Iraq is lost

Iraq has descended progressively into chaos.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki  370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
Since 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 Iran.
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 Iraq.
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 Quds Force.
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 praised.
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.
The Obama administration remained conspicuously silent.
Most recently, 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.
Most 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 been lost.
The writer is a correspondent for i24News, a recently launched international news network that broadcasts out of Israel.