When Obama was elected President in 2008, he campaigned on the idea that the war in Iraq was the bad war while the war in Afghanistan was the good war, primarily because it was targeting those that committed the atrocities of 9/11. Of course it didn’t matter that Al-Qaeda, the presumed 9/11 perpetrator, was vanquished across the Pakistani border and our troops in Afghanistan were then fighting the Taliban who were not responsible for the stateless crime of 9/11; when we invaded Afghanistan we precipitated a regime change. Subsequently our enemy in Afghanistan has been the people we dispossessed: the Taliban are interested in taking back what we took away from them when we invaded their country. But two years into his second term has President Obama thinking more like the militarist he replaced. Indeed, it seems that he has taken a page out of the necon handbook and, beginning first with the avoidable crisis in Ukraine, has now started an unwinnable war against the Islamic State (IS; which also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is an unrecognized state and a Sunni jihadist/Al-Qaeda group active in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control, beginning with territory in the Levant region, which includes Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and part of southern Turkey. It is a brutal organization who prefer to publicly behead their captors, especially if they are American or British; they do not recognize the normal international entitlements of “journalists.”
As Obama immerses himself and the country into another war in the Middle East (Iraq and Syria), with an uncertain coalition to provide boots on the ground, it has the ear marks of a military solution that cannot succeed and was poorly thought out to begin with: it’s more like we are going to war because that’s what we do best. Will the new, more intense drone war achieve the goals Obama has in mind, or will it merely widen the war in the Middle East? When you have allies such as we do in the Middle East who are conflicted over who the enemy is, it is surely time to try the diplomatic hand rather than choose war as the preferred option. It is only natural I suppose that the very people who helped engineer our disaster in Iraq have urged the President to double down and do it all over again. Indeed the neocons came out of the woodwork to support this new war while at the same time claiming no responsibility for creating the conditions that gave rise to ISIS in the first place and when they use the bullhorn of Fox News, they have a media outlet to instantaneously convince millions of Americans, especially those who suffer from amnesia about the Iraq war of 2003, that this is another good war. There is no doubt that Bush’s war on “terror” is responsible for starting the reactionary movement of Jihadist cells throughout the region that collectively form ISIS. Each Jidhadist I have seen interviewed claims that our reaction to 9/11, which was thinly disguised as a war against Muslims, is the reason why ISIS has emerged to threaten the region with a new form of terrorism in which Muslims who don’t convert to their brand of faith can be killed on the spot; already ISIS has killed thousands of Muslims for this reason.
A quick review of the gnarly circumstances that created the disaster in Iraq is worth the effort, even if it only serves to clean our whistles, so we that we can blow into them again when another war starts. First, we, Americans, acting through our agents GW Bush and Dick Cheney created ISIS. It first started with our illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. When Bush appointed Paul Bremer as the head Iraqi authority in May, 2003, he was given the authority to rule Iraq by decree, just as if we had installed royalty in the form of an ordinary white guy. Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 1 was to disband the Ba’ath party in all forms. The Ba’ath party was the political party that Saddam Hussein used in his rise to power in Iraq. Bremer’s second Coalition Provisional Authority Order was to dismantle the Iraqi army. This was followed by Paul Bremer’s attempt to illegally sell off the Iraqi assets, as if our invasion had given us control of all the Iraqi assets to sell as we saw fit. But, no one was going to buy the Iraqi assets as everyone invited to the fire sale concluded that what Bremer was doing was against International law, which it was: you don’t invade a country for the purpose of disposing of its wealth! The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was first and foremost about oil: only a fool would suggest otherwise. Yes Saddam Hussein was a gruesome dictator who ruled with an iron fist. But we helped arm him and encouraged his disastrous war with Iran, primarily to get even with the ruling regime because they stole the oil deal we had worked out with the Shah. Saddam was going to be our man in Tehran if he ever got there. Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki was installed as the prime minister of Iraq under the Bush administration. He had been a long-time member of the Dawa party and was under a death sentence by Saddam before leaving Iraq in 1979. He was brought back and placed into power as a Shiite prime minister of Iraq in 2006, a position he held until he was forced to step down in 2014. What al-Maliki proceeded to do was continue with de-Bathfication in Iraq, which meant firing Sunnis who worked in the government, followed by killing large numbers of Sunnis, especially when Al-Qaeda reappeared in Iraq in 2013.
When American troops left Iraq in late 2011, al-Maliki came to the United States to ceremoniously acknowledge the event. During that visit Obama waxed on about how Iraq was now a stable, democratic and inclusive government, none of which were true. While al-Maliki was in the United States, he received a phone call warning that one of his own cabinet members, Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashimi, was planning assassinations against his government; he relayed this information to President Obama and was told that he needed to solve this problem on his own using the legal means available to him. That was the key that led al-Maliki to conclude that Washington was not going to interfere with his actions. As soon as the last American soldier left Iraq, al-Maliki announced a death sentence against Tariq al-Hashimi who by then had fled to Qatar. Al-Maliki increasingly waged a secular war against the Sunnis, purging those that were in parliament and replacing them with Shiite members that he felt he could trust. As he carried out his own murderous practices against the Sunnis he became increasingly paranoid that he would eventually fall to former Bathists (this must have been particularly troublesome for al-Maliki as he ordered the execution of Saddam Hussein). As he carried out more killings of Sunnis, his popularity grew among his fellow Shiites.
