The new Bush strategy: Secure Baghdad and attack Iran

The new Bush strategy: Secure Baghdad and attack Iran

Turkish participation is key, but at what cost and at whose expense?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

By Prof. Dlawer Ala’Aldeen

All is not going well in Iraq or Middle East. Time and patience are running out on President George W. Bush, and he is running out of patience with Iran and Iranian proxies in Iraq. Defeat is “not an option”, but going for broke is. Mr Bush knows that Iraq is beyond salvage and its civil war is beyond reversal by US. If so, why ask for more money, more troops and more sacrifice. The answer is, Iran.

Sending more US troops to Baghdad, targeting pro-Iranian Jaysh Al-Mahdi and hunting down Iranian agents, all add up to one thing: a pre-war preparation aimed at securing the capital (against a coup d’état) before attacking Iran.

Having effectively gift-wrapped Iraq for Iran, Mr Bush allowed the lead member of “axis of evil” to control the state and streets of Iraq. Thanks to Iran’s cunning and expertly executed plans, the Bush doctrine and the neocons’ democratisation crusade in the Middle East, are virtually dead. Potentially, this could mark the beginning of the end of an empire.

Old strategies and new

Mr Bush’s old strategy for securing Iraq relied heavily on the growth of Iraqi Army and police, patriotism of Iraqi politicians and competence of a democratically elected Government in Baghdad. Not surprisingly, he harvested disappointment on all accounts. His new, largely military, strategy relies on the presence of a 154,000 strong US troops, and the cooperation of Mr Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, to turn the US fortunes. Mr Bush is up for another big disappointment, if securing Iraq is indeed the object as he claims.

Military options have been tried at exhaustion in Iraq, and failed. In 2005, for example, over 160,000 US soldiers failed to secure Iraq against a handful of Sunni Arab terrorists. That was before the “civil war”. This time, an even smaller US troop is asked to achieve miracles against the combined Sunni and Shiite extremists who are engaged in unprecedented sectarian killings.

As for Maliki to deliver on promises, and go against his power-base, is paradoxical and would constitute yet another miracle. Muqtada Sadr’s popular militia (Jeysh Al-Mahdi) is over 60,000 strong, represented in the Iraqi Parliament by 32 MPs, has 6 ministers in the Government, and has infiltrated the suppressive state machinery. Without Muqtada, Maliki would not be or remain a Prime Minister. Furthermore, Mailiki commands no control over his cabinet and the state army, police or intelligence. The self-interested Ministers show no loyalty to the Government, or the country for that matter. In short, there is no Government in Iraq and there never will be, and forcing one into existence will lead to even greater disappointment. And Mr Bush should know this better.

Drawing the plan of attack

Iran has been in Mr Bush's bad books for some time, long before its inauguration as a member of the "axis of evil" in 2002. Israel promoted Iran from an “unfriendly” to a “hostile” country in 2005, particularly after the anti-Semitic rhetoric of President Ahmadinajad, who denied the holocaust and threatened to wipe out Israel from the map. This, now, is a matter of life and death for Israel.

In early 2005, Ariel Sharon and Mr Bush finalised a “plan of attack” on Iran, but neither were ready. That year, the Iraqis were busy formulating, and voting for, a democratic constitution. In 2006, they were left to form their first legitimate, democratically elected, Government. Over-optimistically, Bush hoped that elections will enhance Iraqi Shiite politicians’ independence from Iran, ignoring the fact that almost all the leading Iraqi politicians, including the Sunnis, had for decades sought refuge in Iran (and/or Syria) and were politically, financially and militarily aided by the Iranian establishment. Expectedly, the reverse of Mr Bush’s anticipations occurred, and Iranian interventions guaranteed the exponential escalation of the civil war. Indeed, by 2007, all was lost in Iraq.

In 2005, Israel was not ready either. Iranian fire was physically too close to Israel. Hezbollah of Lebanon and Hamas of Palestine are considered Iran’s proxies and would have been capable of inflicting fatal blows to Israel. They had to be neutralised first, directly or indirectly. And so they were. Israel waged an all out war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, while Hamas has been kept busy struggling for survival.

The plan in action

Along with his overall Iraq strategy, President Bush announced on January 10th that he had ordered another aircraft carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf, thereby stirring pro-war sentiments in the US. His, and Israeli, war of words against Iran have become increasingly hostile and specific. A steady pre-war propaganda blitz is now increasingly palpable and, a joint US-Israeli anti-Iranian lobby is on the offensive.

