Thursday, June 12, 2014

Civil war in Iraq threatens to undo U.S. hopes

Back in the latter part of the George W. Bush administration, Americans were debating whether Iraq was in a state of civil war as Sunni and Shiite Muslims praised God and passed the ammunition. They were killing each other faster than a Stalinist purge.

A surge in troops and a new strategy for American forces quelled the fighting and the killing, at least for a while, long enough for U.S. troops to make a halfway respectable exit from the country they had invaded in 2003, expecting to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Now the Americans are gone, and it's up to the Iraqis to run their country and protect their citizenry.

Unfortunately, things are not going so well "over there." The end of American combat involvement and the rise of a Syrian insurgency have opened the door for what has to be considered a real civil war in Iraq. The ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is conquering territory and advancing on the capital of Baghdad, having already taken over Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit. The ISIS has proclaimed that it will obliterate the borders established by the victors following World War I, which broke up the Ottoman Empire. Those borders have been criticized for years as having little to do with ethnic or religious populations but were little more than convenient lines on a map.

If the ISIS succeeds in conquering all of Iraq, which seems to be a strong possibility, America's 10 years in Iraq and thousands of deaths will seem like a waste of time, lives and treasure (estimated at well over $1 trillion). Instead of stamping out Al-Qaida, which was not active in Iraq in 2003, America's overthrow of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship is resulting in establishment of an Al-Qaida-related regime in Iraq and, perhaps, in Syria as well.

North of the old Iraqi border, Bashar al-Assad appears to have weathered an insurgency that threatened his family dynasty. The Obama administration had opposed Assad and called for him to step down. Instead, with the help of Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah army, Assad is regaining territory that had been lost to the rebels. But the ISIS could, conceivably, establish a rebel territory encompassing parts of Syria and Iraq, a formidable and oil-rich swath of the Middle East.

American military might seems helpless to staunch the destruction and overthrow of the Iraqi government U.S. lives helped establish, and that Shiite-dominated government seems incapable of fielding an army capable of defeating well-organized insurgents. The final outcome of this drama cannot bode well for American interests in the region.

The United States' strategy in the Middle East has failed and floundered for more than a decade, if not for a century.

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