[ After waging an ill-advised war of choice in Iraq, the U.S.
military remains ensnared in Greater Mesopotamia.]



 Maj. Danny Sjursen 
 March 20, 2018
AntiWar.com; Common Dreams

	* [https://portside.org/node/16789/printable/print]

 _ After waging an ill-advised war of choice in Iraq, the U.S.
military remains ensnared in Greater Mesopotamia. _ 

 Palestinian boys wear American flag stickers over their mouths during
an anti-U.S. rally March 20, 2003 in Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza
Strip. , Abid Katib/Getty Images 


We were always caught in the middle. We still are. As a young man, a
new lieutenant, and a true believer, I once led
a US Army scout platoon just south of Baghdad. It was autumn 2006, and
my platoon patrolled – mainly aimlessly – through the streets and
surrounding fields of Salman Pak. To our north lay the vast Shia
heartland of East Baghdad, to our south and east, the disgruntled and
recently disempowered Sunnis of the rural hinterlands. Both sides
executed teenagers caught on the wrong side of town, leaving the
bodies for us to find. Each side sought to win American favor; _both_
tried to kill us.

It was a battle of attrition; a war for land, yes, but more
importantly a war for the mind. Each day, the platoon had the distinct
honor to drive our HMMWVs past the impressive ruins of an ancient
Persian (Iranian) empire – the Sassanid. Some 1500 years earlier,
Salman Pak was known as Ctesiphon and was the populous capital of a
powerful civilization. The Iraqi Shia were proud of this past; the
local Sunnis were not. Sunni insurgents still called the Shia
"Sassanids," or "Persians," and they meant it as a pejorative. History
was present and alive in Iraq. Still, few of my young soldiers knew
– or cared – about any of this. They merely sought survival.

The Sunni fighters, once ascendant under Saddam Hussein’s regime,
were backed by Saudi Arabia and other sympathetic Gulf states. In
nighttime raids and daytime searches, we found Saudi "Wahhabi"
Islamist propaganda on the floor of car bomb factories. Back then, the
local Sunni insurgents called themselves TWJ (Tawhid al Jihad –
Monotheism and Holy War). This group, a nonfactor at the time of the
9/11 attacks, would rebrand several times in the ensuing years: Al
Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and, finally,
the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Shia militiamen, JAM (Jaysh al Mahdi – The Mahdi Army), were
backed by another regional player: Iran. They utilized their
demographic plurality and fought the Sunnis for power in the new,
US-imposed Iraqi "democracy;" occasionally, they found time to shatter
our HMMWVs (and our bodies) with Iranian supplied explosive
penetrators. The US Army battled each side, and feared them both.

Salman Pak, my own little war, was a microcosm of a failed policy.
When the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal of neoconservatives (along with a
core of complicit "liberals" on Capitol Hill) collaborated to topple
Saddam, the US became the proud owner of a fractured, ethno-sectarian
basket case. The invasion and occupation of Iraq inserted the US
military square in the middle of the ongoing regional proxy war
between (Shia) Iran and (Sunni) Saudi Arabia.

Decades earlier, the US had actually backed
Saddam’s Iraq in its war with Iran (1980-88), utilizing Iraqi troops
as a buffer between the Islamic Republic and the oilfields of Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia. In March 2003, in the ever-so-euphemistically titled
Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF), a war which was never a vital national
security interest, the US government placed America’s cherished
servicemen squarely in the middle of two nefarious regional

The story has been told
many times, that the tragedy doesn’t warrant a full recounting.
Here’s the short version: poor intelligence and dubious evidence was
used by gang of neocon ideologues to sell Americans on the need for
regime change in Iraq (a country that had _not_ been involved in the
9/11 attacks). Frightened, naïve, and ill-informed, the American
people – and esteemed outlets like the _New York Times_
[http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/media/features/9226/] – went along
for the ride. We were told it’d be easy (a “cakewalk”
and self-financing
It was neither.

