Richard Reeves

Whose Side Is America On?

PARIS -- Once upon a time, a Ph.D. candidate in California named Ibrahim al-Marashi picked up the morning newspapers and found his 15 minutes of fame. Secretary of State Colin Powell was before the United Nations testifying that all good men must go to war because the aces of American and British intelligence had uncovered undeniable proof that the dictator of Iraq was making, hiding and getting ready to use weapons of mass destruction.

It turned out that a lot of the intelligence Powell cited that day came from al-Marashi's doctoral dissertation on the military ambitions of Saddam Hussein, published two years earlier under the title "Iraq's Security and Intelligence Network." It was plagiarism at the highest levels. British intelligence had stolen 5,000 words from the American student, son of Iraqi parents, ignored his conclusions, and declared Saddam an imminent threat to English-speaking Christians everywhere.

Whatever happened to al-Marashi? His latest work, an essay from the newspaper Zaman in Istanbul published after he returned from a trip to Iraq two weeks ago, turned up here last week as President Bush visited and compared troubles in Iraq to World War II. The young Iraqi-American's new work makes sad reading, stating in part:

"During World War I, the victorious British entered Baghdad and declared to its inhabitants that they were 'liberated' from years of 'Ottoman tyranny.' The British then took three regions, Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, to form what is today Iraq. The Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs had little in common with each other, other than their animosity toward the British. It was obvious to these communities that 'liberation' meant 'occupation,' and they united to harass and expel the British.

"The British response was to create a monarchy sympathetic to their wishes in 1921. By 1958, the Iraqi people again united to overthrow a government too subservient to the British. It was the chaos following the 1958 revolution that allowed a tyrant like Saddam Hussein to climb to power."

Reading al-Mashari gets more depressing than that. After earning degrees at Georgetown University and UCLA, he is now a fellow of the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and has also written other political analysis that Western intelligence agencies should have found more significant than WMD theories. In his Zaman piece, he suggests, for instance, that the coalition's hopes for winning the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq, including those who had the most personal reasons to hate Saddam, may have been doomed from the start -- because so many Iraqis believed that the dictator had been for a very long time an agent or tool of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

After all, he reports, Iraqis know that the United States supplied Saddam with military and intelligence help during the country's long war against Iran in the 1980s. Then, after the 1991 Gulf War presided over by President George H.W. Bush, American-led coalition troops did not kill or capture Saddam, but urged Kurds in the north and Shiites in the South to rise up against him. When they did, the United States stood aside and allowed Saddam to slaughter the resisters. Americans have their own explanations for that, but al-Marashi says many Iraqis believe it was all an American plot to strengthen, not weaken, Saddam.

Now what? Al-Marashi sees little difference between the British disaster of the 1920s and the American moves more than 80 years later. The British put in a king to try to preserve their position and the Americans are putting in prime ministers and presidents -- and things will get worse and worse. But perhaps that serves our real intentions, al-Marashi concludes, writing:

"The more unstable Iraq is, the more the United States can justify having military bases to 'stabilize' the country ... even though the postwar chaos in Iraq may have given al-Qaida agents a new base to continue their campaign against the United States."

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