Bush Departs From Iraq Amidst Controversy Much the Same Way as He Entered in 2003, but can the US really be blamed for every Iraqi mishap?
Shoe-throwing debacle guarantees that Bush’s aim of ending his Iraqi excursions on a high are thwarted, but would the same journalist have dared to throw a shoe at Saddam?
The White House has been on somewhat of a publicity drive in recent weeks, as George W. Bush’s tenure at the presidential helm comes to an end. Bush and his aides have tried hard to promote a positive portrayal of his period in charge and point to successes from his time in high command, particularly regarding the Middle East.
However, hopes for a productive and glitch-free farewell visit to Iraq, targeted to boost ratings and end undoubtedly his most contentious flash point as president on a high, were all but dashed.
Bush’s grand finale in Iraq was tainted with much publicity and media attention, but for all the wrong reasons as the now infamous shoe-throwing incident at a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, dampened all chances of a subtle but constructive departing from the Middle Eastern plains.
However, Bush can be far for blamed for every note of discontent arising out of Iraq or indeed the Middle East, and conclusive assessments of his time as president must be made in context of the greater historical handicaps that have scarred the Iraqi horizon.
Bush’s legacy in Iraq can perhaps be best summarised by one of his last speeches in Iraq, warning his forces and Iraqi comrades that “the war is not over”.
This statement is all the remarkable and speaks volumes of the “new” Iraq, when compared to the bold announcement he made on 1st May 2003, just weeks after Saddam Hussein was dramatically ousted from power that “major combat operations have ended”.
Almost six-years since the highly-contentious invasion of Iraq, what was hoped to usher a new era of prosperity and democracy, to serve as a beacon of light for the greater Middle East, was swiftly bogged down with bloodshed, sectarian terror, political squabbling and ubiquitous obstacles on the Iraqi transitional road to democracy.
While there were initial high-hopes in 2003 that focus could now be turned to rebuilding a shattered country after years of war, brutal dictatorship and economic sanctions and start the process of building a stable society, the Iraqi dream turned into a reoccurring nightmare.
However, to blame the Americans for every mishap in Iraq is simply misleading and a distraction from other pertinent facts on the ground. Who can forget decades of barbarian rule under a cold-hearted dictator who launched wars on its neighbours and even chemically-bombed its Kurdish civilians in broad-daylight?
Any critic, no matter his social background or political affiliation, who can condone the murder of thousands of innocent people, where mass graves are still been uncovered today, and the destruction of villages, is inhumane. In reality, the real weapon of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein, was disposed.
Lack of Plan B
As events over the past number of years have hardly disguised, it is no secret that US policy to deal with the new dawn in Iraq was indecisive, incoherent and simply lacked practical assessment. The decision to disband the Iraqi army and the expectation that brief post-liberation euphoria would turn into mass support for a concept that has been practiced for hundreds of years in the West but unseen in Iraq, was out of touch and lacked du-diligence one would come to expect from the world’s only superpower.
Simply put, US saw their Iraqi dream shatter to pieces, yet seemingly had no alternate plans to the expectation that they would be met with open arms by most of the Iraqi public. It took the US almost 4 years with the onset of the successful surge strategy, to stop fire-fighting and finally try to prevent the fires from starting.
Reconstruction efforts have been greatly hampered with unemployment, lack of civil infrastructure and medical facilities still common place. However, reconstruction in Iraq, particularly in the aftermath of the chaos that ensued, was like rebuilding your house in the middle of a tornado.
The damning verdict on reconstruction was emphasised by a leaked government report in the US, detailing the failures to apply reconstruction funds into real physical achievements, as it struggled to rebuild even what had been devastated by the war itself.
Harvesting the Seeds Sown Before
For all the popular opinion amongst some Iraqi and Western commentators, every misfortune or problem currently experienced by Iraq is not purely down to the US.
The key problems engulfing Iraq emanate from its artificial creation in the aftermath of the First World War. Iraq was composed of three disparate former Ottoman provinces that was essentially stitched together by Britain and her allies, and then “glued” by dictatorships.
It is true that the US lifted a can of worms in an unceremonious manner, however, Iraq would have come to a boil, sooner or later, regardless of US intervention. Americans knew that challenges lay ahead of the new Iraq, but they simply did not know the extent of the challenge that would cost them billions of dollars, see them commit thousands of soldiers and shatter their foreign policy image.
Iraqi politicians have squabbled intensively and failed to pass key legislation, national reconciliation continues to prove elusive and sectarian violence, despite drastic security improvements, remains a real threat. Surely, all these factors attributable to Iraqis can not all become pinned on the US?