A civil war broke out. Tens of thousands of civilians
and thousands of US troopers died. By the time I arrived, in October
2006, the place was aflame. Fear not, we were told: Bush and his new,
brainy general – some Petraeus guy – would "surge" troops and win
the day after all. Violence _did_ – briefly – decline; the Iraqi
government, however, failed to garner legitimacy. Still, we were told
we’d won. The last American soldiers marched out in December 2011. A
day later, the Shia prime minister tried to arrest
the Sunni vice president. Sectarian relations soured again until a new
version of an old group – ISIS – preyed on Sunni resentment and
conquered a third of Iraq in 2014. The war hawks – Dems and
Republicans – on Capitol Hill squawked, and soon enough US planes,
then boots, were back in Iraq.

It has been 15 years since OIF, and there – in Iraq _and_ Syria –
US servicemen remain, wedged between Saudi-backed Sunni Islamists, and
Iranian-backed Shia militiamen. Some 4500 American soldiers
[http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/military/killed] have
already died, with upwards of 30,000 more wounded. And, like a bad
sitcom, the US military _still_ spends most of its time fighting
spin-off wars (Syria, Iraq 2.0, ISIS, Yemen) of the original Iraq
disaster. That ill-fated farce of an invasion either created the
conditions, or exacerbated the existing tensions, which inform
today’s regional wars.

If bin Laden himself had authored it, he could hardly have written a
more dreadful quagmire for the US military. Osama, in fact, didn’t
initially expect the Iraq invasion, though once it bogged the
Americans down, he labeled
that country "a point of attraction and the restorer of our energies."
Chalk up a big V for Al Qaeda. I’m convinced that’s part of the
reason there remain so many 9/11 "truthers:" because the "storm" seems
so "perfect." If the _goal_ of the neocons and military-industrial
complex was – and I don’t personally subscribe to this particular
– to engulf the US in self-perpetuating forever wars in the Mideast,
they sure scripted it perfectly. This is the stuff which feeds
conspiratorial thinking.

The "war on terror" – particularly its crown jewel, IRAQI FREEDOM
– was, and is, ultimately counterproductive. It makes enemies faster
than even the world’s greatest military can kill them. It feeds
itself; it morphs; it grows; it, in the prescient words of bin Laden,
"restores" Islamist energies.

America, the guileless behemoth, brimming with hubris, somehow cannot
_see_ it. The sheer irrationality of the whole endeavor borders – 15
years later – on the absurd. The only real winners in Iraq have been
a chauvinist brand Iranian Shi’ism, and the trademark Wahhabi Sunni
Islamism of Saudi Arabia. Neither is a true friend to US interests or
values. Neither cares whether US soldiers live or die. Each has its
own agenda and plays US policymakers and generals like so many
fiddles. The rational move for America is to opt out; do less; and
walk away before sinking farther into the next quagmire.
Unfortunately, compressed so narrowly between adversarial forces, and
obtuse as ever, American "statesman" can’t see the way out.

These wars won’t end well for the United States, just as matters
didn’t end well for my platoon, wedged, as _it_ was, between
micro-factions of these same adversaries: Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Sunni precursors of ISIS shot Sergeant Ty Dejane through the spine
– he’s still in a wheel chair. The Shia militiamen aligned with
Iran exploded a massive bomb which unleashed shrapnel that tore apart
three other young men. Sergeant "Ducks" Duzinskas lost most of an arm.
Sergeant Alex Fuller and Specialist Mike Balsley lay dead. They never
knew what hit them, just as our platoon never knew who, or what,
exactly, we were fighting.

My boys were sacrificed on the altar of American hubris. That’s the
war I remember, and the one the US still fights – futilely – in
the Fertile Crescent. Perhaps the citizenry should ponder
that…before the next escalation in Iraq.

© Copyright 2018 Danny Sjursen

Common Dreams

	* [https://portside.org/node/16789/printable/print]







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