According to George Bush, “Iraqi security forces are waging a tough battle against militia fighters and criminals in Basra, many of whom have received arms and training and funding from Iran.”

But hang on a minute. In that “tough battle”, isn’t the US providing air support for an organization called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq? Wasn’t the SCIRI (more recently known as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) founded 25 years ago as an Iranian proxy? Didn’t, until May last year, the SCIRI/ICI explicitly take its spiritual direction from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?

Isn’t, in fact, the SCIRI/ICI the same organisation which the International Crisis Group says “has never quite managed to shake off its past as an Iran-bred group of exiles with a narrow sectarian agenda enforced by a potent militia”?

So why are the Americans fighting for Iranian-backed theocrats, even as they complain about Iranian interference? And why did George Bush shake hands with the head honcho of the SCIRI/ISCI and call him “one of the distinguished leaders of a free Iraq”?

Because – wait for it! – the SCIRI/ISCI represents the good, rich Shi’ites instead of the bad, poor ones.

The International Crisis Group continues:

As long as the U.S. remains in Iraq, its alliance with ISCI will help entrench the party in the country’s governing, security and intelligence institutions, in Baghdad as well as most southern governorates. Its only true challenger remains the Mahdi army, which despite its ruffian credentials and bloody role in sectarian reprisals enjoys broad support among Shi’ite masses. Their rivalry now takes the form of a class struggle between the Shi’ite merchant elite of Baghdad and the holy cities, represented by ISCI (as well, religiously, by Sistani), and the Shi’ite urban underclass.

You might think that an intervention against the nationalist underclass on behalf of the pro-Iranian merchant elite has “blowback” written all over it. CNN’s senior military analyst, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald Sheppard, agrees:

We’re looking at a situation that will be akin to Lebanon in the 1980s, with vicious, well-armed militia proxy wars where all the factions are supported by one foreign sponsor or another. But this will be Lebanon on steroids.

Au contraire, says the Pentagon. Actually, it says, the renewed violence in Basra and elsewhere actually demonstrates success, since the “Iraqi government has grown and increased in capability to the point where they now feel confident going after Shia extremists in a part of the country that they had not exerted great influence over.”

It’s worth noting that, according to NASA, a human mission to Mars would cost about $40 billion. George Bush could, in other words, launch seven interplanetary invasions each year for less than he’s spending on Iraq.

Occupying Mars would be, of course, entirely insane. But considerably less so than the eye-poppingly bizarre campaign currently taking place in Iraq.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland.

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