Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 01, 2007

New Strategy - Coup in Baghdad?

Bush's Democracy Agenda in the Middle East has ended in a foreign policy disaster. The U.S. military now expects to stay paralyzed in the Iraqi palm groves and deserts for a 'few more years'.

Since Bush started the democracy project propagated by Likudnik Natan Sharansky and others, the only two successful cases in Palestine and Iraq have turned against U.S. interests.

The project has therefore been aborted. As Michael Hirsh in Newsweek remarks:

[I]in the space of a year, the Bush team seems to have gone from condemning the decades-old U.S. policy of backing the Arab regimes to championing precisely that course.

Indeed Secretary of State Rice said only a year ago:

What you had in the Middle East before was American policies -- bipartisan, by the way, it had been pursued by Democratic Presidents and by Republican Presidents -- that engaged in so-called Middle East exceptionalism [i.e. incompatibility of Arabs and Democracy] and was pursuing stability at the expense of democracy, and it turned out, [...] was getting neither.

Asked about the recent $33 billion weapon deal with Middle East dictatorships, Rice says now:

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first, let me just say that these are our longstanding and close friends and allies. These are strategic relationships that go back decades. And we are really determined to signal our commitment and to provide for the security of our allies to the degree that they need initiatives from the United States to do that.

And there isn't an issue of quid pro quo. We have the same goals in this region concerning security and stability for the region.

As the democracy policy collapsed, there were two possible ways to go.

One route would have included the rapprochement with Iran I speculated about. Such a move would have been followed by a confrontation with the Wahhabi salafist philosophy (and money) that is coming out of the Saudi Kingdom and is feeding the various al-Qaida franchises.

But that step would have been radical and Bush's presidency has little time and energy left.

So instead, the Bush administration did fall back onto the default route of U.S. foreign policy and  the tool-box of the cold war: arm the allies and contain the (perceived) enemies (Iran and Syria and, tacitly backing them, Russia and China.)

In her academic career Rice specialized on the Soviet Union. Secretary of Defense Gates, now her political companion, has a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history and his career at the CIA evolved during the cold war.

Maybe they were just overwhelmed by complexity of the situation they created and had to reset it back into their personal default-mode of thinking.

As the cold war model now likely determines the new strategy, there will have to be another major correction.

The only practical result of the democracy strategy that survived so far is the Maliki government and the parliament in Baghdad.

Maliki didn't turn to be the willing puppet the U.S. hoped for. He and his party are also allies of the new 'enemy' Iran. As long as Maliki is in place, Iran can not be successfully contained.

The usual cold war instrument to get rid of some inconveniently unruly 'ally' is a coup.

Indeed, despite all the al-Qaida talk, the U.S. military in Iraq sees the shiite militia in Iraq as the main threat. The efforts to build up a tribal Sunni force is likely part of an attempt to challenge Maliki's role.

The Iraqi parliament is now in recess until September and its members are on vacation. There is quite a chance that they will not need to come back to Baghdad at all.

Even with a coup and the installment of some new puppets, the cold-war approach is unlikely to reduce the complexity of the overall situation. The released ghosts will not silently slip back into the bottle. But that doesn't mean the U.S. won't try to push them.

Posted by b on August 1, 2007 at 12:53 UTC | Permalink


The White House would probably do anything to undo what they've created. They would love to replace Maliki, but how? A coup requires an Army? There isn't one, at least not in the sense of chain of command and orders being obied. The armies (neither Iraqi or American) do not control much outside of the green zone. A green zone coup would have all the disadvantages of lost legitimacy without any advantages of national control; no one listens to the government now, none will hear the military government later. And besides, the Shiites aren't going back to Ba'athist control ever again.

That doesn't mean the W.H. wont try. Decisions made in a panic are often poorly thought through. But I'm guessing the policy will be arming the Sunnis so that they can become the new counter weight. It wont be much of a weight, and will certainly result in more U.S. casualties (I doubt they really care) but its the best they can do now.

Posted by: Lysander | Aug 1 2007 13:54 utc | 1

they've been reagan revolutionaries all along. the wilsonian schtick was strictly role-playing for the cameras.

Posted by: b real | Aug 1 2007 14:48 utc | 2


Such a coup means war with Iran. Maybe the provocation that will make Tehran act in such a way that Bush and Cheney can unleash STRATCOM. The Iranians won't sit back, as preserving the Iraqi Shi'ites is a strategic imperative for them.

