Spells Oil & Trouble
By Andrew McKillop
The Hawks Fly Soft and Sing Low
Richard Perle, interviewed in March 2013 on US National Public Radio on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion led by the US had to backpedal on his “convictions”. A renowned “war hawk”, he was close to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003 and at that time was also chairman of the Pentagon's advisory committee, the Defense Policy Board. In 2013 when asked whether the Iraq invasion that he pushed was worth it, he replied: “I've got to say that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can't a decade later go back and say, well, we shouldn't have done that”.
Eleven years later, you can, and oil only makes the outlook worse. January 2014 has al-Qaeda in control of the heavily symbolic city of Falludja with a population of about 300 000, much of the local Anbar Province, and most of the city of Ramadi further to the west. The heavily-opposed and destabilized, shia-majority Baghdad federal government headed by Nouri al-Maliki has called on both Iran and the US to push out the sunni fundamentalist rebels, and both have replied yes. Iran, 5 January, said that it will certainly supply arms and equipment and may even supply ground troops. US Secretary of State John F. Kerry, speaking in Beirut, 5 January said that the United States is ready to help Iraq in any way possible in its offensive to wrest control of the two cities from insurgents, but he made it clear that no American troops would be sent to Iraq.
In 2003, massive ground-based and aerial attacks on Falludja by the US led to it to becoming a kind of “Guernica” symbol of a sacrificed city. And like the original in Spain during the 1930s civil war, the fighting in Falludja in 2014 is due to and draws in a huge range of fighters. Back in 2003, the straight use of massive force by the US, leaving a disputed number of opposing Iraqi fighters and civilians dead, and a totally devastated city, ended the Falludja uprising. The “hawks” like Richard Perle could congratulate themselves on the outcome, but this time it is not possible.
Oil and Civil War
The main difference is that today, the range of fighters is totally international again reminding us of the Spanish civil war. This quickly became a theater of international conflict, drawing in the then USSR, Nazi Germany, Italian Fascists, Portuguese Fascists and a range of leftwing socialist groups from all over Europe, and beyond, loosely called the International Brigade.
The Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 was certainly a curtain-raiser for World War II, leaving a large stock of “unfinished business” behind. It encouraged Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy into believing they possessed the best military equipment and the right tactics for urban-based war, including the tactic of “blitzkrieg”.
Sunni fundamentalist insurgents aided by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, fighting the al-Maliki government aided by both Iran and the US are loosely grouped under Islamic banners and slogans, especially ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and ISIS (which also claims Jerusalem). While they are surely weapons-lean, and are forced to rely on the trusty AK47 Kalashnikov, grenade launchers often 25 years old, hand held explosives and pyrotechnic munitions, and a small but critical amount of high-tech weaponry including modern infantry rocket launchers, they are sure and certain they possess the tactics and strategy which will give them total victory. They have the numbers and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have the petrodollars to pay them, and their weapons.
This is presently an urban-based insurgency. As the US found in 2003, it took massive coordinated military force including air attack on a daily basis to overcome “the street fighters”. Al-Maliki's government and its US-trained and -equipped army are unlikely to win when fighting sizeable groups of highly-motivated sufficiently-armed insurgents, explaining their total inability to destroy the Kurdistan independence movement, and its highly trained and experienced Peshmerga and PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan) insurgent fighters, in the north. While Kurdistan secession has become a “fait accompli” and Baghdad has effectively abandoned any plans to retake the territory by force and its estimated 50 or 60 billion barrels of oil reserves the threat it faces this time, in the “heartland of Iraq” less than 100 kilometres from Baghdad, cannot be ignored. The southern oilfields are close!
Civil War Means What It Says
As in 2007 and the run-up to the “surge”, when US troop levels in Iraq ran at 132 000 men, government officials in Anbar province are hastily meeting tribal leaders to urge them to mount their own militias to repel al Qaeda and linked militants. The government hope is that a home-made remake of the US surge is possible, but al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been steadily tightening its grip in the vast Anbar province in recent months in a bid to create a Sunni Muslim fundamentalist state.
Its stated intention is joining this “liberated state” with regions of southern and eastern Syria already under ISIL and ISIS control.
Also as in the years preceding the US surge, dispute and armed conflict at local tribal level in central Iraq is of major significance due to many tribal leaders joining the Islamic militants to gain leverage with the Baghdad government for their own local demands, covering a huge range of issues from water rights to building permits and realty prices. Others have joined with the al-Maliki government. This is civil war at grass-roots level and the numbers of fighters will grow as the affected areas grow.
In 2003 the fatal mix of innocence, ignorance and arrogance driving “hawks” like Perle and Paul Wolfowitz enabled them to focus “the oil issue” and mostly forget all others. The local dictator Saddam Hussein had reached the end of his useful shelf life, and Iraq's oil industry was failing. Removal of the dictator seemed firstly feasible, and secondly oil-positive, but experience in the Arab world since 2011 and the Arab Spring revolt shows that when western-backed dictators fall, civil war is the only logical sequel, and the oil industry is usually a collateral damage victim.
Experience in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen is already conclusive when local dictators fall this spells bad news for the oil industry, because civil war is the logical result.
