My militia is more untouchable than yours

Posted in Iraq | 18-Apr-08 | Author: Pepe Escobar| Source: Asia Times

U.S. soldiers stand guard outside a shop in central Baghdad's Shorja market.

In a make-believe world where the green, green grass of the "surge" is alive with the sound of music, the George W Bush administration and US counterinsurgency ace General David Petraeus - not to mention presidential candidate Senator John McCain - keep assuring American public opinion the "surge" (now reconverted into a "pause") is working.

But back in real life, an Iraq transfixed by no less than 28 militias is burning - again - all over, even in "invisible" (at least for Western media) places. Couple that with the relentless Bush administration narrative of "blame, blame Iran" and we have American public opinion strangled by a formidable disinformation octopus.

Washington keeps spinning the success of a "war on terror" narrative in northern Iraq against "al-Qaeda". This is false. The US is basically fighting indigenous Sunni Arab guerrilla groups - some with Islamic overtones, some neo-Ba'athists. These are no terrorists. Their agenda is unmistakable: occupation out.

This does not mean that al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers is asleep at the wheel. On the contrary. The recent car bombing (40 killed, more than 70 wounded) in 60% Sunni Arab Baquba, capital of Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, may have been perpetrated by al-Qaeda. Sahwa - or US-sponsored Awakening Councils - didn't work in Diyala because of a mixed population of Sunnis still fighting Shi'ites. Al-Qaeda may have profited to add even more fuel to the fire.

Then there was the suicide biker who blew up a kebab restaurant in Ramadi - in al-Anbar province, in the Sunni belt - killing 13 and wounding 20. Once again, this bears al-Qaeda's modus operandi - as well as a warning "message" of revenge against local Sahwas collaborating with the Americans.

More complex are the recent bombings in 80% Sunni Arab Mosul, where slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Sunni Arabs is being conducted by Kurdish police and Peshmerga forces helped by the US. After four car bombings that killed five civilians and wounded 37, another car bomb killed 12 Peshmergas in the explosive province of Ninevah, near the border town of Rabia, in west Mosul.
Rabia is highly strategic: a key link between majority Sunni Arab villages and Kurdistan, as well as a gateway to Syria. This could be retaliation by Sunni Arab guerrillas against the Kurdish and US offensive.

Which brings one to the key point: none of this has absolutely anything to do with Iran.

Crackdown, sort of
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been very vocal on an ongoing government crackdown on "militias". But some militias are more untouchable than others. Maliki and Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have agreed this past weekend to keep intact the "semi-autonomous" status of the Kurdish Peshmerga. Why? Because they are "organized forces", according to Maliki, part of two Iraqi army divisions with 25,000 to 30,000 troops.

There's ample controversy on whether other Peshmerga operating outside of Kurdistan's three provinces will be disbanded. They certainly won't; they will morph into "Iraqi" police and "Iraqi" army - under the benign eyes of US commanders.

So the Peshmerga get a free ride while Maliki's government - essentially the Shi'ite Da'wa and Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council parties plus the Kurds - and their rag-tag "Iraqi" army force Muqtada al-Sadr to disband the Mahdi Army. The Iraqi army - amply supported by the Americans - is virtually encircling Sadr City in Baghdad, severing communication arteries with the rest of the city in already 12 of the 79 mini-neighborhoods that comprise the 3 million-plus giant slum. The recent battle of the southern city of Basra, which started on March 25, is technically not over, having morphed into a medium-intensity battle of Sadr City.

Once again, this has nothing to do with Iran. Or does it? The battle of Sadr City is useful for the Bush administration spin machine to keep imprinting on the American public the narrative that Iran gives weapons to terrorists to kill American soldiers in Iraq (even though these weapons are sold by Gulf smugglers unconnected with Tehran). According to the narrative, if Iran is the new al-Qaeda, the Sadrists are their surrogates in Iraq.

Oil-drenched Peshmergas
It's not only the Peshmerga that remain free to roam. According to the Az-Zaman newspaper, Maliki's government, in a hush-hush manner, has also agreed to accept all of the KRG's 20-plus dodgy oil deals and their decentralized version of the new, proposed Iraqi oil law. Most members of parliament in Baghdad - aware of the explosive social backlash - are essentially against foreign Big Oil sinking their teeth into Iraq's nationalized oil industry.

The price paid by the Kurds was not extortive. They agreed - once again - to delay the potentially cataclysmic Kirkuk referendum, which they are confident of winning. The referendum, to decide whether Kirkuk becomes a part of the KRG, will only happen after the Bush administration is gone.

So the simmering, cataclysmic mess will be inherited by McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. For the moment, only one thing is certain: McCain won't be able to blame Iran for the inexorable post-Kirkuk bloodbath. Or will he?

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. He may be reached at