With insurgents from ISIS steadily gaining control over northern regions of Iraq, and the Iraqi government calling for US air strikes against the rebel groups, the question now is whether the United States needs to stage another intervention.
Sure, unlike last time the US is being granted entrance into Iraq. Unlike last time, both sides have made it clear ground troops will not be part of any American aid.
Yet this time, surely, mistakes need to be remembered.
Which side should the US pick? After practically handing over the country’s leadership to the Shi’as, headed up by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the US effectively nullified any alliance with the Sunnis, who were deposed from power after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Iranians and Saudis: a game of Tug o’ War
Since the toppling of Saddam’s government, Iran has seen their influence over Iraq and their new Shiite parliament grow. Therefore any chance that Iran could relinquish their sway by putting pressure on Prime Minister Maliki to either reform or step down seems laughable.
Despite the softening ground between Iran and the US, Iran’s Supreme Leader continues to denounce America as the great enemy. Any disagreement would be detrimental to a diplomatic partnership which could shape not only America’s influence in the Middle East, but global diplomacy for this century.
Over to Iraq’s other border…
Saudi Arabia has long been the gulf’s ally to the United States – or at least they’re supposed to be. However, they are alarmed at the mounting impact Iran is having on the region and internationally.
According to the Saudis the 2003 invasion of Iraq is the fault for handing the nation over to the Iranian Shi’as. Should the Americans offer Maliki any assistance, either with troops, money or air strikes, Iraq’s alliance with Iran would become even stronger. And the Saudis will be provoked into further bankrolling ISIS, arming the Sunni tribes to counter Shi’a militias.
And back home?
Back in Washington, Republicans and Democrats have been doing what they do best: talking as much as possible without offering any sage advice to defuse the situation.
Republican leaders in Congress, including Senator John McCain, have attacked President Obama both for withdrawing troops in 2011 from Iraq, as well as his slow action to the current situation:
“Here we are these many days later and the only concrete action that has been taken so far is to reinforce the embassy. Meanwhile, the success of ISIS continues unabated. It’s really, really remarkable.”
And while the Democrats are mostly standing behind Obama, their call for air strike assistance against the Sunni groups does nothing to cease the continuous fighting between the oppositions.
A Regional War
Iraq is forcing itself into a Civil War, if not a regional one. With the Sunnis and Shi’as both calling for aid, either from Iran, Saudi Arabia or the USA, the moderate groups are forced to join the extremist believers.
The division was not made better as promised after the dismantling of the Saddam regime, and Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the need for inclusion with Maliki who appears to have finally resigned to this concept. Yet is it too little, too late? With Maliki and his parliament already turning their backs on the Sunnis, would an inclusive government under his leadership be welcomed? Could he even lead such a government?
Funding both sides: America’s lose-lose
The United States should leave the situation well alone and instead act solely as peacemaker between the two sides. Yes, as simplistic and unrealistic as it sounds, that is the only course the US can take.
Obama cannot offer 300 advisors and air strike capabilities to the Shi’a led Iraqis whilst simultaneously handing money and weapons over to the Sunni groups trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad who is still clinging to power in Syria.
The backwardness of US foreign policy in the Middle East has presented itself countless times over the past fifty years, never more clearly than in Afghanistan in the 1980s. By funding Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union invaders, America consented to the birth of it’s own enemy, the Taliban and later al Qaeda.
The US should offer advice to any side willing to ask and listen, but nothing of weaponry, soldiers or financial backing. America, try as it might, cannot be the fabric holding Iraq, and the Middle East, together.
The West is great at picking sides; we just don’t know what to do when uprisings materialize at the other end.