Explaining the attitude and the approach of “hawks” like Perle could include their disinterest in, ignorance of the region's huge changes since 1945. Their world view is “classic” and the region's nation states must be preserved if only to keep the oil flowing. Regional mega change like its more-than-tripling of population since the 1950s passes above their heads. Back in February 1945, to be sure, things were easier.
Following the Yalta Conference with Stalin and Churchill, US President Roosevelt could make a quick stop on his way back home, to see King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia on a US destroyer moored in the Suez Canal. In almost no time he could persuade Ibn Saud to not too violently oppose Jewish immigration to Palestine and above all swap US military aid for the still-existing US military base at Dhahran, and be assured Saudi Arabia would raise its oil output with help from US oil companies and make a large use of dollars for its oil trade.
Regional War Does Not Need Oil
Today's Middle East, especially post Arab Spring does not work that way. Even a rapid look at the region's history, only during the last 25 years, shows that oil and oil wealth are only two, often minor parts of the internal and regional, and domestic political and ethnic conflict-generating jigsaw, framework and system. This region like almost all of postcolonial Africa has inbuilt layers of conflict inside its regional layer cake and they are stacked high.
This is certainly the biggest danger for external meddlers, whether they call themselves “Great Powers” or not. They ignore the real world at their peril.
Those were the days!
Roosevelt meets Ibn Saud on the USS Quincy, 1945 Source/ Crethiplethi. com
Trying to make “the oil issue” fit the creation and history of the State of Israel, for example, is a difficult task. Trying to explain the collapse of Ottoman power as only due to western powers seeking major global reach in the region, for oil, is also difficult. The same applies to the Syrian civil war. Attempts at fitting an oil handle have to make do with a very hypothetical and extreme high cost gas pipeline crossing Syria to Europe from Qatar and Saudi Arabia or from Iraq and Iran. The list goes on Egypt's near civil war has little connection to “the oil issue” except to accelerate the decline of Egypt's oil output. The same applies to Tunisia. In Yemen, for sure, oil plays a civil war-intensifying role, like it does in Iraq and Libya, but its primary role in all cases is a source of wealth to buy arms and munitions and recruit mercenaries.
The major problem for war hawk strategists of the west is the region's civil war-generating process and system does not need oil fuel. It only runs faster and more furious, when oil is thrown on the already smoldering fires of region-wide civil war.
Iraq's Liberation War
For war hawks like Perle or Wolfowitz the sack of Baghdad in 2003, flooring the local tyrant and his larger-than-life iron statue was a liberation war. But long before he was executed in 2006 following a kangaroo trial, Iraq's Saddam Hussein many times explained that “L'etat c'est moi”, a one-liner dating from the early 19th century dictator, Napoleon of France.
Saddam was Iraq. The dictator gone, the state goes, also.
To a large extent that was also the case for Gaddafi of Libya, Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunisia. Once the dictator is gone, civil war is the only possible logical sequel. Imagining the opposite can be called whimsical or hopeful — but the right words are plain stupid. Almost certainly, but at a date we can never know, these local dictators would have been overthrown by pure-domestic opposition forces. History therefore in fact was fast-forwarded right across the region, from 2011 at latest. The bottom line is the state no longer exists, and civil war will continue.
Iraq's liberation war (for al-Qaeda) has to be seen for what it is, a Spanish-type civil war with massive international participation, and possible sequels. Syria is the same. Egypt can become so, rapidly. Western obsession with the second in line in public and political anguish after oil supplies the al Qaeda issue has to be seen as being the same wrongheaded refusal to understand regional, and even world historical, social, political, and economic change and dynamics.
Al Qaeda long ago ceased being a tight, structured, coherent movement and become what it is today an International Brigade of young mercenaries and Islamic extremists comparable with the left wing intellectuals and unionists who fought in the Spanish civil war 75 years ago. Tens of thousands of non-Syrian fighters are operating in Syria today. They can move into Iraq in similar numbers within at most weeks, from the right signal. The “pan Kurdish” uprising can easily spread from Lebanon in the west to Iran in the east. The Iraq civil war can easily spillover to the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia.
This sets the likely emerging scene a widespread or “total civil war” in the region, driven by a layer cake of issues, including the shia-sunni divide, of course. And by oil, also of course.
Iraq's civil war is not the same thing as a liberation war, and is being fought in all Iraq's cities, already today and relentlessly, using car bombs as the favored weapon and tactic. Al-Qaeda, which was already present and opposing the US invasion, and claimed it was fighting a liberation war, is only a facet in the regional civil war, which in 2014 in Iraq, affects wide regions outside the cities, where previous conflict was low.
The same civil war-extending process or system is likely already in place, in Libya and Egypt, and is heavily present in Syria.
For classic-minded war hawks such as Richard Perle this real threat not just to oil but to the existence of nation states in the region could be a panic signal for all out war, by the west, to aid and prop the failing regimes of the region. This will be as wrongheaded as the previous failed policy and war strategies used in the region. One “hawk solution” we could surmise, would be an attempt at recreating “stable dictatorships” on the old 1945 model, Humpty Dumpty style.
Each time, the time that buys will be shorter. Each time the civil war will resume but with more fighters and more weapons. The proof is massive. There are no exceptions. Iraq's civil war is therefore, almost certainly, the next stage in the post-Arab Spring process of civil war becoming a necessary and certain stage in the total change of the region. Its potential for spreading everywhere in the region, attaining complete regional coverage, has to be seen as very high.
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