Today, Basra. Tomorrow, Baghdad.
The complex civil war in Iraq, unleashed by our ill-advised invasion five years ago and widely predicted before that but ignored by the Bush regime, is heating up as spring heats up the desert country.
And what’s happening in Basra right now — Shiite factions fighting one another and fighting U.S.-backed Sunnis — gets right to the heart of the matter: oil.
The battle now is in oil-rich southern Iraq — aside from the continuing suicide bombings in Baghdad and the growing menace of a full-fledged Turkish-Kurdish war in northern Iraq.
What’s happening in Basra is just a sign of things to come in Baghdad, if and when the U.S. pulls out. The suicide bombers will drop what they’re doing now in Baghdad and take up arms in full-scale war.
Go back almost a year, to April 2007, and you’ll see what I mean. In mid-April last year, Baghdad was trying to endure an incredible number of suicide bombings. As an April 18, 2007, BBC story described it:
One witness told the Reuters news agency that many of the victims were women and children.
“I saw dozens of dead bodies,” the man said. “Some people were burned alive inside minibuses. Nobody could reach them after the explosion.
“There were pieces of flesh all over the place.”
Ahmed Hameed, a shopkeeper in the area said: “The street was transformed into a swimming pool of blood.”
Beirut’s Daily Star reported at the time:
A year later, where is Prime Minister Nouri Maliki? He’s in Basra, where the fight over oil is now taking place. If the Basra situation degenerates, Iraq won’t remain a single country. Baghdad and the central provinces don’t have the oil; it’s only in the northern and southern regions, where war is either raging or imminent.
Dick Cheney got his wish: We’re fighting for oil, and all the rest is bullshit.
Keep in mind that Basra is now exploding only after the British handed over control of that southern city to Iraqi forces.
What do you think will happen in Baghdad when we pull out?
Whether Maliki will survive is questionable. He’s liable to get blown up while he’s in Basra. His chances of survival are about as good as Benazir Bhutto‘s were.
Even before the 2003 U.S. invasion, the Pentagon was warned by one of its own agencies, the Naval Postgraduate School, of the civil war. Naturally, that went unreported at the time. As I wrote in May 2005:
In June 2001, James A. Russell, a Persian Gulf expert in the Department of Defense, was assigned by Doug Feith, Don Rumsfeld‘s undersecretary for policy, to the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Postgraduate School. Just a guess, but I would imagine that meant that Russell was not part of Feith’s inner circle.
Anyway, the Naval Postgrad School, a slice of governmental academe, formed something called the Center for Contemporary Conflict and started pumping out research papers, posting them in an electronic journal, Strategic Insights. They make for interesting, and relatively jargon-free, reading. In June 2002, for instance, Russell produced “Shibboleth Slaying in a Post-Saddam Iraq,” a nice little report that charted our options for Iraq while we were already planning to invade it. “As the United States marches inexorably towards regime change in Baghdad,” Russell wrote, “the critical issue facing policy makers is determining what happens after Saddam is removed from power.”
Russell noted that Iraq is an unnaturally unified country—and he concluded that maybe it shouldn’t even stay that way.
It won’t. And our personnel in Baghdad’s supermax embassy will wind up fleeing by helicopters, just as Americans did when they fled Saigon in 1975.
And we’ll leave without the oil.