Today is Saturday, June 14, 2014.
Watching the events unfold in Iraq over the last week, I began to ask myself who exactly is responsible for this situation? How did it come to this that a radical splinter group of Al Qaeda should succeed in laying siege to Mosul and Tikrit with plans to march on Baghdad? The easy answer, which I think is the wrong answer, is that the Obama and Bush administrations share the fault. If Bush hadn’t gone into Iraq in the first place…if Obama had agreed to arm the moderates in Syria against Assad…if Obama hadn’t ended US boots on the ground in 2011, this couldn’t have happened. These are over-simplified answers to my question and I think, in the end, wrong answers.
In reading and examining the crisis, it is clear to me that both Turkey and Maliki, President of Iraq, are at fault. This debacle could have been avoided if the Turkish government had been paying attention and had responded to clearly articulated threats from ISIS well before their 4000-man ‘army’ invaded northern Iraq. Turkish policy in the region is a dismal failure and the result is more than a dozen of their embassy personnel are now being held hostage. ISIS let Turkey know they were coming into Mosul and that the embassy would be attacked if the embassy personnel were not evacuated. Turkey did not respond and, apparently, even as late as June 6, when ISIS was already in Mosul, the government said there was no credible threat. Something is rotten in Ankara. Turkish defenses could have been there to meet ISIS as it came across the border, if they had taken the threats seriously and responded appropriately.
In addition to Turkey, President Maliki, himself, has not put any effort at all into integrating Sunnis, Shias and Kurds into the new national Iraqi system. He has not created a welcoming, diverse government or Iraqi social and political culture. This has alienated everyone in the country and continues the age old denominational and sectional rivalries in the region. The result is many Iraqis in the northern part of the country welcomed ISIS coming in and taking over. The coming civil war, and I think that’s where this is leading, could result in a radical Islamic caliphate that is extreme in its religiosity and desire for a theocracy. Their underlying objectives include eliminating Western influences from the social and political culture and returning the system to a traditional, medieval theocratic society. Ultimately, the current situation is a direct result of 19th century and early 20th century European imperialism in the region which set up the borders as we now know them in the Middle East in 1916, completely ignoring the realities in the sand regarding tribal relationships, religious affiliations and ethnic sensibilities.
There is also the problem of the Iraqi military. Some units were given orders to withdraw from any conflict with ISIS, which on the surface looks like a conspiracy within the Iraqi military leadership to allow ISIS into the country.
We can argue all we want as to whether Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq was right or wrong. The reality now is there was a democratic process put in place for national elections, Maliki won, and he has not done well as President. You can say Obama’s policies in the Middle East have failed, and you might be right when it comes to Syria, but in all other respects this isn’t about current US policy in the region. Obama is considering strikes against ISIS, but has made it clear that troops on the ground will not happen. Hawks in congress are complaining that military action should still be on the table for consideration. I don’t think the American people have any stomach for putting more resources into Iraq. To what end? No country in the West can hope to resolve the problems that are endemic in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. This is now an Iraqi problem…a problem for the democratically elected President Maliki to sort out. The US has done enough and there’s no hope for any kind of real stability unless Maliki makes the right overtures to the minorities in the country and genuinely welcomes them into the system and encourages diversity in representation and participation in the government.
The best thing Obama can do is put pressure on Maliki to create a full representative government that includes all minority groups. If the people of Iraq feel enfranchised, they’ll resist the radical theocrats like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Maliki has to act quickly or Iraq could collapse under the current crisis.