News & Politics

The Rise of a Bigger, Better Taliban

The war has meant the end of a unified Iraq and the beginning of chaos throughout the Middle East.
We told you so.

We warned the Bush Administration that invading Iraq would destabilize the Middle East and spread radical anti-American Islamism. We told the American people that taking out Saddam Hussein without a viable government to replace him would open a vacuum for anarchy, civil war and a power grab by radical Iranian-backed Shiite clerics. Now the antiwar movement's doomsday scenarios have been fulfilled so completely that military history scarcely mentions a more thoroughly botched endeavor -- and we'll be living with the fallout for years.

When we argued that Donald Rumsfeld's low-budget occupation of Iraq would turn out as disastrously as it had in Afghanistan, right-wing Republicans called us stupid and un-American. Now that we've been proven correct on every count, is it too much to expect an apology? Maybe so. Given George W. Bush's performance on the economy and the war on terrorism (where's Osama? Saddam? the WMDs? the surplus?), betting against him hardly makes one a prophet. And no one is less pleased with the speed and totality of the Iraqi catastrophe than those of us who called it in advance.

The Slicing of the Iraqi Melon

The war has meant the end of a unified Iraq and the beginning of chaos throughout the Middle East.

The former northern "no-fly zone" is already openly referred to by Kurdish officials as the incipient Islamic Republic of Kurdistan. "It's etiquette, like a game," says Farhad Pirbal of Erbil University. "[Kurdish] politicians say what the Americans want to hear" -- that they want to remain part of Iraq.

But, he continues, "more than 80 percent of the people are for independence." Since Turkish reticence prompted the Pentagon to invade Iraq from the south, only small numbers of American forces entered the Kurdish zone, which has since remained under control of peshmerga guerillas. On May 23, U.S. and British occupation authorities formally endorsed the permanent partition of Iraq, setting the stage for Kurdish statehood. Even as U.S. civilian administrator Paul Bremer officially dissolved Iraq's armed forces, allied commander Lt. Gen. David McKiernan announced that the peshmerga would be allowed to keep its automatic weapons and heavy artillery -- becoming Kurdistan's de facto army. A few days later, Kurdish leaders announced plans to continue expanding their territory. "Now we are back in Mosul," regional governor Nechirvan Barzani told The New York Times. "We control Senjar and Mosul provinces. We want to add the other parts of Kurdistan."

The most significant "other part" lies across the Iraqi-Turkish border. If Turkish Kurds armed by their Iraqi counterparts fight to attach southeastern Turkey to Iraqi Kurdistan, bloody civil wars and ethnic cleansing could sweep across Turkey to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus -- potentially claiming hundreds of thousands of lives.

But why dwell on the negative: It's two liberations for the price of one! Regrettably, free Kurdistan looks a lot like Taliban-controlled Afghanistan: women under wraps, blood feuds, medieval Islamism. "Kurdish political parties today are not that different from the tribes of the 18th century," notes David McDowall, author of "A Modern History of the Kurds." "You don't get democracy as an end product." And what's left of Iraq looks even worse.

The Coming Shiite Islamic Revolution

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is angry that the U.S. has endorsed a Kurdish, but not a Shiite, army. "We will not accept that other militias will be allowed to stay there with their weapons while we will not be there with ours," says a spokesman for Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI who recently returned from exile in Iran.

SCIRI and other Shiite groups are already using their weapons and demographics (60 percent of Iraqis are Shia Muslims) to transform Saddam Hussein's modern secular dictatorship into a fundamentalist Islamic state melding Iranian Shiaism to Taliban-style Sharia law. Incredibly, American occupation forces are working with, and even financing, these anti-American zealots.

On May 2 influential Mullah Murtada Sadr, son of an ayatollah famously murdered under Saddam, called for Sharia law in Iraq. "The banning of alcohol and the wearing of the veil should be spread to all and not only to Muslims," Sadr told followers in Kufa, near Najaf. "Alcohol and the display of a woman's body are forbidden for us Muslims, as they are for Christians, upon whom I call to give up these banned things."

In Baghdad Imam Mohammed al-Fartussi upped the ante on May 16, threatening those who show "indecent films," and "sinful women" who consort with foreigners, especially Americans. "If in a week from now they do not change their attitude, the murder of these women is sanctioned (by Islam)," Fartussi raged. "This warning also goes out to sellers of alcohol, radios and televisions. The torching of cinemas would be permitted."

Shiite militias that control Baghdad's vast Sadr City slum are already enforcing the mullahs' diktats. Sheik Kadhem al-Fartusi, who asserts that "Islam and all religions forbid alcohol," runs a local gang that beats liquor vendors and men who refuse to grow beards. "He's the primary shaker and mover here," U.S. Special Operations Maj. Arthur P. Vidal told The Times. Special ops troops pay Fartusi's religious police with "bricks of Iraqi dinars."

Presidents Reagan and Bush I armed and funded similar men with identical religious and political beliefs in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s. The result was Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, September 11, 2001. So why the hell are we doing it again?

Ted Rall is the author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan."
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