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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Has Iraq Become A Failed State?

Link: Blog Of Anglican Minister Andrew White In Baghdad

("The creed of the desert seems inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought".)*

During my tour in Baghdad I had the opportunity to meet Canon Andrew White, and Anglican Minister who resides in Baghdad.  He has been a prolific voice for the Christian community in Iraq, and is considered by many to be the "Vicar of Baghdad".  I remember being very impressed with Canon White, who expressed optimism that Iraq would rebuild after Saddam Hussein was a distant memory.  I'm sad to say that he was mistaken, and his blog posts bear evidence to the collapse of security for both Christians and Muslims (see link).  Although the U.S. military shows video of Islamic State (IS) targets being destroyed, and the numbers of successful sorties is provided, persons on the ground claim that the airstrikes have done nothing to slow the IS advance.  A quick examination of the current circumstances may clear up this picture.

The Iraqi Army is a mess.  Training, reorganization, and collecting new equipment are priorities.  Daily bombs rock Baghdad and discourage any type of commerce.  Just a few years ago, the markets had reopened, the streets were full of kids going to school, and Karadah was noisy with traffic.  My Iraqi friends tell me that the days of 2003 have returned, with daily car bombs depositing body parts up and down the streets.  Shops are empty as people are scared to leave their homes.  Recently, mortars have been fired into Sadr City, the large, desperately poor Shia community in northeast Baghdad.  Everyone in Baghdad blames the IS for the car bombs and the mortar attacks.  Rumor on the street is that IS guerillas, working in groups of two and three, have already infiltrated the city.  Government ministers travel everywhere in armored vehicles, surrounded by dozens of bodyguards and related security.  Unfortunately the average Iraqi, who must walk to the store to buy bread, can't afford that kind of protection.  The Christian community in Baghdad has swelled to four times is usual size, as Chaldeans and Yezidi from the Mosul area add to the number of refugees.  The normal route out of Baghdad is to the west (Jordan and Syria), but that territory is controlled by the IS.  The only way out of the city is east to Iran, our south to the Shia marshes and Basra (not a promising option for Christians and peaceful Sunni).

In August, when the Iraqi Army deserted the battlefield and there was real concern for the safety of Baghdad, the venerated Shia cleric, His Eminence Ali Al-Sistani, issued a call to arms for the Shia faithful.  True, Al-Sistani appeared to be more concerned with the safety of the Shia Holy Cities of Najaf and Hillah, but the call resonated and 15,000 Shia volunteered to fight the IS.  As the Iraqi Army does what it can to equip and organize the Shia, the fear of the IS continues to mount.  Baghdad is home to many embassies and NGOs, and the International Airport is busier than ever (Iraqi Airways is a tremendous success story in a sea of disasters).  In fact, its impossible to get a seat on a commercial flight out of Baghdad.  Most Europeans in Baghdad believe if an IS attack on the capital city was imminent, that their governments would guarantee their safe evacuation.  This is where the game gets tricky, folks.  Is anyone out there old enough to remember the fall of Saigon?

The international community in Baghdad looks to the United States to determine when Baghdad must be evacuated.  I'm worried that the current Administration will play a dangerous game with the order to withdraw, because an order to evacuate the U.S. Embassy is an admission that neither the military support given to the Iraqi Army nor the air strikes had any impact on the IS' ability to conduct offensive operations.  Most military analysts don't believe that the IS has the resources to launch an assault on Baghdad.  I fear that they are making the cardinal mistake of anticipating a conventional assault. I believe the IS attack on Baghdad has already begun.  In fact, the mortars fired into Sadr City could have only been fired from somewhere else in Baghdad.  The bombings and the assassination attempts will increase as more and more IS operatives move in.  During the worst of the insurgency, the United States managed to convince the Sunni Shaykhs (and other prominent Sunnis) to isolate the insurgents (especially Al-Qaeda in Iraq...AQI) and support the new legislative and electoral process.  Guess what, folks...AQI is back, only now they call themselves the Islamic State of the Levant (IS), and we are way past the deadline for getting the Sunni in line.  The current Iraqi government's only hope is to mobilize the Sunni community that has not already sided with the IS (my sources tell me that almost all Baghdad Sunnis are vehemently opposed to the IS, thank goodness).

Former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki seems to be on everyone's naughty list (including mine).  At best, his term in office can be described as "sectarian" (thanks, Wikipedia).  When Maliki took office he followed the tradition of most politicians in this part of the world.  He filled every job, every office, every military uniform and every bureaucratic position with someone from his political movement.  Since Maliki is Shia, this action was not seen in a very positive light by the Sunni of Iraq.  He would have been much better served (at least Iraq would have been better served) if he had presented a diversified cabinet of Shia, Sunni and Christian officials.  It doesn't help that Maliki has always been followed by rumors of corruption and is believed to be a  puppet of the CIA (just something I heard folks, that's all). When the shit hit the fan (early August 2014, Maliki was very hesitant to resign (in favor of a cabinet that included a few Sunni and maybe a couple of Christians to open and close the doors).  Personally, I think its hard to get a thief to let go of the purse before the purse is empty.  Iraq's true wealth is in its oil industry.  Maliki wasn't in office long enough (and Iraq's refining capacity is still recovering) to find a permanent way to siphon off a percentage of the state oil revenues.  Believe me, another six months and he might have succeeded.

Currently, Iraq is governed by a coalition of well-meaning Sunni and Shia (and Kurdish) leaders who are trying desperately to rebuild the national army.  But old habits can be hard to break.  Most Iraqi soldiers joined the army because they needed a paycheck, and they had no interest in fighting other Sunnis in support of a Shia (Maliki) government.  The timetable established by the U.S. military in its original schedule for training and organizing the new Iraqi Army, would have been successful.  Unfortunately, the rush was on to get out of Iraq, and the Iraqi forces were not yet prepared to die for their country.  For the life of me, I can't envision how a handful of U.S. military personnel (who were here just last year) will be able to build an Iraqi army in even less time.  I am encouraged by the chutzpah (I don't think they would appreciate me using that word, but they can go to hell) of the Shia volunteers, who will be sorely needed if the IS starts moving from house-to-house and street-to-street.  Its obvious that the IS does not have the numbers necessary to sack Baghdad, but making the city ungovernable is a first step to occupation.  I am very concerned that not too long from now we will witness a Saigon-like nightmare, with Europeans and Iraqis alike desperately trying to find a way out of the city.  Its one of those rare times I would love to be wrong.

*T.E. Lawrence

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