July Thoughts on Iraq

If anybody needed any evidence of why Iraq needed to be sorted out in 2003 the last couple of weeks should have provided more than enough. The ISIS insurgency that’s rolled over the north of the country with such stunning speed isn’t anything new – it’s the result of sectarian tensions brewed up by the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and left unresolved in the time since he was removed by Operation Iraqi Freedom eleven years ago.

Islam is dominated by the Sunni sect, but there are two countries where the smaller Shia strain is in the majority. The best known is Iran. The other is Iraq. Nearly two-thirds of Iraqis are Shia muslims, and most of the rest are Sunni (about three percent are other religions, mostly Christian). However from 1958 to 2003 the country was dominated by Sunni dictators, most infamously Saddam. The Shia were second class citizens and not surprisingly that caused huge resentment. The Sunni also suffered under Saddam’s regime though; the only people who benefited were his own al-Tikriti tribe. Sunni Iraqis had grievances of their own and ISIS is their latest way of venting them.

So what does this mess say about US foreign policy in Iraq? Well, Saddam Hussein had to go and the war to remove him was brilliantly executed. The problems began after the victory parades, when there were too few troops deployed to maintain order. The first reprisal killings started within hours of the old regime’s collapse and triggered a spiral of revenge attacks that have killed tens of thousands on all sides – the number of Iraqis murdered by other Iraqis dwarves the number killed by US and Coalition forces during and after the war. Iran got involved as well, fueling the insurgency for its own ends, and weak US administrations never did anything to push them back out. Control of the border was left to the Iraqi police, and many of them are working hand in glove with the Iranian mullahs.

In 2007 the last Republican administration got serious and surged five extra combat brigades to Iraq, with impressive results – the insurgency was brought under control in a matter of months. Unfortunately a year and a half later the incoming Democrats used the surge’s success as an excuse to withdraw, leaving the job half done. Half wasn’t enough; now ISIS are giving a clear demonstration that the insurgency is back, stronger than ever.

So far there’s been no sign that the USA is going to do anything about ISIS. John Kerry has refused to carry out airstrikes in support of the Iraqi army and it’s not likely ground troops will be sent. Let’s hope there’s no change in that policy. US forces should only be committed where it’s clearly in America’s national interests, and while ISIS are enemies of the USA the same can be said for al-Maliki’s Iraqi government that has denigrated the USA and harassed American nationals at every opportunity.  If the terrorist leaders can be identified and killed by drone strikes that’s only sensible, but no more US lives should be risked to help a country that doesn’t want to help itself. If Iraqis aren’t willing to drag their country out of this endless cycle of destruction and murder why should we spend money and lives to do it for them?