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Published On: Mon, Jun 16th, 2014

United States should resist getting involved again in the Iraqi quagmire

Despite all of the hysteria surrounding the advances in northern Iraq of the brutal group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), no crisis exists for U.S. security, and the American people are wise in their skepticism of renewed U.S. military involvement in that country. Even if the gains of the group eventually lead to an even bigger regional conflagration, in which most of the boundaries of the artificial states in the region originally set by the colonial powers are washed away, good riddance. Those boundaries, which divide ethnic and sectarian areas, have led to much conflict in the past and to the rise of leaders using autocratic methods–such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Saddam Hussein and Nouri al Maliki in Iraq–as the only means to dampen the conflict among restive groups.

Image/CIA

Image/CIA

As U.S. news commentators tell us that the Syrian civil war–where ethno-sectarian groups similar to those in Iraq, the Shi’ites (in Syria, they are called the Alawites), Sunnis, and Kurds, are fighting–has been exported to Iraq, they don’t go back in history far enough. The commentators imply that the Obama administration should have provided more military aid to the moderate Syrian opposition, thus somehow checking the growth of the ISIS and its migration back to Iraq. Yes migration back to Iraq, where it originated as al Qaeda in Iraq in opposition to George W. Bush’s ill-advised U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Americans have a short historical memory, usually to their government’s benefit. For example, people still crow about smashing Hitler’s Third Reich in World War II, forgetting that U.S. government actions helped bring Hitler to power in the first place–for example, the unnecessary U.S. intervention to help France and Britain win World War I, then looking the other way while these powers humiliated the Germans politically and economically, and finally Woodrow Wilson’s demand that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicate, thus paving the way for Hitler’s rise. Similarly, the U.S. government encouraged and funded Islamist radicalism during the Cold War to combat the Soviet Union in insignificant hellholes in the developing world. Doing so led to the creation of al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.

A longer memory in this situation leads us back to the foolish U.S. invasion of Iraq, which created al Qaeda in Iraq in opposition. The group then migrated to the civil war in neighboring Syria, where took strategic assets, such as weapons caches and oil facilities, while astutely avoiding fighting the superior forces of the Syrian government. There, the group also changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It then moved back into Iraq, and its 800-1,200 fighters are marching toward the northern outskirts of Baghdad, a city of more than seven million people. ISIS has much combat experience and has captured heavy weapons given by the United States to the now fleeing Iraqi Army. Yet ISIS seems sophisticated in avoiding fights when it can by seemingly buying off Iraqi Army commanders to get them to order their troops to scram rather offer resistance. The group’s fighters learned this tactic first hand from the U.S. occupation of Iraq, when American General David Petraeus essentially bribed moderate Sunni tribal leaders to fight them.

Yet the panic in Washington and other Western capitals is misplaced. It’s time for Obama, who has such innate tendencies, to again have an Eisenhower moment, conclude that no crisis exists, and minimize U.S. involvement in this burgeoning mess. Remember that during the U.S. occupation, the United States also faced fierce Shi’ite militias, which are now coming to the defense of Baghdad and the Shi’ite Maliki government. Since Baghdad is half Shi’ite and the southern part of Iraq is heavily Shi’ite, the Sunni ISIS insurgency, which feeds off the Shi’ite government’s oppression of Sunnis, will not get much traction in those areas.

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Published by permission from the author, Dr. Ivan Eland

Dr. Eland is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty, The Independent Institute

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  1. Katharina Lafrance says:

    Now Americans should give Troops sent to the Iraq for control the situation .

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