Biden and the False Iraq War Narrative

In an interview on the PBS NewsHour last Wednesday, Joe Biden was unwilling to contradict the official narrative of the Iraq War that Gen. David Petraeus and the Bush surge had turned Iraq into a good war after all. That interview serves as a reminder of just how completely the Democratic Party foreign policy elite has adopted that narrative.

The Iraq War story line crafted by the Petraeus and the new counterinsurgency elite in Washington assures the public that U.S. military power in Iraq brought about the cooperation of the Sunnis in Anbar Province, ended sectarian violence in Baghdad and defeated Iranian-backed Shi’a insurgents.

In reality, of course, that’s not what happened at all. It’s time to review the relevant history and deconstruct the Petraeus narrative which the Obama administration now appears to have adopted.

The Sunni decision to cooperate in the suppression of al Qaeda in Iraq had nothing to do with the surge. The main Sunni armed resistance groups had actually turned against al Qaeda in 2005, when they began trying to make a deal with the United States to end the war.

At an Iraqi reconciliation conference in Cairo, November 19-21, 2005, leaders of the three major Sunni armed groups (one of which was a coalition of several resistance organization) told U.S. and Arab officials they were willing to track down al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and deliver him to Iraqi authorities as part of a negotiated agreement with the United States. The Sunni insurgent leaders were motivated not only by hatred of al Qaeda but by the fear that a Shi’a-dominated government would consolidate power and exclude the Sunnis permanently unless the United States acted to rebalance its policy in Iraq.

Two months later, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad actually entered into secret negotiations with the three major Sunni insurgent groups in 2006, as later reported by the Sunday Times and confirmed by Khalilzad. The Sunni leaders even submitted a formal peace proposal to Khalilzad. They insisted on a “timetable for withdrawal” as part of the deal, but it was “linked to the timescale necessary to rebuild Iraq’s armed forces and security services”, according to Sunday Times.

Khalilzad cut off the negotiations in February 2006, because such an agreement would have conflicted with a broader strategy of standing up a Shi’a army to suppress the Sunni insurgency.

The major Shi’a factions, determined to eliminate any possible threat to its power from the Sunnis in Baghdad, unleashed death squads, mostly from the Mahdi Army, in Sunni neighborhoods across the entire city in 2006 and early 2007.

The result was the defeat of the Sunni insurgents’ political-military bases in Baghdad, and the transformation of the capital from a mixed Sunni-Shi’a city into an overwhelmingly Shi’a city, as shown dramatically in this series of maps, based on U.S. military census data.

As a result, by late 2006, the Sunni leaders were feeling much more vulnerable to Shi’a power. Col. Sean McFarland, U.S. Army brigade commander in Al Anbar province throughout 2006, found Sunni sheiks expressing “[a] growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias….”

It was that fear of the Shi’a power that drove local Sunni decisions to join U.S.-sponsored Sunni neighborhood armed groups in Anbar.

The sectarian violence in Baghdad began to abate by August 2007, but not because of additional U.S. troops as the official narrative of the war suggests. It was because the Shi’a had accomplished their aim of confining the Sunni population to relatively small enclaves in Baghdad. That relationship between the achievement of that aim and the reduced violence was noted by the September 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.

The main Petraeus conceit about his strategy in Iraq is that it defeated a Shi’a insurgency that represented an Iranian “proxy war” in Iraq. But the main premise on which that claim was based — that Iran was backing “rogue elements” of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army — was simply a psywar ploy by Petraeus and his staff.  The objective of the “rogue elements” line was to divide the Mahdi Army, as military and intelligence officials admitted to pro-war blogger Bill Roggio.

The official narrative suggested that Iran exerted political influence in Iraq by supporting armed groups opposing the government. In fact, however, Iran’s key Iraqi allies had always been the two Shi’a factions with which the United States was allied against Sadr — the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. They had both gotten Iranian support and training during the war against Saddam, and the fiercely nationalist Sadr had criticized SCIRI leaders as Iranian stooges.

The al-Maliki government had no problem with Iranian training and financial support of the Mahdi Army in 2006, when the Mahdi Army was eliminating the Sunni threat from Baghdad. But once it was clear that the Sunnis had been defeated, the historical conflict between Sadr and the other Shi’a factions reemerged in spring 2007.

The Iranian interest was to ensure that the Shi’a-dominated government of Iraq consolidated its power. Iran’s “supreme leader” Ali Khamenei told al-Maliki in August 2007 that Iran would support his taking control of Sadr’s strongholds. Later that same month, al-Maliki went to Karbala and gave the local police chief “carte blanche” to attack the Sadrists there. After two days of violence, Sadr declared a six-month “freeze” on Mahdi Army military operations August 27, 2007.

