Iraq – failure of US policy

By Zhao Jinglun
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 16, 2014
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All eyes are on Iraq, as the situation there is deteriorating fast.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda offshoot, captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city with a population of 1.5-2 million, and is pushing toward Baghdad.

Why has ISIL been successful so far despite the fact that it was outnumbered by Iraqi government's security forces 15 to one in the fight for Mosul.

Al-Maliki's Shiite dominated government pursues a repressive sectarian policy that has alienated the Sunni population, so Sunni tribes and townspeople support ISIL and join in the attacks on the Iraqi military, which is green, corrupt and demoralized. It just melted away under pressure of fierce fighting.

In contrast, ISIL led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since 2010, is battle-hardened as it has been involved in guerrilla war for two years. And it is way ahead on tactics. It keeps Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure by striking where security forces are weak and withdrawing where the government has concentrated its combat power.

Veteran journalist Robert Fisk reported that ISIL is bankrolled by Saudi Wahabis and Kuwaiti oligarchs. So far, the Saudis are keeping quiet, for a reason.

But in the last analysis it was the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which instead of bringing about democracy and the rule of law, greatly intensified sectarian conflicts. Iraq, in effect, is splintering into three major groups: the Shiites who control the government; the Sunnis, who are the major opposition; and the Kurds, who took advantage of the confusion to seize the long-coveted oil city Kirkuk. All three have their own armed forces. The Kurdistan paramilitary Peshmergas now controls the whole of Kirkuk Province.

The U.S. efforts to overthrow Bashar al-Assad have given ISIL and other radical Islamic groups the space and means to fight in northern Syria and Iraq. ISIL has been heavily involved in fighting with more moderate Syrian rebels. It has gradually turned its attention to Raqqah and Deir el-Zour. The latter serves as a direct link with its established presence in western and northern Iraq, especially in Anbar Province. It is through this link that it transfers foreign fighters and captured Syrian equipment to Iraq.

The struggle has much wider implications:

U.S. President Barack Obama ended the Iraq war two and a half years ago and withdrew all American combat forces. But he cannot afford to allow ISIL to gain a firm foothold in Iraq, especially since this is the year of the mid-term elections. He declared: "My team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them [the Iraqis]". Washington has already stepped up shipments of military hardware to Baghdad. It may respond to Iraqi request for air strikes. The carrier USS George H.W. Bush is already in the Gulf. But Obama made it clear that the United States will not again commit boots on the ground.

Turkey and Iran may intervene to protect their interests, as 49 Turkish diplomats are still in the hands of ISIL. The Turkish government has also maintained an important stake in energy development in northern Iraq. It is increasingly concerned about the growing reach of ISIL, and has already clashed with militants on its border with Syria.

Tehran has repeatedly denied reports that two battalions of the al-Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been deployed in Iraq to guard the Shiite holy sites Najaf and Karbala, as well as the capital city Baghdad. But reports persist, even claiming that al-Quds Force commander General Qassem Suleimani is in Baghdad, leading the defense of the city.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country cannot tolerate the growth of terrorist groups so close to its borders. He even said that he envisions the effort to save Iraq's al-Maliki government from al-Qaeda as something his nation and the United States can agree with and cooperate on. But the Pentagon is not willing to acknowledge that.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites, called on Iraqi men to enlist in the national army and fight ISIL. Thousands have responded. They are untrained, but would be better motivated.

Al-Maliki has also mobilized paramilitary forces, who are proving to be more effective fighters. They are already slowing the advance of ISIL.

Keeping the big picture in mind, it is clear the crisis in Iraq is a result of U.S. policy failure. But the situation is still salvageable provided the anti-terror forces pursue a correct course of action.

Note: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) Readers are referred to my earlier column "The Resurgence of al-Qaeda" (April 6, 2014).

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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