Iraq is a giant, messy albatross hanging from President George W. Bush’s neck. The faith-based American president believes “we are winning the war in Iraq.” The reality-based global public opinion – not to mention 59% of Americans, and counting – know this is not true.

Bush felt that “God put me here” so he could conduct a “war on terror.” Somebody up there must have a tremendous sense of humor – once again manifested in the way He allotted winners and losers in Iraq’s December 15 parliamentary elections.

United we stand

The Shi’ite religious parties in the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) were the big winners – from 70% to 95% of the vote in the impoverished southern provinces; 59% in Baghdad; and nationally, well over 40% of the total (they’ve won in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces plus the capital). It’s a relatively unexpected success considering the dreadful record of Ibrahim Jaafari’s Shi’ite-dominated government.

All those intimately allied with the US invasion and occupation were big losers. The Iraqi National List of US intelligence asset and former prime minister Iyad Allawi, also known as “Saddam without a moustache,” the man who endorsed the Pentagon bombing of the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf and Sunni Arab Fallujah – got a pitiful 14%.

Convicted fraudster and former Pentagon ally Ahmad Chalabi received less than 1% in Baghdad. The neo-conservatives of the American Enterprise Institute were predicting 5% for Chalabi (their overwhelming favorite) and 20% for Allawi; that’s proof enough they have no clue about what’s going on in Iraq.

Bush’s new Iraq is pro-Iran. It will not recognize Israel. And it wants the Americans out; one of the first measures of an emerging, powerful parliamentary alliance between roughly 38 Sadrists of Shi’ite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and roughly 50 Sunni Arabs will be to call for an immediate end of the occupation.

The details to be ironed out hinge on whether the UIA majority aligns itself with the Sunni Arabs, the Kurds, or with both in a government of “national unity” – as it is being called by the current vice president Abdel Mahdi (a free marketer) as well as current president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

“National unity” is improbable; the Shi’ites simply won’t forgo their majority. The Kurds for their part know it will be a foolish move to try to break their strategic alliance with the UIA. Sunni Arab votes were split between the neo-Ba’athist National Dialogue Council of Salih Mutlak and the Islamist, Sunni National Accord Front of Adnan Dulaimi. But what matters is that they are both part of the Sunni Arab resistance. Their common line is that their presence in parliament develops a new political front – what we have called the Sinn Fein component of the Sunni Arab resistance.

It never happened

The big problem is that once again in Iraq Shi’ites voted for Shi’ites, Sunnis for Sunnis (they won in four provinces, Anbar, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Diyala, but got only 20% in Baghdad) and Kurds for Kurds (they also won in four provinces, including Kirkuk). Liberal democrats who were dreaming of a democratic, federal, anti-sectarian Iraq have been totally sidelined. Arguably no politician in Iraq is thinking about the future of the country as a whole. No national projects are being discussed.

The constitutional vote in October had already institutionalized the sectarian division – 80% of the Sunni Arabs in the four main Sunni provinces voted against what they saw as an American-designed charter. Washington believed the vote would undermine the resistance. The exact opposite happened. The December elections now paint a vivid picture of a country fractured on sectarian lines. But this is what the Americans wanted in the first place.

Elections or no elections, Iraq enters 2006 mired in the same, usual, gruesome rituals. The Pentagon believes it can subdue the Sunni Arab resistance by bombing them to death while the resistance keeps bombing, suicide bombing and assassinating en masse.

So the endless, gory stream will continue, not even making headlines – explosions at police stations, assassinations of “Baghdad officials,” executions of collaborators, mortars over the Green Zone, scores of innocent civilian victims of car bombings, Marines killed in the Sunni triangle, Shi’ite death squads, Turkmen fighting Kurd for Kirkuk …

Playwright Harold Pinter pulled a Beckett at his Nobel lecture. He offered to be Bush’s speechwriter. Then Pinter impersonated classic Bush: “My God is good. [Osama] bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam Hussein’s God was bad except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians.” And this was even before Bush mixed up Saddam with bin Laden in a “we’re winning in Iraq” speech.

Pinter observed, “The United States supported and in many cases engendered every rightwing military dictatorship in the world after the end of World War II.” He gave a lot of examples. But then, with devastating irony (a concept seemingly absent from the White House/Pentagon axis), he said: “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

Just like the suffering of Iraqis never happened. Robert Fisk, in his masterful The Great War for Civilization (Fourth Estate, London) remarks, “The sanctions that smothered Iraq for almost 13 years have largely dropped from the story of our Middle East adventures … When the Anglo-American occupiers settled into their palaces in Baghdad, they would blame the collapse of electrical power, water-pumping stations, factories and commercial life on Saddam Hussein, as if he alone had engineered the impoverishment of Iraq. Sanctions were never mentioned. They were ‘ghosted’ out of the story. First there had been Saddam, and then there was freedom.'”

But Iraqis as a whole have not forgotten the sanctions – imposed by the US, carried out by the “international community” and responsible for the death of thousands of children. As much as the Shi’ites have not forgotten their betrayal by George Bush senior, who called for a Shi’ite uprising in early 1991 and then left thousands of men, women and children to be massacred by Saddam’s gunships. There’s no way these impoverished masses can trust anything related to American promises of “freedom.”

How Bush is winning

There’s some evidence that the murderous chaos unleashed by Shi’ite death squads may not be “an accident” but part of a carefully crafted American strategy, as the Bush administration has constantly added fire to the ethnic furnace as the best diversion to not address Iraq’s tremendous social tensions.

An atomized and terrorized society is much easier to manipulate, while at the same time the non-stop bloodshed is the perfect justification for “staying the course.” The incessant chatter in the US about a partial “withdrawal” is just chatter.

