Washington Post
In Iraq, Strategic Failures
By Jim Hoagland
August 12, 2004

George W. Bush and John Kerry have been trading questions about their past
views and actions on Iraq. Their campaign exchange is worse than
pointless -- it is a distraction from the debate they should be having about
Iraq's present and future.

Such a debate might force Bush to recognize that he is losing his moral and
pragmatic bearings in Iraq as his administration dilutes its commitment to
democracy and the rule of law there. And it might force Kerry to spell out a
clear, realistic alternative to the current miasma, if he has one.

The candidates' obligations and options are not equal, of course. The
president's decisions are not couched in the tactical subjunctive, as are
Kerry's promises. Iraq, the United States and for that matter the rest of
the world all live with the consequences of Bush's words -- if he sticks to

Last fall the president gave three stirring speeches in which he vowed to
end 60 years of reflexive American support for repression by Arab
governments: Morality and pragmatism required Washington to support
democracy in the region. Iraq would be the model.

But Bush's priorities seem to be different today, as his administration
engages in or condones cynical maneuvering designed not to create democracy
in Baghdad but to create political cover at home and fear and turmoil in

Simultaneous U.S. military assaults on Shiite rebels in Najaf, a new and
brutal power play in Baghdad against that ever troublesome Shiite politician
Ahmed Chalabi, and the temporary suppression of critical news coverage by
al-Jazeera satellite television this week have established the fact that
"stability" of the Arab strongman kind is again tolerated at the White

Long backed by the CIA, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is now supporting the
U.S. intelligence agency's closely related campaigns to destroy Chalabi and
use Iraq to subvert Iran's ruling Shiite ayatollahs.

The agency is determined to protect its all-important liaison relationships
with Sunni Arab governments in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which fear
the Shiite majorities in Iran and Iraq. That is the decisive background to
the appalling choice of priorities for the use of military and judicial
power that Bush at least implicitly condones in Iraq.

Baathist killers and Wahhabi terrorists go unarrested, unprosecuted and
unchallenged in the streets of Fallujah, Ramadi and Sunni sections of
Baghdad. At the same time the ragtag Shiite militia of Moqtada Sadr triggers
an all-out U.S. assault in Najaf that risks damaging some of the holiest
shrines of the Shiite branch of Islam, for small strategic gain.

Sadr deserves no sympathy. U.S. miscalculation is almost entirely
responsible for turning this insignificant demagogue into a rebel with a
following. Shiites, who are still bitter and distrustful of the United
States for its failure to support their uprising against Saddam Hussein in
1991, are likely to note the disparity of treatment of the Sunni and Shiite
insurgencies, and to conclude that Shiite political will is the true target
of the Najaf operation.

The fact that Allawi is by heritage a Shiite will not reduce the sting of
his approving the operation. An ex-Baathist, he has always made his career
in Sunni-dominated power structures.

The timing of the latest burst of specious charges and allegations against
Chalabi, his nephew Salem and his political party also suggests, at a
minimum, a highly selective use of limited resources.

Chalabi, whom I have known and written about for 30 years, has made a large
number of necessary and unnecessary enemies in his long campaign to bring
down the Baathists and then to keep them from returning to power. Among the
unnecessary and unforgiving enemies was L. Paul Bremer, Bush's proconsul in
Baghdad during the formal U.S. occupation and a man quick to see a hidden
Iranian hand in Iraq's problems.

This past spring Bremer collaborated with Bush's National Security Council
staff on a seven-page memorandum that outlined a strategy for marginalizing
Chalabi. This exercise has now been relentlessly brought to fruition while
arrests and prosecutions of insurgents have gone unpursued.

Bremer created a secret court, appointed a manifestly unprepared jurist to
head it and made sure Iraq's interim government could not disband it after
the U.S. administrator left. It is this judge, Zuhair Maliky, who issued a
warrant for the arrest of Chalabi while he was -- guess where? -- in Tehran.

Chalabi's fight with other Iraqi factions in Baghdad is his business. But
the Bush team petulantly stakes American prestige, credibility and honor on
a covert campaign of score-settling against Chalabi, Sadr and any other
Shiites who might be influenced by Iran, while terrorists reign in Fallujah.
This is not strategy; this is folly.


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