Thursday, November 03, 2005

Iraq launches recruitment drive

From the beeb:
"Iraqi officers who served under the regime of Saddam Hussein are being invited to rejoin the army.

The force was disbanded after the US-led invasion in 2003 - a move seen by many as an error as it created large numbers of unemployed, disaffected men."
The rationale behind disbanding the army was to avoid the toppling of Saddam Hussein being followed by a military coup, which would have had the net result of producing what Nick Cohen dubbed 'the nicer Sunni tyrant option'. Given the postwar history of the country, this was by no means absurd but most people now agree that this was probably one of the most significant mistakes of the Bremner Administration.
"Laith Kubba, the Iraqi government spokesman, said the step was "a bold move to turn the page" as the country moves ahead having approved the new constitution last month.

He told the BBC there had been an "illusion" after the fall of Saddam Hussein that a new Iraqi army could be built in a short period of time.

"This has not happened," he said, adding that there were "many indications" that the sacked officers of Saddam Hussein's regime had become part of the insurgency problem."
At the time, I understood the reasoning of the move even less than I did now and was absolutely astonished by it. After all, the historical precedents were not encouraging to say the least. Had the experience of Weimar Germany not shown that having large numbers of unemployed young men with military experience in a country awash with small arms was not exactly conducive to political stability? And why was it forgotten that not even the Bolsheviks attempted to do to the Tsarist army what was done here? It was such a big mistake that I've wondered why it hasn't been discussed more by both sides of the debate.

Why those of us who supported the invasion haven't is easier to explain. We are, after all, arguing with people who for the most part apparently incapable of grasping that one can support regime-change in Iraq without approving of everything George Bush says or does.

It hasn't escaped our attention that opponents of the war practically never apply this all-or-nothing sides-taking logic to their own position and it's this attitude I think that explains their relative silence over this, which after all was a fairly disastrous blunder by the occupation. It would be in some ways much more uncomfortable for the antiwar left to acknowledge this because it interrupts one of their favourite 'analytical' techniques of collapsing concepts and merging phenomena that should be kept distinct. You'll have noticed this, for example, in the way that 'imperialism' and 'capitalism' have been so merged as to be practically indistinguishable so that the former is an inevitable expression of the latter, indeed solely a function of the latter and never mind the historical reality that shows them to be distinct both in theory and practice.

Either ignoring, or not putting the justified weight on what was after all a tactical mistake allows the hard left to conflate invasion, occupation and resistance into one seamless garment of catastrophe, the responsibility for which can be conveniently deposited at the door of capitalism in general and the Americans in particular. It allows them to ignore the fact that the 'war' was in fact a blinding military success, with the regime caving in quicker than Afghanistan and with a fraction of the casualties of the first Gulf war. So instead the 'war' as a concept is stretched to cover the further conflict against the insurgency, which I would readily accept has been anything but a success. To anyone who might object that this an entirely reasonable way to understand the situation, I'd ask if that is so then surely it should then be accepted that those who claim to be 'antiwar' are in fact strongly in favour of prolonging it?

And understanding the significance of the dissolution of the army would give some uncomfortable insights into the character of the resistance. Since when were members of an officer class in a militaristic and fascistic regime like Ba'athist Iraq likely candidates for a progressive anti-colonial resistance in left wing eyes? That the insurgency has a large element that is not Bin Ladenist nor jihadi there can be no doubt but why is it assumed by the hard left that this nationalist strain is benign? Nationalism is always a repository for other ideas and one of them in the minds of many insurgents will be a nostalgia for an Iraq that has been dominated by one minority group and where other ethnic and confessional divisions were kept firmly in their place. This is surely more than a tad reactionary?

Had the officer class been de-Ba'athised rather than completely dissolved, there still would have been former officers who would have been dangerous to the development of a new Iraq but the army would have been better equipped to deal with them. I can't say that I'm wildly optimistic but one would hope that this initiative will restore the situation closer to what it would have been if the army had not been disbanded. It would make it more likely that the occupation could end without leaving complete chaos behind. You'd think that's what everyone regardless of the position they took on the war would want but we know by now that this is not the case.

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