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Ambassador claims shortly before invasion, Bush didn't know there were two sects of Islam

Christian Avard
Published: Friday August 4, 2006

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Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.

In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.

Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”

Research by RAW STORY has confirmed a surprising lack of public statements from the president regarding the branches of Islam, but did uncover at least one mention of their existence. A fact sheet released by the White House in December of 2001 does indeed use the term Sunni to describe a Lashkar-E-Tayyib, "the armed wing of the Pakistan-based religious organization, Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad." Other mentions, not originating from the White House, were common in government documents and proceedings, as well as in media coverage of the middle east.

Other reports also place Bush announcing newfound knowledge of the differences between Muslim groups shortly before entering the Iraq war.

In an interview with RAW STORY, Ambassador Galbraith recounted this anecdote from his book to exemplify “a culture of arrogance that pervaded the whole administration.”

“From the president and the vice president down through the neoconservatives at the Pentagon, there was a belief that Iraq was a blank slate on which the United States could impose its vision of a pluralistic democratic society,” said Galbraith. “The arrogance came in the form of a belief that this could be accomplished with minimal effort and planning by the United States and that it was not important to know something about Iraq.”

The Bush Administration’s aims when it invaded Iraq in March 2003 were to bring it democracy and transform the Middle East. Instead, Iraq has reverted to its three constituent components: a pro-western Kurdistan, an Iran-dominated Shiite theocracy in the south, and a chaotic Sunni Arab region in the center.

Galbraith argues that because the new Iraq was never a voluntary creation of its people--but rather held together by force--America’s ongoing attempt to preserve a unified nation is guaranteed to fail, especially since it’s divided into three different entities.

“You can’t have a national unity government when there is no nation, no unity, and no government,” said Galbraith. “Rather than trying to preserve or hold together a unified Iraq, the U.S. must accept the reality of Iraq’s breakup and work with the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs to strengthen the already semi-independent regions.”

Galbraith further argues that the invasion of Iraq destabilized the Middle East while inadvertently strengthening Iran. One of the administration's intentions in invading Iraq was to undermine Iran, but instead, the Iraqi occupation has given Tehran one of its greatest strategic triumphs in the last four centuries.

Once considered to be Iraq’s worst enemy, Iran has now created, financed and armed the Shiite Islamic movements within southern Iraq. Since the Iraqi Parliamentary elections of 2005, the Shiites have made considerable political gains and now have substantial influence over the country’s U.S.-created military, its police, and the central government in Baghdad. In addition, Iraq is developing economic ties with Iran that Galbraith believes could soon link the two countries’ strategic oil supplies.

Galbraith says that, “thanks to George W. Bush, Iran today has no closer ally in the world than the Iraq of the Ayatollahs.” As a result, he argues, sending U.S. forces into Iraq, has in effect, made them hostage to Iran and its Iraqi Shiite allies and left the U.S. without a viable military option to halt Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

A seasoned diplomat, Galbraith served as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia, where he negotiated the 1995 Erdut Agreement that ended the Croatian war.

Galbraith fears the United States may have lost the war on the very day it took Baghdad. “The American servicemen and women who took Baghdad were professionals--disciplined, courteous, and task-oriented,” said Galbraith. “Unfortunately, their political masters were so focused on making the case for war, so keen to vanquish their political foes at home, felt certain that Iraqis would embrace American-style democracy, yet they were so blinded by their own ideology that they failed to plan for the most obvious tasks following military victory.”

Galbraith believes that the Bush Administration’s effort will only leave the U.S. with an open-ended commitment in circumstances of uncontrollable turmoil. In the end, he believes, America’s most important objective is to avoid a worsening civil war.

“There is no easy exit from Iraq,” said Galbraith. “The alternative, however is to continue the present strategy of trying to build national institutions-displaced in the 2003 invasion-but how can you do that where this now is no longer an existing nation?”