On December 18, 2011, the last convoy of US soldiers pulled out of Iraq, ending
nearly nine years of war that left almost 4,500 American troops and tens of
thousands of Iraqis dead.
Marking the end of the combat mission in a
speech at Fort Bragg (the same location where George W. Bush had declared war in
2003), President Barack Obama emphasized repeatedly that he was fulfilling his
2008 campaign pledge of an Iraq pull-out, while praising the courage of American
soldiers and vowing that Iraqi forces were prepared to assume responsibility for
their country’s security.
“Of course,” he noted, “violence will not
end.... Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and
try to spark sectarian strife.”
At the time, Obama boasted that “security
incidents [in Iraq] have been near the lowest on record since the war began”;
yet, this past July and August they reached levels not seen since sectarian
violence exploded in Iraq more than five years ago.
Obama concluded his
address by saying that “what America can do, and will do, is to provide support
for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.”
What Iraq needed
most, though, as it transitioned to democracy, was a limited, stabilizing
American military force in the country. Yet Obama failed miserably in his
attempt (if ever it was sincere) to forge a deal with the newly elected, fragile
Iraqi government to maintain a residual US troop presence in Iraq. The agreement
fell apart over the technicality of providing legal immunity to American
soldiers, hardly an insurmountable impasse, one might have thought.
then, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has filled the power vacuum by
consolidating his rule. He has eliminated his leading Sunni rivals and tightened
his control over Iraq’s security services. Maliki has repeatedly violated the
terms of the so-called Erbil agreement, which was meant to preserve the rights
of Sunni and Kurdish communities.
In parallel, Iraq has descended
progressively into chaos. This year alone, approximately 5,000 Iraqis have died
in principally Sunni-on-Shi’ite terror attacks, with a recent surge in violence
killing upwards of 1,000 Iraqis each month. Hardly a day goes by without
multiple attacks being perpetrated throughout the country, as the domestic
carnage there proceeds unabatedly.
Iraq’s internal problems are
compounded by the fact that the country has fallen into the orbit of
The first glaring sign of this spiralling descent was the failure
of the Maliki government to condemn the brutal crackdown on dissent by Syrian
President Bashar Assad’s regime. As a parade of world leaders were condemning
the Syrian government throughout 2011, Maliki struck a defiant tone, calling on
Syrian protesters not to “sabotage” the country. This past February, Maliki said
that the fall of Assad is unlikely and described him as “smarter” than Saddam
Hussein, with “a much deeper political vision.”
Iraq’s support of Assad
and in turn of Iran goes much further. Multiple reports throughout the past year
suggest that Maliki is allowing Iran to fly weaponry into Syria through Iraqi
airspace, which prompted US Secretary of State John Kerry to make an unannounced
visit to Baghdad this past March to lobby Maliki for greater air scrutiny across
Meanwhile, on September 1, at least 52 Iranian dissidents of the
Mujahedin- e Khalq (MEK) group were killed, mostly execution style, in Camp
Ashraf, less than 100 km. from Baghdad; a massacre which followed on the very
heels of the August 27 visit to Iraq by Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s
Supporters of the roughly 100 exiles who had been living at
the camp blamed the attack on Iraqi security forces. The following week, Iranian
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also visited Iraq at the behest of Supreme
Leader Khamenei, reportedly to express gratitude for both the Iraqi government’s
support of Assad as well as the mass killing, which Iranian leaders widely
A statement issued by Maliki’s office following that massacre,
while saying he is committed to ensuring the safety of people living within
Iraq’s borders, “stressed the necessity of transferring the MEK members who are
staying illegally [in Iraq].”
Yet the presence of the MEK members is
based on an agreement ratified by the United Nations, Iraq and the US government
on August 17, 2012.
Accordingly, the UN vehemently condemned the
September 1 attack and sent a fact-finding mission to investigate.
Obama administration remained conspicuously silent.
reports have surfaced that Assad has shipped chemical weapons, as well as the
parts to build and maintain them, across the border into Iraq; this after the
United States and Russia struck a deal stipulating that the Syrian regime
destroy its chemical arsenal in order to avert American military intervention.
The head of the Free Syrian Army, Gen.
Salim Idriss, told CNN last week
that Baghdad was helping Damascus conceal chemical stockpiles.
distressing, albeit unsurprising under the circumstances, was the declaration
earlier this month of Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy, Hussain
al-Shahristani, in his meeting with Iran’s foreign minister, that Iraq was ready
to help Tehran develop its nuclear program.
All told, after nearly a
decade of war, the US is left with minimal, if any, influence in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Axis of Evil, as past American presidents have characterized it,
has now been emboldened under Iranian leadership.
The war for Baghdad has
The writer is a correspondent for i24News, a recently launched
international news network that broadcasts out of Israel.