was instrumental in having Saddam
elevated in the party hierarchy, from where he was able to take full power.
Saddam consistently played the anti-Jews and anti-communist cards, and
promoted a special brand of Islam that only represents Arabs.

After September 11, the Ba'athist societies of Syria and Iraq saw the
emergence of a truce between Islamists and the Ba'athists, who had
previously been arch rivals. It was for this reason that this correspondent
predicted before the Iraqi war the emergence of a third force in Iraq in the
shape of the Muslim Brotherhood (A 'third force' awaits US in Iraq - March
1) once the Ba'ath regime was eliminated. This has happened, in the form of
the Hizbul Islami al-Iraqi (Islamic Party of Iraq), which sprouted in Mosul
in the north and spread rapidly. Under Saddam, all literature of the Muslim
Brotherhood was banned, even for reference purposes.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest Islamist group in the Arab world,
founded as a religious and political organization in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan
al-Banna in opposition to secular tendencies in Islamic nations and in
search of a return to the original precepts of the Koran.

It grew rapidly, establishing an educational, economic, military and
political infrastructure in Egypt and then in other countries, such as
Syria, Sudan and Arab nations, where it exists largely as a clandestine but
militant group, marked by its rejection of Western influences.

This new alliance of two theories - Ba'athist and Islamist as voiced by the
Muslim Brotherhood - is the most powerful stumbling block to the US
occupation of Iraq, as well as its designs on the region, where the US will
meet resistance from Shi'ite Iran, Salafi (Wahhabi) threats in Saudi Arabia
and Ba'athist and militant threats in Syria.

These forces have the potential to grow side-by-side with US influence in
the region, and challenge its designs as well as its strategic interests. It
is for this reason that the decision-makers in Washington are convinced that
they have to make Iraq a decisive battlefield, while in Afghanistan they can
afford to simply walk away.

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