'Horrible choices' for US next move in Iraq

 
The remains of an Iraqi military vehicle sit outside of Mosul. Some US commentators argue that Iraq is on the verge of disintegrating

The fall of Mosul and Tikrit to Sunni Islamist forces led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has once again put the ongoing unrest in Iraq - and the consequences of the US invasion and subsequent withdrawal from the country - back into the headlines.

While there's been plenty of hand-wringing and finger-pointing - President Barack Obama is to blame, no he's not, George W Bush is at fault - constructive suggestions about where the US can go from here are much scarcer.

While most commentators agree that something has to be done, opinions diverge as to the next step for US policymakers.

It's time for the US to get more involved, writes Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Michael Knights.

Start Quote

Washington doesn't have the luxury of treating Iraq as a special case anymore”

End Quote Michael Knights Washington Institute for Near East Policy

"With ISIS forces capturing city after city, Washington has to do more (and quickly) to prevent the loss of government in Iraq," he argues in Foreign Policy magazine. "Intensified US on-the-ground mentoring of Iraqi military headquarters and perhaps US air strikes might also be needed to reverse the collapse of Iraq's military."

While Mr Obama may feel bound by his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq, he writes, circumstances dictate a change of policy.

"The Middle East could see the collapse of state stability in a cross-sectarian, multiethnic country of 35 million people that borders many of the region's most important states and is the world's fastest-growing oil exporter," he writes. "Any other country with the same importance and the same grievous challenges would get more US support."

He concludes: "Washington doesn't have the luxury of treating Iraq as a special case anymore."

The editors of Bloomberg View caution that this week's developments expose the "real possibility" that Iraq could be disintegrating, "with transnational badlands under ISIS's control that serve as a base for the training and radicalisation of foreign volunteers".

US "personnel and equipment" are engaging militants in Nigeria and Somalia, they note. "US interests in Iraq are worth at least as much of a commitment."

Start Quote

Until a change of leadership happens, there is little point in sending more US aid”

End Quote Max Boot Commentary magazine

In the New York Times, Harvard Kennedy School fellow Nussaibah Younis agrees that the US must provide military aid to defend Baghdad and help Iraqi forces retake Mosul.

In the long term, however, he says that won't be enough. In order to undermine the growing Iraqi insurgency, the US must urge Iraq to address the underlying political grievances of the rebelling Sunni minority. "An influx of American weapons will only add fuel to the fire consuming the country," he writes.

The US must urge Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki from pushing for dictatorial emergency powers, and instead institute reforms to incorporate Sunnis into the government. In addition, Iraqi counter-insurgency efforts should be sensitive to the Sunni civilian population.

"If the Iraqi Army sends Shiite militant groups or Kurdish forces to the heart of Sunni-dominated Mosul, or if it carpet-bombs the city and arbitrarily arrests or kills groups," he writes, "it will alienate the hearts and minds essential to winning this battle."

Charlie Cooper of the think tank Quilliam agrees that Mr Maliki needs to "challenge the jihadists ideologically" by reaching out to Sunnis.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki gives a press conference on 13 January, 2014 New York magazine's Dexter Filkins calls Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki a "militant sectarian to the core"

"This is the well from which most ISIS fighters are drawn," he says. "Taking a purely heavy-handed approach will just feed into the jihadist propaganda."

If the New Yorker's Dexter Filkins take on Mr Maliki is accurate, however, the Iraqi president may be unwilling to budge.

"Maliki is a militant sectarian to the core," he writes. The US was able to restrain the prime minister's more dangerous tendencies when its military was on the ground there, but that has all changed.

"Time and again, American commanders have told me, they stepped in front of Maliki to stop him from acting brutally and arbitrarily toward Iraq's Sunni minority," he writes. "Then the Americans left, removing the last restraints on Maliki's sectarian and authoritarian tendencies."

This is why, Filkins says, it was important for the US to have kept some military on the ground in Iraq - a view echoed by former Bush-era ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

"What the Americans left behind was an Iraqi state that was not able to stand on its own," Filkins argues.

The US is probably better off just trying to force Mr Maliki out of office, writes Commentary magazine's Max Boot:

Maliki has presided over the disintegration of Iraq. He doesn't deserve a third term. The country desperately needs a new leader. Until a change of leadership happens, there is little point in sending more US aid which, if Mosul is anything to go by, is likely to wind up arming the insurgents.