Posted by: John Shreffler | Aug 1 2007 14:48 utc | 3


Such a coup means war with Iran. Maybe the provocation that will make Tehran act in such a way that Bush and Cheney can unleash STRATCOM. The Iranians won't sit back, as preserving the Iraqi Shi'ites is a strategic imperative for them.

Posted by: John Shreffler | Aug 1 2007 14:49 utc | 4

We have the same goals in this region concerning security and stability for the region.

Except for Pakistan.

Posted by: Malooga | Aug 1 2007 15:12 utc | 5

Iranians won't sit back, as preserving the Iraqi Shi'ites is a strategic imperative for them

unless the Iranians have hired Chalabi as their new advisor for international strategy, they will sit back imo. It is completely insane to consider getting into a toe to toe fight with the US. The US Air Force would completely destroy Iran's infrastructure in a matter of weeks if not days. then what would Iran have? lotsa soldiers with no logistical support.

Iran has been smart enough to keep from getting duped into giving the USuk a solid reason to attack that will sell at home. they came close a few months ago when they captured those brit sailors but the USuk war machine was not quite ready to go. does anyone remember the comments in the rightwing papers in both the US and Britain? many were openly calling for nuclear intervention. that stuff is still there, just out of sight, ready to be pulled out and used at a moment's notice.

no, fourth generation warfare is the only hope Iran has, nor Russia nor China nor India will come to their defense so they are pretty much alone. they surely can't count on the Sunni Muslims for any assistance and I doubt that Shia Muslims are willing to shed blood for the Persians either.

Posted by: dan of steele | Aug 1 2007 16:56 utc | 6

From IraqSlogger, 30 July, 2007:


The Lebanese al-Akhbar daily reported that a “semi-official” autonomous government was announced yesterday in Southern Iraq. The paper said that “over 40 tribal chiefs from the provinces of Basra, Nasiriya, 'Amara and Samawa” have signed an agreement announcing the birth of a “self-ruling government” in the Shi'a-dominated southern provinces; and released a statement signed by “the administration of the autonomous government of the South.”>iraq slogger

Posted by: Noirette | Aug 1 2007 16:59 utc | 7

Whilst I don't doubt that the Bush administration would love to have their old mate Iyad Allawi back as PM, they're really rather stuck with Maliki.

The irony is that Maliki only became PM last year because the US couldn't handle Jafaari being reconfirmed in power, and spent months delaying the formation of the new government last spring as a spoiler - so it's arguable that they've already pulled one "soft" coup already.

The difference with the cold war coups that got pulled was that collateral damage to US troops/personnel was always minimal - this doesn't apply in Iraq, and the consequences could be somewhat unpleasant if the Marja took umbrage at any attempt to restore a Sunni ascendancy; a fully fledged Shia revolt with clerical backing would make the current difficulties the US faces seem tame.

Iraq is essentially stuck in a "Lebanese" system at present: the PM has to be a Shia, with the blessing of Najaf - and thus ruling out Allawi as a potential candidate; the president has to be a Kurd; and the Sunnis have to be content with the speakership of Parliament.

Posted by: dan | Aug 1 2007 19:15 utc | 8

Indeed, despite all the al-Qaida talk, the U.S. military in Iraq sees the shiite militia in Iraq as the main threat. The efforts to build up a tribal Sunni force is likely part of an attempt to challenge Maliki's role.

Yes, and here is an August 1 piece that ties in with that. It's about the Mansour Hotel bombing where several members of the Anbar Salvation Council (anti-Al Qaeda alliance of Sunni tribal heads) were taken out.

Behind the Mansour Hotel bombing

American officials are now turning their attention to a third group of suspects and have targeted Shia militia assassins as having a hand in the Mansour bombing. These investigators have told me that the first hint that Shia militiamen might have been involved came from questioning of al-Gaood aides who survived the attack — and who confirmed that they were meeting at the Mansour Hotel to brief government and American representatives on the success of their new political program in Iraq, which they had codenamed, “The Wake Up of the Tribes.” Al-Gaood and his associates believed that the same political tactics that had worked in al-Anbar could be applied by the Americans in the five Shia provinces of southern Iraq, where Shia militias had proven particularly impervious to American influence.