Already in June 2003, proconsul L Paul Bremer’s coalition hands were hiring Saddam’s Mukhabarat pals for “special ops” against the Sunni Arab resistance, while “torture central,” Abu Ghraib, was again operating in full force under American management.

In the Shi’ite south, the Badr Organization – the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq’s (SCIRI’s) militia – as well as Muqtadar’s Mahdi Army were gaining ground. The Badr was finally formally incorporated into the Interior Ministry, where Sunni units had also been carving up their own turf (under the protection of Allawi).

The former Ba’athist Sunnis – and later the Shi’ites – benefited from the invaluable knowledge of American “counter-insurgency” experts who organized death squads in Colombia and El Salvador, as well as retired American Special Forces soldiers. Commandos operating in the “Salvador option” manner have been very much in the cards from the beginning, responding to a sophisticated, state-of-the-art command, control and communications center even while the majority of the Iraqi population had no electricity, no fuel and no medicine.

The pattern was and remains the same; people “disappearing” after they are accosted by groups of men armed to the teeth, in police commando uniforms, with high-tech radios and driving Toyota Land Cruisers with police license plates. Needless to say, the resulting murders are almost never investigated.

The objectives, from the point of view of the Bush administration, also remain the same; keep the Pentagon and its military bases inside an Iraq mired in sectarian bloodshed and with a weak central government.

The “follow the money” trail leads to an array of profitable privatizations, and the upcoming sale of Iraq’s fabulous oil reserves to a few, select foreign investors. Abdel Mahdi of SCIRI, one year ago in Washington, had already laid down the script. He is a key player to watch.

No wonder that the real composition of the next Iraqi government will not be determined by the polls – at least not exclusively. The real kingmaker is the US ambassador, the White House pet, Afghan Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Bush administration will pull no punches to safeguard its “follow the money” interests, as well as its precious military bases. Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Baghdad on December 18, only three days after the election. He didn’t even bother to tell Jaafari that he was in the country. First Cheney talked to Khalilzad and assorted American generals, and only then were Jaafari and President Talabani summoned to his presence.

How Bush lost it

The uprising of Muqtadar’s Mahdi Army in 2004 was the definitive nail in the coffin of the Bush administration’s dream of ruling Iraq. At the time the Pentagon repeatedly said it wanted to “kill or capture him.” It did neither.

Muqtada became the man to watch much earlier than his newfound – by American corporate media – prominent role in post-election Iraq. After the bombing of Najaf, the Bush administration completely lost the plot. Then, after the January 2005 elections, the new Jaafari government quickly embraced Iran, received a pledge of $1 billion in aid, the use of Iranian port facilities, and help with refining Iraqi oil.

Sunni Arab regimes like Jordan and Saudi Arabia started to be haunted by the specter of a “Shi’ite crescent.” A neo-conservative Iraq as a base to launch an attack on Iran disappeared as a mirage in the desert. As the US has to fight a relentless Sunni Arab guerrilla war, it cannot possibly risk alienating the Iraqi Shi’ite masses (more than they already are) with an attack on Iran.

No wonder military historian Martin van Creveld, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the only non-American author on the Pentagon’s list of required reading for officers, called for Bush to be impeached and put on trial “for misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them.”

Bush and his faithful ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have been playing the same scratched CD track: “We’re better off now without Saddam.” That is not true. The fall of Saddam led to the rise of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers; and even Allawi admitted that human rights in Iraq now are no better than under Saddam. Not to mention that there is no reconstruction, unemployment is at 70%, and a country which in the late 1980s had one of the highest standards of living in the Arab world has been razed to a sub-Saharan level.

Whatever the Americans do – with “Iraqification” doomed to failure, as much as “Vietnamization” – the war in Iraq now is a rampaging beast that threatens to spill all over the Middle East.

“Bring ’em on,” said Bush, and they did; the result is a new, deadly generation of global jihadis. Sunni-Shi’ite antagonism will spill over to oil-rich Sunni Gulf states (including Saudi Arabia) with huge but heavily marginalized Shi’ite populations. Kurdish separatist dreams have tremendous implications for Turkey, Syria and Iran, especially if Iraq, through civil war, finally disintegrates.

So the most probable scenario for 2006 and beyond is a fragile central government in Baghdad bombarded by an intractable guerrilla movement – a chaotic and sectarian hornets’ nest breeding one, 10, 100 mini (or maxi) al-Qaeda leaders able to convulse the Middle East. Maybe this is what the neo-cons meant by “creative destruction.”

Al-Qaeda has a masterplan for the Middle East, and the next stages – apart from the Gulf emirates – are to be played in vulnerable Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and even Israel. As for the air war against the Sunni Arab resistance, it may buy a few votes at home but will do absolutely nothing to improve America’s dreadful image in the Middle East – especially because civilian “collateral damage” will be enormous.

That bearded, vociferous guy

Saddam’s trial – the outcome of which is already determined – will proceed as a purely sectarian propaganda coup. If this were a real trial, Saddam would be in The Hague in front of an international panel of respected judges, experts in human rights law.

Or the United Nations would have been commissioned to organize a special tribunal in a neutral country like Switzerland. Saddam’s secrets, though, are so vast – and so extremely embarrassing for the US – that he cannot possibly leave the Green Zone, where he will certainly be executed. Saddam’s trial will become the sorry mirror image of the sectarian politics let loose in Iraq at large.

Bush has opened a Pandora’s box with his shock and awe tactics. The ultimate quagmire will keep mutating and unleashing its deadly new powers for years on end. And there is nothing anyone – not even the “indispensable nation” – can do about it. We have all been, and will remain, shocked and awed.