The Washington Post's David Ignatius says Mr Obama must start by raising awareness in the US of the growing threat in Iraq. Then, he argues, the president must solve the civil war in Syria if it wants to prevent violence from engulfing Iraq:

The administration is finally developing a serious strategy for Syria, which will include a CIA-trained guerrilla army to fight both President Bashar al-Assad and al Qaeda extremists. In addition, (if skittish Arab allies agree), US Special Operations forces will train Free Syrian Army units to create a stabilisation force for liberated areas. If the ambitious plan moves forward, the hope is to train 9,600 fighters by the end of this year.

Start Quote

It's difficult to understand how spending another five or ten years sorting out a sectarian civil war can possible be in our best interests”

End Quote David Harsanyi The Federalist

Lehigh University Prof Henri J Barkey also thinks ending Syria's civil war is the key to peace in region.

"The perception of Washington policymaking in Syria as dithering and less-than-professional has arguably spread throughout the region," he writes for the American Interest. "The administration can begin to reverse this image if it is willing to encourage the region to come up with its own solution. That effort would have to start in consultation with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and it would have to include Iran as well in the end."

The American Conservative's Rod Dreher takes an opposite view - greater involvement in the Syrian civil war will only make matters worse, as US weapons could end up in the hands of anti-Western militants -a similar fate to some of the arms the US gave Iraq :

A decade after American troops invaded Iraq as a response to al Qaeda's 9/11 attack - a decade that saw nearly 4,500 US deaths, tens of thousands of American casualties, 134,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, and cost the US taxpayer at least $1.7 trillion - the capital of that woebegone country is in danger of falling to Islamist berserkers who are more radical than al Qaeda. Yet the US is continuing to arm and train Syrian rebels. We never learn.

Doing nothing is an option, writes the Federalist's David Harsanyi, despite the obvious criticism that it likely would mean that "more than 4,400 U.S. troops and over $700 billion had been wasted in a war that ended but was not won".

But would another 4,000 deaths fix things, he asks. "If a decade of nation building brought us this, what could we possible gain by seriously re-engaging?"

He concludes: "It's difficult to understand how spending another five or ten years sorting out a sectarian civil war can possible be in our best interests."

He says all of the choices the US is presented with are horrible.

This is likely one thing everyone can agree on.

 

More on This Story

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    So this is what the US led invasion and destruction of Iraq has resulted in!

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 9.

    All we need now is for Saudi Arabia and Iran to get involved, if they are not already, and the middle east is just going to implode.
    Our best course of action is to sit this out, and prepare ourselves as best we can for a very uncertain future.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 8.

    When will we learn that good intentions do not lead to good outcomes. We have destabilised Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan (when we did not want the Russians to take over). And before that it was Vietnam Have we really ended up in a better place?

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 7.

    The mistake of invading Iraq when Al Qaeda was not evicted from their bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the first mistake. There was no need to topple Saddam under the false pretense of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

    The second mistake is to destabilize the Syrian government.

    The third mistake is to pull out of Afghanistan prematurely.

    Interference needs to be kept to a minimum.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 6.

    What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and even in Europe is a sign of the times. We humans cannot simply go on fooling ourselves into believing that we can somehow live side by side whilst having different religious and political views. Lets face it, these tragedies are a wake up call to all those softies who foolishly believe in multiculturalism in its raw sense.

  • Comment number 5.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

    When all options are horrible, as most people seem to agree. Then doing nothing is most likely the sane option.

    I would dare our system to put this issue to a direct popular vote. Guess where our soldiers would not be going...Iraq. Not saying a popular vote is always the best way to do things, I'm just saying it is not in our interest to act, sadly, regardless of the last wasted decade and lives.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 3.

    Tragic. Inevitable. It's literally a repeat of March-April 1975. We ripped off the scab and let the puss drain out. Or in the case of Iraq, let it in.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 2.

    It's because of the occupation.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1.

    Iraq is reaping what they've sown. The US dumped billions of dollars and thousands of lives into their nation to try to drag it into the 21st century.

    They resisted every step of the way.

    Now they get to enjoy the alternative.

    It's not the fault of either US president. The people of Iraq are responsible for the consequences of their own actions.

 

Page 14 of 14

 

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.