“The ‘wake up’ was a very effective political tactic in al-Anbar,” a government ministry official familiar with the meeting told me, “and so General Patreaus wanted his own people briefed on how it would work — and he wanted government officials there. The focus was how to apply the lessons learned in al-Anbar to the Shia areas.” That some would see the al-Gaood briefing as a challenge to the emerging power of Shia militias in the south — as well as to the Shia majority government — is something that apparently occurred to American investigators of the bombing only after other potential suspects were eliminated. “It is not exactly a secret that, in the weeks leading up to the bombing, there was a growing fear in Shia circles that the US was about the change its strategy in Iraq away from the Sunnis and starting focusing on the Shias,” a Sunni leader in the government says.

Slowly, American investigators began to piece together a presumptive case targeting the Shias as likely perpetrators of the Mansour bombing. These investigators told Iraqi authorities that, from the evidence they had gathered, there was good reason to believe that Shia leaders wanted to end the American-Anbar alliance.

But most of what is going on is probably pressure tactics. I'm hard put to see how a new puppet could help them. A more pliable puppet would be even less effective than Maliki when the US needed to wield him as a club.

Posted by: Alamet | Aug 1 2007 22:49 utc | 9

Noirette #7,

Thanks for the good link. If true, these leaders will probably tow the line for awhile, especially with the air campaign in full swing. Perhaps Baghdad government is failing so completely, and maybe the thinking is to get established while one can. In any case, this all gives me worry for increased death and destruction in southern Iraq.

Posted by: Rick | Aug 2 2007 4:28 utc | 10

US cannot account for 190,000 guns in Iraq: report

"Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's government "has made unsatisfactory progress toward increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently," that report said.

The report also found "no momentum in the government of Iraq toward developing and implementing a comprehensive disarmament program for militia members" from Iraq's divided communities."


Incredible -- but sadly, about par for the course.
The 'Iraqi Government' can't hardly fart without permission and security provided by their USG handlers. They're basically prisoners in the Green Zone anyway, with no real links to the greater Iraq society. HOW they're supposed to actually DO anything like increasing Iraq security forces or disarming unauthorized militia is a riddle.

NOTHING happens in Iraq without the US either causing it, provoking it, or allowing it to happen.

I can imagine disarming Iraqi militias to be as practical and do-able as disarming America's rural communities.

It's impossible that American 'leadership' in Iraq can be as atrocious as it has been purely by accident. If the many, many, MANY monumental screw-ups and failures were simply due to mistakes, malfeasance and negligence, then dozens of top military and adminstrative officials (like Bremer) would be held accountable and serving hundreds of years of prison time.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Aug 2 2007 4:52 utc | 11

Yes, a general rule for the more politically gullible of us: If they get punished afterwards, it was a mistake; If they are lauded, feted, and promoted afterwards (as Bremer was), it was planned and intentional.

U$ & Malooga's Razor

Posted by: Malooga | Aug 2 2007 5:14 utc | 12

"held accountable"? for merely being incompetent? only being quilty of having a modicum of honesty or integrity gets you a pink slip with these malevolent Shrubco assholes. not saying this murderous clusterfuck isn't mostly due to bad intentions and callous indifference to the human toll as opposed to ignorant assumptions and ready-fire-aim execution however.

bottom line, it was decided that we'll have permanent bases in Iraq and that eventually we'll control or steal their oil. however many Iraqis we have to murder/maim/torture/rape/imprison/displace to make these goals happen is, in the immortal words of M. Albright, "worth it" to these despicable war criminals.

Posted by: ran | Aug 2 2007 5:21 utc | 13


Yes - too fishy to believe - time and time and time again

Yes - good rule but they get lauded for their mistakes till they get caught -heck of a job, ya know...

Yes - you covered it all

Posted by: Rick | Aug 2 2007 5:43 utc | 14

Listen, we can only spread democracy so far and so thin: a coup is a lot simpler to stage-manage and does not suffer from the weaknesses of unstable democratic institutions.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Aug 2 2007 6:34 utc | 15

theres a particular mental space thats exclusively occcupied by the compounding of incompetence, ignorance and hubris.

and Iraq is just further proof.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 2 2007 7:17 utc | 16

Anything one hears on the subject of building democracy overseas is all bullshit all the time. In other words, that claim is ALWAYS a cover for a criminal intent below the surface. Surely we can all agree on that simple fact.

So giving it credence by saying "Oh geez that one didn't work so we'll have to try something else." is a ridiculous statement on its face. It was never the plan in the first place.