Signing of Security Pact
Bush fourth visit to Iraq was designed to underline strong ties between the US and Iraq, that was to be symbolised by the signing of the SOFA agreement.
On previous visits, Bush’s visits were short and surrounded by tight security, owing much to the volatile atmosphere on the ground in recent years. This visit was undertaken with ‘relative’ security, as Bush met with key Iraqi leaders and US commanders inside the fortified green zone.
By Bush’s own admission, the Iraqi project had been “longer and more costly than expected”, but despite openly expressing his regret at failed intelligence prior to the invasion, he firmly believed his decision to invade was justified.
With only weeks remaining before President-elect Barack Obama takes charge, many have accused of Bush of tying the hands of the next administration with his policies in Iraq. Obama, inheriting many issues in Iraq and across the Middle East, is now expected to oversee what is hoped to be the final chapter of the US adventure in Iraq, the departure of the estimated 150,000 US forces within the next few years.
Iraqi politicians were quick to praise Bush’s role, with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, hailing the US for an Iraq that was now “dramatically freer, dramatically safer and dramatically better”.
As Bush came “to herald the passage” of the new accord, much debate and controversy still lingers around the security agreement. Pasted after months of protracted and tense negotiations, the deal has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many sceptical Iraqis.
For these Iraqis, the pact remains unclear with regards to certain stipulations and they remain unconvinced that US would leave by the end of 2011 as agreed. In tune with divisions amongst the Iraqi landscape, for others Bush has abandoned his promise to the stay the course.
The Iraq Left behind
Iraq may have become Bush’s achilles heel, but he at least he narrowly averted all-out disaster. Security is improving and hopes remain for greater political alignment next year with the provincial elections in Iraq.
It is easy to look at Iraq as all doom and gloom but productive progress, although at times at a snail-pace, has been made since 2003, particularly with the first elections in decades, the onset of a national constitution and the building of a new security force.
However, gains have been all too often become quickly overshadowed and the Iraqi project is far from implemented and certainly far from over. Key obstacles continue to blight the Iraqi divide, with frequent disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, debate over interpretation and amendments to the constitution, a lack of a national hydrocarbon law and many flash points, such the hotly contested dispute over oil-rich Kirkuk, have simply been delayed and too often brushed under the political rug, for the perception of greater political progress.
For one, Sunni Awakening councils, the ironic saving grace of Bush after the same groups wrecked havoc on US dreams, continue to represent a grave threat if not enticed by Baghdad into the political sphere.
In summary, Kurds, Sunni and Shiites continue to agree to disagree, with the tug-of-war for the new Iraq just heating up, taking the argument back a full circle that problems experienced today in Iraq, have had the same root cause since its inception all those decades ago. However, where Iraqi troubles and lack of unity could be masked in the past, the US has ensured that there is no hiding away from it now.
Without building a real foundation to the take the ‘whole’ of Iraq forward, gains in Iraq will always be tentative and life will always remain on the edge.
No matter how passionate sentiments may get, the act of petulance demonstrated by the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush and shouted insults in Arabic, is unacceptable.
Especially, in the ‘new’ Iraq, Iraqis have every right to their opinion and US can seldom disagree, after all it was one of the defining reasons for the invasion. However, shoe-throwing in such circumstances is a step that does not do the image of the Iraqi public or Iraqi media a great deal of good. It will only raises perception that some Iraqis remain confined to uncivilised mannerism, especially ethics one comes to expect from a professional national press.
Indeed, Al-Baghdadiyah TV urged authorities to release the detained journalist as he was only practicing ideals that the US introduced. Such statements speak volumes about some mentalities that prevail and the huge strides that Iraq still has to make.
Every Iraq has a right to an opinion and none more so than a journalist but would the same journalist have even dared to utter a word against Saddam if he was performing a speech, let alone throw his shoe? Failing that, why didn’t the journalist throw one shoe at Bush for the suffering he has afflicted on Iraq and one at al-Maliki for his many failings at serving the Iraqi people?
Undoubtedly, the incident would have been met with jubilation in some circles, but such abrasive action in the knowledge that it was Bush’s last speech in Iraq and under the heavy eyes of the world, left little room for coincidence.
Bush and the US are by no means perfect, but the time to blame the West for each and everything is outdated and delusional.
If Iraqis can not get their act together for greater national progression, then no magic wand of Bush or anyone else could ever have done the trick.
First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, PUK Media, Peyamner, Various Misc.