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The Askariya Mosque job and the coming war on Iran

By Gavin Gatenby
1 March 2006

So who really did have a motive for the very professional demolition job on Samarra’s Golden Dome Mosque?

Many analysts have pointed to the general advantages that flow to the imperialist occupation from fostering sectarian divisions – the traditional divide-and-rule strategy – but I think we can be a lot more specific. I believe we can reliably point to the United States as the real culprit and see a clear motive in the geo-strategic nightmare created by Washington’s determination to wage war on Iran.

Let’s do this as a military intelligence officer would, and, for a moment, put ourselves in the shoes of the key figures running the sprawling US military, CIA and foreign affairs bureaucracy which does its best to carry out the president’s wishes on the ground in Iraq. Let’s look at their problems from their point of view.

They’re badly bogged down in Iraq and they see no prospect of getting out in the next few years.

Back in 2003, in the heady days of the march up from the Gulf, the story they were getting from Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney and poor mad George himself, was that they’d be greeted with flowers and candy by the grateful Iraqi people, after which they’d set up a model democracy and then march on to liberate Tehran and Damascus. At the time many of them protested that they simply didn’t have enough troops for an occupation and that the venture risked putting Iran in charge in Baghdad, but they were laughed at and told to get on with the job.

Okay, so the neoconservative warhawks’ model failed – very badly. The Sunnis and the Baathists turned against the “liberators” and began an intractable resistance. The president’s loyal underlings had to adapt to the awkward fact that the only semblance of a puppet Iraqi army they could put together was going to have to come from among the sectarian Shiite extremists loyal to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The only puppet government they could hope for was an unstable combination of Shiite politicians close to the Tehran government and a bunch of Kurdish leaders who really only wanted to secede from Iraq, taking with them as much of the northern oilfields as they could.

Great. Just peachy. They were now in a defacto alliance with one end of the “Axis of Evil” itself. Still, they did their best and made it work in a “muddle through” kind of way. They humoured the Kurds and recruited whatever “security forces” they could from among sectarian elements of the Shia population. Obviously, under the circumstances, the anti-Iranian rhetoric had to be toned down. The mainstream media commentators were told not to draw attention to the Iranian connection and, in fact, to talk-up Saddam Hussein’s various alleged tyrannies against the Shia. The emphasis was all on Sunni Wahabist terrorism and the supposedly defining role played by the semi-mythical Abu Musab al-Zaqawi.

And then, a weird, irrational, thing happened. As if things weren’t bad enough, Crazy-Mad George and his neocon advisors decided it was imperative to wage war on Iran.

The military general staff and the CIA boys and the State Department spin doctors must have felt like slitting their wrists. Obviously the president was a sandwich short of the full picnic. The regular US Army, the Marines and a great slab of the Reserves and National Guard were tied down trying to hold the line against the Sunni resistance. The Brits and Italians and Aussies were keeping a very low profile down in the South – doing everything they could to minimise their troop levels and stay out of trouble. There was just no way the US generals could muster even a tiny fraction of the troops necessary to actually invade Iran.

But orders are orders and like good bureaucrats they buckled down to the task. The only available option was to neutralise Iran not by invasion and occupation but by bombing it back to the Stone Age. It wasn’t a good option, in fact it was extremely dangerous, but it was the only one at all militarily feasible.

Trouble was, the Tehran government was not only dangerously well armed, in a conventional sense, it had the advantage of having a loyal Shia following in the South and parts of Baghdad – militia forces that could be unleashed against the weak Coalition forces holding the South. With a little help from Iran the Shiite militias could overrun these Coalition units fairly easily. Even worse, the regular Iranian forces might advance to cut the vital, vulnerable, supply lines running from the head of the Gulf to Baghdad. True, they’d take heavy losses, but they could afford to. Undoubtedly, tens of thousands of US troops would have to be rushed South to deal with these threats.

And what would the Sunni and Baathist resistance do while the US was fighting its previous allies? Well, if they remained actively hostile, they’d have a field day. They’d overrun al-Anbar province, grab Fallujah and Ramadi and Mosul and parts of Baghdad. And of course the mainly Shiite “Iraqi National Guard” units, never reliable, would disintegrate.

Nasty, very nasty. But orders are orders, so the bureaucrats had to have a plan. The most fundamental problem was political: if the occupation forces were suddenly going to wage war on their Shiite allies they needed a strategy for neutralising, or hopefully even winning over, the Sunni and Baathist resistance.

It was a long shot, but if they could just get these folk to sit on their hands while they dealt with Iran and the Iranian surrogates within Iraq, well, the Coalition wouldn’t have to fight two enemies simultaneously.

The political problem having been grasped, the only issue was how to stampede the Sunnis back into the arms of the occupation.

And that, I surmise, is where the Askariya Mosque operation came in.

In a back room in the Green Zone, where the hard men of the occupation gather to make hard decisions, shrewd calculations would have been made. Blowing up a much-revered Shia shrine – until now protected within a Sunni area – and passing it off as Sunni terrorism, was guaranteed (as much as anything could be) to incite a spontaneous wave of revenge against Sunnis by the most backward and fanatical elements in the Shiite community and to pit those people against more cautious and responsible Shia leaders. If all went to plan, millions of Sunnis would suddenly see the greatest threat coming not from the occupation, but from Iraqi Shiites and the Tehran government and would remain neutral in the coming war between the US and Iran.

In this light the bombing can be seen as the latest and most extreme ploy in a strategy that’s been evolving for some months. The first signs came with US attempts to negotiate with the resistance and win them over to politics rather than armed resistance.

It’s another artful divide-and-rule strategy, this time crafted to appeal to Sunni fears and the hostility of secular Arab nationalists towards “Persian” theocracy.

The history of the Middle East is written in the blood of the various ethnic and religious groups that allowed themselves to be conned by appeals to old hatreds and short-term interests. If the resistance falls for it, they’ll be fools, just as the Iranian leaders were fools not to fight beside Iraq against the 2003 invasion. If the US is able to prevail by brutally neutralising Iran with air power, it will then turn back to deal with the Sunni and Baathist resistance and it will do so just as brutally.