Reports suggest that US Special Forces, helped by exiles, are already engaged in operations in Iran’s Khuzestan for data collection and liaison with internal opposition. US attack aircrafts have been sent to Turkey and other countries on Iran's borders. US troops, warships and Patriot anti-missile missile batteries are spread all over the Arab side of the Persian Gulf coast. Thus, by the time the second Mediterranean-based aircraft carrier joins the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf, the President would be ready for an all out attack. Meanwhile, he is on the look out for a misstep by Iran to trigger, albeit prematurely, a full blown war.

The attack on Iran is likely to be entirely air based, but not limited to a short, sharp surgical strike. Instead, Bush will launch a profound campaign of shock and awe, not dissimilar to that of Iraq, designed to paralyse Iran beyond self-defence. Using aircrafts, missiles and powerful bunker-busting ordnance, Iran’s atomic, military, Air Force, navy, telecommunication and major economic (except oil) infrastructure will be targeted. Any thing less, would be inadequate and may leave Iran injured but capable of reprisal.

According to intelligence sources, the US would let the Israelis take a lead role in attacking Iran's nuclear facilities (as an act of pre-emptive self defence), followed by US intervention. This will defuse Democrat’s opposition and bypass the niceties of Congressional and United Nations endorsement of the war. Once the US forces are committed to a new conflict, the Democrats will find it politically impossible to interfere or oppose it while boiling hot.

The aftermath

A sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate President Ahmadinajad and the religious leadership, and may lead the public to rise up against both the US and Iranian rulers. It will not lead to a total collapse of the Government, as the neoconservatives would hope. Iranian Islamic fundamentalism has thrived on poverty, war and crisis. That said, the regime is not invulnerable. Its popular support, economic power and former inner cohesion have been severely weakened by corruption, wars, internal divisions and economic hardship. Imam Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, has publicly criticized the President's statements about Iran's nuclear program and his government's failure to stop inflation in Iran. Other leading politicians are adding to the pressure on Ahmadinajad, who recently opened the door for non-aligned visitors to inspect his nuclear installations.

An attack on Iran will inflame the Near, Middle and Far East, as well as Muslims and anti-war non-Muslims every where. The world will be polarised, and violent expressions of anger would be expected. Bush will dismiss war critics as pro-terrorist. Pro-Iranian Shiites or alienated Arab and Sunni extremists will go violent in the immediate aftermath, but this would be expected, catered for by friendly Governments and will not bother the US. The worst that can happen to the US is to have its soldiers in Iraq targeted. This, however, is the least of Mr Bush’s worries. Bigger war concerns that he has catered for in his current strategy will include: 1) protecting Baghdad’s Green zone where his Embassy and Iraqi Government reside, for which he has dedicated an extra 20,000 US soldiers; 2) protecting Israel and Gulf Arab countries, for whom he has provided anti-missile batteries; 3) Iran’s use of weapons of mass destruction, which he would try to prevent by threatening Iran with worse; 4) avoiding a world economic crisis arising from the transient blockage of the Persian Gulf, which will be unavoidable but bearable. There will be many more colossal consequences of a war of this magnitude, the predictions on which is outside the scope of this article.

Coalition of the willing

Based on previous experience and current global approval rate, Mr Bush is unlikely to seek or secure world wide support for his action. However, the cooperation of key strategic countries, such as those surrounding Iran, would be required. He will need to offer plenty of carrots (and sticks) to Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Afghani and Pakistani Governments and war lords. Intriguingly, these multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries have complex internal security problems, and divergent priorities that are in conflict with one other and with those of USA. These add to the enormity of the task, and require aggressive but sophisticated diplomatic skills.

Turks, Kurds and the US dilemma

Turkey’s collaboration is key to the success of any US-Israeli attack on the geographically wide-spread Iranian targets. Turkish leaders will play tough, making the most of this round and try to make up for their 2003 own goal, when they denied the US military access into Northern Iraq. This time they will offer support and access to land and air. In return they expect US collaboration to exterminate Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Further, they would go as far as denying the Iraqi Kurds a constitutional right to govern their oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

For the US, it would be a mistake to alienate the Kurds, America’s most powerful and strategic allies inside Iraq, or offer them as scapegoats to Turkey. Regionally, the Kurds are surrounded by hostile neighbours, and have lived under constant Turkish, Iranian and pre-2003 Iraqi threats. Aware of their limitations, and having previously paid heavy prices for other people’s wars, the Kurds are being extra careful and would rather stay out of major regional conflicts.