I will say that within the last year I have noticed a strong and widespread surge of skepticism here in USA, where before CBS's lies were accepted by many/most who understandably couldn't comprehend that they were being taken on a fatal ride.

This veil raising is an early step in the process of scrapping the old institutions, old assumptions, old brain-molding techniques and doing life in a new way. All this fear and trepidation is normal. Thing is, the turmoil and its end result, whatever that turns out to be, is happening and will happen in spite of what we mortals do or say. In the end we can just watch and experience the transformation, not control it.

Oops I wandered a bit there but you get the idea.

Posted by: rapt | Aug 2 2007 12:47 utc | 17

dan of steele@6,

If the Maliki Government is deposed by a coup, all of the various Shi'ite militias will erupt and they are all full of Iranian SOF embeds. Col. Lang has estimated that Iran has (including locals under their command) a couple of hundred thousand operatives in Iraq. When that happens, the narrative we've been seeing about Iranian attacks on US forces will bear its fruit. Bombs away. The Iranians are there and would have to let their proxies act. The real threat isn't that they would attack us but rather that Cheney will find his pretext for war.

Posted by: John Shreffler | Aug 2 2007 14:33 utc | 18

you didn't wander off rapt, i hear you loud and clear.

that claim is ALWAYS a cover for a criminal intent below the surface.

a war crime is a war crime is a war crime...

Posted by: annie | Aug 2 2007 14:41 utc | 19

Interesting assessment from McClatchy - the Gates/Rice talks (why are they travelling together?) in Jeddah must have been quite frosty:

U.S., Saudi Arabia have drifted apart

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates failed to bridge differences with Saudi Arabia Wednesday in a growing public dispute over allegations of Saudi support for insurgents in Iraq. Instead, the talks revealed how far the onetime close allies have drifted apart.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal expressed astonishment at recent Bush administration charges that Saudi Arabia is providing funding, equipment and manpower to Iraq's Sunni-led insurgency, and he rejected an appeal by Rice and Gates to give public backing to the Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

"I think what is needed is action on the other side. The trafficking of terrorists, I can assure you, is more of a concern for us from Iraq, and this is one of the worries our government has," al Faisal said, flanked by Rice and Gates.

In the talks, which began Tuesday evening and concluded Wednesday morning, Rice and Gates made small strides at best on the key issues: Iraq, Iran, tensions in Lebanon and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Posted by: b | Aug 2 2007 16:24 utc | 20

tom barry: Whither the "Global Democratic Revolution"?

One of the neoconservatives' lasting achievements was the construction of a new pillar of foreign policy—namely, democracy promotion. Today, the neoconservative camp is associated primarily with the Iraq War and the Bush administration's over-reliance on hard military power. But the neoconservatives have, since the Reagan administration, played a central role in elevating "democracy-building" as a core goal of U.S. foreign policy.

Twenty-five years ago, in June 1982, President Ronald Reagan announced in London the U.S. government's new commitment to the "global campaign for freedom." The following year, the Reagan administration established the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as the primary instrument of the U.S. government's new democratization policy.

Democratization policy, with its emphasis on spreading "free market economics" and U.S.-style democracies ("free market democracies"), was a Cold War instrument. Reagan, paraphrasing Marx, predicted the U.S. democratization programs would "leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history."

Posted by: b real | Aug 2 2007 18:32 utc | 21

First the Sunni Front left the Iraqi government, now Allawi's list is looking towards the door:

INL Considers Withdrawing From Government

Speaking of Allawi, an interesting sidenote found on Al-Ahram says, "... Iran refused to allow former prime minister Iyad Allawi to take part in a future conference of all Iraqi leaders." Just that half sentence in an otherwise lengthy article... What conference, and why would Iran get to decide who participates?

Posted by: Alamet | Aug 3 2007 0:04 utc | 22

Steve Clemons

On a related front, I just got an intriguing anonymous tip -- not double sourced -- but from a source I have confidence in.

Apparently, the State Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has commissioned some real heavyweights in the foreign service -- several high-ranking former ambassadors and others -- to participate in a large scale exercise on how non-combatant American personnnel would be evacuated from Kabul and Baghdad where America's largest embassy operations are now based. These are called NEO plans, or non-combatant evacuation operations.
This effort has been coordinated with CENTCOM and the 5th Fleet, in part because the latter would deploy anti-terror Marine teams to secure escape perimeters.

