Over the Edge

Bodies "Some Iraqis recall having false identification papers to avoid persecution during Saddam’s rule, but the practice was rare until recently because the former regime kept tight control over its subjects.

"Under Saddam it used to be shameful, but now everybody’s doing it," the bookseller said.

A newspaper commentator mockingly suggested Iraqis should turn to the Bible instead of Islam to find names for their children.

"According to the present sectarian concepts, fathers should choose ‘neutral names’ such as Jesus, Adam, or Abraham that have nothing to do with the two sectarian camps," Sabah al-Lami wrote in the independent al-Mashriq newspaper."

Seattle Post Intelligencer


I think this is it.  This weekend we crossed over a divide into territory where reprisal is its own reward and death is the automatic price of ancient group enmity in Iraq.  It appears to me that random executions based on the mere PROBABILITY that a name indicates communal membership have now become the norm in "sectarian violence".  Further reprisals will follow, amd then further reprisals and then further reprisals.  It will go "all the way down" as Friedman said of the civil war in Lebanon.  (That was before the world became flat)  It is fortunate that we are not facing actual civil war in Iraq. (irony)  We insisted in our vision of a "brave new world" to come in the Middle East that such outmoded distinctions as group identity would lose effectiveness and would quickly die out in a universal joy brought on by an abundance of individual rights.  (you can almost hear the "Ode to Joy" in the background.

Now we are at the place in Iraq in which religion as philosophy and hope of salvation no longer matters.  What matters now is religion as SECT, religion as GROUP identity.  Iraq is going to bleed like a river and howl like a hyena, and it is our government’s fault.

In the midst of this emerging chaos we will have the US armed forces still dutifully trying to comprehend, still trying to do its duty, still agonizing over unspeakable crimes done by its children.

It will become increasingly hard to focus on that as we watch this Juggernaut role down the slope.

Who is going to pay for this folly?  Who?

Pat Lang


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25 Responses to Over the Edge

  1. lina says:

    By “pay for,” do you mean foot the bill?
    Or do you mean held to account morally and/or politically?
    #1 is easy: all of us and our children and grandchildren.
    #2 is probably no one. They all got reelected and live in a dream world anyway.
    And come Nov. ’06:
    Probably none who voted “Yes” on this fiasco will lose their seat in Congress.
    It’s bleak as a Siberian Tundra, but there you have it.

  2. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    It is the task of future historians to answer your question.
    I believe, however, the more pertinent question is: “What does it take to stop the present neative trends towards all out civil war and then to reverse them?”
    The next question is: “Who is going to to those tasks?”

  3. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    It is the task of future historians to answer your question.
    I believe, however, the more pertinent question is: “What does it take to stop the present negative trends towards all out civil war and then to reverse them?”
    The next question is: “Who is going to perform those tasks?”

  4. MarcLord says:

    I had a dream last week.
    I was in a tall building, and got onto an elevator going down. There were a few men in dark suits standing in it, I entered, and after the doors closed it dawned on me that Dick Cheney was standing next to me, his bodyguards behind me. I got the creepy, trapped feeling you get when you realize your dream has turned into a nightmare. He looked at me, broke into a smile, and said, “That’s right, we’re going straight down to Hell. The thing is, I can afford it. You can’t.”

  5. ckrantz says:

    America, Europe and of course all the peoples of ME will pay. Nir rosen the journalist had a very dark view on the future in Iraq in an interview I heard recently. He basically saw a future where the Sunnis are pressed back into Anbar and out of Baghdad. The juggernaut I suspect is the coming shia millenium in the ME and the responding Sunni reaction that some seems to be working diligently to achive. In Europe it took 30 years of violence to settle a similar situation and it almost destroyed the germany of the time killing most of its people. Also in current time Lebanon and Jugoslavia was containable in a way Irak is not I think.

  6. Green Zone Cafe says:

    I’ve often thought of the mass psychological effects of what has happened in Iraq over the last 30 years. One time, I met with some Iraqis who had a local project to deal with the issue.
    Our inept occupation has not helped things, and probably made things a lot worse. Dashed hopes are worse than no hope at all, the frustration which has grown over the last 3 years is probably a component of this violence.
    Since 1980: the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the Shia rebellion, occasional bombing by the US, the sanctions, the continuing corruption and terror of the Saddam regime, the invasion, the looting and lawlessness, foreign troops pointing guns, running you off the road and shooting at you, the insurgents terrorizing you, car bombs, kidnapping, dead bodies on the street, Sadr’s militia, death squads, etc.
    That would make anyone crazy.
    One of my co-workers in Iraq was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. He’s a good man, but spent 8 years in the Iraqi army during that war (Shia cannon fodder).
    He had a vicious ulcer, could not eat anything at all.

