It’s going to lead to war!” The Iranian student intercepted me near Palestine Square in central Tehran. “Turkey has just bombed Iran,” he said. The incident was a shock to many in Iran. On July 18, 1999, the Turkish Air Force bombed the Iranian frontier town of Piranshahr, hitting the town, surrounding villages, and an Iranian border outpost. While the Turkish government denied that the strike into Iran was intentional, Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu defended Turkey’s military. “Terrorists who carry out attacks on our territory escape to Iran, Iraq, and Syria,” he said. Hamid Asefi, an Iranian foreign-ministry spokesman, called the bombing “unprovoked and unexplainable” and warned that Turkey “would have to shoulder its consequences.”
Turkey did shoulder the consequence: success. In response to Turkey’s quick and precise action, Iran cracked down on Kurdistan Worker party (PKK) terrorists it had previously sheltered and supplied. The PKK ceased to be an effective force inside Turkey. Today, the group, infamous for executing schoolteachers, is a shadow of its former self.
Unfortunately, in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has learned the wrong lesson. On April 23, CPA Administrator L. Paul Bremer went on Iraqi television and rewarded terror. In response to attacks on Coalition military and Iraqi civilians, Bremer eviscerated his May 15 order purging top-tier Baathists. His message was clear: The CPA would not stand by President Bush’s rhetoric of liberty and freedom. Because of the violence of a vocal minority, the CPA would abandon the entire Shia and Kurdish communities, in addition to the vast majority of Sunni Arabs. Bremer’s reversal was not sudden, however, but rather the culmination of an established pattern of State Department and Foreign Office appeasement which has undermined American policy Jay Garner first deployed to Iraq one year ago.
Confronted with terrorism, the CPA appeases. Take the case of Hawija, a small town southwest of Kirkuk. Since the Iraqi monarchy inaugurated the Hawija irrigation scheme seven decades ago, Sunni Arabs have dominated the district. Once attached to Tikrit, Saddam’s Baathist government gerrymandered provincial boundaries to dilute the proportion of non-Arabs in oil-rich Kirkuk. Within weeks after liberation, Hawija became a hotbed of anti-Coalition activity. The CPA response? British diplomats initiated a “Sunni strategy” to pump money into the town. They diverted funds from aid projects in Kirkuk. The lesson learned? The CPA punishes peace and vindicates violence. Former Baathists in Hawija remain restive. The disenfranchised Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen in Kirkuk also learned the lesson. The level of violence in Kirkuk continues to increase.
Prior to the current standoff, diplomats in Fallujah signaled that violence is lucrative. On December 23, 2003, the Washington Post featured the exploits of Keith Mines, an American diplomat coordinating local governance in Fallujah. Mines solicited bids for a contract to tear down the ruins of the local Baath-party headquarters. He tossed aside the lowest bids, and instead awarded the contract to a tribal sheikh whose bid was $15,000 above the best. In other words, Mines offered a bribe for peace. “He’s been very helpful to us. He’s a force for stability in the area,” Mines told the reporter. “The Sunnis are the spoilers. If they’re not satisfied with how things go in the next six months, they’ll take the whole project down,” he explained. There are two problems with the State Department (and Central Intelligence Agency) strategy to buy tribal sheikhs, though. Firstly, tribal sheikhs can always go to a higher bidder; and secondly, payment for peace encourages bloodshed when money runs short.
The policy of General David Petraeus to appease recalcitrant elements has also failed. While commanding the 101st Airborne in Mosul, Petraeus held sway over security at the Syrian border. Petraeus reinstalled an Iraqi general and former high-level Baathist, Mahmud Muhammad al-Maris, to coordinate Iraqi Civil Defense Corps [ICDC] units guarding the border. In late January, I traveled out to the Syrian border without alerting CPA colleagues or the 101st Airborne. Despite the predominant Kurdish population in the area, al-Maris assigned only Sunni Arabs al-Shammar tribe members to the border guards. Consistent with the ethnic chauvinism and discrimination that characterizes Baathism, al-Maris demanded that Kurdish ICDC applicants “change” their ethnicity before they could be hired; few did.
Not only did Petraeus’s decision lead to the disenfranchisement of the local population, but his appeasement of Baathists also undermined security. The al-Shammari were well known both for their support of Saddam Hussein and for the extent of their kin network on the Syrian side of the border. As I drove along an unguarded military road, I failed to see any ICDC patrols, and spotted several locations where tire tracks breached the single coil of barbed wire that delineates the Syrian-Iraqi border. Concessions do not bring peace.
It is a lesson the CPA should learn. While the journalists concentrate on Najaf and Fallujah, the firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi militia is regrouping in Karbala. For three weeks, they have laid siege to the local CPA office, nightly raining machine-gun and mortar fire upon the compound. Residents of Karbala watch the assault and interpret CPA inaction as weakness. Their confidence is eroding. If the U.S. tolerates assaults on its own people, how can the Iraqis trust their lives to Bremer’s whims and promises? As one CPA official based in southern Iraq wrote earlier this week, “Failure to make a decision is a decision.”
In the war against terrorism, appeasement always fails. Concession in the face of terrorism will bring not gratitude, but terror. We should not replicate examples of failure, but rather models of success.
–Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.