American Elephants

Iraq in Chaos — A Strategic Disaster for U.S. Policy by The Elephant's Child

Another Obama claim is withering away. Al Qaeda is alive and Tuesday, fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda affiliate known as ISIS has seized total control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, with a population of nearly 2 million, after four days of fighting. Thousands of civilians have fled, including the governor of Nineveh province, who spoke of the “massive collapse” of the Iraqi army.

ISIS overran the Iraqi city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, and closed in on the biggest oil refinery in the country. Tikrit is about 80 miles north of Baghdad. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Since President Obama likes to describe everything he inherited from his predecessor as a “mess,” it’s worth remembering that when President Bush left office Iraq was largely at peace. Civilian casualties fell from an estimated 31,400 in 2006 to 4,700 in 2009. U.S. military casualties were negligible. Then CIA Director Michael Hayden said, with good reason, that “al Qaeda is on the verge of a strategic defeat in Iraq.”

Fast forward through five years of the Administration’s indifference, and Iraq is close to exceeding the kind of chaos that engulfed it before the U.S. surge. The city of Fallujah, taken from insurgents by the Marines at a cost of 95 dead and nearly 600 wounded in November 2004, fell again to al Qaeda in January. The Iraqi government has not been able to reclaim the entire city—just 40 miles from Baghdad. More than 1,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in May alone, according to the Iraq Body Count web site.

The collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul and its inability to retake Fallujah reflect poorly on the competence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose Shiite “State of Law” coalition won a plurality of seats in parliamentary elections in April and will likely win a third term later this year………………………………………(emphasis added)

ISIS first took hold in Iraq’s neighbor Syria. The “diplomatic surge” the Obama administration promised never happened. They offered a couple of thousand troops but President Maliki didn’t think it was worth the criticism it would cause. Mr. Obama withdrew completely from Iraq, and continued to call it a “dumb war.”He put his desire for a talking point in his re-election campaign above America’s strategic interests, which he didn’t understand anyway.

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These battles and the advance of al Qaeda affiliated forces comes in the wake of free elections in April under the threat of jihadi violence on polling days, and  weak governance.

The April election was the seventh time since January 2005 that Iraqis have gone to the polls on a national basis. The land of the purple finger has enjoyed four parliamentary elections, with an average turnout of 63 percent; two nationwide provincial elections, with an average turnout of 52 percent; and a constitutional referendum in which 63 percent of the country turned out to vote (and 79 percent voted “Yes”) on the republic’s inclusive, liberal, federalist constitution.

Every one of these ballots has been judged free and fair by international observers. Even ignoring the local circumstances that make this fact especially remarkable (the constant threat of jihadi violence on polling days, exacerbated by governance so poor that it is a wonder that anyone has enough faith in government to bother to vote at all), Iraqis have once again proven that they are more than deserving of the opportunity presented to them.

Iraq is once again in a state of civil war, but without help it’s going to turn into a tragedy for Iraq and a real threat to the United States. America should provide the help Mr. Maliki requests — drone strikes, weapons, reconnaissance assets, targeting assistance, more training for his forces, even manned airstrikes. If Mr. Maliki and Iraq’s leading politicians agree to settle the deep sectarian conflicts that have left the country in this mess Sunni v. Shiite v. Kurd.  It could be possible with new constitutional amendments, and a constitutional inability to politicize the military. Kenneth Pollack suggests a series of amendments that could bring peace. Unlikely, but if Iraq is to be saved, Americans and Iraqis would have to take hard steps.

It doesn’t help that so many Americans have so much misunderstanding of the Iraq War.


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