In the meantime, the decimated members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, entered the war in Syria against Assad’s regime. It was there that Al-Qaeda got reinvigorated as a force and began to make headway through successful military operations and improved recruiting. They captured oil wells and began to have a stable source of income that fueled the purchase of armaments. Their rise to prominence as a fighting force appealed to the Sunnis in Iraq as they continued to be persecuted by al-Maliki. In December 2012 al-Maliki accused his finance minister of plotting against him and had his body guards arrested. To many in al-Miliki’s cabinet this was the last straw that confirmed al-Maliki had gone over the edge. In the spring of 2013 the black flag of Al-Qaeda began to appear in Sunni occupied cities, which made al-Maliki rush into a confrontation, killing hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. It was about that time that this group began to refer to themselves as ISIS. Within 12 months ISIS became a powerful and effective military organization. When Al-Qaeda re-entered Iraq they received a warm reception from the Sunnis, many of whom joined forces with Al-Qaeda which not only swelled the ranks of ISIS, but former Bathist military leaders assumed positions of military leadership in ISIS and helped forge the group into an even more effective military juggernaut.
One of the key victories of ISIS was in taking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with a population of 1.8 million. A group of 800 ISIS members went into Mosul intent on liberating prisoners, but to their surprise, they found that the Iraqi armed forces gave little resistance and surrendered immediately, after which they were all bound and shot and their bodies dumped into the Tigris river. For al-Miliki it was too late to reverse his course and while he initially did not agree to step down as the Iraq Prime Minister, he was forced to do so, though no one knows for sure what arguments were made to induce him to change his mind. When the GW Bush government became aware of the sectarian nature of al-Maliki’s rule, advisers to Bush suggested that al-Maliki should be forced out, but Bush liked al-Maliki and allowed him to stay on and continue with his purging activities against the Sunnis. When the Obama administration became aware of the sectarian damage that al-Maliki had done, at first Obama wanted to let him stay on and see if he couldn’t fix the problem, but finally al-Maliki was forced out in August, 2014 with the title Vice President of Iraq. ISIS has waged a propaganda war against al-Maliki, referring to him as an “underwear salesman” and stating he “lost a historic opportunity for your people to control Iraq, and the Shiites will always curse you for as long as they live.” In response to the gains by ISIS, perhaps threatening Baghdad itself, Obama has initiated a drone war against ISIS and taken the gloves off. In this new war there are no civilians killed by drones because, by definition, anyone killed by a drone attack against ISIS must be in collaboration with ISIS forces: end of story.
The incompetency of Bush and Cheney in managing the affairs of Iraq has created ISIS. Obama’s choice to initiate drone strikes against ISIS is waging war against the very forces that need to be brought into the government to make Iraq whole again. In the meantime drone strikes, largely against Sunni forces makes little sense since these are the very people that should be treated more inclusively in the government. First al-Maliki killed Sunnis and now we are going to kill more Sunnis to stop ISIS. Right now the murderous nature of ISIS prevents any discussions of reconciliation, but it seems clear that eventually Sunnis will have to be brought back into the government if Iraq can be saved from internal disintegration. There were no car bombs in Iraq until we invaded the country in 2003. Now they are almost a daily occurrence and with ISIS controlling oil assets, coupled with their capture of American weapons, and the resources to purchase new ones, they seem poised to engage the U.S. in a very long, protracted war.
The new conditions in Iraq represent is a tragedy of epic proportions. A well-meaning President tried to end a war that should never have been started. But his insistence on not interfering with the war in Syria allowed ISIS to grow and become more formidable and now our reluctant warrior President has started a war of his own that will undoubtedly require troop commitments that he wants to avoid. Today an article in the NY Times points out that he is committing an additional 1500 troops to help in the war. Perhaps he can avoid sending huge numbers of additional troops, but does it make sense to go to war against the people that you are trying to bring back into the government?
The new Iraqi prime minister is Haider al-Abadi; he has already taken steps to be more inclusive towards the sectarian diversity in Iraq. His cabinet includes a Shia politician as interior minister, a Kurdish politician as finance minister, and a Sunni, who had formerly served in Saddam’s army, as defense minister. The challenge is formidable. To succeed he will have to overcome the efforts of Bush, Cheney, Bremer and al-Maliki to make the country whole again. My vote is that it can’t be done, that we will have to live with ISIS for many years to come and even then the best we might achieve is to have Iraq divided into three sectors, including a Shia centered in Baghdad, the Kurds with their capital in Erbil and ISIS centered in Mosul. This solution would only work if ISIS stopped its pathological need to kill those not willing to accept their religious interpretations. Is there yet a diplomatic solution to this carnage?
PS: if you are interested in knowing what happened in Iraq after the American troops left, an excellent documentary on the subject is available from FRONTLINE
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