How the US was Hoist by Its Own Petard in Iraq and the Wishful Thinking of Its Thinktanks

The United States of America has fallen into the trap of its own disinformation policy, as exemplified by the work of one of its leading strategic study centres, a neocon think tank promoting war on Iran. 

During the first weeks of protests in Iraq, a dozen Iraqis burned down the Iranian consulates in Najaf, Karbalaa and Baghdad. Western analysts based their analysis on social media images and YouTube videos, particularly those clips which showed protestors chanting “Iran Barra..Barra. Baghdad Tibqa Hurrah” (Iran out, Baghdad remains free). Analysts and mainstream media —primarily people sitting thousands of kilometres away from Iraq who have never visited the country, and never mixed with the population long enough to understand the dynamics of the country and how Iraqis really think – reflected and amplified the opinion that Iraq has become hostile to Iran.

However, though every wish can come true, yet prevailing winds can defy our hopes and expectations. Analysts’ wishful thinking overwhelmed their sense of reality, notably the possibility of realities invisible to them. They fell into the same trap of misinformation and ignorance that has shaped western opinion since the occupation of Iraq in 2003. The invasion of Iraq was justified by the presence of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” which never existed. An information war was waged against Syria with the goal of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad. The US supported terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda for this purpose. Mainstream media coverage of the war in Syria- mainly through WhatsApp, social media, Skype, activists and jihadists- unfolded at the expense of destroying its own credibility, and that of western journalism in general.

The shameful irresponsibility of these reporters and analysts became obvious to a large part of the public. There was no accountability for mass media deceptions: virtually all western media were in the same boat, totally lacking the necessary professionalism. Western media became a mockery of the noble and demanding profession of journalism and its mandate to report and share information without manipulation. Journalists were forced to follow newspaper editorial policies and the political views of their owner- he who pays the piper calls the tune!

Fortunately, the internet made it possible for people to hunt for alternative sources and analyses. For instance, to a great extent journalistic standards were upheld in Israel, the only place in the Middle East where analysts and reporters have the freedom to tell the truth about their enemies (regardless the military censure), and about the limitations on Israeli power. The Israeli media reported on the weakness of the domestic front in case of war and the huge damage their enemies could inflict on the country through the deterrence policy that Israel has faced in this century.

The Israeli government has a “Council of Risk Evaluation”, which predicts the reaction of the enemy in case of a “battle between wars”, and estimates the results of Israel hitting a target or even hundreds of targets in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen and Iraq. That assessment is always very close to reality, unlike that of the US.

Prestigious Western think-tanks like Brookings, Carnegie, Hudson, the Washington Institute, the “Middle East Institute” and others promoted a belief in the protestors’ anti-Iran objectives in Iraq and Lebanon. They have advocated a ‘weakness of Iran in Iraq’, a phenomenon based on a few street comments and a few arson-inspired fires. Most probably these institutions did not mean to distort reality as they revealed their limited understanding of the Middle East. Even after the US bombing of the Iraqi Security Forces on the Iraqi-Syrian borders, some of these analysts hinted Iran would not recover and would not be able to respond, and that “Kataeb Hezbollah” were weaker than ever. Yet the following day their sympathizers broke into the US embassy in Baghdad and mobilised thousands of people, creating panic and fear not only at the embassy but also at the Pentagon and the White House.

There is no doubt President Donald Trump has little foreign policy knowledge and experience. He has never claimed the opposite. But his Foreign and Defence ministries seem hardly more enlightened.

What happened last week in Iraq?

On 27th December 2019, several rockets were fired from unidentified attackers against the K1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, north of Iraq. In this base, as in many others, Iraqi and US military are present on the same ground and within the same walls, even if they have different command and control HQs. Two Iraqi policemen and one American contractor were killed and 2 Iraqi Army officers and four US contractors were wounded.

The following day, Defence Secretary Mark Esper called the Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister to inform him of “his decision to bomb Kataeb Hezbollah bases in Iraq”. Mr Abdel Mahdi asked Esper to meet face-to-face, and told his interlocutor that this would be dangerous for Iraq: he rejected the US decision. Esper responded that he was “not calling to negotiate but to inform about a decision that has already been taken”. Mr Abdel Mahdi asked Esper if the US has “proof against Kataeb Hezbollah to share so Iraq can arrest those responsible for the attack on K1”. No response: Esper told Abdel Mahdi that the US was “well-informed” and that the attack would take place “in a few hours”.

In less than half an hour, US jets bombed five Iraqi security forces’ positions deployed along the Iraqi-Syrian borders, in the zone of Akashat, 538 kilometres from the K1 military base (that had been bombed by perpetrators still unknown!). The US announced the attack but omitted the fact that in these positions there were not only Kataeb Hezbollah but also Iraqi Army and Federal Police officers. Most victims of the US attack were Iraqi army and police officers. Only 9 officers of Kataeb Hezbollah – who joined the Iraqi Security Forces in 2017 – were killed. These five positions had the task of intercepting and hunting down ISIS and preventing the group’s militants from crossing the borders from the Anbar desert. The closest city to these bombed positions is al-Qaem, 150 km away.

What is the outcome of the US bombing of the Iraqi security forces?

Iran had been struggling to achieve consensus among various Iraqi political parties. In Baghdad, it had been impossible to unite them to select a new Prime Minister following the resignation of Adel Abdel Mahdi. Political parties, above all groups representing the Shia majority, were divided amongst themselves and incapable of selecting a suitable candidate. Protestors were occupying the streets and the Hashd al-Shaabi flag was not tolerated in Baghdad square.

The US bombing of the Iraqi security forces’ positions fell as manna to Iran. Secretaries Pompeo and Esper’s actions were in perfect harmony with the goals of the IRGC-Quds brigade commander Qassem Soleimani. The two US officials broke the Iraqi political stalemate and diverted the country’s attention towards the US embassy and the break-in of protestors to contest the US bombing of Iraqi security forces.

Members of Hashd al-Shaabi and other Iraqi forces units, along with families and friends of the 79 (killed and wounded) victims demonstrated outside the US embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Flags of Hashd al-Shaabi were flying over the entrance of the US embassy. The withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq became the priority of the Iraqi parliament, and even of Moqtada al-Sadr.

The US paid the price of thousands of killed and wounded and trillions of dollars to maintain a zone of influence, military bases and a friendly government in Iraq, but they have failed to achieve these objectives. Irresponsible and erroneous analysis of the situation in Iraq and its dynamics has proved that its authors are detached and isolated from that reality.

The US may end up being pushed out of Iraq and Syria. It may move to Kurdistan. But if the parliament fails to reach an agreement over its presence in Iraq, US forces will no longer be in a friendly environment and may be targeted by various Iraqi groups, bringing back memories of 2005.

One single rushed decision emanating from inexperienced US policymakers, evidently following the advice of think tanks, has dealt the US a setback in the region. Was the advice of neocon think-tank analysts shaped by incompetence, or simply by their agenda? They are indeed separated by a great distance from realities on the ground in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, and US policymakers are clearly not getting sound advice on the region.

All this plays into the hands of Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani, whose only need is to capitalize on American mistakes in the Middle East. The US is making Iran stronger, demonstrating the truth of Sayyed Ali Khamenei’s comment: “Thank God our enemies are imbeciles”.


By Elijah J. Magnier
Source: Elijah J. Magnier

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