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Friday, June 5, 2015

The Sunnis of Iraq..what does the future hold? (Part II)

In 2009 and 2010, the future was really looking brighter for the people of Iraq.  The country now boasted of three international airports at Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, and the ex-pat community which was spread out all over the globe, began to make its way back home, with an eye to investing in the new Iraq.  Schools were overflowing and Iraq was refining oil again.  The Iraqi people, Shi'a Kurd and Sunni, celebrated the success of Iraq's international sports teams, and that all-necessary middle class began to make an appearance.  No doubt, a smoother political transition would have been welcome, but it seemed par for the course in this part of the world.  The Shi'a/Sunni political split should have been seen as a hugely negative but predictable development.  In hindsight, the CIA should have created and financially supported a political party that included both well-known and respected Shi'a and Sunni.  But no one was really complaining because Iraq was on the move in the right direction.  So what happened?  Its 2015, and the country is under siege, and the nascent economy that had begun to grow is now in tatters.  The oil refining capability of Iraq, which is its lifeline, is in shambles.  And all this happened because of our rapid withdrawal from Iraq. Is it unfair for me to lay all the blame at the feet of the Administration?  Lets take a look at the evidence:

How can I blame the Administration for ISIS, a terrorist group that originated in Syria?  Wrong -  ISIS originated in Iraq.  After the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the "Great Awakening" (the Sunni movement to oppose Zarqawi and the insurgency), his organization went into hibernation. It eventually found its way into Syria, and took advantage of that conflict to rebuild and rebrand.  This was the creation of ISIS.  No doubt that there aren't many left over from the Zarqawi days, but can it be only a coincidence that the leader of ISIS is Abu Bakr al-BAGHDADI?  Regardless, ISIS found the perfect environment for reconstituting itself and created a new, sexier manifesto.  Since the bad guy in Syria wasn't the United States, a more flexible statement of motivation was necessary.  ISIS identified itself with an effort to unite various nations in the Levant under the flag of a Sunni extremist Caliphate (with Baghdadi as the first Caliph, I assume).  This declaration allowed ISIS to claim all sorts of enemies (the U.S., Europe, Israel, moderate Arab States, etc.), and at the same time, all sorts of support, including money and volunteers.  By the time the United States had just about completed its military departure from Iraq, ISIS was healthy and in a prime position to extend its operations outside of Syria.  Iraq, with all of its internal squabbles and still trying to train and equip a legitimate national army, was a juicy target.  And I'm sure the irony was not lost in the minds of Baghdadi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, post-Bin Laden leader of Al-Qaeda.  The American people can provide Iraq with freedom at the cost of thousands of young U.S. soldiers lives, and everything can be turned to shit with one selfish, stupid, political decision.  We understand that a promise was made during the election to remove U.S. military from Iraq, but why didn't the Administration follow the recommended plan put forth by the Pentagon?  The greatest flaw of this Administration has been its determination to fill every high-level USG job with a political appointee, regardless of experience or qualification.  When you choose this course of action, then it should be no surprise that people with the wrong background are making bad military decisions.  What sense does it make to put Bill Clinton's former Chief of State and a career numbers guy, in charge of the CIA?  Wouldn't you think that the person chosen would have at least a smidgeon of experience with the intelligence community?  Not according to President Obama.  This problem, which will take years to correct, has manifested itself everywhere, especially at the State Department, where under first Hillary Clinton and now John Kerry, Foggy Bottom has now become reactive to world events as opposed to proactive.  We seem to always be about five minutes behind.  It sucks when you arrive on the scene even after Portugal, for goodness sake.

My biggest concern regarding the Sunni of Iraq, is the continued presence of the Shi'a militias and their Iranian advisors.  The Sunni no longer see the U.S. military, unless they just happen to have some business at al-Asad Air Base out in the middle of nowhere, Anbar Province.  Its true that a number of U.S. non-military personnel continue to function in Iraq in support of the central government (and the U.S. government as well, of course), but to the Sunni in Anbar and Salah ad-Din Provinces, this means nothing.  Those Sunni tribal leaders who were so instrumental in 2007 and 2008, well, they are still around, and they are keeping a close eye which way the wind is blowing. Fortunately, His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Ali-al-Sistani is still alive, and seems as determined as ever to thwart any Iranian attempt to use the Iraqi Shi'a to deliver their own country into the hands of Tehran.  The Shi'a of Iraq listen to Sistani, as do the Sunni; as long as he continues to preach a moderate message of peace and unity, I believe that the Sunni will stay loyal to the government in Baghdad.  But once Sistani dies, and reactionary Shi'a cleric Muqtadah al-Sadr becomes the titular head of Iraq's Shi'a, then all bets are off.  Sadr is poised to take over after Sistani (there really is no one else), and he has been cultivating the poor, young and angry Shi'a for years.  Most importantly, Sadr is in the front AND back pocket of the Iranian Ayatollahs in Qom, and this fact is no secret.  If Sistani were to expire, we would have to seriously consider the possibility that the Sunni tribal leaders abandon the Shi'a dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad and throw in with ISIS.  For them, it may be a matter of survival.

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