  7. michael singer says:

    Dear Pat, Few have your vision. No one else I ever spoke with so early on said this was going to happen but you. Now it’s here in “real time.” You foretold it and now you’ve told it with merciless clarity. So even godless me prays for our troops. No one is going to be held accountable unless there is a revolt of the generals or Congress. It won’t happen and that’s another tragedy concerning the awful fate of our country, America that began with such promise. Michael Singer

  8. Sonoma says:

    “Who is going to pay for this folly? Who”?
    By my lights, the bipartisan political leadership of the United States today can be fairly censured as war criminals. All of them.
    Who is to pay?
    The Constitution’s articles of impeachment should suffice, were not congress neck deep in this tragic bloodletting of their own making.
    The very best that can now be hoped for is a South African-style Truth Commission.
    And I don’t see that happening. The people of the United States are not that wise. We’re not honest with each other, much less the world.
    Who will pay?
    Who the hell knows?

  9. jonst says:

    Even more interesting than the ‘who is going to pay'(and that is damn interesting, and ominous)is the ‘what comes next’issue? Are they going to double the bet and go into Iran? Everyone (many, anyway)say ‘no, even if we wanted to we don’t have the resources’. Those who profess this point of view are firm believers in rationality as the guiding principle of strategy. While sympathetic to this perspective I don’t believed it is shared by the people running the show right now. The pseduo-sophisticates in DC are sure these guys will come to their senses and cash in. Not me. I think they will double their bets. I think they, the people in the White House, think all the bad news in the past 2 years or so is simply a way of identifying those who lack the will to implement ‘god’s plan’ and those who have it. i.e. they really AIN’T doing this for ‘oil’ or ‘world domination’. Would that they were! They are doing it because they are bat shit crazy. We, as a society, simply CAN’T accept that premise. But I suspect it is true.

  10. john says:

    Today’s issue of hayat has a commentary by Salah al-Sarawi observing that the moment of truth has arrived in Iraq. Iraqis must decide between unity or dissolution along sectarian and ethnic lines. He states what may be the obvious: “While the USA which launched war against Iraq, occupied it by force, overthrew its regime, and broke up the nation carries the moral, political, and legal responsibility to rebuild it correctly, the true responsibility lies in the hands of each Iraqi power [base].” Whatever intentions, agendas, or ideologies may have informed the Bush administration’s decision to go to war are now irrelevant.
    The innocent are paying for this folly.

  11. cj says:

    The innocent, the less fortunate, the poor, the weak – don’t they almost always pay? Throw in the American tax payers, their children, and probably their children’s children to round it out. (I guess we – as a people – deservered it, as we putatatively elected this administration.) And let’s not forget our service people, who sadly will continue to bleed for this chicken-hawk led catastrophe… they’ll continue to pay as long as “stay the course” is a good slogan.
    Great post Pat – I was wondering if you’d consider this a true turning point. The violence has seemed to be gathering steam these past few weeks.
    Very depressing.

  12. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Al Hayat commentary is inaccurate in many respects:
    Iraq was never a nation in the same sense as UK, Germany, Mexico, France, and Italy.
    The choice is Iraq is not Dissolution vs. Unity. Rather, Unity under which dominant confessional group (similar but not identical to Lebeanon – very similar to Syria before Al Assad)
    US did not break-up Iraq: Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath did that.

  13. john says:

    True, but we are no longer living in an Iraq of political reality. We are living in an Iraq of political perception. The first perception lies in the fact or fiction of Iraq irrespective of who broke it; Hussein is the old oppressor, the US occupation is the new. Salah Sarawi’s commentary is just that and, thus, has no more accuracy than the koolaid he is pushing-one of several flavors, Kurdish, Shia, Sunni, Ba’athi.
    The point of the commentary is a call for Iraqis to decide their future. The Bush administration set events in motion it either can not or will not control. The writer notes the passing of agency from the US to the Iraqis who now have the opportunity to arise once again from the rubble or pass from history (his opinion). His koolaid is Iraqi unity and compliments some of what Maliki is peddling. Of course, the flavor may turn out to be Shia.
    This is a piece of the juggernaut pl sees rolling down the slope; Iraqis taking ownership of their country back, and it has not hit bottom yet.

  14. taters says:

    Thank you, Col. Lang.

  15. John Howley says:

    After all the blood and treasure we’ve spent, this is what we have achieved.
    If Mar 03 were Dec 41, then we would be on the outskirts of Berlin.
    And what now for the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq? Since they aren’t coming home, then I hope they stay on base and out of the crossfire. Do we simply wait it out, monitor the blood flow, and resume active operations once all sides are exhausted?
    I couldn’t fathom the strategy before. I sure can’t see it now.
    Not that Dick and Don care if others can’t appreciate their brilliance!

  16. searp says:

    The Iraqis have been paying and will pay. They will end up with some sort of authoritarian government that hates the US and uses anti-American sentiment to maintain power (sound familiar?).
    I will pay, and future generations of Americans will pay. Blood payments will hopefully cease shortly, but given trends in the GWOT I am not even optimistic about this. Monetary payments stretch off to infinity.
    The worst administration in our history will pay in reputation, but when W and Dick are at their ranches I doubt they will be thinking much about this. I can only hope that their dreams are haunted.