The word is that the "tone" of the diplomats was "not good" and "quite pessimistic about conditions." My source said that "there is a high level of concern."

Posted by: Alamet | Aug 3 2007 0:08 utc | 23

At the very end of todays NYT Iraq round up this:

Large areas in the western parts of Baghdad were without running water on Thursday, in 120-degree summer heat. Officials blamed their inability to keep the water-purification and pumping stations going for the electricity shortages.

Many Baghdad residents complain that they have water for only a few hours a day, and sometimes no electricity at all.

Posted by: b | Aug 3 2007 5:07 utc | 24

From AP: Water Taps Run Dry in Baghdad

Much of the Iraqi capital was without running water Thursday and had been for at least 24 hours, compounding the urban misery in a war zone and the blistering heat at the height of the Baghdad summer.

Residents and city officials said large sections in the west of the capital had been virtually dry for six days because the already strained electricity grid cannot provide sufficient power to run water purification and pumping stations.
Jamil Hussein, a 52-year-old retired army officer who lives in northeast Baghdad, said his house has been without water for two weeks, except for two hours at night. He says the water that does flow smells and is unclean.

Two of his children have severe diarrhea that the doctor attributed to drinking what tap water was available, even after it was boiled.

"We'll have to continue drinking it, because we don't have money to buy bottled water," he said.
Noah Miller, spokesman for the U.S. reconstruction program in Baghdad, said that water treatment plants were working "as far as we know."
Many Baghdad residents have banded together to use power from neighborhood generators, but the cost of fuel and therefore electricity is skyrocketing. Diesel fuel was going for nearly $4 a gallon on Thursday.

As expected in the midst of a water shortage, the cost of purified bottled water has shot up 33 percent. A 10-liter bottle now costs $1.60.

"For us, we can buy bottled water. But I'm thinking about the poor who cannot afford to buy clean water," said Um Zainab, a 44-year-old homemaker in eastern Baghdad.

But the Green Zone still seems to have water, so who cares ...

Posted by: b | Aug 3 2007 6:17 utc | 25

The Russian dictator Putin wacks another journalist - or not ...

Outspoken Calif. Editor Shot to Death

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The outspoken new editor of the Oakland Post was shot to death Thursday near a downtown courthouse in what police suspect was a deliberate hit.

Chauncey Bailey, 57, was killed around 7:30 a.m., Oakland Police spokesman Roland Holmgren said. Witnesses told police a man wearing a mask shot Bailey multiple times and then fled.

Police had no motive for the killing but said it did not appear to be random. Holmgren said investigators would look into any possible connections with Bailey's work.

Posted by: b | Aug 3 2007 6:27 utc | 26

No. 4

Sistani aide assassinated

Unidentified gunmen assassinated an aide of top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani near his home in the northern part of Najaf on Thursday night, an official security source said.
The assassination is the fourth of its kind in two months in which assistants of the senior Shiite cleric were targeted.
Sehikh Abdullah Falak, a prominent Sistani aide who was in charge of financial duties in the cleric's office was stabbed to death inside his office in Najaf a couple of weeks ago.
They, whoever they are, are isolating Sistani.

What will happen if Sistani gets killed?

Posted by: b | Aug 3 2007 14:19 utc | 27

Nicola Nasser, an arab journalist makes the same case I did on Counterpunch: Converging US and Iranian Interests in Iraq - The Iranian Option

Would this lead to, “A 'China Opening' to Iran?” Asked Jeremi suri, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of “Henry Kissinger and the American Century,” in the Boston Globe on July 24. In July 1971, Kissinger, acting as President Nixon's special representative, secretly travelled to Beijing for a dramatic opening in relations between the United States and China - two nations estranged from one another for more than 20 years. “Today, the historical parallels are striking,” Suri said.

Bush confronts a war in Iraq with no end in sight, American standing abroad has plummeted and domestic opposition to present policies is growing. Iran, similarly, contends with a clash of generations and worldviews at home, as well as a cast of external challengers, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council. Leaders in Washington and Tehran need one another. The White House should pursue a “China opening with Iran,” wrote Suri.

Iranis more than open to such an “opening.” It is no more a secret that Iran is ready to trade her Iraqi privileged status quo and her regional political influence for a détente with the West, with the U.S. in the forefront, as her greatest prize that would secure the Western recognition of her Islamic regime as a fait accompli.

Posted by: b | Aug 5 2007 10:59 utc | 28

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