By late 2007, contrary to the official Iraq legend, the al-Maliki government and the Bush administration were both publicly crediting Iran with pressuring Sadr to agree to the unilateral ceasefire – to the chagrin of Petraeus.

Al-Maliki launched the attack on Mahdi Army forces in Basrah in March 2008 in the knowledge that Iran would back him against Sadr. And when it went badly, he turned to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard official in charge of day-to-day Iraq policy, to force a ceasefire on Sadr. Soleimani told Iraqi President Talibani that Iran supported al-Maliki’s efforts to “dismantle all militias”, and Sadr agreed to a ceasefire within 24 hours of Iran’s intervention.

So it was Iran’s restraint — not Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy — that effectively ended the Shi’a insurgent threat.

It was Soleimani who had presided over the secret April 2006 meeting of Shi’a leaders that had chosen al-Maliki as Prime Minister, after having been smuggled into the Green Zone without telling the Americans. And that was only one of a several trips Soleimani made to the Green Zone over a two-year period without U.S. knowledge.

But Biden doesn’t want to know this and other historical facts that contradict the official narrative on Iraq. For the Democratic foreign policy elite, staying ignorant of the real history of the Iraq War allows them to believe that deploying U.S. military forces in Muslim countries can be an effective instrument of U.S. power.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. Read other articles by Gareth.

6 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. bozh said on September 7th, 2010 at 10:06am #

    So, it is like i expected, 4,5,6 main conductors and many submaestros directing one orchestra, iraq.
    And the harmony is, where? In USA! So, biden is happy! And not to mention his orchestra and many of its brilliant conductors: the usual warlords and peoplelords.

    And, natch, the ensuing harmony just great; leaving only cindy shehan to grit her teeth cuz of a few false notes or chords that only she hears and people who lost their sons in the newest US ‘missions’.
    Yes, ‘missions’, and with ‘permission’ [meaning it wld have not been given if the truth was known’ by about 99% of americans.
    And once permit had been issued, it is good for all time or until warlords have no more use of it!
    But, but, but, wait till ‘missionairies’ really get mad. After all, this is only newest baby’s on the block first baby steps. So the newest baby is just playing-toying with the vicitims.
    But of course, not so much with moqtada, various al malikis, sheikhs, amirs but with iraqi people. tnx

  2. shabnam said on September 7th, 2010 at 12:53pm #

    The Iraq War story line crafted by the Petraeus and the new counterinsurgency elite in Washington assures the public that U.S. military power in Iraq brought about the cooperation of the Sunnis in Anbar Province, ended sectarian violence in Baghdad and defeated Iranian-backed Shi’a insurgents.}

    Petraeus, Biden, Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bush, Cheney, Blair, and many more, all are WAR CRIMINALS and deserve to be punished, even if that means receiving death sentence. They are responsible for MILLIONS of deaths, majority of them were CIVILIANS. American people are guilty as well, because they are too comfortable in their chairs to move their behind and DO SOMETHING. They have always left it to the mass murderers, whose economic interest is best served standing on pile of skull and skeleton in the faraway places, but the victims are real and never forget or forgive crimes against humanity.
    We must understand that the ‘sectarian’ violence was created in the first place by the United States in cooperation with the terrorist state of Saudi Arabia to gain the upper hand in Iraq, because the war criminals can only function in a state of chaos and terror not stability. For this very reason, we have seen and continue to see terror whenever the US goes, there will be VIOLENCE
    The “horrible price” of the Iraqi invasion, which Biden referred to in his appearance on “Meet the Press” on 15 February, still is with Iraqi people. The United States more and more is using the Sunni minority, the Saddam Baathists, to achieve her political goal in Iraq and the region which makes Iraq a base for possible attack on the Iranian government, that’s why Iran must be very careful not to allow the war criminals instal as head of the state, and tchange of the regime in Syria with a friendlier one which will accept the full US/Israeli control of the Middle East.

    They are still working hard on this plan, that’s why the US has not been successful to force CIA agent and a mass murderer, Iyad Allawi on Iraqi people as the ‘winner’ of the last election.

