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Why the Pentagon Failed

Le Nouvel Observateur: What do you see as the results of the American occupation of Iraq?

Pierre-Jean Luizard: Five years after the American intervention, there is still no Iraqi state. Reconstruction of institutions under the occupation regime has proved a failure. That means the triumph of private interests - communitarian interests first of all, then, to an ever greater extent, local ones. All Iraqi political actors, without exception, have been caught up in an infernal mechanism that ends up emptying their actions and their speech of any political meaning. With no state to protect them, the Iraqis have, in fact, reverted to the lowest common denominator: the tribe, the clan, the neighborhood. It's a vicious circle: the foreign occupation bars any stabilization of a state and the absence of a state prevents consideration of an end to the occupation.

LNO: It seems that the agreements the American Army has made with yesterday's enemies, with the Sunni guerilla, to fight against al-Qaeda have resulted in a decrease in violence. What do you think of this American strategy? Is it the end of al-Qaeda in Iraq?

Luizard: Al-Qaeda never planned to take power in Baghdad. The international jihadists' sole objective is to trap the Americans on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates by perpetuating chaos as long as possible. In their eyes, Iraq is a choice battlefield against the Americans for stakes that far exceed the Iraq framework. Now the present situation offers them infinite possibilities for maintaining chaos. Up until now, al-Qaeda was curbed by its posture as defender of the Sunni community in Iraq. Today, the Americans have freed them from that "mission." In desperation, the Americans armed and financed their enemies of yesterday, with the immediate result of dividing the Sunni into a thousand rival allegiances, for the nature of any tribal policy is that it cannot satisfy everyone. When you make an alliance with one tribe, when you pay them, you alienate another. For every fire you put out, you fan ten others. Al-Qaeda prospers in this hotbed of rivalries, enjoying an inexhaustible pool of kamikazes who now act - not in the name of the Sunni - but in application of the lex talionis after a husband, brother or son is killed by the new American-armed militia. The consequence is that the Americans have precipitated the atomization of the Sunni community, the ranks of which are now as divided as the Shia.

LNO: So Bush's decision to send an additional 30,000 men to Iraq, "the surge," is a bogus success?

Luizard: In despair over the Iraqi situation in 2007, the Americans played their last card with "the surge." They bet enormous resources on "the surge." But the reversion to tribalism in Iraq cannot serve them the same way it served the British during the years 1920-1930. The Americans cannot continue to give 300 euros a month - almost twice a teacher's salary - to every militia auxiliary whom they arm. The temporary reduction in violence is due solely to this windfall. Wouldn't it have been better to have had a relatively homogeneous enemy to negotiate with on a political basis than these thousand allegiances that fight one another, mortgaging any political solution?

LNO: Is the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq that the Democratic candidates for president call for a realistic perspective?

Luizard: Today in Iraq, there can only be a pretence of withdrawal. Look at what's happening in Basra, where thousands of people demonstrated to demand that the British return to the center city! They can't leave their homes any more without risking death.... So we'll witness a bogus withdrawal, just as the surge was a bogus victory intended for the consumption of American public opinion. The Americans are betting heavily on private security companies. These mercenaries who come from all over the world are called to play a growing role in this conflict, with the dangers and unintended consequences we've already seen. But this privatization has its limits. Without the massive presence of a foreign army, it's the whole laboriously constructed system that risks collapse.

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About Sara Daniel

Portrait of Sara Daniel
Sara Daniel, a French journalist, war correspondent, expert on the Middle East.

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