  17. ckrantz says:

    I suspect there is no strategy or long term foreign policy thinking anymore which makes the situation even more dangerous. The administration are basicallly running on autopilot hoping to hand everything over to the new captain.
    There is a certain logic in that if things go to hell in Iraq it will drag the US troops in to a conflict with Iran either by proxy or directly. Look how the Mehdi Army shooters responded to the latest attempt to reign them in. The adminstration will have to respond further. Add to that Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, Egypt, the Gulf states, Khurdistan and Kirkuk, a collapse in Pakistan and an all out war in Afghanistan, North korea and half a dussin other small wars, Al quaida and its offspring and you have the makings for the perfect storm. All of it mostly ingnored in the West.

  18. Green Zone Cafe says:

    Not that Dick and Don care if others can’t appreciate their brilliance!
    John, I thought of Dick and Don as the bumbling figures in those Guinness commercials when I read that. Brilliant!
    Also, I saw The War Tapes and strongly recommend it if you want to get an idea of what it’s like for GIs in Iraq.

  19. McGee says:

    Thanks, Colonel, for your spot-on and ever more disconcerting analysis. Who’s going to pay? What’s to come of this? Doubt if any of us really know the answers. Certainly the folk who delivered us and the Iraqis into this hell don’t know, nor do I think they much care. In many ways this is potentially worse (more dangerous in the long run, more destabilizing) than Vietnam, and who of us ever thought we’d say that?
    There was a saying we had back then: “there’s gotta’ be another planet….”

  20. The Agonist says:

    Aggression Without Consequence

    I was reading yesterday’s Bill Arkin post and it just hit me. We really are afraid and if you look at how our weapons technology is developing you cannot but realize it:
    We stand at a threshold: We could focus on missile defenses and our own new generati

  21. John Howley says:

    Green Zone,
    Strangely enough, I saw “The War Tapes” last week-end.
    For those who haven’t seen it, “The War Tapes” focuses tightly on the experiences of a single National Guard unit during a 16-month deployment guarding truck convoys in Iraq. It was videotaped by the soldiers themselves.
    Setting aside disputes over the policy and the strategy (the soldiers expressed all points of view), what came across most clearly for me is the health cost of this war. I expect that the rate of PTSD among enlisted folk will be closer to 100 percent than to fifty percent. (I have no medical training.) This despite the fact that DOD is doing a better job providing emotional support (like welcome home ceremonies).
    As depicted in the film, the soldiers are on alert physiologically 24/7. Their workday was spent driving in armored humvees, escorting truck convoys from point to point. They reported hearing IED explosions daily, distant or near. On occasion, mortar rounds would drop into their main camps. On top of which, the experienced the “normal” horrors of war, e.g., they ran over a women crossing the road one night and were forced to stand and watch as the remained of the convoy rolled over her corpse at 50 mph.
    Intensifying the stress is that the soldiers saw their enemy only once during their tour when they were dispatched to the outskirts of Ramadi in November 2004. (They could hardly contain their glee at seeing the corpses.)
    Of the three soldiers profiled, one admitted to symptoms of PTSD but refused to go to the VA. A second soldier was diagnosed with potentially disabling carpal tunnel syndrome that resulted from gripping the machine gun in his humvee. A third soldier, who served as a translator, was simply disillusioned.
    The final psychological insult is that when they come home, they spend a lot of time doing what they were doing in Iraq — driving.
    We can protect their bodies with armor but we cannot protect their minds and their nervous systems. This damage is the peculiar result of our “unplanned” occupation.

  22. canuck says:

    A glimmer of hope:
    Al-Hayat reports that PM al-Maliki and Massoud Barzani have had an epiphany while meeting in the north.
    What if Kurdish troops were deployed in Baghdad under an Iraqi military command? The Kurds are not Arabs at all. They might be able to function as honest brokers between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs. It is true that most of them are Sunnis. But most Kurds aren’t Islamists and a lot of them belong to mystical Sufi orders or to socialist political parties. So their Sunnism isn’t of a sort that would make them favor the Sunni Arabs. And, they had suffered a lot from some high Sunni Arabs in the Saddam regime. On the other hand, they are unlikely to tilt toward a hyper-Shiite group like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
    But would the Kurds do it? A spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party is saying, “yes.” He said that the deteriorating security situation in the capital “provokes the anxiety of the Kurdish parties, who fear that this escalation will lead to the widening of the scope of sectarian violence, will affect the situation in Kurdistan.”
    I couldn’t find the English translation of this story at Al-Hayat, but you can read more of this proposal at Juan Cole’s site Will just have to wait and see if anything comes of this suggestion. The situation in Iraq is desperate.

  23. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “So their Sunnism isn’t of a sort that would make them favor the Sunni Arabs.”
    A very doubtful premise if these Kurds were faced with a choice between Sunnis and Shia.

  24. canuck says:

    Col. Lang,
    The Pershmergas don’t actively go out and hunt for Sunni’s to kill as it appears some Shiite militias are currently doing.

  25. canuck says:

    Peter Galbrith throws in the towel on Iraq
    Iraq’s salvation lies in letting it break apart
    The partition of Iraq into separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’ite areas is the only route to peace,
    It is a tragedy and it is unsatisfying to admit that there is little that can be done about it. But it is so. No purpose is served by a prolonged American presence anywhere in Arab Iraq.

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