    The current political environment has been achieved mainly by bringing the mass murderers of Baathist party back into Iraqi political decision making circle.
    This game started long time ago in 2004, according to Munir Chalabi, when the US occupying administration appointed Iyad Allawi, the CIA agent and an old Ba’athist, as Prime Minister where he left his mark as a mass murderer behind, of course, in cooperation with a bastion of ‘democracy’ the United States of America. Thousands of civilians in Najaf, Sadr city and Fallujah were massacred by the United States in cooperation with Iyad Allawi. Allawi, also brought in thousands of old Baathist army officers to the newly formed Iraqi army and developed the “Iraqi National Intelligence Service” ( INIS), under the leadership of the old Baathist general, Muhammed Abdulla Al-Shahwani, an organization which became directly operated, financed and controlled by the CIA in Baghdad. According to Munir Chalabi, the main shift in the Iraq policy took place in 2006 using the Baker-Hamilton report recommendations. He writes:

    “Since that report the US administration started secret negotiations with many elements of the insurgents and their biggest success since the start of the occupation was the creation of the “Awakenings” groups or “Alsahwa” movements. They succeeded in turning over 120,000 of the old enemies to their local private armies, by offering them a share of political power. By arming and financing them at the same time, they succeed in keeping them under US army control. They brought the “Alsahwa” movements into the political process with the assurance of their support for US plans. However, the above achievements still did not guarantee the full success of the US administration’s plans.”

    So, the Bush administration started Re-Ba’athification process. To implement this policy, Bush and the Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki met in Amman, followed by meetings between Bush and Al-Hakim of the Shiite SCIRI and Al-Hashmi of the Sunni Islamic party; these were followed immediately by the “conference of re-conciliation” in Baghdad, to which several Ba’ath party officials were invited. These activities made SCIRI more cooperative with US plan concerning Ba’athis engagement with the US, thus, not to lose its power they felt it is necessary to be engaged to maintain their economic interests.
    To implement this plan, the Saudi Arabia and her suicide bombers who were heavily financed by sources in Saudi Arabia and according to members of the Iraqi parliament — the full co-operation of the CIA-controlled Iraqi security organization INIS, killed thousands of people. This organization, INIS, has thousands of secular Shiite, Kurd and Sunni employees, who were part of the old Ba’ath security services organizations and now is under control of the United States to kill Iraqi people and the political opponents. The occupation has turned Iraqi people against each other to serve the interest of the WAR CRIMINALS.

    According to “US plans and the political Outcome of the 2010 Iraqi Election” by Munir Chalabi: the US plan was to return the power to the most vicious Ba’athist criminals, the main leaders of the party and members of the old security services and army officers who were and still are involved in e massacre of Iraqi people.
    The US wants to get rid of Al Maliki’s government to bring Iyad Allowi, who is trusted by the CIA, and a coalition of political puppets loyal to Washington; which include the two Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK, and few political actors from the Shiites political circles who are obedient like SCIRI, to represent the majority of the Shiites and the “Iraqi National list” headed by Iyad Allawi (a secular Shiite Ba’athist), as representatives of the Sunnis.

  3. mary said on September 7th, 2010 at 2:34pm #

    The Medialens Editors –


  4. teafoe2 said on September 7th, 2010 at 3:52pm #

    That Zcom/Znet/Zmag outfit is very strange, but visiting the link to the M. Chalabi piece I saw that Edw Herman is still being published on Z, in fact has his own page/blog on Z site.

    Herman has an article about The Lobby et al, read it & it’s VERY GOOD! 180 degrees contradicts Chompsky thesis.

    I’ll post a link to it in a sec…

  5. teafoe2 said on September 7th, 2010 at 3:57pm #

    “Protecting Israel by calling it “Security” , sic,

    April 2010 Edw Herman

    As Time Mag would say, “No Chompsnik He”. Strange bedfellows, no?

  6. mary said on September 8th, 2010 at 1:08am #

    The war is ended? No.


    Associated Press Memo Warns: Do Not Report Iraq Combat Over
    Internal memo sent to global staff from Tom Kent, AP standards editor


    Many AP staffers are producing content that refers to the situation in Iraq. It might be a local story about Iraq veterans, an international diplomatic story that mentions the Iraqi conflict or coverage on the ground in Iraq itself.

    Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.

    To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country’s future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.

    As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”

    However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.

    In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.

    Our stories about Iraq should make clear that U.S. troops remain involved in combat operations alongside Iraqi forces, although U.S. officials say the American combat mission has formally ended. We can also say the United States has ended its major combat role in Iraq, or that it has transferred military authority to Iraqi forces. We can add that beyond U.S. boots on the ground, Iraq is expected to need U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter possible attack from abroad.

    Unless there is balancing language, our content should not refer to the end of combat in Iraq, or the end of U.S. military involvement. Nor should it say flat-out (since we can’t predict the future) that the United States is at the end of its military role.