High profile US and Israeli political and intelligence coordinators have been active in Turkey, bringing back memory of the shameless collaboration between the CIA, Mussed and their Turkish counterpart for kidnapping Abdulla Ocalan, the PKK leader who is now in a Turkish jail. Gen. Joseph W. Ralston of US has been conveying Turkish messages pressures to Masud and Nechirvan Barzani, President and Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, respectively. Their negotiations remain a secret but, predictably, centre round Turkish intentions to bombard Qandil, the stronghold of PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. Worse still, Ralston might be brokering a deal for the Turks to invade Iraqi Kurdistan to go after the PKK fighters. However, agreeing a deal that would guarantee a win-lose outcome in favour of the Kurd’s arch enemy, would cost the Kurdish leaders dearly. Their cooperation with a hostile neighbour, who has done little to win the Kurd’s trust and good will, would be suicidal.

Senior British diplomats are also lobbying in Kurdistan, among officials and politicians. Their efforts focus on convincing (and adding pressure on) the Kurds for a long delay in implementing the 140th clause of the Iraqi constitution. The clause relates to holding a referendum on future of Kirkuk, which Turkey fears will strengthen the hand of the Kurds and may lead to their ultimate independence. It is only too obvious that the UK Government is secretly engaged lobbying, and brokering deals, on behalf of Turkey at the expense of the Kurds. Interestingly, none of the lobbyists have offered any credible win-win alternatives. Kirkuk is now the core, and symbol, of the Kurdish struggle in Iraq. No Kurdish leader would brave such an irresponsible compromise and expect to survive politically, or get away with it.

Handling PKK

The PKK represents a hugely popular movement in Northern (Turkey’s) Kurdistan. Turkey’s century-long state terror, and 24 year-long systematic anti-PKK military campaign, have done little to weaken the resolve of the 20 million Northern Kurds in their fight for basic human rights. An air strike on a handful of fighters on an isolated Iraqi mountain would be a total waste of exercise, fuel further hatred and complicate future Kurdish-Turkish-US relations. By alignment with Turkey, the US will loose moral high ground and the Kurd’s goodwill. The PKK, on the other hand, will win sympathy, support and refuge. It is highly likely that the well-connected PKK Peshmarga fighters would suffer minimal damage as a result of air or ground attack on Qandil. They would disseminate amongst the 6 million Iraqi Kurds, who would happily accommodate them (encouraged by their leaders or not).

The US, British and Israel lobbyists should be aiming at win-win situations. Ideally, the US should help the elected Turkish politicians to break free from the unaccountable and dictatorial Army Generals. The two have diverging agenda. The former is trusted with delivering on election pledges, including democracy, prosperity, EU membership and a political solution to the Kurdish issue. The Army, on the other hand, is a state-within-state, thrives on corruption, extremism, violence and wars. Unaided, the Turkish politicians are incapable of confronting Army Generals, who approach the Kurdish issue purely from a security point of view. For as long as this remains so, Turkey will suffer on-going political, economic and security instability.

Kurdish choices

The de facto state of Iraqi Kurdistan is now a reality and the Kurds believe they can contribute to bringing peace, stability and prosperity to the region. They have access to natural wealth and are willing to spend their fortune (billions) on building a modern and civilised country. Turkey is in a unique position to take advantage of these aspirations. Turkish private firms have demonstrated their strong desire to foster such mutually rewarding bridges. Unlike their Government, they have communicated directly to the Kurdish leaders.

Turkey’s on-going animosity, and further aggressive actions, will inevitably force the Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Government, into seeking alternatives. Syria, a desperate neighbour, would be an obvious one. A commercial super-highway, linking Kurdistan to the Mediterranean via Syria would be a secure and cost-effective short-cut. It will bring Syria out of its isolation and into economic prosperity.


Last week, Turkey’s foreign Minister Abdullah Gul sought Washington's support to “curb PKK activity” and to “thwart Iraqi Kurdistan's ambitions” to regain Kirkuk. The U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged her Turkish counterpart not to take military action against PKK in Iraq, and the US official line on Kirkuk is that it is a matter for the Iraqis to deal with, internally, as per the adopted constitution. Whereas the British lobbing efforts against the Kurd’s strategic interests is alarming.

To what extent the Turkish, Kurdish and US agenda are reconcilable, and whether the US can find win-win scenarios for all, is not obvious. To what extent public statements and secret commitments mirror each other, is also unknown. Will the Kurdish leaders succumb to pressure, trust the US verbal reassurances on Kirkuk, and trust that they will not be betrayed again, only time will tell. Can the US afford to lose their best allies in Iraq, and thereby lose the entire war? I would say not.