The pace and rapidity with which the fragile state-building process in Iraq has imploded is almost unbelievable. Observers around the world are stunned by the speed and scope of the assaults on every major city in the upper Tigris River Valley ‘ including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city ‘ by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The group has been marching on to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq with such swiftness that it achieved its aim in just a few days.
The collapse of the Iraqi government’s troops in Mosul and other northern cities in the face of resistance has been the predictable culmination of a long deterioration, brought on by the government’s politicization of its security forces. For more than five years, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his ministers have presided over the packing of the Iraqi military and police with their own Shiite loyalists while sidelining many effective commanders who led Iraqi troops in the battlefield gains of 2007-2010, a period during which al Qaeda in Iraq (the forerunner of the ISIS) was brought to the brink of extinction.
On the other hand, it is also an undeniable fact that the overwhelming intervention of the US and its allies in Iraq has fatigued the political and social framework of the country to the point of enervation. The US committed grave mistake from the start. But, committing new mistakes will not right the wrong. The bull-headed Bush administration concocted this Mesopotamia mayhem against the advice of some of its smartest allies, including the Germans and French’ not to mention the sincere but quiet reservations of China’ and persisted with its folly in full glare of the embarrassing absence of the UN Security Council approval that it had desperately sought. Barack Obama also carried on the Bush legacy.
Back in 2002-2003, over 80 per cent of Americans believed the big lies spread by the Bush administration and its neo-con allies that Iraq had nuclear weapons and was behind 9/11 attacks and Osama bin Laden. But the time proved that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no ties to Al Qaeda.
One would think the neoconservatives who engineered the Iraq War would hide their heads in shame. Not so. Former vice-president Dick Cheney, the real power in the Bush administration, just claimed President Barack Obama was responsible for the growing mess in Iraq.
The pressure on Obama now is to re-enter Iraq with US forces that are all but pulled out. It will be impossible for Obama to resist completely. But his instinct is to rebid with a minimum and re-exit that force as soon as feasible.
‘Obama is a wimp allowing America’s foes to run rampant across the Mideast and Eastern Europe,’ growled Cheney. He wants US troops to reoccupy Iraq, and maybe Syria. Cheney’s blustering was applauded by another over-the-hill dotard, Republican Party leader Senator John McCain.
President Barack Obama had the wisdom to pull most US forces out of Iraq, though at least 5,000-7,000 military personnel remain in civilian attire in the vast US embassy complex in Baghdad and two major air bases. Hundreds more Americans remain, running Iraq’s oil industry.
Saddam Hussein nationalised Iraq’s oil and kicked out its foreign owners. As soon as he was deposed, the US and other foreign oil firms moved back in to pump Iraq’s black gold.
Now, Obama faces an awesome decision. As Baghdad’s army wavers before militants’ assaults, he is under pressure to use US airpower to blunt the Baathist advance. Besides killing many civilians, such attacks would outrage Saudi Arabia and much of the Muslim world. Obama knows that America must not be seen as the champion of Iraq’s one sect against the minority.
The Saudis are openly warning Obama not to intervene in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran is beginning to send ground forces into Iraq to the fury of its bitter foes, Saudi Arabia and Israel. However, cooperation between Washington and Tehran over Iraq is likely to have a positive effect on US-Iranian nuclear negotiations.
So Obama is hedging his bets by sending a token 300 US Special Forces to Baghdad as ‘advisors,’ as if Iraq, which had been at war since 1980, needed more training. Air and/or drone strikes should begin shortly in spite of Saudi opposition.
Interestingly, Obama finds himself in the same type of imperial dilemma faced by Britain’s PM Gladstone in 1885. In that year, Britain’s imperial General Charles Gordon went to Khartoum, Sudan, to lead the resistance to the extremists known as Dervishes. He was trying to shame Gladstone into sending the British Army up the Nile to relieve Khartoum.
Gladstone, like Obama, wanted no imperial adventures but was eventually forced to send an army to rescue Khartoum, though not before Gordon was killed and became a Victorian Christian martyr. The Dervish leader, Mohammed Ahmed, aka the Mahdi, became a paramount Victorian villain akin to our era’s Osama bin Laden.
Obama is now being pushed by the US rightwing media, led by the Wall Street Journal, to re-invade Iraq and deepen the war in Syria, not to mention Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Africa. The Republicans are baying for war and calling Obama a coward.
Few remember that the Iraq War cost over $1 trillion, all financed by loans from China and Japan. Those neo-cons baying for war have not so far offered to make personal contributions. Or that Vietnam also began with small numbers of US ‘advisors.’